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Friday, September 28, 2007

Time for Action in Myanmar?

The Myanmar junta has killed again. Their numbers say nine dead with 30-plus wounded. They waited and watched to get intelligence on who is leading the charge of protest for about a week. And acted.

They massacred the Buddhist monks leading the protests. No one really knows how many they killed. There are cameras and some non-Myanmar press. But they are out on the streets. Who knows what's going in the temples and monasteries.

On the advice of MEA, particularly our Ambassador in Myanmar, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora made a weekend overnight visit, while the protest was going on, to sign a gas deal. Amb. Bhaskar Mitra probably calculated the junta would crush the protesters and it'll be business as usual in the country for another decade. He probably thought this is the time to be with the junta to check China later. Based on the history of the past decade, we can't win geopolitical intrigue in Myanmar with China - it's itself a dictatorship and has a veto in UN. The Chinese can get away with anything.

Instead of playing the Chinese game, why not change the situation itself.

Take leaf from 1971 and march into Yangon.

(This is CIA's map.
They still call the country Burma and capital Rangoon so as not to recognize
the junta who changed the names.)

If properly planned, we could rapidly outrun the junta and we could install Aung Sun Su Kyi and withdraw rapidly after purging the generals that want dictatorship. The top generals probably have fat Swiss Bank accounts and can take a permanent holiday somewhere in East Asia.

Because it's not an Islamic country, the Iraq Islamic terror type situation would not be a factor. And we'll be able to put our geopolitical stamp on the east until Thailand border. And put China on notice.

We have a long border with Myanmar, although it's with the northeast part of the country - it's probably hard to mobilize troops in this area beyond existing brigades already there to fend off China. With a naval blockade and some air cover the march to Yangon should be fairly rapid especially if we could hold River Irrawaddy and shut down bridges and roads on the northeast part of the country leading to Yangon to block any late reinforcements of Chinese supplies. Yangon itself can be take from Bay of Bengal. All the three parts of the military have to work seamlessly.

Obviously the action has to be rapid to thwart Chinese support to Myanmar junta. I doubt they would join in directly in Myanmar itself. If we rapidly take Yangon, purge the junta of bad actors and hand over power to Aung Sun Su Kyi, and leave as rapidly, we have a high probability of success.

I am sure a democratic Myanmar may not agree with us on everything in the future and may even be hostile at times, just as the Bangladeshis are, but it would still have been the right thing to do.

Something for PMO to ponder, especially if the protest movement and the brutal reactionary repression continues. Pranab's statement reinforces the silliness of our policy.


Photonman said...

I don't quite agree with your strategy. The government's job is to protect *India's* interests, not those of the Burmese people. At the present moment, we could always use additional gas resources, and help in tackling the militants in the North-East. These, besides making sure Burma doesn't completely come under Chinese influence, are the only 'uses' that we have for Burma as of now.

So I don't see how installing a democratic government there makes sense to us right now. Rather, we should ensure that our investments there are protected, and deal with whoever is in power.

Chandra said...

photonman, based on fundamental, core interest of India, surely it's about protecting our own people.

But based on a principle of helping other oppressed people in our own neighbourhood it makes a lot of sense. Also the influence factor, of undermining especially Chinese, cannot be underestimated. Like I said in post, currently we are in a no-win situation when it comes to Chinese influence on Myanmar. Although media focuses on Pak and Bangla quite a lot, Myanmar is also an important country for us and it too is falling under Chinese influence. Imagine if we had put a stake in the ground that South Asia was out of bounds for Chinese when Nehru was around - security situation would have been quite different (I know it is too much to expect from Nehru).

If we want to be a regional power and project our power than what better way to do that other than helping oppressed people in a neighbouring country. And there is no better time. I think if carried on by competent military leaders it can be pulled off.

Having said that the Chinese can create lot of trouble in UN with their seat in Security council and covertly. But both these can be managed diplomatically and militarily especially if we leave rapidly.

But I agree with you that we don't have a refuge situation (similar to Bangla - there was also a strategic one in 1971) or any another dire situation that is clear and present on our country at the moment.

Photonman said...

You raised some good points.

I agree. The Chinese are too deeply entrenched in Myanmar. But then helping oppressed foreigners is fine at an individual level (for people like you and me), but not for nations.

At the moment, I think instead of a military solution, our interests are better served by using the democratic movement as a bargaining counter to extract a better deal from the junta. Granted it's not an easy game to play. But look at the big picture:

Our primary concern with Myanmar is helping us tackling insurgency in the NE. And it's easier to enlist the support of a strong dictatorship than a weak and messy democracy. Case in point - look at how Bangladesh has changed its stance after the military takeover.

Chandra said...

"And it's easier to enlist the support of a strong dictatorship than a weak and messy democracy. "

Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be working either. Read Sudha Ramachandran's article in DNA. When I say we can't play Chinese game, that's what I meant.

Because we can't play their game, the only thing left, other than sitting on the sidelines, is change the game itself. I agree it's froth with risks. But the current path seems to be going nowhere.

Photonman said...

Precisely - we need to change the game. Since the Chinese are so cozy with the generals, a good way to turn the tables is to use pro-democracy sentiments appropriately.

Chandra said...

I guess I am just saying it - working with democrats - hasn't worked in the past until late-90s. Read the excellent articles by Sudha Ramachandran at atimes.com about the background on why India started entertaining the Myanmaries generals.

It may work this time but I really doubt it as long as China offers protection (another example is N. Korea).