Beginning his three-day tour of Myanmar on Friday, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India is not interested in "exporting ideology" and is amenable to dealing with governments as they exist.
"We are a democracy and would like to see democracy spread, but we will not interfere in Myanmar's internal affairs," he said in a reiteration of the stance India has adopted towards its eastern neighbour since making a turnaround in bilateral relations in the 1990s in view of Myanmar's increasing strategic importance. He added that India stands by Myanmar's roadmap to democracy.
This is Mukherjee's first visit to the neighbouring country since taking over as External Affairs Minister in October last year. He was received at Yangon today by the Director-General, International Organisations, U Win Mra. He will proceed to the new Myanma capital Nay Pyi Taw tomorrow, where he will hold talks with his counterpart U Nyan Win.
The leaders will discuss issues including terrorism, defence cooperation and energy. Myanmar has been gaining increasing strategic importance for India – due to its long borders with both India and China, its oil and gas reserves, and its status as a land bridge between India and South-East Asia.
Mukherjee said energy cooperation will be high on the agenda. ONGC-Videsh, the foreign operations arm of ONGC, and GAIL have a 20% stake in two blocks off the Rakhine coast.
India is keen to get rights to more blocks, Mukherjee said, adding that he will also discuss a direct pipeline to transport gas from Myanmar to India bypassing Bangladesh. "We are hoping for assured supply so that the cost of the pipeline becomes viable," he said.
Enhancing defence cooperation will also figure in the talks. The importance that the two countries accord to defence ties can be gauged from the fact that all three Indian armed forces' chiefs have visited Myanmar during the last year, and Gen Thura Shwe Mann, the Joint Chief of Staff of the Myanmar Armed Forces – and tipped to succeed Gen Than Shwe as the junta's leader in the country – was in India last month.
According to South-East Asia expert Uday Bhanu Singh from the Institute of Defence and Security Analysis,"India is particularly keen to promote naval ties with Myanmar, especially with a view to manage Chinese efforts to gain access to the Bay for the landlocked part of its south and to develop a two-ocean navy."
In addition to providing training to Myanma armed forces personnel, India is helping build border infrastructure. In particular, a project to link Sittwe port to Mizoram through a 160 km waterway and a 65 km road link is in the pipeline, Mukherjee said.
Building infrastructure in Myanmar is aimed at enhancing bilateral trade, connecting India's landlocked northeastern states to the Bay of Bengal and creating a road link connecting India to the entire mainland South-East Asia.
According to officials in the Ministry of External Affairs, due to the spurt in terrorist activity in the North-East this month, anti-terror cooperation will be high on the agenda.
Myanmar borders four terror-prone states of India – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. According to former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval, Ulfa and both factions of the NSCN currently have bases in Myanmar.
Also on the agenda is anti-terror cooperation. Myanmar borders four terror-prone states of India – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. According to former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval, Ulfa and both factions of the NSCN currently have bases in Myanmar.
Myanmar itself faces several internal insurgencies, including the Karen insurgency, which is among the oldest-running in the world. The two countries are keen to enhance anti-terror cooperation.
"In the past, Myanmar acted to wipe out the Manipur insurgency operating from its territory," says Doval, "India and Myanmar could look into joint army operations, sharing intelligence and plugging sources of weapons."
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