India fast-tracks pact on key Myanmar project


New Delhi : India will continue its policy of realistic engagement with the junta in Myanmar, and readied to finalise an agreement on the crucial multi-modal Kaladan project that could act as the country’s bridge to the entire Southeast Asia.

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New Delhi also plans to work with the UN and other like-minded parties to nudge the junta towards “an all-inclusive process of national reconciliation”. It hopes that the regime in Myanmar will soon begin broad-based negotiations with the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The agreement on the Kaladan project could be finalised in the next few weeks. Detailed work on this crucial project is going on,” said an official source who did not wish to be named.

The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Project, estimated to cost $100 million, will be a huge leap in connecting India to Southeast Asia and provide an alternative route for transport of goods to the northeast.

It is meant to link Sittwe port in Myanmar via Paletwa to Mizoram in India by road and inland water. The project is expected to be completed by 2010.

India’s policy towards Myanmar has been in the global spotlight, especially after Petroleum Minister Murli Deora’s visit to clinch crucial energy deals in the middle of pro-democracy protests in Myanmar nearly two weeks ago.

In a joint statement earlier this month, the US and the European Union asked India and China to use their influence to persuade the junta to open dialogue with the pro-democracy leaders.

India would prefer an impetus to democratic process in Myanmar, but has opted for realpolitik over idealism as it has vital economic and strategic interests in that country that cannot be sacrificed, the source said.

New Delhi has, however, categorically rejected sanctions or regime change as viable choices as these drastic steps could only end up making life difficult for the ordinary people in Myanmar.

New Delhi has not been a mute spectator to the violent crackdown in Myanmar on pro-democracy protesters. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in a statement in New York last week asked the junta to consider an inquiry into the use of violence to quell peaceful protests spearheaded by Buddhist monks.

Since then, India has been in constant touch with the junta and has urged the regime to “expedite” the process towards “broad-based political reforms and inclusive process of national reconciliation”.

India’s policy to stay engaged with the junta is driven by three strategic and economic factors: the increasing influence of China in Myanmar which has cornered most of big oil and gas and infrastructure projects in that country; the location of Myanmar which gives it an influence over Indian insurgent groups; and, most importantly, oil and gas which Myanmar has in abundance.