India Myanmar Relations: Key Developments

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Importance of Myanmar to India

To tackle insurgency in North-East:

  •  Myanmar is central to Northeast India’s security as “a large number of cross-border ethnic groups and insurgents from Northeast India have military bases in Myanmar.
  •  Last year, Indian troops reportedly crossed into Myanmar territory to target a National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang) military camp.
  • Myanmar has reiterated its resolve not to allow its territory to be used against India.

 

Act-East policy

  • Myanmar’s importance lies in its geo-strategic location at the tri-junction of east, south-east and south Asia.
  • Myanmar is strategically important to India as it is the only ASEAN country that shares a border with India.
  • In geopolitical terms, New Delhi saw Myanmar as a buffer state with China.
  • Myanmar is a crucial link to Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor.

 

Energy security

  • Myanmar is on India’s energy security radar on account of its “abundant oil and natural gas” reserves.
  • Oil and gas companies ONGC Videsh and GAIL are aggressively scouting for more exploratory blocks in Myanmar.
  • A peaceful Northeast has great potential to develop economically with its rich biodiversity, hydropower and precious mineral resources, once it is properly integrated to the Southeast Asian economy.
  • Myanmar is an important partner in strengthening our energy security. Recognizing this, an MOU on Co-operation in the Petroleum Sector between MOP&NG and Ministry of Energy of Myanmar was signed during President’s visit to Myanmar in March 2006.
  • Of all the heavy investments in the Myanmar, India has mostly invested in the field of oil and gas sector.

 

Trade and investment opportunities

  • The Myanmar economy is moving away from a centrally-planned superstructure to a market-led Framework.
  • Myanmar — like the other CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) — represents a rapidly growing economy with rising consumption, strategic location and access, rich natural resources (oil, gas, teak, copper and gemstones), biodiversity and an industrious workforce with low wages. And it offers significant opportunities for trade in goods and services, investment and project exports.
  • Bilateral trade rose from US$ 328 million in 1997-98 to US$ 2.052 billion in 2015-16. Myanmar is the
  • Second largest supplier of beans and pulses to India.
  • India is presently the ninth largest investor with an approved investment of US$ 730.649 million by 22 Indian companies. Most of India’s investments have been in the oil and gas sector.
  •  India’s engineering sector is eyeing the Myanmar market to create a bigger presence for engineering exports.

Economic development of North-East

India is focusing on connectivity to integrate north-east region with Myanmar and also with ASEAN. Myanmar also offers us an alternative access route to the Northeast.

Regional cooperation

  • ASEAN: Myanmar is only ASEAN country which shares a land border with India.
  •  BIMSTEC: Myanmar became a member of BIMSTEC in December 1997. Myanmar is a signatory to the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement.
  •  Mekong Ganga Cooperation: Myanmar is a member of the Mekong Ganga Cooperation(MGC) since its inception in November 2000.
  • SAARC: Myanmar was given the status of observer in SAARC in August 2008.

Historical Background

  • At the time of its independence in 1948, Myanmar had not joined the Commonwealth due to too much bitterness towards British. Immediately afterwards, Burma came under the grip of communists {Red Flag, White Flag, Thirty Comrades, Revolutionary Burma Army etc. were some of the groups}. In 1962, the Military of Burma overthrew the democratic regime. Since then, Burma has been under direct or indirect Military rule until recently when democracy has returned to the country. During initial days of military rule, there was bitterness in India-Myanmar relations.
  • Burma not only became more and more isolated from world but also from its own neighbours except China. The Burmese rulers ordered expulsion of Indian community from there because India supported the pro-democracy movement. Its leader General Ne Win not only took anti-India, anti-Soviet stand, but also withdrew from the Non-alignment Movement in 1979. Between 1962 and 1974, the supreme body in Burma was a Revolutionary Council headed by the general, and almost all aspects of society (business, media, production) were nationalized or brought under government control under the Burmese Way to Socialist which combined Soviet-style nationalization and central planning with the governmental implementation of superstitious beliefs. A new constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was adopted in 1974, until 1988, the country was ruled as a one-party system, with the General and other military officers resigning and ruling through the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). During this period, Burma became one of the world’s most impoverished countries.
  • In 1987, India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Burma to seek ways to normalize relations. However, the relations worsened after the military junta’s bloody repression of pro-democracy agitations in 1988, which led to an influx of Burmese refugees into India. However, since 1993 the governments of the Indian Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee changed course and began cultivating ties with Myanmar, as part of Look East Policy, aimed to increase India’s participation and influence in Southeast Asia and to counteract the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China. At the same time, India continued to sympathize with prodemocracy groups and awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for international Understanding to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1993, by which time she had already become persona non grata to the Myanmar government.

