By: Gitchandra Oinam
Aim to reduce the burden on Siliguri corridor, also known as the “Chicken’s Neck”, a narrow land-bridge that connects India’s North Eastern States to the rest of the country, Kaladan Multi Model Transit Transport project was initiated in 2008. The objective of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project is to provide connectivity to Mizoram from ports through Sittwe port in Myanmar. The project includes a waterway component of 158 km on Kaladan River from Sittwe in Rakhine state to Paletwa in Chin state of Myanmar and a road component of 109 km from Paletwa to Zorinpui along the India-Myanmar border in Mizoram.
This ambitious project would link India and Myanmar via the Bay of Bengal. Essar Group, appointed in May 2010 is the main contractor for the project after the preliminary feasibility studies were carried out by Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES). India has already completed the rest of the Kaladan project work in Myanmar. This includes the construction of the Sittwe Port on Lakadan river mouth in Rakhine, construction of a river terminal 158 km upstream at Paletwa and dredging of the Kaladan River.
The project was first proposed by the ministry of external affairs (MEA) in 2008 and work began in 2010 – with an initial deadline of 2014. It’s been over two decades and a six times cost escalation (Rs 535 crore to Rs 3200 crore), and the project is yet not completed. IRCON was recently appointed as the Project Management Consultant (PMC) of 109 km road. Post February 2021, after the military coup, the challenges intensified in terms of safety and security. Though bids have been invited again for construction of this road, one doesn’t know whether anyone would come ahead and accept the bid due to security reasons,’’ said an expert on Indo-Myanmar relations.
Road component of 109 km from Paletwa in Chin state to Zorinpui of Mizoram border is remained halt due to crisis in Myanmar and the area is under controlled by Chin ethnic arm organisations. Chin State, directly on the border with India’s Mizoram State, is a particularly intense battleground. The state has seen close coordination between the Chin land Defense Force, PDF and Chin National Army in their fight against the military Junta, including the establishment of the Chin land Joint Defense Committee, which encompasses 18 Chin groups. The military-led Junta government and its skirmishes with insurgents have often been cited as the main reasons for delay of the completion of the last leg of this project. Soon after the military junta overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on February 2021, the Arakan Army advanced towards Raikhan and Chin state and the road construction mainly on Paletwa, in Chin state to Zorinpui of Mizoram side is disrupted.
India is trying various channel to clear the road construction work, however the area cover in the road construction site in Paletwa are inhabitance of Khumi tribe, has proximity to Mizo tribe and only 15- 20 pc are Rakhine tribe. Arakan Army (AA) is pushing Khumi tribe to accept Rakhine identity and planning “Big Tax” to India financed Kaladan Muliti Model transport scheme.
Referring Paletwa Township became a part of Arakan Hill tracts of British Burma; the Arakan army is claiming Paletwa for tactical reasons because control over that area is crucial for them to access remote area of India and Bangladesh. Like much of Rakhine, Paletwa is separated from the rest of Myanmar by a rugged mountain range – the Chin Hills and the connected Rakhine Yoma. While Paletwa is in the foothills, the rest of Chin State lies in the midst of this mountain range. Myanmar military Junta under pressure from China may consider Arakan army claim of Paletwa of Chin state to hand over to Raikhan state of Myanmar which may derail India’s Act East Policy rather than Kaladan project.
Seizing Myanmar’s borders with Bangladesh and India has become central to the Arakan Army’s dream of autonomy in Raikhan state and Paletwa township of Chin state has driven its strategy during times of war and peace. The AA has long sought to emulate the UWSA, which is Myanmar’s most powerful non-state armed group and controls an autonomous region on the Chinese border with strong support from Chinese security agencies. If the AA dominates Paletwa, then India will be forced to negotiate with them,” said U Kyaw Oo, a merchant in Sittwe. He added that this would accelerate the realisation of the “Rakhita dream” – defined by the Arakan Army as the “struggle for national liberation”
The Arakan Army (AA) was never likely to control sea trade from Kolkata to Sittwe, the AA has no ships to rival the Tatmadaw’s navy. However, it could exert control over trade going over land to Paletwa and on to Mizoram. On August 11 last year, Khaing Thu Kha, spokesperson of AA said the Arakan Army was already holding back-channel discussions with India about the Kaladan project, although he didn’t elaborate.
