NEW DEHLI: India on Tuesday promised Myanmar millions of dollars in line of credit as it seeks firmer ties with its visiting military chief to offset China’s influence in the strategic Bay of Bengal region.
Myanmar’s Senior General Than Shwe met Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and would sign several pacts, including one to prevent arms smuggling across their 1,650-km, officials said.
India’s EXIM bank extended a $60 million line of credit to Myanmar on Tuesday for financing railway projects. India, a major importer of fuel, is also pushing for cooperation in the gas sector and could promise a $1 billion investment to boost output.
Myanmar’s reclusive military ruler Than Shwe received a red-carpet welcome in New Delhi Tuesday. The general was accorded a full ceremonial welcome at the presidential palace, although the traditional guard of honour was missing as rain forced the event indoors. The junta chief, who oversaw the ruthless suppression of pro-democracy protests led by Myanmar’s monks in 2007, also laid a wreath at the mausoleum to India’s independence hero and global icon of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi.
One of the first countries to condemn Myanmar for its repression of pro-democracy activists, New Delhi has since the early 1990s put aside such criticism for fear of pushing its neighbour into China’s fold and losing access to its oil and gas.
New Delhi also looks to Myanmar to help curb separatist insurgencies in its northeast region, whose rebels sometimes take refuge across the frontier. Both sides are also working together to control a flourishing cross-border narcotics trade.
“India’s national interest lies in a strong and stable Myanmar that observes strict neutrality between India and China and cooperates with India in the common fight against the insurgencies raging in the border areas of both the countries,” said Gurmeet Kanwal, director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies.
China is the junta’s key ally and trading partner, and an eager investor in the isolated state’s sizeable natural resources. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Myanmar last month and signed a raft of
deals on trade, finance, energy, science and technology.
Visit met with protests
But for Than Shwe the visit could be more than just building strong trade, investment and security ties with India. Myanmar is facing mounting global condemnation over its
decision to bar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other current or former political prisoners from participating in elections the junta says it wants to hold later this year.
Than Shwe’s 5-day visit to the world’s biggest democracy could help legitimise Myanmar’s planned elections at a time when it has few friends in the world, though India is unlikely to directly recognise it, analysts said.
But the visit has already met with protests from pro-democracy groups in India. In addition, human rights groups have condemned India’s decision to bestow the legitimacy of a full state visit on Than Shwe, who is regarded as a pariah by many Western nations which have targeted his regime with sanctions. New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said India had “mortgaged” its voice on human rights issues to realpolitik, and called on Singh to speak out against abuses in Myanmar.
India is Myanmar’s fourth largest trading partner after Thailand, China,
and Singapore, and a major investor in the country’s burgeoning energy sector.
Two state-owned Indian firms are partners in a consortium working to extract natural gas from major deposits located off the coast of Arakan state in western Myanmar.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2010.
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