 

FLAGSHIP PROJECTS

Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project
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What it is?

  • The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project is a project that will connect the seaport of Kolkata with Sittwe seaport in Myanmar by sea; it will then link Sittwe seaport to Lashio in Myanmar via Kaladan river boat route and then from Lashio on to Mizoram in India by road transport.

 

Benefits for India

  • Current route from North East to Kolkata port via chicken neck faces heavy traffic; cargo via this route takes many days to reach a port.
  • This project will reduce distance from Kolkata to Mizoram by approximately 1000 km and cut travelling time to 3-4 days for transport of goods
  • Apart from development of North-East region, this route is necessary in case of any conflict with China as the present route, i.e., chicken neck could be blocked by China in conflict situation.
  • The access to the sea that the project provides its Northeastern states could boost their economies.
  • It would strengthen India’s trade and transport links with Southeast Asia.
  • It not only serves the economic, commercial and strategic interest of India but also contributes to the Development of Myanmar and its economic integration with India.
  • It will be instrumental for “act-east policy”.

 

India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway

  • India’s renewed commitment to complete the 3,200-km India-Asean trilateral highway that extends from Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand via Mandalay, Myanmar.

 

DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION IN MYANMAR

Myanmar has sworn in Htin Kyaw as the country’s first civilian President in more than 50 years.

  • Mr. Htin Kyaw’s government would be its most democratic administration since 1962 when the military seized power.
  • Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won 77 per cent of the elected seats in Parliament. She cannot lead the government because of a constitutional provision that bars her since her sons are British and not Myanmar citizens.

 

Background

  • The National League for Democracy( NLD) won Myanmar’s last free and fair election in 1990 in a landslide, but the result was ignored by the then ruling military. The NLD boycotted a 2010 poll held under military rule.
  • The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is dominated by military and civil servants, will be the NLD’s biggest opponent.
  • Ms. Suu Kyi’s own presidential aspirations are curtailed by a clause in the constitution that bars individuals with children holding foreign citizenship from becoming head of state.

 

Political reforms in Myanmar

A process of reform has been under way in Myanmar since November 2010, when military rule was replaced by a new military-backed civilian government.

  • Release of Aung San Suu kyi from house arrest.
  • The release of political prisoners.
  • Free and fair by-poll elections in 2012 that saw Aung San Suu Kyi enter Parliament.
  • The lifting of censorship on media houses.

 

Military holds on Parliament

  • As per 2008 constitution, 25 per cent of the seats in the Upper and Lower houses of Hluttaw (House of Representatives) will be nominated by the military.
  • The all-important Defence and Home portfolios remain with the Tatmadaw (The Myanmar Armed Forces),regardless of who comes to power.

 

Challenges for new government

Economic development:

  • Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in Asia. In the years of isolation under the junta, economic growth stagnated, trapping millions in acute poverty.

From military:

  •  One-quarter of seats in both Houses of Parliament are reserved for the military. This prevents anyconstitutional amendments without the military’s approval.
  • The military also has direct control of three key Ministries: defence, home affairs and border affairs.

Ethnic conflict and issue of soverignty:

 

  • Myanmar’s biggest challenge in the coming years will be to control, consolidate and protect its borders and its sovereignty. Moving forward on a comprehensive peace agreement with the ethnic nations and containing insurgencies will be its primary goal.
  • Myanmar has been the site of serious conflicts between Buddhist and Muslim communities, particularly in Rakhine State.

 

Cooperation between India and Myanmar in the regional/Sub-regional Context

ASEAN: Myanmar became a member of ASEAN in July 1997. As the only ASEAN country which shares a land border with India, Myanmar is a bridge between India and ASEAN. A few proposals for cooperation have been implemented and some are under discussions with Myanmar within the framework of ASEAN’s IAI programme.

