Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been beset with political instability since it gained independence in 1948 from the British. On Feb 12, 2021, at midnight, military leaders launched a coup, and police arrested many political leaders, government officials, election officials, members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), activists and a retired military general. This coup occurred in the aftermath of the general election, which was held in Nov 2020. In this election, NLD won 396 out of 476 seats in the parliament, and the military proxy party-Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), could only get 33 seats. The military disputed the result claiming that the election was fraudulent.
Myanmar has agonised for a long due to the repressive military rulers. There is widespread poverty and civil war among ethnic minority groups. The country has now entered into a new era of violence. The military also called the Tatmadaw, faced widespread, fierce opposition from ethnic armed organisations. These groups were fighting even before the coup. Resolved to fight the military junta, ex lawmakers and activists formed a shadow government and mobilised fighting forces across the country. The military has resorted to a brutal crackdown on opposing forces and activists. Nevertheless, it still has not consolidated control over large areas of the country.
The coup has resulted in economic disorder, almost taking away wiping the modest gains achieved in poverty alleviation for the last few years. The economy almost contracted by approximately 20% in 2021.
Even though the world is concerned with unending rights abuses in Myanmar, it is alleged that China has engaged with the military rule in the Southeast Asian country while eager to export military hardware to the junta. Probably the Pakistan military would act as the proxy for China.
Pakistan-Myanmar military industrial link has received a significant improvement in the recent past. In Oct 2022, a senior-level Pakistani military officials visited Myanmar to examine a defence industry complex near Yangon and take part in a workshop on JF-17 block II aircraft that Myanmar had bought from Islamabad, as per the reports in the media. One more Pakistani team of officials visited Myanmar to afford technical assistance for the production of weapons. In Sept, Myanmar military officials went to Pakistan to review the delivery of bombs and bullets it had ordered from that country. This team again visited Pakistan recently for pre-shipment scrutiny of deliveries.
It is reported that Pakistan is looking forward to intense collaboration with China regarding the development of sub-warfare equipment. China is allowing Pakistan to maintain and overhaul Chinese-made equipment, thus letting Pakistan’s defence industries become a course of action for Chinese defence sales. It is alleged that Pakistan, enticed by China, has intensified military-industrial collaboration with the new regime in Myanmar, one of India’s critical neighbours to the East. It is reported that Myanmar is keen to advance its domestic arms industry with Pakistan-China combined sustenance even as it has developed a bilateral defence corporation with Russia.
As General Min Aung Hlaing regularly visits Russia with a shopping wishlist including fighter jets, helicopters and missiles, etc., therefore China is apprehended that it might misplace Myanmar as a dependable buyer for its weapons and equipment.
Probably on behalf of China, Pakistan is considering supplying heavy machine guns, 60 mm and 81 mm mortars and M-79 grenade launchers to the military rule of Myanmar. Myanmar is also looking forward to enhancing its military cooperation with Pakistan and is considering to buy air to surface missiles from Pakistan for their JF-17 fighter aircraft. It is pertinent to mention that the JF-17 Thunder multi-role aircraft is jointly developed by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation.
Pakistan was earlier a staunch fault-finder of the Myanmar government for what it alleged was a state-supported operation against Rohingyas in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. On the other hand, Myanmar blamed Pakistan for providing arms, ammunition warlike stores and extending training facilities to the terrorists and radical groups, especially the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. But China has played its part in bringing together Pakistan and Myanmar closer and brokering arms deals.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) ’s report indicated that during 2019-20 the share of Chinese arms exports declined from 5.5 to 5.2 per cent. But, it is convinced that Chinese exports are being re-routed or underreported. A specific example is when a Chinese ship bound for Pakistan was intercepted in 2020 by Indian coastal authorities for carrying a steriliser, a dual-use technology, as an industrial dryer.
China is trying to camouflage its activities by coaxing Pakistan to function on its behalf as far as supplying military equipment to Myanmar is concerned. This way, China avoids getting implicated in arms deal with Myanmar to blunt the surge of anti-China sentiments in a post-pandemic scenario and aftermath of the coup in Myanmar.
Chinese double standard and its strategy are being exposed to the world. Various media reports indicate collusion between China and Pakistan to arm the military junta in Myanmar.
The military regime of Myanmar has sustained its oppressive policies and spate of violence against the people of Myanmar. China has improved its relations with the military junta, and Pakistan has also jumped into the fray. The collusion between China and Pakistan to supply arms to Myanmar is a cause of concern for India. Thus, taking a pragmatic approach to the growing presence of our adversaries next door, India has strived to improve relations with Myanmar. Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra made a two-day visit to Myanmar on Nov 20-21. He met with members of the military junta that presently rule the country. He discussed various issues, such as security and stability along the border, human trafficking, and infrastructure development.
The relations of India and Myanmar are entrenched in common historical, ethnic, cultural and religious bonding. India is a land of Lord Buddha, many pilgrimages Myanmar visit annually. These relations have stood the test of time. The geographical closeness of the two countries has aided develop and sustain cordial relations and facilitated people-to-people ties. They have common land border of over 1600 km and a coastal boundary in the Bay of Bengal. A large population of Indian origin live in Myanmar. Bothe countries signed a Treaty of Friendship in 1951.
India has trained Myanmar’s Navy for several years, and this cooperation between the two armed forces may be utilised as an asset in diplomacy. Keeping in mind the role of Myanmar in India’s neighbourhood and the Act East Policy, India needs to increase its multi-dimensional engagements with Myanmar. As we dwell in a hostile neighbourhood with expansionist China, added to Rohingya infiltration, India needs to shun its casual attitude and take its deadlines and relationship with Myanmar seriously.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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