Curb the anti-India militants, Rangoon is told
New Delhi isn’t satisfied. It wants more out of Rangoon. The March visit by India’s External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, to Burma was a clear signal that not enough is being done by Rangoon to satisfy its concern about anti-India militants operating from Burmese territory.
The official assessment in the corridors of power is that “something” is being done by Rangoon, but it’s not enough to deal with the anti-India militant groups, who are active in several provinces in India’s Northeast.
Placing New Delhi’s concern on record, the Indian embassy in Rangoon said after Singh’s talks with the junta, including Snr-Gen Than Shwe: “It was agreed that dialogue and concrete cooperation to counter terrorist activities in the border region would be further strengthened.”
From the context of these lines, it’s apparent that more dialogue and concrete cooperation between India and Burma are essential as far as New Delhi is concerned. For a long time now, officialdom has argued that the core reason for India looking benignly at Burma’s military rulers is the need to keep the 1,640-km-long border between the two countries tranquil.
India’s near-total, public silence on supporting the democratic cause in Burma has long been justified by this overriding strategic objective that no sanctuary should be provided to the militants, who already enjoy cozy treatment in neighboring Bangladesh.
A joint statement issued by the two sides after Than Shwe’s first-ever visit to India on October 29, 2004, committed the two nations to maintaining “peace, stability and tranquility” along the common border.
“The Myanmar side reiterated that it would not allow insurgent activities against India from its soil,” the statement said. “The Indian side thanked the Myanmar side for the assurance. Both sides agreed to take necessary steps to prevent cross-border crimes, including drug trafficking and arms smuggling, and to upgrade substantially bilateral cooperation in this context.”
An assessment of how much is actually being done against the insurgent groups is difficult to make in non-official channels, given the absolute lack of information on the results of the operations said to have been mounted by the Burmese side against the insurgents.
Is it just a one-off affair? Do the insurgents simply move their location or have they been actually eliminated? New Delhi, which enjoys the best of relations with Bhutan, had considerable trouble in dealing with groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom, which had set up camps in that tiny kingdom.
After years of consultation and prevarication, Bhutan finally acted
against the ULFA insurgents in December 2003, but not before testing New Delhi’s patience to the limit.
Burma is a different cup of tea and New Delhi is beginning to understand that good political relations do not necessarily mean that these will translate into “concrete” and continued military operations against insurgent groups.
India, in any case, has been placed in the “China category” as far as support for the Burmese junta is concerned. Speaking of the new pressure being mounted by some Southeast Asian nations worried by the fallout of Burma taking over as Asean chair, the New York Times said in an editorial: “These stirrings may not sway the Burmese generals and their cronies, who have powerful allies in India and China.”
India, which never tires of proclaiming its record as a democratic nation, has had to pay an international price for the uncritical, public support it has given over the years to the generals.
The assumption of power by the Congress-led government in May 2004 brought no change of Burma policy, which is just a continuation of the one pursued by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance since 1998.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding given to Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995 is today an embarrassing reminder to the government of where New Delhi stood on the question of supporting democracy a decade ago. For the record, the Congress was in power when the award was announced.
India will increasingly find that its contradictions of approach will be hard to defend as it takes an activist line in defense of democracy following the royal coup in Nepal on February 1.
In the present era of globalization, principles are mostly absent from the conduct of foreign policy. But countries like India, which have focused on the double standards of the West and taken a proactive stance on the rights of the Nepalese people, cannot close their eyes forever to what’s happening in neighboring Burma.