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Why Indian foreign secretary's recent visit to Myanmar has larger ramifications

Kwatra discussed issues relating to border management, security during visit

 Vinay Mohan Kwatra Vinay Mohan Kwatra | Via Twitter

Foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra completed a two-day visit to Myanmar on Monday. The visit came at a time when Myanmar is being increasingly isolated in the region, with the ASEAN leaders at a conference on November 11 issuing a warning to the country to make measurable progress on a peace plan or face the risk of being barred from the bloc's meetings.

“Held discussions on important bilateral issues relating to border management, security and ongoing bilateral cooperation projects and India's support to democratic transition in Myanmar," Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs, tweeted.

This is the first high-level Indian visit to the country in almost a year. The last visit to the country—the first since the coup—was by previous foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in December 2021.

“During his meetings with the senior leadership of Myanmar, foreign secretary discussed maintenance of security and stability in the border areas of India and Myanmar; raised the issue of human trafficking by international crime syndicates in the Myawaddy area of Myanmar in which many Indian nationals have been caught, and reviewed bilateral development cooperation projects," the ministry of external affairs said in a release.

Close to 200 Indians have fallen prey to the fake job racket being run by the crime syndicate in the area. The stories of those who were lured with jobs were chilling—being forced to work 15 hours a day and subjected to electric shocks if they couldn’t. India has been working with the Myanmar government to curb this.

“We are aware of IT companies recruiting Indian workers in the pretext of jobs in Thailand, who were then taken to Myanmar. Thanks to our efforts, we have facilitated the rescue of some of those people. We urge Indian nationals to exercise caution before taking up job offers there,” Bagchi had told a news briefing in Delhi last month.

Beyond the immediate domestic concerns, the visit of the foreign secretary has larger ramifications. With Cambodia, which is the chair of ASEAN, also altering the stance, and pressure on the junta mounting—with plenty of US push—the visit will certainly get noticed. India will be hoping to keep the channels of communication open as China has close relations with the junta. To make matters more complicated, there has been an increasing warmth between Pakistan and the junta. The country purchased JF-17 multi-role combat aircraft from Pakistan, which is jointly developed with China. There have been reports of Pakistani military officers visiting Yangon in September last year.

“Foreign secretary expressed India’s continued support to people-centric socio-economic developmental projects, including those along the India-Myanmar border areas, as well as India’s commitment towards an expeditious implementation of ongoing connectivity initiatives such as the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway," the MEA said. 

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