De­fence and Se­cu­rity Co­op­er­a­tion with Myan­mar

Both In­dia and Myan­mar share a land border of 1,643 km and mar­itime do­main in the An­daman Sea and the Bay of Ben­gal. Fur­ther, Myan­mar has a long border with China in the north which is con­tigu­ous to the dis­puted border be­tween In­dia and China.

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Bri­gadier Vinod Anand (Retd)

Both In­dia and Myan­mar share a land border of 1,643 km and mar­itime do­main in the An­daman Sea and the Bay of Ben­gal. Fur­ther, Myan­mar has a long border with China in the north which is con­tigu­ous to the dis­puted border be­tween In­dia and China.

RE­CENTLY IN OC­TO­BER 2015 In­dia’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor wit­nessed the sign­ing of peace ac­cord be­tween the Myan­mar Gov­ern­ment and eight of the 15 eth­nic armed groups. China, Ja­pan, Thai­land, the United Na­tions and the Euro­pean Union were the other wit­nesses to the ac­cord. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s spe­cial en­voy for the North East R.N. Ravi and for­mer Mi­zo­ram Chief Min­is­ter Zo­ramthanga, a for­mer rebel, were also present on the oc­ca­sion. How­ever, the Myan­mar-based Na­tional So­cial­ist Coun­cil of Na­ga­land (Kha­p­lang) (NSCN-K) stayed away from sign­ing the Na­tional Cease­fire Agree­ment; it is the same group that was re­spon­si­ble for am­bush­ing the Do­gra bat­tal­ion troops of the In­dian Army in June. As a re­sponse In­dian Spe­cial Forces had car­ried out a raid in the trans­bor­der re­gion against the NSCN(K) meet­ing with a de­gree of suc­cess. Three years back S.S. Kha­p­lang, a Burmese Naga, had signed a state-level cease­fire pact with Sa­gaing Re­gion Min­is­ter for Se­cu­rity and Border Af­fairs in 2012, which is tech­ni­cally still in op­er­a­tion though he pulled out of a 14-year-old cease­fire pact with In­dia in April this year be­fore launch­ing a se­ries of of­fen­sives against the se­cu­rity forces in Na­ga­land and Ma­nipur of which am­bush on the Do­gra bat­tal­ion was the most se­ri­ous. Not sign­ing an ac­cord with Burmese NSCN(K) by the Myan­mar Gov­ern­ment is be­ing viewed as a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment as far as the In­dian Gov­ern­ment is con­cerned and should be wel­come.

Both In­dia and Myan­mar share a land border of 1,643 km and mar­itime do­main in the An­daman Sea and the Bay of Ben­gal. Fur­ther, Myan­mar has a long border with China in the north which is con­tigu­ous to the dis­puted border be­tween In­dia and China. Th­ese bor­ders have been used by China ear­lier and sev­eral In­dian in­sur­gent groups for smug­gling of arms, nar­cotics and other where­withal to fuel the in­sur­gency in the North-east­ern parts of In­dia.

Devel­op­ments in De­fence Re­la­tion­ship and Po­lit­i­cal Con­text

The mil­i­tary to mil­i­tary re­la­tions be­tween In­dia and Myan­mar gained trac­tion with the good­will visit of the then Chief of Army Staff, Gen­eral B.C. Joshi to Myan­mar in May 1994. Sup­ply of some mil­i­tary hard­ware fol­lowed. Mo­men­tum to the de­fence re­la­tion­ship was fur­ther im­parted when in Jan­uary 2000 when a mil­i­tary del­e­ga­tion led by the then In­dian Army Chief, Gen­eral V.P. Ma­lik, vis­ited Myan­mar and met Myan­mar’s se­nior mil­i­tary elite to forge a mil­i­tary to mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship which over the years has proved very fruit­ful. Since 2000, af­ter the re­turn visit of Gen­eral Maung Aye to In­dia, bi­lat­eral an­nual border meet­ings be­tween the two armies have been tak­ing place reg­u­larly. In­dia has also sup­plied a range of mil­i­tary hard­ware since then.

The scope for ex­pan­sion of de­fence and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion which had been lim­ited ear­lier due to the na­ture of the dis­pen­sa­tion in Nay Pyi Taw im­proved af­ter open­ing up of Myan­mar with ush­er­ing in of demo­cratic re­forms in 2010.

In­dian Prime Min­is­ter’s visit to Myan­mar in April 2012 af­ter a gap of 25 years was recog­ni­tion of the fact that the pos­i­tive changes oc­cur­ring on Myan­mar’s po­lit­i­cal fir­ma­ment had cre­ated con­di­tions for en­abling such a high level visit. A dozen me­moranda of un­der­stand­ing (MoUs) signed af­ter the visit also in­di­cate the di­verse fields in which In­dia is en­gag­ing Myan­mar. Both lead­ers em­pha­sised the need for en­hanced co­op­er­a­tion be­tween se­cu­rity forces and border guard­ing agen­cies for se­cur­ing peace, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity in the border ar­eas, which was cru­cial for over­all de­vel­op­ment. Ear­lier, the first meet­ing of the bi­lat­eral Re­gional Border Com­mit­tee had been held which was use­ful in pro­mot­ing such co­op­er­a­tion and un­der­stand­ing for bet­ter border man­age­ment.

