Category Archives: Forward


STATE SEAL OF MYANMARA new exciting phase started and a new chapter was added to Myanmar’s history on April 1, 2016, when the country’s first democratically elected Government, in over 50 years took office. However, the country is still far away from being called a democracy. The situation is kind of complicated as the Army still holds a considerable amount of power and many of the senior positions in the Government. In a way it can be said that Myanmar now has two different Governments running it: one army and one civilian. The two different governments follow different ideologies and they both wield a significant amount of power and control. If Myanmar is to move ahead in a specific direction then these parties will need to find a way to cooperate with each other. One of the major challenges for Myanmar’s new Government will be to work along with the army while still taking Myanmar ahead towards democracy.
Myanmar’s new President Mr. Htin Kyaw and National League of Democracy leader Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi have a very long and hard road ahead of them. She has taken four ministries which include foreign affairs, presidential affairs, energy and education. In addition to that she also got a bill passed in the Parliament and created a new special post of State Counselor which she is also holding. No one has any doubts about Ms. Suu Kyi’s abilities and capacity for tremendous hard work. However, handling so many ministries at once is a tremendous amount of load and some are sceptical that it all might prove out to be too much work to be handled by one person. Various other senior and capable members of the National League of Democracy have been given important portfolios and they have got started with handling them already.

All in all, people have great confidence and faith in the new Government and they are hopeful that Myanmar will move steadily towards a better and more prosperous tomorrow. Various other countries have also shown happiness about Myanmar moving towards democracy. U.S. President Mr. Barack Obama himself called Myanmar President Mr. Htin Kyaw and congratulated him. However, there are some major challenges to be met and tackling some of them is going to prove to be very difficult and tricky. Despite prevalent faith and optimism about this Government, a few things will need to be assessed
at the end of its completing one year in office to assess its progress.
Below are the major points on which the NLD Government’s success will be judged:
Relationship with the Army This is going to be a very important factor because of the amount of control and power army still holds in the Government. In order to get significant work done and to get important bills passed maintaining good relations with them is of crucial importance.
• Progress on Peace Process For development to take place, it is important for peace to be there. At present Myanmar faces serious internal conflicts with various rebel groups at war against the Government. Making peace with them can be a very difficult task but it is necessary for Myanmar’s good future.
• Proper Control on the Natural Resources Myanmar is abundant in various natural resources such as natural gas, timber, jade, copper
and more. However, in spite of benefiting from them Myanmar has mainly faced numerous problems because of them. They could have been a boon but have proved to be a curse for this country. Proper control of these resources and making the most of them is extremely important for Myanmar’s development.
• Development of Agriculture Sector
About seventy percent of Myanmar’s population works in the agriculture field. However, in spite of this sector being so huge and also the major source of exports out of Myanmar so farit has been greatly neglected. Myanmar’s new Government needs to pay proper attention towards this sector and help its farmer raise their income and standard of living. A much longer list of areas of improvement for Myanmar can be made. However, the factors mentioned above are going to play the most crucial part in Myanmar’s economic development. We are hopeful that this new Government will prove to be very capable and it will do well in each one of these areas.



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The view inside the Myanmar’s Parliament has greatly changed after the last elections as now many of the faces that have been there for years have been replaced by new ones. With National League of Democracy, headed by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, winning staggering 80 percent of the seats the control of the Government has shifted to a large extent from army into the hands of a more democratic system. Many of the elected members who are now a part of the Government have previously been political prisoners. Despite doubts from some of the cynics, the elections were conducted in a completely fair manner and the results are a proof of that.

