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Delhi looks to Yangon as Dhaka alternative

New Delhi, Jan. 12: With Bangladesh not too keen on developing economic ties with India, Myanmar is fast turning into a viable alternative for Delhi to reach out to Southeast Asian nations for strengthening its trade and commercial links.

Myanmar’s foreign minister U. Win Aung will be arriving on January 28 for a two-day official visit to discuss bilateral and regional issues with the Indian leadership. His main meeting will be with foreign minister Yashwant Sinha but he will also hold talks with other senior leaders and officials.

Relations between India and Bangladesh have soured over the past few months with Delhi accusing Dhaka of doing little to check activities of the ISI and the Northeast rebels in Bangladesh. The charges were made in public by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and then by Sinha.

Dhaka has alleged that Delhi joined the international bandwagon following reports in the western media about al Qaida presence in the country.

Indian officials believe that it will be difficult for Delhi to win Dhaka’s cooperation on economy. Even if attempts are made to normalise ties, it will take time to iron out differences.

Myanmar has gained importance in this backdrop. However, Delhi had set sights on Yangon a few years ago though it was still under military rule. The junta, which calls itself the State Development and Peace Committee, also showed interest in developing ties with Delhi at a time when it was totally isolated by key western powers in protest against the treatment meted out to Nobel laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi by the army rulers.

But the situation is different now. Myanmar is part of Asean, one of the biggest economic groups in Asia, and a number of important countries like Japan have begun engaging with it. With the army regime also starting informal talks with Suu Kyi to come to a political settlement in Myanmar, things have become easier for democratic India.

India has begun constructing the More-Tamu-Kalemao road as part of its programme to develop infrastructure in Myamnar. But Delhi has other ambitious plans like building a multi-modal communication system in Myanmar in collaboration with Thailand. The system will give India freer access to Myanmar’s port that will make it easier for Indian goods to reach Southeast Asia and also allow investment from that region into the Northeast.

The looming presence of China in Myanmar might be another factor that spurred the Indian leadership to build ties with Yangon. Not only has Beijing invested heavily in the country, it has also reportedly set up a surveillance system in Coco Island to keep track of India’s missile testing at Chandipur.

India also needs Myanmar’s cooperation to deal with Northeast rebels as the militants have found a safe haven there for years. Only recently did Yangon decide to help Delhi check their activities on its soil.

India is eager to keep this arrangement going and feels that better economic and political ties will also boost cooperation on security-related matters.

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