TODAY -

Border management in the pipeline, awaits new Govt at New Delhi

Bula Devi *

 Manipur-Myanmar border fence at Moreh as on 22 October 2013 :: March 03 2013
Manipur-Myanmar border fence at Moreh as on 22 October 2013 :: Pix - Ashok Ninghoujam



The simmering border dispute between India and Myanmar, especially along the 425-kms Manipur-Myanmar stretch, has long been an irritant between the two neighbours. The border dispute almost reached a flashpoint last year when the Myanmar army allegedly encroached upon Manipur’s territory and set up a temporary camp in Hollenphai deep inside Manipur.

Protests and persuasion by the Manipur government to withdraw yielded little, on the contrary, it triggered counter protests from the Myanmarese. Perhaps keeping this in mind, and the fact that India is keen to develop Manipur into the gateway to Southeast Asia, a memorandum of understanding on border management is in the pipeline between India and Myanmar. The MoU is still in the form of a draft and will most likely be fine-tuned further, but it is ready and is only waiting to be inked.

Indian officials said the MoU is waiting for a high profile visit from the neighbouring country for it be signed, which is now possible only after a new government is in place in New Delhi after the ensuing elections. This means the earliest the signing can take place is June or thereabouts. Another possibility, albeit remote, is on the sidelines of the 24th ASEAN summit scheduled for mid-May in Nay Pyi Taw in Myanmar. Indian officials said the aim of the MoU is to keep an eye on movement across the border and to maintain peace and tranquility.

A peaceful border holds the key to boosting trade between India, Myanmar and rest of Southeast Asia. Present day diplomacy is market oriented and economic gain is the driving force behind it. If India vigorously pursues its economic diplomacy with Myanmar and Southeast Asia, it has the potential to transform the Northeast.

According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Commerce, India’s exports to Myanmar jumped from $ 207.97 million in 2009-10 to $ 544.66 million in 2012-13. Similarly, India’s imports from Myanmar increased from $ 1289.80 million in 2009-10 to $ 1412 million in 2012-13.

India can expand trade via the land border. This can be done by setting up integrated customs post at Moreh. This will promote not only trading activities in Manipur but also the entire Northeast and the country as a whole. It is interesting here to remember that the Northeast is geographically closer to several Southeast Asian cities than to many Indian cities in the north and the west.

The distances between Imphal and Hanoi and Bangkok in Vietnam and Thailand are 1,300 kms and 1,400 kms while the distances from Imphal to Delhi and Mumbai are 1,800 kms and 2,200 kms. This only underlines the importance of developing a strong network of land-based connectivity between India, Myanmar and the rest of Southeast Asia. Yet, even today trading between India and Southeast takes place mainly through the sea route, which is several hundred times longer and time consuming. A peaceful border between India and Myanmar, the window to Southeast Asia, is therefore crucial.

India is also coordinating with Myanmar in implementing various connectivity projects such as the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, building/upgrading 71 bridges on the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road. The Indian side has also pledged to construct/upgrade the 120-km Kalewa-Yargyi segment of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway by 2016. This kind of connectivity will bring more people-to-people contact, especially for people of the Northeast.

The Indian government is also working closely with the Myanmar government in implementing the Memorandum of Understanding on Border Area Development. Under this MoU, India has to give $5 million each year for the next five years as assistance. The first year project is already under way in which 21 schools, 17 health centres and eight bridges are being constructed in the Chin state and Naga self-administered zone of Myanmar.

The proposed MoU on border management, India hopes, will also help tackle the problem of Northeast insurgents taking refuge in Myanmar. It is well known that many insurgents flee to the neighbouring country whenever security forces turn up the heat. Manipur based Meitei insurgent groups like People’s Liberation Army, United National Liberation Front, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and Naga insurgent group like NSCN-K and ULFA (anti-talk faction) and NDFB have their camps and hideouts in Myanmar Naga Hills. The Naga rebels find easy refuge there as many are ethnically linked to the locals in Myanmar. Naga Baptist churches are not uncommon along the road from Namphalong to Tamu in Myanmar, which India has helped to construct.


* Bula Devi wrote this article for The Sangai Express as part of 'Despatch From Delhi ' column
The writer is a Delhi based journalist.
This article was posted on April 06, 2014.


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