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Maritime Sector of Bangladesh to Elevate Economic Growth

Mr. Abdul Hamid
Bangladesh President- Mr. Abdul Ham

Honoured as the Chief Guest at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium Multilateral Maritime Search and Rescue Exercise Forum (IMMSAREX)-2017, Bangladesh President Mr. Abdul Hamid, upheld the need to build robust bridges along the Indian Ocean shoreline for security and safety measures.

Addressing the inauguration at Cox Bazar’s hotel Royal Tulip, he highlighted Bangladesh’s undeterred commitment in maintaining peaceful bilateral relations with the neighbouring countries. Bangladesh’s capabilities in overcoming maritime disputes in an affable manner were brought to light too.

Realising the sheer importance of maritime sector for the economy of Bangladesh, Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) was formed in 2008 with 23 countries of the Indian Ocean, to facilitate maritime trade and commercial activities, and also to promote better and viable livelihood opportunities, ensuring job sustainability and economic growth. Thus, maritime sector’s security from criminal propensities and untoward element was emphasized at the forum.

While stressing on the significance of generating sustainable value and economic benefits from ocean resources, he alluded to the concept of Blue Economy and expressed “We all are aware of the fact that Indian Ocean in contemporary times has the greatest strategic and economic value. It carries huge prospects and potentials to facilitate maritime trade and commerce.”

For the first time, multiple military drills of the forum were showcased in the Bay of Bengal. These exercises ranged from rescue and firefighting operations to discovery of missing fishing trawlers and bringing the accidental ships back to the harbour. Efforts to protect the lives of the people at sea was specifically communicated with the responsibility being shared regionally. Twentythree countries comprising France, Indonesia, Oman, Pakistan, Australia, Bangladesh,Iran, Kenya, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sicilia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Timur Leseth, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom participated at the forum. Apart from this, nine countries were felicitated as observer countries – China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain.

The forum was attended by IONS Chairman Admiral Mr. Nizamuddin Ahmed,Bangladesh Army Chief General Mr. Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Huq, Bangladesh Air Force Chief Marshal Mr. Abu Esrar, Malaysian Naval Chief Admiral Mr. Kamarulzaman, Myanmar Naval Chief Admiral Mr.Tin Aung San ,and naval and maritime experts. It also had participation of the naval fleets from India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Iran

While congratulating Bangladesh as a peace-loving country, Mr.Hamid remarked,“Being one of the highest troops contributing nations in the UN peacekeeping operations for the last two decades is a true manifestation of our commitment towards world peace.”

Nagaland Hosts North East Connectivity Summit 2017

Northeast Connectivity Summit 2017

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) in collaboration with the government of Nagaland organized a two-day North-East Connectivity summit, “Connect North East- 2017”, at the NBCC Convention Centre in later September. With focal emphasis on tourism and connectivity with neighboring countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh, the theme chosen for “Connect NorthEast-2017” was ‘Act East from Nagaland’.

The Chief Minister of Nagaland, Mr. TR Zeliang, addressed the summit with issues like connectivity and tourism engagements, investment and infrastructural prospects. FICCI North East Advisory Council chairman Mr. Ranjit Barthakur avowed the importance of exploring connectivity based infrastructure and investment canvas with Myanmar, Japan, Laos, Russia, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Thailand also, apart from the immediate seven North-Eastern Indian states.

The 4th edition of the North-East Connectivity Summit was attended by people across the spectrum from policy makers, corporates, researchers from think-tanks and central government ministries. Stakeholders belonging to civil aviation, ASEAN region, inland waterways, telecommunication, and financial institution also took part in the event.

With the objective of enhancing Northeast India’s connectivity scope with other countries, the discussions steered through development opportunities, trade and business engagements, and communication and cultural exchange prospects.

Important highlights from the summit involved identifying people to people connectivity opportunities and tourism, establishment of an Economic Corridor with Southeast Asia and other infrastructural requirements.

Myanmar’s Minister of Cultural Affairs Mr. Sai Kyaw Zaw expressed his support and keen interest in harnessing Northeast India’s development potential, and invited stakeholders and people from Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram – as Myanmar shares long borders with all these four states – to develop closer and integrative ties with Myanmar.

