Two years after the military coup by the Tatmadaw or Myanmar Armed Forces, the situation has deteriorated to the extent that daily incidents of violence have led to concerns of a state of quasi civil war. This was not unexpected as in the initial months itself Security Risks Asia identified possibility of Myanmar gravitating into a civil war and the situation has manifesto.
For India Myanmar assumes much importance given the 1600 kilometers plus land border where a Free Movement Regime exists, maritime proximity to the Andaman and Nicobar islands, a gateway to Southeast Asia, the Kaladan Multi Modal Transport project to connect the North East and maintaining national interest in the wake of expanding Chinese influence in the country. Presence of several militant groups of the North East in the Sagaing Region is another concern.
Given these factors India has possibly opted for a pragmatic policy of engaging with whichever government is in power regardless of the circumstances through which it took control or whether it has the support of the people or otherwise.
Open Channels with SAC
Thus, India has open communications with the State Administrative Council (SAC) the civilian face of the Tatmadaw administration headed by commander in chief who has also assumed the title of the Prime Minister Senor General Min Aung Hlaing.
Indicators of India's pragmatic policy are contact with the military junta at the highest level with visit of India's foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra to that country in November last year back. India has been participating in the armed forces related activities that are held each year.
Recently on the occasion to celebrate 75th year of diplomatic relations between India and Myanmar at the Indian Embassy in Yangon on May 14th, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing personally attended the event, “75 year is a relatively long period and during this time, being able to maintain a relationship based on friendship, valuing mutual respect and recognizing the sovereignty of a country, is truly something to be proud of,” as per State Media report. He added that, “he would like to put it on record about the special gratitude to the individuals and organizations who have worked with full of good will to make this event happen”.
Support to the Myanmar Military
A recent report—entitled “The Billion Dollar Death Trade: The International Arms Networks that Enable Human Rights Violations in Myanmar,” released by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews indicates that Indian public and private sector firms are continuing to supply arms to the Myanmar military. “State-owned arms manufacturers shipped a coastal surveillance system, a remotecontrolled weapons system, unknown components from an ammunition and missile manufacturer, and 122 mm howitzer barrels. Private sector entities shipped explosive fuses likely for artillery shells,” says the report. Though India’s share was only 5 % but the employment of these weapons to target civilians should be a concern.
Now reports indicate that India’s state-owned Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) plans to setting up retail fuel outlets in Sagaing Region, which is the worst affected in terms of fighting between the People’s Defence Forces (PDF) and the Myanmar Army.
This expansion has been condemned by U Nay Zin Lat, a member of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and the operations commander of People Defense Force (PDF) Battalion 2 in Sagaing’s Kantbalu Township as per the Irrawaddy.
Thus how security of these projects will be ensured remains to be seen? Recently a convoy of diplomats of ASEAN travelling in Myanmar came under fire from an unknown armed group, which Pa-O National Federal Council (PNFC) attributed to junta-affiliated Pa-O National Organization (PNO).
Prioritizing pragmatism in the short term may prove detrimental to long term stable relations with Myanmar ignoring people’s sentiment in the country where opposition NUG is leading a popular armed uprising against the Myanmar military.
Only recently the NUG warned China that Myanmar will be unstable until the regime falls. NUG spokesman U Kyaw Zaw criticized visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in turn told the UN’s special envoy on Myanmar that the international community should support all parties in Myanmar and restart the political transition process through political dialogue to bring peace to the country also outlining that the issue is complex and there is no quick fix.
Given these trends – suturing contacts with the military regime in power may not be an option for India as the situation is unlikely to stabilize in the future.
Option for New Delhi is to conduct people centric activities that benefits the Myanmar public at large, reducing profile of public engagement with the SAC, reeling back arms support and opening tacit channels with the NUG.