Aiming to make Myanmar its strategic gateway to Southeast Asia, India may renew its pitch to build a key section of the historic Stilwell Road and the Imphal-Mandalay route to promote cross-border trade and economic growth in Northeast states.
Myanmar awarded the contract of the 312-km World War II road, linking Myitkyina in Kachin state to Pangsau Pass on the Arunachal Pradesh border, to a Chinese company — the Yunan Construction Engineering Group — in 2010.
With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leading a delegation to Naypyidaw on Sunday, India has communicated that it is only interested in building the 160-km road section from Pangsau Pass to Tanai, and does not mind the remaining 152-km stretch to Myitkina being build by the Chinese company in a joint venture with the military junta-backed Yuzana group. Named after World War-II American General Joseph Stilwell, the road was used by allied forces to supply provisions to China.
It is understood that the defence ministry has requested the visiting delegation to raise the Stilwell Road issue, with the army indicating that the Chinese company has also secured rights to 500 metres of land on either side of the road. While the Chinese company has begun clearing the forest encroaching on the road alignment, the threat perception is that Beijing is looking towards a long-term commitment in the area, particularly because it considers Arunachal Pradesh as southern Tibet.
Army chief General VK Singh had raised the Stilwell issue with Myanmar President Thein Sein and the defence minister during his trip to Naypyidaw last January.
The other project New Delhi has shown interest in is the revival of the old southern Silk Route, which links Mandalay to Imphal as part of the ambitious Asian Highway route. As of now, there is only a small bridge on a stream separating the border post at Moreh to Tamu on the other side of the border.
While India plans to resurface Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road, build by Indian Border Roads a decade ago, it is keen to extend this alignment to Mandalay, which is in turn linked to its largest city, Yangon.