With diplomatic participation at the forum, Mr. Kenko Sone, Minister, Economic Affairs, Embassy of Japan expressed, “The northeastern region is located at a strategically and economically important juncture between India and Southeast Asia as well as within the Bimstec community. Therefore, Japan has placed a particular importance on the cooperation in the northeastern region.”

Due to the enormous untapped potential residing in and about the northeastern region, it is essential to establish a shift from the negative lens through which Northeast is commonly perceived – neglect, lack of adequate infrastructure, lesser capabilities – to positive aspects of hospitality, grace in its inborn culture and its production pattern of growth as remarked by former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar Mr. Gautam Mukhopadhaya.

The summit charted paths and resolutions indicating the need to develop and strengthen the “Northeast Brand”. This triggered consultations on developing the North-East Ring Road, North East Implementation Agency and High Powered Economic Forum to ensure efficient planning and execution of projects which would aid the region in attracting investments for rapid upgradation.

The 2018 North East Connectivity Summit would be held in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

Brahmaputra Biodiversity Biology Boat (B4) Built to Study Brahmaputra’s Ecosystem

Aligned to India’s Act East Policy, the North-eastern region of India, is reckoned as an expressway to South-East Asia. Weighed with this significance and potentiality, advancement in the region through scientific technology and innovation is the need of the hour.

Scientific research of Brahmaputra’s ecosystem through India’s first floating laboratory on boat –B4, is one of the three biotechnological missions undertaken by the Ministry of Science and Technology, in the North-eastern region of India.

Brahmaputra Biodiversity Biology Boat (B4) is equipped to study and analyse the change in climate, the anthropogenic components, other topographical features such as soil, water, and the flora and fauna of the region.

“No major river for this size had been studied in this particular region. In future, such projects would be connected with other similar projects in the country,” said Dr.Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Science and Technology and Environment.

With the initial investment of Rs.50 crores dedicated to the project, B4’s operation would commence in later December. The early phase of research on this boat would be covering the region from Pasighat, Dibrugarh, Neemati, Tejpur and Guwahati in Assam.

Brahmaputra Biodiversity Biology Boat (B4) is a two-storied barge, enabling scientists to govern thorough research of the factors impacting the river, and discovering valid means of mitigation as well. The second floor of the floating laboratory boat would be for educational purpose, making the local community cognizant of the current condition and characteristics of the ecosystem from a scientific perspective.

The officials and the scientists from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) have planned to connect the B4 barge with other small and mobile lab boats along the tributaries of the Brahmaputra. Apart from this, links with local research institutions and national laboratories have also been arranged to facilitate the research procedure of B4 by feeding it with adequate data.

Biotechnology to Turn Assam into an Organic Hub

Guwahati Biotech Park

Galvanized by the boon of biotechnological application elevating the economic potential and scenario, the state of Assam has welcomed the Guwahati Biotech Park by laying the foundation stone of its Technology Incubation Center.

Assam is the northeastern paradise of natural resources—microbial, medicinal, plant and animal species correctly acknowledged and recognized as one of the biodiversity hotspot regions. Naturally endowed with resources and crops of rich commercial value and economic viability, the bio-resource potential of the region is vast.

Tapping onto its plethora of natural gems and organic farming skills, Assam’s Chief Minister Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal perceive biotechnology as an instrumental tool in enhancing value creation and production, and most importantly in leading Assam as an organic hub.

He believes that application oriented science is the new, rewarding and smarter way of life, triggering the state’s competency in capturing the organic market of the Southeast Asian region.

Skilled and proficient in traditional methods of farming, biotechnological intervention in the same would ensure more productivity and better wealth prospects, particularly in Assam’s agro based industry.

The technology incubation center is being established with a view to integrate and instill a scientific culture of biotechnology. This knowledge-based sector of biotech is being lauded as an emblem of progress, employment and an economic booster, leading and impacting the state’s social and economic development goals.

Pronouncing Assam as an important gateway to Southeast Asia, Mr. Sonowal encourages the youth and the people in general to embrace and develop science based skills and evolve their entrepreneurial development. In effect, generating and promoting business in biotechnology, enhancing research and development activities, as well as augmenting the prospects and scale of biotech industry, is the driving force behind the setting up of Technology Incubation Center of Guwahati Biotech Park.