Myanmar’s army and particularly ex-President Mr. Thein Sein has played a very important role in enabling and guiding Myanmar towards this next step in becoming a complete democracy. This was greatly appreciated and applauded by the international community and the United States President Mr. Barrack Obama personally called Myanmar President Mr. Thein Sein and commended his role in ensuring free and fair elections. Mr. Obama also called Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and congratulated her for her party’s splendid win. These elections are a significant landmark in Myanmar’s history and they indicate the beginning of a new era. Myanmar has been under the control of a military junta for many decades and remained so until five years ago when the army controlled Government agreed to and facilitated the country’s transition towards becoming a full-fledged democracy. This country is still a few steps away from becoming a complete democracy but with these elections it is now closer to it than it has ever been in the last 50 years. As per Myanmar’s current constitution, the military still holds three top ministerial posts as well as 25 percent of the seats in Parliament. So, the destination of becoming a proper democracy has not yet been reached and there is still more distance to cover. However, the good news is that Myanmar is certainly moving in the right direction and if it stays on the right track it will get there sooner or later.


Another way in which the current constitution of Myanmar is going to impact the outcome of the current elections is by prohibiting Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming the president in spite of her party winning a clear majority. The new president will still be from Ms. Suu Kyi’s party NLD but she herself will not able to hold that position. This is because of a stricture in the constitution which prohibits anyone with a spouse or child holding foreign citizenship from becoming the president. Ms. Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British citizen and her two sons are British citizens too and that prevents her from becoming the president of Myanmar.

However, Ms. Suu Kyi herself not becoming the president should not matter much because whether she holds the highest post or not, it is quite evident that is still going to have enough power to bring about the changes that she intends. She proposed the name of Mr. Htin Kyaw for the post and he comfortable won the seat. Ms. Suu Kyi herself took the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar. On April 5, 2016 another important development took place wherein Myanmar’s Parliament created a powerful new role for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. This role has been named “State Counselor” and it will give her a very wide range of powers. The expectations from this new NLD Government are huge. The people of Myanmar are hoping that under the leadership of Ms. Suu Kyi, they will be able to see development, prosperity, and better employment opportunities. The international community is hoping that this Government will take the country further ahead towards becoming a complete democracy and they also hope it will address their concerns regarding human rights and the treatment of women.

There is strong belief in the good intentions of the new Government and its desire to do all the right things. However, there are also some challenges in its path that it will have to overcome if it is to prove effective and make a significant impact. The biggest challenge will be working along with the army which still holds a significant amount of control and power. The NLD Government will need to find a common ground where these two different ideologies can meet and work together for the betterment of Myanmar. Ms. Suu Kyi has already exhibited dynamic diplomatic and management skills in the way she is working with the previous army Government. She displayed her intentions to work along with them and won their support by speaking at the peace conference organised by Mr. Thein Sein and fully endorsing it. Keeping peace and convincing various rebel insurgent groups to give up arms is going to be another big challenge. In which way and how effectively Myanmar’s new Government tackles these challenges is yet to be seen but most people trust Ms. Suu Kyi and believe she will be able to find the right way.



National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, has heralded a new chapter in Myanmar by scoring a historic landslide victory in the current elections. Even before the results were officially declared NLD was expected to win as the polls showed NLD leading in most of the places. The initial result declaration confirmed this as NLD won 49 out of 54 regional seats and 145 out of the total 160 seats. The election has seen a very good turnout with 80 percent of the voters participating in the polls and NLD has been able to bag nearly 70 percent of these votes. Final election results were declared on 13 November 2015 by the Union Election Commission and they made it absolutely clear that NLD has won these elections.

The final announced results stated that the NLD has won 77.1 percent or 881 of the total 1150 contested seats. This provides NLD way beyond the 50% + 1 seats that the party needed to claim majority in the National Assembly. This victory puts NLD in a very strong position and makes it fully capable of choosing the next President of Myanmar.  The party will also be able to control over national legislation and also the passing of bills. Most people would like to see Aung San Suu Kyi take up the Presidential role but that won’t be possible. This is because Myanmar’s constitution does not allow a person with a foreign spouse to hold that seat and Aung San Suu Kyi‘s husband was a British national.


