In the first such outreach to Myanmar’s military-backed regime, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla flew for a two-day visit to Naypyitaw and Yangon on Tuesday evening, to meet the State Administration Council (SAC) chaired by General Min Aung Hlaing, who toppled the elected government in February last.
Officials say that Mr. Shringla, who last visited Myanmar in 2020, is expected to speak to the Tatmadaw (military) about India’s growing security concerns over insurgent groups based along the 1600-km India-Myanmar border who have carried out attacks in recent months, and will try to assess any moves from the regime on the political process in the country.
The visit comes two weeks after a court in Naypyitaw sentenced former State Councillor and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to four years imprisonment, a verdict India had expressed “deep concern” about.
“During the visit, Foreign Secretary will hold discussions with the State Administration Council, political parties and members of civil society. Issues relating to humanitarian support to Myanmar, security and India-Myanmar border concerns, and the political situation in Myanmar will be discussed,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced on Tuesday.
The visit is a tacit acknowledgement of New Delhi’s recognition of the coup in Myanmar, given that the MEA statement formally referred to the “State Administration Council”, an 11-member group of military officials and civilians set up by Min Aung Hlaing, who subsequently named himself “Prime Minister”. In June, India had also abstained from endorsing a United Nations Security Council resolution that sought to prevent arms supplies to the Myanmar military after the coup. And in November, India appointed new Ambassador Vinay Kumar to Myanmar, another sign that it has not “derecognised” the Myanmar government despite the coup.
When asked, officials denied the visit was a “legitimisation” of the regime, pointing out that the Foreign Secretary’s visit is not a “political” one but an “official” one. They said that India’s desire to discuss democracy moves, and its concerns over security were at the top of the agenda. Mr. Shringla is expected to “broadbase” his meetings with Opposition members and civil society representatives to the extent possible, given that most of the leaders of the “National Unity Government” (NUG) led by Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) are imprisoned and facing trial.
The visit also underscores the balancing act that New Delhi is trying to maintain on upholding democratic values in the neighbourhood, but also trying to counter China’s influence in Myanmar, which could grow as the regime gets more isolated, and by aligning India’s position to ASEAN policy. Mr. Shringla’s visit will be watched most closely by the U.S., which only just added to a series of sanctions on Myanmar this month by issuing sanctions against four regional state Chief Ministers and other officials.
“The situation is problematic of course, and we have taken a tough line on the need for a restoration of democracy. But we can’t take the line of western governments, we don’t have that luxury, given [our location],” explained one official.
In addition, security agencies have warned that the Tatmadaw’s crackdown on NUG and NLD members across the country has allowed insurgent groups along the border with India to increase their activities. Last month, Assam Rifles Colonel Viplav Tripathi, his wife and son and four jawans of the Assam Rifles were killed in Manipur, allegedly by militants belonging to the PLA and Manipur Naga Peoples’ Front, who then reportedly took refuge across the boundary. According to the Associated Press (AP), Myanmar last week handed over five militants wanted for the attack, although officials have refused to confirm the report. New Delhi is keen to discuss increasing border security coordination during the Foreign Secretary’s visit, officials said.