Monday, October 8, 2007

World Save Myanmar

The events in Myanmar in the past few weeks have greatly disturbed me. And it has only partly to do with the brutal junta and its violent crackdown against peaceful monks. It also has to do with the indifference shown by my own “people” towards the incident.

For the uninitiated, here’s the gist of the situation (wikipedia is likely to have more details). Myanmar, (formerly called Burma, and the eastern neighbour of India), has been ruled by the military generals, also called the “junta”, with more or less an iron fist for the last 45 years. In 1988, there had been a popular uprising against the junta, which apparently been silenced by using force – 3 thousand plus people had been cold-bloodedly shot and killed. At that time I was too young to remember any of this, or of the global outcry that ensued.

Sometime during the early 90’s, the famous political leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party NLD had won landslide elections in the country. However, the junta disregarded the results, charged Suu Kyi with various “crimes” and she has been under house arrest ever since.

Coming back to present - Last month, the junta effected a five-fold hike in fuel prices, which sparked small pro-democracy protests initially. 2 weeks back, monks in huge numbers lent their support to this largely peaceful protest. This is supposedly the largest protest of its kind in the past 20 years (since the bloodbath of 1988), with the strength reaching almost one hundred thousand at its peak. Myanmar is a principally Buddhist country and the monks’ support is a huge moral support for the pro-democracy public.

However, once again Tan Shwe (the leader of the military regime) and his soldiers have responded to the protests with force. Add to this, the blatant human rights abuse and curbs on freedom (of movement and of media). The junta has attempted to hide the atrocities from the world by trying to block international calls, cut internet lines etc (kill foreign journalists – as happened with a Japanese photographer who was shot dead from point blank range). This time, although the number of deaths has been less, it wont be long before the situation disintegrates to the 1988-like one. Unless there is global pressure on the junta. Which brings us to the “indifference shown by my own people” comment.

From what little I know about the whole issue, I have come up with this list of countries/organizations who are in a position to intervene; and stop the horrific human rights abuses taking place in Myanmar.

  • India:

India is one of the major trade “partners” of Myanmar. We Indians also have interests in the resource-rich Myanmar in terms of minerals, oil and power. Some Indian companies have (quite profitable?) operations in Myanmar. Is that why we are looking the other way when peace-loving monks are being shot at and monasteries are being ransacked? The statements given by the Indian Government regarding this issue have been ridiculous. It took almost 2 weeks and tremendous international pressure on India, for us to finally “demand” the release of Aung San Suu Kyi!

The world is looking at India to bring some semblance of sense to the junta, because India is in a unique position to wield influence on the Burmese junta. But, we do nothing about it. Reason? That’s not clear. But it is our moral responsibility as the largest democracy in the world to speak up against the atrocities of the Myanmar military generals.

  • China:

China is another one of Myanmar’s “giant neighbours”. Again, China is in a position to influence the junta. Although China has reacted strongly to the shooting of the monks, and has called for peaceful resolution of the issue, they have stopped short of employing any effective measure at all. In fact, China is exercising its veto power at the UN to prevent the UN from “interfering” against the brutal crackdown.

China has interests in Myanmar for minerals and power – both central to China’s growing status as an industrialized nation. Furthermore, China supplies the arms to the military generals! Would this have anything to do with China’s soft approach on the junta?

Finally don’t forget that China itself is wary of democratic uprising within their own country, not to mention the already sensitive issues of Taiwan and Tibet.

  • Japan:

Japan is the largest provider of aid to the impoverished Myanmar. So Japan can take action if the violence continues. However, they have to be careful in what aid they withdraw. They don’t want to further aggravate the poverty of the public. Any decision with respect to withdrawal of economic aid has to be designed to hit the military generals and not the public.

  • US, UN and the West:

US and the West are again providers of aid to Myanmar. In typical un-thoughtful style, the Bush government has imposed economic sanctions against Myanmar. I doubt they have even considered the repercussions of this act of theirs. The economic sanctions will hit the general public of Myanmar the hardest; while the junta continues with its human rights abuse campaign.

The so-called developed countries have to look at other ways of controlling the Myanmar junta. They have to come up with something that handicaps the ruling generals and not the poor people of Myanmar. This brings us full circle, back to India and China. These are the only countries which are capable of stifling the junta. Until they do something about it, the bloodshed will only continue, and military dictatorship will reign in Myanmar.

The next question is what really is the “solution”? It would be stupid to expect that the junta will bow to pressure and install democracy in Myanmar right under their noses. It has been demonstrated time and again that the junta is ruthless and cold-blooded. They will not hesitate to massacre their own people if it comes to that. So all this talk of “discussions” or “talks” between the junta and the NLD seems to be too hollow.

But that brings up the other option, which although is an “option that should be the absolute last resort”, is the only option left – and that is the international community using force against the junta.

Are we headed towards another Iraq or Vietnam? Who knows? I hope so and I hope not! I hope that democracy finds its way into Myanmar sooner or later. And I hope that the manner in which this is achieved is not a repeat of Vietnam.


Abhishek Thakur said...

The reason India hasn’t done anything against the Junta is that Myanmar holds considerable leeway against us by abetting the separatist activities in India's North-East. Another reason is that the Junta has been developing good relation with China and India wants to avoid confrontation with them in order to prevent China from fishing in the troubled Indo-Myanmar ties. Of course, Trade and mining and minerals play another role.
The reactions of nations are determined by geo political considerations and cold self interest. The ideological chants are, well, just chants. So you can be sure that there never going to be any repetition of Iraq or Kuwait over there in Myanmar.

Although one must hope, notwithstanding these cold reality bytes, that Myanmar people do find a solution. Just how it happens remains to be seen. Someone definitely needs to find a solution...

Kiran said...

Hi Abhishek,

Thanks for dropping by.

Yes, I suppose you are right about the separatist activities in N-E part - I must admit I had never given a thought to that. But somehow it seems unnerving (even inhuman for that matter) that the largest democracy in the world doesnt care about such heinous junta in its immediate neighbourhood!

I also agree with you that reactions of nations are largely driven by cold self-interest as you put it - which again is an unsettling thought; it effectively creates a roadblock in the path of international humanity and the drive to make the whole world a better place to live in.

Abhishek Thakur said...

We can just hope that public opinion and influence can prevail over nations to bring about necessary changes to preserve humanity and the common people...It always makes sense to make one's voice felt, like yours!

Kiran said...

Yes Abhishek,

We can only hope that public opinion matters. But question is how?

In countries like India, people who matter are immersed in corruption and self-interest. Media, which is in a position to wield influence; is either too judgemental (remember the case of the school teacher in Delhi who was accused of liaising with a pimp??) or concerned about all the irrelevant matters ("Breaking News - Aishwarya Rai touches Abhishek Bachchan's feet after the wedding") - I have written more about this here.

In other countries (read non-democratic countries), the general public is not even in a position to make a difference.

When such is the case, how much will one faint voice matter? Mind you, I am trying to be practical - not pessimistic. My point is - we need more participation from the educated middle-class; and in ways that matter!