Foreign Secretary’s Visit to Myanmar: Border Security Gets Foremost Priority
Cchavi Vasisht, Research Associate, VIF

The latest visit by the Indian Foreign Secretary, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, to Myanmar on 20-21 November 2022[1] brings back attention to India’s foremost priority, which is border management and security in Northeast India. The Indian delegation led by Foreign Secretary was received by a member of the State Adminis¬tration Council Union Minister, Lt-Gen Yar Pyae. This write-up compares the two visits of the Indian Foreign Secretaries in December 2021 and November 2022 respectively. A brief analysis of the visit in November 2022 has re-emphasised India’s enduring interest in the neighbour for its northeast border management and security.

The MEA press release highlighted two major concerns for the visit in November 2022 i.e. the maintenance of security and stability in the border areas and the issue of human trafficking by international crime syndicates in the Myawaddy area of Myanmar. Around 200 Indians were captured and forced to work in Myanmar under the garb of fake job rackets operated by crime syndicates. Few of those have returned, and some are still stuck at the Myanmar-Thailand border. There was also the issue of a rise in seizures of drugs across the Northeast region since the military coup. There have been a number of reports wherein Assam Riffles have seized drugs in the Border States. For instance, in September 2022, Assam Rifles, along with Mizoram police, seized Methamphetamine tablets worth 167.86 crores. [2]

Similarly, the last visit by the Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Shringla, on 22-23 December 2021 was following the armed attack on the Assam Rifles convoy in Manipur’s Churachandpur district in November 2021.[3] The incident killed five soldiers, including Colonel Viplav Tripathi, his wife and their eight-year-old son. The Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) and Manipur’s Naga People’s Front claimed responsibility for the attack. This incident brought back into question China’s re-establishment of its links with the insurgent groups in the Northeast. [4] Given the continuance of instability in Myanmar, there is a possibility of further attacks and re-invigoration of insurgent groups with the support of China in the future.

Furthermore, both the visits focussed on infrastructural and socio-economic development projects. India’s ongoing connectivity projects, the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway, were also mentioned as cooperation areas. India’s commitment to implement the projects under the Rakhine State Development Programme and Border Area Development Programme has also been reiterated. His visit last year also delivered over one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines and supported the humanitarian needs of the country.

However, a stark contrast between the two visits is that the current visit did not mention anything about India’s support for the democratic movement or ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus. In the previous visit in 2021, the Foreign Secretary proposed India’s support for Myanmar to emerge as a stable democratic and federal union. The visit had also reiterated India’s support for Myanmar’s return to democracy, resolution of issues through dialogues and implementation of the ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus. However, the recent visit and the press release by MEA did not mention such issues.

India is also concerned about the growing influx of refugees since the military coup. The growing displacement has burdened the border states, especially Manipur and Mizoram. According to the latest figures quoted by K. Vanlalvena, a Rajya Sabha member from Mizo National Front (MNF), around 40000 refugees from Myanmar have taken shelter in Mizoram since a military coup.[5] In addition, incidents of fake identity cards and illegal migrants in the Northeast region of India have also been reported.

Here it is also necessary to note that India is looking at the increasingly close defence relations between Myanmar and Pakistan with a critical eye.[6] Though the relations between the two countries have been strained because of the Rohingya issue, in the current times, the two are re-establishing close ties. In September 2021, a high-level delegation from Pakistan’s Defence Ministry visited Myanmar though the details of visit were not made public. The exchange of visits in 2022 has received considerable attention. In November 2022, Pakistan Defence official Colonel Imran Khan visited Myanmar from 29 November to 01 December 2022. Myanmar military procured JF-17 Block-II aircraft from Pakistan in 2022, which the military will likely use to inflict further attacks against the resistance forces in Myanmar. It is also quite possible that Pakistan could have ulterior motives and support insurgent activities in the North East.

To conclude, the two visits since the military coup by the Indian Foreign Secretaries have focussed on border security and management. Though our developmental projects and socio-economic cooperation have also been the basis for bilateral relations, India understands the crucial role of restoring democracy and stability in Myanmar. Stability in Myanmar would ensure peaceful borders and stability in India’s Northeast. Though our relations cannot be seen through the realm of just the Northeast region, it forms the fundamental basis of our interactions with more than 1600 km of land and maritime borders that the two countries share. In addition to China, India needs to keep a watch over what Pakistan does in Myanmar.

Endnotes :

[1]https://mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/35910/Visit_of_Foreign_Secretary_to_Myanmar_November_2021_2022
[2]https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/drugs-worth-rs-168-crore-seized-near-myanmar-border-mizoram-cops-3373931
[3]https://mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/34723/Visit+of+Foreign+Secretary+Shri+Harsh+Vardhan+Shringla+to+Myanmar+December+2223+2021
[4]https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/manipur-ambush-brings-china-role-in-northeast-back-in-focus-101636891328423.html
[5]https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/over-40000-refugees-from-myanmar-based-in-60-camps-set-up-in-mizoram-says-rajya-sabha-mp/article65930882.ece
[6]https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-junta-and-pakistan-boost-military-ties.html

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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