On 1 March 2016, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) conducted a round-table discussion, titled ‘A Changing Myanmar: Challenges, Opportunities & Future Perspectives’. This is a report of the proceedings.
Salman Haidar, Patron, IPCS, and former Foreign Secretary, Government of India
1. There has been regression between India and Myanmar. Previously, the two countries shared a closer relationship than today. However, despite various efforts, successes, and forward movements, the relationship is not even where it was in 1947.
2. The reason for this is partly that there was a strategic choice for which we were responsible. We did not think that opening up our frontiers to the world beyond was good defence strategy. So, we were more comfortable in not doing too much, leaving the situation as it was. The defensiveness and the closed approach became more logical, once our relationship with China deteriorated. At the leadership level, with a change of internal factors within Myanmar, the intimacy in the relationship slowly lapsed.
3. China has a huge absorption capacity; it is hungry for raw materials like everyone and today the remaining unexploited region of Asia is Myanmar. There is a sharpened interest on the part of countries in and around Myanmar towards developing a closer link in order to have a share in the emerging situation there.
4. Myanmar is not just a gateway to the east. The country by itself has much to offer both in opportunities and challenges, and in a manner, that demands a stronger response than seen so far.
Chair: Ambassador Ranjit Gupta
Distinguished Fellow & Columnist, IPCS, former Ambassador of India to Thailand and Oman, and former Member, National Security Advisory Board
1. The current obsessive concern – if, when and how Aung San Suu Kyi can be elected to be the president -is distorting, and irrational. In assessing ground realities in Myanmar today, a useful starting point is to compare the situation that exists now with that which existed between 1988 and 2011.
2. While Gen Than Shwe has been one of the most ruthless rulers in Myanmar’s long chequered and blood-soaked history, he is also the architect of what is happening today. State power in the post-Than Shwe governmental structure in Myanmar was deliberately distributed between different posts. President heading the executive; the military, the parliament; and the party, under the framework of a written constitution. The constitution, the presidency and the parliament, all of which were abolished in 1988, were reinvented and brought back, albeit under entirely different clothing.
3. The selection of the then relatively junior General Min Aung Hlaing to become the Joint Chief of Staff of the Army and Air Force in June 2010 and his elevation to the position of Commander-in-Chief, replacing the outgoing Hluttaw Chief Gen Than Shwe, on 30 March 2011 made it extremely clear that the military should work with the new civilian ‘authorities’ rather than compete with or undermine them. President Thein Sein carried a profile that makes it appear as though he had been groomed for the top job.
4. Recent developments suggest that in the unveiling of the Seven Step Road Map to Democracy in 2003, Gen Shwe truly had had substantive change in mind vis-à-vis the nature of governance, in the processes leading up to bringing democracy to Myanmar.
5. With the clever allotting of particular individuals to particular slots, the new arrangement ensured that the affairs of state would be run on a collegial basis, reflecting an enormous contrast with the past. Also, there has been a functioning parliament since the election. The people finally have a voice in governance.
6. Contrary to widespread apprehensions, no attempt was made to tamper with the results of the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) spectacularly sweeping victory in the 2012 by-elections. There has been a positive reorientation of the Tatmadaw's attitudes and policies towards Aung San Suu Kyi, including the acceptance of her iconic stature.
7. Though Suu Kyi is debarred from the presidency by the constitution, given the overwhelming majority in parliament, she will inevitably be the de facto head of the new government via people of her choice being elected to run it.
8. There seems a conscious attempt by Suu Kyi to make a new beginning with the military. She met Than Shwe, and his grandson wrote on Facebook that“…it is the truth that she will become the future leader of the country. I will support her with all of my efforts…”
9. She had a particularly cordial meeting with the former Speaker of the Parliament, General Shwe Mann, soon after the elections, and later with President Thein Sein; and had two meetings with the army chief.
10. The political fortunes of any leader cannot be regarded as the touchstone of political change in the country, which in the ultimate analysis is a far greater entity than any individual. However, the constitution as it exists requires fundamental and major changes. Given Myanmar’s internal difficulties since its independence and many deep-seated complexities and contradictions, it is desirable and necessary that the pace and substance of political change is something the military is comfortable with.
