India-Myanmar ties touch a new high

India-Myanmar ties touch a new high

Connectivity and cooperation in counter-insurgency dominated talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw during the latter’s visit to India. Kyaw’s visit was the first top-level engagement between the two neighbours since the National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power in Myanmar. The two sides signed agreements on construction of 69 bridges, including approach roads in the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa section and the Kalewa-Yagvi section of the Trilateral Highway. In addition to providing a much-needed boost to Myanmar’s infrastructure, the planned roads and bridges could improve India’s overland connectivity  to Myanmar and beyond, to Southeast Asia. India has been pursuing a ‘Look East policy’ for over two decades and an ‘Act East policy’ over the last couple of years. Improving overland links with Myanmar is vital for the success of these policies as Myanmar is India’s gateway to Southeast Asia. India’s role in infrastructure development in Myanmar has suffered severely on account of its failure to meet deadlines. Thirteen years after India first mooted the idea of the Kaladan multi-modal transport project, it is yet to be completed. India must speed up implementation of plans in Myanmar.

During Htin Kyaw’s visit, the two sides also discussed counter-insurgency cooperation and pledged to further this keeping in mind each other’s security, territorial integrity and sovereignty concerns. Both sides will benefit from such cooperation. If Myanmar shuts down the bases and training camps of anti-India insurgent groups operating from its soil, India’s counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast will get a fillip. There have been times when Indian security forces have entered Myanmar in hot pursuit of militants. However necessary it may seem to our security forces, such actions must be avoided as these trample on Myanmar’s sovereignty. Myanmar has begun historic peace talks with its ethnic militias. India must extend full support to this process. It could consider parti-cipating in development and capaci-ty building in the war-ravaged areas.

For the first time in almost six decades, India is engaging a democratic Myanmar. It opens up new opportunities and approaches for engagement for both countries. India must ensure that its approach to Myanmar is people-centric; projects it is implementing there need to benefit the masses. But it is not just the Indian government that should participate in Myanmar’s exciting journey on the road to democratisation and development. The media and civil society organisations in both countries have a lot to gain from interacting and supporting each other. There are shared problems such as human trafficking and environmental concerns that could be tackled together. Initiatives to encourage this should be set in motion as the two countries begin a new chapter in their bilateral interaction.
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