Friday, October 9, 2009

Eye on China, Indian Army chief on Myanmar visit

Rajat Pandit

Army chief General Deepak Kapoor will be leaving on Sunday for Myanmar, a country with which India has ramped up diplomatic as well as military ties to counter China's deep strategic inroads there. Gen Kapoor, who is also chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, will seek to further boost bilateral defence cooperation as part of the continuing efforts to ensure China does not manage to outflank India once again in the region.

"During the three-day visit, Gen Kapoor will hold talks with the military top brass as well as visit different defence establishments in Myanmar,'' said an official. Incidentally, the visit comes at a time when the US, a long-standing bitter critic of the Myanmarese ruling military junta, has announced its intention to actively work with countries like China and India to enter into a dialogue with Myanmar.

Though a detente between Myanmar and the West, which has imposed sanctions on the former, is still a long way off, the military junta's declaration about introducing a new constitution and holding elections in 2010 is being followed closely across the world.

India, of course, has its own concerns. It went in for a realpolitik change in its policy after several years of supporting Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic movement in Myanmar, during which New Delhi found much to its dismay that Beijing had deftly stepped into the vacuum to forge strategic links with Yangon.

Casting aside western concerns about supplying military equipment to Myanmar, the only Asean country with which its shares land and maritime borders, India has since then transferred four Islander maritime patrol aircraft as well as 105mm light artillery guns, naval gun-boats, mortars, grenade-launchers and rifles, among other equipment, to Yangon.

India, in turn, has got some support from the military junta to flush out Indian insurgent groups operating from its soil. The Indian and Myanmarese armies, for instance, have conducted `coordinated operations' along their 1,643-km land border against outfits like United Liberation Front of Asom, United National Liberation Front, People's Liberation Army and Kannglei Yawol Kanna Lup.

There have been developments on other fronts like economic cooperation, energy security and connectivity as well. India and Myanmar, for instance, have launched the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project, which will provide India with an alternate gateway to its northeastern states by bypassing Bangladesh. India, of course, also remains keen that Myanmar expedite the process of national reconciliation and political reforms, and make it broad-based to include all sections of society and different ethnic groups.

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