India – Myanmar relations | Timeline

India-Myanmar relations are rooted in shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. The geographical proximity of the two countries has helped develop and sustain cordial relations and facilitated people-to-people contact.

India and Myanmar share a long land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. A large population of Indian origin lives in Myanmar. India and Myanmar signed a Treaty of Friendship in 1951. The visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 laid the foundations for a stronger relationship between India and Myanmar.

As the only ASEAN country which shares a land border with India, Myanmar is a bridge between India and ASEAN.

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Recently, on 1 February 2021, the military seized control of Myanmar in a coup, following a general election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won by a landslide.

The United Nations has warned of a deepening humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, with an intensification of violence and a rapid rise in poverty.

In last one year several changes have taken place in the internal dynamics like mass protests bringing the country to a halt, a civil disobedience movement is ongoing and a full-fledged armed rebellion has erupted across Myanmar.

Below you’ll find newspaper article updates on India-Myanmar relations.

“India must prioritise stability in Myanmar” – Indian Express – 16th Feb 2022

After the coup, the deposed civilian lawmakers put together their own government known as the National Unity Government (NUG), which commands the support of the majority.

Apart from this, the coup faced popular resistance from the first day including a wide-scale civil disobedience movement. The military in response to this has been firing openly at unarmed protestors, conducting violent nighttime raids in residential areas, and blocking social media sites.

There has also been an armed resistance that has gripped the whole country mainly under the civilian militias, called People’s Defence Forces (PDF).

This has forced the military to fight on multiple fronts and powerful ethnic armed groups in the north, northwest, and east have joined forces with the PDFs. There have been thousands of clashes between these groups and the army, much more than in Syria or Afghanistan.

“India must prioritise stability in Myanmar” – Indian Express – 16th Feb 2022
Since the coup, India has taken a balanced diplomatic approach on Myanmar, calling for restraint, restoration of democracy and release of political prisoners, but also maintaining its lines of communication with the military.

Delhi has also firmly stayed away from imposing sanctions on the junta.

The rationale behind India’s approach towards Myanmar

Mains Marathon – 17th Feb 22

  • Security in North East: North-eastern states in India are affected by insurgency and narcotics trade routes (golden triangle). Good relations with power centre in Myanmar would be effective in handling these issues.
  • Economic concerns: Myanmar acts as a bridge between India’s North East India and ASEAN. Myanmar also have natural resources like Oil and Gas that India needs for energy security. India also has interest in the development projects like Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway.
  • Chinese Influence: India cannot afford to antagonize the military Junta because that will push the Junta towards China.
  • Refugee crisis: India wants to avoid a situation similar to Rohingya crisis where large number of people started migrating to Indian states.

Why India’s approach needs a shift?

These developments in Myanmar require a rethinking of India’s approach.

  • The approach that India must maintain its relationship with the junta to counter China and secure its national interest is no longer efficient. This is because the military is no longer a force for stability in Myanmar. It is incapable of providing the political, economic, and social stability that India needs in Myanmar to advance its interests, including development projects.
  • Economy is rapidly sinking and public faith in the military as a state institution is at its lowest. The military has been facing armed resistance almost in the entire country.
  • Under the current military regime, the North Eastern area of India which shares its border with Myanmar has seen a massive decline in security. Chin state, bordering Mizoram and Manipur, has seen dramatic military offensives in civilian areas, which have forced thousands to flee into India creating a refugee crisis. At least four Indian insurgent groups have re-established their camps inside Myanmar, which could act as staging posts for attacks inside India.
  • India must adopt an approach that can not only provide a stable political environment overall but also effectively secure its security interests along the border.
  • India’s stand on Myanmar’s coup has been criticized by the western world as ‘tacit support’ to Myanmar’s military regime by the world’s largest democracy.

“A year on from Myanmar’s ‘annus horribilis’“ – The Hindu – 31st Jan 22

India is following a two-track policy of supporting democracy and maintaining cordial relations with the government in power. Guided by realism and pragmatism, India is driven by the desire to protect India’s interests.

ASEAN, the West and China

“A year on from Myanmar’s ‘annus horribilis’“ – The Hindu – 31st Jan 22

ASEAN persuaded the senior general of Myanmar to accept a five-point consensus. It included cessation of violence, national dialogue and mediation by ASEAN. When Myanmar did not implement this, the senior general was barred from ASEAN summits.

The Cambodian Prime Minister has adopted a softer approach, which is backed by Thailand and Laos. It seeks compromise on denial of access to Suu Kyi to ASEAN mediators and little dilution of the 2008 Constitution.

The West was unable to comprehend the dynamics of power as the USA and EU failed to resolve the issues in Myanmar. The policy of imposing sanctions has been ineffective.

China: China has enormous leverage in golden land through control over separate ethnic armed organisations and projects like the Belt and Road initiative. China also protects the military regime in the Security Council via veto.

But Myanmar rulers also desire independence and balance in their external policy. Japan understands this, but it is acting alone and cannot make much difference.

