Monday, November 12, 2007

Many positives in Kalam’s visit to Burma

Many positives in Kalam’s visit to Burma
Syed Ali Mujtaba

There are many positives in the Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam three-day historic visit to Myanmar that concluded recently. It was the first ever visit by an Indian President to its immediate neighboring country since independence.

India and Myanmar drew up a ''systematic and synergetic policy'' to achieve two billion dollar trade in the next three years and Myanmar promised to help India meet its growing energy needs during Kalam’s visit.

The high point of Indian president’s visit was signing of three important agreements in natural gas, satellite-based remote sensing and promotion of Buddhist studies.

Kalam's visit has opened new vistas of cooperation with Myanmar, with relations not only confined to energy sector but also in IT, automobile, textiles, agro-based industries and river and land-based transportation system.

India offered $35million as financial assistance to Myanmar for its various development projects, including purchase of heavy duty water pumps for agricultural activities and multi-modal transport system which would connect Myanmar with India's north-east region.

An important fall-out of Kalam's visit to Myanmar is the impetus provided to the various projects that would undoubtedly lead to development of India’s four northeastern states that borders Myanmar.

The Kaladan multi model transport project between the two countries provides a framework for combination of rivers, transport, building of highway and natural gas pipeline. This project which is commissioned in the southern part of Mizoram, is fairly large, with total outlay of dollar 100 million.

India and Myanmar are looking at additional road links through the northeast region to connect the two countries. At present Moreh-Tamu border post in Manipur is open for trade, while the other road connecting the Chin state of Myanmar and Zakhaotar in Mizoram is being talked about.

In addition, India's Border Roads Organization has started surveying the possibility of the road that would connect Mizoram to Tidium in Myanmar. The new road connectivity would definitely add to the development of the northeast region of India.

The fresh proposal for ‘trilateral highway’ connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand was also discussed during President visit to Myanmar. The two countries agreed to sort out the technological details for the proposed trilateral highway and a meeting of the three nations is called for soon.

The improved road connectivity would help the countries increase the trade volume, which is currently about dollar 1 billion.

The proposed natural gas pipeline from Myanmar would also be via India’s northeast region and it would lead to development in the region.

The idea to cooperate in the field of traditional medicines was broached upon during Kalam’s visit. A great amount of similarity exits between Myanmar’s flora and fauna and India’s northeast region and the two countries exchanged ideas on marketing and maintaining the standards of traditional medicines.

On the whole, Kalam’s visit underlined the fact that as India’s ‘Look East Policy” gains momentum, the gateway to ASEAN nations, that’s its northeast region would slowly but surely develop and transform into a new shape.

Kalam’s visit to Burma was criticized on the ground that the President of the largest democracy in the world was belittling himself by visiting a country that’s ruled by a military junta and guilty of suppression of democracy and dismal human rights record.

To some extent this issue was addressed when Indian President promised all help to Myanmar in restoring the democratic system, ''institution building process'' as well as its all round development.

India is committed to be part of the global campaign for the restoration of democracy in Burma. The onus now lies on Myanmar to transform itself to the most acceptable form of governance in the world. There are signs that Myanmar is making efforts in that direction.

Senior General Than Shwe, who heads the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) assured Kalam that he would discuss with the senior army officers and others regarding India’s help in implementing his proposed seven point plan to usher in democracy in Myanmar.

General Than Shwe also assured Kalam that he would get back to India on the release of the pro democracy leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, after discussing the issue with the SPDC. Indian President had expressed concern over the welfare of the Nobel Laureate under house arrest since 1990 and said that people in India are worried about her as their sentiments goes back to the freedom movement when her father was leading a democratic struggle in Burma against the common colonial ruler.

On the whole the visit of the Indian President to Myanmar was a very successful trip. His visit cemented the bilateral relationship that has been warming up between the countries for some time now.

While India sees Burma as a key element in its ‘Look East Policy’, Myanmar visualizes cooperation with India an opportunity towards its future economic development and prosperity.

The two countries in turn see each other a natural partner in their vision for a dynamic and vibrant pan-Asian community.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at

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