Friday, June 24, 2011

Myanmar, Realistically Speaking


Away from the hype of the Indo-Pakistan Foreign Secretary talks that concluded yesterday, Foreign Minister SM Krishna completed a 'successful' visit to Myanmar, one of India's least understood yet most important neighbours. Myanmar and India of course have a long history, the former having been a part of British India among other relationships.

The visit was billed as India's first engagement with the 'new civilian administration in Myanmar,' which is a very funny description because the whole world knows that the military is still very much in control. However, it all politics.

The West would like India (and China) to wholeheartedly support Aun Sung Suu Kyi's NLD in its fight against the military. China, for whatever reason, does not care. And India puts in a very convenient little box. India's stand is simple - we encourage democracy everywhere, but we don't export democracy and we are prepared to talk to any Government if it favours our national interests. So clearly, India would like true civilian democracy restored in Myanmar and talks of 'gradual' change. Suu Kyi cannot be ignored by the Government that easily: she is an LSR alumnus and finds overwhelming support among the intelligentsia here.

However, India will not impose sanctions on Myanmar, remain adamant of calling it Burma or criticize its internal dealings because we do not export democracy. And of course, apart from the economic gains that Myanmar's natural resources (natural gas in particular) accrue to India, there is the all-pervasive issue of Northeastern insurgent groups. Bangaldesh has generally turned a blind eye towards such groups and in the region, apart from Bhutan, Myanmar is the only country that has helped India corner the insurgents and bring them to the negotiating table. The reduced level of violence in Nagaland stands testimony to this.

The West has a very cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia and till recently was doing business with Libya too, all in the name of national interests. Zia ul-Haq was the greatest ally America ever had in Pakistan. This is realpolitik: nations work their foreign policy like this and India should do nothing less. India has not forgotten Suu Kyi - Nirupama Rao did call on her, after all - but she will have to fight her battle alone without even a great degree of moral support from this side. It's the sad truth of realpolitik, but that's the way it is.

One day, when India could perhaps get over its addiction to fossil fuels and the Northeast stablises, India could become more proactive on Myanmar. But that day is clearly very far away.

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