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26 July – 1 Aug: India Welcomes Than Shwe, Sets Aside Principles of Democracy

By Burma Partnership  •  August 2, 2010

Earlier this week, Senior General Than Shwe concluded his five-day tour of India. The tour included a visit to the mausoleum of India’s treasured non-violence advocate Mahatma Gandhi, ceremonial receptions hosted by high-level Indian officials and a series of delegation level talks and treaty signings.

The delegation from Burma undoubtedly left the neighboring country satisfied. The Indian government pledged over US$70 million in aid and over US$120 million in loans to the military regime in exchange for Burma’s commitment to address India’s ‘insurgency’ issue and increased diplomatic relations. India’s eyes are firmly set on Burma’s largely untapped energy resources.

Despite India’s success as “the world’s largest democracy,” President Pratibha Devisingh Patil and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh eagerly welcomed the internationally condemned dictator of Burma, provided the funds that would support the perpetuation of the regime’s control over Burma, and failed to address the undemocratic nature of the upcoming elections in Burma as evidenced by their joint statement:

The Myanmar side informed the Indian side about developments in Myanmar including the groundwork for elections scheduled towards the end of the year. The Indian side thanked the Myanmar side for the detailed briefing and emphasized the importance of comprehensively broad-basing the national reconciliation process and democratic changes being introduced in Myanmar.” (MEA Government of India and SPDC Joint Statement)

India had once carried out its political relations with Burma on the principle of morality, supporting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her pro-democracy efforts. However, as energy and financial interests became India’s main priority, the country changed political tactics in the mid-1990s to engage with the junta. Unsurprisingly, instead of addressing Burma’s upcoming elections during Than Shwe’s visit, India chose to focus on mutual business and trade interests.

A significant driving factor in India’s foreign relations with Burma is China’s intimate economic ties with the military state. India’s energy interests suffered a set back when Burma named China as sole recipient of the infamous Shwe gas pipeline despite India’s initial investment of US$1.3 billion to the Shwe development project.

Bilateral trade with Burma in general is small fry stuff for a burgeoning economy the size of India’s, but it’s more significant for the junta and it might benefit India’s efforts to stop China from running away with more Burmese gas,” noted Collin Reynolds, an independent energy industries consultant.

India also sought to enlist the junta’s help in addressing the “pernicious problem of terrorism” with a newly signed counter-terror pact, arguing that “there are insurgencies on both sides (of the border) and both countries need each other.” In the name of “peace and stability in the region” and “the well-being of the people of their respective countries,” the Indian government was willing to support the military regime in combating Indian rebel groups, while overlooking the junta’s contemptible role in threatening regional stability by their heavy-handed repression of their own people. The Indian government’s hypocritical self-interest was well summed in senior Indian politician Jaya Jaitley’s words as she criticized the Indian government for hosting Than Shwe in order to suppress Indian separatists who were arguably “less criminal” than the notorious general.

If India was genuinely concerned with issues of regional stability, they should have taken the opportunity to discuss the recent reports on Burma’s growing nuclear weapon program and the military regime’s close ties to North Korea, especially given North Korean Foreign Minister’s official visit to Burma last week. North Korea’s extreme state secrecy has ensured that few details have leaked about the trip, prompting serious concerns from the United States regarding nuclear proliferation and trade of strategic arms. Further threatening regional stability is the Burmese military regime’s attacks against ethnic nationalities, including those they would consider “insurgents”. Just last week, the SPDC army attacked and torched a village in Karen state, displacing over 500 villagers who are now in need of emergency shelter, food and security. Even more Karen refugees have fled to the Thai border in fear of clashes between the SPDC army and dissenting battalions of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

In welcoming Than Shwe, India has compromised itself as the largest democracy in the world founded on the principle of non-violence by following only its own political and economic interests. Indeed, the Indian government would do well to listen to the calls of its own MPs who sent an open letter to Prime Minister Singh stating that “we are seen as the largest democracy and emerging power in the world by the international community so we should not send wrong message to the world by focusing primarily on military and economic cooperation with the military dictatorship in Burma.” Consorting with Than Shwe’s oppressive military regime only undermines the principles of morality and democracy for which Gandhi stood and strived for. The Indian government should reassess whom they consider their allies; supporting the military regime is not diplomatic realism, it is hypocritical self-interest.

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This post is in: Weekly Highlights

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