- The military takeover in Myanmar has put New Delhi in a complex situation as its reluctance to condemn and disregard the military regime can be seen from different perspectives which is sacrosanct for India’s security challenges.
- Internal stability in Myanmar becomes an important factor as it is the only Southeast Asian country sharing a land border with India which makes it an important player in the smooth facilitation of India’s Act East Policy.
- Myanmar has not been able to come out of its ‘Golden Triangle Trap’ (infamous drug-producing region) while New Delhi cannot remain fully mute with regard to the human rights issue in the neighbouring country.
- New Delhi can play an important role as the regional peacemaker by involving many like-minded countries to bring the different warring groups, democratic political groups and the military regime to a negotiating table for a peaceful settlement of the conflict which is beneficial for Myanmar and the whole region.
In February 2021, the Tatmadaw as it is known in Myanmar (the armed forces) orchestrated a coup which eventually led to the fall of the NLD (National League For Democracy) govt led by Myanmar’s veteran civil democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Following the coup, a massive resistance movement was initiated by the people which is still in its active form and came to be known as the Spring Revolution. The military regime responded by brutally cracking down on the protestors who are aiming for regime change and aspiring for the return of a civil democratic government. One of the most significant features of these developments in the neighbouring country has been the resurgence of the ethnic armed insurgent groups inside Myanmar who have always stood against the state as they saw the state as a constant hurdle in their aspiration for self-determination. These include groups such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Arakan Army, Shan Army, Chin Army etc who entered into several peace agreements and were successfully accommodated under the pre-junta democratic regime.
Challenges for India
The military takeover in Myanmar has put New Delhi in a complex situation as its reluctance to condemn and disregard the military regime can be seen from different perspectives which is sacrosanct for India’s security challenges. The porous Indo-Myanmar has been a safe haven for many North East India-based insurgent outfits. From time to time, New Delhi has cooperated with the Tatmadaw regime to neutralize these rebels whose aims and objectives threaten the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India. From ‘Operation Golden Bird’ in 1995 to the 2015 cross-border surgical strikes by the Indian armed forces, the strides towards strategic peacebuilding began when many militants surrendered and joined the mainstream starting from the 1997 ceasefire agreement with the NSCN-IM to the framework agreement with the same outfit in 2015. Therefore the issue of armed insurgency is a headache for both countries where their territorial integrity is threatened. However, India has not ventured into some joint collaborations with the Myanmar army to solve its insurgency problem and has always maintained a constant position of promoting internal peace and stability in Myanmar.
Myanmar is one of the starting points of India’s ‘ Act East Policy’ whose dimensions have now been integrated into the greater multilateral Indo-Pacific strategy whose underlying objective is to secure and stabilize the crossroads connecting the Indian Ocean periphery to the East Asian Pacific periphery, of which the South East Asian region is an important and strategic part. Therefore, the security of India-sponsored infrastructure in Myanmar such as the Kaladan Multimodal transport project for the smooth facilitation of trade and commerce solely lies on the military regime and any failure to protect it from miscreants be it ethnic insurgents of Myanmar or the irate pro-democracy activists will give a negative signal to New Delhi. Growing Chinese assertiveness in the region is another major challenge where the main concern of New Delhi is about a probable high-level strategic engagement of China with the military regime which would make the situation more worrisome considering the prior episodes of Chinese involvement in fuelling insurgency in the North Eastern region which may eventually lead to the Tatmadaw switching sides and becoming a ‘Trojan Horse’.
Internal stability in Myanmar thus becomes an important factor as it is the only Southeast Asian country sharing a land border with India which makes it an important player in the smooth facilitation of India’s Act East Policy that was launched under then PM PV Narsimha Rao in 1991 as the ‘Look East Policy’ (transformed into the Act East in 2014 under the current dispensation led by PM Narendra Modi). The bilateral cooperation and collaboration with Myanmar to pacify the North East-based insurgent ultras has led to positive developments in Indo-Myanmar ties, where the role of the Myanmar armed forces has been at the forefront. However, many contemporary challenges put India’s stakes at risk in Myanmar due to the unrest that has begun following the coup. Apart from the issue of insurgency, the issue of a mass influx of people belonging to the Chin state of Myanmar to India’s Mizoram to the issue of drug trafficking has played a significant role in the funding and facilitating the last remnants of the insurgent outfits that now carry out occasional ambush along the border.
Myanmar has not been able to come out of its ‘Golden Triangle Trap’ (infamous drug-producing region) where the role of the porous border again comes into play. At the same time, New Delhi cannot remain fully mute with regard to the human rights issue in the neighbouring country as many reports have said that the junta has violated human rights in its fight against the opponents of the military regime. This includes the Rohingya issue too as the issue is quite a controversial one in India because of the polarized internal political dynamics.
Faced with multiple complexities, New Delhi faces a dilemma about the situation in Myanmar. Loud and stern condemnation against the Tatmadaw may act as a strategic blunder considering the age-old bonhomie between the two which has secured India’s security interests. Therefore, New Delhi can play an important role as the regional peacemaker in the region by involving many like-minded countries to bring the different warring groups, democratic political groups and the military regime to a negotiating table for a peaceful settlement of the conflict which is beneficial for Myanmar and the whole region. India’s North Eastern region is the primary crossroad connecting South East Asia where the ‘Act East Policy’ has eventually led to synchronizing the overall development of the region. So a stable and peaceful Myanmar is a path towards the completion of India’s aspirations for engaging with the South East Asian region.
(The author is pursuing Post Graduation (MA) in International Relations and Area Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia Central University. Opinions expressed are the author’s own)