Myanmar- India relations
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
2018: Myanmar, militias ink peace pact with India as witness
As a sign of its support to the ongoing peace process in Myanmar, India was among the countries which attended as international witnesses the signing of a National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) between Myanmar and two ethnic armed groups in Naypyitaw on Tuesday.
The government said in a statement that India supported the Myanmar peace process and that comprehensive peace and national reconciliation in Myanmar will also be conducive for the peace and prosperity of India’s northeastern states.
“Given the positive bilateral relationship between India and Myanmar and the significance for India of the Myanmar peace process, Myanmar had earlier invited India (together with China, Japan, Thailand, the UN and the EU) to sign the NCA as international witnesses in October 2015,’’ said MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar.
“NSA Ajit Doval had represented India on that occasion. Today’s event is another step in the process with two more parties, the NMSP (New Mon State Party) and the LDU (Lahu Democratic Union), agreeing to sign the NCA. The presence of our representative demonstrates India’s continued support to the peace process in Myanmar,” he added. India’s deputy NSA Rajinder Khanna attended the ceremony.
News agency Reuters reported that NMSP and LDU signed the NCA after meeting Suu Kyi and the military’s commander-in-chief, senior general Min Aung Hlaing, in Naypyitaw last month. “At least 10 rebel groups have not joined the NCA, an accord negotiated by the previous quasi-civilian administration. Suu Kyi has opened a new round of talks with some of the groups since last May,” said the report.
In 2015 too, India had attended the signing of a deal as a witness, together with China, Japan, Thailand, the UN and the EU
2020: UMS Min Ye Thein Kha Thu
Eye on China, India gives Myanmar a sub
In a major move that comes amid the ongoing military confrontation in Ladakh, India has handed over one of its diesel-electric submarines to Myanmar to counter China’s strategic inroads in the region.
Myanmar has already commissioned the 3,000-tonne submarine INS Sindhuvir, rechristening it UMS Min Ye Thein Kha Thu, and even proudly deployed it during the country’s “Bandoola” fleet exercise, which was inspected by commander-inchief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Thursday.
TOI in December last year had reported that all decks had been cleared for Myanmar to commission INS Sindhuvir, with its sailors set to train in the complex art of underwater combat operations on the submarine from March-April onwards this year.
The MEA on Thursday officially announced the decision to deliver INS Sindhuvir to Myanmar. “Cooperation in the maritime domain is a part of our diverse and enhanced engagement with Myanmar. This is in accordance with our vision of Sagar — Security and Growth for All in the Region, and also in line with our commitment to build capacities and self-reliance in all our neighbouring countries,” said MEA spokesman Anurag Srivastava.
The announcement came after Army chief General M M Naravane and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla visited Myanmar on October 4-5. The submarine transfer is significant in the backdrop of China supplying two Mingclass diesel-electric submarines to Bangladesh in 2016. It will also deliver a Yuan-class submarine to Thailand in 2023, with two more to follow.
India- Myanmar ink defence pact; armies work together
Armies working together, India & Myanmar ink defence pact
India and Myanmar on Monday inked a pact to boost their bilateral defence cooperation, which comes even as the armies from the two countries are conducting coordinated operations along their borders to flush out insurgent groups.
The MoU on defence cooperation was signed after the visiting commander-in-chief of the defence services of Myanmar, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, held delegation-level talks with minister of state for defence Shripad Yesso Naik here.
“The talks were aimed at enhancing defence co-operation, joint exercises and training provided to Myanmar defence services as well as strengthening maritime security by joint surveillance and capacity building, among other issues,” said an official.
The Myanmar chief also held talks with IAF chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, Army chief General Bipin Rawat and Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh. “Myanmar is a key pillar of India’s Act East policy towards prioritising relations with its East Asian neighbours,” said the official.
India has also stepped-up its military training and supplies to Myanmar in recent years to counter China’s strategic inroads into the country. The two armies have also smashed several insurgent operating bases and apprehended dozens of militants along their borders under “Operation Sunrise” underway since January this year, as was earlier reported by TOI.