How the results of this election will actually shape the future of Myanmar’s politics is yet to be seen but most people are feeling joyous and optimistic about this new change that has taken place in the Myanmar political scene. The military government that was in power for the last many decades did hand over the power to a semi-civilian government in 2011, but in many ways the army still has a lot of power and dominates politics. Twenty-five percent of seats in parliament are reserved for the army. Now while Aung San Suu Kyi will not be able to become a president herself she still can make a huge contribution towards the progress and betterment of Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi does not need necessarily need to a presidential label in order to bring out the positive changes that she has fought to bring about for so long. She can and hopefully will continue to serve as the guiding light taking Myanmar towards a more democratic, happier, and prosperous future. This win and even the conditions that led to Myanmar’s shift from Military rule towards democracy is the direct result of Aung San Suu Kyi’s decades of struggle. She, along with many other fighting for the cause of democracy, have made huge sacrifices and suffered a great deal in order to make this day a reality. The current election results mark a happy day for all the people of Myanmar. We stand along with them while sharing their joy and wishing Myanmar a wonderful future ahead.

Myanmar Matters congratulates Aung San Suu Kyi for the splendid victory of NLD in the elections. We also congratulate the Army Generals for enabling and guiding Myanmar towards this next step in becoming a complete democracy.

Ranjit Barthakur, Founding Chairman, Myanmar Matters



The North Eastern region of India comprising of the seven sister states has much in common with the neighboring countries of Myanmar, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. The people living in the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura might be separated from their counterparts living in the aforementioned countries by international boundaries but the similarities between them are striking. The whole region itself is very similar geographically as the terrain and climate are very much alike. In terms of ethnicity and culture too North East India can be said to be an extension of South East Asia. The race of the people, their way of living, and even their eating habits are inherently congruent.

Despite the political boundaries that divide this region, in a way it is essentially a single unit and it has to be seen in that light. As all the involved authorities are realizing, the development of this region can only take place through mutual cooperation. Creating the right conditions in the form a free trade zone in the region can enable all involved parties to progress rapidly. India’s North Eastern states share 5339 Kms of International borders with the neighboring countries. On the other hand, these states are connected to mainland India through a narrow strip of land called the Siliguri corridor which is only 22 Kms wide at its narrowest point. This has been one of the major deterrents in the progress of this region. However, it is very much possible to change this obstacle into a major strength.


If the frontiers are dissolved and a free trade agreement is reached upon between India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar the whole region will be able to move forward as one cohesive unit.  Such an agreement will open up a huge market worth billions for the north eastern states and likewise our neighbors will gain access to India’s booming market as well. There are numerous product and service requirements in these neighboring countries which India can fulfil. Similarly, they have resources and materials which we can export from them. The journeys too will become a lot shorter as the present necessity to take the circuitous Siliguri route for every journey out of and into the North East will be eliminated. 

We have started publishing Myanmar Matters with the sole objective of bringing forth the issues concerning the region and highlighting the developments that are taking place here. We seek to bring to attention the various activities taking place in the region in various fields including business, investments, technology, finance, infrastructure, and arts. Additionally, we endeavor to shed light on the traditional heritage and culture of the region along with discussing the current topics concerning the people living here.  In this way, Myanmar Matters echoes the voice of the region. This magazine is a mirror which reflects the very core of the region, portrays the life of its people, and showcases all the developments that are taking place here. Myanmar Matters hopes to contribute in the development of this region by bringing it into the focus of businesses and investors. We hope that, in our own way, we will be able to successfully play a role in the advancement and evolution of this special and beautiful region.

Ranjit Barthakur, Founding Chairman, Myanmar Matters


Terrorism is a major issue affecting the world today. It is a serious problem which along with causing loss of life and property also has a very negative impact on development. India’s north eastern region has been facing the brunt of this menacing issue for the past many years. Being from the north east myself, I’ve first hand seen the ugly truth behind terrorism. I know how it obstructs the day to day life of the common people and takes the region many years backwards in terms of progress. The people of north east have had enough! What they want is a peaceful environment, development, and opportunities for prosperity. However, India might not be able to do it alone and it will need the support of its neighbors, such as Myanmar, in this fight.