Po­lit­i­cally, reestab­lish­ment of for­mal re­la­tions with Aung San Suu Kyi was seen as one of the ma­jor gains of the visit. While she had close link­ages with In­dia in the past in­clud­ing ac­tive sup­port by the In­dian Gov­ern­ment to the democ­racy move­ment in the 1980s, there was a break in this re­la­tion­ship due to geopol­i­tics of the re­gion. Though there were in­for­mal link­ages and In­dia had been press­ing both sides, the mil­i­tary junta of the past and Suu Kyi-led NLD to rec­on­cile their dif­fer­ences, Suu Kyi had main­tained a pub­lic dis­tance from New Delhi.

Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s visit in Novem­ber 2014 to Myan­mar to at­tend ASEAN-In­dia and East Asia Sum­mit and there­after a bi­lat­eral with Myan­marese po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship have fur­ther added sub­stance to not only In­dia’s ‘Look East’ pol­icy or rather ‘Act East’ pol­icy but also strength­ened the strate­gic re­la­tion­ship with Nay Pyi Taw. Modi’s meet­ing with Suu Kyi in Novem­ber 2014 also denotes con­tin­u­ance of a pol­icy that lays em­pha­sis on en­gag­ing all sec­tions of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

Con­nec­tiv­ity and Be­yond

Myan­mar’s strate­gic salience as a land bridge to China on the one hand and to the South East Asia on the other hand can­not be overem­pha­sised. While ap­proaches from China through Myan­mar are im­por­tant from mil­i­tary se­cu­rity and eco­nomic point of view the con­nec­tiv­ity to South East Asia is rel­e­vant from the eco­nomic and strate­gic point of view. Se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity in the border ar­eas is an im­per­a­tive for over­all de­vel­op­ment and es­tab­lish­ment of multi-modal cor­ri­dors link­ing In­dia and Myan­mar and be­yond. Both In­dian and Myan­mar lead­ers have as­sured each other that ter­ri­to­ries of ei­ther coun­try would not be al­lowed to be used for ac­tiv­i­ties in­im­i­cal to the other, in­clud­ing for train­ing, sanc­tu­ary and other oper­a­tions by ter­ror­ist and in­sur­gent or­gan­i­sa­tions and their op­er­a­tives.

Ev­i­dently, where In­dian of­fi­cial­dom needs to pay at­ten­tion is in im­ple­men­ta­tion of the de­ci­sions taken on some of the projects and schemes. The record in re­spect of ex­e­cu­tion of projects has not been very sat­is­fac­tory so far.

Devel­op­ments in De­fence and Se­cu­rity Co­op­er­a­tion

The In­dian Prime Min­is­ter dur­ing his visit to Myan­mar in April 2012 had also stressed on the need for mar­itime se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion and ob­served that both In­dia and Myan­mar need to “ex­pand our se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion that is vi­tal not only to main­tain peace along our land bor­ders but also to pro­tect mar­itime trade which we hope will open up through the sea route be­tween Kolkata and Sit­twe.” In Fe­bru­ary 2012 Myan­mar Navy had taken part in joint naval ex­er­cises con­ducted by In­dia with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of 14 na­tions’ navies (Milan se­ries of naval ex­er­cises).

The visit of In­dia’s De­fence Min­is­ter to Myan­mar in Jan­uary 2013 was a con­tin­u­a­tion of trend that has marked the grow­ing de­fence co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries. Af­ter a de­gree of demo­cratic re­forms in Myan­mar that were ush­ered in 2010, many mil­i­tary dig­ni­taries from both sides have ex­changed vis­its to en­hance mil­i­tary to mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion and ad­dress mu­tual border se­cu­rity threats and chal­lenges. In fact, in last three years or so the three In­dian ser­vices chiefs have vis­ited Myan­mar to forge a closer de­fence re­la­tion­ship with Myan­mar. In Jan­uary 2013, the De­fence Min­is­ter was ac­com­pa­nied by Army Com­man­der of Kolkata-based East­ern Com­mand and Vice Chief of In­dian Navy which high­lighted the fact that In­dia was keen to fur­ther ad­dress its con­cerns re­gard­ing land and mar­itime se­cu­rity con­cerns in co­or­di­na­tion with Myan­mar armed forces.

It is im­por­tant for In­dia to build up ca­pac­i­ties of the Myan­mar’s armed forces es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to de­vel­op­ing its prow­ess in fight­ing the in­sur­gents. Since the year 2000 there have been off and on co­or­di­nated oper­a­tions along the bor­ders to flush out the in­sur­gents. The in­sur­gents take ad­van­tage of the dif­fi­cult ter­rain along the bor­ders and lack of ad­e­quate con­trols along the bor­ders to carry out at­tacks and then cross over to Myan­mar. The border man­age­ment prob­lems are fur­ther com­pli­cated by some of the ex­ist­ing trad­ing ar­range­ments for border trade.

