Silence is Golden: Has India?s silence finally paid-off? by Mungpi Saturday, 17 October 2009 13:10 New Delhi (Mizzima) - As the saying goes “Silence is Golden”. India’s policy of maintaining her silence over events unfolding in its eastern neighbouring country seems to have finally paid off as the Burmese military generals rolled out the red carpet for the visiting Indian Army Chief. India’s Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor on Thursday concluded a four-day visit to the military-ruled Southeast Asian nation. He had the rare opportunity of meeting the junta’s number one military leader Snr Gen Than Shwe and second strongman Vice-Snr Gen Maung Aye. While the Indian Army’s Public Relations Department in New Delhi, refused to divulge details of the visit saying, “it will be uploaded on the ministry’s website in a day or two,” sources said the visit, except for Kapoor’s meeting with the junta’s top leaders, is not so significant. According to Dr. Tint Swe, a New Delhi-based minister for the exiled-Burmese Government, the visit is part of the ongoing bilateral relations between India and Burma. “But his meeting with Than Shwe and Maung Aye is a significant sign for India,” Dr. Tint Swe, who has long been a critic of India’s policy towards Burma, said. In recent months, several events have unfolded in Burma including the charge, trial and sentence of Aung San Suu Kyi over an unwelcome visit by an American, the latest news of US’s Burma policy announcement and meetings between the Nobel Peace Laureate and western diplomats. Despite the international outcry over the sentencing of the 1993 Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding recipient in August, India kept silent, except for a few media reports, citing anonymous sources in the Indian Government, saying India is quietly urging Burma to make its political process broad based. Noticeably, since September-October 2007, when the Burmese generals brutally cracked down on protesting monks and civilians, India has made no critical comments against the Burmese junta, which seems to have impressed the regime. But the most awarding non-action of India for the generals in Naypyitaw, is its silence over the international outcry against the sentencing of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and its election plans in 2010. Kapoor, who is visiting Burma at the invitation of his counterpart Vice-Snr General Maung Aye, is not a key figure in stamping any substantial deals between the two countries but his reception surpasses some of the United Nations special envoys, whose visits are aimed at facilitating political dialogue. But this reception does not come free. India, since it took a ‘U’ turn in its policy towards Burma in the early 1990s, has largely invested in its resource-rich Southeast Asian neighbour with little expectation of reciprocation from the ruling regime. The most significant achievements of India’s appeasement so far is in obtaining the shares of gas exploration in the A1 and A3 blocks of the offshore oil fields in the western coast of Arakan state. However, the combined Oil and Natural Gas Cooperation (ONGC) and Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) share of 30 per cent - 20 and 10 per cents respectively – has not been able to help India in gaining the rights to purchase the oil that will be produced. Similarly, in another joint venture, India is all set to invest a US$ 100 million, which is known as the Kaladan Multi-Model in western Burma. The project, once completed, will connect India’s northeastern state with Burma’s seaport in Arakan state and allow roadway access into the country. However, while India will invest the lion’s share of US$ 90 million, it will also provide Burma a loan of US$ 10 million, the investment share of the Burmese government to the project, at a minimum rate of interest. Statistics of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs shows that of the total volume of US $ 901.3 million bilateral trade for 2007-08 fiscal year, Burma’s export constitutes US$ 727.85 million while India’s export stands at US$ 173.46 million, leaving a large imbalance of trade between the two countries. Dr. Tint Swe said “It’s been over a decade now since India chose to engage the Burmese military junta. India should realize that it has not achieved any of its objectives related to national interest.” India said, engaging the Burmese junta was part of its ‘Look East’ policy and serves its national interest of countering increasing Chinese influence, flushing out Northeastern insurgents reported to be using Burmese soil as bases, and strengthening trade and commerce with Southeast Asia. But critics said, throughout the course of engagement with Burma, India has not been able to counter Chinese influence, and lost out in the race for purchasing gas from the field where Indian companies are holding stakes. None of the insurgent groups in Northeast India have been flushed out of Burmese soil and trade imbalance remains. But it does pay to engage the junta and to remain silent over the political turmoil in Burma, as the Indian Army Chief and other officials visiting the Buddhist majority country are given warm receptions. But was the reception given to Kapoor this week, an indication that the Burmese regime is ready to be more favourable and allow a certain degree of Indian influence? Kapoor’s visit came at a time when Burma is in the international media spot light over a number of issues. It is a time when the regime is lobbying the United States to re-engage it as a part of its game plan to win international support for the fifth step of its roadmap - elections in 2010. Gaining Indian support would definitely mean a great favour for the Burmese junta. Secondly, the regime is in a tight corner in dealing with domestic armed groups, some of whom are backed by China as a strategy of maintaining a buffer-zone with Burma. The regime, as part of its roadmap, wants to disarm these groups with or without using force. Despite their attacks on the Kokang ethnic rebels in early August and eliminating the Peng Jiasheng-led Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), other groups, particularly the United Wa State Army (UWSA), known to be the largest rebel group, remain a stumbling block. And the regime is definitely unhappy about China’s stand on the Wa issue and would like, if China agrees, to eliminate them. Kapoor’s visit could not have been at a better time than this, when the Burmese generals for the first time in history publicly displayed their dissatisfaction towards China by publishing a news item in its mouthpiece newspaper about the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama visiting Taiwan. “I think it would be too early to interpret Kapoor’s visit and his meeting with Than Shwe as an indication that Burma is beginning to reciprocate,” Dr. Tint Swe says. He said, over a decade of cozy relationship has not proved favourable for India, and it is high time that India re-assess its policy towards Burma.