VIF Seminar on Myanmar in Transition: Asian Perspectives
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Inaugural session of Seminar on Myanmar

On Monday, Sep 19, 2011, the VIF brought together high-level diplomats, academics, journalists and security experts for a seminar on ‘Myanmar in Transition: Asian perspective’. Spread across three sessions in a single day, the seminar provided a rich feast of perspectives and analyses on a range of complex issues concerning Myanmar: the beginning of a democratisation process in Myanmar – related constraints and opportunities; civil-military relations; nuclear, economic, ethnic and external factors; and most importantly; India's approach to its Southeast Asian neighbour given that country's strategic significance. Key participants who shared their views at the seminar included Mr. Bertil Lintner, Dr. Tint Swe, Dr. Udai Bhanu Singh, Mr. C.S. Kuppuswamy, and Mr. PM Heblikar among others. A distinguished battery of former Indian diplomats and senior faculty members of VIF also shared their perspectives on developments which are taking place in and around Myanmar. Mr. CD Sahay, a former Secretary RAW and Lt Gen RK Sawhney, formerly DGMI – both distinguished fellows at VIF – and Amb Kanwal Sibal, a distinguished diplomat and India’s former Foreign Secretary chaired sessions respectively on Political Transition, International and Regional Relations, and Myanmar and India – An Anxious Partnership.

Mr. Ajit Doval, KC, Director VIF while welcoming the participants emphasised in particular on the strategic and political significance of Myanmar – a brutalized nation that lies at the tri-junction of South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia. India’s strategic interest in Myanmar has grown consistently since 1991-92, coinciding with a new framework in India’s foreign policy – the Look East Policy. Myanmar could prove a gateway for India’s greater outreach to Southeast Asia and beyond. The Look East Policy which envisages India’s greater strategic interactions with Bangladesh and Myanmar is also pivotal to the development of India’s northeast. The Director’s speech was a pointer to the pertinent security threats that India faces on the eastern front, especially the influx of illegal arms and drugs. He also flagged India’s concerns about the north-east insurgent groups which are operating from bases across the border in Myanmar. While Mr. Doval admitted that China’s growing leverages with Myanmar could prove detrimental to India’s security interests, he also mentioned about the American expectations of India playing much greater role in Myanmar.

Through the sessions that followed, a number of speakers expressed their skepticism about the democratisation process in Myanmar. While most speakers contended that the democratisation process itself is nothing more than a political subterfuge, there were a few dissenting voices, especially Ambassador Ranjit Gupta who thought that the new political process in Myanmar will become irreversible provided it is allowed to continue for one or two years. Mr. Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist based in Thailand and author of several works on Asia, went so far as to suggest that the new constitution adopted by Myanmar is not aimed at bringing in a new order but institutionalizing the old order. Mr. Lintner however cautioned the international community should remain prepared to witness unintended consequences for what has happened in the country over the past six months.

Myanmar’s growing tilt towards China was a recurrent theme at the conference. Ambassador Rajiv Sikri, a distinguished diplomat, felt that India’s larger foreign policy interests are increasingly at risks due to compulsions of domestic politics. He cited the recent Indian Prime Ministerial visit to Bangladesh as an example to buttress his argument. Ambassador Bhaskar Mitra who shared his perspective in the final session at the conference was clearly dismayed by the lack of enthusiasm on the part of Indian establishment in taking up business projects in Myanmar. While India Inc. should not miss opportunities for investment in Myanmar, the Government of India on its part should provide secure guarantees to their investments. The seminar undoubtedly provided enough food for thought to everyone present.

Event Date 
August 19, 2011
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