Media Fosters Closer Ties Between Myanmar and India

India-Mayanmar Friendship Road

Viewing the integrative and comprehensive role that media plays in bringing the two countries closer, a two- day media interactive programme was conducted at Sangai Hall of Hotel Imphal in the capital of Manipur. The conclave was attended by high profiled dignitaries and media representatives of India and Myanmar in the quest to interact, engage and innovate ways to further the bilateral relations between India and Myanmar in a manner more amicable and cooperative.

The inaugural session was addressed by the Chief Minister of Manipur Mr. Biren Singh wherein he lauded his government’s initiative in introducing a bus service between Manipur in India to Mandalay in Myanmar in order to facilitate ease in people to people connectivity and smooth exchange of ideas and information. Further, Mr.Biren expressed “The External Affairs ministry has also been urged to take up necessary steps for visa issues by the respective embassies of the two countries.”

The notion behind the organisation of a media interaction programme between India and Myanmar was rooted in Mr. Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Myanmar wherein the idea was proposed by him. The conclave has been reckoned seminal in advancing the bilateral relations of both the neighbouring countries wherein the role of Media as an effective and a powerful tool in delivering good governance to the people has been given central importance to.

The cooperation and participation of Press Council of India and Myanmar Press Council at the event highlighted and corroborated the significance of media in democracy in building and sustaining relationships between people of both the nations, at the same time comprehending the political and economic climate of each other in an easier and more accessible manner.

The thrust of the conclave resided on exploring Media’s role in promoting ‘India’s Act East Policy’, ‘Capacity building of media personnel in Myanmar and India’ and ‘Media’s role in promoting connectivity and trade between Myanmar and India.’

Eliminating Blood Honey and Support Tiger Conservation in The Sunderbans

Tiger Consrvation in the Sunderbans

The boat glides slowly into a channel between two islands. The silhouettes of the mangrove trees rear up like sentinels into the clear night sky, just hours before dawn. Sanatan Sardar, 35, barely notices the mysterious beauty of the Sundarbans forests, he is more concerned about guiding his boat with his group into the Sundarbans to collect wild honey.

Moulis like Sanatan are the traditional honey gatherers in the Sundarbans who venture into the forest during honeycollection season, which lasts for about three months in a year.

Sanatan is from the Sardarpara village on Satjelia island of Sundarbans and is the leader of his group, the most experienced and skilled. His group, mostly family members, venture out together with each trip lasting between 7-15 days. The Forest Department issues a license every season to leaders like Sanatan for collection of wild honey from the Sundarbans. Over 3000 honey collectors are issued permits each year to enter designated forest areas for honey collection. Honey collectors make nearly 6000 rupees every month during the season. However, such forays into the forest are fraught with danger. In the past 15 years, nearly 100 honey collectors have lost their lives to tiger attacks. Therefore, the moniker ‘blood honey’.

Sanatan and his group are well aware of this danger and exercise precautions. While in the forest, certain members of the group specially act as look outs for tigers and post collection, each group anchor their boat only in the middle of the creek between islands to prevent tiger attacks. However, in spite of such precautions, honey collectors are still at risk. These men are the sole earning members of their families, and an attack could put the future of an entire family at risk.

WWF-India has been working in the Sundarbans since 1973 with a focus on conserving its biodiversity, particularly tigers, as well as promoting alternate livelihood and clean energy solutions for local communities to reduce conflict with wildlife and pressures on natural habitat with the objective of achieving a harmonious co-existence in the region. This issue of wild honey collection and its impact on the lives of honey collectors is a priority concern for WWF-India as well as the policy and decision makers in Sundarbans.

Sustainable and safe honey production

Apiculture in forest fringes of Indian Sundarbans within the state of West Bengal with Apis mellifera is in large scale. Approximately 5,545,281 kg of honey valuing 419,676,874 was produced over a period of seven years (2005–2012) from the apiculture. WWF-India believes that the fatal casualties associated with the livelihood of honey collection can be avoided if traditional honey collectors are permitted to keep apiary boxes in designated forest areas to produce honey instead of going into the forest to extract wild honey. Human-wildlife interaction will thereby be reduced to zero and at the same time the community will be assured of a harvest. This option will also help in receiving community support for tiger conservation in the Indian Sundarbans. WWF-India in collaboration with Sundarban Biosphere Reserve Directorate have designed pilot studies since 2014 to establish a safe and sustainable honey production in Sundarbans.

