THE focus of global attention in the recent past has been on human rights violations arising from the restrictions imposed on women by the Taliban in Afghanistan. There has also been seething anger in the US at the manner in which the withdrawal of US troops was executed by the Biden administration. People in the US were particularly outraged by the humiliation faced by their armed forces and citizens while leaving Afghanistan. US policy of embracing the Pakistani military, when the ISI was arming, training and providing a safe haven to the Taliban, was an unmitigated disaster.
Continuing talks with the Myanmar army are a must for peace and security on India’s northeastern borders.
There is now a widely held feeling, that President Biden’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan was ill-advised. People in the US cannot understand why the invasion of Afghanistan, which had cost the US treasury $8 trillion and resulted in
9 lakh deaths, should have concluded in a humiliating manner. Americans saw a sneering Pakistani ISI chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, walking imperiously across Kabul, even as the then Afghan government, led by the moderate Mullah Baradar, was being replaced by hardcore fundamentalists dominated by ISI favourites from the Haqqani family. Viewed historically, the US involvement in Afghanistan during its ‘global war on terror’ is now seen diplomatically, militarily and financially as a disastrous misadventure.
The Quad Summit in Washington, which took place soon after the US setback in Afghanistan, was dominated by discussions on a ‘free, open and rule-based’ Indo-Pacific, focused on dealing with challenges posed by an ever more aggressive China. A notable feature was the attention paid to Myanmar. Quad noted: ‘We continue to call for the end to violence in Myanmar, the release of all political detainees, including foreigners, engage in constructive dialogue, and for the early restoration of democracy. We further call for the implementation of the ASEAN Five Point Consensus’. This is the first time that India has joined regional partners, and even the US, in singling out a neighbouring country for human rights abuses.
Myanmar shares a 1,640 km land border with four insurgency-affected Indian states — Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Cooperation between the armies of India and Myanmar in dealing with cross-border insurgencies is an important feature of bilateral cooperation. China, on the other hand, adopts a carrot and stick policy while dealing with Myanmar, like a vassal state. While it backs Myanmar against western economic and other pressures in the UN and elsewhere, its own behaviour is crude and exploitative. It has links with armed groups in Myanmar, like the heavily armed United Wa State Army, and other separatist armed groups, particularly in Myanmar’s Shan state. Myanmar is being torn apart by the growing resistance to the military regime, but it is so dependent that it has to do Beijing’s bidding on many bilateral and national security issues. In the meantime, China itself has been forced to seek special protection from Myanmar for its 800 km oil and gas pipelines that have terminals in the Bay of Bengal port of Kyaukphyu, and pass through large tracts of Myanmar territory before crossing the border into China’s Yunnan province.
Even as world opinion has been outraged at the killings in Myanmar, ASEAN neighbours are moving to increase pressure on the army regime. The heads of ASEAN governments announced a ‘five-point consensus’ that there shall be an immediate cessation of violence and all parties shall exercise restraint. This would be accompanied by commencement of a constructive dialogue among all parties to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people. Brunei’s second foreign minister Erywan Yusuf has been appointed ASEAN’s special envoy to Myanmar. India’s envoy to the UN, TS Tirumurti, has called for restraint by the Myanmar government, and the release of all detained political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi. US Secretary of State Blinken has welcomed these efforts, which have been stonewalled by the army regime. ASEAN leaders are also discussing the possibility of not inviting Myanmar’s military leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to the forthcoming summit later this month. Myanmar has rejected a proposal by the ASEAN Special Envoy, seeking access to Suu Kyi.
With events in Myanmar heading for a stalemate, which can only lead to a further loss of lives, India must ensure that these events have no impact on peace and stability along its borders with Myanmar. Neither China nor Russia favour any punitive measures against the Myanmar army in the UNSC. India has to work with the Myanmar government to ensure that Myanmar’s actions do not result in a large inflow of refugees into its North-eastern states.
The issue of providing a haven to refugees from Myanmar needs to be handled sensitively. It needs to be borne in mind that Myanmar has been very helpful in acting against members of the Indian separatist groups which cross the international border. Continuing consultations with Myanmar’s armed forces are essential for peace and security.
ASEAN is discussing the possibility of not inviting the head of Myanmar’s military government to its summit due to a lack of progress on an agreed roadmap to restore peace in the strife-torn country. The junta’s inaction on a five-point plan it agreed in April with ASEAN was regarded as ‘tantamount to backtracking’, the bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar, Erywan Yusuf, told a news conference recently. India should continue to work closely with the special envoy and the Myanmar government to devise measures for arriving at a regional consensus on dealing with the situation in Myanmar.