‘Only India has benefitted Burma’

India is the only country in Asia who’s policy of engagement with the Burmese junta “has paid dividends”, according to an Indian think tank report released yesterday.

The report, published by the Delhi-based Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations (ICRIER), also argues that the West’s isolation of Burma is to blame for pushing the ruling regime into the hands of China.

ICRIER were commissioned to write the report by the influential New York-based Asia Society think tank, which last month released a high-profile report warning that US engagement with the Burmese junta risked legitimising the elections this year.

‘From Isolation to Engagement’ was launched yesterday in Delhi by former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran, who oversaw India’s switch to dialogue with the Burmese junta as part of the country’s ‘Look East’ policy.

The policy, gradually implemented throughout the 1990s, has sought to build closer trade and strategic relations with its regional neighbours, but has also attracted criticism as India’s arms exports to Burma continue to rise.

Saran was quoted by the Mail Today newspaper in Delhi as claiming that Indian policy towards Burma had been a success, with indications that “the military regime [wants] to engage with India”.

She added that both the regime and “the people of Myanmar [Burma] see the sanctions as a hindrance”, while the report contends that the West’s economic boycott has only strengthened China’s influence over Burma.

Rights groups have however slammed the apparently warming relations between Delhi and Naypyidaw, referencing in particular India’s place as one of only six countries worldwide that regularly supplies military equipment to the maligned ruling generals.

Recent reports claim that India is soon to sell patrol boats to the Burmese army, despite calls from world leaders, including British prime minister Gordon Brown, that a global arms embargo be enacted on the junta.

The two governments are currently cooperating on strategies to eliminate Indian insurgents, particularly the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), who are nestled along India’s shared border with Burma and believed to have bases in Burma’s northwestern Kachin state.

Relations between India and China have fluctuated in recent years as both countries compete for Burma’s vast gas deposits. It was largely the lure of Burmese natural resources that triggered Delhi’s switch from backing for pro-democracy groups in Burma to support for the junta.

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