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Myanmar Border Management-Initiating VISA for a Seamless Move Under the FMR

India-Myanmar-China Borders


The India-Myanmar border, covering a vast expanse of 1,643 kilometers (KMs), holds strategic significance as it traverses through the Northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram. In Arunachal Pradesh, the border extends over roughly 520 KMs, followed by approximately 215 KMs in Nagaland, 398 KMs in Manipur, and 510 KMs in Mizoram. This intricate demarcation not only underscores the geographical diversity of India's Northeast but also highlights the complex nature of cross-border relations.



In contrast, the China-Myanmar border surpasses the Indian counterpart in length, spanning about 2,185 kilometers. This extensive boundary, from the tripoint with Laos to the tripoint with India, establishes China's significant territorial presence in the region. Particularly noteworthy is the Yunnan segment, constituting approximately 1,937 kilometers, surpassing the entire international border length between India and Myanmar.


This underscores the geopolitical importance of these borders, reflecting the intricate interplay of territorial dynamics in the Southeast Asian region.


Free Move Regime (FMR)


FMR serves as a pivotal framework, empowering local residents in the border regions of India and Myanmar to traverse the international boundary freely within a designated distance, eliminating the need for a visa. Originating from the Nehru-Zhou Agreement of 1951 between India and China, this regime acknowledges the inherent rights of individuals along the border to unrestricted movement. Initially established to facilitate the mobility of Naga tribes spanning the India-Myanmar border, the FMR holds particular significance for tribal communities residing in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh on the Indian side, as well as Chin and Naga areas on the Myanmar side. To facilitate legal trade and the movement of people, Land Custom Stations (LCS) are strategically positioned along the India-Myanmar border. Key border crossings, such as Moreh (India)-Tamu (Myanmar), play a crucial role in fostering substantial trade, prompting ongoing efforts to bolster infrastructure in the region.


China, known for maintaining stringent control over border regions, follows protocols that differ from the FMR. Unlike the provisions seen in India-Myanmar agreements, China tends to enforce more restrictive measures in its border areas, limiting the extent of free movement.

One noteworthy initiative fostering economic connectivity between China and Myanmar is the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). This substantial undertaking focuses on improving economic ties through diverse infrastructure projects. These projects encompass the construction of vital elements like roads, railways, and pipelines, designed to facilitate seamless trade and enhance overall economic cooperation. Key components of the economic collaboration include projects such as the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone and the associated deep-sea port in Myanmar. These strategic endeavors form part of the comprehensive economic cooperation framework between China and Myanmar, specifically targeting the enhancement of transportation links and the facilitation of trade activities.


Fault-lines


The Naga, inhabit the FMR areas of India and northwestern Myanmar. Celebrated for their distinct tribal communities, the Naga tribes are scattered across Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam, as well as certain areas of Myanmar. Within the realm of Naga tribes, the Konyak Naga tribe holds particular significance, notably in the Mon district of Nagaland, India. The Konyak territory extends into parts of Myanmar along the Chinese border, fostering cultural connections with other Naga tribes.


Meanwhile, in the Tuensang district of Nagaland, India, and corresponding areas in Myanmar, the Khiamniungan Naga’s thrives.


The Naga tribes are part of the larger Tibeto-Burman language family, with their cultural and historical roots deeply embedded in the Naga Hills region. Predominantly, Naga tribes practice Christianity, with a significant influence from Baptist and Catholic denominations. The advent of Christian missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries left an indelible mark on the religious landscape of the Naga people.


Zo tribes of Myanmar and the Lushai of Mizoram share profound historical and cultural bonds. The term "Zo" serves as an ethnic umbrella encompassing various tribes residing in northeastern India, northwestern Myanmar, and Bangladesh. The Zo tribes are part of the larger Kuki-Chin-Mizo group, and they have their own language known as Zomi or Zou. The term "Zo" is often used as an umbrella term to refer to several related ethnic groups, including the Mizo in India and the Chin in Myanmar. The terms "Lushai" and "Mizo" are commonly used interchangeably to denote this ethnic community. The Mizo people forge cultural, linguistic, and historical connections not only in Mizoram but also extend these ties to neighboring regions in Myanmar and Bangladesh, where other Zo communities thrive. They are also predominantly Christians.