ELECTIONS AND EMERGING POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT
Professor Shankari Sundararaman
Chairperson, Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
1. The 2015 election was a watershed moment in the history of Myanmar. The elections are a litmus test for this country which held its last free elections in 1960. The 1990 elections did take place but power was never transferred to the NLD. This election was a challenge for both the government and the opposition - the government needed to ensure that it could translate its promises to actions and for the opposition too this was a challenge since they would be in the government for the first time is the elections results were upheld
2. There are three key provisions in Myanmar's constitution:
Article 6(F) guarantees Myanmar's military a 25 per cent reservation in the parliament. In spite of the electoral process, there still is a military presence in terms of maintenance of almost one fourth of parliamentary positions in both the Houses. Approximately 91 political parties contested the recently concluded election. Despite this, the actual electoral process or the competition was primarily between the NLD and the USDP. Two other constitutional provisions are Article 59(f) which debars ASSK from the highest office since she is married to a foreigner and her children are British nationals. Article 436 is also critical since it requires more than 75 % votes to pass legislation.
3. The USDP within itself is not a monolithic group. There is an emergence of challenges to the identity of the USDP. Some within the party believe that there is potential to move towards closer support for Suu Kyi and the NLD. This is where there is still a lot of confusion.
4. The NLD chose to avoid entering into an alliance prior to the election. This worked in their favour. In the run up to the election, the NLD looked weak. They had not listed any policy priorities, among other matters.
5. This victory is truly a landslide for the NLD, barring the reservation for the military. The former won 135 of the 168 seats in the upper house (56 of the 224 seats are reserved for the military). In the lower house, the NLD won 255 of the 330 seats (110 of the total 440 seats are reserved for the military).
6. The only areas that are potential challenges are the Buddhist vs. the anti-NLD movement. The NLD is now being pitted against the Buddhists. How it responds, particularly relating to communal violence, in the legislative process on these issues is important.
7. The Rohingya issue is important as they comprise 1.3 million people in Myanmar, and they were left out electoral process. For the first time, no Muslim was elected to the parliament.
8. Suu Kyi has claimed that she will be above the presidency and that even with the NLD-chosen president, she will be a de facto president, and that she will be making policies for the country.
9. The biggest test for the NLD will be law and order, and national reconciliation. Pressure to move towards greater reconciliation with ethnic groups is another key area where the NLD will be tested.
INTERNAL SECURITY, MILITANT GROUPS, MILITANCY AND ETHNIC CHALLENGES
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray
Director, Mantraya, and Visiting Fellow and Columnist, IPCS
1. There are two assumptions regarding multi-ethnic countries. One, multi-ethnic countries cannot be conflict free. Second, conflicts in multi-ethnic countries can be managed via peace-making measures involving negotiations and patience, and test the commitment of the parties. And that if these processes succeed, in the long-term, there will be a positive impact. Otherwise, there could be quick solutions, which may or may not succeed, or even if they do succeed, their impact may not be long-term.
2. Although the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed on 15 October 2015 was significant, the projected impact of the NCA is a charade. It is a flopped peace process that is neither national nor a ceasefire. For instance, while 18,000 armed cadres are under the NCA's ambit, approximately 40,500 cadres belonging to several outfits remain outside the ambit of the peace process. The major outfits are still fighting.
3. Protected classes continue, and several issues - such as human rights violations, gang rapes, burning of crops, looting etc. that are associated with them.
4. The country's periphery is full of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), who are viewed as dispensable.
5. Land grab is the central issue in the fight between the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armies. The territories occupied by the army have never been ceded even after the ceasefire, and this in a country where the ethnic armies only comprise 30-35 per cent of the people but control about 50 per cent of the land.
6. The Parliament set up the Farmland Investigation Commission in 2012 to discuss compensation for land that has been taken away by the military. Of the approximately 33,000 cases filed between 2012 and 2014, only 1,000 were awarded compensation.
