Dialogue  July-September  2009, Volume 11 No.1


India’s Evolving Relations with Myanmar in Recent Times


Udai Bhanu Singh


Relations with Myanmar will continue to hold significance for India. India’s Myanmar policy has been influenced by the desire to balance the geopolitical imperative with its commitment to democracy. India’s policy was driven by the factors which include: need to control insurgency in the northeast, growing Chinese influence in the region, and energy requirements and to achieve these in the overall context of its Look-East policy. The trajectory of this relationship becomes important in the context of the growing international pressure on the military junta for implementing political reform. The article tracks the evolution of India’s policy since 1998 under different governments but with an underlying continuity. India’s policy towards Myanmar is determined by Myanmar’s  unique geostrategic location and political evolution and less by other autonomous factors. The future of this relationship will be decided by the need for development and stability in the region.

     India’s relations with Myanmar have waxed and waned as the country’s policy makers steered the way through the maze of high idealism and pragmatic realism. Over time India’s policy towards Myanmar has stabilised and its preference for pragmatism has defined its approach in recent years. This was a consequence of a belated realisation, especially in the period since 1993, that the pursuit of India’s strategic and economic interests could not await the prolonged political evolution of its important Southeast Asian neighbour. As the political processes in Myanmar gather momentum due to a host of domestic and international factors, it is time yet again to introspect India’s policy towards its eastern neighbour. There are historical and geopolitical reasons why India’s policy of engagement appears to be at variance with the US and European policy of sanctions. But, in as much as global imperatives intrude into the domestic sphere of Myanmar and domestic issues find resonance on the international plane, India’s policy perforce will need recaliberation to the degree that change in the external environment occurs. The success or otherwise of a country’s foreign policy is dependent on its ability to achieve its objectives which could range from establishing trade, economic links or technical aid or reviving cultural and historical ties.

    During the early years of independent Burma the aspirations of an erstwhile colonized people sought their expression as an independent discrete unit. Burma kept itself away from bloc politics and alliances. Phase 1 then was the Phase of Independent Foreign Policy. This was the period when it followed an active and independent foreign policy.  But this phase of self assertion was to slide into a phase of narcissistic self-absorption in Phase 2 which was the Phase of Isolation (1962- 1988). During this period of Ne Win’s rule Burma grew more and more isolated when neither the socialist bloc nor the capitalist bloc really claimed it as its own. Its domestic (authoritarian) system won the opprobrium of the West, and membership of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) made it uneasy and it withdrew from NAM in 1979. This led to the Phase 3 of Reaching out to the world (1988 onward). Myanmar aspired to rejoin the international arena after three decades of isolation.1 Myanmar now has wide-ranging multilateral and bilateral ties.


Evolution of India-Myanmar Relations

Recent Background:

     The two decades from India’s open support to the pro-democracy forces in the 1988 movement to exchange of bilateral visits at the highest levels demonstrated clearly New Delhi’s desire to pursue its strategic and economic goals. However, it left unresolved the dilemma how to pursue its stated goals without compromising its commitment to human rights and democratic principles. The post-1988 period has seen eight Prime Ministers belonging to three different parties  (Congress, Janata Dal and BJP)  in New Delhi.2 In the pre-1988 period, India-Myanmar relations had soured for lack of effort from either side (apart from the initial bonhomie of Nehru-U Nu cooperation). During the period lasting till 1988 Myanmar was unwilling to help India tackle its Naga problem on the border. In a sense, 1988 marks a dividing line which separates one era from another. In the case of Myanmar, the Ne Win era ended and a change of military leadership heralded the advent of the SLORC. As far as India was concerned, realisation began to dawn that India’s support to the pro-democracy forces in the August 1988 uprising failed to find favour with the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) regime. It was only in 1991 however, that a decision was taken to discontinue criticism of the Myanmar regime in All India Radio’s (AIR) Burmese broadcasts. The visit to Yangon by the Indian Foreign Secretary in 1993 started the process of improvement of relations between the two countries. Indian Government also made an attempt to curb the anti-SLORC activities of Myanmar students in India. These adjustments in Indo-Myanmar relations were ocuring in the backdrop of more momentous changes on the Indian economic horizon. The policy of liberalisation had been introduced in the early 1990s and the Look East policy too had its beginnings around the same time. These developments helped in defining India’s objectives in Myanmar.

