India just carried out one of its largest-ever covert operations in peacetime, striking a Myanmar-based terrorist group and killing over 100 of its members. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), known more popularly by its initials NSCN-K, was targeted because of the terrorist attack it pulled off last week in the Northeast Indian state of Manipur. In the worst ambush suffered by the Indian military in 20 years, the group killed 18 troops and injured 20 more before escaping back across the border with only one loss. The NSCN-K is part of a much larger problem, however, since it’s part of a recently created umbrella group of Northeast Indian terrorists called the United Liberation Front of West South East Asia (UNLFW), which brings together Assamese, Bodo, and Naga separatists (Rajbongshi militants from West Bengal are also involved, but due to their relative geographic exclusion from the others, they’re excluded from the present analysis). The UNLFW shares many tactical and strategic similarities with ISIL, and barring religious distinction (or lack thereof), they’re essentially the same type of cutting-edge destabilizing organization. Since India has indicated that it’s willing to wage its own War on Terror in the Northeastern states and Myanmar, it’s necessary to explore the situational intricacies surrounding the Indian-Myanmar frontier and forecast the most likely scenarios for how this campaign can play out.
The article begins by framing India’s Act East policy and describing the strategic objectives and hurdles that it entails. It then focuses on the specific situation in Northeast India in order to set the stage for better understanding the UNLFW and its structural designation as the ‘Southeast Asian ISIL’. Afterwards, the second part addresses the competing interests between India, China, Myanmar, and the US in this forthcoming conflict, before gaming out the most probable scenarios that can unfold.