However, Chinese projects are continuing without any disturbance in trouble torn Myanmar. China has also been carrying out development projects at Kyaukpyu port near Sittwe port of India. Unlike India, China has signed MoU with Myanmar government to protect Chinese projects in Myanmar by Chinese military in a situation where Myanmar failed to protect the Chinese projects. China has extensive economic interests in Rakhine, including a major port at Kyaukphyu, a planned special economic zone (SEZ), and a road, rail, and gas and oil pipeline network to move energy and other materials and supplies from the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar Kyaukphyu port to Yunnan Province.
Meanwhile, Rakhine’s rebel Arakan Army has continued to gain strength (strong 30,000 cadres). It has ousted the military from many of its posts in the state’s north, and by supporting the resistance Peoples Defence Forces and fighting alongside its traditional allies in the east of the country, sharply intensified the challenges the ruling generals face as they struggle to gain control of Myanmar.
The Arakan Army (AA) has reportedly trained and provided technical support and weapons to numerous armed resistance groups around the country while its previously unspoken support for the National Unity Government (NUG) has become open policy — along with declared hostility toward the Junta administration. A spokesperson for CDF-Mindat confirmed to Frontier (Myanmar publication) on May 29 that the group has received weapons, military training and strategic advice from the AA. “The issue of Paletwa is a matter that will be resolved later,” Salai Htet Ni, spokesperson for the Chin National Front told Frontier (Myanmar publication). Land disputes are common to all nations. There are no insurmountable problems and no major disagreement between Chin and Rakhine.
Chin National Army (CNA), which has fraternal ties with the Chin National Defense Force (CNDF) and the Chin land Defense Force (CDF). The CNA, CNDF and CDF are part of the larger People’s Defence Force (PDF) of the NUG that is engaged in an armed struggle against military junta. Beside, the Kachin Independence Army in northern Myanmar and China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA) in northeast Myanmar produce knock-offs of the Chinese Type-81 rifles that they have been supplying to the CNA and other rebel groups in that country and they are funding from US and European Union for pro democracy movement. A diverse array of small arms is also being smuggled in from Thailand. Apart from all these, the CNA and other rebel groups also possess arms looted from the Tatmadaw.
In 2015, cease fire agreement with 8 armed ethnic groups was signed with Myanmar govt, namely All Burma students democratic Front, Arakan Liberation party, Chin national Front, Democratic Karen Benevolent army, Karen National Liberation Army- peace council, Karen National Union, Pa-O national liberation organisation and Shan state army- south . But nation’s largest ethnic armies United Wa State army, Kachin Independence army and Shan State army- north were among group refusal to enter agreement. Three other groups the Ta’ang National liberation army (TNLA), Myanmar National democratic alliance army and Arakan army still engaged in fighting.
It will be worthwhile to mention that Rakhine, Chin state and Rohingya ethnic groups have fought against the Myanmar govt. for self determination since the early 1950s. The region was a strong hold of the Red flag communist party until it defeat by the Tatmadaw in 1978.
Meanwhile, GOI has diverted attention to Kolkata to Tripura trade route via Chattogram and Mongla ports of Bangladesh realizing the pro democracy movement in Myanmar will continues for a long time. Assam bund goods from Kolkata port ferried to Tripura via Bangladesh mongla port and chattogram port from the month of August 2023. Tripura Industries and commerce dept said that containerised Cargo reached Srimantapur Integrated checkpost (ICP) from kolkta’s Syama Prasad Mookerjee port (SMP) via Bangladesh’s Mongla port. India and Bangladesh signed a MoU on 6june 2015 for use of Chattogram and Mongla ports for movement of goods and standard operation procedure was also signed on 5 oct 2019. Four entry and exit points are provided in the agreement namely Agartala, Srimantapur (Tripura), Sutarkandi (Assam) and Dawki (Meghalaya). Multi crore Srimantapur Integrated land Port has been developed in Sepahijala District of Tripura.
How China Factors to India’s Act East
India fears that a weak Myanmar State Administrative Council (SAC) may become too dependent on China, opening new fronts for pressure and Chinese power projection. However, China is already taking advantage of the post-coup landscape to increase its influence, pledging support to the (SAC) to any change of situation while simultaneously stepping up engagement with its allies among the EROs. Since the coup, China has launched a number of new infrastructure projects in Myanmar, transferred jets to the military, and reached a deal for Yunnan Province to provide the SAC with rice and fertilizer. In April, Indian officials confronted the SAC over possible Chinese intelligence facilities on Myanmar’s Coco Islands, which would provide new capabilities for monitoring naval bases and missile test sites on India’s eastern coastline. If India’s accommodation of the SAC is intended to limit Chinese influence, it appears to not be working.