Honey BeeExcerpts from the pilot studies

The results of the pilot studies exceeded expectations!The daily yield of honey from each apiary box has been nearly double the quantity collected by groups such as those of Sanatan’s. The honey prepared in these boxes were tested for quality at the Kolkata lab of Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS)and Bose Institute, Kolkata and it matched the standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).The results of the study bode well for groups such as Sanatan’s who by setting up such apiary boxes can avoid going into the forests of Sundarbans. Collection of such blood-free honey, if adopted on a large scale, has the capacity to eliminate casualties due to tiger attacks.

Optimism and concerns

Sanatan Sardar is upbeat about the collaborative initiatives of WWF-India and Sundarban Biosphere Reserve Directorate initiatives in Sundarbans, as this option has emerged as a safe and secure livelihood option. In various stakeholder discussions, the honey collectors have shown interest to shift towards this secure and sustainable livelihood option. There are requests from other honey collectors in the region to be trained on apiculture and willingness to shift from the present practice.

WWF-India is engaging with the Forest Department to set up bottling units in around 46 forest fringe villages of Sundarbans which enable honey collectors to convert their product into saleable table honey to increase sales. Discussions are underway to develop institutional mechanism of honey collection, processing and marketing. Apart from this engagement, a practical manual is being prepared in association with scientific institutions for the honey collectors to maintain industry standards. It is also important to eliminate middle men from the chain and ensure that the local communities directly sell their products in the market.

More ground to cover

WWF-India believes that there is more ground to cover regarding long term sustainability and scalability of this initiative which would stand scientific scrutiny. WWF-India in collaboration with premiere scientific institutes are carrying out ecological studies to assess carrying capacity and pollination ecology to estimate honey yield. The carrying capacity of Sundarbans forests will help determine how many apiary boxes can be placed to ensure economic feasibility of this initiative at a large scale. Further, WWF-India aims to create market linkages for the honey collectors to ensure a premium price for this high quality honey and is already in discussion with marketing entities and certification agencies thereby helping to improve profit margins while reducing the risks associated with this livelihood.

Courtesy: Ratul Saha, Landscape Coordinator-Sundarbans Landscape, WWF-India Team

Exploring the Hidden Gems of Myanmar

The Hidden Gems of Myanmar

One visit to Myanmar is enough to dazzle travellers. The eclectic fusion of the traditional and the modern, the old and the new entices visitors to partake of and enjoy the way Myanmar thrives, despite the many challenges it faces. The discerning traveller would not miss observing the energy, hope and potential lurking in the air of Myanmar.

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has opened its doors to the world in the last couple of years and has become one of the go-to holiday destinations for people across the globe. Myanmar provides something to please everyone and ensures that nobody leaves its shores disappointed. The most popular tourist destinations include Yangon, Mandalay, Kalaw, Bagan to name a few. However, there are a number of places in Myanmar that have remained off the beaten track. This article uncovers such gems.


Loikaw, the smallest state of Myanmar, has largely remained untouched by tourists and is one of the least visited places in Myanmar, which adds to the charm and lure of the place. Loikaw is the capital of the Kayah State. It is located in the Karen Hills area, near the State’s northern tip. Loikaw, along with Demoso, in the Kayah State, have been opened to independent tourists only since 2013.

For a place so remote and unaffected by tourism, the large ethnic diversity one finds in Loikaw is fascinating to observe- Palaung, Shan, Kayah, Kayan are some of the groups found here, each adding their bit in making the state of Loikaw an eclectic melting pot. A stroll through the villages of Loikaw will open up interesting vistas for the tourists in the form of stunning pagodas, temples, stupas, lakes and caves. Tourists are likely to come across ‘long neck women’ wearing golden rings coiled around their necks. A curious traveller will certainly be intrigued by this unusual sight. While it is difficult to trace a reason for this, it is believed that these rings protect the Palaung women from being killed by tigers and the long neck makes them look beautiful.

