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Burma on the radar?

June 20, 2010

As Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi celebrates her 65th birthday, the news is that Burma, now called Myanmar has been trying to lay its hands on nuclear fissile material. Burma is ruled by a military junta that has the dubious distinction of being perhaps one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Needless to say, human rights are non-existent and the people live in a state of misery. Poverty abounds and the few close to the junta have amassed wealth while the common Burmese suffer.

Burma is a country rich in natural resources. Burma teak is famous the world over. Jade and precious stones abound. Natural gas is in plenty. Burma also has a thriving narcotics trade which some say is sponsored by the junta. China has taken giant strides in getting Burmese gas to its mainland so as to cater to its growing energy needs. China is building a port in Sittwe where naval frigates can dock. Victoria Point is at the mouth of the Strait of Malacca and Chinese access to Burma means that Beijing can monitor the Strait very closely.

The close Chinese- Burmese links make Burma look almost like a colony of Beijing. Yangon (Rangoon) is full of Chinese businessmen and officials. This closed country has close links with North Korea too. The troika of Burma-China-North Korea is strategically very convenient and perhaps gives China access to mineral and material wealth apart from strategic depth that many in the west and here in India do not understand. The news is that lately, Burma has tried to procure missile technology from North Korea. Burma has missiles that can defend her borders and can strike deep into India. Their attempts at buying a nuclear plant have also not gone un-noticed in the diplomatic circles in the west.

The situation in Burma is getting increasingly untenable from the western point of view. This lone frail woman Aung San Suu Kyi is fighting the repressive junta for decades now and her contacts with her family in Britain are minimal. She has been under house arrest for long and her health is not too good.

Map of Burma

What can the free world do about Burma? India had this policy of having to do nothing with Yangon. Then New Delhi realized that we were in effect giving China a free hand in this strategically vital country which was a part of India a few decades back and where many of our freedom fighters were jailed by the British. New Delhi realized that to set Burma aside as if it does not exist was a wrong policy and detrimental to our national interests. We also realized that the military junta was here to stay and by isolation they only become stronger. India has now a policy of engagement with Burma. We are also building a port in Burma to help them in trade and commerce. But the Chinese presence is overwhelming and Burma remains a strong ally of China.

Obama administration has also willy-nilly come to the same conclusion. With the news of Burma trying to acquire nuclear weapons USA has sat up and started to take notice of this beautiful nation that for Washington existed only for periodic proclamations of human rights violations. Now the Obama administration has started to engage the Burmese junta – something that is new and startling.

What this American administration has started should have been done long back. Burma is strategically important and the west cannot afford to ignore this resource rich nation. The Chinese have been using the natural resources of this land for long and to good use. West’s penchant for a stiff upper-lip vis-à-vis a ‘human-rights violating repressive regime’ was a bonanza for Beijing. Sanctions have already been imposed but those affect Burma not the least as they have the Chinese look after all their needs. China in return gets a free hand in a resource rich country. The Chinese are particularly keen on having a railway line that starts from the tip of the Bay of Bengal to Chinese mainland. That will be a strategically important development and one that will not go unnoticed either in New Delhi or in the western capitals.

The question is what can the free world do to check Burma? Engagement as envisaged by the Obama administration is one way. Ideally a regime change would be the best solution for this land of beauty and natural wealth. A democratic Burma will be good for the world and for regional peace. Suu Kyi has been waging a lone battle. There was an uprising by the powerful Buddhist monks sometime last year. But even that was quelled and many of the Buddhist clergymen went missing. The limited information that one gets from Burma shames even Iran. It is difficult to say as to what is happening inside Burma as the military junta has a vice like grip over the land and its people. Beijing has the dubious distinction of having very close links with two of the most repressive regimes in the world – North Korea and Burma. And both are veritable colonies of Beijing.

With increasing warmth between New Delhi and Washington can the west contemplate a surgical strike in Burma to oust the military junta? The long Indo-Burmese border gives India access to Burma. Thai border with Burma is pretty long too. The Chinese have the longest border with Burma (see map above). Can Obama administration contemplate a swift military maneuver in Burma to get rid of the repressive regime and install a democratic government there? Last time there were elections in Burma Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide but the elections were annulled. Engagement with Burma can help the West buy time. Burma still might decide to go nuclear. With China by their side they should have no problem in laying their hands on nuclear technology.  Frankly, this is not about Burma’s devious nuclear intentions alone. Burma is a resource rich country that is strategically located and a democratic Burma could be an asset for the free world. India would feel much safer were the junta to go. The Burmese people will be free and the chains that bind them have constricted the growth of this beautiful nation.

While India may not be able to help the West vis-à-vis Iran in case of Burma India will have no hesitation in giving all military and logistical support to the West. India will not hesitate to engage militarily were the West to decide on a military option to free the country of the rogue military junta. The Thai border is also available were the west to contemplate a military strike against the junta. The problem will be that the Chinese will take any military action against Burma as an act of aggression against Beijing. Any such action will also never find endorsement in the Security Council. Russians will be amused by any such thought but China will surely veto any resolution declaring military intervention in Burma. While Iran is the current focus of the west, Burma may be the next nation on the radar of the hawks that abound on the Capitol Hill.

Update: Americans have found to their dismay that they are unable to make any headway with the Burmese junta. They are therefore doing what they do best – browbeat the impetuous rascals. They are now planning to throw the junta in front of a war crimes tribunal. The Independent has reported this as follows:

The Burmese junta and its 77-year-old leader, General Than Shwe, could be investigated over a number of alleged crimes during its rule including:

* The crushing of the August 1988 democracy uprising that led to the deaths of 3,000 to 6,000 people.

* Widespread ethnic cleansing of groups such as the Karen, which have been fighting for greater autonomy for half a century.

* The alleged use of forced labour to build pipelines and other infrastructure, torture and beatings, and the use of rape by Burma’s armed forces. Human Rights Watch says that such violations are widespread in Burma.

*The violent crackdown on the September 2007 “Saffron Uprising”, headed by Buddhist monks, which left scores of people dead.

While this is one occasion when I do not totally condemn American moves, however, I have always held that such tribunals are kangaroo courts because they have already made up their minds. Besides, no western leader has ever faced any such tribunal. And for God’s sake don’t tell me that the west has been all pious all through. Must I recount…?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ashutosh permalink
    August 18, 2010 5:07 pm

    ‘xcellent stuff………..

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