India-Burma Relations Hitting a Dead End?
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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

India-Burma Relations Hitting a Dead End?

By CAMILL BUZZI and ÅSHILD KOLÅS Thursday, March 11, 2010


Over the past two decades, India's approach to Burma has undergone a complete turnaround, from support for the country’s democracy movement following the popular uprising in 1988 to today’s cozy relationship with its military dictators. The shift was motivated by three main goals: a desire to counter China’s growing influence in Burma; a wish to use Burma as a gateway to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) for trade and investment as part of India’s “Look East” policy; and a hope for assistance from Burma in cracking down on insurgency in the Northeast. But since India began to fundamentally reorient its Burma policy in the mid-1990s, it has had little to show for its closer ties with the Burmese generals.

On all three points, India's change of policy has failed to achieve the desired results. China’s influence in Burma has grown and remains strong. The Burmese regime relies on Beijing to provide political and diplomatic protection, especially in the UN Security Council, while China has made Burma a key component of its quest for energy security, notably for access to oil and gas, as well as hydro-power.

On the economic front, Burma has not lived up to the expectations of spearheading Indian access to Asean. Although India's trade with Asean has dramatically increased  since the Look East policy was initiated under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, its inroads in the region lag far behind those of China. In 2008, India’s annual bilateral trade with Asean stood at US $47 billion, as compared to the $193 billion worth of trade between China and Asean. Indian trade was moreover concentrated mainly on Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Burma has become a sidetrack.

When it comes to India’s third goal, the Burmese army has shown little inclination to carry out operations on the ground, despite an agreement between the two countries to cooperate in combating ethnic insurgents. Although India and Burma are currently gearing up for coordinated operations against camps in Burma set up by several northeastern Indian armed groups, no date has been set for the start of the offensive. And this comes only after 10 years of high-level military contacts between the two countries, during which India has provided Burma with substantial amounts of military hardware. As Indian intelligence officials have come to suspect, the agreement has served only as a bargaining chip for Naypyidaw to extract concessions from its larger neighbor.

Far from increasing security in India's restive Northeast, efforts to engage with Burma have come at a growing cost, especially for people living in the region. The building of new infrastructure, such as roads and railway links to facilitate the Look East policy, has not only enabled legal trade, but has also led to an increase in human trafficking and smuggling, especially of drugs and weapons. Nearly fifty armed groups are actively involved in weapons smuggling across the Indo-Burmese border, which explains the location of a number of camps as close as a few kilometers away from the Indian border.

The smuggling of heroin from Burma into India is another serious problem. In the Northeast, the UN Office of Drug Control now finds a direct correlation between proximity to the Indo-Burmese border and heroin abuse; the closer to the border, the more cases of heroin injection and seizures of heroin. The three border provinces of Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram have thus become hotspots for the spread of HIV/AIDS in India due to unsafe injection practices among drug abusers.

India's efforts to cooperate with the Burmese junta has also damaged it in other ways. India’s policy towards Burma now bears a striking resemblance to that of China. For a country that prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy, this failure to differentiate itself from the one-party autocratic state of China is a stain on India’s reputation.

The position India found itself in during Burma’s Saffron Revolution in September 2007 illustrates the risks it is now exposed to due to its Burma policy. While students and monks took to the streets of Rangoon to protest military oppression, Indian and Burmese officials were negotiating a deal for India to develop the strategically located port of Sittwe. Despite the presence of India’s Minister for Petrol and Natural Gas in Burma at the height of the protests, India kept silent over the brutal military response that ensued. Plans by India to go ahead with a deal to provide military equipment to Burma shortly after the crackdown, however, provoked an international outcry and forced India to quietly postpone the arms sale.

Such moves in recent years have created an impression of a greedy India willing to compete with China at any cost and without much concern for the welfare of the Burmese population.

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Kyaw Wrote:
The writers are quite ignorant,destructive and pretentiously uneducated in their article.
India contributed, forced by England, armies to the illegal British invasion/colonization of Burma's Konbaun Dynasty and noble governance.
Burma is a land unfortunately stuck between communist China, greedy-Capitalist India and troubled Bangladesh.
Moral ASEAN leaders can help, and so can Europe in strategically persuading the Myanmar government to include Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the reconciliation and reconstruction of the Burmese Civilisation/State.
Ms.Buzzi, think of co-operative ways to inject harmonious/sympathetic diplomacy on Myanmar issues, not divisive, shallow Anglo-Saxon perspectives only using the English language to destroy and colonize the interpretational context of indigenous cultures of Southeast Asian people who live in poverty.
Your high-brow, pessimistic doctorate tone of the article does not represent the voice of Burmese people. Please read more books on Asia before writing rubbish.

Tom Tun Wrote:
If enlightened Ghandi were still alive he would have chosen the high moral approach of engagement or disengagement. Maybe India has finally lost great leaders who really know right from wrong, not just from the basic economy or territorial interest.
India is ignorant about Burma human rights abuses. I believe India leaders know more about human rights abuses than critics like me.
Leading a country and making a hard choice, Indian leader made definitely a wrong choice. While the whole world is busy grebbing money, whoever suffers or dies becomes a not quite important matter for some business enterprises and countries. When did money become above humanity? The poor countries are searching for money to get a better state. Wealthy countries defend their interests seriously over humanity. But, remember not all wealthy countries are unethical.

Kerry Wrote:
India does not need to align itself in any way in 2010 with such grubby and brutal money.

India is admired in the world for so many humane things. Whole nations have sadly of late dealt more with China out of fear of their avarice and brutality. It is time the world begins to take better care of our very good friendship with India.

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