The recent incident, where a terrorist outfit attacked an Indian convoy, killed 18 soldiers, and then crossed the border to hide in Myanmar, highlights the importance of cooperation between these two nations in order to deal with terrorists. India and Myanmar must stand together to counter terrorism in the region. Both these countries already have a mutual understanding in the form of a “Hot Pursuit” agreement. As per this agreement, both countries can cross the border if they get inputs regarding any terrorist activity and are allowed to carry out operations in the land of the other country.

This understanding needs to be further strengthened if we are to uproot the problem of terrorism completely from this region. Both India and Myanmar are developing nations that need to focus on progress and development. In order to achieve our progress objectives, we need to create an environment that is peaceful and conducive to business. We need stability in the region in order to attract foreign investments and for enabling the local businesses to flourish.



The Seventh Indo-Myanmar Regional Border Committee meet took place in Imphal from 6-10 July, 2015. The meeting was led by top military commanders from both the countries and was aimed at enhancing existing mutual cooperation and confidence building between the personnel of both the armies deployed along the International Border. Indian Army also discussed the proposed plans of training Myanmar Army and Myanmar Police Force in their capacity building. Another important meeting took place on July 16 between the foreign ministers of the country in New Delhi. After the meeting India announced that it will help Myanmar in modernizing its army and also in building a navy.

The visit of Myanmar’s foreign minister U Wunna Maung Lwin came after the Indian raid on terrorists in Myanmar’s territory. Mr. Lwin met Indian foreign minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj. During this meeting the need for enhancing the cooperation between the security forces of the two countries was emphasized. Both these ministers also agreed to send a joint delegation to Nagaland. This delegation will comprise of senior officials from both sides and it is aimed at understanding the ground situation in the region better. It can be seen as a sign that both nations want to develop a deeper understanding and curtail all gaps in political engagement. Such shows of mutual respect and increased cooperation will go a long way in countering terror and in the long run it will prove greatly economically beneficial for both the countries.

Ranjit Barthakur, Founding Chairman, Myanmar Matters




With 96 per cent of the borders of the North Eastern Region of India constituting international boundaries and in explicit recognition of the need to break the fetters of the geopolitical isolation of the region, it is necessary to factor in the foreign, defense, internal security and international trade policies of the Himalayan Region including the North East India, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

The immediate priority is to build the required infrastructure right up to the border areas, establishing connectivity and communication links to the cross-border points through which trade and economic exchanges with the countries neighboring the North Eastern Region of India.

Keeping this priority in mind, Myanmar Matters feels that as a publication, it could be providing a lot more to entire Himalayan region. It is with great pride that my team and I would be soon announcing several other publications dedicated to the North East Region of India, Bhutan and Bangladesh respectively. In the meanwhile, this edition hopes to bring to our readers a glimpse of those regions of interest and opportunity.

We do hope the current and upcoming publications serve as a platform to help with promoting ties with neighboring countries and shed light on the opportunities in business, politics, economics, ecology, environment and culture amongst these countries.

NE Region borders
NE Region borders

Being from the North East and knowing for a fact that the people of the North East Region of India have an ambitious vision, wherein they aspire to see their region emerge peaceful, strong, and confident, ready to engage with their neighboring countries and the global economy at large. They would like to march on the path of economic, social and cultural progress towards prosperity and well-being, to participate in governance and determine the allocation of public resources and public services they receive. Political empowerment in evolving responsive governance would help to achieve social and economic empowerment as well. They want to banish poverty and illiteracy and ensure that every family in the region has the opportunity to live a healthy and secure life with dignity and self-respect.

Improving connectivity is an important precondition for social and economic mobility and market integration. The region can regain its place as a centre of flourishing trade with East and Southeast Asia through the land (silk) route to China and Myanmar and through the sea port from Chittagong and Kolkata.

Recent initiatives in improving relations with neighbouring countries, particularly the MOU with Myanmar, restoring border trade and, more importantly, the Ganga treaty with Bangladesh, have kindled hopes of resurgence of the region based on flourishing international commerce.

