On January 10, 2023, five fighter-bomber aircraft belonging to the Myanmar Air Force carried out an air strike against the headquarters of the rebel Chin National Front (CNF) in the vicinity of Mount Victoria, located in the Chin State, Western Myanmar. The assumed target area in the Chin State was near the India-Myanmar international boundary, bordering the Indian State of Mizoram. There are reports of at least 5 CNF casualties. The Chin State is a Christian-majority region and the CNF mainly comprises people adhering to the same faith.
The timing of the air strike was very important as India is overwhelmed by hosting its Voice of Global South Summit and its Minister for External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar was in Washington D.C. to speak at the India-U.S. Forum 2023. Nonetheless, the suspicious Indian diplomatic and political silence over the incident could lead to many hypotheses, including the assumption of providing safe haven to the militants belonging to CNF and other saboteurs wanted by Myanmar for terrorist and criminal activities. The Indian Home and External ministries are silent about the destruction of CNF safe havens and killings which took place within the territory of Mizoram State (India).
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) seems hesitant in responding to the violation of India’s air space and sovereignty. India’s Minister for External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar and even the official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi did not respond and acknowledge the air strike, and such could not be seen on either’s official Twitter handles.
There are 2 major questions that arise in the backdrop of the event.
- Why Myanmar violated Indian air space and sovereignty?
- Why the Indian Air Force could not respond?
The retired Indian Army Maj. Gen. G. D. Bakshi and defense analysts argued that Myanmar should have shared intelligence with their Indian counterparts; however, this statement conceals as much as it reveals. First, the latter statement made it clear that Myanmar surprised its Indian counterparts by executing the airstrikes. Second, it reveals that the policymakers in Myanmar were skeptical of Indian inaction against the potential CNF terrorists due to the perceived chances of any intelligence leak.
Also, it is evident that the Indian Air Force could neither detect nor intercept any fighter aircraft entering and violating its air space, especially in this particular case.
Why India doesn’t extend democracy in Myanmar?
The Indian policymakers have long trumpeted their (pseudo) democracy by calling themselves the largest democracy in the world. However, besides such rhetoric devoid of reality, there is an important question why India doesn’t want democracy in Myanmar? It is an undeniable fact that New Delhi has time and again deliberately refrained from condemning the violence orchestrated by the Military Junta of Myanmar against the Christian (Chin State) and Muslim (Rohingya in Rakhine State) ethnic minorities in Myanmar.
India-Myanmar Bilateral Trade
Till 2020-21, India and Myanmar have had a bilateral trade volume amounting to 1.6 billion USD, where India exported 871 million USD to Myanmar, and the latter exported 742 million USD worth of goods (except services) to the former. Perhaps, bilateral trade is hindering Indian policymakers from condemning violence against ethnic minorities in Myanmar.
Conclusions and Policy Options for Pakistan
In June 2015, India conducted a raid in Myanmar and then Pakistan’s Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan reacted to the incident by making it clear that “India should not mistake Pakistan for Myanmar.” The Interior Minister also added that “our armed forces are fully capable of responding to any foreign aggression and Indian leaders should stop daydreaming.”
However, now, Myanmar has executed an air strike inside India in the name of destroying and dismantling terrorist safe havens. The latter is an important development that encourages Pakistan to look for such tactical options and by maintaining such rhetoric.
It is to be remembered here that the Indian Air Force violated Pakistan’s air space in February 2019 and dropped free-fall bombs hitting no targets on the ground. In response, the Pakistan Air Force carried out Operation Swift Retort and destroyed 2 Indian MiG-21 Bison fighter aircraft in aerial engagement and also deployed H-3 and H-4 air-launched stand-off guided missiles destroying Indian targets in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Operation Swift Retort humiliated India and its aerial warfighting capabilities.