India steers clear of criticising Myanmar military

New Delhi has once again steered clear of criticising Myanmar’s military, called Tatmadaw, as it has been wary of Beijing’s growing influence and the high stakes involved to maintain peace and security along the India-Myanmar border.

Hours before the United Nations Security Council met for the second time to discuss the situation in Myanmar, India on Friday said that it has been discussing the situation with partner countries and the issues in the country should be resolved through peaceful manner.

New Delhi has once again steered clear of criticising Myanmar’s military, called Tatmadaw, as it has been wary of Beijing’s growing influence and the high stakes involved to maintain peace and security along the India-Myanmar border.

India’s statements so far have been based on pragmatism, as turmoil has engulfed the neighbour.

On Friday, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, “We have been closely watching the situation in Myanmar. We have been discussing this issue with our partner countries, and we have said that this issue should be resolved through peaceful manner.”

This is in line with the Indian embassy’s tweet on Feb 28, where it had said that “Embassy of India is deeply saddened by loss of lives in Yangon and other cities of Myanmar today”. This was the day when at least 18 people were killed during protests, according to the United Nations, with security forces opening fire on crowds.

“We express our heartfelt condolences to families and loved ones of those deceased. We would urge all to exercise restraint and resolve issues through dialogue in a peaceful manner,” the Indian embassy had then said.

New Delhi feels that instead of condemning the military leadership in Myanmar, it should work with the partner countries to lean on the military to work together to resolve their differences in a peaceful and constructive manner.

After being briefed by the UN Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener at the UNSC, India had said that it remains “deeply concerned that the gains made by Myanmar over the last decades on the path towards democracy, should not get undermined.”

“Restoring democratic order should be the priority of all stakeholders in Myanmar,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, T S Tirumurti had said.

Officials say that as India shares a land and maritime border with Myanmar, it has direct stakes in the maintenance of peace and stability in the country. And, it needs the Myanmar military’s cooperation in dealing with insurgent groups which sometimes take shelter in Myanmar. Leaders of these groups have also taken refuge in China, and with Beijing’s proximity to Yangon, the government in Delhi is aware of the challenges.

In fact, that is the reason Delhi has engaged with Myanmar through both civilian and military channels. In November last year, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Army chief General M M Naravane had visited Myanmar together, and had met the entire leadership, including top military officers as well as the now detained civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

India’s articulation about democracy has also been nuanced. “As the largest democracy, we have always been steadfast in our support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar for it to emerge as a stable democratic federal union. A significant area of our focus has been capacity building, including in the areas of constitution and federalism for political leaders and elected representatives. We believe that the rule of law and democratic process must be upheld, those detained be released and that calm prevails,” India’s envoy at the UN had said on Feb 26.

Stressing that India is a close friend and neighbour of Myanmar and its people, the Indian envoy had said that it would continue to closely monitor the situation and remain in discussion with like-minded countries so that the hopes and aspirations of the people are respected.

“The international community must lend its constructive support to the people of Myanmar at this critical juncture,” Tirumurti, India’s envoy at the UN, had said.

In fact, Indonesian Foreign minister Retno Marsudi, who had met Myanmar’s new foreign minister, had spoken to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and had said that she had a “good exchange of views” on how Indonesia and India “could assist Myanmar in safeguarding its democratic transition”.

Officials recalled that in 1988, India had firmly supported the protest groups and students, which were being led by Suu Kyi. But the military put it down, and Delhi was out in the cold.

And, as the situation along the India-Myanmar border worsened with the insurgency in the north-eastern region, it had to change its strategy and started dealing with the military as well. And soon after, New Delhi and Myanmar launched coordinated joint operations against the insurgents in the mid-1990s.

Through the last three decades, even as India cooperated with Myanmar’s military rule, it also nudged it to follow a path towards democratic transition. In fact, it had counselled many western countries against putting sanctions against the military regime. This, officials feel, had led the military in Myanmar to cosy up to the Chinese leadership.

India has over the years also used the strategy of “development cooperation” and projects to deal with the military government.

As of now, the Indian government says that around $1.7 billion has been spent in development partnership, which include connectivity and infrastructure projects like the $400-million Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project connecting Kolkata port to Sittwe port in Myanmar. Another major connectivity project is the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway worth about $250 million, which is to be later extended to Vietnam.

India’s cautious approach has worked well in the past, officials said, and they are counselling western countries to follow the same path.

Officials said that Beijing’s growing political, military and economic footprint in Myanmar can only be countered if New Delhi and partner countries don’t isolate the regime in Nay Pyi Taw and, instead, work with them.

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