EDITORIAL. Ash Narain Roy. XVI. VIII. X
BURMA BURNING BRIGHT!
by Dr. ASH NARAIN ROY
Aljazeera Video Embedded
Winston Churchill said in 1939 that Russia is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Today, Burma fits in Churchill’s description more than any other country, except perhaps North Korea. No wonder the two rogue states have moved closer in the past few years. The revelation about Burma developing nuclear and missile capabilities is apparently the result of the ‘Shangri-La Dialogue’.
The military junta is now planning farcical elections later this year. It is the indifference of the neighbors and the international community that has emboldened the wily generals to go ahead with what it calls a “seven-step roadmap towards disciplined and flourishing democracy”. Under the new constitution, 25 per cent seats in both houses of parliament have been reserved for the military. This political empowerment is first of its kind anywhere in the world. Amendment of the constitution would require the approval of more than 75 per cent of votes.
Clearly, the new constitution has been designed to perpetuate the military rule. An election commission has been set up which is composed of ex-generals. Two dozen generals have shed their uniform in order to take part in the forthcoming elections.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) headed by Aung San Suu Kyi is of course boycotting the sham elections. One of the conditions for its participation was that the party does expel Ms Suu Kyi that the NLD rejected. Now the military regime has come out with another devious plan to weaken the NLD. Its symbol of a Burmese hat which during the 1990 election became iconic among the pro-democracy movement has been allotted to splinter group, National Democratic Force. NLD Leaders are presently organizing road shows to meet grassroots members.
Burma is perhaps the only country where residents are issued five kinds of cards—the national ID card, the scrutinized citizen card, the foreign citizen card, the temporary national ID card, and a card known as ‘pyu naingan tha’. The Muslims are among the most discriminated. In Arakan state, white colour card is issued to Muslims which lists the card holder’s race as Muslim and religion as Islam. Curiously, the back side of the card says this person does not have the right to claim Burmese citizenship.
The Burmese generals sitting in the new capital, Naypyidaw, have been doing suspicious business with North Korea. The reclusive junta is of the view that nuclear empowerment and missile acquisition will give it legitimacy and greater clout vis-à-vis its neighbours.
Burma’s nuclear and missile programmes have to be seen in the context of the junta’s xenophobia and pathological suspicions of the outside world. Gen Than Swe, the Burmese strongman, who came to power in 1992, apparently believes if he followed the North Korean example, Burma would not need to care about the US or even China. In other words, if they had nuclear weapons, others will respect them.
It is said that with North Korea's aid, the reactor in Naung Laing could be completed around 2012, and Burma could develop its first deliverable nuclear weapons by 2020. The generals are apparently spending vast sums on the programme. While the people of Burma are suffering from acute hunger and misery, the generals have used the income from the sale of natural resources to fund the purchase of sophisticated equipment and the training of thousands of Burmese engineers abroad mostly Russia.
The junta is likely to get much more revenue from the sale of gas to China and India. Much of the money will apparently go for the nuclear programme. To a large extent the blame for North Korea and Burma’s deviant international behaviour rests with China whose economic and moral support has emboldened rogue regimes to raise their ugly heads.
Last year, 112 former world leaders wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking him to visit Burma. But a caustic reply from his office was that without reasonable expectations of a meaningful outcome, he will not be able to go. Perhaps the former heads of state and government would have served the cause of the struggling Burmese people better by asking their own governments to change their policies towards ‘bulletocracy’.
India’s policy towards the military junta is no less muddied. New Delhi is hardly an exemplar for all those struggling for democracy. Gone are the days when India took satisfaction in being right than in being diplomatic. Today, silence and discretion are preferable to moralizing. India’s quest for global power status and its hunger for Burmese oil and gas may even prompt it to certify the junta’s “discipline-flourishing democracy.” The general’s junta is more useful than the general’s janata.