Pakistan – Burma connection: the Courting of General’s and Security Implications for India (Part: II)

Pakistan and Burma established their diplomatic relations before their independence on 01st of August 1947. (8) And interestingly Islamabad was second country after United Kingdom to recognize Burma’s existence foreseeing their geographically and culturally impractical plan of creation of East Pakistan or present Bangladesh in new Pakistan & its proximity with emerging Burma. Even during early years of independence, Pakistan’s father of the nation and creator of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah tried hard to come closer with Burma.(9) However Burma’s new democratic leader U Nu’s close relations with India’s then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru didn’t allow Pakistan to find space in Burma’s politics against India’s national interest. When Burma’s great assassinated leader, Aung San’s wife – Daw Khin Kyi (Mother of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) took the ambassadorial position of Burma in India, it saw more closeness with the land of Pagodas. So during democratic era of Burma, from 4th January 1948 to March 1962, the golden land enjoyed further strengthening of relations between India and Burma. And Democratic Burma’s closeness with India was natural reflection of the past cultural-historical-political relations existing between two countries since time immemorial.

General’s effort to establish Cultural Connection:

However things went on another track after the military takeover in Burma in 1962 and fledgling condition of democracy in Pakistan. Now for the new military rulers under General Ne Win & then General Than Shwe, it was more important for the regime to find reliable political friends to stay in power to suppress internal discontent for the restoration of democracy in Burma rather than promoting & strengthening historical-cultural ties with any nation including India and even inside Burma. In this tricky situation to gain diplomatic support with armaments, China and its military arm in South Asia – Pakistan (Although, US policy think tanks are blundering to considers Pakistan as their trustworthy partner in South Asia) provided more homogeneity with Burma’s military General’s than any nations in the first act of diplomacy. However, Pakistan, which is officially declared Islamic State didn’t left any stone un-turn to attract Burma’s General’s even on archaeological reminisce to establish cultural connection with Burma. In August 2000, Pakistani Charge d’ Affairs to Burma, Mr. Zaigham Uddin Azam in an exclusive interview with the Myanmar Times, said that, “Pakistan wants closer cultural and religious ties with Myanmar / Burma, inviting local Buddhists to make the pilgrimage to Gandhara, the religion’s second most holy land (However in fact, it is not second most important, if it is second most important then, where one would place, Sarnath , Vaishali, Nalanda, and Bodh-Gaya of India, which is directly linked with Buddha’s Life) and offered that, Pakistan embassy at Yangon would provide all help to Burmese Buddhists who wanted to visit Gandhara and other sites including Taxila & Swat. Pakistan embassy also offered the introduction of a subsidized package to cut pilgrims travel cost. He further said, that, Theravada Buddhism, which is widely practiced in Myanmar has so many similarities with the stupas and monasteries in my home province and nearby Punjab province of Pakistan.” (10) However Pakistani General’s, which had been trying to develop cultural connection with Burma on the archaeological remains of Gandhar, Taxila & Swat didn’t take any serious initiative to protect the demolition of world famous Bamyan Buddha in Afghanistan in next year 2001 by Taliban government, which came into power by their support.

India’s Misguided Trust:

During cold-war era, India’s earlier natural diplomatic endeavour to give political asylum to Burma’s former Prime Minister- U Nu in 1973 by Mrs. Indira Gandhi and later open support to democratic revolution of 1988 in Burma under Rajiv Gandhi era further distanced the General’s from the world’s largest democratic nation. However with new looks east policy since 1992, India started its new constructive engagement policy honeymoon with military junta to exploit available economic opportunity & to minimize its internal problem of Northeast insurgency, smuggling, illicit drug trade etc. considering military Burma falsely as a trustworthy partner & springboard for Southeast Asian nations. It was misguided more faith towards a regime for economic opportunity, which has been struggling to play with their economic data to prove to the world about its economic achievements and promoting more of interest of Pakistan in ASEAN and serving Chinese foreign policy interest in Asia. India which could have played the role of peace broker in Burma for democratic groups & Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and avoided providing legitimacy to the military has become victim of trusting more to her unnatural political system like – USA trusting more to Pakistan in South Asia to eliminate Islamic terrorism and Al-Qaeda network. India couldn’t realize at that time in 1992, that, her initiative to provide legitimacy to an unpopular military regime would soon make it easier for Burma’s General’s to find a place in ASEAN in 1997 without perusal of any significant reforms at democratic fronts and make the prospect of realization of democracy more difficult in Burma. In July 2004, Government of India’s Border Security Force in Tripura seized a huge consignment of drugs smuggled from Burma borders into India (11)and in August 2004, India’s Assam state Chief Minister – Tarun Gogoi had openly accused Burma of fueling insurgency in northeast India. (12) The misguided trust became more apparent, when India’s leading Newspaper – The Times of India reported on 21st December 2006 about POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) based Islamic terrorist organization – Lashkar-e-Taiba’s bases in Manipur having connections inside Burma borders.

