India Myanmar Free Movement Regime

India Myanmar Free Movement Regime

In a significant move, India, under the leadership of Home Minister Amit Shah, has decided to scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) with Myanmar. This decision marks a strategic shift in the bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries and has broader implications for regional security and diplomatic dynamics.

Amit Shah said the decision was taken to maintain the demographic structure of India’s northeastern states bordering Myanmar.

Union home minister Amit Shah on Thursday announced that the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has decided that the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar be scrapped to ensure the internal security of the country.

Amit Shah also said the decision was taken to maintain the demographic structure of India’s northeastern states bordering Myanmar. “Since the Ministry of External Affairs is currently in the process of scrapping it, MHA has recommended the immediate suspension of the FMR,” Amit Shah wrote on social media X (formally Twitter).

Amit Shah made the announcement days after he said India has decided to fence the entire 1,643-km-long India-Myanmar border, ending the Free Movement Regime (FMR) prevalent along the porous border.

What is Free Movement Regime (FMR)?

The Free Movement Regime or FMR allows people residing close to the India-Myanmar border to venture 16 km into each other’s territory without any document.

The 1,643-km-long India-Myanmar border, which passes through Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, currently ha FMR. It was introduced in 2018 as part of India’s Act East policy.

Fencing along the border has been a persistent demand of the Imphal Valley-based Meitei groups which have been alleging that tribal militants often enter into India through the porous border.

Meiteis also alleged that narcotics are being smuggled into India taking advantage of the unfenced international border.

In a post on X, Amit Shah had said the Narendra Modi government is committed to building impenetrable borders.

“It has decided to construct a fence along the entire 1643-kilometer-long Indo-Myanmar border. To facilitate better surveillance, a patrol track along the border will also be paved,” the home minister had said.

Amit Shah said a 10-km stretch of the border in Moreh in Manipur has already been fenced.

Furthermore, two pilot projects of fencing through a hybrid surveillance system are under execution.

Manipur shares 390 km of border with Myanmar

Manipur shares around 390 km of border with Myanmar, but only about 10 km has been fenced so far. In July last year, the state government shared data that around 700 illegal immigrants entered the state.

Besides, Mizoram has seen an influx of anti-Junta rebels in thousands since the military coup in Myanmar on February 1, 2021. According to government estimates, several thousand refugees are living in different parts of Mizoram since the coup. Mizoram shares a 510-km-long border with Myanmar.

Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh had also said several persons from Myanmar tried to enter the state but returned on seeing the presence of a large number of security personnel.

On February 3, after meeting Amit Shah, Biren Singh had said the Centre was set to take “some important decisions” in the interests of the people of the state.

The Free Movement Regime, established in 1953, allowed indigenous people residing within 16 kilometers on either side of the India-Myanmar border to travel across without visas. This arrangement aimed at fostering people-to-people ties and facilitating cultural exchanges between the communities living in the border areas.

However, over the years, concerns have been raised about the misuse of this provision for activities detrimental to national security. The porous border has been a challenge for both countries in managing illegal activities such as smuggling, human trafficking, and movements by insurgent groups.

Amit Shah, while addressing the decision, emphasized the need to prioritize national security and border integrity. The move to scrap the Free Movement Regime is viewed as a step towards better regulating the movement of people across the border and preventing unauthorized activities.

The decision is likely to have diplomatic repercussions and may necessitate a reevaluation of the overall bilateral relationship. Myanmar, which shares a long and complex border with India, has been a crucial partner in addressing security concerns and maintaining stability in the region.

The scrapping of the Free Movement Regime aligns with India’s broader policy of strengthening border security and ensuring a robust mechanism to counter cross-border threats. It underscores the government’s commitment to safeguarding national interests and preventing any form of illegal cross-border activities.

Additionally, this move could have implications for the local communities residing along the border. While the Free Movement Regime had facilitated easy interaction and trade, its discontinuation might pose challenges for those accustomed to seamless cross-border movement. Efforts will need to be made to mitigate any adverse impact on the daily lives of people in the border regions.

The decision is part of a broader strategy to enhance border management and security infrastructure. It is expected that the Indian government will work closely with Myanmar to develop alternative mechanisms that balance the interests of both nations while addressing security concerns effectively.

As India continues to navigate complex geopolitical challenges, the decision to scrap the Free Movement Regime with Myanmar reflects a pragmatic approach focused on safeguarding national security. It also highlights the evolving dynamics of India’s relations with its neighbors, where security considerations play a pivotal role in shaping diplomatic initiatives.

In conclusion, Amit Shah’s announcement to discontinue the Free Movement Regime with Myanmar signifies a paradigm shift in India’s approach to border management. The decision underscores the government’s commitment to bolster national security and regulate cross-border movements more effectively in the interest of the country’s overall well-being.