The Modi-Suu Kyi bilateral dialogue is historic in cementing the bonds, foundation for which was laid down through concrete policy initiatives earlier
On September 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi had a bilateral dialogue in Laos, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit. Though it is not an unusual phenomenon but it got lot of attention. The two countries though geographically and culturally close to each other went through a rough phase. August 22, 2016 will be remembered as a turning point in this relationship when Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj hovered on Nay Pyi Taw—the capital of Myanmar and locked in serious dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor and country’s Foreign Minister. The immediate achievement—the assurance of Myanmar—“We shall not allow
anti-Bharat activities on our soil.” This is what Bharat expected. The general perception is, Myanmar had been
hosting over twenty major anti-Bharat terrorist organisations operating in the North-East region. The Myanmar is used by these organisations, first, as the bed-rock and second, as the safe
corridor to China and thirdly as the inter-state passage between Arunachal, Assam and Manipur, especially when their movement becomes during Army’s extensive combing operations. Once Myanmar agrees for joint military
operations to prevent terrorists, it will not be very difficult to flush out the
Culturally and historically Myanmar is very close to Bharat, perhaps closer than any other country in the world. Racially, the people of Myanmar are classified as Kirat described in Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, Ramayan and Mahabharat and other relevant
literatures. The Kirats of Mayanmarese origin are described as Kshatriyas, the warriors. The Nagas of bordering areas in Nagaland viz—Konyak, Sangtam, Phom, Yimchunger, Pochuri, Chakhesang and all other Nagas of Nagaland and Kachin Janjati belong to Kirat group of People. Some 2500 years ago, Gautam Buddha infused a new lease of life in the bond of affinity through Dhamma. With the passage of time things turned topsy-turvy. After British treated the then Burma as colony to keep Bharatiya freedom fighters as prisoners, we lost the natural connect. Still there are many people who have personal memories associated with neighbouring country. We lost
sensitivity on the plight of our
neighbours by seeing through earlier colonial and then Cold-War prisms.
When External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Myanmar on August 22, 2016, and met President U Htin Kyaw and Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor and country’s Foreign Minister at Nay Pyi Taw, the long awaited bonhomie revived. This was the first high level engagement between the two countries since Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party assumed power in Myanmar. Both the sides agreed to work for peace and security along the border but the main focus was to work jointly in countering insurgency.
Bharat reciprocated by expressing support to the new Myanmar Government in its efforts to meet its developmental goals in the country. Suu Kyi warmly recalled her long association with Bharat. She briefed Sushma Swaraj on the preparation for upcoming 21st
century Panglong Conference for National Reconciliation. Sushma conveyed Bharat’s full support to this process. President U Htin Kyaw said “Bharat is such a country from which his country – Myanmar can learn what democracy is.” Sushma Swaraj invited U Htin Kyaw and Aung San Suu Kyi to visit Bharat, which was immediately accepted and implemented by the President.
President Kyaw visited Bodh Gaya in Bihar to offer prayers at revered Mahabodhi Mandir amid tight security on August 30, 2016. Kyaw along with his wife and a 31 member Myanmarese delegation comprising five Ministers and Govt officials visited the Burmese Monastery in Bodh Gaya and other Buddhist temples there. He also visited Taj Mahal on September 4. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held extensive talk with U Htin Kyaw to bring a new momentum in bilateral ties between the two neighbours.
The China Angle
After most talked visit of Suu Kyi to China on August 17-21, 2016 the visit of External Affairs Minister had gained added significance. During her visit to China, Suu Kyi was given a red carpet welcome at par with Prime Minister. She held discussions with
Foreign Minister and President of China as well as other political leaders and business barons. China wants intimate relations with Myanmar, which was the peculiar feature during the Military Junta rule-led by President Thein Sein. After her visit to China in June 2015 as an Opposition MP, China’s efforts to woo Suu Kyi gained momentum after the new government assumed power in Nay Pyi Taw. Within a week Foreign Minister Wong Yi visited Myanmar. A series of Chinese dignitaries have been to Nay Pyi Taw since then.
China and Myanmar would
follow “strategies and long term perspective” and are committed to “achieve a new progress in their comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.” China has conveyed a firm assurance of support for Myanmar’s economic development and national reconciliation. The national reconciliation is especially important now as Suu Kyi prepares to convene the 21st century Panglong Conference of all armed ethnic groups, several of them have closed link with China. Myanmar has welcomed China’s One Belt One Road initiative on which Bharat has
serious reservations. Myanmar has also accepted the proposed economic corridor connecting Bangladesh, China, Bharat and Mayanmar (BCIM), in which Bharat has not shown much interest. More
significantly, Myanmar has refrained from expressing any view on the most controversial issue facing the region today – The South China Sea Issue.
As per constitution of former Junta Government (Military rule) there is a ban on Suu Kyi’s holding the President’s post. Junta has still tough control over its first democratic government. No person with a foreign spouse can be appointed as the Head of the State. Aung San Suu Kyi has married a British citizen and has two sons. She is a Christian with close link with Baptist World Alliance (BWA), World Council of Churches (WCC), other International Church organisations and international funding agencies. In addition to this curb, Army has kept important ministries like Home, Defence and Border Affairs. Along with it with 25 per cent seats of Parliament are reserved for
nominated army personnel.
China has been increasing its foot print in Myanmar and making huge investments in several major projects. For Bharat too, Myanmar is a strategic
neighbour and Delhi has conveyed to Myanmar’s leadership that the country is ready to provide “all help” to Myanmar in its march ahead.
There are militant cadres belonging to Naga National Council (NNC), NSCN-K, ULFA-I, NDFB(S) and KPLT etc. causing ambushes on security forces and innocent citizens. The rampant extortion is going on. Bharat has requested Myanmar to take action against the insurgent groups taking shelter in that country. Myanmar has responded well. For the first time the possibility of setting border posts is being explored.
The leader of one of the Naga insurgent groups, Khaplang is from Myanmar and his group intends to create a Nagalim including Saigang region of Myanmar. There is no security force on the Myanmar side of the border while Assam Rifles guards the border on the side of Bharat in patches. Lahe, Leshi and Nayun in Saigang form Myanmar’s Naga self-administered zone. Almost all Myanmar based Bharatiya militant groups use area under Khaplang as safe haven and training. Myanmar is rather worse affected state from Naga and other Janjati militant organisations coupled with hostilities of Rohingya Muslims of Bangladesh origin.
The Agreement signed between militant groups like Dima Halom Daoga, (DHD)-Dilip, Agreements with Bodo Group and ASSU should be
implemented fast. This will allure other militant groups to come to negotiating table. The whole North-East zone is set to develop fast if it goes by the vision and action shown by the Modi Government. Coordinated action with Myanmar can facilitate this process.
(The writer is a Guwahati based Researcher)