New Delhi: As part of an effort to contain terror groups operating out of its neighbourhood, India has signed a mutual legal assistance agreement through which Indian insurgents held in Myanmar can be deported for trial under Indian laws.
India had been pushing for the pact with Myanmar for two-and-a-half decades. It was signed during the 25-29 July visit of Than Shwe, the leader of Myanmar’s military government.
The deal will help India “combat transnational organized crimes, trans-border terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, counterfeit currency, smuggling of arms and explosives,” the home ministry said.
“Under the provisions of the treaty signed last week, Indian insurgents caught in Myanmar can be handed over to India,” a senior home ministry official said.
A foreign ministry official added that such insurgents can then be tried under Indian laws. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.
India shares a 1,640km unfenced border with Myanmar. This has allowed militant outfits of India’s north-east—where tribal and ethnic groups are fighting for greater autonomy or independence—to use Myanmar as a springboard for hit-and-run strikes.
At least half a dozen such outfits, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang faction, are alleged to have training camps in northern Myanmar, although they are also known to shift operations across Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal as well.
Ved Marwah, a former governor of the north-eastern state of Manipur, which borders Myanmar, said the deal provides India with an important instrument to fight insurgency.
“It sends a message to the militants that they are not safe or as secure as they thought operating out of neighbouring countries,” said Marwah, who is also a former home ministry official in charge of India’s internal security.
This is the first time that Myanmar—which faces international censure for lack of democracy and a poor human rights record—has signed such an agreement with any country, another foreign ministry official said.
“We have been seeking this kind of help since the mid-1980s,” he said, requesting anonymity. “Several people (on India’s ‘wanted’ list) are already in custody in Myanmar.”
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, India offered unflinching support to Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. But it has changed tack after realizing that insurgent groups operating in the North-East were able to establish bases in Myanmar.
Since then, the country has actively engaged the junta, investing in infrastructure projects, exploring oil and gas blocks and offering credit.
During Than Shwe’s visit, India promised nearly $200 million (Rs930 crore) for projects in Myanmar, ranging from road construction and boosting agricultural production to building power transmission lines and railways.
Analysts said the growing ties were in the interest of both nations.
“There are (only a) few countries wanting to engage with Myanmar, and India is one of them,” said Manmohini Kaul, professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “They want to balance Chinese influence in their country with India, which is the world’s largest democracy (and) an economic power.”
India has signed similar legal assistance pacts with nearly 30 countries, including Nepal, Bangladesh, the US, Britain, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, said the home ministry.
The importance of such pacts became obvious in December, when Bangladesh handed over several key Ulfa militants to India, including the outfit’s top leader Arabinda Rajkhowa and military operations deputy chief Raju Barua.
But another official said cooperation ultimately depends on political will, and there are instances when countries decline to help each other despite being bound by agreements.
“For example, there is a Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) convention on terrorism that obliges all member states to cooperate against terror. But some countries cite legal problems or other difficulties to find a way out,” the official said, requesting anonymity. “The case of Bangladesh is an example, however, of the government there being forthcoming and handing over the wanted militants.”