Monday, 30th October 2017

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Myanmar window for Delhi

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  • Published 19.11.11
Hillary Clinton in Bali on Friday. She will visit Myanmar in December. (AP)

Bali, Nov. 18: Myanmar has broken out as an open secret from a closed conspiracy, to what should be two cheers from New Delhi and three for Calcutta and Imphal in India’s east and Northeast.

Myanmar has been nominated to head a multi-national body — the Asean — for the first time despite being ruled by a military junta because America and Asia think it is curing itself.

From Bali on the rim of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has arisen a rare opportunity for both Myanmar and India.

This is a window for New Delhi and Naypyidaw — the new capital of the Myanmarese junta — to embrace an opportunity that can translate into real benefits for the marginalised peoples along a border that is longer than India-Pakistan’s.

India can dream of sailing goods and people down the Brahmaputra and the Imphal rivers and transferring them to Mandalay just as Myanmar can envisage sailing its sampans down the Irrawaddy so that they may reach the people of blockaded Manipur.

Even more, Myanmar can actually expect India to look at it as a neighbour with friendship benefits and not just a haven for insurgents that harass the northeastern states.

After years of isolation, sanctions and opprobrium, Myanmar has been recognised by an international body, the Asean, and the US as an infantile democracy-in-the-making.

Leaders of the Asean, of which Myanmar is a member, today decided that the country would get to chair and host the next summit of the Asia-Pacific body.

The rotating presidency of Asean was due to Myanmar in 2006 but it was denied the privilege because of human rights allegations against it.

India physically touches the Asean with Myanmar. The states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh share a border with Myanmar that is probably easier to negotiate for bootleggers than armies. Indeed, bootleggers can find the India-Myanmar border more porous than inter-provincial boundaries

New Delhi can still draw comfort, though. Despite western opposition since dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi was interned, New Delhi kept up a military and strategic cooperation with Naypyidaw.

When India looks east, the first country is Myanmar.

Barack Obama, who met Manmohan Singh here today, later said that secretary of state Hillary Clinton would visit Myanmar in December, a breakthrough by any standard.

The US had sanctions imposed on Myanmar but it has begun seeing a “glimmer of democracy” since the junta released political prisoners last month, at the same time when New Delhi was hosting a junta leader.

Myanmar will get to host the next meeting of Asean heads and the East Asia Summit in 2014 when it assumes the presidency of the body. India and China have been strategic rivals in Myanmar.

The “emergence” of Myanmar has the potential to transform the economic and social life of India’s east and Northeast. On the table, but under the cloth, since Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister is the Mekong-Ganga project, a road highway plan intended to connect India with five countries on the banks of the Mekong River — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, apart from Myanmar.

India has persisted with a diplomatic relationship with the Myanmarese junta, despite India-bred dissident leader Aung San, because of insurgents in the Northeast who are suspected to find safe shelters there. That policy now promises rich-payoffs for India.

For Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura, Myanmar and Bangladesh are the two key countries for New Delhi’s “Look East” policy to translate from rhetoric to action

Between Manmohan Singh and Mamata Banerjee, over disparate visits between Dhaka, New Delhi and Calcutta, the level of comfort with Bangladesh has increased in spite of the apparent quarrel over the Teesta waters.

Now, from Bali, on a margin in the waters south east of India, is the promise of a hope for India’s perennially disturbed and wide-berthed Northeast. Promises sustain more than hope but hopes outlive promise.