This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Monday, 26 November 2012

Why India Backed The Myanmarese Junta

(From October 2007)


I’ve read rather a lot of people writing about Myanmar and why India should help the pro-democracy movement (such as it is) there.
On the surface, it’s common sense. We profess to be a democracy. We should support other democracies. Of course, in reality the argument is dangerously facile, as the Bush regime’s policies have consistently demonstrated. But still the point stands. Myanmar has got a terrible regime, a really vile one, no doubts about that. It’s brutal, opaque, contemptuous of its own people and corrupt to the core (but, uh, apart from Myanmar, which other countries could I name with precisely the same features in their governments?) – nobody, except maybe the junta itself, denies that. Fine.
So, the choice should be simple, right? Help anyone and everyone who wants to overthrow the regime.
Only it’s not that easy.
India is helping the junta economically, infrastructurally, and militarily.India is backing it all the way.
Now, before I go further, so there isn’t any doubt about what my personal feelings are, let me make my stand clear.
While I’m not a supporter of venal military regimes, I am aware ofIndia’s reasons for backing the Myanmar dictatorship. And for once I understand them.
Let’s see the actual situation (as per India’s view) in Myanmar.
First, India does not think Aung San Suu Kyi will ever get to power any time soon, and probably never. The reason for this is that the junta is well-versed in the art of crushing public protest. Mass demonstrations may have brought down the odd East European regime, but they will achieve absolutely nothing against a government that is willing to use any amount of lethal force necessary to stay in power. In order to do that, the junta has even deliberately moved its capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw, so that the government is separated from the people and the army will not hesitate to fire on a citizenry it does not consider as part of itself. And since it’s not a single-man dictatorship, the death or incapacitation of one general will simply mean another moves up to fill the slot. So, conventional colour coded Western paid and backed “revolutions” are not going to work. Ergo, India has to live with the regime or help overthrow it.
How would India overthrow it? Would sanctions work? Of course not: sanctions only hurt poor people and actually force them to support the government, since it becomes a lifeline for them. A sanction-targeted people are a people suffering not for their own fault and who will support the government which is actually at fault, but which will just garner their support. And for other reasons, namely Myanmar’s natural resources, neither ASEAN nor India want it sanctioned.
Then, what about backing violent rebellions? From 1988 to 1991, India was a total supporter of Suu Kyi and even hosted and feted Myanmarese hijackers instead of handing them over to justice, something that would come back to haunt India in 1999 when Pakistani hijackers forced an Indian plane to Taliban controlled Afghanistan. India allowed the Myanmarese emigres to train and arm for a “freedom struggle”. All this achieved…nothing. All it did was alienate the regime.
So what were the results of alienating the regime? The immediate result was the sharply increased influence of China. HistoricallyMyanmar’s people weren’t pro-China. They are more South Asians than South East Asians and till the 1930s Myanmar was an administrative part of British India. All that India did was push them into China’s arms. And the Indian establishment is – whatever it says on the surface – hostile to China.
Now, let’s see what Myanmar can offer India.
Despite all the talk of the Nuclear Deal, now collapsing, India actually is going to depend on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future to meet its energy needs. A lot of the energy has to come from natural gas. The closest source of natural gas that exists close to India is in Myanmar.Myanmar needs money, India needs gas.
Do you still need me to spell that part of it out?
The second reason is the geopolitics of North East India. This part of the country is riddled with insurgencies. Many of the insurgent groups have set up bases in the parts of North Western Myanmar where the regime’s control is, let us say, less than absolute. All of the Baptist Naga rebel groups of North Eastern India have camps in Myanmar, and have developed close linkages with the Kachin narco-terrorist gangs of Myanmar (like the Kachin Independence Army) and the Karens further south. The KIA also hosts other Indian terrorist groups like the People’s Revolutionary Army of Kangleipak (PREPAK), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and many others. The KIA arms and trains these groups for a fee and is a major supporter of jade smuggling, gun running, and opium production. The terrain being heavily forested and mountainous, it’s difficult for the Myanmarese to destroy their terrorists because they flee over to India; and Indian terrorists, similarly pressed, cross over to Myanmar. The only way to crush the enemies India and Myanmar have in common is to co-operate militarily. Clear so far?
