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India's Myanmar Policy Balancing National Interests & Tolerance of Violence


Photo Courtesy Indian Embassy in Nay Pyi Taw

The past almost two and half years after the military coup in Myanmar on February 01, 2021, India like many regional countries has been faced with the dilemma for adoption of a policy that can balance vital national interests with avoiding international opprobrium for supporting a brutal military the Tatmadaw indulging in indiscriminate violence.


India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra outlined the tenets of India’s Myanmar policy during a special briefing on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to USA and Egypt held on June 19, 2023. “Humanitarian assistance, development partnership, capacity-building programs, etc. with Myanmar,” are the key tenets said Mr Kwatra and explained the reasons for the same on being questioned whether there would be any discussion on the situation in Myanmar given the quasi civil war in the country and sanctions by the United States during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the U.S and talks with President Joe Biden. Kwatra stated that the US understood India’s position on Myanmar, “Let's not forget that we have a large border with Myanmar. Myanmar is our neighbour. The kind of framework in which we deal with our relationship in Myanmar is very different. We have continued with our extensive humanitarian assistance and development cooperation with Myanmar, even during the times that Myanmar was troubled, so to speak”.


Recently satellite imagery exposed by Chatham House has revealed expansion of strategic and surveillance infrastructure on Coco Islands a few nautical miles away from A & N. Thus India’s need to maintain communications with Myanmar at an appropriate level is understood.


India’s Recent Outreach to SAC


At the same time India’s recent outreach to Myanmar’s State Administrative Council [SAC] the civilian face of the military includes a number of activities which are questionable. President of the New Delhi-based Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia visited Naypyitaw on June 7 to discuss media cooperation with regime ministers. Shirumalla Venkat Narayan met junta information minister Maung Maung Ohn for talks on improving regime mouthpiece The Global New Light of Myanmar, as well as covering border trade news, and sending trainee journalists to study at media institutes in India. Narayan also met commerce minister Aung Naing Oo to discuss economic cooperation between Myanmar and India’s northeastern states and enhancing people-to-people interaction between the two countries.


Ten foreign journalists have resigned from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia (FCC) based in New Delhi in protest at visit of the president Shirumalla Venkat Narayan. “I’m horrified to see that the president of the FCC, to which I belong, met with representatives of the military junta in Myanmar, one of the world’s worst places for journalists,” a correspondent tweeted.


Press Information Bureau recently reported that NTPC Ltd., India's largest power generation company, is conducting five training programmes for power sector professionals from Myanmar. These programmes are being conducted under the India-Myanmar Government to Government framework for cooperation in the Power Sector, as part of the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme, the leading capacity building platform of the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Out of the five programmes, four have been completed.


A UN report also pointed out that since February 2021, around 22 India-based entities have shipped arms, raw materials and other military supplies directly or indirectly to Myanmar’s military to the tune of about US$51 million some of whom are state owned.


NUG’s Approach


On the other hand, the Myanmar’s government-in-exile, National Unity Government (NUG) seems to be taking these activities by India towards the Myanmar military in its stride. The NUG recently asked refugees to refrain from acts prejudicial to India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Mizoram now hosts 35,126 Myanmar refugees, of whom 15,589 are in 162 relief camps while 19,458 live with relatives and friends or in rented houses.


The NUG’s ministry of foreign affairs also asked the refugees not to get involved in “illegal trafficking of drugs and wild animals, and related matters” and to “live in harmony and appropriately with host communities, follow the religious and social rules in the wards or villages” where they reside in India.


These developments come even as the bloody civil war is seeing increased violence. People’s Defence Forces [PDF] the main resistance force lost 1,608 PDF fighters 1,583 injured in clashes with junta forces, while around 30,000 regime forces have been killed others estimate the junta’s battlefield losses to be somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 over two years, these figures cannot be independently verified. Use of air and helicopter attacks by the Myanmar military and fledgling drone attacks by the PDF have also been noticed. More than 513 women have been killed and 3,390 detained by Myanmar’s junta since the February 2021 coup, according to the Burmese Women’s Union.


UN appeal


The United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Myanmar said a unified regional approach guided by the will of Myanmar people can make progress in solving the country’s crisis during a meeting with government officials in India.


UN envoy Noeleen Heyzer met with India’s Minister for External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra and Joint Secretary (Bangladesh-Myanmar) Smita Pant in New Delhi in May. During the meeting, the Indian officials told Noeleen Heyzer that there is a need for an immediate cessation of violence by all sides and the fostering of dialogue for the return of peace, stability and democracy in Myanmar.


Indian Dilemma


For India balancing vital national interests with tolerance of violence excesses many of which are attributed to the Myanmar military under the leadership of the SAC both of which are under command of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing will remain a perpetual dilemma until there is a resolution for which there is no solution on the table at present. The Tatmadaw is known to be very sensitive to any attempts to isolate it, based on past experience, India is remaining cautious.


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