Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Question Of Burma

While I am in the midst of many other things, I feel duty bound to write about Burma/Myanmar. This is common knowledge that there is a trial on, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the 63 year old leader of Burmese democratic movement, is being tried for violating the terms of her house arrest. Her crime: An overzealous American well-wisher swam across the lake to enter her house, without her prior knowledge, of course. He was told to leave, but the American, who tried to do this before and was stopped by the military authorities, pleaded exhaustion and was allowed to stay. So, the general kindness, allowing someone who took enormous trouble to reach her, will get Suu Kyi into jail again.



This is outrageous. The trial is, the charge is. But more than that, it is outrageous to see how little we can do, and we shall do. I said the trial is common knowledge, but I know it is not. Most people in India, Burma's immediate neighbour, do not care. There is indeed a strong public opinion in the States and in Britain, but they can do little. In fact, the non-governmental support for the democracy movement is useful, but often counterproductive - as this particular incident will show. Our governments somehow treat Burma as an extension of China and stay away from their troubles.


I think we are obliged to protest. The lion's share of the blame of letting such a brutal regime to continue goes to Burma's neighbours, with the possible exception of Thailand. For some unknown reason, Burma is still part of ASEAN and Burmese leaders still enjoy the protection and hospitality in the ASEAN forums. Besides this, China has a vested interest in Burma and it keeps propping up the Burmese regime for the sake of their military bases and for their oil. And, I think the worst offender of them all is India, which not only shrugged away its responsibility as a democratic country, but effectively helped the Burmese regime in the name of oil interests.

All that must change now. I am sure India's, and the world's, interests lie in a democratic, free Burma. Not because Burma has oil. In fact, oil was the scourge of progress and freedom in many countries, with powerful nations making unacceptable compromises just because a regime will give them access to their oil. This has been the tragedy for last hundred years, and we got human progress in a loop and are unable to escape the tyranny trap.

The modern foreign policy thinking, mostly inherited from the European policymakers of the 18Th and 19Th century, are based on National Self Interest and Quest of Material Resources. However, if one cared to notice, both of these need to change. We have moved far from the mercantilists and slowly the nation states are dying, and communities in the supra-national formations [like the EU] will take its place. Material resources are still important, but the war of ideas is indeed hotting up. With the spread of people participation in the state across the world, it is becoming more and more important to win the battle of ideas than the battle for material resources.

And, the Burmese problem, seen in the prism of this different reality, appear so different from what it is today, trapped in the sphere of influence thinking and relegated to the Chinese one. It is important to be able to create a supra-national formation in Asia just like Europe - a region of free trade, movement and democracy. This has to happen if we have to avoid war and destruction, and the growth of fundamentalism and terrorism, which threatens the whole civilization. Such a formation can not be dreamt up with South-east Asia's biggest nation being unfree, poor and disconnected from the world. The example we set today, by standing by and letting the tyrants sentence the leader of democratic movement, will work against this Asian dream.

Besides, this will surely make all of us lose the battle of ideas. If we care about democracy and security, we need to go into war. This is as much a just cause of intervention as there ever was in Iraq. I would not say Afghanistan, but I am tempted to - events like this allow terrorists to think that they can get away - by hiding behind some international set-up and sphere of influence chess. It will eventually come to that, a face-off of ideas, and Burma will be as strategically important as any other country.

So, yes, time for action in Burma. I think every country in the region should do all it can to get the Generals out. It must end and it must end soon. And, I don't think we should not leave it just to our government, but we must organize ourselves and press on with this - in every country, wherever we are.

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