Increased interaction between senior military officers of India and Burma, and sale of Indian weapons to Burma, are believed by analysts to have two primary objectives: to help flush out Burma-based Indian insurgents and to counter the growing Chinese influence in Naypyidaw.


But the sale of arms and related equipment is also likely to be linked to New Delhi’s Look East economic policy, including its ambitions to buy huge quantities of Burma’s offshore gas in the Bay of Bengal. If the gas bid against rivals China and Thailand is successful, it will also involve building a costly pipeline through rebel-infested areas of northwest Burma and northeast India.


During a visit to Burma in November, India’s Air Marshal S P Tyagi offered a multimillion dollar sale of military hardware to Naypyidaw. The package included helicopters, technical upgrades of Burma’s Russian and Chinese-made fighter planes, naval surveillance aircraft and radar manufactured by India’s Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited.


Military sources said the Burmese junta has shown considerable interest in acquiring Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-made helicopters. The air marshal’s offer included Indian-made advanced light helicopters useful for combating insurgent groups and for rapid response military movements.


The visit of Gen Shwe Mann, the junta’s joint chief of staff, in December expanded the scope of arms sales talks.


Before the air force chiefs visit, the Indian Army chief Gen J J Sing offered, during a visit to Burma, to provide training in counterinsurgency campaigns for Burmese Special Forces.


Earlier in 2006, Indian Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash also visited Burma to negotiate the sale of two British-made BN-2 Islander maritime surveillance aircraft. This was followed by the sale of an unspecified number of T-55 tanks and 105 mm light artillery guns.


The deal was confirmed by the Indian Army deputy chief, Lt-Gen S Pattabhiraman, to the Indian magazine Force in September. “We have recommended and started giving them [the Burmese military] 105 mm field guns,” said Pattabhirama, adding that India had supplied a few 75 mm howitzers to Burma in the past.


Since 1993, New Delhi has changed its stance on Burma’s military government.


The Indian states of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, bordering or close to remote and inaccessible regions of Burma, have been plagued by insurgency for decades. But an attack on a military post in Assam last July by the United National Liberation Front, one of the oldest armed groups defying New Delhi, seems to have strengthened the Indian military’s resolve to deal with the rebels.


However, it is almost impossible for India to counter the insurgency along India ’s northeastern border without effective military cooperation from Burma .


At a meeting between Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and the Home Minister of Burma, Major General Maung Oo, agreed to share information at field and national levels, including on insurgent movements, effective border management and drug trafficking and a major step forward on enhancing cooperation on security-related issues, on December 20, 2006.



Last September, a Burmese delegation led by Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brig-Gen Phone Swe, and Indian officials led by Home Secretary Vinod Kumar Duggal, held talks in New Delhi to consider ways of securing their troubled border. The Indian delegation reportedly submitted a list of 15 India-related insurgent bases they believe are operating inside Burma.


The Naypyidaw regime has pledged to root out any insurgents who are troubling neighbours and finding sanctuary on Burmese territory. However, the junta says poor access to border areas due to lack of roads has hindered action. The junta has therefore also sought road-building equipment and expertise from India.


China’s influence in Burma “economically and politically” is also viewed by analysts as a major reason for New Delhi ’s attempt to develop closer ties with the Burmese regime. India is now Burma ’s fourth largest trading partner, its investment touched US$35.08 million last year.


Now that India hopes to bring in natural gas from Burma through its unstable northeastern states, including Mizoram and Assam, New Delhi clearly feels the time has come to rid itself of insurgents and cozy up to the Burmese generals.


Burma and India have agreed to work on the multi-model port project in Akyab (Sittwe) in Burma’s western Arakan coast with India investing 4.5 billion rupees (100 million U.S. dollars), a local weekly journal reported on December 21.


Sources say that the ONGC-GAIL combine can look at a 1,000 mw power project, given the huge reserves. This could mean an investment of around Rs. 5,000 crore. A gas pipeline from Burma through north-east India to end at Gaya , as proposed by GAIL, would cost about $3 billion.