Intensified Visits of General’s:

It is important to note, that after the visit of then Secretary-1 of the Burma’s ruling SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) General Khin Nyunt to Pakistan in July 2000, the official newspaper of Burma – The Myanmar Times & Business Review reported in glorifying terms about the ‘cementing of ties and promotion of cooperation between the two armed forces’. (13) As it was expected, General Khin Nyunt’s visit to Pakistan not only cemented ties in the areas of economic and defense spheres, but it also provided renewal of the commitment to define & suppress ‘democracy’ in both the countries agreeing to see it as a US & western propaganda in Asia. The relationship between General’s got further strengthened next year in May 2001 with the visit of Pakistan’s Chief Executive and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee – General Pervez Musharraf to Rangoon on the invitation of General Than Shwe. Among Musharraf’s high level team, which signed different agreements of cooperation between Burma & Pakistan, from Science & technology to trade, the one person – Mr. Javed Hassan, who visited Burma again in May 2005 as a Principal of Pakistan Administrative Staff College was earlier in-charge of Pakistan’s weapons & equipments in Musharraf’s government. Again in August 2002, an eleven member high level trade delegation of Pakistan visited Burma under – Mr. Mohammed Yahya, then Director of Pakistan’s Export Promotion Bureau and hosted Pak Product exhibition at the Sofiatel Plaza Hotel in Rangoon on 7th August. Although, the main objective of the visit was to increase Pakistan’s presence in Burma’s medicine market, which registered US $ 300,000 export growth in the year 2001 to Burma. (14) Even in March 2004, an invitation to Pakistan’s – Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) was extended by Burma’s Ambassador to Pakistan – U Maung Nyo to promote trade and investment between two countries. (15) One of the interesting aspects of the military rule in any nation is that, those who heads the economic, trade or other portfolios of ministry could also negotiate and secretly take initiative for defence-military-intelligence cooperation and the case of Pakistan and Burma nexus are not exception to this. Apart from trade maneuverings, Pakistan’s High Level thirty-three member delegation from Pakistan’s- National Defence College, Civil Servants, Parliamentarians under the leadership of Lieutenant-General Tariq Waseem Ghazi visited Rangoon, Burma on 15th August 2004 in the name of two nation study tour, which met Burma’s top military officers including Commandant of Yangon’s National Defence College Major-General Moe Hein and Deputy Foreign Minister – U Khin Maung Win. Most interesting part of the visit was that after their three day study tour, the said team left for China on 18 August. (16)

Nuclear Connection between General’s:

There have been various media reports & strong allegations on Pakistan and Burma after September 11 unfortunate cowardice terrorist act on America that, Pakistani General’s has been secretly helping Burma’s military junta to develop nuclear weapons together with Russia, North Korea and China. However Burmese General’s has time and again vociferously denied these reports. Moreover, in December 2001, the New York Times reported that, when US authorities were investigating Pakistan’s two top nuclear scientists – Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Abdul Majid for their links with al-Qaeda, the other two senior nuclear scientists – Suleiman Asad and Muhammed Ali Mukhtar capable of developing nuclear weapons had been sent by Pakistan to Burma on an unspecified research project. Later in January 2002, the Wall Street Journal reported that Asad and Mukhtar are still in Burma helping military junta to build 10-MW nuclear research reactor. (17)

Defence Cooperation through Sports Diplomacy vs. Car Diplomacy*:

Even to enhance defence cooperation through car diplomacy of 5th December 2006 with Burma’s military junta, India has been late by one month to Pakistani Generals tactics of sports diplomacy in the concerned area. One month before the car diplomacy of India, on 5th of November 2006, Pakistani General’s had sent a Defence Services Soccer team under Brigadier General Muhammad Naseem Khan to play a friendly soccer matches against their Burmese counterparts, which was received & attended by Burma’s top military brass of Army, Navy and Air Force under Lt-General Myint Swe together with Commander of Ayeyawady Naval Region Command Commodore Win Shein, Commander of Mingaladon Air Base Brig-Gen Zin Yaw, Principal of Defence Services Martial Arts and Sports Institute Col Htein Lin and other defence services staffs. (18) However the said goodwill match had been played on two days but the senior level defence team of Pakistan stayed from 5th of November to 12th of November afternoon in Burma. The visit was well timed and interesting for three more reasons, first, as it coincided with the Prime Minister of Burma, General Soe Win’s high level successful visit & arrival from China and secondly, with the Annual General meeting of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA – a quasi socio-political organization supported by the military in Burma) at Nay Pyi Taw and the visit of the Prime Minister of Lao People’s Democratic Republic – Mr. Bouasone Bouphavanh, attracting all media attention rather than the focus on growing Pakistan-Burma connection of defence cooperation through sports diplomacy.