Security Concerns


The porous nature of the India-Myanmar border, coupled with the FMR allowing local residents to travel within a certain distance without visas, has become a vulnerability exploited by insurgent groups. These groups take advantage of the porous borders to escape security forces, regroup, or find refuge in neighboring countries. Unfortunately, the FMR, originally intended for legitimate cross-border activities, has been manipulated for illegal purposes such as arms smuggling, drug trafficking, and other illicit trades.


Insurgent groups, of—Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram—have historically sought refuge and support across the Myanmar border. Some former politicians have been involved in insurgencies, with some rising to senior positions in the respective states. India has, at times, expressed concerns about foreign entities allegedly providing assistance to insurgent groups in the region.


As also, the vast and challenging terrain of the India-Myanmar border poses significant difficulties in effective border management. Limited infrastructure and resources on both sides make it challenging for authorities to monitor and control movement, leading to potential security gaps. The military junta in Myanmar has been accused of connections with non-state armed groups. Some reports suggested that certain elements within the Myanmar military might have tolerated or even supported insurgent activities in border regions. The coordination between Indian and Myanmar authorities in implementing and enforcing the FMR face challenges, contributing to difficulties in addressing security concerns effectively.

Moreover, the Assam Rifles, the border guarding force of India has encountered challenges in effectively curbing border crossings due to various factors. These include difficult terrain, heightened border porosity facilitated by FMR, the presence of insurgent groups with established networks on both sides of the border, potential local support providing them with knowledge to evade patrols, instances of corruption or collaboration with local elements, and notably, the absence of police powers vested in the Assam Rifles. Despite these impediments, the forces remain steadfast in their commitment to supporting civil authorities in the hinterland. They need to be pulled out completely from this role and beefed up to maybe four times their strength.


Unlike the India-Myanmar border, Myanmar and China do not have a FMR. China maintains strict control over its borders, requiring travelers to obtain visas before entering the country. This process involves specific requirements, documentation, and approval from Chinese authorities. China employs comprehensive border security measures, including surveillance technologies, border patrols, and other security infrastructure, to regulate the movement of people and goods across its borders. Certain areas along China's borders, including the China-Myanmar border, may be designated as restricted or sensitive. Travel to these areas may require special permits, and access is often controlled to safeguard national security interests.

It's crucial to note that China's approach to border control is influenced by heightened considerations of national security, stability, and sovereignty.


Defense Co-operation between Myanmar and China


Myanmar and China have forged a robust defense cooperation, marked by a strategic partnership that extends beyond traditional diplomatic ties. The defense collaboration between the two nations encompasses a range of areas, including joint military exercises, intelligence sharing, and defense technology exchanges. This cooperation is underpinned by a shared interest in regional stability, security, and economic development. Myanmar has benefitted from China's expertise in modernizing its armed forces and enhancing its defense capabilities. Additionally, the defense partnership has facilitated infrastructure development along the China-Myanmar border, contributing to improved border security. Some Chinese weapons and equipment that have been associated with Myanmar's military include:-


  1. Type 92 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC)- China has supplied Myanmar with various armored vehicles, and the Type 92 APC is one of them.

  2.  Type 83 Self-Propelled Artillery- Myanmar has been known to operate Chinese self-propelled artillery systems.

  3. HJ-8 Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs)- These anti-tank missiles are part of China's military exports, and Myanmar has been reported to possess and use them.

  4. JF-17 Thunder Fighter Jets- the JF-17 is a joint Sino-Pakistani project. Myanmar has acquired some JF-17s for its air force.