BIMSTEC: Myanmar became a member of BIMSTEC in December 1997. Myanmar is a signatory to the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement. Myanmar is the lead country for the energy sector. Myanmar trades mostly with Thailand and India in the BIMSTEC region. Myanmar’s major exports to India are agricultural products like beans, pulses and maize and forest products such as teak and hardwoods. Its imports from India include chemical products, pharmaceuticals, electrical appliances and transport equipment. The 13th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting was held in Myanmar in January 2011.

Mekong Ganga Cooperation: Myanmar is a member of the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) since its inception in November 2000. MGC is an initiative by six countries – India and five ASEAN countries namely, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – for cooperation in the fields of tourism, education, culture, transport and communication. The chairmanship of MGC is assumed by member countries in alphabetical order.

SAARC: Myanmar was given the status of observer in SAARC in August 2008.

 

Development of strategic ties

  • India’s move to forge close relations with Burma are motivated by a desire to counter China’s growing influence as a regional leader and enhance its own influence and standing. Concerns and tensions increased in India over China’s extensive military involvement in developing ports, naval and intelligence facilities and industries, specifically the upgrading of a naval base in Sittwe, a major seaport located close to the eastern Indian city of Kolkata. India’s engagement of the Burmese military junta has helped ease the regime’s international isolation and lessen Burma’s reliance on China. Both nations sought to cooperate to counteract drug trafficking and insurgent groups operating in the border areas. India and Myanmar are leading members of BIMSTEC and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, along with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, helping India develop its influence and ties amongst Southeast Asian nations.
  • India was hesitant in reacting to the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests that had drawn overwhelming international condemnation. India also declared that it had no intention of interfering in Burma’s internal affairs and that the Burmese people would have to achieve democracy by themselves as it respects the sovereignty of Myanmar. This low-key response has been widely criticised both within India and abroad as weakening India’s credentials as a leading democratic nation. Indo-Burma relations went into pleasant phase over Burmese steps towards democracy.
  • As of 2013, India has provided loan to Myanmar for its development, about US$500 million.
  • India and Myanmar are set to cooperate in military and help modernize Myanmar’s military.

Rohingya issue

  • The plight of the Rohingyas from Myanmar and Bangladesh is being described as Asia’s biggest mass exodus. The Rohingyas are minority Muslim community in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and they reside in Rakhine province of that country. After the major Buddhist-Rohingya riots in 2012 a large number of Rohingyas fled to the neighboring Bangladesh. Thousands who remained back became internally displaced and their properties were displaced and were chased out of their homes. They now live in crowded camps within Myanmar. Periodically they try and escape the inhuman conditions they are forced to live in and are facilitated by people smugglers. As in the past they have sought greener pastures in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. None of the countries want them now. Rohingyas are collectively dubbed as ‘boat people’ by the media.
  • The Rohingya people are considered ‘stateless entities’, as the Myanmar government has been refusing to recognise them as one of the ethnic groups of the country. There is no legal protection for them from the government of Myanmar. To escape the dire situation in Myanmar, the Rohingya try to illegally enter Southeast Asian states, begging for humanitarian support from potential host countries. The modern Burmese state is built upon the concept of Buddhist Burmese supremacy; this concept has been used by the military as a pretext for their rule. The Rohingya are not allowed to register their marriage and they are not allowed to have education.
  • Their condition is even when they travel to other countries. When the refugees arrive in Thailand and Malaysia, they are still at the mercy of traffickers, who detain them in jungle prisons and demand ransoms from friends and family. If they can pay, they are released, but if they cannot they are often killed. Thailand police discovered 24 bodies in the mountains of southern Thailand in May, believed to be the victims of smugglers. Most refugees that arrive in Thailand or Malaysia look to stay and get work and then send money home to their families. The refugees work in the fishing or farming industries and often don’t get paid or face dire working conditions. Those that have made out of Myanmar by boat face an uncertain future.
  • Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not possess a legislative and administrative framework to address refugee matters. Therefore, the inclusion of more Rohingya refugees would have further strained Malaysia’s domestic capacity to cope with illegal immigrants in the country.
  • Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to provide temporary shelter for the refugees in their respective countries for up to a year, after which the international community should assist to repatriate and resettle the refugee to a third country. The Rohingya refugee crisis also poses domestic challenges for Malaysia. The growing presence of Rohingya refugees could worsen the social, economic and political problems associated with illegal immigrants in Malaysia.
  • Atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state is being seen as a crime against humanity. Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand had recently sparked growing international outrage by driving off boats overloaded with starving Rohingya as well as Bangladeshis. The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, believes at least 2,000 migrants may be stranded on boats off the Myanmar-Bangladesh coasts, held in horrific conditions for weeks by traffickers who are demanding that passengers pay to be released. The UN says the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted groups in the world. Neither Bangladesh nor Myanmar recognises them as citizens. In Buddhist-majority Myanmar, even the name Rohingya is taboo. Myanmar officials refer to the group as “Bengalis” and insist they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though most have lived in the country for generations.
  • Whatever be the solution, it really has to be a humanitarian approach, making sure lives are not lost and looking at temporary solutions in each of the affected countries – Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. The United States has asked the Myanmar to give full rights to the minority to help end the exodus. The temporary solution is a settlement arrangement for the asylum seekers and refugees who are coming to these countries. There has to be a mechanism and strategy at the regional level that allows countries of the ASEAn region to have an oversight on coordinated management. The approach might be slightly different in every country, but it has to be an overarching strategy. ASEAN has to put pressure on Burma in order to make changes to the lives of people in Rakhine state. This is a long-term strategy.

