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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Myanmar: India refuses confrontation

By Vinod Vedi - Syndicate Features

The reaction of two of Myanmar's neighbours is indicative of how they would prefer geopolitics to play out in this part of the world. China said, it “whole-heartedly hopes that Myanmar will push forward a democracy process that is appropriate for the country". As far as India is concerned, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said “it is essentially the job of the people in the country to decide what government they want”. It signals a hard-headed assessment that the current unrest is unlikely to usher in democracy.

A pointer to the accuracy of the Indian assessment is the fact that the uprising by Buddhist monks for the violence perpetrated on its members in various parts of the country has been doused by the military junta by the simple expedient of apologizing and paying reparations by way of atonement. There is no doubt that the consequences of not doing so could have added fuel to the fire caused by end of fuel subsidies and 100 percent hike in diesel cost and five-fold increase in the price of compressed natural gas at a time inflation was around 18per cent. The land may be awash with both hydrocarbons and gas. It has very insignificant refining capacity, depends on diesel imports and faces dollar crunch.

The movement for the restoration of democracy led by charismatic Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) is strong and vibrant but it is yet to generate a momentum that could have the same effect of the many coloured revolutions Eastern Europe has seen in the past decade.

A measure of Aung San Suu Kyi’s influence is the failure of the junta to convert the "National Convention", attended by handpicked delegates and which has been going on for 14 years, into a kind of "constituent assembly" to frame a new statute. NLD, which is undoubtedly the biggest political party, has boycotted the convention and made its participation conditional to the release of its arrested leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Shan National League for Democracy also did not attend the convention. Though international opinion has dubbed the convention as an exercise in futility as it was not truly representative, the regime wanted to use it as a device to legitimize the role for the military. By holding the convention, the military regime expected to pacify the growing local and international demand for restoring democracy, without actually doing so. The "National Convention" was adjourned two months back (August, 2007), and the current round of protests erupted in September with indiscriminate shooting and beatings that left a large number dead and many, including monks, badly wounded.

The rumour mill has it that the numbers of the dead is so big that the junta has had to take recourse to secret cremations much as China did during and after the Tiananmen Square uprising. This may also well explain why the uprising appears to have petered out under the strong-arm tactics of the military junta.

For China, the manner in which "democracy" has been created in Pakistan by military strongman General Pervez Musharraf appears to be the best model by which a military dictatorship can recess itself into the political woodwork to appear non-existent but still retaining all the levers of power be it the economy, the politics or the judicial system. The executive has long been infiltrated by the military bureaucracy with postings of its personnel in key posts. China loves it that way and its comments on the state of affairs in Myanmar reflect that perception.

Having a military junta in power in Yangon has been immensely profitable to Beijing, strategically speaking. It has obtained an electronic surveillance facility in the offshore island territory of Cocos in the Bay of Bengal adjacent to our very own Andaman and Nicobar group of islands which enables it to monitor traffic in the Indian Ocean. The Cocos base gives China an ability to monitor Indian missile telemetry from it civil and military launch pads off the Orissa and Andhra coasts.

China has settled its border demarcation with Myanmar in the north on the basis of the watershed principle. That Beijing has refused to apply the same principle to the dispute with India (in Arunachal Pradesh) even after several rounds of talks is neither here nor there. It is not without significance that when it came for time to award gas exploration and exploitation rights, the Myanmar junta preferred to reject India's claims and hand over the entire contract to China.

For India, Myanmar is the threshold for its "look east" policy of economic expansion. Also, for many years the military junta has been amenable to India's requests to crack down on terrorists operating from Myanmar soil. It conducted strikes against training camps and disrupted their logistics. More recently, however, the military junta has been trying to make political capital of the arrangement and tried to up the ante in diplomatic relations.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has admitted its failure to reform the regime. It has been practicing "constructive engagement" with Yangon in the hope of moderating the military junta's behaviour. Even the western boycott has also been ineffective largely because of China's encouragement of the military government for its own strategic outreach.

As far as India is concerned, the construction of the barbed wire fence and a contiguous road network along the India-Myanmar border will reduce its dependence on Yangon to handle the cross border terrorism. New Delhi has never been in the business of destabilising neighbours and it has tried to tone down inimical behaviour among its neighbours by a policy of accommodation, more particularly after the Gujral doctrine of the former prime minister.

In the case of Myanmar, New Delhi has consistently voiced grave concern over the fate of the gritty National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and has often asked for her release but that has fallen on deaf ears. Its suggestion that a commission of inquiry into the atrocities committed during the recent series of demonstrations would at least have pinpointed those who used undue force against the agitators.

Transplanting democracy in foreign soil has, on its own, proved to be a horrendous experience as Iraq has demonstrated. India's efforts in Nepal too appear to be unravelling with the Maoists pulling out of the Government and the elections to the Constituent Assembly that would have decided the fate of the monarchy in Nepal postponed. The best example of sustained sacrifices for democracy in Burma remains the very frail and petite figure of the woman in house arrest in Yangon.

- Syndicate Features -

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