The agreement signed between India and Myanmar to share real-time intelligence, part of a pact that envisages cooperation on border areas, is a crucial addition to bilateral ties. The deal to enhance security cooperation on insurgency, arms smuggling and human trafficking assumes significance given the 1,600 km-long border that India and Myanmar share and also because Myanmar is the landlocked Northeast’s gateway to Southeast Asia. Myanmar’s own ethnic turbulence has given ballast to the Northeast’s insurgencies, providing insurgents with refuge and easy crossings. Despite the burgeoning dynamism of New Delhi’s ties with Naypyidaw in recent years, this issue had persisted, complicating matters.
The progress with Myanmar in managing the border was unlikely to have come about without the pragmatism Delhi has displayed vis-a-vis Naypyidaw. More than two decades ago, when Myanmar’s democratic election was nullified by the junta, India’s natural inclination was to shun the military regime. However, Delhi soon realised that disengagement with a close neighbour wouldn’t help in protecting its own interests. Myanmar is too significant a site for China and Pakistan for India to ignore. It is also India’s only land link to Southeast Asia and ASEAN. As such, it was the missing link in India’s Look East policy. Despite pressure from the West to approve its sanctions regime, India won its case when Aung San Suu Kyi was set free and Myanmar embarked on a dramatic path of transition to democracy.
The next government in Delhi needs to shed the culture of delay and quickly complete projects like the Kaladan transport corridor to the Northeast via Myanmar, which includes the Sittwe port India is developing. Nothing helps the implementation of security pacts better than a strong economic partnership. A rehabilitated Myanmar is already pulling more weight in ASEAN, and if India can make the proposed BCIM Corridor a reality, in cooperation with China, enhanced connectivity in its eastern border regions will ensure a reduction in security worries. Delhi took the right call on Myanmar earlier. It must now do more for the evolution of this relationship into an important axis for the geoeconomic integration of the Indian Ocean-Asia Pacific maritime region.