7. The Rohingyas have gone out of the world's imagination. Many Rohingya have left Myanmar, but approximately 1, 45, 000 are still present in internal camps. These camps do not have even basic facilities, or adequate numbers of schools etc. From a security point of view, uneducated youth who become uneducated adults are often vulnerable to being recruited by organised crime groups.
8. From the humanitarian point of view, the Rohingyas have lost everything. No future, no hope of returning to their homes, or of conducting business activities, which have been appropriated by the Buddhists. In fact, at one point, the government was talking about selling Rohingya properties.
9. The reality is that the periphery is only partially touched by the euphoria of democratic transition. The new political leadership led by Suu Kyi is inclined to sacrifice the interests of the minority groups to further its own political interests. It is reluctant to take up the cause of the ethnic groups.
THE MILITARY AND THE NEW GOVERNMENT: OLD ISSUES AND NEW CONTRADICTIONS
Dr K Yhome
Research Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, and author, ‘Myanmar: Can the Generals Resist Change?’
1. The major question is how much power the NLD will be able to exercise, especially with the military holding seats in parliament as well as holding key ministries. The relationship between the NLD and the military has evolved rapidly over the past four years. Trends can be seen in the way they have approached both long-standing and emerging issues.
2. The systematic discrimination against the Rohingyas via legislation and state policies with the support of the NLD is making the issue more difficult to resolve. In the November 2015 elections, Suu Kyi refused to nominate any Muslim candidate. To date no initiative has been taken to address the root cause of the Rohingyas’ problem.
3. On the ethnic peace process, though Suu Kyi states that it is the new NLD government's and her own priority, the NLD has been unable to rein in the military in dealing with the ongoing conflicts. Despite this, the NLD and the military agree on the process of resolving the ethnic problems outside parliament - which is the ethnic peace process seen today.
4. On the emerging popular struggles, the NLD has either been part of or has supported the military position. There are three examples of this. First, in September 2014, the government, with the support of the NLD, passed an education bill towards centralising curriculum, which also restricted academic independence and placed limitations on students unions. When protests broke out in Yangon followed by demonstrations in Mandalay, the police arrested the protestors. Suu Kyi cautioned students against pressure on the parliament to amend the bill.
5. Second, land grab has intensified in recent years. Peasants have protested against this, and the Letpadaung mine issue is a classic example. Suu Kyi was appointed the head of the government's investigation commission on the police crackdown related to a protest against the mine. She told the protestors to respect the rule of law and sacrifice their land for the country’s development. The protestors rejected her suggestions.
6. The third example is the labour protests. The government cooperated with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to legalise trade unions and to set up a labour arbitration body. However, when the first piece of legislation was passed in 2011, there were several protests in and around Yangon. Three years later, workers expressed a lack of confidence in the government's labour arbitration. Suu Kyi and the military have been on the same page on these issues, and a similar approach may help them work together in dealing with them in the future.
7. There are signs that even if Suu Kyi does intend to, she will be unable to address these issues and new popular struggles. Troubles between the NLD and the military might emerge if the former takes on issues that might directly affect the interests of the latter.
8. The power sharing arrangement will be a factor. 25 per cent of seats in the parliament belong to the military. This will have a bearing on any chance of changing the constitution. One of the two vice presidents is a nominee of the military representatives in the parliament. In addition to legislation, the military also controls three ministries: defence, home and border. This will keep the military firmly in charge of internal security. Much of the NLD’s agenda will have to be negotiated with the military because the latter has veto power and control over key ministries.
9. Another source of tension between the NLD and military will be if the NLD tries to push fundamental institutional changes, particularly on seeking an amendment to the constitution and restructuring key ministries. Perhaps Suu Kyi believes that it would be in the greater interest of the NLD to not push for dramatic changes in the initial years as the party and the military will have to cooperate on other important issues that require to be dealt with.
10. The question is: how long will the NLD depend on the military’s good will to run the government for? The second area of tension is that the NLD government will inherit an economy that faces major structural challenges. The military still retains substantial economic holdings such as the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and the Myanmar Economic Corporation.
11. Real reform would require a transformation of Myanmar’s state-owned enterprises. If the NLD wants to ensure meaningful progress towards public sector reform, it will have to tackle the state-owned companies that hold vast amount of funds and the rampant in them. How will the military react to this?
