Track 1.5 Dialogue: Delhi to host talks on Myanmar tomorrow

DAYS AFTER the Myanmar Air Force carried out an airstrike that is reported to have killed more than 170 of its people, officials and non-government foreign policy experts of countries neighbouring Myanmar will gather in Delhi on Tuesday for a brainstorming session on how to find “reconciliation” and an end to the crisis that has engulfed the country since the February 2021 military coup.

The initiative, called the Track 1.5 Dialogue, was launched by Thailand. India was a participant in the first session that was held in Bangkok in March. In Delhi, it will be held at the Indian Council of World Affairs, an autonomous think tank funded by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), a source confirmed.

Officials from Myanmar will also be present at the meet, which China, Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, and the previous and current ASEAN chairs, Cambodia and Indonesia, are expected to attend. Sources said invitations had gone out from the Indian side to all the countries. Academics and members of think tank from these countries will also attend.

The delegates from Myanmar are civilian officials in the military regime. The Indian side will be represented by the Myanmar division in the MEA and Myanmar experts.

The theme for the session is “peace and reconciliation” and humanitarian assistance, with efforts to find a way to implement the ASEAN Five Point Consensus (5PC) on Myanmar. The five points are: immediate end to violence; dialogue among all parties; the appointment of a special envoy; humanitarian assistance by ASEAN; and the special envoy’s visit to Myanmar to meet with all parties.

While Indonesia, as ASEAN chair, has to take the lead on the 5 PC, the discussions will likely revolve around getting the junta to make progress on point number 2 – talks with the pro-democracy “National Unity Government”, and others such as the “ethnic armed organisation” and pro-democracy militias.

The NUG, which leads the political resistance to the junta, calls itself the real government of Myanmar. It has owned the pro-democracy armed civil militias as its armed wing. The junta has labelled these groups as terrorist organisations. For its part, the resistance movement does not want to talk to the military rulers.

The April 11 Pazi Gyi airstrike by the Myanmar military in which over 170 people, including unarmed women and children, were killed may also be discussed.

Thailand started the Track 1.5 initiative “as a way of opening additional channels for dialogue among stakeholders affected by the Myanmar crisis”, according to the media site Thai PBS.

Thailand and India have been directly affected by the civil war-like conditions that prevail in Myanmar with armed resistance by pro-democracy civilian militias against military rule.

Some 20,000 refugees are said to have crossed the border into Thailand after the 2021 military coup, while tens of thousands of others have taken shelter there since the 1980s.

Although Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha, who seized power in a military coup in 2014, has friendly ties with the Myanmar junta leaders, Myanmar refugees crossing over the porous 2,400 km border that both countries share is giving the regime in Bangkok nightmares of potential civilian unrest triggered by the refugee influx. A Bangkok Post columnist called it Thailand’s “biggest regional concern” after the Russia-Ukraine war.

In India, the north-eastern states of Mizoram and Manipur are hosting thousands of refugees, mostly from Myanmar’s eastern Chin state as well as from Sagaing, both pro-democracy resistance strongholds, where the fighting has been fiercest.

With the military not in control of large swathes of the territory, it has resorted to air strikes.

As part of its “dual-track” policy, Delhi has balanced its polite calls for restoration of democracy with friendly engagement with the junta, prioritising its need to ensure that Myanmar does not provide safe havens to Northeastern insurgents, and restricting China in Myanmar. Recent satellite imagery suggesting China has opened a listening post on Myanmar territory in the Coco Islands has rattled the Indian security establishment.

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