By C. S. Kuppuswamy
A high level delegation headed by the External Affairs Minister SM Krishna was on an official visit to Myanmar from 20-22 June 2011. The delegation included the Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao.
This was India’s first high level engagement with the new civilian government in Myanmar, that assumed office on 30 March 2011. A media report indicates that the delegation congratulated Myanmar for successfully holding the elections after two decades and forming a civilian government.
SM Krishna had detailed discussions with his counterpart Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin. He called on President Thein Sein and extended him an invitation on behalf of the Indian President to visit India. He also met the First Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo and the speakers of both houses of parliament. During this trip he visited Shwedagon pagoda and paid homage at the tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met Aung San Suu Kyi on 20 June 2011. Even though India’s ambassador to Myanmar met Suu Kyi after her release in November 2010, this was the first high level contact with her (after her release) from the Indian side. Though details of the meeting were not made available, a media report indicated that besides speaking about India’s relations with Myanmar, “Suu Kyi was apprised of the development assistance India is extending to Myanmar in various fields”(Pioneer-23 June 2011). For some strange reasons this visit was kept secret till the delegation’s visit to Myanmar concluded.
The agreements signed during this visit pertain to :
a) Building an 80 km road from Rhi to Tiddim connecting Mizoram and Chin states on either side of the border.
b) Setting up a vocational skills centre for Myanmar’s youth.
c) Providing a $ 10 million aid for agricultural implements and to set up a research centre in the sector.
According to a Myanmar state-run media report the Indian delegation handed over the paperwork on a 500-ton capacity food security shelter, which was built in the Irrawaddy delta under a Myanmar-India Friendship Program.
Issues pertaining to the much touted Kaladan multi-modal trade transit project were also discussed during the delegation level talks. The US $ 110 million project signed in 2008, which will increase the connectivity to the North East Indian states, is still to take off and hence a review of the project was made for speedy implementation..
Myanmar reiterated its assurance that it will not allow its territory to be used as a base for any anti-India activities. However some of the North East militant outfits continue to have camps in Kachin rebel held areas over which Myanmar government has little control.
It looked more like a routine visit after the civilian government had taken over in Myanmar.
If there is anything significant in the visit it is that the Foreign Minister did not find it politically ‘convenient’ to see Aung San Suu Kyi. It may please the generals, but it is not clear what India hopes to gain by this “gesture”.
It is hoped at least after the visit, the Kaladan project will be speeded up in right earnest by the Indian side.