     To begin with, Myanmar was seen as an important part of India’s Look East policy for the simple reason that it is the only Southeast Asian nation with which India shares a land border. By ensuring smooth trade, connectivity the objective of much needed development in India’s northeastern states could be achieved. It was viewed as a land-bridge to rest of Southeast Asia.

     Second, both India and Myanmar need to control insurgency in their bordering states.

    Third, India is located between the ‘Golden Crescent’ in the west and the ‘Golden Triangle’ in the east. It is confronted with the arms-drug nexus and faces a “silent emergency”. Myanmar still has the dubious distinction of being the second largest producer of opiates (after Afghanistan) and for having a high HIV rate. Though opium poppy cultivation has shown a decline from 130,000 hectares in 1998 to 28,500 hectares in 2008 and the potential production of opium has declined from 1,303 metric tons  to 410 metric tons during the same period more needs to be done because the traditional opium-based drugs have been replaced by designer drugs like amphetamine-type–stimulants (ATS) (“speed”, “ice” and “ecstasy).3     

     Fourth, the two governments need to take steps with a holistic view of security in mind.  This entails greater cooperation between the two governments to prevent outbreak of epidemics across borders especially considering the threat of HIV/AIDS, and recent outbreaks like the swine flu and bird flu. This is the danger from ‘the silent emergency’.   

     Fifth, and flowing from all the factors above, is the need to ensure the development of the northeastern states. Sixth, is something that has not been explicitly stated but has perhaps always been at the back of Indian strategic thinking. This is the need to evolve an appropriate response (and in the right measure) to the rise of China, particularly its growing economic, political and military influence in Myanmar.


Options before India:

     India potentially has several options or means to influence Myanmar’s policy. These included the following: diplomatic means; economic means: including sanctions (positive incentives and negative); cultural means including use of the media and publicity; military to military contacts.

      Diplomatic Means: Diplomatic pressure can be brought to bear on Myanmar at the following levels:

     (i) Bilateral level: this is restricted not only to India-Myanmar ties but implies encouraging other countries to adopt policies which are best suited to Indian interests. Diplomatic interests can be pursued through high level visits- at the Presidential level, foreign secretary level or the home  secretary level etc. Then Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran (who had earlier served as India’s Ambassador to Myanmar) also paid a visit to Myanmar in October 2004.This was followed the same month by the visit of  Sr Gen Than Shwe. He assured India that Myanmar would not allow insurgents to operate from its territory. Following that visit the armies of the two sides cooperated in anti insurgency operations on their border in November 2004. The then Home Secretary NN Vohra had visited Myanmar in 1994 and the process was continued by his successors right up to VK Duggal in October 2005.  Similarly, the then External Affairs Minister K  Natwar Singh was in Myanmar in March 2005. When the Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win visited India Dr Manmohan Singh “stressed the need for greater urgency in bringing about political reforms and national reconciliation in Myanmar”.  

     Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam’s visited Myanmar from March 8-11, 2006. Shyam Saran described it as a very important visit to a very important neighbour. Though this was the first such visit by an Indian head of state to this Southeast Asian nation, a steady stream of high-level visits from India preceded it, which unambiguously shows the kind of significance New Delhi attaches to this geopolitically sensitive state, irrespective of its current political system. During President Kalam’s visit four agreements were signed with Myanmar relating to remote sensing; cooperation in the petroleum sector (evacuation of gas from Myanmar to India); optical fibre link between Moreh and Mandalay; and cooperation in Buddhist studies. Foreign Office Consultations led by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Myanmar’s Deputy Foreign Minister U Kyaw Thu were held in Nov 2008 in New Delhi in which the two sides discussed ways to enhance bilateral cooperation, particularly in security and border issues, trade and economy, energy, power and IT.4

     (ii) Multilateral level: This includes the UNGA, UNHRC, ASEAN, BIMSTEC etc. Interactions between the two sides have taken place at other forums like UNGA, UNHRC, ASEAN etc as well. The UN and its various bodies form an important forum  for projecting a country’s position:

     · UN General Assembly: Pranab  Mukherjee met his Myanmar counterpart U Nyan Win on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York on October 1, 2007.