12. Another matter where tension could arise is the release of political prisoners and the development of legal restrictions as regards political prisoners.
13. Given these challenges, consolidation of democracy could be slow.
1. The narrative on the ceasefire is not black and white. The ethnic armies are divided and are vulnerable to being exploited by the military, especially when it comes to vehicle licenses. The fighting is ongoing between those who signed the ceasefire and those who have not.
2. Suu Kyi focused on the presidency or on being the power house. This led her to make compromises on human rights issues.
3. The Islamic State (IS) sees a chance in talking to Muslims who feel alienated and with Rohingya who are in Pakistan, whom they can join.
4. China's role has limitations, but they are playing a dubious game by supplying arms etc. They also wanted to be part of the ceasefire process.
5. The Rohingya movement in the Arakan region has been documented since 1824 when the British acquired it through the Treaty of Yandabo in the first Burmese War. At that time, no distinctions were made between India and Myanmar. The British census showed the Rohingyas as part of that region. However, since 1960, they have systematically been removed from official records and have lost their citizenship. Concern arises because of the degree of disenfranchisement, one that could push impressionable individuals towards groups such as the IS.
6. Suu Kyi is going to remain the de facto president and will find it difficult to navigate politicking in parliament. Every legislation she tries to pass will be vetoed by the military. How long Suu Kyi can continue to work with the military is questionable.
7. The shift towards democracy came both from inside and outside. After Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar became a prime candidate for the responsibility to protect (R2P) commitment. As the UNSC debated the matter, the ASEAN swung into action.
8. As regards the suspension of article 59 (F) of the constitution, many say that they cannot suspend the article for the sake of one person.
9. The elections are a clear indication that the people have voted for Suu Kyi to govern the country. Also, if she is vulnerable, so is the military. There will be a great deal of negotiation underway at the moment.
Chair: Ambassador Preet Malik
Former Ambassador of India to Myanmar
1. Greater degree of attention should be paid to the Myanmar of today than the Burma of the past as it is of strategic relevance. The question is on the extent to which this factor should drive the understandings that evolve on Myanmar, as well as discussing future perspectives. So far, India has not done very much in that direction.
2. It would be absolutely wrong on India’s part to discuss future perspectives and not cover to a large and direct extent the relevance of bilateral relations that Myanmar has under the current democratic dispensation, especially with its two neighbours, China and India.
3. What is the extent of the possibility that if India had better relations with China, the two countries could have a more cooperative relationship in handling their relations with Myanmar, especially to ensure Myanmar's future development, both economically and socially?
4. Irrespective of whether the army in Myanmar was in favour of democracy, have the views of the international community influenced the current situation?
5. The reality is that every time the people of Myanmar have been given an opportunity to express their opinion, they have always categorically displayed a preference for a democratic structure.
6. To what extent should the structure be taken into account – despite all the limitations the constitution imposes – and its relevance in the manner in which India conducts its relations with Myanmar under the latter’s new dispensation, are important questions.
INTERNATIONAL AND REGIONAL ISSUES, CONCERNS AND INTERESTS
Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia
Former Ambassador of India to Myanmar and author, ‘India-Myanmar Relations: Changing contours’
1. It is clear that power sharing is inevitable.
2. An important aspect to note is Myanmar's external policy and the larger regional perspective in order to capture a holistic picture of the country. In defining the regional context, there has been a substantial change in Myanmar's foreign policy during Thein Sein’s presidency. Over the past five years, change has occurred both as a cause and a consequence of changes in the region.
3. The central point is that it took place because the leadership realised that the situation was changing not just in the country but in the region. Simultaneously, the major stakeholders in the region saw that changes were taking place. For instance, the US recognition of Myanmar’s strategic importance, because of which the US played a proactive role in de-freezing the situation. US challenge to China in the South China Sea is another indication of regional change. There were three significant aspects in the elements that defined Thein Sein’s foreign policy: First, it arrested the further expansion of Myanmar’s relations with China without jeopardising the bilateral ties, thus maintaining an overall balance. However, in the past five years, no president or premier from China has paid a bilateral visit to Myanmar – which is a contrast with the previous period. All state visits have been initiated by Myanmar. Second, the historic opening up to the West. The fact that US President Barack Obama visited Myanmar twice and other Western leaders too visited Myanmar and vice versa, is remarkable. Third, the deepening cooperation with select Asian states.