Coup in Myanmar & India – Myanmar bilateral relations – Explained

Tackling insurgency in Northeast: Myanmar shares a 1643 Km long boundary with India’s North Eastern State. Insurgent groups such as ISCN-K, ISCN-IM have operational bases inside Myanmar. The democratically elected government cooperated with India in controlling the insurgent activities especially, the Naga insurgency.

Myanmar’s role in India’s “Neighborhood First” policy and “Act East” Policy: Myanmar is strategically located between India and Southeast Asian countries. Due to that, Myanmar is important for India’s connectivity with other South-East Asian countries.

Reduction of illegal migrants coming to India: During the recent Rohingya issue, 14000 registered and 40000 unregistered refugees came to India. A stable Myanmar can prevent this fleeing of refugees.

Myanmar is the gateway to the development of North-Eastern India: The success of infrastructure, developmental projects in the North-Eastern part of India directly depend on the co-operation with Myanmar. For Example, the Development of India-Myanmar-Thailand(IMT) trilateral highway, Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport (KMMTT) corridor, etc rely on Myanmar.

Coup in Myanmar & India – Myanmar bilateral relations – Explained

Infrastructure and Development projects: In 2013 India provided a 500 million $ LOC (Line of Credit) for the developmental projects in Myanmar. Apart from that IMT trilateral highway and Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport (KMMTT) are also under implementation.
India-Myanmar-Thailand(IMT) trilateral highway: The Highway connects Moreh in the Indian state of Manipur to the Mae Sot in Thailand. This route is interconnected via Mandalay in Myanmar.

Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport (KMMTT): The Project is aimed at connecting the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with the Sittwe seaport in Myanmar. In Myanmar, it will then link Sittwe seaport to Paletwa in Chin State via the Kaladan riverboat route. Then from Paletwa by road to Mizoram state in Northeast India. India constructed Sittwe Port as a deepwater port in 2016 at Sittwe.

Defence Cooperation: Both the countries conduct a joint military exercise named India – Myanmar Bilateral Military Exercise (IMBEX). Above all, both the armies jointly carried out Operation Sunrise twice. Under Operation Sunrise, the India-Myanmar armies jointly target the militant groups that operates in the border states.

Education and research: India developed Myanmar Institute of Information and Technology in Mandalay. Apart from that, an Advanced Center for Agricultural Research and Education (ACARE) has been set up with the collaboration of ICAR for conducting research on pulses and oilseeds.

Other areas of co-operation. India’s renovation of the 11th Century Ananda Temple in Myanmar (it was damaged due to earthquake), Humanitarian and Disaster Relief to Myanmar during emergencies.

1) Dilemma to engage with Military regime: Since the coup, India has been firm that the gains made by Myanmar over the last decade on the path towards democracy should not be lost.

Further, any democratic transition in Myanmar cannot be done without involving the Junta, so it is imperative that India keeps all channel of communication open with it.

2) Most of the countries in India and Myanmar’s neighbourhood like ASEAN members, Japan, Korea etc have started to deeply engage with the military regime in Myanmar and India can’t lag behind.

3) China’s growing dominance: Ever since the coup, China’s economic grip over Myanmar has only become tighter with a special focus on projects critical for the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. Hence, India needs to have continuous dialogue with Myanmar keep the security situation in North east under control.

Chinese capacity to create trouble in the North East was visible recently, from the last month’s deadly attack on an Assam Rifles convoy near the Myanmar border in Manipur. Its increasing influence over Myanmar, only provides with further options to destabilise Indian border areas.

4) Porous borders and Pandemic: India-Myanmar have porous borders at many places. For India, a humanitarian crisis as a result of the pandemic-induced economic crisis in Myanmar can become a major issue.

Mains Marathon – 17th Feb 22
India must reconsider its partnerships in Myanmar and invest in those entities that can not only provide a stable political environment overall, but also effectively secure its security interests along the border.

“India must prioritize stability in Myanmar” – Indian Express – 16th Feb 2022

India can engage more with the NUG as it enjoys much more mass popularity than the military, which means it is in a position to restore calm. It can also engage with the PDFs and ethnic armed organisations, they have also demonstrated sufficient capability in countering the military’s strategic dominance.

Even China realises the new reality and has publicly communicated with pro-democracy forces in Myanmar. However, China does not have strong links with the new PDFs. So, if India really wants to offset Chinese influence in Myanmar, it needs to take this opportunity to forge new friendships.

India can formalise border trade with Myanmar. Currently, India’s Border trade with Myanmar is at a very low level. By formalising border trade like that of Border Haats in India-Bangladesh and providing enough support, we can improve people to people tie. It will also provide peace in long run.

India can assist Myanmar in the implementation of the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission report on Rohingya Refugee issues. The commission has recommended investing in infrastructure projects. The recent Indian government move in developing the Sittwe port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is one such move.

“A year on from Myanmar’s ‘annus horribilis’“ – in The Hindu – 31st Jan 22

India has to discourage the mass influx of refugees, check cross-border insurgency in the northeast, safeguard ongoing projects and investments and also counter China’s growing influence.

“Why India must engage with Myanmar” – Indian Express – 25th Jan 22

Proactively employ the existing “people-to-people” goodwill and Proximate ties between the two armies

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