Tight rope walk for India to maintain good ties with Myanmar & Bangladesh

Jatin Desai
Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first bilateral visit to Myanmar was held against the backdrop of Rohingya crisis and growing demand to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize. She has been accused of failing to halt violence against Rohingyas. The Nobel Peace committee has made it clear that the awards cannot be withdrawn. Olav Njolstad, head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, said that neither the will of prize founder Alfred Nobel nor the Nobel Foundation’s rules provide for the possibility of withdrawing the honour from laureates.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first bilateral visit to Myanmar was held against the backdrop of Rohingya crisis and growing demand to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize. She has been accused of failing to halt violence against Rohingyas. The Nobel Peace committee has made it clear that the awards cannot be withdrawn. Olav Njolstad, head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, said that neither the will of prize founder Alfred Nobel nor the Nobel Foundation’s rules provide for the possibility of withdrawing the honour from laureates. Owing to geopolitics, the Indian PM skillfully avoided reference of word Rohingyas during his visit. He expressed concern over the 'extremist violence' and loss of life.

Historically, India has close relations with Myanmar (Burma or Brahmadesh, as it was known earlier). India also shares cultural relations with her eastern neighbour for hundreds of years. India has multiple interests in Myanmar as it shares the border with a couple of restive Indian states of North East. Myanmar is a multi-ethnic country and some ethnic groups do support few rebel groups active in North East India. Because of this compulsion, India used to support military junta of Myanmar even at the cost of movement for the democracy spearheaded by Aung San and her party National League for Democracy (NLD). Hundreds of NLD’s supporters and leaders were compelled to take shelter in India even after they won elections decisively in 1990. The military junta had nullified the result and Aung San was immediately placed under house arrest. 

Modi met President U Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu kyi during his visit. India needs Myanmar’s cooperation in not allowing Myanmar’s land as 'safe haven' for various Indian rebel groups. India does not want Myanmar to support these groups. National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang) group is largely based in Myanmar and from there, they operate mainly in Manipur and Nagaland in North East India. In 2015, Indian Army crossed the border and entered Myanmar and killed around 30 rebels. India did it following an ambush in Manipur in which army had lost 18 jawans. It was carried out by NSCN (K). Myanmar had denied that Indian Army crossed the border and entered into Myanmar.

Modi and Aung San addressed a joint press conference. Modi announced gratis visa for the citizens of Myanmar. Aung San said, "Together, we will ensure that terrorism is not allowed to take roots in our country, on our soil or in neighbouring countries.” Modi expressed concern over 'extremist violence' in Rakhine but did not mention the persecution of Rohingya community. Aung San’s silence on the issue of Rohingyas baffles the international community. India has offered assistance for the development of Rakhine. Myanmar welcomed India’s offer of assistance under the Rakhine State Development programme and the two sides agreed to finalise the implementation modalities within the next few months. India will also restore and conserve 92 ancient pagodas and structures in Bagan through the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). Modi later said that his visit covered significant ground in giving the much needed impetus to Indo-Myanmar relations and deepening bilateral cooperation. 

The Myanmar government is under tremendous pressure from the international community over Rohingyas. The total population of Rohingyas in Myanmar is around 11 lakh and they have been denied citizenship. According to Professor Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, over 1,000 have been killed in Myanmar since August 25. Already, more than one and a half lakh Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh.

The Modi government has re-branded earlier policy of 'Look East' to 'Act East'. India also wants to stop China’s growing influence in Myanmar especially after the Doklam controversy. China has already signed few agreements with Myanmar.

Myanmar has a huge stock of gas.
Bangladesh’s envoy met India's foreign secretary S Jaishankar in New Delhi on Saturday and asked India to pressure Myanmar to stop the flow of Rohingyas into Bangladesh. Subsequently, India asked Myanmar to handle the situation in Rakhine with 'restraint and maturity.' India is also facing Rohingyas' flow. Around 40,000 Rohingyas live in India. India is facing a serious issue as it does not have a refugee law.

The good relations between India and Myanmar must be strengthened. It needs to move forward but at the same time, India must take a clear stand on Rohingyas and see to it they are not persecuted in Myanmar and at the same time, India should not deport around 40,000 Rohingyas. 

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