The Myanmar lessons we may not learn

Afsan Chowdhury
Thursday, September 14th, 2017
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The lessons that can be drawn from the situation are many but one is not sure of whether the regimes involved including us are interested to do so. The crisis shows that the new world of real politics is very uncertain as the number of players in this arena are more than ever before. The old world of the cold war is over and in this age of multiple cold, warm and hot wars, the risks are very high.  Surviving for smaller countries is more difficult now and that is why new strategies are needed incorporating realities of multi-polarity not just at the global but regional levels.


Myanmar looks like it’s enjoying an advantage today as it has effectively used its many plus points from the geographical to the ethnic deftly. Both China and India are courting it and more importantly, its army is seeking cooperation though both countries  have a slightly different agenda.


China has not just stepped in but has also brought in a large retinue of junior allies. This range from economic partners like Thailand, Vietnam etc, but also Pakistan which is not just a counter to India but is hoping to sell fighter planes, a Sino-Pak joint product.


India on the other hand is a solitary presence and really has no allies to speak of. Not only has China eaten into India’s relationship with several South Asian countries, the size of China’s clout of all sorts has made it impossible to be ignored. A telling example is that of Bhutan with which there is a defense-foreign relationship management treaty with India. However, it has improved its bilateral terms with China without making much noise and upsetting India too much. This despite being situated between a frying pan and a fire –India and China- where both almost clashed. Creative and safe diplomacy is critical.


Myanmar has moved to repair its relationship with its rebellious groups and is in talks with the Shans, Kachen, Karens etc. They are in different stages of development and in some cases these are being helped by China.


India has however, not entered Myanmar seeking peace in the North East India but hoping that Myanmar army will take on the Naga or any other rebels who find sanctuary there. However, it seems that the Myanmar has made better progress towards establishing ‘cease fire’ than India with Chinese support.


But Myanmar has also decided that it doesn’t need to have such an attitude towards Rohingyas  It has been supported by armed violence leading to resistance followed by counter violence leading to the recent edition of the deluge. It’s an internal problem of Myanmar but which has external implications.  But since the impact falls on a country which has no clout like Bangladesh, this was ignored.


For the moment things look good for all parties barring the refugees and Bangladesh but a review of international politics shows that there is no permanent state of things. Perhaps no greater example of this description is the decline of the West, the demise of socialism and the end of the Cold War, once all considered permanent.  The status quo will change as various powers gain and lose strategic importance and new equations are created.


It’s this lesson that is perhaps most forgotten by all now as the ‘battle’ for supremacy rages on.  So is the lesson that violence is not a long term sustainable economic option. Faith in violence as an effective governance tool continues and the idea is not likely to change suddenly in the near future.


The lesson for victim countries like Bangladesh is to actually prioritize in learning lessons and not denial of realities. And that till date there has no substitute found for competence in dealing with state management. Unfortunately, while it is easy to think that organized bank money laundering, land grabbing, project cost escalation and general corruption may continue without any hindrance, it’s not that easy when it comes to foreign relations.


We don’t seem to have graduated to a level in which many of these geopolitical games are being played. If we are in trouble today, that’s because we thought everyone thinks along the simple lines of power dynamics of our local politics. They don’t. For us, that is the most important lesson.

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