4. The new Myanmar government would have to face many challenges, and would have serious difficulties in the resolution of most. The NLD has shown limited interest, knowledge or expertise in solving economic challenges. The question on ethnic issues – one that has defied all the rulers of Myanmar over the past 60 years – is yet to be addressed, and it will be for the long haul. Even the NCA is of the opinion that no resolution will be reached in the next three to five years.
5. Constitutional reform is an issue that is likely to have a negative impact on the army’s role.
6. Foreign policy will receive salience in the new government. Firstly, there are challenges, and secondly, this is one area Suu Kyi understands very well. She is the best global face of Myanmar and has extensive contacts with the world’s top leaders. The question is as to whether her foreign policy or the NLD’s foreign policy would be fundamentally different from that of Thein Sein’s.
7. The ongoing regional contestation in East Asia today between the rising power and the dominant power that is supposedly on a decline or whose political will has weakened, is bound to have an impact on the countries of the region. Myanmar, though not a part of the South China Sea dispute, is both directly and indirectly affected. The direct impact is geographic as it shares borders with China. The new government would follow a policy of calibration and neutralism. As regards the US-China rivalry, Myanmar can play one against the other, essentially playing the ‘Myanmar Card’.
8. On external economic relations, Myanmar had no choice but to cooperate with China in the past i.e. before 2010. However, now they have other options and would cooperate with other countries; probably less with the West but more with like-minded Asian states such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, India, etc.
9. Myanmar was the ASEAN chair during Thein Sein’s presidency and therefore there should be clear expectations that Myanmar will use its ASEAN angle as well. However, a problem is that Suu Kyi has no relationship with the ASEAN. This is the impact of history – they did not support her and sided with the military. She distrusted them as well. However, over the years, most leaders have changed, and many hope that she would invest time to develop ties with the ASEAN, although thus far, she has been unable to do so. This is especially true in the case of Indonesia and Thailand.
10. On relations with Europe, it is clear that the new government would have certain select targets for enhancing cooperation such as France, UK, Norway etc., and the possibility of the EU getting involved more too is open.
11. As regards the Rohingya question, the struggle on how to deal with the issue will continue. Suu Kyi has avoided it, as gaining power was the primary goal.
12. On the triangle that is India-Myanmar–China, Beijing has a clear edge. After Suu Kyi’s meeting with both leaders, there is clearly a comparison in her mind that she did not hesitate to reveal publicly. She has also expressed an interest in Myanmar playing a role to improve Sino-Indian relations. There are some experts in India who suggest adopting a careful policy, a ‘wait and watch' approach; some others believe that it should be ‘business as usual’. In fact the time has come for India to recognise that Myanmar's new leader is potentially friendly towards India and we should cultivate her in a proactive manner, while maintaining our cooperation with the military.
13. It is very clear that Suu Kyi has become a practical and pragmatic leader. This would show in her handling of India. At the same time, she would not mind using the ‘emotional card’ with India as it is important to send signals to the liberal lobby as a lever of pressure on South Block.
14. The two key conclusions are: the new Myanmar government’s foreign policy would be different only in terms of degree, nuance and emphasis, and not in substance. Second, the highest decision-making body of the country is not the Cabinet but the National Defence and Security Council. So, she may seek the foreign ministry. In order to be close to the President, Suu Kyi would have to anchor herself in the office of the President. So, a position like an emeritus minister in the cabinet on the Singapore model is possible; or a combination of the two.
15. It is time to go beyond the NLD, the military, and the ethnic question, and look at the larger picture in East Asia. Only then will India-Myanmar relations make sense and the strategic significance of Myanmar be appreciated fully.