  5.  F-7 Fighter Jets-Myanmar's air force has historically operated Chinese-made F-7 fighter jets, which are based on the Soviet MiG-21.

  6.  Type 81 Assault Rifle-The Type 81, a Chinese-designed rifle, has been used by the Myanmar military.

  7.  FN-6 MANPADS (Man-Portable Air-Defense System)-These shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles have been reported in Myanmar's inventory, and they are of Chinese origin.

  8.  Y-8 Transport Aircraft-China has supplied Myanmar with Y-8 transport planes, which are used for troop transport and cargo missions.


Border Management and VISA


Navigating the intricate dynamics of the India-Myanmar border, spanning diverse regions and cultures, calls for a strategic reassessment of the FMR. While initially designed to foster cross-border interactions and facilitate the mobility of tribal communities, the porous nature of the FMR has been exploited by Indian insurgent groups.


To effectively address these concerns, India must embrace a comprehensive and robust approach to border management. This entails bolstering infrastructure, leveraging advanced surveillance technologies, and fostering seamless coordination between Indian and Myanmar authorities.


The Assam Rifles, struggles with border control due to challenging FMR, insurgent networks, local support, corruption, and no police powers. The force remains committed in hinterland aiding civil authorities. Significantly increasing their strength will improve effectiveness in their role.


Drawing insights from China's rigorous border control measures, India could contemplate the implementation of a more regulated system, mandating all Myanmar travelers to secure visas and adhere to specific documentation and approval processes.


Additionally, recognizing the distinctive cultural and historical ties of indigenous communities along the border, such as the Naga and Zo tribes, is imperative. Any policy adjustments should be executed with a profound sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of these communities, considering their unique languages, customs, and traditions.


Exploring robust economic initiatives, akin to CMEC, becomes pertinent for promoting economic connectivity in the region. Striking a delicate balance between facilitating legitimate cross-border activities and safeguarding national security interests is paramount. India's strategy for the India-Myanmar border should undergo an evolution, assimilating valuable insights from neighboring countries.


Counter-actions by Myanmar


Effectively addressing the complexities associated with the FMR necessitates a nuanced strategy from Myanmar. A key focus should be on augmenting border infrastructure through strategic investments in well-equipped checkpoints and entry/exit points. Though not sure of Myanmar’s capabilities, the integration of advanced surveillance technologies,  is essential to fortify border security and mitigate vulnerabilities in the FMR. Strengthening collaboration with India, is crucial for robust intelligence-sharing and collective efforts to tackle shared security concerns.


To address FMR's porous nature, Myanmar should also revisit and refine its regulatory framework, incorporating measures such as visa requirements even for Indian citizens residing in FMR regions, stringent documentation processes, and approval mechanisms.


References



Published by


Amit Sharma

Proprietor @ ASSA | Leadership, Security Management and Vigilance


Border management is a complex issue, particularly in the border regions of India and Myanmar. The Free Movement Regime (FMR) was established to facilitate the mobility of Naga tribes spanning the India-Myanmar border. However, its porous nature has been exploited by Indian insurgent groups, calling for a strategic reassessment of the FMR.


To address these concerns, India must embrace a comprehensive and robust approach to border management, including bolstering border guarding force strength and infrastructure, leveraging advanced surveillance technologies, and fostering seamless coordination between Indian and Myanmar authorities.


Drawing insights from China's rigorous border control measures, India could contemplate the implementation of a more regulated system, mandating all Myanmar travelers to secure visas and adhere to specific documentation and approval processes.


Myanmar should also revisit and refine its regulatory framework, incorporating measures such as visa requirements for all Indian citizens, stringent documentation processes, and approval mechanisms.


Finding a delicate balance between facilitating legitimate cross-border activities and safeguarding national security interests is paramount. Any policy adjustments should be executed with a profound sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of tribal communities, considering their unique languages, customs, and traditions.ccess may hinge on securing the military's blessing.


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