A lot has been written about India's military policy towards neighboring country of Pakistan. But in a recent article published in openDemocracy, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch (and former Time South Asia correspondent for many years), says that doing the right thing in Burma, could be the beginning for India to take leadership role in global politics.
This is an opportunity for India to show leadership. Under pressure from the international community, India has suspended military assistance to Burma. India should insist to the generals that they show flexibility and begin serious negotiations for a return to civilian rule. The regime has allowed the United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari and human-rights envoy Paulo Pinheiro to visit Burma. But these tightly controlled visits will mean little for a regime that is determined to consolidate its repressive rule.
India can no longer afford embarrassing friendships. It should say that without tangible progress on democracy, release of political prisoners and accountability for violations in recent crackdown, all business deals (and not just military sales) will be put on hold. Given the massive poverty in Burma - remember, the spark for the protests was a sharp rise in fuel prices that meant that many were paying more than half of their daily wage just to take the bus to work - and the plundering of the country's wealth by the country's leaders, it should be clear that doing business with Burma is not helping average Burmese. Instead, it is lining the pockets of the elite.
Ganguly writes that while little is expected of China and Thailand in terms of attempt to change military policy in Burma, it is unusual to see India continue to do business as usual.
India is celebrated as a democracy, one that accommodates religious and ethnic diversity, boasts of its active civil society and free media. So it has come as a great shock for many around the world to see India continue with a business as usual approach. Burmese foreign minister U Nyan Win visited New Delhi on 2 January 2008, and Manmohan Singh apparently urged political reform in a process that included detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all the various ethnic groups. However, a $100 million project to provide a transit route to India's northeastern states was also discussed.
Ganguly's article is a follow-up to HRW's recently released report, based on eyewitness testimony, which gives the most complete account to date of events occurring in Burma. The report, Crackdown Repression of the 2007 Popular Protests in Burma, details how many more people were killed and detained in the violent government crackdown in September 2007 than the Burmese government has admitted.
According to Yael Gottlieb, associate director of South Asia Outreach at HRW, the report is being used to recommend targeted financial, trade, and investment sanctions, and makes specific recommendations to companies doing business in Burma. In particular, HRW has called on India, China, the European Union, the United States and other countries with economic ties to Burma to suspend any further development of Burma's oil and gas sector.
What do you think India's policy should be towards Burma? Please post your comments below.