India has firmed up plans to increase its presence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which is one of the most disturbed regions in the neighboring country.
The decision comes almost a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s January visit to Myanmar, which resulted in a slew of bilateral agreements, including an agreement for the development of the Special Economic Zone and deep water port at Kyaukphyu in Rakhine state.
These two projects are vital cogs in the ambitious China-Myanmar Economic Corridor that would allow China to bypass the Strait of Malacca and directly access the Indian Ocean.
In reply to an application under the Right to Information Act, the Indian embassy at Yangon revealed the gist of three new projects that are currently being implemented in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The reply said that the project for the construction of 250 prefabricated houses in Rakhine state was completed last year and the second phase has been launched under the Rakhine State Development Programme.
Under the second scheme, the Indian government will provide 40 computers for use by students at Sittwe Computer University. The third project aims at boosting the agricultural output of Rakhine State with a focus on rice and lentils. Fifteen tractors along with accessories and an equal number of crawler harvesters have been provided to the government in Rakhine State.
The reply explains that mechanization of agriculture and the use of high-yield seeds were low in the region. The scheme aims at harnessing the high potential of agriculture in Rakhine State, which could emerge as an “alternative source of purchase” of rice and pulses for India through Sittwe Port.
The reply also clarified that that the projects implemented by the Indian government in Myanmar were meant for the “development of all the people in Rakhine State” and not aimed at “certain sections of people” in the region. Clearly, New Delhi does not want to execute any scheme in Rakhine State focused only on the Rohingya community.
Former Indian ambassador to Myanmar, Gautam Mukhopadhyay, said, “Rakhine state is important for India historically and strategically.”
“The housing, agriculture, computer literacy programs etc under the Rakhine State Development Programme are specific responses to the humanitarian situation in the state post 2017-18, when ARSA attacks against Myanmar security posts provoked a massive retaliation by the Myanmar Army leading to violations of human rights, mass displacement, allegations of serious crimes against the Rohingyas, including charges of genocide that were brought by the OIC to the ICC,” he added.
The new schemes unveiled by the Indian government follow some earlier projects like the construction of schools in Rakhine state after the 2012-13 riots with a grant of $1 million, which was followed by the donation of medical equipment to Sittwe General Hospital two years later.
However, India is worried over the future of the flagship Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, which was envisaged as a key component of the Act East Policy and an outlet for the landlocked frontier region of India’s Northeast through Myanmar.
The intensifying conflict between the the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, and the Arakan Army has extended to locations not far from the India-Myanmar border.
In one of the fiercest encounters on March 10 and 11 in Paletwa, more than 20 army personnel were believed to have been killed and another 36 captured by the rebels, which included battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Thet Naing Oo.
Owing to the disturbed conditions, some Indian government officials have expressed doubts whether the highway spanning a distance of 109 kilometers and connecting Paletwa and Zorinpui on the Indian border in Mizoram would be completed this year.
The spillover effect of the conflict was borne by the Indian border state of Mizoram two years ago when close to 1,400 refugees sought refuge after fleeing the operation launched by the Tatmadaw against the rebel outfit. Some refugees had told this correspondent that several villages were burnt and hundreds of residents detained by the Tatmadaw in a bid to demolish the support base of the rebels.
An Indian government official admitted the possibility of more schemes being unveiled by the Indian government in Rakhine State which are likely to be finalized by June. He hinted at investments for development of transportation and communication among other sectors.
Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Assam, India.