Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

An unquiet neighbourhood


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Factors to consider in finding solution to conflicts in Afghanistan and Myanmar

The article highlights the inherent difficulty in finding a solution to the two conflicts raging on in India’s neigbourhood.

Tale of two conflicts in neighbourhood

  • Efforts to end two major conflicts in India’s neighbourhood have become intense.
  • To the west, a peace summit on Afghanistan, seeking to end decades of conflict there, was also scheduled to take place in Istanbul over the weekend.
  • To the east, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has produced a diplomatic opening with Myanmar’s military leadership.
  • Afghan conflict go back to the late 1970s; since then we have seen different phases of the conflict.
  • Although the crisis in Myanmar appears recent, the tension between civil-military relations is not new.
  • Back in 1988, the army annulled the huge mandate won by Aung San Suu Kyi and unleashed massive repression.

3 Common Themes in the effort at peace and reconciliation

1) Ending violence

  • The first is about ending violence.
  • In Afghanistan it has been near impossible to get a resurgent Taliban to agree to stop its attacks on government forces or the civilian population.
  • The ASEAN initiative in Myanmar calls for an immediate cessation of violence and utmost restraint from all sides.
  • The opposition demanding restoration of democracy might find this rather ironic, since it is the army that is employing violence and has shown scant restraint.

2) Dialogue among all parties

  • The second theme in the ASEAN initiative — “constructive dialogue among all parties” to “seek a peaceful solution” — is also common to all peace processes.
  • The Taliban found all kinds of excuses to delay a dialogue with the Kabul government that it always saw as illegitimate. So far, it has avoided one.
  • In Myanmar, the army might be ready to engage the opposition in a prolonged dialogue and defuse international pressure; but it will be hard for the victims of the coup to accept a dialogue on the army’s terms.

3) Third-party mediator

  • The Afghan conflict has long been internationalised.
  • All major powers, including regional actors and neighbours, have acquired stakes in the way the Afghan conflict is resolved.
  •  This unfortunately makes the construction of an internal settlement that much harder.
  • In Myanmar, the ASEAN has set the ball rolling by agreeing that a special envoy will be traveling to the region and will engage with all parties to the conflict.

Cost-benefit in diplomacy

  • The US is hoping that the Taliban will moderate some of its hardline positions given its need for significant international economic assistance for reconstruction, political legitimacy.
  • In Myanmar, too, the international community will hope the military would want to avoid the risks of political isolation and economic punishment.
  • But how the Taliban and the Myanmar army calculate these costs and benefits could be very different.
  • Both have long experience of surviving external pressure and enduring sanctions.


Few civil wars have seen the kind of massive external effort to change the internal dynamics as in Afghanistan; but to no avail. In Myanmar, it is not clear how far the international community might go. The prospects for positive change in Afghanistan and Myanmar, then, do not look too bright in the near term.

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