Daily Current Affairs – 20th October, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
Taking forward India-Myanmar relation
Fading relevance of SAARC
- In recent months before Uri Attack, India was considering various measures to deal with dismal role of SAARC.
- SAARC had been inefficient in its objectives- promoting economic integration, developing transportation and energy corridors and promoting cooperation to deal with terrorism.
- The main obstacle of SAARC has been Pakistan which sought to use the platform to undermine India’s influence in South Asia, while aggressively seeking to secure China’s admission to it.
- However, post Uri attack, by securing support of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives in refusing to participate in the forthcoming SAARC summit in Islamabad, India has shown that it means business when it comes to dealing with terrorism.
Looking the other way
- India has encouraged in promoting economic and anti-terrorism cooperation with its ASEAN partners as well as with eastern side SAARC partners- Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
- It was observed that very little attention was paid to utilising the BIMSTEC group which is organisation of all the eastern SAARC members across the Bay of Bengal — India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka — with ASEAN members Myanmar and Thailand.
- Thus, drawing inspiration from previous BRICS summit hosted by Brazil and Russia, where partner-nations from Latin America and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation were invited to attend BRICS, India also invited the BIMSTEC partners. The leaders of BIMSTEC met BRICS leaders at the 8th BRICS summit held in Goa.
- Hence, Pakistan was prevented from undermining India’s diplomacy across its eastern neighbourhood and made BIMSTEC the primary organisation for regional outreach.
- A quadrilateral India-Sri Lanka-Maldives-Seychelles corridor across the western Indian Ocean can reinforce the effort of developing outreach in Indian Ocean.
- India requires a policy for regional containment of Pakistan by complementing these efforts with an India-Iran-Afghanistan economic partnership.
- This will make Pakistan realise that in its efforts to deny India connectivity across its western neighbourhood and damaging India’s economic partnerships with its eastern neighbours, only it will be marginalised.
Thus, marginalising Pakistan in South Asian regional forums till it mends its ways should be the salient feature of India’s policy to promote regional economic cooperation.
The Myanmar focus
- Myanmar plays a salient role across India’s eastern shores. In this new strategic setting, India has to pay more attention to its relation with Myanmar. India has to be more cooperative and evoke trust for better bilateral relations.
- It is known that Myanmar has sought to take relations forward but there is unhappiness over the insensitivity India showed by undertaking cross-border strikes against NSCN(K) separatists on Myanmar’s soil, without prior approval from that government.
- It shouldn’t be forgotten that for over two decades Myanmar has cooperated with India in counter-terrorism operations on their soil against armed separatist groups from India.
- Thus, India needs to reciprocate more appropriately.
- India has to develop deeper economic and social ties with Myanmar. Unlike Afghanistan and Sri Lanka where India has considerable progress in infrastructural development, it has a deplorable record in executing development projects in Myanmar.
More active and cooperative bilateral relation
- The first official visit of Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has been hailed by PM as an opportunity to give a further boost to the full range bilateral relationship.
- In the context of India’s Act East Policy, it is meaningful to examine this as an intent to infuse a sense of urgency in India’s efforts to realise the full potential of this critical bilateral partnership.
- However, intent apart, the reality is that bilateral trade between India and Myanmar has been woefully below potential.
- Though India categorises the $1.57-billion trade in 2014-15 with Myanmar as a reflection of India being the “fourth largest trade partner”with Myanmar, but a rough comparison with China shows true picture.
- The trade between Myanmar and China is $9.5 billion in the first ten months of 2015-16. In addition, China invested $15.418 billion in 115 projects, making it the biggest investor in Myanmar.
- While India is still pledging to enhance its engagement in the agriculture, power, renewable energy and power sectors, the Chinese are already financing new ports, highways and dams in Myanmar. Thus, there is good amount of Chinese control even in the financial sector in Myanmar.
- There has been repeated emphasis on improving connectivity across India’s eastern borders by a trilateral “friendship highway” through Myanmar to Thailand. Sadly, the work has been tardy on this highway.
- The rebuilding of roads between Manipur-Mandalay-Thailand could be the centrepiece for tourist traffic but once again, the poor project implementation and many restrictions and procedures made roads hardly utilisable.
- One of the unique features of our border with Myanmar has been that tribals living on both sides can travel freely across it.
- However, it has been heard that India is planning to fence the international border. This move is opposed from the CMs of the four bordering States: Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.
- Fencing should be limited and not affect the free movement of tribals. Rather it should be undertaken primarily to prevent the rapidly growing and illegal imports of Chinese products from across the India-Myanmar border.