India-Myanmar Relations

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  • Mahendra Pande asked: What are the actual reasons for ethnic violence in Myanmar? What active role could India play in it?

    Udai Bhanu Singh replies: Ethnic conflict is one of Myanmar’s biggest challenges. It makes the task of national reconciliation tougher. Myanmar is a multi-ethnic country composed of seven ethnically designated states and regions (with Bamar or Burman majority) referred to in the colonial period as ’Frontier’ Burma and ’Ministerial’ Burma. The Burmans (mostly Buddhist), who are 68 per cent of the total population, form the majority. The other ethnic groups are the Shans, the Karens, the Rakhines, the Kachins, Chins, Was, Palaungs, the Nagas, etc.

    The British effectively put the country on a path of separate economic and political development when it divided it into ‘Ministerial Burma’ (dominated by the Burmans and directly governed) and ’Outer Burma’ (dominated by the minorities and allowed a measure of autonomy). The British policy of preferring minorities in their recruitment to the army and civil administration saw a reaction in the post-independence period of military rule. The 2008 Constitution provided for six Self-Administered Zone/Division: Naga, Danu, Pa-O, Pa Laung, Kokang and Wa respectively. Following the 2010 general elections, demands for a second Panglong Conference were raised. However, the statelessness of Rohingya Muslims contributed to the violence and refugee flow seen in the recent past.

    India, on its part, desires stability in its neighbourhood and especially because of the common ethnic population on either side of the India-Myanmar border. India seeks to contribute to ethnic peace in Myanmar through improved economic condition, greater connectivity, emphasis on community based development with emphasis on health and education sector. In all this besides the government, the private sector and NGOs are required to be important stakeholders.

    The Persecuted Rohingyas of Myanmar: Need for Political Accommodation and India`s Role

    While India is not immediately affected by the Rohingya refugee migration from Myanmar, it cannot be oblivious to the regional dimensions of such human migrations based on ethnic discontent.

    August 13, 2012

    The Significance of Connectivity in India-Myanmar Relations

    With better connectivity and implementation of various development projects, the Asian Highway would enable the North-East region to become a business hub of South Asia.

    July 06, 2012

    Mahendra Pande asked: Why Myanmar in recent years has become a key strategic partner for India, although during 80s and 90s India was very aloof about it?

    Udai Bhanu Singh replies: It is perhaps not apt to say that India had been aloof about Myanmar in the 1980s and 1990s. India has been finessing its policy vis-à-vis this geo-strategically significant ASEAN country. Our common experience of struggle against colonialism was carried over into the post-independence period as well. Then, as the realpolitik requirements of statecraft hit us, the sentimentalism of the freedom struggle era was shed (around 1993) in preference for a more pragmatic approach of dealing with the regime in power. Even then it must not be construed as an abandonment of India's principles (which include faith in democracy). However, whatever political system Myanmar obtains is entirely a matter of choice of its own people. As the transition to democracy began, India too came out in support of the process in Myanmar because it considers it a key strategic neighbour.

    An Assessment of Manmohan Singh’s Visit to Myanmar

    Political change in Myanmar is palpable and a sensitive and proactive approach is required to prevent the initiative slipping from India’s hands.

    June 01, 2012

    Drug Trafficking in India: A Case for Border Security

    Drug Trafficking in India: A Case for Border Security

    Trafficking of drugs takes place overwhelmingly through land borders followed by sea and air routes. Given the vulnerability of the borders to drug trafficking, India has tried to tackle the problem through the strategy of drug supply and demand reduction, which involves enacting laws, co-operating with voluntary organisations, securing its borders and coasts by increasing surveillance, as well as seeking the active cooperation of its neighbours and the international community.

    Uday asked: Can it be said that the situation in India’s neighbourhood today is far more stable than ever before, especially in view of recent developments in Myanmar, Bangladesh, etc?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: The countries in India's neighbourhood are in the process of adapting to the competitive reflexes of democracy. True, there have been political turmoils/unrests in Nepal, Pakistan, Maldives and Bangladesh, but the silver lining in the cloud is that their commitment to stick to the democratic system remains quite firm. There are grave challenges that each of these countries will have to overcome-- in Nepal, the slow process of consensus building; in Pakistan-- various institutions engaged in an insidious struggle for power and exploring their limits; in Sri Lanka-- majoritarian arrogance trumping the spirit of democracy; in Bangladesh-- the extreme bipolarity in politics asserting itself, and in Maldives-- the early pangs of a difficult transition to democracy.

    In this situation, India's pragmatic neighbourhood policy with an emphasis on economic cooperation, connectivity and dialogue has created an ambience for positive change in the region. Its bilateral arrangements/agreements with Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have provided an impetus for growth and prosperity. The ongoing process of dialogue between India and Pakistan has already resulted in Pakistan agreeing to accord MFN status to India. The shift in American policy towards Myanmar, in the wake of the Myanmarese government's decision to usher in democracy in the Junta controlled state, has proved that India's policy of engagement in the past was wise and effective.

    Overall, the neighborhood may not be as stable as one would have wished it to be, but India's creative approach is likely to contribute to regional prosperity and stability. A lot would, however, depend on the way the domestic political dynamics, in each of the countries in the region, unfold in the days to come.

    Hans Raj Singh aked: What is the importance of Myanmar for India?

    Udai Bhanu Singh replies: Myanmar’s importance lies in its geo-strategic location at the tri-junction of east, south-east and south Asia. It is the only south-east Asian country with which India has a land border which accounts for its significance in the development of India’s northeast and in the context of India’s Look East Policy. Added to this is the China factor, need for stability in the Indian Ocean, and its potential as a proximate source of energy. Besides, India’s democratic credentials (for a country in transition), and historical and cultural ties (for a nation which reveres Buddhism), makes Myanmar an apt avenue for the exercise of India’s soft power.

    Amol Shinde asked: Is Myanmar's democratisation in India's favour vis-à-vis China ?

    Udai Bhanu Singh replies: The democratic transition underway in Myanmar is a happy augury for India, the world’s largest democracy. Yet, India does not advocate the ‘export’ of democracy. Besides, a democratic movement which is indigenous (but is open to fresh ideas from outside) has greater chances of success. The initial attempt at democracy in 1988 (and the 1990 elections thereafter) did not fructify as it was suppressed. As the West imposed sanctions (taking the high moral ground), China seized the opportunity to make inroads into the country with heavy economic and military aid and investment.

    A new era dawned in Myanmar with the new 2008 Constitution, the November 2010 elections, and the new parliament, which holds the prospect of reconciliation among the three stakeholders in Myanmar: the military, the political parties and the ethnic groups. Myanmar’s democratisation will help the country break out of economic isolation. Second, military assistance would help wean it away from China’s clasp. Democratisation in Myanmar would restore the balance in its polity and help address the issue of developmental neglect in minority dominated border provinces (adjoining both India’s northeast and China). Internal stability in Myanmar (with improved inter-ethnic relations) would render greater autonomy to the country in its external relations (evidenced in the suspension of China-led Myitsone dam project recently). While it appears unlikely that China’s other mega-projects (such as Kyaukphyu port development and the dual pipeline and railway line starting from the same port) would be adversely affected, it will introduce alternative players into the fray. As the ASEAN members (and the world community) take note of China’s assertion in the South China Sea and China’s access to the Indian Ocean, a growing interest in Myanmar’s democratisation process is a welcome development.