Myanmar connect: Bilateral ties on firm footing, but Naypyidaw needs to resolve Rohingya crisis

Sep 8, 2017
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first bilateral visit to Myanmar has reaffirmed relations with a crucial neighbouring country. New Delhi and Naypyidaw share a time-tested bond that even withstood international sanctions against Myanmar during the latter’s military regime. Today, when Myanmar is in the process of democratisation and is opening up to the world, India’s role in building Myanmarese infrastructure and institutions assumes greater significance. A total of 11 agreements have been signed between the two sides during this visit, spanning areas like maritime security, strengthening democratic institutions in Myanmar, health and information technology.
Given the history of insurgencies in India’s northeast, New Delhi would like more help from Naypyidaw in securing the common border and dismantling anti-India militant camps operating from Myanmarese soil. Groups like the dreaded NSCN (Khaplang) continue to find refuge in Myanmar and conduct guerrilla operations against Indian security forces. Besides, trade and connectivity between the northeast and Myanmar is vital for actualising India’s Act East policy from which Naypyidaw too stands to benefit.
That said, it can’t be ignored that Modi’s visit comes against the backdrop of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. An estimated 1,25,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after Myanmar’s security forces initiated a crackdown in the wake of attacks against police and army posts blamed on an armed Rohingya group. But Rohingyas have been facing discrimination for decades in Myanmar where they are not recognised as citizens – despite living there for generations – and have been at the receiving end of violence perpetrated by Buddhist extremists.
In fact, Myanmar’s latest crackdown against Rohingyas has been described in some quarters as genocide with reports of murder, rape and torture of civilians filtering in. Particularly shocking has been the stubborn refusal of Myanmar’s state counsellor and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to recognise the plight of Rohingyas. Suu Kyi can’t be selective about championing human rights. On New Delhi’s part, it’s understandable that Modi doesn’t want to rub Naypyidaw the wrong way and push it into Beijing’s orbit, as the Chinese have no human rights scruples. Yet, he could have done more to impress upon Myanmar’s leadership the need to provide Rohingyas with citizenship. Domestically New Delhi should rescind its deportation order against Rohingya refugees, which is in terrible taste considering they are facing such brutality in Myanmar.
Times of India, September 8, 2017

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