Examining Myanmar-India Ties – OpEd


Myanmar’s military took power in a coup on 1 February 2021, unexpectedly interrupting the country’s nascent journey to democracy. The coup was blamed on fraud in the 2020 election, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy easily won. Thousands of people flocked to the streets in the weeks following the coup to protest. The military responded with lethal force and terror, storming homes and detaining everyone suspected of backing democracy. Many civilians took up arms in order to confront the military, forming people’s defence forces. In certain cases, anti-coup forces are backed by long-standing ethnic armed organisations that have fought the military for decades.

The military has been unable to consolidate control of the country due to fierce and popular opposition. It has used more ruthless brutality to quell dissent.

Earlier this year, the UN’s human rights office stated that the military’s acts could be considered war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Since the coup, about 700,000 individuals have been forced to evacuate their homes due to warfare, totaling more than 1.2 million people displaced. The economy is in shambles, and public services have crumbled.

Since the coup, Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisoned and sentenced to 20 years in prison. India, which previously cooperated closely with the previous regime, has now attempted to strengthen ties with Myanmar’s new rulers. On November 22, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued a brief three-point news release announcing Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra’s working travel to Myanmar. The visit demonstrated that the Indian government and junta are conducting business as usual. The two sides discussed “maintenance of security and stability in border areas” and “bilateral development cooperation initiatives,” according to the press release.

This shows that India is now more confident in dealing with the junta than ever before, and isn’t afraid to say so. In other words, it is willing to provide the government with the international legitimacy it desperately seeks. It wants fidelity and collaboration in return.

The junta was referred to as “the senior leadership of Myanmar” by the Indian side this time. Bringing India one step closer to recognising the regime as Myanmar’s legitimate government, especially as no mention of democracy or human rights was made during the meeting. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government suddenly appears hesitant to publicly challenge the junta, particularly given its abysmal human rights record.

Since the early 1990s, India has consistently maintained a policy of recognising whoever is in effective control of Naypyitaw as the legal government of all of Myanmar, despite the fact that this may not reflect reality on the ground.

The goal of re-engagement is to benefit India’s geopolitical and economic interests; actions that will enable New Delhi maintain its presence in its eastern neighbour.

They are primarily concerned with the restart of work on the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral motorway, both of which are New Delhi’s showpiece connectivity projects in Myanmar. India’s participation in the Border Area Development Programme and the Rakhine State Development Programme was also mentioned.

India aims to satisfy the dictatorship in exchange for full cooperation in securing its interests by avoiding problems that the junta may find disagreeable. Myanmar is strategically important to India since it is located at the crossroads of India and Southeast Asia. India and Myanmar share a 1,643-kilometer-long geographical land border as well as a marine boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar shares boundaries with four Indian states in Northeast India: Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh. Myanmar is the sole ASEAN member that borders India, and as such, it serves as India’s gateway to South-East Asia, with which it seeks closer economic integration through its ‘Act East’ policy. Myanmar is also an active participant in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). It is the only country that sits at the crossroads of India’s Neighborhood First and Act East policies. Myanmar is an important component of India’s Indo-Pacific regional diplomacy, serving as a land bridge connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia. Thus, it is in India’s geostrategic interest to expand bilateral ties with Myanmar while preserving the latter’s economic stability and prosperity. Manipur, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh, three of India’s four border states with Myanmar, have seen regular action by various terrorist organisations along the border. In an unprecedented move, the Myanmar military recently launched an attack near the Indian border on a prominent training centre for pro-democracy fighters, with jets dropping at least two bombs within Indian territory. As a hedging strategy, India may potentially be backing other factions.

The Myanmar government, which is fighting a brutal campaign to suppress pro-democracy militants, has began bombing Camp Victoria in Myanmar’s Chin state. Camp Victoria is the headquarters of the Chin National Army (CNA), an ethnic armed force fighting alongside other rebel groups under the name of the People’s Defence Force to restore democracy in Myanmar . The training camp is only a few kilometres from the Indian state of Mizoram’s border. Mizoram is sympathetic to the predicament of Chin state’s population and rebel combatants due to their shared ethnic origin. The border between Mizoram, India, and Myanmar has become an important corridor for the smuggling of weapons, supplies, and medicines to help rebel fighters, with authorities mainly turning a blind eye.

Jehangir Khan Mehsud is a graduate of economics and political science from Forman Christian College University, Lahore.

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