Friday, January 18, 2013

How important is Myanmar for India’s Northeast?

Tagged with: China Indo-Myanmar relations Kachin Independence Army Suu Kyi U Thein Sein

Tint Swe:

Corresponding with the sharp dip in winter temperatures, Indo-Myanmar relations seem to have become cold. Apart from routine activities, there is no remarkable development in the last couple of months, indeed things have come to a screeching halt after Suu Kyi’s much-publicised visit.

In the meanwhile, news item from Myanmar that is making international headlines are reports of fierce fighting between the Myanmarese Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The resurgence of fighting in the said northeastern Myanmar province took place throughout last year and shows ample signs of becoming worse in 2013.

The KIA is no stranger to India. Most of the anti-India armed groups that have carried bloody offensives in the Northeast were trained by the KIA since their very inception.

But the Indian government was successful in ending that undertaking in the early 1990s. For that, the KIA got an unfulfilled promise from India. Unfortunately, years later the Northeast-based armed groups got a much better and safer haven on Myanmarese soil, thanks to the military dictatorship prevalent there.

The battleground in Myanmar today lies between India and China. Both big neighbours are keen to follow the developments in Kachin state but with different interests. India’s interest is fuelled more by concerns of containing the insurgent groups. China, on the other hand, seems aggressive strictly for furthering its business objectives. At the same time, both countries’ eyes are wide open for security consequences.

When three bombs launched by the Myanmar army in its fight against the KIA landed on a village in Yingjiang in China’s Yunnan Province near the Kachin headquarters during air strikes, China made a diplomatic complaint to president U Thein Sein’s government.

However China kept its eyes blindfolded when Myanmar military jets entered the country’s air space on December 28, 2012. The reason was understandable because when the new quasi-military government came to power, Sino-Myanmar relations turned sour, it was not as ‘Pauk-Phaw (sibling-like)’ as earlier. Therefore China needs to play the game.

Kachin state’s position, on the southwest border of China signifies that Beijing can still exercise its influence over the government and the KIA. The United States which is too far away from Kachin state said that the use of air power in the state was extremely troubling. But the western neighbour, India has surprisingly kept quiet. The expectation that the Union defence minister of India will visit Naypyitaw is not too high.

The means used by the Myanmar army to suppress on insurgency is very different from India’s tactics. The military regime orchestrated ceasefire schemes and was able to sign them with 17 small and large ethnic armed groups and lasted for 17 years.

But a change of guard in administration also changed the strategies to deal with dissident groups. Talks with various groups including KIA continued. Agreements are signed with many groups including a Chin group which was active along Indo-Myanmar border particularly along the international border between Mizoram state and Myanmar.

The anti-India insurgent groups cause a big headache for the Indian government as well as the anti-Myanmar groups. It is legitimate to point out that armed resistance is the key reason for instability and development in the Northeastern region.

So far, the Indian government has not been successful in containing it and as the result, the ambitious ‘Look East Policy’ is not practically very impressive.

That military means to suppress rebellion is outdated can be seen in the way politics is panning out in Myanmar. Most of the anti-Myanmar army armed groups enjoy strong support in their respective ethnic bastions. The ethnic peoples and the lofty political parties in Myanmar have called for an end to the fighting and desired the restoration of peace. The proposed formula is that ceasefire agreements should be followed by political dialogue and ended with a national accord based on genuine federal spirit.

Already being a federal state and with full-blown democracy, India is yet to reflect its stand when it comes to armed struggle. Something is wrong!

Therefore a new approach from the Central government, regional political circles and above all, the local public opinion can be the best solution to this long-standing crisis.

If the desire is strong enough, why is the implementation unsuccessful?

The political change in Myanmar is India’s opportunity to seize stability and development for the restive and neglected Northeast.

The writer is chairperson, Burma Center Delhi