Myanmar and a series of missed ministerial meetings

Vol 9, PW 15 (03 Nov 05) People & Policy

Myanmar remains high on the oil ministrys list of priorities, despite the growing irrelevance of a pipeline through Bangladesh, and the repeated failure of Mani Shankar Aiyar to meet his Myanmar counterpart, Brigadier General Lun Thi.

Aiyar has been forced to cancel his visit to Myanmar next week because of unexpected commitments in Delhi and has asked Lun Thi if he can re-schedule their meeting to the middle of November on his return from an awards ceremony and official visit to China. This is the second time in two months that Aiyar has missed the chance to meet Lun Thi.

During his visit to Delhi on 4th and 5th October, Lun Thi could only meet oil secretary Sushil Tripathi and other lower ranking ministry officials not the most encouraging signal of Indias commitment to Myanmar and its gas. Last month, officials from both countries were busy organising a prosaic jungle meeting between Aiyar and Lun Thi in Upper Myanmar to evaluate the results of a joint geological survey of the Hukawng Basin.

Aiyar, ever the diplomat tourist, was keen to travel by road from Upper Myanmar direct to China, with images of Marco Polo no doubt blurring the road ahead. Until that is, Lun Thi wrote to cancel the meeting on advice from doctors following an operation to his nose.

Could the message be any clearer Does the liberal socialist humanitarian Aiyar really want to sign a deal with a brutal junta in Myanmar Does the brutal junta in Myanmar really want a deal with India or is it playing to the gallery and secretly signing away the gas to China and South Korea From reports of the 4th October meetings between Lun Thi and Tripathi it seems the latter: India needs Myanmar more than Myanmar needs India. Whatever India asks for, Myanmar rejects, whatever Myanmar asks for, India agrees.

Myanmar might be high on Delhis list of priorities, but the feeling doesnt appear to be mutual.