Free Burma

The decision of the United States to tighten economic sanctions against the military junta government in Burma needs to be welcomed. The strong words used by President George W. Bush terming the human rights abuses in Burma as outrageous and the direct accusation against the military junta for imposing “a 19-year reign of fear” is but a clear testimony to the prevailing situation and popular sentiments on the streets of Rangoon —the mass anti-government protests and the fact that the oppression of the junta, most notably the denial of basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship has now been completely exposed in front of the world media. It will be important to follow what impact the new U.S. sanctions on Burma will have in addressing the resurgent pro-democracy movement. This is clearly an opportune time for the international community to rally together in support of peaceful change. In order to help break the political stalemate that has clouded Myanmar for 17 years, the military junta should be pressured to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and subsequently reconvening Parliament.

The reaffirmation of solidarity with the oppressed people of Burma—led by the US, EU and UK—and the underlining need for restoration of democracy, will be a testing time for India, the world’s largest democracy. New Delhi more often than not has shied away from this issue as it found itself drawn more and more towards the economic logic of trade and the strategic consideration of flushing out Indian rebel groups. Such a policy course of engaging the military regime undermines India’s democratic standing at home and abroad. While a course correction is long overdue, it would be in the interest of the region as a whole if India can use its influence in the region to push for the restoration of multi-party democracy instead of merely playing to the tunes of a few vested interest power mongers within the military establishment. 

Likewise, the historic opportunity to work closely with Washington, London and the European Union to push for reform of Burma’s political structure presents itself for India. The earlier statement emanating from the Indo-US agreement for encouraging democracy and providing assistance to countries asking for such help would now have to be spelt into joint initiatives from both countries. Further, given that India’s strategic ties with the US is on an upswing especially the all important civilian nuclear deal close to becoming a reality, New Delhi must take a more assertive stand on the Burma issue in tune with the changing power-equation and its own aspiration to great power statusin the region and beyond.