     ·  UN Human Rights Council: India voted against Myanmar on the issue of human rights violation at the UNHRC on Oct. 2 2007.

     ·  India cooperated with the UN Secretary General’s special envoy on Myanmar, Mr Ibrahim Gambari, who was in Delhi in January 2009.

     ·  Group of Friends of the Secretary General on Myanmar: This group was intended as a free and informal forum that was not aimed against Myanmar. India attended this 14 nation group5 for the first time in New York in Dec. 21, 20076

     Other forums: There were other forums at which Myanmar was able to project its view-point and sought international support in which India was also represented and interacted with Myanmar; viz.:

     · SEAN-UN International Pledging Conference: The Minister of State for Commerce and Power Mr Jairam Ramesh represented India at the Conference held in Yangon urged international community to provide relief to Myanmar in the aftermath of the Cyclone.7 

      ·  East Asia Summit: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh met his Myanmar counterpart Lt-Gen. Thein Sein in Singapore in November 2007

      ·  European Union: While the EU’s main aim for cooperation with ASEAN has been economic, its concerns focus on non traditional security threats which include terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organised crime (including drug trafficking) besides, failed states, EU special envoy to Myanmar Piero Fassino has acknowledged the importance India and China play in the region.

      ·  Bangladesh,China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) forum: The 8th regional economic cooperation forum, BCIM, was hosted by Myanmar in its new capital Naypyidaw on July 23-24, 2009 in which India also participated. The utility of this second track forum is differently valued by the member countries. For Myanmar it is a valuable asset for negotiating for developmental projects with the important neighbours while China is keen on turning this into a first track forum.

      For instance, an issue which had a bearing on bilateral relations was  the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh into India. New Delhi sought to deal with this problem through a mix of diplomacy and through the deployment of its security forces. Indian authorities arrested and deported about 40 illegal Myanmar migrants living in Mizoram. They were taken from Aizawl to Champhai. Similar deportation took place in 2004 but 50,000 Myanmar illegal migrants are still living in Mizoram. The Indo-Myanmar border was sealed. 8

Economic Means:

    Date                                            Measures

                                                        Under Atal Behari Vajpayee (March 1998-  May


    Nov 14-21,

    2000                                             India-Myanmar Joint Statement: During Gen Maung

                                                         Aye’s visit an agreement to extend a US$15 million

                                                         credit to Myanmar was signed for sourcing industrial                             
                                                         and electric equipment from India.

    Feb 13, 2001                                The 160 km long Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road was
                                                         inaugurated. It now links Moreh town to Kalemyo in
                                                         central Myanmar. Kalewa will further get linked to                                
                                                         Mandalay once the Monywa-Yargyi-Myoma-Kalewa                              
                                                         Road project gets completed. (Monywa is already                               
                                                         connected to Mandalay). 

    April 2002                                    Trilateral Highway Project: Thailand was co-opted with
                                                         a view to extending its reach of the Tamu-Kalewa-                          
                                                         Kalemyo road. The planned route covering Moreh
                                                         (Manipur in India)-Bagan (Myanmar)- Mae Sot                              

    June 2002                                     Kaladan Multimodal Project:from Mizoram to Sittwe                            
                                                         port in Myanmar. Rail India Technical and Economic                                  
                                                         Services (RITES) completed a survey in June 2002 on                         
                                                         the Kaladan Project. A gas pipeline was planned along                              
                                                         the Kaladan river from Nengpui in southern Mizoram                                  
                                                         to Sitwe port. This could provide “an alternative outlet                          
                                                         to the sea for Northeast India in addition to transit                             
                                                         through Chittagong”9 or through the Siliguri neck and                 

                                                         The Indian railways proposed a rail link to Myanmar                            
                                                         through the northeast: the Jirbam-Imphal-Moreh sector                           
                                                         by 2010, the Moreh-Segyi sector, and the Segyi-                                 
                                                         Chaungyu-Myohaung sector. Indian railways also has                               
                                                         plans for laying new lines and undertaking conversion                            
                                                         to broad gauge in the northeast (depending on                          
                                                         resource availability).11 It also plans to extend the                                
                                                         training being imparted to BIMSTEC country                           
                                                         personnel to Mekong Ganga Cooperation countries                          

    January2004                               A second border post was opened at Champhai

    March 2004                                 Myanmar Airways International (MAI) commenced                             
                                                        direct Yangon-Delhi flights.