To say the least, the vision of achieving peace and prosperity outlined above is eminently feasible but by no means easy. Realising the vision requires mobilisation of the people. Implementing a people based development strategy, infrastructure development, building capacity, and responsive administration and governance will attract significant investment and open up avenues for the development of the region.

– Ranjit Barthakur, Founding Chairman, Myanmar Matters



Walking around the Bagyoke Aung San Market in Yangon gives one a personal sense of the cultural affinity between Myanmar and Northeast India. Every now and then one can hear people speaking in Mizo or some other common language. The traditional Burmese dress is worn just the way it is in Northeast India and the street food and traditional food items of both the regions bear a close resemblance too. The saying that Southeast Asia begins in Northeast India takes credence.

Yet, India and Myanmar have not been able to exploit these close historical and cultural connections. Recent writings and research overflow with expositions on the opportunities that exist in the developing of connectivity infrastructure, but the gap between the purported potential and what has been realised remains enormous. What is also true is that the northeastern part of India and the western part of Myanmar consisting of Chin, Sagaing and Kachin states are both underdeveloped. The neglect leading to low economic and social development in the region has often been cited as one of the causes for the insurgencies raging on both sides of the border. Indeed, even as there are shared opportunities, both regions share very similar risks and challenges.

Northeast India and Myanmar also share similar economic and business structures. The economy, which is largely agrarian and dependent on the export of unprocessed primary commodities and in which micro, small and medium enterprises are prevalent, provides for the basis of industrial development.

A Manipuri folklore talks about prosperity that will fill the lands once the “eastern gates are opened.” Perhaps this foretells what is in store in the future.

     – Ranjit Barthakur, Founding Chairman, Myanmar Matters



Stretched far across the eastern arm of India, the eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Sikkim, Manipur and Nagaland forming the ‘North Eastern triangle’, are the most unique part of India. These eight states occupy about 8 percent of India’s total geographical area and are bestowed with rich natural resources, which bring in a key ingredient for development – forests cover about 52 percent of the area and are home to the most exotic flora and fauna. The NE shares over 5,300 km of border with neighbouring countries including China, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal. The May 2014 elections saw a new minister, Gen. V.K. Singh, as the minister for North East affairs, who envisages a robust regional economic plan to dovetail with new international trade relationships for the North East (NE).


A “Seven sisters Corridor” model of infrastructure, entrepreneurship and foreign policy is currently underway and is taking inspiration from the existing model, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, which is already dramatically changing the landscape of India’s western hinterland.

In the North East, the multi-billion dollar mega infrastructure project has been proposed to provide high speed road connectivity, land for industrial regions and complimentary housing needs, uninterrupted power, access to ports for trading goods, financing for start-up entrepreneurs and small businesses, broadband and telecom access for businesses, and security to people, would link the Seven Sister states of the North East to each other and to adjoining neighbours like Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan.


This plan would extend the existing Friendship Road border point at Moreh (Manipur) with Myanmar, and connect two more border towns –Zowkhathar in Mizoram and Avakhung in Nagaland – again with Myanmar.
The corridor’s success will depend on thriving industrial activity being developed around it – not just big private players feeding off the region’s lucrative natural resource base, but more specifically small and medium value-added businesses. With the opening up of Myanmar, the region will be strategically placed to act as a bridge between mainland India and the ASEAN countries.


Any natural or manmade reservoir that absorbs more carbon than it emits is a carbon sink. The substantial forest cover available in NE India, Myanmar and Bhutan has been playing such a role. With proper management, this region could be converted into one of the most powerful carbon sinks of the world and be retained as a very important biodiversity hotspot of the world.

It is proposed that the contagious and near contagious forest cover in the entire sub region comprising NE India, Myanmar and Bhutan should be managed as a single large Biodiversity Zone cum Carbon Sink.
To establish the region as a biodiversity zone, cooperation between the authorities and stakeholders in NE India, Myanmar, and Bhutan will be of paramount importance.

For the NE to develop at a faster pace and catch up with rest of the country, it is imperative that the artificial isolation that the frontier region has been living through for the past 65 years be ended.