Myanmar is also an essential node for Chinese expansion into the Indian Ocean; most notably through the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. China has also come to the defense of the Myanmar government over the crisis in Rakhine State to the west, where the Tatmadaw has carried out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing, if not genocide, against the mostly Muslim Rohingya population and protected Myanmar from sanctions at the United Nations and has offered rhetorical and material support for its handling of the so-called terrorist attacks.
China has set aside its stated adherence to the principle of non interference to become more proactively and assertively involved in Myanmar’s peace process. It has made efforts to be directly involved in the primary conflict issues Myanmar faces and has sought to shape the decisions and choices of Myanmar’s various players. It has offered itself as a mediator in the conflict and pressured non signatory groups along its border to attend successive Union-level dialogues in Naypyidaw. Myanmar considers China’s engagement to be constructive overall. Ethnic groups have responded similarly, although those along the border have few options but to accede to Chinese pressure. Ethnic groups have likewise sought united support for the goal of peace with justice. Although many mechanisms have been established to ensure such coordination, China has been notably absent from them.
Chinese are always taking advantage for one vocal from India to restore democracy in Myanmar. On other side, Myanmar feels that India is supporting Myanmar arm militant groups and giving asylum. India can’t conduct joint military operation with Myanmar military to destroy narco terrorist and North East insurgency camps inside Myanmar. Indo Myanmar relationship became bitter after India vocal about restoration of peace and democracy.
India will have advantage once the democracy return in Myanmar however; the situation in Myanmar is very sensitive and volatile, experts can’t give any guarantee when the war to restore democracy will over in Myanmar. More trouble in this conflict is that ethnic groups are demanding self ruled autonomy status in federal structure of democracy where only union of Myanmar should have defence and external power. Separate flag and logos are already given to respective Myanmar states and regions. Whether a poor country like Myanmar will able survive in federal structure system as demanded by EGOs? Players like China, India and western countries will enters immediately in Myanmar. India must think alternate security measures of buffer zone in case of failure of Myanmar government to protect ourselves from external invasion. During World War I and II, Japanese army and INA marched towards India through Myanmar. In third World War, Chinese army will enter India through Myanmar. China will difficult to attack India crossing high Himalaya Range Mountain. Myanmar is the best option for entering India. Chin state, Rakhine state, Saigang region and some part of Kachin state shall be consider India’s buffer zone in case of Myanmar government failure. Manipur has legitimate right and treaty of Yandaboo to claim Kabo valley, India side of Chindwin River (Ningthi Turel). Problem of Naga and Kuki divides between two nations of India and Myanmar will also be solved. Chinese government already claimed northern half of Kachin state as Chinese territory since the 18th century.
Zo Unification Effect To Influx of Myanmar Refugees and Narco Terrorism:
Zomi and Thadou Kuki tribes have no political and military power in Myanmar and nothing to do in Kaladan project and its location is far from project site. Zomi and Kuki arm groups has little impact and small cadres in Myanmar and most of them are concentrated in north east India and all recruitment are also done from Manipur. Total population of Zomi and Kuki in Chin state (bordering Manipur and Mizoram) and Sagaing region near Tamu town in Myanmar is approximately 5 lakhs in 2014. Though KNA has alliance with Kachin National Army (KNA), PDF and China, their activities for pro democracy movement in Myanmar is unknown but Kuki Chin National Army (KCNA) is fighting in Bangladesh for a separate state, has links with Islamist group like Jamaa’tul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya (JAFHS), however, KCNA deny the charges. Meanwhile, some KCNA cadres entering in Mizoram for asylum are arrested by Mizoram police. This is only a tactical move to show goodwill message to GOI and Bangladesh government. More than 1000 Chin Kuki refugees from Bangladesh are already getting shelter in Mizoram.
Furthermore, ZRA is old rivalry of Chin National Army (CAN) in Chin state and continues fighting between two rivalries. Though ZRA cadres were provided training by NSCN-IM to counter Kuki arm militants in early period, ZRA now became ally of KNA / KNF/KRA/UKLF in their demand of separate administration in Manipur. ZRA does not link with PDF of Myanmar Pro democratic movement. Local resistance group have alleged that ZRA has reached a secret understanding with Myanmar Military Junta, however, ZRA has denied working for dictatorial Myanmar Junta.
