Within few days of an unsuccessful United States attempt to pass a United Nations Security Council censure motion Myanmar’s military regime India has reiterated that the issue of democracy and human rights in Myanmar is “an internal matter” of that country. This was stated by the Foreign Minister of India Pranab Mukherjee when he recently visited Myanmar. The Minister said India had to deal with governments “as they exist … We are not interested in exporting our own ideology. We are a democracy and we would like democracy to flourish everywhere. But this is for every country to decide for itself.” The reasons for this are many.
The minister himself made the importance of Myanmar clear when he said, “Myanmar is our only neighbour which is also a member of ASEAN. So our relationship is very much in keeping with India’s `Look East’ policy.”
After the fiasco on the Iranian pipeline issue India has been looking desperately for alternative Pipelines to fulfill her energy needs. She has been trying two new areas for this; one is the Turkmenistan -Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline and the other one is the India-Myanmar -Bangladesh pipeline initially but now the Myanmar-India pipeline after Bangladesh issued fresh conditions to it.
Earlier when Brigadier General Lun Thi, Minister of Energy, Myanmar came to Delhi in may 2006 the petroleum and natural gas minister Mr Mani shankar Aiyer said, “the techno-commercial group would examine possibility of laying the pipeline bypassing Bangladesh and importing natural gas through ships in its liquefied (LNG) or compressed (CNG) form.” Mr Aiyar said, “the possibility of taking the pipeline from Myanmar into Mizoram and onwards to Assam and culminating in West Bengal, a distance of 1,400 km, would be explored. This route is roughly double the length the pipeline would travel if it were to pass through Bangladesh.”
As part of the overall package of hydrocarbon sector cooperation between the two countries, India in may 2006 approved an extension of credit line of $ 20 million to Myanmar for renovation of Thanlyin Refinery. India’s state-run ONGC Videsh and GAIL hold a 30 percent stake in A-1 and A-3 in the Shwe & Shwe Phyu and Mya fields. The blocks together hold an in-place reserve of 20 trillion cubic feet and can produce 2 billion cubic feet (56.6 million standard cubic meters per day) of gas for 25 years as per the estimates of UK-based Gaffney Cline and Associates. The proposed cost of the pipeline would be Rs 8,500-crores from Myanmar to India.
It was after all the serious level of groundwork that many high level visits have taken place between the two countries in the last couple of months. Mr. Mukherjee’s visit comes after a series of high-level bilateral political and military exchanges between the two sides beginning with the October 2004 visit to India by Senior General Than Shwe, head of Myanmar’s military-run Government, and the March 2006 visit to Yangon of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Followed by the visit of General Thura Shwe Mann, third in the official hierarchy of the State Peace and Development Council to India and also that of the Myanmar Home Minister Maung Oo. Besides the economic and oil cooperation India off late is courting Mynamar for many other reasons.
Defense cooperation between the two countries is gradually gaining ground. The importance the two countries accord to defense ties can be judged from the fact that all three Indian armed forces’ chiefs have visited Myanmar in 2006 and Gen Thura Shwe Mann, the Joint Chief of Staff of the Myanmar Armed Forces – and tipped to succeed Gen Than Shwe as the junta’s leader in the country was also in delhi in 2006. India is keen on promoting naval ties with Myanmar, especially with a view to contain the Chinese efforts to gain access to the Bay for the landlocked part of its south as to allow this could be strategically and economically harmful for Indian interest in the long run in terms of South and South East Asia.
“In addition to providing training to Myanmar armed forces personnel, India is helping build border infrastructure. In particular, a project to link Sittwe port to Mizoram through a 160 km waterway and a 65 km road link is in the pipeline”, said the external affairs minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee. Building infrastructure in Myanmar is with the aim of expanding bilateral trade, linking up India’s landlocked northeastern states to the Bay of Bengal and developing a road link connecting India to the entire mainland South-East Asia.
In addition Anti-Terror mechanism has been on a high agenda in talks between the two sides in the last couple of months. According to the Intelligence Bureau Ulfa and both factions of the NSCN currently have bases in Myanmar. Though denied by the Indian officials the external affairs minister did take up the issue of ULFA with the Myanmar side. Myanmar is also troubled with several internal insurgencies; including the Karen insurgency as such the two countries are keen to enhance anti-terror cooperation.
Thus looking into India’s own economic, strategic and military compulsions it is important for India to cooperate with Myanmar and it is also in the Burmese interest to court India as it could enhance its dismal democratic and human rights track record at the global level.