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Myanmar India’s Strategic Dilemma

Context:

Concerned about the surge of refugees and insurgents due to the ongoing crisis, the Indian government has opted to secure the Myanmar border with fencing, discontinuing the free movement regime (FMR). Similar measures have been taken at the Bangladesh frontier, aiming to act as a deterrent and prevent the current issues from escalating.

Relevance:

Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Mains Question:

India needs to evolve a realistic strategic blueprint in line with the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy to enhance its relations with Myanmar. Discuss. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

India’s Stance on the Coup in Myanmar:

  • India took a careful stance when the Tatmadaw orchestrated a coup on February 1, 2021.
  • The Indian government, diplomatically and indirectly, supported the junta, refraining from openly endorsing the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • This diplomatic approach has now placed India in a challenging position, given the complex task of countering China’s support for certain ethnic groups.

The Brotherhood Alliance:

  • “OPERATION 1027” was executed by in December 2023 by ‘The Three Brotherhood Alliance,’ consisting of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, AA, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. This operation significantly impacted the junta, prompting China to extend support.
  • The Brotherhood poses a significant challenge to the junta. The alliance has effectively severed the junta’s access to a region responsible for approximately 40% of bilateral border trade with China, including around $1 billion from natural gas exports.
  • Recent conflicts have erupted in Shan, Kachin, and Chin states in the north, as well as in Rakhine state in the west.
  • Three Brotherhood fighters claim to have captured numerous military posts, seized major roads, and forced the surrender of over 100 Myanmar army soldiers, dealing a demoralizing blow to the junta.
  • The armed groups have extended their offensive to the Tatmadaw in Kayah State in the east, a strategically important area for the Myanmar army.

Way Forward for India:

  • Given the close relationship between Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu and China, India should develop a practical strategic plan aligned with the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
  • This approach is crucial to safeguard Myanmar from China’s influence on the junta through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Additionally, India should play a role in facilitating peace talks between conflicting groups and army generals in the violence-stricken regions.
  • India needs to reconsider its approach, moving away from its traditional stance towards Myanmar to prevent any negative impact on its interests.
  • India suggests that the U.S. capitalize on the current situation to enhance engagement with India in Myanmar, addressing the humanitarian crisis, supporting anti-junta forces, and promoting the establishment of a federal democracy.
  • India has aimed to maintain a neutral position between the military generals and pro-democracy political parties to prevent the junta from falling under China’s influence.

Possible Impacts of the Recent Incidents on Global Players:

  • The junta is poised to retaliate, as the army generals were caught off guard by the alliance’s significant offensive, leading to the capture of towns, villages, and military posts.
  • Army chief Hlaing has pledged a counterattack in the north, potentially revealing vulnerabilities within the junta.
  • The armed rebellion by ethnic groups has diplomatically challenged the army generals, directly impacting China.
  • While the Ukraine war diverted attention, the recent attacks by armed groups may reshape the international perception of Myanmar.
  • The National Unity Government (NUG), formed by opposition lawmakers in Burma, is viewed favorably by the West, especially after the successful offensive by the armed groups.
  • Myanmar’s junta faces escalating conflicts with armed groups, China has called for the restoration of border stability and urged Myanmar to cooperate in maintaining peace along the common borders.
  • China’s official position is noteworthy, stating, “As a friendly neighbor, China sincerely hopes that Myanmar will restore stability and development as soon as possible, and supports all parties in Myanmar to properly resolve differences within the constitutional and legal framework and achieve reconciliation through dialogue.”

Conclusion:

The recent visit by Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong holds significance, especially as armed groups have intensified their offensive, putting Chinese residents and infrastructure at risk. Some former diplomats find China’s adoption of a ‘Dual Policy’ surprising, as it actively supports militant groups. India must develop a practical strategic plan aligned with the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy to safeguard Myanmar from China’s Belt and Road Initiative.


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