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Myanmar Conundrum

The Military coup in Myanmar is a worrisome development for India with high stakes in the neighbouring country.


Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  3 Feb 2021 5:41 AM GMT

The Military coup in Myanmar is a worrisome development for India with high stakes in the neighbouring country. Maintaining a strong bilateral relation with Myanmar is crucial for India's strategic interests. However, balancing the support for democratically elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and relations with Myanmar's military power that has seized governance control and declared a one-year state of emergency is going to be a challenging task. India has joined other countries in expressing concern over the military coup and detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and also said that the rule of law and democratic process must be upheld. Myanmar occupies a strategic place in India's 'Act East Policy' in deepening the Indian-ASEAN engagement. India has undertaken two projects in Myanmar under the 1360-km 'Trilateral Highway' that starts from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar.

These include the upgrading of 69 bridges and approach roads on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) section of 150 km and the construction of 120 km of the Kalewa-Yagyi section to highway standard. The 'Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project' with components of roadways and waterways is another strategic project taken up by India in Myanmar. It is a crucial transborder connectivity project for the north-eastern States under the 'Act East Policy'. The original waterways component of the project was completed in 2017 but the physical progress of multimodal transit transport is lagging behind the schedule. Adverse security situation due to hostile activities of Myanmarese ethnic rebel outfit -- the Arakan Army -- in the project area is one of the reasons for the delay. India articulated the Kaladan project through Rakhine and Chin States in Myanmar to reduce the distance between Northeast and rest of India. Once completed, the project will reduce the 1880-km distance between Sittwe Port in Myanmar and Kolkata through the 'Chicken Neck' corridor to 980 km through the Kaladan River that flows after originating in the Chin State in Myanmar through Mizoram and finally connects with the Bay of Bengal. From the Mizoram-Myanmar border, a 10-km road stretch to Lawngtlai in Mizoram will connect to the entire NE region. India and Myanmar signed the framework agreements and protocols in 2008 for this project, and its construction began in 2010. Strategic cooperation between the two neighbouring countries is vital for expediting it.

Significantly, the ASEAN member countries are divided in their reaction to the situation developing in Myanmar which is also a member State of the regional grouping of 10 South East Asian countries. Brunei -- the current chair of ASEAN -- has called for dialogue and reconciliation and the ''return to normalcy in accordance with the will of the people of Myanmar'', while Cambodia and Thailand have refrained from commenting describing it as "internal affairs of Myanmar''. Malaysia and Indonesia, on the other hand, have appealed for peaceful resolutions through dialogue. Lack of consensus among the ASEAN nations over the development in Myanmar has also made India more cautious in its approach towards the development. Myanmar's territory being used by insurgent outfits of the Northeast region as training and shelter bases, cooperation from the neighbouring country is critical for India's counter-insurgency response. Synergised operations by security forces in two neighbouring countries in the recent past mounted pressure on the rebel groups on both sides.

Sustaining the pressure on the Northeast rebel groups taking shelter in Myanmar is critical to prevent them from taking advantage of internal turmoil and reconsolidate. The peace talks between the Government of India and the 'National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah)' has reached a dead end which has led to more leaders of the outfit to shift their bases to Myanmar while the United Liberation Front of India (Independent), and a faction of the NSCN (Khaplang) have stepped up their insurgent activities. India has such security compulsions to continue its strategic cooperation with Myanmar military power even while expressing concern over the setback to transition of power from military to a democratically-elected government in the neighbouring country. India has managed to continue the complex relations with Myanmar, carefully balancing strategic tieups with the military power to take care of its own security concerns and lending support to pro-democracy movement. India will also have to remain watchful as to how the seizure of political power by Tatmadaw or Myanmar Military affects the efforts by Dhaka to repatriate the Rohingiya refugees from Rakhine State in Myanmar now sheltered in Bangladesh. In the event of uncertainty in repatriation, Rohingiya refugees may try to sneak into India through the porous India-Bangladesh border in search of shelter and livelihood; and this will put the Border Security Force (BSF) troops as well as the State Police forces in Northeast and West Bengal on the maximum alert. Restoration of democracy in Myanmar is critical to ensure durable peace and stability in the South East Asian region; and India will be expected to play a crucial role in this aspect.

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