Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Myanmar’s internal situation shouldn’t hobble India’s ‘Act East’ policy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Act East Policy

Context

The military takeover in Myanmar on February 1, 2021 and its aftermath have seen an adverse impact on India’s Act East policy.

Impact on Act East policy

  • With the present dispensation in Myanmar, the Act East policy is going nowhere.
  • Impact on outreach: This has not only stymied New Delhi’s initiatives in terms of land outreach towards the vibrant economies of South East Asia, but has retarded development in the Northeast.
  • Pragmatism demands that an ambitious policy that had fired the aspirations of the Northeast does not become a casualty to the inertia of policymakers.
  • There seems to be a full-bodied recalibration exercise among insurgent groups operating from the Sagaing Division and Chin State in Myanmar.
  • In the north, the ULFA which was until recently in a submissive mood and had declared three back-to-back unilateral ceasefires has suddenly turned belligerent.
  • Need for a relook at Act East policy: In this background, a fresh look needs to be taken at both the furtherance of the Act East policy and the security matrix that governs the Northeast.

Suggestions

1] Opening a new axis of land-sea connectivity

  • Promoting trade and commerce: Favourable bilateral relations with Bangladesh offer an opportunity for opening a new axis of land-sea connectivity for promoting trade and commerce with Southeast Asia.
  • Upgrade land routes: There is a need to upgrade the multitude of land routes to the seaports of Mongla and Chittagong in Bangladesh, from Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.
  • The key land linkages from the Northeast are — Agartala via Akhaura, Dawki (Meghalaya) via Tamabil, Sutarkandi (Assam), and Srimantapur (Tripura) via Bibir Bazar.
  • Exploit shared river connectivity: In addition, there is a need to use inland water transport (IWT) to exploit the shared river connectivity of the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers.

2] Continued engagement with Myanmar

  • The land gateway to South East Asia does not seem likely in the near future.
  • But there should be no dilution in our initiatives to ensure that peace and stability return to Myanmar at the earliest.
  • For this, there is a need for continued engagement, both formal and informal, with the warring factions in Myanmar.

3] Develop appropriate infrastructure

  • Appropriate infrastructure such as container depots, cold storage facilities and seamless highways will have to be developed on a war footing.
  • Indian manufactured goods will have to be transported to the rail/roadheads in the Northeast like Guwahati for ready access to the seaports of Bangladesh.

4] Integrated defence zones

  • To make ineffective the strike capability of the insurgent groups there is a need to create “integrated defence zones”.
  •  These should be jointly manned by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) and the Indian Army/Assam Rifles
  • To enthuse dynamism and empower the Assam Rifles, there is a need to retain its current structure of being officered by the Indian Army, as it ensures systemic command and control.
  • This force needs to be mandated to undertake intelligence operations for greater transparency of the events within Myanmar and further the national strategy.

Conclusion

The Act East policy is intertwined with India’s Northeast policy. Let not the dismal scenario of Myanmar impede our vision for the actualisation of our ambitious Act East to go East, as alternates exist. To that end, there is a need to ensure the continued economic development of Northeastern states.

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