by RS Jassal
There is no denying the fact that Myanmar has viable potentials to help India achieve safe corridors in the SE Asian Zone because of the following facts:
(a) North East has shared histories of British rule, co-moving, economic dependencies and same ethnicities sharing common International Borders earlier through one province i.e., Assam with Burma & now with Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram with length of IB neither changed nor stretched/ squeezed.
(b) Manipur, Mizoram closest to the sea offer viable route accessibility to sea in an important aspect of global requirement.
(c) Sittwe sea port a nodal point for oil availability falls enroute to proposed trilateral trans- Asian Highways. In the Pipe line project, lies its central importance and it becomes common meeting point on oil and gas requirement of India and China. China has achieved connectivity to Sittwe from Yunnan Province through land route and will cut short its compulsorised Navy voyage of 3000 km by avoiding the use of Strait of Malacca- a tortuous and unsafe route and seeking access to the Indian Ocean through Burma via Bay of Bengal. India also needs Sittwe connectivity; Kaladhan Multi-purpose project on completion will facilitate this. But it needs more pro-active and fast moving diplomatic cards to balance trust deficit/credit with Myanmar Government as Chinese did pull western nation’s sanctions and Indian idealistic stance of foreign policy to their advantage and done quick military overtures in assisting Burmese ports and ports up to Karachi (Gawador) & Sri Lanka (Hambantota) developed. Imagine its impact during war if it breaks and Chinese push in trading activities with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar off the war times. India being enroute just can’t avoid this economic invasion.
(d) India must invest more in trust measure to win over confidence of Myanmar rooted in Buddhist Thought common to three nations- India, Myanmar and China and moderate Myanmar to liberalize their democracy to suite their requirement but more pro-people. Two giant nations of Asia enroute in close race in world economics as powers ‘ to be’ on mutually basing age old faith in religion, culture and philosophy can grow faster for which Myanmar has greater gains to improve its economies too acting as conduit for India & China and other SE Asian nations.
(e) All the three nations face common threat from Islamic fundamentalists in one way or the other under Al-Qaeda horoscope. If the trio – India, China and Myanmar use their cultural ties and trade potentials to positivities, the threat of Islamic fundamentalists and NE / Myanmar’s insurgents can be neutralized
It is an historical fact, Hill people of NE and Myanmar lived in penny pockets, away from main civilizations generally represented by plain people on physio-geographies dictated. Tribes had tribes affiliations governed by indigenous thoughts & beliefs with interfaith on localized trade & commerce on need & feed basis, their fate sealed under feudalistic grip of the Chiefs who further governed and influenced by the diverse systems of governance ranging from Rajas, Avas to British Administration & always suffered whipping by strong rulers Due to grand partition of India & Pakistan (one now Bangladesh) and carving of a separate country Burma in 1947 & 1948 respectively, common people living along divided lines of international boundaries expected a system of hereditary nature of independence and localized political governance of their own, but it did not happen. It is also a fact under consolidated village states turned into organized state it was just not possible to work. A new type of isolation, fear- psychosis enacted out of the militant activities came to their kitty especially for those who live either side of IB’s. Modernity affected by imposed religions affected their life style; whereas all modern religions are based on primordial philosophy which is righteous acts & ethical deeds. Independence which should have brought happiness & satisfaction brought hardened systems of living for them. Boundary pillars considered to be benchmarks of knowing physical extends of nations came to be taken as dividing the common and akin ethnicities either side of the BPs to their dislikes, disdain & pain. Physical extends could not transcend the geographical extends. Move of locals either side of the IB within age old traditions & permissible limits i.e.,16 – 20 km either side w/o permits during the British times had to be discontinued due move of militants to Myanmar soil and security vigilance tightened by the SF; s manning the IBs. No effo rts have been put in by both sides of government to put up police posts either side at affordable distances/proximities other than police trade posts at Moreh / Tamu in Manipur and Champai in Mizoram.
It has caused not only distancing them but also separating them from one another but also separating them from their own kith & kins with IB pillars come up and at places portions being fenced (which is quite natural otherwise though). For example author was posted at Chenmoho ( upper Konyak area Nagaland) 1976-1979, Many a times headman will walk to me & my wife (Tangkhul) & prevail on us to go to IB and break pillars so that his village / area people could go to Ngangching (Burma) area just 5 km beyond IB freely as was during British & pre British periods. And for us the SFs BP 149- BP- 150 – BP 151 had assumed special importance because all the four out gone China bound Indian Naga Army insurgent groups used to follow the same pathways within these pillars & then proceed northwards through Burma to be received & treated by KIA Brigades to fecilaite their moves to Yunan province of China. This example speaks volumes of innocence of a simple freedom loving Na ga and duty bound national conscious Indian Armed Forces soldier. Both being right in their own ways. The superimposed situation also became a cause causative of many people losing their lives on interception at IBs by the SF and UG v/s Ugs within UGs either side.
Myanmar since practices militarized democracy so their Regiments even resort to burning the village(s) that change their religion from Buddhism to Christianity as and when their ops against militants of any hue or otherwise necessitates. Areas in Heimi control and under Kachins Independent Brigades have thus become dens for drug trade & even pronounced training centers for almost all the NE insurgent groups with exception to none. 1643 km of IB with Myanmar has become an area of ‘no man’s land’ for negativities. Entire region are porous, difficult to be fenced and if someone can walk along the IB, will find dark and utter unproductive where as if both nations put up common projects with common interest and mutual trust, the area can be highly productive and grow not only in eco-tourism but may be helpful in shoring minerals, timber, wild life & gas exploration too.
The best forum to initiate mutual involvement for this trio (India, Burma, and China) is the 14 member, ‘Friends of Myanmar’ group that includes China & India too, and services of Thailand, instrumental in creation of this group can be roped in. The Kaladan Project provides a great opportunity and will give us access right up to Sittwe port. As Myanmar progresses economically, political changes would develop unseen to sustain its growth and it may be possible for Burmese to switch over to liberal democratic system as a win-win model for all stakeholders including Thailand at that stage. Presently there is an urgent need of opening Manipur window in its ‘Look East Policy’ for art, culture, dance and musical exchanges with China through Myanmar. In the second stage experienced, matured persons from China side to be invited to visit Arunachal Pradesh sub divisions one by one for them to see and analyze the cultural proximity of tribes/ communities residing in Arunachal and Tibet if any other than Taiwang of course. There is a contrast of difference in those tribes stamped by geographical divides – Mc Mohan line running between Tibet- Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, leaves hardly any reason to worry about habitation on/around IB. But Patkai Ranges through Tirrap sub division, Nagaland areas, Manipur areas leaves lot to be desired. Same may be applicable to Mizoram and Tripura too as they are directly in same boats. In case of Nagaland – Manipur, 100 feet wide motarable roads either side of IB running parallel to each other can be of great humanistic value from trade , eco tourism and exploration angles. Education & health sector at ECO SOC level and roads to be funded by World Bank can go a long way in a step to way forward – Manipur and Myanmar. This road communication will help pulling out people from the interiors from poverty line to prosperity grid too. Finally that will be a step to sustainable & manageable peace leading to regional security.