    October 25-29                             During Sr Gen. Than Shwe’s visit to India the two        

    2004                                            sides agreed to expand bilateral interaction to the                                  
                                                        health, higher education, and energy sectors.                             
                                                        Agreements signed on cooperation in the fieild of                           
                                                        non traditional security, the Tamanthi Hydroelectric                     
                                                        project, extending a line of credit of US$ 7 million for                        
                                                        two telecom projects and a grant of $3 million for IT                                    
                                                        related projects.

                                                        Under Manmohan Singh (May 2004-May 2009)

    September 15                              Myanmar Airways International (MAI) suspended its   
    2005                                            direct Yangon-Delhi flights, begun in 2004, due to                                      
                                                        declining traffic.

    March 8-11                                 During President APJ Abdul Kalam’s visit the  
    2006                                            infrastructure related agreements signed were:                           
                                                        (i) The MoU on cooperation in the petroleum sector                             
                                                        calls for the laying of a natural gas pipeline                                                
                                                        through India’s northeastern states (bypassing                           
                                                        Bangladesh) to evacuate natural gas from an offshore                           
                                                        block close to Arakan coast of Myanmar in which                      
                                                        Gas Authority  of India Limited (GAIL) and ONGC                                
                                                        Videsh Limited (OVL) together own 30 per cent shares.                             
                                                        Keeping in view India’s rapidly growing import                         
                                                        dependence for energy (to keep pace with the                               
                                                        requirements of GDP growth) it is worth taking                         
                                                        seriously Myanmar as a source of energy.                                      
                                                        (i) The framework agreement on remote sensing                         
                                                        provides Myanmar with direct access to relevant data                         
                                                        for assistance in forecasting and better crop                                          
                                                        management. India also agreed to provide a $1.3                                 
                                                        million grant to upgrade the remote sensing ground                         
                                                        receiving station in Yangon. A strong and stable                                    
                                                        Myanmar is in  India’s interest and it is equally in                             
                                                        India’s interest to promote agriculture (on which that                   
                                                        country deeply depends) there.

                                                        (ii) An agreement was signed between the Myanma                              
                                                        Posts and Telecom and Telecommunications                                         
                                                        Consultants India Ltd to implement optical fibre link                    
                                                        between Moreh and Mandalay. Besides these four                           
                                                        agreements it was disclosed that13:

                                                        (ii) India plans to extend $10 million towards                                        
                                                        Myanmar’s contribution to the Kaladan multi-modal                            
                                                        transport project extending from Mizoram to Sitwe.                              
                                                        This  could provide  “an alternative outlet to the sea                                    
                                                        for Northeast India in addition to transit through                                    

                                                        Chittagong” or through the Siliguri neck and Assam.                             
                                                        This would involve upgrading the port of Sitwe and                                 
                                                        using both the river transportation as well as a                           
                                                        highway which would enter southern Mizoram.14

                                                        (iii) India will extend $3million worth of assistance                                 
                                                        and provide technical assistance for the project.