MYANMAR’S ECONOMY AND INTEGRATION WITH INDIA'S NORTH EAST
Dr Alana Golmei
Director, Burma Centre, Delhi
1. In the signing of the NCA, there are some ethnic armed groups who refused to be part of the NCA including the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K). The Chin National Front (CNF) was very much part of the NCA.
2. According to my observation, there are already high expectations on NLD by some ethnic political organizations and ethnic groups, and the civil society who are part of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Suu Kyi herself has shown interest to towards a ceasefire. They have been holding a series of consultations, building strategies, and lots of preparations are going on both inside and outside Myanmar.
3. Among the discussions was the return of Myanmarese refugees from India. However, there are financial constraints to be considered. Many have expressed a willingness to return to Myanmar as they view the NLD and the new government as the light at the end of the tunnel.
4. The ethnic issue will be a challenge but many are of the opinion that Suu Kyi and the NLD are a better option.
5. On the economic front, land is a major factor. The NLD will welcome foreign investors as well as FDI. Agriculture will also be a priority.
6. India has an opportunity to cooperate with Myanmar. However, a reality check shows it is unwilling. In 1947 and 1948, when both countries gained independence from Britain, for a couple of decades, Myanmar and India had economic integration. However, since the start of military rule, ground realities have changed, especially with the beginning of infiltration by China. It is not impossible for India to cooperate with the NLD government. However New Delhi’s policy towards Naypyidaw has to be altered. India therefore needs to learn from the Chinese but not follow them.
7. In order to understand integration, it is important to understand the mindset and the psyche of the people of Myanmar.
8. From a cultural point of view, China appears to understand Myanmar better. This is especially true when it comes to Chinese products being more suitable for them. Therefore, India will have to alter the products to suit the people of Myanmar in an effort to improve trade. In border areas, the Chinese have more articles of trade compared to India.
9. Traders too are uneasy as there are a number of restrictions on trade, and as a result, business cannot flourish.
10. The Asian highway provides a set of challenges such as connectivity, especially between Imphal, Moreh and Mandalay. There are a number of checkpoints that are troublesome and inconvenient as well and there are also problems relating to insurgency. The fencing along Manipur’s border with Myanmar will be a problem for India, as it will divide villages and would also mean loss of land for India.
11. There are a number of areas where India could be of assistance to Myanmar. They include infrastructure development, especially with India's smart cities project; Holenphai could become part of the smart city project, and could become a business hub. Healthcare and education could be major aspects where New Delhi could provide services. These are important factors in integration, and exploration in these areas has begun.
12. On bilateral politics, engagement with Suu Kyi is important despite her emotional statements towards India. Indian leaders have to be practical as well as show initiative.
SECURITY & STRATEGIC PERSPECTIVES, OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE REGION, INDIA & MYANMAR
Lt. Gen. AS Lamba
President, IPCS, and former Vice Chief of Army Staff, India
1. Any change in Myanmar will affect the surrounding region, especially ASEAN, and Myanmar, in turn, will be influenced by ASEAN’s policy.
2. The ASEAN's philosophy of comprehensive security irrespective of the various ‘triangles’ is important. Therefore, any Indian policy towards Myanmar has to be accommodated by the ASEAN. Care has to be taken that no country antagonises the other. Therefore, one could look at China more vis-à-vis cooperation rather than as a threat, and limit the competitive rhetoric towards it.
3. In the comprehensive security arrangement, Myanmar will engage with individual members from ASEAN as well as the plus series which extends to the US, China, India, Australia and others. Therefore, complexities within the ASEAN will be a challenge to India.
4. The ASEAN is not yet on Suu Kyi’s side. She is still not integrated with them and this might require some personal initiative.
5. The regional structure will revolve around the security of the Malacca Straits, and India should work to put itself in the region. With China's dependence on the Malacca Strait for 80 per cent of its imports, Beijing will not allow India or any other state to enter the region. 5. Myanmar is in the eastern littoral, and the space between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Myanmar is of strategic importance to India. Any activity in this area must be in the knowledge of India or influenced by Indian security policy-makers.
