Recent elections in Manipur have led for the first time to the election of a BJP-led government, where the new chief minister appears keen to adopt an inclusive approach to deal with tensions with the state’s Naga population.
The National Highway linking the capital Imphal to the town of Moreh on the border with Myanmar is a crucial supply line, both for the civilian population and the armed forces deployed in the state to deal with domestic and cross-border insurgencies. Any disturbance of ethnic peace leads to the blocking of this National Highway by Naga tribesmen.
Over the past quarter of a century, India and Myanmar have cooperated closely in dealing with these insurgencies. Myanmar was, however, justifiably unhappy at the insensitive manner in which we publicised a cross-border “surgical strike”, violating past practice of keeping such actions under wraps. Both India and Myanmar are feeling the impact of separatist groups using the porous border to mount terrorist attacks.
The impact on India of these terrorist groups, which seek shelter in areas beyond the control of Myanmar army, or in China’s Yunnan Province, neighbouring Myanmar’s Kachin and Shan states, needs careful monitoring. Aung San Suu Kyi is finding it difficult to negotiate ethnic peace within Myanmar as the armed ethnic groups operate from bases in China, to destabilise Shan and Kachin states.
China has historically supported armed minority groups on its borders with Myanmar. This tactic was used to get the military rulers to become increasingly dependent on the former. It enabled China to use Myanmar as a transport corridor for its needs of energy and raw materials.
The Chinese also enriched themselves by their mining of precious stones and mineral resources in Myanmar. Over the past five years, Myanmar has been forced to yield to public pressure and reject vital Chinese economic project proposals. It has sought closer ties with the US, EU and Japan.
The Chinese reaction has been predictable. Armed separatist groups, operating across eastern and northern borders of Myanmar, have been let loose to disturb peace and tranquillity and subvert its government’s efforts to secure ethnic peace. China is now virtually seeking a place on the table, in negotiations for ethnic reconciliation within Myanmar.
Adding to Myanmar’s problems are tensions on its borders with Bangladesh, where the disaffected Rohingya Muslim Community triggered a strong Myanmar government reaction by attacking and killing members of border police. Malaysia, acting as Muslim rights’ champion in ASEAN, mounted a diplomatic offensive within ASEAN and shipped relief supplies for Rohingyas, who receive their training and resources from Pakistan.
In addition, the “Human Rights” zealots in the western world, joined by their brethren in the UN system, are pressurising Myanmar by triggering debates in the UN where they support calls for sanctions against Myanmar.
Recognising that western pressures would only force Myanmar to seek support and solace from China, India has stepped into the UN debate, urging the need to understand Myanmar’s compulsions in dealing with an Islamist insurgency.
India called into question the total lack of understanding shown by the UN rapporteur, noting: “Myanmar’s continuing efforts under difficult circumstances have failed to receive the credit they deserve”. This could well be an issue where the approach of India and China will, for different reasons, move on parallel tracks.
But, India would be well-advised to get other regional powers such as Japan and South Korea to see that overzealous UN officials and others do not destabilise an emerging democracy, which is trying hard to preserve its unity in diversity. firstname.lastname@example.org