India adrift on its Myanmar Policy

It is clear that the Chinese have a better appreciation of what the ground situation is in Myanmar. The difference is in long term policy formulated by sagacious mandarins in Beijing and the establishment in New Delhi

Written by Ravi Nair | Updated: September 7, 2017 9:59 pm
myanmar, myanmar policy, indo-myanmar relations, indo-china relations, narendra modi,Rakhine State of Myanmar Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi Kyi at Bogyoke Aung San Museum in Yangon city of Myanmar on Thursday. PTI Photo/PIB

The Ministry of External Affairs statement of August 26, titled ‘Situation in Rakhine State of Myanmar’ gave the plot away prior to the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Myanmar from September 5-7, 2017. “India is seriously concerned by reports of renewed violence and attacks by terrorists in northern Rakhine State Myanmar. We are deeply saddened at the loss of lives among members of the Myanmar security forces…..” the statement said.

In the joint statement issued by India and Myanmar on September 6, the previous formulation is repeated. “India condemned the recent terrorist attacks in northern Rakhine State, wherein several members of the Myanmar security forces lost their lives.”

Nothing about the enormity of the humanitarian crisis, nothing about the continuing refugee flow into Bangladesh and the miniscule earlier spillover into India.

Juxtapose this with the nuanced statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on August 31, 2017.

“Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that we have noted these statements made by the Myanmar government. China condemns these violent attacks in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. We want to express our condolences to the innocent victims and sympathies to the innocent injured and the bereaved families. As a friendly neighbor, China supports Myanmar’s efforts in maintaining peace and stability in the Rakhine state and sincerely wishes that Myanmar could maintain social stability, ethnic solidarity and economic development.”

It is clear that the Chinese have a better appreciation of what the ground situation is in Myanmar. The difference is in long term policy formulated by sagacious mandarins in Beijing and an establishment in New Delhi that is calling the shots on Indo-Myanmar relations. Informed political leadership and seasoned diplomats make policy.

There is little to show for Narendra Modi’s much hyped visit. Apart from the usual Bollywood kitsch song and dance routine passing off as a display of Indian culture overseas at a diaspora event and sightseeing, the main security formulations were dead on arrival.

India’s concerns hover around the remnants of an ULFA led by Paresh Barua being reinvigorated by the new frosty turn in India China relations. This is not an idle fear, but Delhi got the wrong number. The writ of the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military (which otherwise runs security matters) does not run in much of Shan state where Mr Barua and his holdout ULFA hang out. There has been little or no success in either bringing the important armed Burmese ethnic groups to the peace table or vanquishing them militarily by the Tatmadaw.

India also has concerns with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) composed principally of Burmese Nagas. The group has been given a free hand in the Naga-inhabited areas of Sagaing division and Kachin state in return for their participation in the peace negotiations with the ethnic groups in Myanmar.

The claim by Indian intelligence agencies, that the Burmese Nagas were forced to walk away from the peace table due to Indian pressure, is an exercise in self delusion. The Indian government has fears that the Khaplang group’s influence in Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh will become more problematic with the new Chinese posturing in what they call southern Tibet. The Tatmadaw is hardly in a mood to oblige New Delhi. None of their senior people had any substantive discussions during the present visit of the Indian delegation. The Indian defence minister’s 2013 visit was important. That however was prior Doklam.

The Kokang, Ta’ang, Arakan Army, United Wa State Army, and the Kachin Independence Army have little faith in either the NLD government or more importantly the Burmese army.

Some decades ago, the Research and Analysis (R&AW), the external intelligence agency, had human assets in the Arakan now known as the Rakhine state. They were the armed Buddhist Rakhine organized by the National Unity Party of Arakan. NUPA was used by both R&AW and military intelligence to collect human intelligence on alleged Chinese fishing trawlers in the Bay of Bengal which were being used to monitor Indian navy activity out of Visakhapatnam and more importantly our satellite and missile launching activity on the Odisha coast line. In a brilliant counter intelligence operation, Burmese military intelligence fed information to a mid level Indian army intelligence operative about the Rakhine Buddhist armed group. In spite of reservations of a few within R&AW, the R&AW leadership went along with the tri-services operation engineered by the Indian army in the Andamans. This eliminated India’s “humint” resources in the Arakan.

India’s main economic and strategic concerns hover around the Kaladan multimodal transport project and the Special Economic Zone in Sittwe. Both are in Rakhine state. In the meanwhile, the Chinese will in all probability get the 80 per cent investment in Sittwe port. Sittwe is also the main gas pipeline gateway to Yunnan and beyond.

China’s special envoy for Asian affairs Sun Guoxiang was in Myanmar for a day on September 4, one day before Modi arrived, and his nuanced statement was in line with the Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted above. He also offered China’s good offices to ease tensions between Myanmar and Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue. Myanmar needs China as it is dependent on the Chinese veto in the Security Council to stave off any possible international initiatives on the Rohingya issue.

China has a huge stake in Rakhine State related to its One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR). The Chinese have proposed the linking of economic zone on Ramree Island, and the Kyaukphyu deep sea port, which has oil and natural gas pipelines, to Kunming in Yunnan Province.

Out-maneuvered on the influence imprint in Myanmar by China at every point of engagement, India’s only great diplomatic ploy is the security rabbit it pulls out from its Islamophobic terrorist threat campaign. The hapless Rohingya refugees in India are looking for the next meal and the ability to live in a slum in Jammu, Delhi or Hyderabad without being raped and killed as they are subjected to in Myanmar. Joining ISIS or Al Qaeda is as far away as dancing girls in heaven.

The Indian government could not even make a gesture to Bangladesh of offering humanitarian assistance as faraway Turkey has intelligently done. It could have offered to send a medical team to Rakhine to offer medical assistance to all the injured irrespective of the ethnic community that they belonged to.

The Indonesians and Malaysians in ASEAN are none too happy with the Indian position on the Rohingyas. As far as the Look East or Act East policy goes all that one needs to do is to go to Moreh town in Manipur, the alleged Indian gateway to South East Asia. A wild east where infrastructure exists in the fertile imaginations of the denizens of Delhi. Law and order there has been sub contracted out by the Assam Rifles to armed auxiliaries of non state groups.

Naypyidaw knows how to play poker. The Modi visit has helped them to play Delhi against Beijing. Delhi claims it still has a hand. The game is Chinese checkers, not teenpati.

Ravi Nair is the executive director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre  

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

    Live Cricket Scores & Results