Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

India’s response to Sri Lanka and Myanmar crises is a study in contrast

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Crisis in Myanmar and issues with India's response to it

Context

There is a stark contrast contrast between the Indian response to the crisis in Sri Lanka and the dawning civil war in Myanmar.

Crisis in Myanmar

  • According to UN human rights monitors, over 2,000 people have been killed, around 14,000 are in prison, including 90 lawmakers, over 7,00,000 are refugees and half a million internally displaced.
  • Humanitarian aid to coup opponents is blocked.
  • The economy is in free fall.
  • Though the international community has not accepted the junta or its nominees as official representatives of Myanmar, it has not recognised the unity government as the legitimate successor of the pre-coup elected administration either.
  • Its armed wing, the recently-formed People’s Defence Force (PDF), exists in a shadowy limbo.
  • If it is too weak to impose significant costs on the junta, one root cause is the lack of support from neighbours.
  • As against Europe’s military support for Ukraine’s defence, no Asian country has stepped up to support the unity government and PDF.
  • Role of ASEAN:  It is ASEAN which shouldered the responsibility to mediate in Myanmar, whereas India took the initiative with Sri Lanka.
  • But ASEAN has been largely unsuccessful.
  • The five-point consensus that the junta agreed on with the regional grouping included an immediate end to violence and resumption of negotiations between the ousted administration and the Tatmadaw.
  • ASEAN’s reaction has been weak at best.
  • The US, EU, Australia and Canada announced targeted sanctions on the junta, and the EU imposed an embargo on arms sales to the country. ASEAN did not.

India’s response and issues with it

  • The contrast between the Indian response to the crisis in Sri Lanka and the dawning civil war in Myanmar could not be starker.
  • There is no support from the India administration for Mizoram’s aid effort, and apparently there is no Indian policy vis a vis the coup either.
  • Cooperation against cross-border insurgency: Given our land and sea borders with Myanmar, and the troubled history of cross-border insurgencies between our two countries, the India’s inertia is alarming, though not entirely surprising.
  • Successive Indian administrations maintained relations with the junta in the hope that they would cooperate against cross-border Indian armed groups.
  • But these insurgencies have reduced.
  • In fact, over the 10 years of Myanmar’s partial democracy, from 2011 to 2021, cross-border support for Indian insurgents dipped sharply.
  • Direct security interest: In other words, we have a direct security interest in the restoration of our neighbour’s democracy.

Way forward

  • Stringent sanctions: Sanctions that will starve the junta are a first step that Myanmar’s neighbours are yet to try.
  • While ASEAN has the initiative, all Myanmar’s neighbours need to unite on sanctions, especially nations such as Japan, Australia and India that are members of the Quad along with the US.
  • Myanmar ought to have topped the recent Quad summit’s agenda and it is shameful that it did not.
  • It is still not too late to call a virtual emergency meeting of Quad heads of state, along with ASEAN heads of state, to agree to stringent sanctions.

Conclusion

Our neighbourhood is more unstable today than it has been for decades. Four of our bordering countries are in free fall, while China’s grip comes closer to our shores by the hour. Can India afford to fiddle while wildfires ignite around us?

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