A good start

A good start

Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar is rightly considered historic as it is for the first time that an Indian prime minister is visiting that country in the last 25 years.

Being next door neighbours the two countries have a long history of cultural, people to-people and trade ties and the visit will certainly help to boost them.

But it was not always want of opportunity and interest that held the ties from growing. The Indian government actually was not averse to doing business with Myanmar even when the country was under a most despotic and uncompromising military junta, causing much disappointment to the pro-democracy forces there. Ever since the nineties, India has taken interest in developing ties with Myanmar, guided by the Look East policy and feeling concerned about the increasing Chinese influence there. But many Indian projects in Myanmar did not do well because of poor management and execution delays and this has even  affected India’s standing. This should not happen in the new phase of engagement that India is trying to open up.

Myanmar is of great strategic and economic significance to India because of its geographical location and resources. The wide range of agreements relating to trade, energy and connectivity signed by the two countries during the visit attests to this.  Myanmar, with its huge gas reserves, can help India which has growing energy needs.

Co-operation in areas like infrastructure, education, agriculture and information technology will benefit both countries, especially Myanmar which has lagged behind in development. The development of road connectivity with Myanmar and beyond, which has long been planned, will give a great boost to the economy of India’s North-East. The proposed bus service between Imphal and  Mandalay is a good beginning. Better relations with Myanmar will also help India to deal better with the insurgencies in the border states.

China has a major presence in Myanmar but there are indications that the latter wants to develop equally good relations with India. This is important for India for strategic and security-related reasons too. There is a new political environment in Myanmar with a reformist prime minister, Thein Sein, and a softened military junta giving more space to popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters. India’s policy should be aimed at engaging both the government and the pro-democracy forces in Myanmar so that there is a nationwide support for improvement of relations with India.

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