Lesson’s to be learned:

It is high time for India to review its Burma policy considering past historical experiences of evaluating and trusting transparent systems of governments and leaders accountable to their people’s like – Daw Aung San Suu Kyi rather than providing legitimacy to military junta as the nexus that exists between China and Pakistan-Burma has been not new. And China has been using both Pakistan and Burma as surrogates to contain India from two different flanks. Moreover, since long during military rule Burma has emerged as an important strategic flank of China to contain India from the eastern side. If India has to tackle its Northeast insurgency & other problems, then it has to be solved internally through dialogues & own military might and frequent visits of mainstream political leaders to Northeast Area rather than flying over capital cities of Northeast region to deliver political speech? It is hard truth to understand that insurgency problem in the Northeast region is a post-1962 development in Burma and constant growing of her relationship with Pakistan, which is a natural outcome of a political system having lack of participative democratic rule. Burmese General’s attempt to cooperate India in capturing northeast separatist base in February 2007 is not new. And it is more important to see in future the real intention of the existing political system in Burma rather than few half-hearted military actions, which lacks faith towards very new commitments.
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Endnotes:

8. List of Countries having diplomatic relations with the Union of Myanmar, office of Permanent Missions of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva, Switzerland. (From: mission.itu.ch/MISSIONS/Myanmar/basicfacts/DipRelations.htm)
9. Jinnah’s Speech delivered to the Burmese Ambassador in Pakistan at the time
of presenting Credentials to the Quaid-i-Azam on 21st January, 1948, Govt. of Pakistan.
10. Pakistan urges closer religious and cultural ties for Buddhists, The Myanmar Times & Business Review, Volume 2, No. 22, July 31-August 6, 2000.
11. Burma’s Drug Flow Increase in Northeast, Mizzima News, 8 July 2004.
12. Surajit Khaund, Assam CM Demand Sealing of Indo-Burmese Border, Mizzima News, 27 August 2004.
13. Historic Pakistan Visit Seals New Relationship, The Myanmar Times & Business Review, Volume 1, No. 20, July 17-23, 2000.
14. Nang San Noom, Pakistani delegation targets medicine market, The Myanmar Times & Business Review, 27 August 2002.
15. ICCI Trade Delegation to Visit Myanmar, March 13, 2004. Muharram 21, 1425 Hijri, Islamabad, Pakistan from Paknews.com, Accessed on 13-3-2004.
16. Pakistan Team on Study Visit, The Myanmar Times & Business Review, Volume 12, No. 230, 23-29 August 2004.
17. Kaushik Kapisthalam, Pakistan’s forgotten al-Qaeda Nuclear Link, 4 June 2004. From Asia Times Online: atimes.com.
18. Football Team of Pakistani Armed Forces Arrived, The New Light of Myanmar, 06 November 2006, Volume XIV, No. 124, p.6 And, Lt-Gen Myint Swe receives leader of defence services soccer team of Pakistan, The New Light of Myanmar, 07 November 2006, Volume XIV, No. 205, p.16

* Car Diplomacy: Earlier organizing car rally was part of the sporting events and sports authority used to organize the events. But strengthening defence cooperation through Car Rally certainly signifies the beginning of Car Diplomacy in bilateral cooperation between a democratically elected government and the military forces in post-cold war era denying the rights to rule to the elected representative of May 1990 elections in Burma. India’s car diplomacy with Burma has started two years back in November 22, 2004, when the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, flagged off the first India-ASEAN Car Rally from the Nehru Stadium, Guwahati in India. Manmohan Singh wanted at that time that Car Rally would capture the imagination of people of India & ASEAN, in demonstrating the essential oneness of integrated region including Burma. Although the original idea of ASEAN motor rally that would traverse roads linking the ASEAN countries was first mooted and thought by former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in October 2003 at the ASEAN summit at Laos

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One Comment on “Pakistan – Burma connection: the Courting of General’s and Security Implications for India (Part: II)”

  1. Aung Kyaw Says:

    Burmese history always seems to repeat itself. When the Burmese fought for independence, they allied with the Japanese who turned their backs on the Burmese and occupied the country. Burma had to return to its “colonizer” Britain to expel the Japanese. Now the Burmese seem to be playing off of the rivalry between Pakistan and India and between China and India, two rival nations.

    Interesting, I’ve read somewhere that the Burmese word for university, “tekkado” (spelt takksila in Pali) comes from Taxila, which is apparently a religious site in Pakistan.


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