Myanmar’s internal situation shouldn’t hobble India’s ‘Act East’ policy

News: In 2021, Myanmar’s military took over the civilian government. Now, there are reliable reports of the strengthening of the People’s Defence Force, with the support of various ethnic militias. There is no sign of the restoration of normalcy.

Implications on India

For India, the coup has caused an adverse impact on its Act East policy. The policy is going nowhere due to present dispensation in Myanmar.

It has thwarted India’s land outreach towards the vibrant economies of South East Asia as well as has retarded development in the Northeast.

The lack of movement in terms of North-East development has led to a series of unfortunate incidents that indicate a resurgence in anti-India posturing in the region.

  • For example, there seems to be a resurgence of the insurgent groups in the N-E. Many insurgent groups are operating from the Sagaing Division and Chin State in Myanmar.

There are also reports that the Chinese intelligence is supporting the militant groups working against India.

Way Forward

The disruption of the existing supply chain linkages due to the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have created prospects for developing fresh trade linkages with the nations of Southeast Asia and the far east.

A fresh look needs to be taken at both the furtherance of the Act East policy, as well as the security matrix that governs the Northeast. The following is recommended:

India can build upon favorable bilateral relations with Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina.

– India can open a new axis of land-sea connectivity for promoting trade and commerce with Southeast Asia.

– The inland of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura can be connected to the ports of Bangladesh. The inland water transport (IWT) on the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers can be exploited.

India should not dilute its efforts to ensure that peace and stability return to Myanmar. There is a need for continued engagement, both formal and informal, with the warring factions in Myanmar.

India should build appropriate infrastructure such as container depots, cold storage facilities and seamless highways for transport of the Indian manufactured goods in the Northeast via Bangladesh.

The government should constitute an inter-ministerial empowered department for monitoring and facilitating projects that support India’s Act East policy.

The government should create “integrated defence zones” around the “free move regime” to weaken the strike capability of the insurgent groups. The zones should be jointly manned by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) and the Indian Army/Assam Rifles.

Further, the Assam Rifles should remain under the control of the Indian Army. This force should undertake intelligence operations for greater transparency of the events within Myanmar and further the national strategy.

The Government of India should improve the security situation, and also reassure the locals that the region’s interest is paramount.

Source: The post is based on an article “Myanmar’s internal situation shouldn’t hobble India’s Act East Policy” published in the Indian Express on 3rd June 2022.

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