 

Indo-Myanmar Border issue:

Indo Myanmar Border

The border with Myanmar also remains operationally active and several insurgent groups have secured sanctuaries for themselves in Myanmar despite the cooperation extended by the Myanmar’s army.

The cross-border movement of Nagas and Mizos for training, purchase of arms and shelter when pursued by Indian security forces, combined with the difficult terrain obtaining in the area, make this border extremely challenging to manage.

This border is manned by the Assam Rifles since 2002 with some help from Indian Army.

India shares 1,643 km. long border with Myanmar. Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram are the FOUR States, which share the border with Myanmar. India and Myanmar permit a Free Movement Regime up to 16 km across the border. This makes the International Border extremely porous.

The border runs along hilly and inhospitable terrain which grossly lacks basic infrastructure and provides

Cover to the activities of various Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs). The unfenced Indo-Myanmar border with free movement regime is thus being exploited by various Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs).

Assam Rifles has been deployed for counter-insurgency and border guarding role on this border. Out of sanctioned strength of 46 battalions, 31battalions are for counter-insurgency and 15 battalions are for border guarding role. Presently, all 15 border guarding battalions are deployed along Indo-Myanmar

Border on Company Operating Base (COB) approach. The companies are deployed on all routes of ingress/egress and are checking infiltration, smuggling of arms, ammunition, drugs, fake Indian currency notes, etc.

 

Recent dispute: Border Fencing Between BP No.79 and 81 in Moreh

In order to check the problem of increased militant activities in the Indo-Myanmar border area, the Government of India sanctioned an action in early 2013 to fence the area between BP No. 79 to 81 on the Indo-Myanmar Border (approx. 10 km). This initiative has recently led to various protests in Manipur.

First episode in July 2013

The intermittent protests against the construction of a border fence started in July, 2013 by various political parties and the affected people in Manipur. The protesters claim that the 10-km fence between border pillars no. 79 and 81, which is being constructed several metres inside the Indian territory because of Myanmar’s objections, would result in Manipur loosing substantial portions of its territory to Myanmar. They demanded that the Central government should first resolve the border dispute with Myanmar and conduct a joint survey of the border before constructing the fence.

On August, 2013: The Myanmarese army reportedly tried to set up a camp by felling trees in Hollenphai village near border pillar no. 76. While the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) denied any intrusion into the Indian Territory by the Myanmarese army, the local people alleged harassments by the ‘intruders’.

The subsequent visits of the state Governor and other high ranking officials to the affected area failed to assuage the feelings of the local people and the protest against the construction of the fence continues even today.

Despite these protests, the Central government has decided to go ahead with the construction of fencing – a decision based on the successful experiment along the India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh borders, where the fence has been effective in checking infiltration and illegal migration to a large extent.