                                                        (iv) Agreement to begin implementing some road                                 

                                                        projects at the earliest:

                                                           ·  Border road linking Mizoram state and Falam                                        
Chin State)

                                                           ·  Carrying forward the 1,400 km trilateral highway                                   
                                                              project linking South and Southeast Asia (ie. Moreh                                   
                                                              in India- Tamu in Myanmar – Myawaddy in Myanmar                             
                                                              and Mae Sot in Thailand.15

    September 2007                          India’s Minister for Oil and Natural Gas Murli S. Deora                                   
                                                        visits Myanmar

    April 2-6, 2008                            Vice Sr Gen. Maung Aye visits India. Three documents                                    
                                                        were signed:

                                                          · a framework agreement on the construction and                                    
                                                            operation of the Kaladan multi-modal transit and                                   
                                                            transport facility on the Kaladan River connecting                                  
                                                            the Sittway Port in Myanmar with Mizoram;

                                                          · an MoU on intelligence exchange to combat                              
                                                            transnational crime including terrorism; and

                                                          · an agreement on avoidance of double taxation for                                 
                                                            investors from the two countries and prevention of                                   
                                                            fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.

    May 26                                        Minister of  State for Commerce & Power Jairam        
    2008                                            Ramesh attends the ASEAN-UN International Pledging                           

    June 2008                                    Minister of State for Commerce & Power Jairam Ramesh                                
                                                        visited Myanmar to hold talks to accelerate the                          
                                                        Kaladan project and discuss the issue of opening more                         
                                                        border trade centres at Avangkhu and Lungwa in                             
                                                        Nagaland, Zowkhathar in Mizoram,
Pangsau Pass in                  
                                                        Arunachal Pradesh and Behiang, Skip and Tusom in                           
                                                        Four economic cooperation agreements were signed                            
                                                        on the occasion:

                                                          · Bilateral Investment Promotion Agreement (BIPA)
                                                            to facilitate greater investment by both countries.                               
                                                          · a $64 million credit line agreement for financing                                     
                                                            three transmis sion lines in Myanmar.

                                                          · agreement for a 20m-dollar credit line for an                                          
                                                            aluminium conductor steel reinforced wire                                             
                                                            manufacturing facility.

                                                        · An agreement for providing a banking arrangement                                                                                               to implement the border trade agreement at                                         
                                                             Moreh in Manipur signed by the Union Bank of                                     
                                                             India and the Myanmar Economic Bank.

    October 2008                              3rd Joint Trade Committee met which decided on:                                
                                                        Conversion of Indo-Myanmar border trade into normal                                  
                                                        trade Opening of border point at Avakhung in                          
                                                        Nagaland Expanding the existing border trade items                                 
                                                        from 22 to 40

    December 2007                           India and Myanmar concluded talks on the Kaladan                             
                                                        multi-modal project (covering road, rail and river                            

    February 2009                            Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari visits Myanmar.                            
                                                        A number of agreements were signed.

         Investment: Market forces and the need to supplement Chinese aid compelled Myanmar to begin wooing foreign capital. Its Foreign Investment Law, 1989 sought to streamline procedures, provide guarantees and incentives and allow repatriation of profit.16 Myanmar figures show that India’s investment in Myanmar were $219.57 million as of September 2007 of which $137 million were in energy sector (oil and gas) in the first half (April-September) of the fiscal year 2007-08. Chinese investment in Myanmar on the other hand is on a much larger scale and canvas. In a two day Unified Commanders’ Conference held in New Delhi in June 2008 in which top brass of the three services, and Defense Minister participated, it was pointed out that that the Chinese participation in infrastructure development in Burma could “affect our security.”17 In fact, Myanmar itself is getting concerned about growing Chinese stranglehold over Myanmar economy.  Prof. Sean Turnell, of Macquarie University,Sydney(and who publishes the Burma Economic Watch report) says: “I hear complaints all the time from people in Burma about Chinese dominance of the economy, and it’s something I think the junta is right to be concerned about.” 18 Thailand successfully bid for a deep-sea port at Dawei on the Andaman Sea coast.19 Thus Myanmar has distributed for development three of its important ports to three of its neighbours- China (Kyauk Phyu on Ramree Island), India (Sittwe) and Thailand (Dawei)

