India’s twin-track approach of dealing with both the all-powerful military in Myanmar as well as the democratic forces puts New Delhi in an advantageous position with its huge security and economic stakes in the neighbouring country where junta has returned to power.
While as a vibrant democracy India had supported democratic traditions in neighbouring Myanmar in the backdrop of old ties with Aung San Suu Kyi, New Delhi had cultivated and engaged the military over the past two decades in geo-political interests, persons familiar with the dynamics of India-Myanmar ties told ET. The twin-track approach was reflected when Foreign Secretary and the Army Chief visited Myanmar jointly last October, one of the persons quoted above explained to ET.
India, which is closely monitoring the evolving situation in Myanmar where an emergency has been declared for an year, is hoping to safeguard its security interests and major connectivity initiatives aimed at connecting SE Asia via land, according to one of the persons quoted above.
It is not a well-known fact that Indian military shares strongest ties in the region with the Myanmar military. Fighting cross-border insurgency has been a hallmark of India-Myanmar military to military ties.
Sr Gen Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief Myanmar Defence Services, who took over power on Monday visited India in July 2017 and again in July 2019 and is familiar with both military as well as political leadership. Last June he met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Moscow on the sidelines of the Victory Day Parade.
India has also signed an MoU on Defence Cooperation during the recent visit of Sr Gen Min Aung Hlaing to India. “Both sides are committed to peace and stability along the border areas and to not allow any negative elements to use their respective soil for hostile activities against the other side. India and Myanmar engage in coordinated patrol operations. In 2020, Myanmar handed over 22 IIGs cadres who were apprehended in the previous year following operations,” an official here recalled.
Besides recent submarines for Myanmar Navy, India has been involved in capacity building programmes for the Myanmar Armed forces and have been conducting the federalism lecture series for the Myanmar military since 2019 that would enable them to deal with different ethnic groups across Myanmar. Both sides have an agreement on Maritime Security Cooperation covering Maritime Domain Awareness and signed a White Shipping Agreement. India also runs capacity building programs for Myanmar’s civilian bureaucracy.
The strategic importance of Myanmar for India cannot be underestimated. Since 2014, there have been two visits by Indian PMs to Myanmar, two Visits by Myanmar State Counsellor to India, one visit by Indian President to Myanmar and three visits by Myanmar President to India, and various ministerial visits. There are over 25 institutionalised mechanisms including JWGs on Power, Oil & Gas, Science & Technology etc. Both major political formations – National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) delegation have visited at senior levels in 2019. At the signing of the Nation-wide Ceasefire Agreement on 15 October 2015 between Myanmar and eight Ethnic Armed Groups, NSA AK Doval represented India.
Around $ 1.4 billion is spent in development partnership by India in Myanmar. India also supplied medical equipment worth more than $ 1 million to fight COVID 19 in Myanmar and lately gifted Covishield vaccines. During the Foreign Secretary’s visit, India handed over 3000 vials of Remdesivir and Grant projects including connectivity infrastructure like Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project, India Myanmar Thailand Trilateral Highway. Both sides are working together for the operationalisation of Sittwe Port built by India by the first quarter of 2021. The Line of Credit projects to Myanmar include railway projects, establishment of data link, telecommunication projects.
Energy is another strong area of cooperation. With investments of over $1.2 billion, Myanmar has the highest Indian investment in any country in South Asia. India has also approved an investment of over $ 120 million in the Shwe Oil and Gas project. The energy partnership received further boost during the visit of the President of Myanmar to India in February 2020 when both sides signed an MOU for Cooperation in the Field of Petroleum Products which inter alia, underlines that both sides will cooperate in refining, stockpiling, blending, and retail, among other areas.