On invitation of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), the following four member delegation from Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS), Yangon, Myanmar visited Islamabad, Pakistan on April 6-8, 2015:
- U Nyunt Maung Shein
- U Kin Maung Lynn
- Daw (Ms) Carole Ann Chit Tha
- U Thet Tin Soe
The delegation, during their stay, visited Taxila Museum, Pakistan Monument and Shakar Parian, Islamabad on April 8, 2015 followed by luncheon hosted by Ambassador Myanmar at his residence at Diplomatic Enclave, Islamabad. The delegation also paid a visit and had discussion with the Ambassador Myanmar on April 7, 2015. Probably they had briefed Ambassador about their visit to Pakistan. The delegation was appreciative of the existing security situation in Pakistan. The delegation admired the beauty of Islamabad and Taxila. The delegation was much grateful to IPRI and Pakistan for giving them opportunity to see things in person in the country. Otherwise, media mainly told the other side of the story. The delegation seemed excited to build much stronger relationship between Pakistan and Myanmar.
In-House Discussion at IPRI:
The delegation visited IPRI on April 7, 2015 and had extensive in-house discussion. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between IPRI and MISIS for mutual cooperation and enhanced interaction on April 7, 2015. Ambassador U Nyunt Maung Shein signed the MOU on behalf of MISIS and President IPRI Ambassador Sohail Amin signed it for IPRI. Ambassador Shein described the MOU as an important document as it would not only help in increasing cooperation between the two think tanks but also in improving relations between the two states. He said that let us revive old times of friendship. He reiterated that Myanmar fully supported Pakistan’s membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a full member. President IPRI Ambassador Sohail Amin, after welcoming the delegation, reciprocated the same thoughts.
After the MOU, deliberations on the following mutually agreed topics were madeby the two sides:
i. Overview of Political, Economic and Social Developments in Pakistan (by IPRI)
ii. Pakistan’s Relations with India, China, Afghanistan and Iran (by IPRI)
iii. Pakistan’s Role in Countering Terrorism and Extremism and Taliban Activities in Northwest Parts of Pakistan (by IPRI)
iv. Prospects of Pakistan-Myanmar Economic and Trade Relations (by IPRI)
v. Myanmar Relations with China, Pakistan, India, Thailand and Bangladesh (by MISIS)
vi. Inter-faith Dialogue in Myanmar (by MISIS)
vii. Prospects of Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor (by MISIS)
- Perspectives from IPRI:
- On Pakistan’s role in countering terrorism, extremism and Taliban activities in northwest parts of Pakistan, the delegation was briefed that Pakistan had adopted both hard and soft strategies to deal with them. Hard Power included entering FATA (2001-02), South Waziristan (2004 & 2005), North Waziristan (2007), operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat (2007), operation Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan (2009), operation Khyber-1 in Bara (2014), operation Khyber-2 in Tirah and operation Zarb-e-Azab in North Waziristan (2014-15). Soft power included rehabilitation centres, no hate speech and no extremist material, no misuse of worship places, no media glorification of terrorists, denying them abuse of internet and social media, choking financial support, reforms in FATA, registration of madrassas and illegal refugees and political approach to countries sponsoring terrorism.
- On Pakistan’s relations with India, China, Afghanistan and Iran, the delegation was told that since Partition (1947) Pakistan-India relations remained strained mainly due to Kashmir dispute. With the passage of time other disputes such as Siachen, Sir Creek and water related issues also came up. To crush Kashmiris’ freedom struggle, India has deployed more than 600,000 security forces personnel in Kashmir valley and carried out countless atrocities on the people of Kashmir including more than 100,000 killed. In the post-9/11 scenario, India has exploited war on terror in Afghanistan to harm Kashmiris’ freedom struggle and is destabilizing western parts of Pakistan by using Afghan soil. Under the new BJP Government in India with Modi as Prime Minister, there is not much hope that bilateral issues including Kashmir dispute will be resolved because of Indian arrogance. This is mainly due to India’s close strategic relations with the US, EU’s major powers, Russia, Japan, Australia and Afghanistan, its expanding economic and military power with the assistance of these countries and BJP’s strength in the Lok Sabah after its impressive victory in the elections. Moreover, Modi being an RSS man is likely to remain under pressure not to advance India’s relations with Pakistan by resolving Kashmir and other disputes.