– Ranjit Barthakur, Founding Chairman, Myanmar Matters



India-Myanmar relations are rooted in shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. As the land of Lord Buddha, India is a country of pilgrimage for the people of Myanmar. India and Myanmar relations have stood the test of time. The geographical proximity of the two countries has helped develop and sustain cordial relations and facilitated people to people contact. India and Myanmar share a long land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. A large population of Indian origin (according to some estimates about 2.5 million) lives in Myanmar. India and Myanmar signed a Treaty of Friendship in 1951. The visit of the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 laid the foundations for a stronger relationship between India and Myanmar.


Connectivity within the region and with rest of the world still remains poor. The region has about 2600 kms of railway lines, but till today only two state capitals are connected by railways, with bulk of the lines lying in the states of Assam and Tripura. The Trans Asian Railway (TAR) network still has missing links such as the 219 km Jiribam – Moreh line. When completed, it would extend India’s rail system to the border with Myanmar and eventually the TAR would pass through the North East and provide a cheaper mode of transportation between the North East part of India, ASEAN and China.
In terms of connectivity by air, while the number of flights has increased, the number of destinations served has actually come down from 17 in the 1970s to 11 at present.


A number of agreements enhancing bilateral Cooperation have been signed between the two countries. Institutional mechanisms for facilitating regular dialogue on a range of issues of bilateral interest have also been established. During 2002, the Indian Consulate General in Mandalay was re-opened and the Consulate General of Myanmar was set up in Kolkata. Following the cataclysmic cyclone ‘Nargis’ which hit Myanmar in May 2008, India responded immediately with relief materials and offers of assistance. India also provided assistance of US $1 million for humanitarian relief and rehabilitation in the areas affected by the severe earthquake in Shan State in March 2011. Of this amount, US$ 250,000 was provided as a cash grant to the Myanmar Government while US$ 750,000 was utilized for reconstruction of one high school and six primary schools in Tarlay Township that was worst affected by the earthquake.


As of now the North East Frontier has 30 land customs stations (LCS) with Bangladesh (9 of them non-functional), 3 with Myanmar (1 non-functional), 3 with Bhutan (2 nonfunctional) and 1 with China. Trade through most of these LCS is minimal with only Moreh (with Myanmar), Agartala, Karimganj and Dawki (with Bangladesh) accounting for some substantial trade.

This however is far from a true reflection of the potential. The North East (NE) shares over 5,300 km of border with neighbouring countries including China, Bangladesh and Myanmar. With the opening up of Myanmar, the region will be strategically placed to act as a bridge between mainland India and the ASEAN countries.

To put the opportunities in perspective, the upcoming Asian Highway-1 (AH-1) connecting the entire breadth of Asia from Japan to Turkey and Asian Highway-2 (AH-2) connecting Indonesia to Iran, will both pass through the North East, and the Trans Asian Railway (TAR) Project will also intersect the Asian Highways in the North East. The confluence of rail and road traffic from entire Asia will indeed give rise to great opportunities for the region. At present the bilateral trade between India and its eastern neighbours including ASEAN is well over $200 billion. This is only going to grow in the years to come. If even a small percentage of this trade gets diverted through the land route once it opens up, it will provide the North East a great opportunity.

To be able to take advantage of the emerging opportunities, the region has to put in place world class infrastructure for transport, logistics, processing and value addition; create a pool of skilled manpower; and come up with a long term vision that aims at leveraging its core competencies.

For the NE to develop at a faster pace and catch up with rest of the country, it is imperative that the artificial isolation that the frontier region has been living through for the past 65 years be ended. The best way to integrate the NE with the mainstream national and global economy would be to build robust economic and physical connectivity with the neighbouring countries.



An ambitious project to develop a 3,200 km highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand was an important item on the agenda of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to Bangkok earlier this year. The alignment of this trilateral highway falls within AH-1 and AH-2.India has already given Myanmar $500 million in financial assistance, a part of which will be used to fund the project which, when completed, will connect India, Myanmar and Thailand.The improvement in physical connectivity between Myanmar and North East India would enhance trade between the two countries.