Loikaw offers a quiet and serene environment to tourists, ideal for indulging their spiritual side and to introspect. One of the most popular sights in Loikaw is the famous pagoda called, ‘Taung Kwe’, towering above the town, on the top of a lime stone hill on the Mingalar Thiri Mountain. The spectacular view of the town especially during sunset makes the journey to Loikaw worthwhile. A cluster of other pagodas such as Myaka Lup pagoda, Shwe Let War pagoda and Nagayon pagoda stand behind Taung Kwe pagoda. Other places that offer a visual treat to tourists include:

i. Seven Stages Lake- a series of seven interconnected lakes, known for the scenic beauty and tranquillity they offer to the tourists.

ii. Christ the King Cathedral- built in 1939, it is Kayah’s oldest surviving church and is a fusion of traditional European architecture and local Buddhist styles.

iii. Kayah State Cultural Museumbuilt in 1996, it is a treasure trove for all the art and cultural aficionados, interested in discovering the life of the Kayah inhabitants. The museum holds a rich collection of books, traditional dresses, household utensils, weapons, paintings and musical instruments.

The sleepy city of Loikaw provides a pleasant introduction to the Kayah way of life and is a base for venturing out into the neighbouring villages.


The Hidden Gems of MyanmarSitting on the eastern bank of the Thanlwin river, the capital of Kayin (also known as Karen) State, Hpa-an is a place where time seems to stand still. The laidback atmosphere and breath-taking caves and mountains make Hpa-an a backpacker’s paradise. Thanks to the new highway linking Hpa-an to the Thai border at Mae Sot and Yangon, and improved border crossing facilities at Myawaddy, this remote place is witnessing a steady flow of visitors, especially from the neighbouring Thailand.

The population of Hpa-an, about 421,575 (2014 census), predominantly comprises people of the Karen ethnic group, which make up approximately seven percent of the total Burmese population. The place offers a unique opportunity to the curious traveller to know more about the local Karen culture, as majority of people have held on to their traditional ways and language.While Hpa-an is safe and peaceful for visitors, November is a good time to head there, for the visitor can experience the Karen Don festival and get a true insight into its culture.

Besides lazing around at the delightful riverside, soaking in the picturesque landscape, lush green fields, tourists have plenty to enthral them on their visit.

i. Mt. Zwegabin- Dominating the landscape of Hpa-an is Mt. Zwegabin, about 7 miles south of the town, and 2372 ft. in height. The hike to the summit is demanding, but duly compensated by the stunning 3600 views of the town on offer.

ii. Saddan Cave- Gigantic cavern filled with dozens of Buddha statues, pagodas, wall cravings and a lake, transports the traveller to a different world away from the hustle bustle.

iii. Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda- Perched atop a limestone pinnacle, this unique and surreal pagoda almost seems to defy gravity.

iv. Kaw Gun Cave- Located near Kawgun village, this is a natural limestone cave and is covered with several Buddha statues, many dating back to the seventh century.

While Hpa-an may not be the preferred place to visit on the trip to Myanmar, it certainly is worth a visit and offers spectacular vistas for the tourists.


The Hidden Gems of MyanmarBeing closed for tourism until early 2013, Dawei is largely undeveloped and unexplored. But, therein lies an opportunity for an adventurous traveller, looking for an authentic and novel experience. Dawei offers jaded travellers everything that a metropolitan city does not- peace, fresh air, pristine beaches, solitude, few people et al.

Dawei is the capital of the Tanintharyi Region and got its independence from the British rule in 1948. It has enormous potential for tourism, as it has something for everyoneuntouched coastline, jungle interior, sprinkling of islands, beautiful pagodas and white sand beaches. With imminent development threatening to disturb the idyllic and untouched environment of Dawei, a trip to Dawei makes for a great treat. Some of the places that could be explored besides lazing around in the town are:

i. Maungmagan Beach- The most popular beach with the locals, around 12 km west of Dawei, Maungmagan has seen a semblance of development; some tea shops, beer stations and restaurants.

ii. Nabule Beach- Tourists can head to Nabule Beach around 15 km north if they want to experience stunning white sands of the Nabule Beach, away from humanity.

iii. Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda- The main religious site in Dawei, the Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda is a sprawling complex of shrines and statues.

Dawei is one of those places where one could just relax and do nothing.