The third part of it is the fact that – at long last – the Indian government is realising the fairly obvious fact that the North East of India is a ready-made gateway to the thriving market economies of South East AsiaHanoi is actually, as the crow flies, closer to me as I write this than New Delhi, the national capital, is. And if India was to use that gateway, the easiest way was to develop road and rail linkages through Myanmar. And also a large part of North East India’s economy is integrated with that of Myanmar. In this town it’s easy to buy Myanmarese processed fruit and textiles, for instance. That’s another good reason to develop the border crossing, at a place called Moreh in Manipur state, and infrastructure in Myanmar. It’s just national self-interest.
So these are the excellent reasons Delhi has for sucking up to the junta in Naypyidaw.
There are the counter-arguments of course. Most of them come from theoreticians sitting far from the action.  
I’ve read a pair of Indians “intellectuals” in the US writing of how a democratic “Burma” would be all-inclusive and the Karens and Kachins would immediately disarm and become peace-loving villagers. It was good for a hearty laugh. India is a democracy; the state of Nagaland, for instance, not only has its own freely elected legislature but no one but an ethnic Naga can be elected to it. No one but an ethnic Naga can even visit the state without getting prior permission (the Inner Line Permit). Yet Nagaland is insurgency-stricken and very large parts of it are ruled by factions of the terrorist National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). Manipur state, just to the south, is even worse. Why should India have a “million mutinies now” as a democracy? For that matter, how can the Basque separatist group ETA still exist in democratic Spain? What about the IRA’s decades of revolution against Britain? Why is democratic Sri Lanka cut in two by civil war? All-inclusive democracies can’t have insurgencies? Spare me.
Then there are the lot who say a democratic Myanmar should beIndia’s friend. The experience of other democratic states in South Asia hasn’t exactly made Indian governments enthusiastic about it. Democratic Sri Lankan governments are bitterly hostile to India, and in Pakistan military governments have been less troublesome to this country than its occasional democratic regimes. The exact same thing holds for Bangladesh. Democratic rulers have always raised the fear of the Indian bogeyman to hold on to power. Why should India assume Aung San Suu Kyi will be any different?
There was yet someone else who said Myanmar never actually took any measures against Indian rebels, that it was all a bluff. Well, a senior member of the Khaplang faction of the NSCN recently admitted that the terrorist group had lost many bases to the junta’s army in the recent past, but that after the demonstrations in Yangonthe army had been withdrawn. So this puts the lie to that particular claim.
As I said, these are the Indian government’s reasons for supporting the Myanmarese junta. I can understand them, though not necessarily share them whole-heartedly. I have a couple of points of my own to add.
First, I’m deeply suspicious of dynastic politicians like Suu Kyi. They have utterly ruined, and are ruining, South AsiaMyanmar’s people may even be better off as they are.
Then, India has no business interfering in other countries’ internal affairs. What with our puppet “prime minister” and total criminalisation of politics, we can have nothing to say about that. We can’t possibly be holier than thou.
Also, I don’t really know how much of the information coming out of the country is genuine and how much is propaganda. I do know some of it is pretty dodgy, like a purported interview of an ex-security guard of Suu Kyi’s who was “beaten on his polio-afflicted legs”. What kind of security guard has polio-atrophied legs? And remember the Western media’s lies over Iraq?
And how can we ever continue to support terrorists and hijackers? The policy was insane from the beginning.
It’s all very easy to sit in comfortable surroundings and call for sanctions on Myanmar. But it’s not going to happen, and the junta will remain in place.
Ultimately, sometimes one can’t have what one wants, so one settles for what one has.

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