On November 19 afternoon after an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) was detected over Imphal International Airport, the airport was closed to both landing and takeoff for about three hours. This is the correct protocol as the passengers cannot be exposed to any risk, whatever small the risk is. It has been reported that the Eastern Air Command was informed and two Rafale jets were scrambled and by the time these arrived, it was reported that the object which had been hovering over the airport for nearly three hours had vanished on visual observation.
There are claims that the UFO is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) while later on there were also claims that it is a balloon. But as the approximate height at which the object hovered is unknown and the actual picture of it captured by a good camera with zoom lens is not available it is difficult to say what it is. There are even claims that it looks like the Iranian made Shahed UAV which was used by the Russians in Ukraine.
It can be a manoeuvrable balloon like some of the weather balloons, and whether it is a balloon or a UAV, due to loss of control by the operator due to jamming at the airport, it was forced to hover over the airport for a long time. It is a security risk. The object cannot be a cheap one as the battery lasts for a fairly long time and if the battery is exhausted, it will fall down and the debris would have been searched and recovered, which is not the case in the present case.
One interesting point is that in one social media handle, a claim was made that the German-made drone was tried by the Kuki from the western hill range. This is unlikely and can be inferred to as a mere case of fake news to boast about their available technology. Another plausible cause may be a secret operation to assess the preparedness of the Eastern Air Command (EAC) in the event of any eventualities, especially with the turmoil in neighbouring Myanmar.
The military junta in Myanmar is bombing and strafing villages which are considered as the stronghold of the armed wing of the National Unity Government and other ethnic rebel groups or villages and townships which were overrun and taken over by the rebels. There are even claims that the aviation turbine fuel used by the military junta was supplied by the Indian government, which may or may not be true. But chances are high as the Indian Government immediately returned the military personnel from Myanmar who had crossed over to Mizoram after their posts were overrun by the rebels by bringing them to Moreh and handing them over to the military garrison at Tamu.
India seems to be playing a dual role by assisting both sides of the fight in Myanmar. If the effort was to test the preparedness of the EAC, none will be wiser as it will be a covert operation where the ability of the ATC at Imphal International Airport is tested, while also assessing the time taken to report to the EAC and the response time of the EAC. If that is the case, the UFO would have been allowed to escape by turning off the jammers for a moment for the operator to gain its control and fly it elsewhere.
What really is the case can only be determined through a detailed investigation and report. If such an investigation is not carried out, one may infer various presumptions. The Imphal International Airport, will host military aeroplanes during conflict and trial runs have already been carried out for landing and takeoff of sophisticated jets, including Rafale. For the inquisitive, if the government clarifies, it will do a wonder of good so that presumptions made based on the sketchy information that is available, as in this article will be nullified.
The situation in Myanmar is deteriorating swiftly and the call of the junta leader Min Aung Hlaing that the nation may splinter can be read in two ways. The first is a call to the Bamar community to stand along with the military junta, as like the Meitei did in Manipur they are the unifying force in Myanmar, and can be seen as an effort to wean them away from the NUG.
Secondly, the situation is so bad that it is cautioning the citizens that balkanisation of the country can happen anytime and to prepare for the worst case scenario. Operation 1027 spearheaded in north Myanmar by the Three Brotherhood Alliance comprising of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) had put the Takmadaw in the back foot. The involvement of AA in Shan state is a bit of a surprise as it is an organisation based in Rakhine state in the south west.
The MNDAA and the TNLA had been all along been fighting to establish territorial control and took advantage of the military attention in other areas. MNDAA made up mostly by Kokang, an ethnic Han Chinese minority and the TNLA of the Talang have interest in having autonomy and is dependent on China for their movement. China per se will not want them to be independent nations as in the long run it may affect its political and economic interest.
China will prefer to deal with a single country and any major changes in the situation may impact severely their economic interest like the development of a deep sea port at Kyaukpyu (slightly above 100 km from Sittwe port to the south east developed by India) which will the gateway to the Andaman Sea, bypassing the Malacca Strait. There are problems in Kayah State and Sagaing division beside Rakhine and Chin Hills and others.
How the military junta reacts will be of deep interest for India, its western neighbour, and urgent counter offensive can put them in the front seat as the trade route with China is now in the hands of the rebels who now have the opportunity and ability to even target flatland areas around Mandalay.
Since the situation is fluid in Myanmar, the Indian security agencies have to be on their toes to ensure that the situation there does not cause any problem in the country. The conflict situation in Manipur between the Meitei and the Kuki-Chin should be a worrisome aspect for the country and there is a need to review the strategies adopted in the past and present and to chart out what is best course of action for the nation.
The alleged involvement of some of the cadres of Chinland Defence Force (CDF) in the Manipur’s conflict and with some of the leaders spearheading the conflict in Manipur are of Myanmar origin and the relationship between the Kuki National Army (West) and the armed wing of the NUG, and the role of Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) in Myanmar should ring a warning bell. There are allegations of drug and scam centre money financing the rebellion in Myanmar and this is being replicated in Manipur also and therefore a proper reassessment of the strategies is indicated so that the nation is not by surprise.
The use of Kuki-Chin by India to control the activities of Naga and Meitei UGs is understandable but with the changing scenario where there is demand of Kukiland and or Zalengam comprising of areas from Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, the country need to be much more aware and focus on the immediate threat to the country.
Efforts must be made to control the conflict in Manipur as it can breed anti-national activities even among those which had all along assisted the security agencies. It is now the question of the integrity of the country and as the saying goes “in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, it is the question of interest”. And what is in the best interest of India must be the priority.
The UFO hovering over Imphal International Airport has led to various speculations among the general public and it is in the best interest of all to clarify so that the speculations are laid to rest. If it is an experiment to test the preparedness of the various agencies, no further action is called for except informing the public. If not there is a need to investigate what the object is and who had sent it, etc as national security may have been involved.
(The views expressed are personal)