PMs visit must underline Delhis will to adapt to the historic change unfolding in Myanmar
Manmohan Singhs visit to Myanmar,the first by an Indian prime minister in 25 years,is being dubbed in Delhi as historic. There should,however,be no confusion about who is making history here. The military and political leaders of Myanmar have embarked on a bold and difficult venture to reform the ossified political structures of the nation,open up its long closed economy and reorient its international relations. Singh is merely adapting to this historic change unfolding in Myanmar. In recasting Indias policy towards Myanmar,Singh faces three challenges. The first is the newly competitive diplomatic environment there. In the last two decades,Indias only rival for Myanmars affections was China. Now,the United States,Europe and Japan,which sought to isolate and punish Myanmar all these years,are falling over each other to reconnect with the nation. The onus is on Delhi to demonstrate the special value of its ties to Naypyidaw,which is acutely conscious of Myanmars geopolitical significance.
The second challenge is a political one. Indias constructive engagement with the military rulers of Myanmar during the last two decades was prudent from Delhis perspective. But courageous Aung San Suu Kyi,who has endured much repression in her struggle to democratise Myanmar,and her followers are certainly disappointed at Indias pragmatism. In his talks with Suu Kyi,who has now been elected to the parliament,and the military-backed rulers of Myanmar,Singh will have to carefully calibrate the competing imperatives of Indias policy a genuine empathy with the democratic aspirations of the Myanmarese,the need to engage all the political forces in the current period of transition,and the logic of doing business with the government in power.
The third and biggest challenge for Singh is to bring a measure of credibility to Indias economic partnership with Myanmar. Delhis tall talk on promoting connectivity,trade,and investment links with Myanmar has not been matched by Indias performance on the ground. Unable to execute major projects on time,India has lost much ground in Myanmar despite the freedom it has had to deepen commercial ties during the last two decades. One can only hope that Singh has worked out an effective mechanism to translate Indias economic promises to Myanmar into time-bound action.