Analysis

Myanmar's Strategic Significance for India

Myanmar, or as many in the West still like to call it Burma, is a country of great significance to India. Its geo-strategic location imparts to it a strategic significance of powerful implications for China and India with which it shares long borders. It also shares a long border with Laos and Thailand. Its extended seaboard providing the Eastern Flank to the Bay of Bengal is of critical naval significance to India.

Myanmar presents a classic case where India's national security interests were in the past marginalized because of an ideological obsession to promote democracy there. India under Congress Governments of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty shunned Myanmar constantly. In all those years Myanmar looked to India for political support, economic assistance and military equipment to counter the multiple insurgencies on its peripheries scripted externally. It was an embattled state with turbulent peripheries and under Western sanctions because of military rule.

Shunned by India, an embattled Myanmar was ripe to fall into a Chinese strategic embrace who had long eyed an opening for its Southern provinces to the Indian Ocean through the Myanmar land corridor not available to it anywhere in the rest of South East Asia. For China, Myanmar was also a strategic prize in that with a deep political and economic embrace, China could also prevail on Myanmar to provide China with naval bases with direct access to the Indian Ocean along its long seaboard on the eastern flank of the Bay of Bengal.

China's strategic script worked out as per their plan. It worked out because of India's ideological obsession to democracy over-rode India's national security interests which dictated a Myanmar friendly to India and mindful of Indian strategic sensitivities. India therefore pushed Myanmar into a Chinese strategic embrace.

India is repeating the same strategic mistake in Nepal and for the same reasons and the same result. India is in the process of pushing Nepal into China's strategic embrace by her democracy-driven foreign policy and where the strategic loss for India would be much higher.

Former Prime Minister P.V Narasimha Rao with his pragmatic foreign policies managed to undo much of the damage in the case of Myanmar by engaging this country of great geo-strategic significance by being mindful of Myanmar's political sensitivities, rendering economic assistance, and assisting it in the development of infrastructure projects linking it with India. Military-to-military contacts were enhanced and counter-insurgency operations by both nations coordinated.

India may once again endanger the gains made in Myanmar by the present Congress Government under the political control of another member of India's political dynasty. This time the pressure for democracy-driven foreign policy towards Myanmar comes from the United States and India may buckle under that pressure. And therefore it becomes important to reiterate once again Myanmar's strategic significance for India.

Myanmar strategically provides the Eastern Flank to the Bay of Bengal and along with India virtually encloses the Bay with its extraordinary seaboard which in the South extends to the Andaman Sea and therefore of significance for India's vital Andaman and Nicobar Islands which control the Straits of Malacca. India can write-off her naval dominance in the Bay of Bengal should Myanmar provide a number of naval bases to China along her long seaboard. This would also enable China to permanently station an Indian Ocean fleet operating out of such bases.

India's entire Eastern frontiers border Myanmar and where the Chinese under the pretext of development of outlying regions are pressing Myanmar to let them develop road projects in a more east-west alignment. If that happens then in a future conflict contingency China can outflank India's North-Eastern defences by a military thrust prodding in her ribs and thereby destabilizing our entire security in that critical region. A friendly Myanmar would ensure that this does not happen.

Myanmar has to be given credit that unlike Bangladesh which has emerged as an Eastern springboard for Pakistan's proxy war against India, nothing of this sort has been resorted to by Myanmar. In case of Naga insurgents who find sanctuaries in Myanmar's borders because of ethnic affiliations, the Myanmar Government has been cooperating with India to eliminate them.

Keeping Myanmar's great strategic significance to India, it becomes imperative that Indian foreign policies towards Myanmar are solely guided by our national security considerations and these are not endangered by ideological considerations of any kind.   

26-Mar-2006

More by :  Dr. Subhash Kapila

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