         Trade: Myanmar constitutes an important component of India’s Look East policy: it is Myanmar’s fourth largest trading partner (after Thailand, China and Singapore) and its second largest export market (after Thailand). From a low bilateral trade figure of $87.4 million in 1990-91, it rose to $557.68 million in 2005-06 and $650 million in 2006-07.20 India and Myanmar had signed a Border Trade Agreement in April 1994. The prodemocracy activists oppose this trade as according to them it only benefits th junta. The broder trade also suffered occasional disruption. In late July 2006 when a Assam Rifles (8 AR) JCO was killed. It provoked reaction from AR which provoked in turn a band in Moreh under the leadership of All Moreh Apunba Meira Pibi Lup led by the local women.21 

         Energy: In securing the energy resources of Myanmar for itself China has been swifter than India. In Dec  2008 Myanmar signed an agreement to sell natural gas produced from its offshore Rakhine coast blocks (A1 and A3) to China via a pipeline which would start flowing in 2013.22

        Tourism: Development of tourism was an integral part of India’s Look East policy. Myanmar’s national flag carrier- Myanmar Airways International (MAI) suspended its direct Yangon-Delhi flights on September 15, 2005  due to declining traffic.23 This flight had commenced in March 2004.24 This happened around the time that Myanmar decided to establish direct air links with a Nepalese airline, the Cosmic, between Yangon and Kathmandu to facilitate pilgrim traffic between the two countries.25


Military Interaction:

         Military to military cooperation can be another way of  exercising influence in Myanmar through: visits, port visits, arms transfers, training, counter insurgency cooperation etc. As seen in the table, India’s three service chiefs who have held office at different times have made it a point to visit Myanmar. Military to military contacts between India and Myanmar have grown. Two Indian warships, guided missile destroyer INS Ranjit and the missile corvette INS Kuthar visited Yangon (participating in some basic exercises with Myanmar Navy) from December 22-26, 2005. A corvette of the Myanmar Navy participated in the multi-nation exercise Milan-06 off the Andaman coast (January 9-14 2006). India and Myanmar cooperate at security forums like the ARF, CSCAP, etc. There is scope for cooperation on maritime issues as India and Myanmar both have disuputes with Bangladesh over their respective claims over certain areas in the Bay of Bengal.

        Counter insurgency: There has been some cooperation in tackling insurgents. The seizure of $100,000 from arrested ULFA militants in Assam shows that ULFA was using money routed from Bangladesh to buy arms in Myanmar coming from China.26 The problem of insurgency is aggravated by ethnic contiguity across the border. As a result insurgents (such as those belonging to NSCN-K and the People’s Liberation Front) find easy refuge.  Second, there is a need to tackle the small arms and drugs nexus. Northeast insurgent groups receive arms and ammunition which often pass through Myanmar territory via Thailand and transit partly by the sea route. With the setting up of the base in Andamans and the patrolling of the Malacca Strait it is hoped that some check on insurgent activity could be possible. The two armies have cooperated closely: for instance they held discussions in Kalemyo, Myanmar in November 2001 after the Myanmar army arrested several Manipur insurgents when it raided three underground camps at Tamu, Namphalong and Khunjao, near the Manipur border. These insurgents belonged to the United National Liberation, People’s Liberation Army and People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and were arrested in November 2001.27 However, Myanmar refused to extradite them on the ground that they were Myanmarese. Later when the Indian side accused Myanmar of hosting two Pakistani nuclear scientists on their territory, Myanmar, to India’s annoyance, released the insurgents in March 2002. The Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung during his visit to New Delhi in January 2003 assured that Myanmar won’t allow anti-India insurgent groups to operate from its territory.28  When Maung Aye came in April 2008 he repeated this assurance “while acknowledging that likewise India does not allow its territory to movement of organisations against Myanmar”- thereby subtly underlining the expected reciprocity.

         Drug Trafficking: India is wedged between the ‘Golden Crescent’ in the west and the ‘Golden Triangle in the east. Myanmar continues to have the dubious distinction of being the second larges produces of opiates and for having a high HIV rate in Asia. While it is true that opium poppy cultivation has shown a decline ( ) it has been increasingly replaced by synthetic drugs like amphetamine-type-stimulants (ATS) such as ‘speed’, ‘ice’ and ‘ecstasy’.