In­dian De­fence Min­is­ter’s visit to Myan­mar in 2013 had come in the back­ground of clashes be­tween the Kachin in­sur­gents and the Myan­mar armed forces; a last­ing cease­fire is yet to be achieved though a na­tion­wide cease­fire with all the in­sur­gents ex­pected to be achieved be­fore the 2015 elec­tions. Kachin In­de­pen­dent Or­gan­i­sa­tion has been known to have cross-border link­ages with In­dian in­sur­gent groups like the United Lib­er­a­tion Front of As­sam (ULFA) in the shape of hav­ing pro­vided shel­ter and ad­vance mil­i­tary train­ing to ULFA cadres.

Fur­ther, NSCN(K) as men­tioned above is an­other ac­tive in­sur­gent group which has trans-border af­fil­i­a­tions with Myan­marese Na­gas of Sa­gaing di­vi­sion op­po­site In­dian states of Ma­nipur and Na­ga­land. There have also been re­ports that a va­ri­ety of North-east­ern in­sur­gent groups have joined to­gether to co­or­di­nate their anti-In­dia ac­tiv­i­ties.

In May 2014 In­dia and Myan­mar signed a MoU on border co­op­er­a­tion which pro­vides a frame­work for se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion and ex­change of in­for­ma­tion be­tween In­dian and Myan­mar se­cu­rity agen­cies. An im­por­tant pro­vi­sion is that of con­duct of co­or­di­nated pa­trols on their re­spec­tive sides of the in­ter­na­tional border and the mar­itime bound­ary by the armed forces of the two coun­tries.

In­dia has been pro­vid­ing train­ing fa­cil­i­ties to Myan­mar armed forces in pro­fes­sional and tech­ni­cal cour­ses; the va­can­cies in such cour­ses for the Myan­mar de­fence forces are be­ing reg­u­larly en­hanced. Main­te­nance of some Rus­sian ori­gin equip­ment is also be­ing pro­vided by the In­dian de­fence forces. Build­ing of de­fence in­fra­struc­ture in the border ar­eas has been an­other propo­si­tion which may fruc­tify soon. This would fa­cil­i­tate quick move­ment and de­ploy­ment of Myan­mar forces to tackle in­sur­gents and main­tain law and or­der in border ar­eas.

Look­ing at the mul­ti­lat­eral plat­form for de­fence co­op­er­a­tion, both Myan­mar and In­dia are mem­bers of ASEAN De­fence Min­is­ters Meet­ing (ADMM) Plus fo­rum where shared de­fence and se­cu­rity con­cerns are dis­cussed and joint ex­er­cises are car­ried out es­pe­cially in the ar­eas of non-tra­di­tional se­cu­rity. The ba­sic ob­jec­tive of cre­at­ing such a frame­work was to bring about co­op­er­a­tive se­cu­rity, es­pe­cially in the ar­eas of hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, dis­as­ter re­lief, mar­itime se­cu­rity, counter-ter­ror­ism and peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions. There­fore, scope for fur­ther de­fence and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two na­tions

has been en­hanced un­der the aegis of ASEAN De­fence Min­is­ters Meet­ing.

Con­clud­ing Ob­ser­va­tions

From In­dian per­spec­tive there is a need for en­hance­ment of bi­lat­eral ties in all fields, in­clud­ing de­fence. The fol­low­ing ar­eas need par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion:

Im­prove­ment of mech­a­nisms for co­or­di­nat­ing pa­trolling by the Army along the land bor­ders to pre­vent in­fil­tra­tion of in­sur­gents.

Sim­i­lar ar­range­ments for pa­trolling mar­itime bound­aries to curb ac­tiv­i­ties of in­sur­gent groups.

En­sur­ing that nei­ther side al­lows the in­sur­gents to use their ter­ri­tory for activ- ities detri­men­tal to each other’s se­cu­rity.

Ad­di­tional va­can­cies for train­ing of Myan­mar Army per­son­nel in In­dian train­ing acad­e­mies.

Re­pair and train­ing cover for Myan­mar de­fence forces equip­ment of Rus­sian ori­gin. De­spite the re­cent open­ing up to the US and the West due to its nascent demo­cratic and eco­nomic re­forms China’s strate­gic in­flu­ence in Myan­mar is con­sid­er­able. In­dia’s en­gage­ment with Myan­mar and the western in­ter­est in Myan­mar would con­trib­ute to mod­er­at­ing China’s in­flu­ence.

The au­thor is a Se­nior Fel­low with the Vivekananda In­ter­na­tional Foun­da­tion

Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs of Myan­mar, U Wunna Maung Lwin, with Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi

in New Delhi on July 15, 2015

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