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India - Myanmar Relations & Myanmar Controversy

  • 30 October, 2021

  • 7 Min Read

Context: India Myanmar Relations is important for UPSE GS Paper2.

Myanmar is the largest country in Mainland South-East Asia and the 10th largest in Asia by area. But it has emerged as an international concern due to the military coup in the country.

About the Military Coup: The military grabbed power by taking over the elected government under Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the National League for Democracy (NLD).

What triggered the coup?

  • The military has alleged “irregularities” in the general elections held in November.
  • As per the Commander in Chief of Myanmar military or Tatmadaw, the laws were not followed and it was necessary to revoke the constitution.

The military’s Constitution

  • It was the military that drafted the 2008 Constitution and put it to a questionable referendum in April that year. The NLD had boycotted the referendum, as well as the 2010 elections that were held under the Constitution.
  • The Constitution was the military’s “roadmap to democracy”, which it had been forced to adopt under increasing pressure from the west, and its own realisation that opening up Myanmar to the outside world was now no longer an option but a dire economic necessity. But the military made sure to safeguard in the Constitution its own role and supremacy in national affairs.
  • Under its provisions, the military reserves for itself 25 per cent of seats in both Houses of Parliament, to which it appoints serving military officials. Also, a political party that is a proxy for the military contests elections. Its share of seats fell further this time because of the NLD’s sweep.

Democratic transition halted

  • Myanmar’s democratic transition had been a work in progress. The results of the 2020 election, held during the pandemic, were being seen by the NLD as a mandate for its plan of constitutional reform, through which it aimed to do away with the military’s role in politics and governance. But this was never going to be easy, given the tight constitutional restrictions for amendments.
  • Suu Kyi had been more reconciliatory towards the Army than was expected even by her own supporters, to the extent of defending the Tatmadaw at the International Court of Justice against accusations of atrocities on the Rohingya. The stand-off over the elections was the first serious face-off she had with the military since she was released from a two-decade house arrest in 2011.

Global Reaction:

  1. China: recommended all parties in Myanmar to overcome their differences under the constitution and legal framework to maintain political and social stability
  2. USA: The USA President threatened to reimpose sanctions on Myanmar following a coup by the country’s military leaders and called for a concerted international response to press them to relinquish power.
  3. ASEAN Countries: ASEAN’s current chair, Brunei, called for ‘dialogue among parties, reconciliation and the return to normalcy’.
    1. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia expressed concern, while Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines noted that this was Myanmar’s ‘internal affair’.
  4. India’s Reaction:
    1. India supports the process of democratic transition in Myanmar.
    2. Though India has expressed deep concern over recent developments in Myanmar, cutting off from the Myanmar military is not a viable option as India has significant economic and strategic interests in Myanmar and its neighbourhood.
    3. India also abstained from voiting on UNGA resolution on Myanmar

India’s Strategic interests in Myanmar and its relations with Myanmar Military:

India’s Relationship with Myanmar Military:

  • India’s military-diplomatic outreach to Myanmar became a cornerstone of its Act East policy.
  • On the eve of the recent visit of the Foreign Secretary Chief of the Army Staff to Myanmar in 2020, Myanmar handed over 22 Indian insurgents from across the border and it was decided to ramp up the sale of military hardware to Myanmar, including 105 mm light artillery guns, naval gunboats and more recently, lightweight torpedoes.
  • Recent example of cooperation is that Myanmar has begun to vaccinate itself with the 1.5 million doses of Covid vaccine sent by India, while putting China’s 3,00,000 doses on hold.

India’s Interests in Myanmar:

  • Infrastructure and Connectivity: India has cultivated several infrastructure and development projects with Myanmar, which it sees as the “gateway to the East” and ASEAN countries.
  • Operationalisation of the crucial Sittwe port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state by 2021 is committed.
  • India assists infrastructure projects such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project.
  • The Kaladan project will link Kolkata to Sittwe in Myanmar and then from Myanmar’s Kaladan river to India’s north-east.
  • The two countries signed the Land Border Crossing Agreement in 2018, which allowed bona fide travellers with valid documents to cross the border at two international points of entry/exit- Moreh-Tamu and Zokhawthar-Rih.
  • Security: India has been concerned over some militant groups like the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) from the North-East region taking shelter in Myanmar.
  • Indian needs perpetual support and coordination from Myanmar for the maintenance of security and stability along its North East border areas.
  • Rohingya Issues: India is committed to ensuring safe, sustainable and speedy return of Rohingya refugees from refugee camps of India and Bangladesh.
  • Building on the progress made under the Rakhine State Development Programme (RSDP), India has recently proposed to finalise projects under phase-III of the programme, including setting up of a skills training centre and upgrading of agricultural mechanisation.
  • Investment: With Indian investments of over USD 1.2 billion, Myanmar holds considerable importance than any other country in South Asia.
  • Energy: The two countries are also expanding partnership in the area of energy cooperation.
  • Recently, India approved an investment of over USD 120 million in the Shwe Oil and Gas project.

Descent into chaos

The Myanmar junta should immediately end the violent suppression of democratic protests.

  • The decision by ASEAN to exclude Myanmar’s military junta from its annual summit held on October 26-28 is a major setback for the Generals’ attempts to gain regional legitimacy for their brutal regime.
  • Ever since it seized power by toppling the democratic government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February, the junta has unleashed a reign of terror claiming an estimated 1,000 lives.
  • Ms. Suu Kyi, who had been the State Councillor for five years from 2015 heading the quasi-democratic government, has been in detention since the coup and is facing absurd charges such as “illegally owning walkie-talkies”.
  • Thousands of others were arrested by the military, notorious for its reprisal of democratic protests in the past. But this time, the crisis seems much worse.
  • Months after the seizure of power, the junta, led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, is still struggling to restore order. If in the past the National League for Democracy (NLD), Ms. Suu Kyi’s party, had upheld non-violence even in the face of repression, this time, NLD leaders have called for a “revolution”.
  • The remnants of the old regime have formed a National Unity Government, which claims to be the true representative of Myanmar.
  • In cities, protests slid into armed fighting between pro-democracy protesters and security personnel, while in the jungles, anti-junta groups joined hands with rebels for military training.
  • The situation was so grave that the UN Special Envoy warned  that Myanmar had descended into a civil war.
  • One of the regional groupings with some leverage over the junta is ASEAN. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing was invited to Jakarta for emergency talks with ASEAN members.
  • The bloc asked him to immediately end violence, start the reconciliation process and allow a regional special envoy to meet with all stakeholders, including Ms. Suu Kyi. None of these requests was met.
  • Most recent reports suggest that the junta has been systematically torturing political prisoners. A special envoy was appointed as part of the ASEAN plan, but he was not allowed to meet Ms. Suu Kyi.
  • Regime violence, political crises and strikes and counter-attacks by protesters have all pushed Myanmar to the brink of collapse. According to the UN, some three million people are in need of life-saving assistance because of “conflict, food insecurity, natural disasters and COVID-19”.
  • Still, the Generals do not show any signs of compromise and are not even ready to talk with the NLD. Violence might allow them to hold on to power for now, but that is not sustainable.

Way Forward

  • The ASEAN snub is a reminder that continuing violence could cause regional isolation of the regime, which could worsen the crisis.
  • The international community should continue to put pressure on the junta and urgently start a reconciliation process.

Source: The Hindu

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