When militant outfits in the northeast started laying down arms five-six years ago, the parallel economy that depended on them took a hit. Arms smuggling had been big across the India-Myanmar border. The routes were in place. So were the networks of carriers. All that was needed was a new product. So a switch was made – from AK-47s to gold.
“Gold is the biggest contraband from across the Myanmar border right now,” T Bijando Singh, superintendent of the Imphal division of customs and stationed at Moreh along the Myanmar border, told TOI. Gold from Myanmar enters India as biscuits, each weighing 166g and with no mark of origin, from deposits in Kachin and Kayin states and the four regions of Mandalay, Sagaing, Bago and Tanintharyi. “Gold consignments change hands very quickly,” Singh said.
The first stop is Imphal, from where the consignments are sent out – by road through Dimapur in Nagaland or Silchar in Assam and then by rail or air to Kolkata or New Delhi. From these points, it is distributed to other parts of the country. Most gold seizures by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) have been from Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi, which are big consumption centres of smuggled gold. And the gold is of high quality – with a purity of 99.76%.
The latest available figures say that customs seized 3,223 kg gold worth Rs 974 crore in 2017-18. A DRI report adds that smuggled gold that ends up being seized accounts for just 5-10% of the total illegal trade – which means that even by conservative estimates, the gold smuggling market in India is worth at least Rs 9,000 crore.
Driving this gold rush are three factors. Myanmar’s gold is cheaper, at least Rs 400-500 lower per gram than Indian gold. Import duties in India are high – 10% customs duty and 3% GST. And while Myanmar does not allow trade of gold in its native form, the product’s demand is the highest in India. Sources say a share of the gold exported by India to the Middle East is from the stash that is originally smuggled in from Myanmar.
India and Myanmar share a 1,643-km-long border, along four Indian states – Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Two routes that cut through this border – the age-old Tamu-Moreh-Imphal trajectory in Manipur, which goes through a vast expanse of unguarded but nearly inaccessible border area, and the Zokhatwar route in Mizoram, which lies right by the international border – are popular for trade and transit, both legal and illegal. On the route from Tamu in Myanmar to Moreh in Manipur, there is a security check post every 30 km from Moreh to Imphal. Yet, all smuggling cartels prefer the Moreh route.
Tamu is a bazaar town in Myanmar located 5km from Moreh and is the Tamu-Moreh route used by most smuggling cartels It’s not surprising. For decades, the sleepy town of Moreh has existed on two planes – one of aspiration and another of reality. Given its location, right along the India-Myanmar border, it has been the springboard for the government’s grand plans of cross-border economic diplomacy with southeast Asia. On the ground, however, the only flourishing economic activity remains smuggling – for the same reasons that government after government has fostered plans to turn Moreh into an economic hub, the launchpad for the Look East or Act East policy, however one names it.
“Moreh is the most favoured entry point for contraband from Myanmar. It is helped along by low-rung officials of the Myanmar army which, in turn, is controlled by the country’s ethnic armed groups,” said Brigadier (retired) Ranjit Borthakur, an intelligence expert in the region. For those living here, it is a consistent source of employment. “Most carriers in Moreh are locals,” added Singh. “The rest are all from northern India, most from Rajasthan and nearby areas, who have found easy work doing this.”
Myanmar lies at the crossroad between China, India and southeast Asia – right in the middle of the points of supply and demand for objects as innocuous as cheap cigarettes to “exotic” animals and, a surprise entrant, high-end drones. Smuggling trails over the past year have led as far as Chennai, Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad – and these are only the points up to which the DRI has been able to trace the network.
An enduring contraband from across the border, however, has been drugs. From high-grade heroin to low-grade brown sugar, synthetic party drugs like World is Yours and Yaba, the source is the infamous Golden Triangle of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, known locally as Sop Ruak. A reverse flow is flourishing as well. “We have information that the village of Joupi (close to the Myanmar border) has turned into a poppy cultivation ground. Some patches have been destroyed by the government but many more remain. Heroin (made from the resin of poppy plants) from these farms is now being smuggled into Myanmar,” a security official associated with counter-insurgency operations in the region said.
