For the past several months, discussions about the Free Movement Regime (FMR) have dominated talks, with speculations rife about potential restrictions along the Indian-Myanmar border. The FMR facilitated movement across the extensive 1600-kilometer border, fostering strong bonds among tribal communities. However, growing apprehensions regarding infiltrations and unlawful activities prompted the Ministry of Home Affairs to officially issue orders for the suspension of FMR.
Reasons Behind the Suspension:
The states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh share extensive borders with Myanmar, inhabited by tribal communities with close-knit relationships. A visa-free arrangement was instituted for a 16-kilometer border belt to facilitate travel, trade, and social interactions. The initiation of the Free Movement Regime in 2018, aligned with India’s Act East Policy, aimed at strengthening economic and social ties with Southeast Asian nations while strategically balancing relations with China.
Implications of the Suspension:
With the suspension of FMR, residents in the border belt will no longer enjoy year-round visa-free movement. Cross-border travelers will now face a two-week stay restriction in the neighboring country, significantly impacting local trade and educational pursuits that involved individuals from Myanmar traveling to India.
Border Length and Security Measures:
Most of the India-Myanmar border lacks fencing, with only a 10-kilometer stretch in Manipur being fenced. Approximately 500 kilometers of open borders in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh pose vulnerabilities to infiltrations and illegal activities. To address security concerns, the Ministry of Home Affairs proposed the installation of fences along the 1643-kilometer border in January. Approval for a 20-kilometer-long barricade in Manipur signifies a move towards stricter border control.
Challenges in Myanmar and Internal Strife:
Beyond security concerns, Myanmar grapples with internal challenges, including economic instability and political unrest. Periodic violence in different regions compels vulnerable groups to seek refuge in India, impacting Northeastern border regions.
Local Opposition and Concerns:
The suspension has faced opposition in Northeastern states, with tribes in Manipur and Mizoram expressing concerns about the repercussions on their families and local trade. The discontinuation of the 16-kilometer visa-free entry jeopardizes close ties and robust trade relationships nurtured over time. Local tribes fear adverse consequences for their livelihoods and businesses.
As the government implements measures to secure the border and address security challenges, local communities and states grapple with the repercussions. Striking a delicate balance between security measures and the socio-economic well-being of the region remains a critical challenge for the affected areas in Northeast India.