The first World Zomi Convention, held in May 1988 in Champhai near the Mizoram–Myanmar border, aimed to unite the various Chin tribes. Participants included representatives of the Zomi National Congress and the People Conference Party of Mizoram, as well as people from Lamka (Manipur), Ngaihban (Haflong), Zampui/Sakhan, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Arakan (Myanmar) and the Chin Hills. They reached an agreement to collectively identify themselves as “Zo “and formed the Zo Reunification Organisation (ZoRO), which became an international NGO in 1999. ZoRO’s goal is to promote the unification and shared awareness of Zo tribes. Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project has given an opportunity for Zo territorial unification dream plan other than trade and commerce, cultural and share awareness.
This project covers unification of Zo people live in North East India, Myanmar and Bangladesh is a second attempt after MNF defeat in uprising for self determination in 1966, therefore, resurgent of retired MNF war cadres are took placed recently. However, fighting between ethnic Zo communities being continues. During MNF struggle for independent state, Chin people from Chin state of Myanmar, Pakistan and China did provided support to them. They have not forgotten the years of the Mizo struggle during the 1960s and ’70s, when it was the Chin across the border that provided them refuge from the bombing of the Indian Air Force and reprisals of the Indian security forces. In return, Zoram Thanga leader of MNF is now protecting the arm pro democratic leaders of Myanmar by giving them asylum in Mizoram claiming as share ethnic ties and close contact with Mizo people.
On 10 March 2021, India’s home ministry wrote to the chief secretaries of the border states of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh to ‘take appropriate action as per law to check illegal influx from Myanmar into India’. It also reminded the states that, since India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, they have no power to grant ‘refugee status to any foreigner’. The letter termed the movement of refugees due to the political coup in Myanmar as an ‘illegal influx of foreigners’, thereby making its position clear on refugees from Myanmar.
Though the MNF’s hands are tied because of this unholy alliance, the administration here has been quietly supportive, unlike in Manipur where another NDA-partnered state government does not want to arrest helpless refugees and deporting them back towards certain death. Many of the refugees include prominent journalists, politicians, police officials and civilian leaders that are being hounded by the Tatmadaw.
“This is not the first time the Chin refugees came,” the activist and researcher Paritosh Chakma said. Many Chins have migrated to Mizoram due to worsening conditions in Myanmar, with the first wave of migration starting in 1988 and 1990s. An estimated 40,000 Myanmar refugees from the Chin ethnic group are currently being granted asylum in Mizoram, is a part of Zo unification policy. The refugees from Myanmar have spread out across Mizoram, mostly in Mizo-dominated areas, some living with their relatives, camp and others in rented homes.
The journalist Subir Bhaumik writes in Troubled Periphery that “Rajiv Gandhi told a rally in Aizawl that if the Mizos expect justice from India as a small minority, they must safeguard the interests of still smaller groups like the Chakmas.” But the notion of Mizoram as an exclusive land for Mizos survives in various forms. The Chakmas in Mizoram with a population of around 100,000 have been discriminated against in Mizoram and elsewhere. They are often treated as non-citizens and have faced the cancellation of trade licenses, denial of their right to employment, deletion of names from electoral rolls, the withdrawal of healthcare and educational facilities since the 1980s, and other forms of persecution, Suraj Gogoi wrote in Himal- South Asian Journal.
In the past few years, many medical students belonging to the Chakma community have also been refused admission to educational institutions in Mizoram. The Mizoram (Selection of Candidates for Higher Technical Courses) (Amendment) Rules 2021 are one example of legal discrimination against Chakmas, and include an attempt to declare them non-tribals. “The Chakmas live in fear within Mizoram,” Paritosh Chakma explained. “If any Chakma flees from Bangladesh and enters Mizoram today, I don’t think Chakmas will be treated similarly” to how Kuki-Chin refugees, considered part of the Zo peoples, are. They try to show that they are very homogenous, but in reality it is also a very heterogeneous society.
“We can clearly see a conflict between the state and centre on the issue of refugees,” Dilip Chakma, a lawyer and activist, said. “Even when the burning of Hindu gods and the Indian flag took place in Mizoram a couple of years ago, the issue did not escalate. I think they (the centre) understand the historical sensitivity of this area and bear with it. They have been very tolerant with the state of Mizoram.
Being directly affected by the massive refugee influx into Northeast India, Drug mafia and narco terrorist activities, which undoubtedly escalate violence in neighbouring state of Manipur, India has compelling reasons to marshal world opinion in the interests of its own national security and stability before it gets out of control.
Kaladan Project under Arakan Army thumb is a part of conspiracy!
By: Gitchandra Oinam