The Calcutta-based Institute of Social and Cultural Studies (ISCS) is organising a high profile two-day conference on "India-Myanmar Relations - The Way forward". This is the 70th year of the establishment of India-Myanmar relationship, and there has been a spate of seminars and conferences to find ways to strengthen it. However, ISCS's secretary Arindam Mukherjee, now in Yangon to organise the conference on 10-11th November at Pan-Pacific Hotel in Yangon, says this will be a conference with a difference. He spoke to Mizzima's Aung Thura about the event.
Q: How do you think this conference will help the process of improving India-Myanmar relations?
A: This is a conference with a difference. We see this as a policy-driven conference because we focus on the way forward. I am a student of history, and I believe history is important, but we need to focus on the present and more so in the future. The bilateral relationship between our two countries has been good because it is based on a huge civilizational connect. To that, is now added the prospective role India can, and somewhat has, played in Myanmar’s economic development. However, India can offer so much more. We can offer much better solutions to Burmese problems because they resemble our problems back home. Our solutions will be more realistic than Western solutions -- be it in developing all kinds of infrastructure, not just roads and bridges, but education and health, tourism and science and technology. Our infotech and even space science is world class; we send a mission to Mars at a cost less than that of a big Hollywood film -- cost management is most important for implementing development projects in countries like India and Myanmar.
Q: The conference is bringing together not only academics and researchers but also policymakers from both countries? Do you see areas where we can expect definite policy recommendations that could be implemented within a time frame?
A: No doubt we will have very important policy recommendations. Some top security managers will be there, and we could expect some definite suggestions on real-time intelligence sharing for fighting terrorism because this is a priority for Myanmar and India now. I read in Mizzima that your army generals have promised India to throw out the north eastern rebels from Sagaing, which is surely a huge welcome development. Myanmar has never backed any insurgency against India as some of our other neighbours are doing. India wants to strengthen the military-to-military relations not only to train the Tatmadaw in key areas like counter-terrorism and UN operations, but our army also wants to learn from Myanmar's long counter insurgency operations. The ARSA is a terrorist organisation on the Pakistani model because their cadre was trained by Pakistanis and our army can share their experience with the Tatmadaw on how to fight typical Islamist terrorism of the Pakistani kind. We will also have concrete suggestions in areas of trade and connectivity, but more importantly in developing people to people relations.and developing the Buddhism based connect. I am a student of history and I am keen that our government develop current relations by drawing on and not by overlooking the facts of history.
Q: What is the role you see the border states playing in developing our relations?
A: Huge, in one word. The Manipur chief minister Biren Singh immediately agreed to come when we approached him. In Manipur, they say, the state will be prosperous when the Eastern Gates open. Their Eastern Gate opens to Myanmar. So Manipur business persons are looking at Myanmar as the pot of gold which can change their future. The chief minister wants visa on arrival for Myanmar patients because that will be a huge boost to Manipur healthcare sector, as big Indian healthcare majors will set up hospitals in Manipur for the Burmese clientele. Biren Singh can be the biggest driving force for India-Myanmar relations as Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar is for India-Bangladesh relations. Border states will be the driving force for India-Myanmar relations. These people know on the ground reality, Delhi is far away and people there often don’t understand on the ground dynamics.
Q: Any thoughts on Rakhine?
A: It is a sensitive issue and I will leave to the discussants from the two countries to discuss details. Indians are very happy with the civilian initiative for reconstruction and restoration of normalcy in Rakhine, but it is not merely a humanitarian issue but also a security issue. This is what the West are not willing to understand. The Burmese military there is dealing with a bunch of terrorists. The ARSA has killed Hindus and Myos, besides moderate Rohingyas, like the terrorists in Kashmir eliminated moderate Kashmiris capable of negotiating a deal with India. That is standard ISI strategy. As the political advisor to Bangladesh PM Mr H T Imam recently told Mizzima, the ARSA is an enemy of Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. So sub-regional cooperation is necessary to combat such types of militancy.