 

Vulnerable Factors @ Indo-Myanmar border

  • First, even though the international boundary between the two countries had been formally delimited and demarcated following the 1967 Boundary agreement, the boundary has not crystallised on the ground.
  • This is because like most of the boundaries that India shares with its neighbours, the India-Myanmar boundaries is also an artificial line which is superimposed on the socio-culturallandscape of the borderland.
  • Second, the border traverses a region which is infested with numerous insurgencies. These insurgencies have hampered the nation building process in this part of India.

        a.) These insurgencies have delayed the crystallisation of the international border with Myanmar and have  contributed towards sustaining these insurgencies for so long.

  • Third, the India-Myanmar border has a unique arrangement in place called the Free Movement Regime. The FMR permits the tribes residing along the border to travel 16-km across the boundary without visa restrictions.

       b.) While the FMR has helped the tribes continue maintain their age old ties, it has also become a cause of concern for the security establishment. The insurgents have been taking advantage of The FMR and have been             crossing over to Myanmar to receive training in arms, establish safe Havens and re-enter India to carry out                   subversive attacks.

  Over the years, the India-Myanmar border has become the main conduit for the trafficking of arms and high quality   heroin from Myanmar. Smuggling of ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine and trafficking of women and children from     the Northeast to Myanmar and further to Southeast Asia are also rampant along the border.

  • Fourth, the policymakers in Delhi have not given adequate attention to the India-Myanmar border and as a result it continues to be poorly managed.

 

  1. The Assam Rifles which has been deployed along the border to guard the boundary has also been straddled with responsibility of maintaining internal security. Given the security situation of the region, the force has deployed 31 of its 46 battalions for counter insurgency operations and only 15 battalions for guarding the border.
  2. Even these 15 battalions are not placed at the border but they operate from company operated bases which are located far inside the Indian Territory. In short, the Assam Rifles functions more like a counter insurgency force rather than a border guarding force.

Similarly, infrastructural facilities at Moreh and Zokhawatar – the two designated points for normal trade and border trade respectively – is poor. The land customs station lack screening and detection machines, communication devices, banking facilities, warehouses, parking and quarantine facilities.

 

Lack of support from military Junta govt in Myanmar

India’s patchy engagement with the military junta in Myanmar and its initial support to the democratic movement in that country have been largely responsible for Myanmar’s reluctance to cooperate with India.

 

Recommendations:

Given that the vulnerability of the India-Myanmar border is posing a serious challenge to the internal security of the country, the Government of India should pay immediate attention to effectively manage this border.

  1. It should first strengthen the security of the border by either giving the Assam Rifles the single mandate of guarding the border or deploying another border guarding force such as the Border Security Force (BSF).
  2. It should initiate a revision of the FMR and reduce the permitted distance of unrestricted travel.
  3. The construction of the ICP along with other infrastructure should be expedited.
  4. Finally, India should endeavour to meaningfully engage with Myanmar and solicit its cooperation in resolving all outstanding issues and better manage their mutual border.

MoUs signed during the recent President of Myanmar visit to India (29th August, 2016)

  • MoU on Cooperation in the construction of 69 Bridges including AP Aproach Roads in the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa Road Section of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar
  • MoU on Cooperation in the construction/upgradation of the Kalewa-Yagyi Road Section.
  • MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Renewable Energy.
  • MoU on Cooperation in the field of Traditional Systems of Medicine

Future trends and Conclusion

  • It is clearly evident that Myanmar plays an important and pivotal role not only linking India with the ASEAN and South-East Asian countries but also in eradicating insurgent groups in north-eastern parts of the Indian Territory.
  • The first is where will be a direct economic development for India second will also help to India to pacify its north-eastern parts of peace and development both with the help of Myanmar.
  • Moreover, Myanmar is not only a fresh economic opportunity for India to invest and garner; it is a chance to overcome the decades’ long neglect of Northeast India by linking its infrastructure and commerce with Myanmar. India could reignite the Bay of Bengal with a surge of commercial activity reviving its eastern ports.
  • Also if both nations are determined then the illicit drug trafficking and inflow of narcotics/heroin from Myanmar into the alcohol prohibited states of Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram can be extirpated completely.
  • Myanmar which has recently gained democracy also seek forward to new developmental, political and economic reforms and India by helping can be on the better side of mutual benefits.
  • An increasing consciousness in India about Myanmar’s importance should motivate academia, think tanks, NGOs, artists, media and strategic community to re-discover and strengthen links with their counterparts in Myanmar.

 

By B2B

Revisiting the Basics

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