The recent announcement by India’s Home Minister to fence the 1,643 km border with Myanmar has sparked debate and ignited concerns. While the intentions of curbing illegal immigration and insurgency might seem laudable, a closer look reveals the potentially detrimental effects of such a move.
The proposed fencing, stretching across the challenging terrain of the four north-eastern Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram, seems to be a response to the growing conflict in Myanmar since the military coup in February 2021. The displacement of two million people and recent takeovers by ethnic rebels have undoubtedly heightened India’s concerns about security risks and potential spillover effects.
However, building a fence along this rugged 1,643km boundary is not a straightforward solution. Experts point to the impracticality of the task due to the mountainous and densely forested nature of the region. Even if constructed, its effectiveness remains debatable, as communities and rebels with intimate knowledge of the terrain can easily circumvent it.
The potential social and cultural ramifications are significant. The border cuts through ethnic communities with deep-rooted cross-border ties, like the Mizos and Chins, Nagas, and Kukis.
Severing these connections would disrupt their way of life, impacting trade, education, and kinship networks. Fencing the border can exacerbate existing tensions and fuel ethnic discontent.
The diplomatic implications cannot be ignored. Unilateral action by India could strain relations with Myanmar’s military junta, jeopardizing crucial collaborations on border security and infrastructure projects. Engaging Myanmar in dialogue and seeking a mutually agreeable solution is crucial to avoid exacerbating tensions and jeopardizing regional stability.
Furthermore, claims of mass illegal immigration from Myanmar lack substantial evidence. Studies and reports suggest otherwise, and attributing the ethnic violence in Manipur solely to this narrative is misleading. Focusing on addressing the root causes of the conflict within Manipur, rather than scapegoating external factors, is crucial for lasting peace.
Instead of resorting to a divisive and impractical solution like border fencing, India should explore alternative approaches. Investing in development projects in the border regions, fostering cross-border cultural exchanges, and strengthening cooperation with Myanmar on security matters would be more effective in addressing the stated concerns. Additionally, revisiting and reforming the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the Northeast could address the grievances of local communities and address insurgency issues more effectively.
Ultimately, building walls rarely fosters positive outcomes. Engaging in dialogue, promoting cultural understanding, and addressing the root causes of conflict are more sustainable and constructive ways to ensure security and stability along the India-Myanmar border.