Sizing up Than Shwe

“But he’s our dictator”

The Indian government has rolled out a red carpet for Senior General Than Shwe of Myanmar, who is in New Delhi fresh from a palace intrigue that successfully got rid of a pesky ‘moderate‘ General Khin Nyunt.

While Khin Nyunt was painted as a ‘moderate’ by the popular media, he was also believed to be close to Pakistan. By this token, should’nt Khin Nyunt’s downfall be good news for India?

Similarly, India’s version of pragmatism and expediency holds that Than Shwe is our guy in the battle against North Eastern insurgents.

For India, Myanmar is very important. Apart from a long and treacherous border, India has been plagued by insurgent groups in the north-east who have used Myanmar as a military post. This is not necessarily because of encouragement from the junta, but, because the writ of Yangon does not run in the jungles.

With Bangladesh increasingly becoming a security threat, India has to urgently look to Myanmar for cooperation. We need Than Shwe’s help to sanitise the Indo-Myanmar border. We need his co-operation to deprive the insurgent of sanctuaries, in the same way as the US needs Musharraf to cleanse Waziristan of Al Qaeda. And, this help will not come about if Delhi puts its eggs into Myanmar’s democracy basket. [Swapan Dasgupta/Sify]

Yet comparing India’s red-carpet welcome of Than Shwe to the Bush administration’s Camp David date with Musharraf ignores a vital distinction — Than Shwe does not need Indian support to remain in power. Neither is he a ‘frontline ally’ in India’s war against its north-eastern terrorists — how can he be if his writ, as Dasgupta concedes, does not run in the jungles of the Ind0-Burmese border?

Besides, Myanmar’s military junta would never completely execute a strategic swing in India’s direction. If anything, the Generals would gravitate towards China, whose Communist Party leaders share a common distaste for democracy. Besides playing host to the suspected al Qaeda linked Pakistani nuclear scientists, Myanmar is also playing host to Chinese nuclear scientists. Indian hospitality can hardly bridge the fundamental dissonance between India and the autocratic regime in Yangon.

Senior General Than Shwe is not ‘our’ bad guy. He and his colleagues are more a part of the problem as they are a part of the solution. Recognising this fact is pragmatism. But the manner in which the Indian government is handling Than Shwe’s visit appears to be just resigned expediency.

Related Link: Col Hariharan on Khin Nyunt’s sacking

2 thoughts on “Sizing up Than Shwe”

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  2. The end equation is pretty simple – he may never become a true friend, but we cannot let him be an enemy either. We have ignored the junta long enough to push them deeper into Chinese arms than ever. Of course ours was a principled stand, and we must always support democracy there. But international diplomacy is all about running with the hare, and hunting with the hounds, and it is good that India is showing signs of mastering that art.

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