- Since 1960s China and Pakistan are maintaining very close strategic partnership encompassing cooperation in the diplomatic, economic and defence fields. In the last 13 years of war on terror fought by Pakistan as a frontline state and a major non-NATO ally in Afghanistan, China has supported Pakistan. On July 5, 2013, Pakistan and China approved the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will link Pakistan’s Gwadar Port and Kashghar in Xinjiang in northwest China. China has recently pledged to invest nearly US$ 43 billion in Pakistan for energy projects and to construct China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
- Since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, Pakistan-Afghanistan relations have been subject to various complexities mainly due to successive Afghan governments’ friendship with the former Soviet Union and India. Later, because of Soviet military intervention in 1979 there were better relations since Pakistan had supported Afghan resistance. While fighting war on terror during Karzai regime, Pakistan-Afghanistan relations remained strained since Karzai continued to allege that Pakistan was supporting cross-border terrorism. Karzai government also gave space to India to use Afghan soil for destabilizing Pakistan. However, with the new government in Afghanistan mutual relations are improving. Both countries have also started working together to build peace in Afghanistan.
- During the Cold War period till Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979, Pakistan-Iran relations were excellent. However, relations became strained in the late 1990s when Pakistan supported Pashtun Taliban, and Iran along with India and Russia supported non-Pashtun Northern Alliance. Later, the relations remained strained during Taliban rule in Afghanistan till 2001. Since 2010, bilateral relations have advanced considerably due to an increase in meetings between senior figures of both governments and signing of Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI), now IP gas pipeline, in 2012 by the then Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Mahmood Ahmedinejad.
- On political, economic and social developments in Pakistan, the delegation was briefed that Pakistan was the second largest Muslim democracy after Indonesia and it was the fifth largest democracy in the World. Today, the unique feature of Pakistan’s democracy is the political maturity displayed by major political parties. All parties unanimously agreed to 18th Amendment to the Constitution in April 2010 that gave more autonomy to the provinces. Currently, important political decisions on national security and foreign policy are taken through discussion in the parliament and in consultation with concerned departments.
- Pakistan has undergone a remarkable economic recovery in a short period of time—a fact widely acknowledged by independent analysts, particularly international financial institutions. Moody’s Investors Service upgraded global rating of Pakistan’s economic outlook from negative to stable due to increase in foreign exchange reserves, improvement in current account deficit, sale of Euro bonds worth US$ 2 billion, reforms as per IMF programme. Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) showed confidence in Pakistan’s economic policies. It has ranked Pakistan second in the world in terms of business growth. World Bank, encouraged by the positive trend of the economic indicators, promised to approve assistance for Dasu Hydel Power Project. Goldman Sach’s Jim O’Neil forecasted that Pakistan would be world’s 18th largest economy by 2050. According to Nielsen’s Gold Survey, consumer confidence had risen to 99 in the first quarter of 2014 from the lowest level of 86 in the third quarter of 2013.
- Pakistan has an active civil society, vibrant media, independent judiciary, young population, national resilience against extremism and terrorism, life expectancy in Pakistan is 67.39 years now.
- On prospects of Pakistan-Myanmar economic and trade relations, the delegation was told that economic relations between Pakistan and Myanmar needed to be further strengthened as US$ 70 million bilateral trade between the two states was no match to their respective latent potentials. The situation calls for a pro-active marketing of Pakistani merchandise in Myanmar and vice versa. The business communities of the two sides can play a leading role by focusing on undertaking joint ventures in various sectors of the economy. Exchanging trade delegations, holding exhibitions in each other’s country, joint ventures and better travelling facilities, would set the stage for greater economic cooperation. Further, both governments should look for practical ways to augment their implementing capabilities, reduce response time, and improve monitoring mechanisms.
