Given its traditional ties with Myanmar, India is well placed to nudge the military rulers to restore democracy and put an end to the violence which is threatening to spiral out of control. The five-point consensus reached by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Myanmar can form an ideal framework for the way forward in tackling the fallout of the February 1 military coup in that country. India has endorsed, rightly so, the Asean initiative and pledged that its diplomatic engagement with Myanmar would be aimed at strengthening these efforts. Asean’s initiative envisages immediate cessation of violence, dialogue among all stakeholders in Myanmar for a peaceful solution and the appointment of a special Asean envoy to facilitate mediation. Aid to Myanmar, and a visit to the country by the envoy are the other aspects of the initiative firmed up in Jakarta last week. This is an important first step towards resolving the issue. Restoration of peace and political freedom in Myanmar is in India’s interests. The continued turmoil and instability there will have serious implications for the Northeast region. There are reports of guerrilla groups in Myanmar reviving their activities, and any breakdown of law and order will allow militant groups in the Northeast to take advantage of the situation. The unsavoury developments in the Southeast Asian country, in the wake of military takeover, detention of the opposition leaders and suspension of political rights, present a major diplomatic dilemma for New Delhi. It highlights the complexity of the relationship and the balancing act that India has to undertake while dealing with non-democratic regimes in its neighbourhood.
In the past, India’s unqualified support for the opposition leader and an icon of democratic movement Aung San Suu Kyi has cost it much political ground in Myanmar. China was the biggest beneficiary of India’s reluctance to engage with the military during the 1990s. Myanmar’s military junta and China enjoyed a much closer relationship during those years. Interestingly, when India took steps in the 2000s to build ties with the military junta, the United States and some other Western governments were critical of New Delhi’s position. While democracy should be India’s abiding conviction, it should, however, remain engaged with whichever government is exercising authority in any country in the neighbourhood. New Delhi has a dependable ally in Min Hlaing, the military leader of Myanmar who has been a vocal critic of China for their support to the anti-national rebel Arakan Army. At the same time, India cannot turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis in the name of protecting its strategic interests. It shares a 1,643-kilometre border with Myanmar and is home to thousands of refugees from Myanmar spread across different States.
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