Sunday, February 1, 2015

An Unstable neighbour !! Myanmar; and Persuasive diplomacy



Diplomacy can be also defined as a confrontation-preventing and solution-oriented mechanism. An unstable Myanmar is always a matter of concern vis-a-vis insurgency-hit northeastern states.
'Persuasive diplomacy' is a skill wherein a fine synthesis of soft approach and authoritative manner is utilized to influence the mindset and subsequent policies of another country. India needs to experiment this proficiently with Myanmar in order to achieve lasting results in northeast India. 



I have tried to emphasis earlier that the foreign policy with regard to India’s South Asian neighbours is often understood as a mere tool of combating insurgency. As a result the diplomatic thrust for the region and smaller countries like Myanmar always remained neglected.
In the meantime, Myanmar has seen some transitions. A resemblance of democracy has come in and in circa 2015 all eyes – as expected - would be on the general elections likely to be held by October-November.

But the people of Myanmar and more importantly the political machineries in that country – essential elements to run a democracy – have to ironically grapple with certain realities.
There is 25 per cent of the seats reserved for the military in parliament that gives them veto rights against any constitutional change. In more ways than one they say, the people of Myanmar continue to be bewildered by the “new-old” system where military has upper hand on major issues.

Now importantly for New Delhi, the Indian government needs to be on guard about certain things – technically internal matter of Myanmar - but very sensitive for Indian diplomatic establishment especially in the context of ruling BJP's keenness to have improved relations between Nagas in Nagaland and Manipur with the Nagas in Myanmar.

PM Modi with Suu Kyi
India shares a long land frontier with Myanmar that runs a little longer than 1600 km. The government of India for decades took scant note of the fact that Myanmar’s so called “isolationist policy” – under the military regime – has only befriended it more to China

Now in last few years if the political turmoil and sustained international pressure one way or the other changed the lives of common Myanmarese, it has also things for Nagas in Myanmar who have often suffered the loss of home, lives and culture.
Did they often feel unwanted in their homeland thus also deserve finer scrutiny.

A sizeable portion in western Myanmar is dominated by the ethnic Nagas, who share biological fraternity with the Nagas in India. Thus it is often argued by political parties in Indian side of the border and also security experts in the South Block that the condition of Nagas in Myanmar can have some impact vis-à-vis the insurgency movement of the Nagas this side.
Reportedly, the Nagaland government has earlier this year submitted a paper to the centre on these lines.
Former Nagaland CM Rio with Naga delegation from Myanmar

But having said these it needs to be appreciated that certain aspects of supposedly internal matters of Myanmar can easily bamboozle Indian government, which despite subjected to all kinds of criticism has been practicing functional democracy for over six decades. 

The military commanders in Myanmar continue to have the “final say” in the appointment of the Defence minister, Home minister and the minister of Border Affairs. We have spoken earlier about veto powers of Myanmar’s military rulers for any possible drastic constitutional changes. 
Moreover, the new constitutional mechanism there enshrines that military has the constitutional right to seize power if the President decides. So in 2015 on the context of general elections later in the year, we could wake up to yet another dawn of military coup. And it could actually happen very easily. “It wouldn’t be a coup like before; it would be a constitutional handover of power to the military,” renowned Myanmar watcher, Bertil Lintner told me during a recent interaction.
This would mean the Naga Self-Administered Zone in western Myanmar as stipulated by the 2008 constitutional norms would end up as a scratch.
These can combine together to make things somewhat complicated for New Delhi in dealing with the emotive and sensitive issue of relationship between Nagas in India and their fraternal counterparts in Myanmar.

The policy makers in New Delhi under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and especially his trusted National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval therefore ought to take matters concerning northeast India and neighbours like Myanmar more seriously.
It is significant to note that while delivering an address to mark the foundation day of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju has said that, “There is no need to adopt hawkish foreign policy. We are naturally a soft power. But soft does not mean weak. We have to be firm, responsible and strong in our resolve”
Rijiju is a key leader from Arunachal Pradesh and reportedly shares good working rapport with the NSA Doval. Thus the Junior Home Minister’s remarks are well taken. In deed the statement spells good intent and sincere understanding of matters. But at the same time one needs to underline that New Delhi’s foreign policy engine room, that is the PMO and the NSA in particular, needs to be pro-active vis-à-vis hitherto neglected neighbours like Myanmar.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s eloquent hesitation for participating in the general elections in October is actually a matter of concern. One is stating this notwithstanding the fact that the performance of Suu Kyi’s National Leage for Democracy in Parliament has remained far from satisfactory.

The army-dictated 2008 Constitution is not only clearly offering an win-win situation to military, it also bars Suu Kyi from becoming president or vice president.
The constitution requires the approval of 75 per cent of parliament to amend major portions of the charter and so army-inspired hurdle for any drastic measure is only predictable. Can India make some difference in all these? This is a test of its persuasive diplomacy.  


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