Rudyard Kipling described Burma (now Myanmar) as, “This is Burma. It will be quite unlike any land you know about.” It is calling out loud to travellers, time to answer the call.

Courtesy- Arun Arora is a writer, trekker and a traveler who shares his experiences on various digital portals.

The Curious Case of Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

The sweeping victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 heralded an era of democratic reforms and an end to military dictatorship. The Nobel Peace Prize got bestowed upon her in 1991 while she was still under house arrest and probably not even aware of the news. Overnight, she became an international icon —fought the Myanmar military governance (i.e.theTatmadaw) — forging the path ahead for liberalization and democratization. However, in the light of the recent Rohingya crisis, Myanmar has come under immense criticism from different quarters of the international community. The public shaming of Aung San Suu Kyi has been doing the rounds in social media, news dailies and leading websites whereby she has been highly condemned for keeping quiet on the atrocities meted out to millions of Rohingya refugees in the Rakhine state who are now seeking shelter in neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and India. Her long kept silence was finally broken when she claimed that Myanmar has never been soft on human rights offenders, thereby ‘without offering a hint of solace or consolation’.

A Planned Attack?

The brimming cynicism levelled against Aung San Suu Kyi has been growing far and wide to the extent of stripping her off the Nobel Peace Prize which may not be possible, in reality. However, her alma mater, the University of Oxford, has decided to withdraw an honorary title awarded to her in 1997, in the aftermath of the Rohingya crisis. Criticisms have also come in the form of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights expressing their disapproval over the crisis as ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’. Another Nobel Laureate Mr. Desmond Tutu reportedly wrote to Daw San Suu Kyi saying that “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

However, given this background of backlashes and censures, the global community cannot simply keep on harping at it. In fact, it also cannot negate the counternarrative offered by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of an “iceberg of misinformation” where she has invited the international media to talk to the surviving Rohingya inhabitants and crosscheck the ground realities in the Rakhine region. Interestingly, as quoted in one of the reports by RSIS, there has been one prominent story which came out in the Myanmar social media. It was said that on August 25 2017 the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had already planned an attack on the military posts in order to provoke the Tatmadaw military to give way to a disturbing scenario. This was ironically a day before the release of the Report by Advisory Commission of Rakhine State. If one goes by this narrative, it can be deduced that such an attack was particularly targeted to damage the public image of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and in turn, ruin her efforts towards building a peaceful and fair future for the Rakhine State. According to Ms. Kang Siew Kheng, a leading researcher at RSIS, who has aptly remarked that “for sure, no deemed past wrongs in history can justify present-day violence, but no present-day policy can bring about reconciliation until the old animosities have been addressed.”

Rakhine State of Affairs

The state of Rakhine has all along witnessed a colonial divide and rule strategy which has been reinforced by generations of politics complicated by extreme poverty and economic deprivation of its ethnic inhabitants. It is important to understand here that the victory achieved by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 occurred amida wave of nationalism accompanied by growing sense of doubt and suspicion, especially in the case of the Rohingya minorities. The victory of democracy, paradoxically, gave a free rein to some entrenched sentiments that were previously put under harsh control of the military. Significantly, the NLD did not fair that well as it largely did in the other parts of the country. Experts believe that the electoral base of Suu Kyi regarded the Rohingyas “as a late political construct” who were mainly temporary migrant labourers residing in permeable borders. They are now being used to legitimise old claims of autonomy and independence.

The Road Ahead

The future of Rohingya Muslims is undoubtedly at stake and it is essential to understand here that this crisis is not merely an internal conflict concerning Myanmar. It certainly has a larger picture which is attached to the global scenario. At present, even though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to address the needs of the ethnic minorities, she needs all the help she can, from inside and outside Myanmar. It is time for the neighbouring countries, such as India and China and also the regional bloc ASEAN to intervene positively and engage in a coordinate course of action to bring out a longlasting solution. Isolating Myanmar or imposing economic sanctions on it is certainly not going to reap any results. As it is, the country, over the years, has been slowly struggling to achieve a definitive level of economic and political reforms. The insipid stance taken by the ASEAN on the Rakhine situation following an ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York was not only predictable but disappointing. The Rohingya crisis has the potential to transform itself into a global catastrophe leading to greater instability if not addressed urgently.