         Increasing incidents of small arms smuggling by Kuki-Chin tribals from Chin Hills in Myanmar. With Champhai town in Mizoram as the base, the arms are smuggled to Tiddim and Mandalay in Myanmar after they are bought from Chiang Mai arms bazaar in Thailand. There are also isolated reports about Myanmar nationals crossing over into Bangladesh and then using Indian territory to escape to Pakistan.29

         Non-traditional security issues: Natural disasters like the tsunami and eqrthquakes, and outbreak of epidemics like bird flu, HIV/AIDS etc also entails greater cooperation between the two governments. India was able to successfully project the benign role of its Navy when it rushed aid in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. The then US first lady Laura Bush acknowledged that Myanmar was more likely to accept aid from a neighbour like India than from the United States. India’s relief effort was also acknowledged by Myanmar. India sent its two naval vessels- INS Rana and INS Kirpan- and aircrafts (AN-32 and IL-76) with relief supplies. The Indian Meteorology Department had provided advance warnings to Myanmar’s Department of Meteorology and Hydrology about the impending cyclone

         The Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar in May 2008 led to huge loss of life and property in Ayeyarwady Division, Pegu Division, Mon State and Rakhine State; it left some 140,000 dead and displaced 2.4 million. According to an ASEAN special envoy on humanitarian efforts $315 million has already been spent on relief effort since 2008, and $691 million is still needed to revive the livelihood of the victims.30

        Over 200,000 hectares of the Ayeyarwady delta became uncultivable and there was considerable loss of  livestock. K. India’s Meteorological Department had given some 41 warnings about the impending cyclone to Myanmar Government about a week in advance. Indian ships were among the first to offload aid to Myanmar. India undertook ‘Operation Sahayata’ comprising of two ships namely INS Rana and INS Kirpan and five aircraft.31 Two of its medical teams comprising 47 medical personnel visited some of the affected towns. Indian Air Force airlifted 125 tonnes of relief materials including medicines, tents, and ready to eat meals.

         For economic recovery of Myanmar “resumption of aid from multilateral agencies is the key” according to Scott Rosenberg of the Borker group, a business and trade consultancy of Indochina. India, also joined the international pledging conference in Yangon on May 25, 2008. Union Minister of State for Commerce and Power Jairam Ramesh, appealed to keep the aid process to Myanmar ‘apolitical’ and to not link humanitarian aid with political demands like regime change. India was also instrumental in persuading Myanmar to accept international aid. Myanmar’s regime is vulnerable and seeks India’s political, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance to overcome the huge rehabilitation efforts.

         Since January 2000 starting with the visit of Chief of Army staff, Gen. V.P. Malik, a series of visits and return visits and contacts at the defence and Home secretaries levels has been maintained. Of late frequencies  of such contacts have decreased which augers well for Indo-Myanmar engagement.

Conclusion: Under the current circumstances certain facts on which to base one’s analysis have begun to become clear:

         One, the military having framed a new Constitution and having got it approved through the procedure of a Referendum is now aiming to hold the elections in 2010. It therefore seeks political legitimacy and a continued role in the new political system. Second, Aung San Suu Kyi being under house arrest has once again been sidelined, although she enjoys the support of her people. Third, as far as the ‘Saffron Revolution’ and the Nargis Cyclone is concerned, the Military has now put it behind them, even though much cyclone rehabilitation work still remains. Fourth, the US which had hitherto spearheaded the international opinion has now changed its position somewhat with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledging openly that sanctions have failed. That effectively leaves the European Union alone to now spearhead the strong posture against Myanmar. The problem with sanctions is that it fails to recognise the role of the military historically in Myanmar’s society. Sanctions affected the people more than the Government: Besides, the US policy had become too personalized and focused on Aung San Suu Kyi as an individual and the larger goal was lost sight of.. The problem is  “it ignores Burmese history and the role of the military there since independence…”33 In these circumstances, India must weigh its options and decide not only what is desirable but what is currently feasible. Only after a careful consideration of India’s internal security, the situation in the neighbourhood and the internal dynamics of Myanmar can any reconsideration of India’s policy towards Myanmar be contemplated.


