India says it seeks better ties with Myanmar to get the Burmese army act against the north-east Indian insurgents. Experts, however, say that India’s main aim is to counter China’s influence in the region.
Security analysts say the Indo-Burmese cooperation is not only aimed at the crackdown on insurgents, but more significantly, it is part of India’s strategy to court Myanmar to counter China’s influence in the region.
Earlier this week, Myanmar’s defense chief general Min Aung Hlaing was on a week-long Indian visit in which he met Indian Defense minister A K Antony and other Indian military officials.
Apart from assuring the Burmese general that India would train the Burmese army, the Indian defense officials also promised more military aid to Myanmar.
Indo-Burmese military cooperation
Burmese President Thein Sein, who took office after the military handed over power just over a year ago, has introduced a series of political reforms, which have led to the European Union, the United States and other Western governments to lift economic sanctions on Myanmar.
In 1988, when the Burmese military junta began its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, India chose to support opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But in 1993, India started mending relations with the Burmese generals and sought better economic and military ties with Myanmar.
In 2006, then Indian army vice-chief Lieutenant general S Pattabhiraman admitted that India was supplying Myanmar with a host of military hardware including field guns and howitzers. In 2007, it was reported in the media that Myanmar was seeking extra supply of Indian field guns, mortars, helicopters, submarines surveillance aircrafts and spare parts for its fighter planes.
Last year, a north-east India based Burmese exiled pro-democracy activist said that India was supplying secret arms consignments to Myanmar since 2003.
For years the US and European Union sought to isolate the Burmese junta through an arms embargo and economic sanctions, but India took the opposite path in the hope of getting Myanmar’s rulers to crack down on north-east Indian insurgents hiding in western Myanmar forests.
Countering China’s influence
Traditionally, the Burmese army, which is known as Tatmadaw, has been dependent on Beijing for military supplies since 1988. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has long been assisting the Burmese army.
Analysts say India is becoming desperate to counter China’s influence in Myanmar.
“In view of Myanmar’s aim to reduce its dependency on China and India’s desire to counter-balance China’s influence in Asia, the military friendship between Myanmar and India is natural,” Jacob Zenn, a security analyst with Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, told DW. “This move would also be welcomed by the West, which, like India, seeks to contain China’s increasing influence in Southeast Asia,” he added.
Ralph A Cossa, president of the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum of the centre for Strategic and International Studies, told DW that India was seeking to provide a counterbalance to the countries in the region.
“India is becoming more and more involved in East Asia as a member of the East Asia Summit and the Asean Regional Forum, and is looking to open doors to all southeast Asian countries to increase its influence and to provide these countries an alternative to Beijing’s might,” said Cossa.
“Now that Myanmar seems to be reforming itself, India’s new friendly gestures for Myanmar are unlikely to draw Western criticism, so it is a smart diplomatic move,” he added.
On his part, Udai Bhanu Singh, a researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi told DW that India had legitimate concerns for the security of its north-eastern states bordering Myanmar.
“Myanmar is experiencing ethnic turmoil. India is equally concerned about the Indian insurgents hiding in Myanmar. It is in this context that one has to look at the renewed military cooperation between Myanmar and India,” said Singh.