India is the bridge for the major global democracies to engage with Myanmar’s military junta and weaning Myanmar safe from China’s influence
The international community is yet to come to terms with the harsh realities when the military seized power in Myanmar a fortnight ago in a bloodless coup. The military has since consolidated its grip on the country and reinforced it manifold times by imposing several harsh rules and regulations unprecedented in recent times. The interregnum of nearly ten years of civilian rule (2010-2021) gave the modern generation a rare taste of democracy which its predecessors did not enjoy. Myanmar will now witness new forms of opposition to the military. One clear sign is the tenor of the mass public protests observed in all major cities of Myanmar and attendant public outpouring which this is not expected to die down any time soon.
The protests in front of the Chinese Embassy at Yangon too is noteworthy, it is a rare event as such show of public anger has not been witnessed earlier. The fact that the military moved to muzzle the media and social media can only underline its predilections about its destabilizing effects. As Myanmar heads down the perilous road towards military dictatorship, the junta has commenced political reengineering to obtain support from the country’s ethnic national minority politicians. The decision to remit the 20 year imprisonment sentence of Arakan National Party (ANP) leader, Oo Hla Saw is one such example, there are others too and the list is increasing. As the “split and rule” policy gains traction, arbitrary arrests of National League for Democracy (NLD) politicians and affiliates continues unabated. Reports indicate the sullen mood of the national ethnic minorities to the military’s unilateral short cut to power. Apprehensions prevail.
Despite being held incommunicado from Feb 01, 2021, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (DASSK) retains her national following and remains a source of strength for her people and party. There is nothing yet that will diminish her popularity notwithstanding the aborted general election of November 2020. This is proved beyond doubt. However, she too may have to consider new strategy to stay relevant in present circumstances. A section of the NLD apparently supports the view that “hot heads” and “miscalculation on both sides” of the “political” divide created a point of no return and that a dialogue was a smart way to defuse the situation. Another segment among political analysts opine that the West abandoned ASSK over the Rohingya crisis for reasons best known to them thereby weakening her political position in the country. Western hypocrisy thus stands exposed. Further sanctions of any kind on Myanmar have not made any difference to the military since it has found sustenance from allies and friendly nations.
The Rohingya crisis is in need of a long lasting solution in both political and economic terms. It is an emotive issue and deserves careful handling. The military junta of Senior General. Min Aung Hlaing is on record saying that it is not favor of considering political rights for the Rohingyas. There are red lines around this subject. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (DASSK) took the fall for defending the military at various international on this fateful subject.
The Feb 01, 2020 military coup has ended the desire of the Tatmadaw to diversify dependence on China, rebuild relations with friendly countries and for movement towards multi-party democracy. The window of opportunity provided by former President Thein Sein (2010-2015) and NLD (2015-2020) was squandered by international community. In a strategic sense, India has gained substantially by engaging with Myanmar through multiple ways led by its ACT EAST policy and India’s strategic equation with both the centers of power in Nay Pyi Daw brought rich dividends. India has taken a balanced view of the recent developments both from New Delhi and other platforms including the United Nations.
The international community has yet to come to terms with the military coup in Myanmar. The United States of America walked away from Myanmar from the strong foundations laid by the Obama presidency during the Trump administration. There are two issues for debate; firstly, to engage with the Myanmar military on several subjects starting with economic aid for national development and devolution of powers and secondly, creating conditions for diminution of Chinese influence in the country and in the Bay of Bengal region.
It goes without saying that allowing Beijing to “consolidating” its influence in Myanmar will have adverse effects on the Quadrilateral Security Initiative (QUAD). Myanmar’s role is important in this context. India will be an important interlocutor in all discussions especially given its security and strategic considerations for this region and proximity to the current dispensation in Nay Pyi Taw.
PM Heblikar is Managing Trustee, Institute of Contemporary Studies Bangalore (ICSB) and former Special Secretary, Government of India