References/End Notes


1. Priyambudi Sulistiyanto, Thailand, Indonesia and Burma in Comparative Perspective, Ashgate, Hampshire, 2002

2. These were: Rajiv Gandhi (1984-89), VP Singh (1989-90), Chandra Shekhar (1990-1991), PV Narasimha Rao (1991-1996), AB Vajpayee (May-June 1996), HD Deve Gowda (June 1996-April 1997), IK Gujral (April 1997-March 1998), AB Vajpayee (March 1998-May 2004), and Dr Manmohan Singh’s two innings as PM (May 2004 to present). The NDA government led by the BJP pursued a policy of engaging the Myanmar regime even as its defence minister George Fernandes gave shelter in his house to democracy activists. The Congress on the other hand, with its Nehruvian legacy of close ties with Gen. Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi)  also eventually opted for  the policy of engagement.

3World Drug Report 2009, UN office on Drugs and Crime.

4PTI news agency, New Delhi, in English 1812gmt 24 Nov 08 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, November 26, 2008.

5. The 14 members  are: the Permanent Five (Britain, China, France, Russia, USA); ASEAN represented by Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam; the European Union  represented by Portugal ;regional players represented by India, Japan, Australia; and Norway.

6. The Asian Age website, cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, January 3, 2008.

7. The Asian Age website, Delhi 26 May 2008 , cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, May 27, 2008.

8. Burma Net News 15 Jul 05 , cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, July 21, 2005.

9. B G Verghese, Reorienting India: The New Geo-Politics of Asia, Konark, New Delhi, 2001, p. 186.

10. Renaud Egretau, Wooing the Generals: India’s New Burma Policy, Authors Press, New Delhi, 2003.

11. PTI news agency, New Delhi, March 5, 2006 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, March 6, 2006.

12. The Asian Age website, Delhi, April 23, 2006, cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, April 25 2006.

13Xinhua news agency, Beijing, in English 11 Mar 2006 cited in  BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, March 12, 2006.

14. “MEA Briefing: On the Visit of President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam to Myanmar and Mauritius, March 7, 2006” in Strategic Digest, Vol 36, No. 4, April 2006, p.p. 417-421.

15. Xinhua news agency, Beijing, in English 0535 gmt 11 Mar 06 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, March 11, 2006.

16. See for details, Aung Than Tun, Myanmar Laws Digest, INNWA Publishing House, Yangon, 2001, pp. 81-82.

17. The Asian Age website, Delhi, 11 Jun 08 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, June 12, 2008.

18. Irrawaddy website, Chiang Mai, in English 3 Jun 09 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, June 6, 2009.

19. Irrawaddy website, Chiang Mai 24 Apr 08 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, April 26, 2008.

20. Xinhua news agency, Beijing, 7 Apr 08, cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, April 8, 2008.

21. Nava Thakuria, “Border Trade: Trading troubles in Indo-Myanmar border”, North East Sun.

22. Kyodo News Service, Tokyo, 29 Dec 08 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, December 30, 2008.

23. “Myanmar Airways suspends flights to New Delhi”, Hindustan Times.com, September7, 2005, [http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/7598_1485079,000500020010.htm].

24. “Burma’s National Airline to Fly to New Delhi”, Associated Press, March 12, 2004.

25. Xinhua news agency, Beijing, in English 0403 gmt 8 Aug 05 BBC POL August 9, 2005.

26Zee News TV website, New Delhi, June 08 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, June 10, 2008

27. BBC Monitoring Global Newsline- Asia Pacific Political, November 24, 2001.

28. Ashok Sharma, “Indian official: Myanmar says it wont’t support anti-India insurgent groups’, Associated Press, New Delhi, January 21, 2003.

29. Daily Excelsior website, Jammu,15 Jul 09  cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, July 16, 2009.

30Kyodo News Service, Tokyo,10 Jun 09 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, June 11, 2009.

31. PTI news agency, New Delhi, in English 1818gmt 08 May 08 cited in BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Political, August 4, 2009.

32. David I Steinberg, “Burma/Myanmar: A guide for the Perplexed?”, in John H. Badgley, NBR Analysis: Reconciling Burma/Myanmar: Essays on US Relations with Burma.


 Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati