ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Courting the Burmese Junta

Little could George Orwell, who as a young police officer was once stationed in Burma, have imagined the country to come closest to the society he described in Animal Farm. In the circumstances, India's relations with Burma need some re-examination.

General Malik, the army chief, visited Burma in early July, on what was billed as a ‘goodwill’ visit in the local press. The visit, his second in six months, carries forward India’s policy of establishing a working relationship with the junta, hoping to secure greater cooperation on cross-border insurgency and drug trafficking, and as importantly in the long term, to wean Burma away from over- dependence on China. To India’s surprise and no doubt embarrassment, General Khin Nyunt, one of the two power-centres in the junta, chose the very days of General Malik’s visit to take off for Pakistan with a 20-member delegation. In choosing the timing of his visit and leaving his senior colleague, General Maung Aye, the Burmese army chief, to host his Indian counterpart’s visit alone, was he making a statement to his colleagues, as well as reassuring China? There have been reports of differences in the junta on relations with Burma’s two largest neighbours, China and India, with those arguing for greater caution in dealings with China led by General Maung Aye, and those identified with China led by Khin Nyunt, the powerful head of military intelligence.

In trying to circumvent the arms embargo by the west, Burma has increasingly sought to develop sources of supply other than China. As a recent article in Jane’s Intelligence Review (June 1, 2000) describes, Pakistan (along with Singapore and Israel) was one of the three countries that was quick to come to the junta’s assistance in the wake of the pro-democracy uprisings in 1988. After ruthlessly crushing the urban dissidents, the regime stepped up operations against those of the ethnic groups that seemed most likely to collaborate with the pro-democracy movement, such as the Karen, for which it urgently needed to replenish its run down armouries. Over the years Pakistan has been a modest and secret supplier of ammunition and spare parts for the Burmese army’s varied inventory of Chinese and older western arms. It is in a particularly good position to provide specialist technical training in the maintenance of common Chinese equipment, including aircraft.

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