6. Sittwe was a naval base that India will have to look at. Construction here by the Chinese has stopped, and this has been a disabling factor for them. China and India have both looked to counter this. India has tried to connect through the Kaladan Multi-Modal Project as an outreach to the ocean to secure a direct link from Mizoram into Kaladan. It is across the sea, and covers a distance of approximately 539 km as opposed to 1,700 km over land.
7. As Myanmar is in close proximity to India’s northeastern, it could act as a buffer between China and India’s northeastern states. Therefore, Myanmar is a strategic hinge in this architecture as well.
8. China is in the process of building two gas pipelines through the southern port right up to Hunan not only as a supply chain but for strategic purposes.
9. The problem of insurgency in Myanmar is a sensitive issue. The KIA, Chin and others have hideouts across the border, and therefore is a major security aspect for India to pay attention to.
10. Myanmar has the largest ethnic divide in the world. The military has key relevance – its coup managed to avoid cessation. If it were not for the military, there would have been cessation and a number of smaller states.
11. On the issue of the ceasefire agreement, reasonable success was achieved. It is an attempt to put various groups down.
12. The other security concern is that of terrorism, and a clear regional assessment to downgrade this intensifying phenomenon is required. Myanmar's military has to play an important role in this aspect and has to be inspired to prevent terrorism.
13. This is an opportunity for the region to seek stability and peace. While China has been dominant in the India-China-Myanmar triangle, India must ensure it also steps in.
14. The threat of terrorism affects both India and China. India’s northeastern states will not be secure unless China plays an important and positive role.
15. For India and Myanmar, policy changes are imperative from both sides. India must facilitate stability.
16. Suu Kyi’s first foreign policy initiative must be towards India, and India should reciprocate.
17. During his 2013 Myanmar visit, Ambassador Shyam Saran stated that as a security measure, India should not accept China as a dominant power. Therefore, active engagement with Myanmar is crucial.
18. There are three important aspects in the road ahead: First, military-to-military engagement between India and Myanmar. Opening up the military is important as it affects the internal mechanisms of the country. Military diplomacy is important to drive cooperation. Second, maritime strategy and cooperation - The region must be secured by proper maritime security and strategy in conjunction with Myanmar. Third, modernisation of Myanmar's armed forces – training and capacity-building to address the borders in terms of surveillance and security emergencies.
19. Vis-à-vis military-to-military cooperation, it has to be carried out in a manner in which a national army and a civilian government can work together. India must guide this process.
20. If India is to ‘Act East’, Myanmar is the bridge, and should not be seen only as a gateway to ASEAN, or as an entry into a greater realm of economic, defence and security successes.
21. India must deal with Myanmar as a country with which it has had many missed opportunities. At the moment, the spirit is willing but the action is not.
1. There are three challenges for India as regards bilateral relations with Myanmar. First, developing infrastructure in the border areas and the cross-border road connectivity. Second is militancy, especially the revival of militants in northeast India and state support at the highest levels. Third, the need for economic leverage, especially to have political leverage – in which India has a poor record.
2. China’s intension of linking Hunan through Myanmar to the Bay of Bengal has military and strategic significance and should not be ignored.
3. India’s history with Myanmar and its link to the colonial period has consequences. Indian presence in Myanmar was seen as one that helped colonial authorities to dominate. In this context, the colonial authorities granted importance to the frontier areas (not governed as part of the then Rangoon etc.), with separate administration etc. and today’s ethnic groups are part of these areas. The ethnic groups’ would expect greater interaction from Suu Kyi, certainly more than what was underway during her father’s tenure. However, doubts still loom. The challenge the military faces will get even more complicated with a representative government where the constitution states that the military is responsible for the integrity and security of the nation. Therefore any action taken would require their support.
4. The military played a major role in Myanmar’s independence. It was a part of the movement, unlike in India’s case. The Burma Independence Army was led by Aung San and was part of the independence movement and thus part of the national structure.
5. China's presence would be more important than India’s as China has greater clarity than India. While taking into account China’s presence, India has been failing to take advantage of the opportunities.
6. Insurgency in India’s northeastern regions, especially those providing a protective cover for drug trade, could complicate India's engagement with Myanmar. This issue needs to be addressed.
Rapporteured by Kimberley Nazareth, Research Intern, NSP, IPCS