- Pakistan and Myanmar, both are part of the proposed inter-regional TIPI-BM (Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar) road corridor. Economic diplomacy, trade, sharing investment in communication sector, manpower training and social and cultural ties are some of the areas where both sates could closely cooperate.
2. Perspectives from MISIS:
- On Myanmar relations with China, Pakistan, India, Thailand and Bangladesh, Ambassador Shein informed that in 1992, India adopted “Look East” policy and resultantly bilateral relations between Myanmar and India improved manifold. Since 2000, a series of visits of leaders had taken place. Myanmar has US$ 300 million trade with India. India wants to develop its northwest part and connect this region with Myanmar. Indo-Myanmar border (1600 km long) is problematic due to its porosity and illegal immigration taking place through it. Ambassador Shein further said that Myanmar never took joint military exercises with any state except India. Highway between India and Thailand was going to increase Indo-ASEAN trade as P.M. Modi preferred ASEAN linkages.
- Myanmar also enjoys close relations with China. Myanmar shares long border with China too. Bilateral trade with China is around US$ 400 million. But in last month (March 2015) a cross-border bombing took place in northeast in which four Chinese farmers were killed by Myanmar government soldiers, an incident that injected rare tensions into generally good relations between the neighbours. Ethnic Chinese living in eastern part of Myanmar, though previously peaceful, have started raising their heads. So, Myanmar-China relations have difficulties, though not under strain. Myanmar enjoys good relations with Japan also and China has to compete in terms of trade and economics with Japan and other states, i.e. India. China has been successful in its soft power diplomacy. The level of state visits is a missing point in China-Myanmar relations as various Myanmar heads of the state visited China but for the last fifteen years, no head from China ever visited Myanmar.
- Myanmar-Thailand relations may be termed as “Love-Hate” relationship, according to Ambassador Shein. Myanmar has border issues with Thailand and in spite of that Thailand is the second largest trading partner of Myanmar. On Myanmar-Bangladesh relations, Mr. Shein said that illegal immigration from Bangladesh was the biggest problem and Rohingya issue was getting worse between the two states.
- U Kin Maung Lynn remarked that trade between Pakistan and Myanmar was very low. Pakistan could invest in pharmaceuticals in Myanmar as currently Myanmar was getting pharmaceuticals from India. He further said that there were no direct flights between Pakistan and Myanmar. So, connectivity was missing in trade relations between the two states.
- On inter-faith dialogue in Myanmar, Ms. Carole Ann Chit Tha said that there was need to create new partnership among religions and other segments of the society as extremism and terrorism was transnational in nature. Almost all religions preach peace and there was a need to build on that. She termed education as the only way forward from getting out of terrorism. Myanmar was multi-cultural and religious country where civil society needed to be developed. Inter-faith centre, i.e. “Myanmar Institute of Theology” teaches harmony in Myanmar. Promotion of inter-faith dialogue was high on Myanmar’s agenda. There is a ban on hate audio and video material.
- On prospects of Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor, Ambassador Shein briefed the IPRI that BCIM idea had been on table since decades. BCIM was mainly too general in nature; it needed to be connected with maritime Silk route if it had to be effective. Until and unless there was no law to regulate trade, the desired dividends were harder to achieve. Main issue with the BCIM was the illegal immigration from almost all BCIM states. So, if the border was opened for trade without proper laws to regulate, illegal influx of immigrants would be hard to control. First of all, the stability of borders within BCIM was necessary. Overall BCIM was a win-win situation for all, Mr. Shein remarked.
- Joint ministerial level moots between Pakistan and Myanmar should take place regularly.
- Joint business council of the two countries should be established.
- Myanmar could get benefit from Pakistan’s telecommunication sector.
- Collaboration between Quaid-e-Azam University and the University of Yangon may be established.
- Pakistan being home to Buddhist civilization, tourists could be attracted from Myanmar.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers/delegates and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.