At the end, it would be interesting to observe Daw Aung San Suu Kyi put her skills of statecraft to test while she enforces some sort of national reconciliation amid the multitude of challenges that surround her now.

Courtesy- Swati Prabhu is a research scholar & an ardent contributor to National Dailies.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the editorial team of Myanmar Matters

Pope Francis Visits Myanmar

Pope Francis

Amid the atmosphere fuelled with distrust and intolerance, Pope Francis made his maiden visit to Myanmar in the first week of December. His visit was carefully observed and followed by the experts for it was imperative for him to maintain his moral authority of being the guardian of the poor and the powerless, and at the same time refrain from engaging in any act which could transpire unpleasant situation for Catholics in Myanmar or mar diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Naypyidaw which got established recently. Thus, his conscious non-admission of the term ‘Rohingya’ during his speech was an outcome of this arrangement.

The leader of the world’s Roman Catholics – Pope Francis, professed all to respect each other’s identity and ethnic diversity. He stated that his main purpose of visiting the country was, “to pray with the nation’s small but fervent catholic community, to confirm them in their faith, and to encourage them in their efforts to contribute to the good of the nation.” Stressing on the Christ’s message of reconciliation, forgiveness, peace and harmony, Pope Francis set the resolve behind his two-nation apostolic visit.

During his visit, he urged all to ‘commit to justice and respect for human rights’ with state authorities, religious leaders and civil society members playing the most crucial role of peacebuilding. His meeting with the state counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi got preceded by top military general Aung Hlaing’s interaction with him who mentioned that there is ‘no religious discrimination’ in Myanmar.

Catholics from across the country flocked in huge numbers to Yangon to be blessed by Pope’s healing presence who led an open -air Mass. He shared “Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building. Religion can play a significant role in repairing the emotional, spiritual and psychological wounds of those who have suffered in years of conflict.”

Conference on Indo-Myanmar Relations Held in Yangon

Indian Ambessador to Myanmar Mr. Vikram Misri
Indian Ambassador to Myanmar -Mr. Vikram Misri

Rooted in similar cultural, civilizational and historical ethos – Myanmar and India’s ever evolving friendship, in a way, has past common threads nourishing both the countries in an amicable relationship.

To commemorate and strengthen the proximity between both the countries, Institute of Social and Cultural Studies (ISCS) and Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS), jointly organised the two-day conference on “India-Myanmar Relations: The Way Forward” at Pan Pacific Yangon Hotel in early November.

The way forward toward a more peaceful, secured and conciliatory association between India and Myanmar underscored the schedule of the conference.

Indian Ambassador to Myanmar Mr. Vikram Misri while addressing the inaugural session of the conference avowed the significance of forging stronger and closer security ties between the countries of Myanmar and India; to be able to strategically and skilfully avert threats and collectively help mitigate situation of menace and imminent danger. He also asserted, “Our security forces must work closely to deny any space to extremist groups who threaten our nations.” He vouched for India’s undeterred support in aiding Myanmar in matters of peacemaking, national reconciliation and economic development. He highlighted India’s potency in tackling with insurgency related problems, and thus, learnings from India in this regard could benefit Myanmar in achieving its peace processes.

Further, the talks at the conference affirmed the need to make India-Myanmar border region a conflict free zone by revamping the infrastructure by giving it a modernised layout, with testing labs, banking infrastructure and visa- onarrival facilities being promoted and encouraged for boosting bilateral trade. Thus, peace negotiator Mr. U Aung Min while emphasising Indo-Myanmar interest in restoring peace in border region, advocated for switching border region space of conflict to zone of development, along with the need to contain transborder insurgencies.

With the scope of developing and maturing people to people contacts between the two countries, it is imperative to address border region challenges essentially. Moreover, the need for cross border investments and easy bilateral trade procedures holds the key in forging closer relations with Myanmar.

The conference encouraged exchange programmes between the academicians and the researchers, and it also acknowledged an increase in scholarships presented to students from Myanmar by India. Myanmar foreign ministry’s permanent secretary Mr. U Kyaw Zeya expressed,“Myanmar’s relation with India is constantly improving and the bilateral trade has gone up several times from 323 million US dollars in 1998 to 2.65 billion US dollars last year.”