Senior General Than Shwe”s Visit: Bridging the India-Mayanmar Gap

Posted on July 30, 2010 in GlobeScope

By Sampa Kundu:

Senior General Than Shwe’s 5-days official visit to India ended on Thursday, July 29, 2010. He came to India with a number of other top level delegates on a goodwill visit and both the governments signed five documents including the Treaty on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, MOU regarding Indian Grant Assistance for Implementation of Small Developmental projects in Myanmar, MOU on Information Cooperation, Agreement on Cooperation in the fields of Science & Technology and MOU on Conservation and Restoration of Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar.

General Than Shwe is the Chairman of the State Peace and Order Restoration Council (SPDC) of Myanmar which is in ruling power in the country since 1988. Most of the Western countries have identified the existing military regime of Myanmar as the most repressive one in the contemporary history. U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described life in Myanmar as “dangerous” for the common people living there. U.S., in fact, requested India and other neighbours of Myanmar to push the country for reinstallation of democracy. (CNN, July 29, 2010).

The pro-democratic Burmese exiles living in India showed protests against this visit and demanded that India should not give any honor to the dictatorial ruler of Burma or Myanmar as it was renamed in 1988.

India, in fact, was a crucial supporter of Burmese pro-democratic movements until the inception of Look East Policy. But, Myanmar’s location forced India to change its policy towards the government of Myanmar. China’s strong existence in the country compelled India to re-visit its position in Myanmar. The energy-rich Southeast Asian country’s cooperation and support is required for India to have access to its energy. Moreover, in order to control the rebels of Northeastern states who often take shelter in Myanmar India needs active help from Myanmar’s side. Myanmar is seen as a gateway to Southeast Asia as our President Pratibha Patil Singh reiterated while giving a presidential welcome to Senior General Than Shwe in New Delhi.

The Sify News pointed out that the five documents signed during this recent visit are significant for India and Myanmar as well.  India and Myanmar have a common 1,640-km long unfenced border facilitating militants from the northeast to use the adjoining country as a launch pad for guerrilla attacks on Indian soldiers. A number of militant groups from India’s northeast have training camps in northern Myanmar’s jungles. Most of them are sheltered there under the patronage of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K).

The treaty on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters will help India to get Myanmar’s support in fights against those rebels. The treaty also aims at deepening bilateral cooperation in combating transnational organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling of arms and explosives. India has similar treaties with Bangladesh and Bhutan and this pact with Myanmar will surely help India to uproot the rebel bases from that country. (Sify News, July 29, 2010).

According to Thaindian News (July 28, 2010), against the backdrop of China’s growing influence in Myanmar, India has offered $60 million line of credit for development of railways, another $60 million for revamping of the Rhi-Tiddim road to enhance connectivity to northeastern states, $10 million for procurement of agricultural machinery and $6 million to upgrade the microwave link between Moreh and Mandalay in Myanmar. The Myanmar side also welcomed the substantial additional investment by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) for the development in the upstream and downstream projects of Myanmar offshore blocks A-1 and A-3, including the natural gas pipeline under construction at Ramree in Myanmar.

Undoubtedly, if implemented well, these treaties and investments are going to help India in terms of enhancing transportation and connectivity in the northeastern states, combating insurgency and other related problems in the northeast and getting energy from Myanmar as well.

India has been facing tough criticism for welcoming General Than Shwe from human rights organizations and others as well. The Asia Director of New York based Human Rights Watch has said, “India has mortgaged its voice on political and human rights issues in Burma,” (AFP, July 27, 2010). The coordinator of Burma Center Delhi, Dr. Alana Golmei, said, “India is the world’s largest democracy and also stands against violations of human rights. [This visit] is not acceptable because Than Shwe is one of the worst dictators in the world.” (The Irrawaddy, July 27, 2010).

It is difficult to judge India’s stand point regarding Myanmar at present. In a joint statement, published by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India has identified that “India and Myanmar are close and friendly neighbours linked, inter alia, by civilizational bonds, geographical proximity, culture, history and religion. Apart from a boundary that stretches over more than 1640 kilometers and borders four North-Eastern states of India, there is a large population of persons of Indian origin in Myanmar. Bilateral relations are reflective of these multifarious and traditional linkages and the two countries live side by side as close neighbors based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

Recalling these shared bonds of civilization, the Head of State of Myanmar and the Prime Minister of India expressed their commitment to further strengthen and broaden the multi-dimensional relationship which now encompasses a range of areas of cooperation. Enhancing economic, social and developmental engagement will help harness the considerable potential in India-Myanmar bilateral relations, which would, in turn, contribute to the socio-economic betterment of their respective peoples”. (http://meaindia.nic.in/)

The people of Myanmar have been deprived of their basic human rights from decades. It’s true. India’s security-political and economic concerns are also genuine.  Then what should be India’s approach towards Myanmar are needed to be scrutinized thoroughly to have a balance between national interests and the age-old legacy of democracy.

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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