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Monday, April 22, 2024

India’s Myanmar Strategy & Complex Geopolitical Challenges

India should exercise prudence in its approach, particularly in light of Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s close ties with China. It is imperative for India to develop a pragmatic strategic plan that aligns with the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. The focus should be on safeguarding Myanmar from China’s influence on the junta through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Additionally, India can play a constructive role by facilitating peace talks between conflicting groups and military leaders in the strife-ridden regions, while also extending support to rebels in border areas.

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By: Dipak Kurmi

Concerned about the continuous flow of refugees and insurgents across the porous border due to the ongoing crisis, the Indian government has opted to erect a barrier along the Myanmar border. This move aims to put an end to the free movement regime (FMR), similar to the approach taken with the Bangladesh frontier. The fencing is seen as a deterrent and a preventive measure to tackle the persisting challenges posed by the influx.

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India should exercise prudence in its approach, particularly in light of Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s close ties with China. It is imperative for India to develop a pragmatic strategic plan that aligns with the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. The focus should be on safeguarding Myanmar from China’s influence on the junta through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Additionally, India can play a constructive role by facilitating peace talks between conflicting groups and military leaders in the strife-ridden regions, while also extending support to rebels in border areas.

India adopted a measured approach when the Tatmadaw orchestrated a coup on February 1, 2021. At that time, India chose a diplomatic and indirect stance, offering support to the junta without openly endorsing the democratic forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi. However, this strategic decision has now presented India with a dilemma. The challenge lies in counteracting China, whose support for certain ethnic groups adds a layer of complexity to the situation. India must navigate these intricacies carefully.

In December 2023, ‘Operation 1027’ unfolded within the intricate dynamics of the region. Executed by ‘The Three Brotherhood Alliance,’ comprising the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, AA, and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, this strategic move significantly rattled the junta. The offensive delivered a severe blow, prompting China to extend its support to the junta in response to the unfolding developments.

‘The Three Brotherhood Alliance’ strategically captured crucial roads and military posts, strategically impacting the already financially strained junta by disrupting revenue streams and impeding troop movements. Reports from the conflict zone indicated that the surprise assaults in the Shan state were swiftly followed by the AA initiating a front against the army at its Rakhine state base on the west coast. This coordinated effort by insurgents aimed to extend influence into Kayah State bordering Thailand to the east, as well as the Sagaing region and Chin State, which shares a border with India. Notably, this action violated a ceasefire that had been in effect between the armed groups and the junta for over a year.

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This audacious maneuver poses a significant threat to the military’s dominance over vital trade routes to China, directly impacting its strategic interests. Initially supportive of the army-led coup that ousted the elected government under Min Aung Hlaing, China now finds the situation taking an unexpected turn. The pendulum has shifted in the opposite direction, presenting a new and challenging dynamic for the junta.

The Brotherhood poses the most formidable challenge to the junta, achieving notable success by isolating the military from a critical land stretch responsible for approximately 40% of bilateral border trade with China. This trade, valued at around $1 billion, includes significant contributions from the transportation of natural gas into China. Recent hostilities have erupted in the northern regions of Shan, Kachin, and Chin states, as well as in the western Rakhine state. Fighters from the Three Brotherhood Alliance assert their control by overtaking numerous military posts, seizing key roads, and compelling the surrender of over 100 Myanmar army soldiers, severely denting the morale of the junta. The armed groups have extended their resistance to the Tatmadaw in Kayah State in the eastern part of the country, adding another layer of significance to their strategic efforts.

It is imperative for India to reassess its approach toward Myanmar, acknowledging that clinging to outdated positions could jeopardize its interests. India believes that the United States should capitalize on the current situation to strengthen collaboration with India in Myanmar. This collaborative effort should focus on addressing the humanitarian crisis, providing support to anti-junta forces, and advocating for the establishment of a federal democracy. India has aimed to maintain a balanced stance between the military leadership and pro-democracy political factions, ensuring that the junta doesn’t align too closely with China. This strategic recalibration is essential for safeguarding India’s interests in the region.

Caught off guard by the formidable offensive launched by the alliance, the army generals found themselves in an unexpected and challenging situation. The extensive onslaught initiated a domino effect, effectively cornering the junta. Reports indicate that armed groups have successfully seized control of fifty towns and villages along with a hundred military posts. In response, Army Chief Hlaing has vowed to launch a counterattack against what he labels as terrorists in the northern region. This potential move raises concerns about the junta’s vulnerability being exposed in the face of this escalating conflict.

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The armed rebellion orchestrated by ethnic armed organizations has not only diplomatically exposed the army generals but also has direct repercussions for China. The junta found a fortuitous situation during the Ukraine war as the focus of the US and EU was diverted, providing some respite. However, the recent Hamas attack on Israel has further strained Myanmar’s relations with Western powers. The armed groups’ successful offensive, in contrast, may reshape the entire geopolitical landscape. The National Unity Government (NUG), formed by opposition lawmakers in Burma, maintains close ties with the West. The recent achievements of the armed groups have buoyed Western sentiments, potentially altering the dynamics in Myanmar’s favor.

China has presented a somewhat contradictory stance, urging Myanmar to restore border stability amidst the escalating conflict between the junta and armed groups. In an intriguing move, China has called on Myanmar to ‘cooperate’ in maintaining stability along their shared borders. The official position from China expresses a friendly neighbor’s perspective, expressing sincere hopes for Myanmar to swiftly regain stability and development. China claims to support all parties in Myanmar in resolving their differences within the constitutional and legal framework, emphasizing the importance of achieving reconciliation through dialogue.

The recent visit of Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong gains added importance in the wake of an intensified offensive by armed groups, posing risks to Chinese residents and infrastructure. The adoption of a ‘Dual Policy’ by China, actively supporting militant groups, has left some former diplomats surprised. Notably, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan state is reported to receive both weapons and political support from China, adding a layer of complexity to the situation. (The writer can be reached at dipaknewslive@gmail.com)

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The Hills Times
The Hills Timeshttps://www.thehillstimes.in/
The Hills Times, a largely circulated English daily published from Diphu and printed in Guwahati, having vast readership in hills districts of Assam, and neighbouring Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
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