In­dia should seize the op­por­tu­nity to build ties with Myan­mar

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NEHGINPAO KIPGEN news­room@mm­times.com

PRES­I­DENT U Htin Kyaw be­gan a four-day trip to In­dia on Au­gust 27 ac­com­pa­nied by his wife, Daw Su Su Lwin, sev­eral key min­is­ters and se­nior of­fi­cials. This is the pres­i­dent’s first state visit to the neigh­bour­ing coun­try, and his ar­rival presents a crit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity for In­dia to ce­ment closer ties.

Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw comes to In­dia as a guest of In­dian Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee, who will hold a ban­quet for the del­e­ga­tion.

The visit fol­lows Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj’s one-day trip to Myan­mar on Au­gust 22, the first high-level of­fi­cial from In­dia to visit since the Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) came to power in April.

At the time, Myan­mar gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials told Ms Swaraj that they would not al­low any in­sur­gent group to use Myan­mar’s ter­ri­tory to at­tack In­dia.

Ms Swaraj’s visit took place just days af­ter the In­dian Army had an en­counter with militants from the Na­tional So­cial­ist Coun­cil of Na­ga­landKha­p­lang (NSCN-K) who were al­legedly try­ing to enter the coun­try from Myan­mar. There were re­ports that the In­dian army had crossed over to Myan­mar to pur­sue the militants, but this was of­fi­cially de­nied by New Delhi.

It will be im­por­tant for In­dian lead­er­ship to con­tinue en­gag­ing Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in sub­stan­tive talks on cross­bor­der se­cu­rity is­sues.

The tim­ing of the visit is good for both New Delhi and Nay Pyi Taw as the NLD gov­ern­ment holds talks with sev­eral eth­nic armed groups and pre­pares for the piv­otal Pan­g­long peace con­fer­ence later this week.

Though the NSCN-K is not cur­rently en­gaged in talks with the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment, the Modi gov­ern­ment could use this visit to dis­cuss the group.

Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw’s visit also comes within a week of State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s own four-day visit to China, a tra­di­tional ri­val of In­dia.

Dur­ing the China visit, the two coun­tries signed agree­ments on eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal co­op­er­a­tion that will re­sult in the build­ing of two new hos­pi­tals and a strate­gic bridge in Kun­long, 32 kilo­me­tres (20 miles) from the Chi­nese border in north­east­ern Myan­mar.

China is a ma­jor trad­ing part­ner with Myan­mar, with to­tal two-way trade amount­ing to over US$9.4 bil­lion in the first 10 months of the 2015-16 fis­cal year, ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese me­dia.

In an ef­fort to im­prove bi­lat­eral ties, Myan­mar has agreed to re­view sev­eral sus­pended dam projects backed by China in or­der to de­ter­mine a mu­tu­ally agree­able so­lu­tion.

The Chi­nese lead­er­ship also as­sured the state coun­sel­lor that Bei­jing will con­tinue to play a con­struc­tive role in pro­mot­ing peace­ful set­tle­ment of the decades-old armed con­flicts in Myan­mar.

In light of these de­vel­op­ments, In­dia should seize the op­por­tu­nity of Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw’s visit to strengthen and en­hance bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

In ad­di­tion to cross-border se­cu­rity is­sues, there are three spe­cific ar­eas where In­dia should seek to boost ties: the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, in­sti­tu­tion build­ing and peo­ple-to-peo­ple re­la­tions.

Few stu­dents from Myan­mar, if any, at­tend In­dian uni­ver­si­ties. The In­dian gov­ern­ment and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions across In­dia should do more to at­tract stu­dents from Myan­mar, per­haps by of­fer­ing schol­ar­ships or through ex­change pro­grams. Ad­di­tion­ally, civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions and the pri­vate sec­tor should of­fer vo­ca­tional train­ings for short-term re­sults.

Sec­ond, in­sti­tu­tion build­ing can be ac­com­plished in a num­ber of ways. For ex­am­ple, the In­dian gov­ern­ment should in­vite Myan­mar politi­cians who are new to democ­racy to give them first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence ob­serv­ing how a democ­racy works in a di­verse and plu­ral­is­tic so­ci­ety.

Myan­mar politi­cians should be al­lowed to ob­serve par­lia­men­tary pro­ceed­ings, and at­tend cour­ses of­fered by In­dian uni­ver­si­ties and think tanks on the the­ory and prac­tice of democ­racy and fed­er­al­ism.

The third pri­or­ity, im­prov­ing peo­ple-to-peo­ple re­la­tions, should be eas­ily achieved. Not only do In­dia and Myan­mar have a shared border, but the two coun­tries are also home to mil­lions of peo­ple from the same eth­nic com­mu­nity, sep­a­rated dur­ing the cre­ation of In­dia and Myan­mar in 1947 and 1948 re­spec­tively. Ex­am­ples in­clude the Kachin, the Kuki, the Naga and the Shan, who live along­side the In­dia-Myan­mar border.

The two coun­tries share a 1624kilo­me­tre (1009-mile) boundary in four north­east In­dian states – Arunachal Pradesh, Ma­nipur, Mi­zo­ram and Na­ga­land. De­spite this ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity, cross-border con­tacts among or­di­nary peo­ple are rel­a­tively in­signif­i­cant. Dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s visit to Myan­mar in 2014, In­dia agreed to build 71 bridges along the roads used by In­dian buses.

Bus ser­vice be­tween Im­phal and Man­dalay, a dis­tance of about 580 kilo­me­tres, was orig­i­nally planned to start in 2012-13, but Ma­nipur Chief Min­is­ter Okram Ibobi Singh launched it on De­cem­ber 9, 2015, as a trial run, which has not been re­sumed.

Sim­i­larly, the first flight ser­vice be­tween Myan­mar and Ma­nipur was in­tro­duced in Novem­ber 2013, but never fol­lowed up be­cause of im­mi­gra­tion con­cerns. Though weekly di­rect Air In­dia flights on the Delhi-Gaya-Yan­gon route and Golden Myanma char­ter flights to In­dia were launched in Novem­ber 2014, the con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween the two coun­tries still re­mains very poor.

Re­li­able road links, bus and train ser­vices, the in­tro­duc­tion of visa-onar­rival fa­cil­i­ties at the border, and reg­u­lar flights are some of the key ar­eas the In­dian gov­ern­ment could eas­ily cap­i­talise on in or­der to ben­e­fit its Act East Pol­icy.

Nehginpao Kipgen is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for South­east Asian Stud­ies at the Jin­dal School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, O.P. Jin­dal Global Univer­sity. His books and ar­ti­cle have been widely pub­lished in over 30 coun­tries in five con­ti­nents – Asia, Africa, Aus­tralia, Europe, and North Amer­ica.

Photo: AFP

Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw (left) and his wife Daw Su Su Lwin of­fer prayers at the Ma­ha­bodhi Ma­hav­i­hara tem­ple in the In­dian town of Bod­hgaya on Au­gust 27.

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