But what makes things so easy for smuggling operations? For starters, the Free Movement Regime between India and Myanmar allows people living along the border to travel up to 16 km on either side without visa restrictions. Because the two countries are not hostile neighbours, the presence of border guarding forces is sporadic. Assam Rifles is the only force deployed, in small patches, along the border – which is demarcated but unfenced. Finally, there is the difficult terrain – which locals have deep knowledge of and do not find hard to negotiate.
Why is the India-Myanmar border so porous?
Free Movement Regime
A unique arrangement that allows tribes living along the border to travel 16 km across the boundary without visa. Another provision allows tribals to carry headloads, which is now being misused for smuggling
Much of boundary runs through sparsely populated areas with dense forests, deep rivers and high peaks. The terrain prevents easy and rapid movement of border guarding forces
Inadequate border security
The Assam Rifles, which is the designated border guarding force for border deploys only a few of its 46 battalions for guarding the border. The rest is engaged in counter insurgency operations
Corridor of illegal trade
Volume of illegal trade in goods through Moreh is estimated at over Rs 3,000 crores annually. Besides gold, other illegal imports include drugs, precious stones, plastic, synthetic blankets
Illegal exports from India through Moreh include bicycles, motor parts, fertilisers, kerosene, estimated to be 30% of the illegal trade
The border trade was opened as part of a bilateral agreement in 1994 with barter system of trading on items like beans pulses, spices, bamboo, forest products, excluding teak, tobacco, etc. In 2015, RBI put an end to the barter system.
Myanmar nationals take refuge in Mizoram
More than 5,600 Myanmar nationals, including 18 lawmakers have so far sneaked into Mizoram since the military seized power in the neighbouring country in February, a police officer said.
More than 100 refugees have returned to their country, the police officer said.
The UNHCR had said that in Myanmar, as of last week, around 60,700 women, children and men have been internally displaced and that an estimated 4,000-6,000 of them had made their way to India. Quoting data with the crime investigation department of state police, which dealt with Myanmar refugees, the official said that a total of 5,673 Myanmar nationals have taken refuge in Mizoram alone with the border district Champhai housing the most at 3,170.
He said that at least 18 members of the Myanmar parliament belonging to the National League for Democracy party are among those who have taken refuge in the state. He said the actual figure could be higher as some refugees have come in but have remained unrecorded. PTI
UN’s Myanmar resolution: India abstains from voting
India joined China and Russia in abstaining from a vote on a UNGA resolution seeking to delegitimise the Myanmar military junta and to prevent flow of arms into the country. Justifying its decision to abstain, the government said the resolution, which was adopted with 119 votes in favour, was introduced hastily and without enough consultations with Myanmar’s neighbours and regional countries.
India said the resolution, described by many as the strongest condemnation of Myanmar’s military commanders since the coup, didn’t reflect its views and that it didn’t believe the resolution was going to aid the joint efforts towards strengthening the democratic process. “This resolution was tabled in the UN General Assembly without adequate consultations with neighbours and regional countries. This is not only unhelpful but may also prove counter-productive to the efforts of the Asean to find a solution to the current situation in Myanmar,” India’s permanent representative to the UN, TS Tirumurti, said.
India’s neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan were also among the 36 countries to abstain. In the explanation of the vote in the General Assembly hall, Tirumurti said as Myanmar’s immediate neighbour and close friend of its people, India is cognisant of the “serious impact of political instability” and the potential of its spillover beyond Myanmar’s borders. India has been calling for greater engagement with the objective of peacefully resolving all issues. “We already have such an ongoing initiative under the aegis of Asean. It is important that we extend support to the Asean efforts,” Tirumurti said.
Mindful of Myanmar’s ties with China and its own security interests in the northeast, India has walked the diplomatic tightrope on Myanmar since the military coup earlier this year. “During the discussions on this resolution, we had engaged in a spirit of finding a constructive and pragmatic way forward and had accordingly shared our suggestions to those who piloted this resolution,” he said.
“However, we find that our views have not been reflected in the draft being considered for adoption today. We would like to reiterate that a consultative and constructive approach involving the neighbouring countries and the region remains important as the international community strives for the peaceful resolution of the issue,” Tirumurti said.
Myanmar- India relations