Monday, 1 October 2007

Let Burma be our moment of Reckoning

Situation in Burma continues to be tense with each side determined to see the end. The military junta continues to do all it can to suppress protesters while the pro-democracy activists demonstrate despite the harsh realities. The world, despite some sound bites, observes as bystander. In the mean time, some of us wonder what future holds for Burmese people and the significance of this latest development at the international scene.

For decades now, Burma has been governed by the military elites who established tight control over the state apparatus. They have ruthlessly suppressed all efforts of the pro-democracy activists and imprisoned the leaders. International community only managed to occasionally express concern in words but nothing beyond that has taken place. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, in the name of ensuring democracy and ushering new era, global powers undertaken expansive military adventures result of which is the messy Iraq, dysfunctional Palestine and the increased uncertainty over global stability.

The test as presented by the Burmese experience is this: how far can international community can go to ensure ‘democracy’ in a state? From what we are experiencing, the answer is that the extent to which international community can go to ensure democracy, rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights is very limited. Of course some would argue that the case of Burma is different in that it does not offer much respite for the only super power to intervene, nor does it inconvenience any of the global players. To proponent of this view, Anglo-US axis has no moral vision and shows little regards to defend democracy; rather they are driven by self interest. While those that sees the axes as the sole custodian of democracy will argue that the Bush lead west perhaps with active participation of the European Union should if necessary take military stand against the Burmese government to ‘free’ the people of Burma from the unimaginable sufferings implicated upon them by their own government. In reality, both of these camps are impractical and unrealistic in the views that they hold.

The war on Iraq, the Palestine Crisis and most recently the increasingly eminent war on Syria points to us that war can only break our peaceful world into suspecting blocks where suspicion, mistrust and lack of cooperation makes it almost impossible to achieve peace and stability. It is also witnessed over the years that however powerful a nation or group of nations may be, they still are unable to mount military challenge in every land where the values of commonly acceptable civility is being violated. We have seen that action in Darfur has been limited to diplomacy and verbal condemnation, Chechnya, Dagestan, Kashmir etc have long been forgotten. In fact, as recently as last week, the British Foreign Secretary himself admitted that while there is victory, there is no military solution. This is extraordinary given that it was this very person who was the tsar of Tony Blair’s policy making.

SO leaving aside the rhetoric, it is now time to take a pragmatic approach to our world’s problems. Our approach should be one of re-conciliation between parties, building bridges and mending differences. War is easy but bringing peace is difficult. There are enough conflicts and potential conflicts, there are far too many potential issues that can divide our world and lead us to devastating consequences. With Burma now dominating the airwaves, we do not need yet another military solution, yet another war in whatever form it may take place. What we need is real courage and determination to come up with creative ideas that will pave the way for a better Burma and indeed a better world.

To this end, it goes back to the old argument in which international institutions like that of UN must be strengthened and their authority well established. TO do so, all nation and most importantly the powerful nations must respect the authority of these institutions even if at times the interest of these nations are not well served. Along with this, we also need to develop an infrastructure, a culture in which no nation is left to be isolated and cornered into little cells. We need effective means of communications with regimes like the one in Burma so we can talk in time of crisis. For this to happen, the authorities in such countries must not feel threatened. We need to create an interdependent world in which no government is able to run its businesses entirely on its own. That way when there is a problem we can apply real pressure that will work.

Isolating countries whether it is Burma or North Korea, be it Iran or Syria, will only make the leadership of such nations ever more determined in going about doing just the kind of things we want them no to do. Allowing them space and time may in short term seem giving way to the ideologically wrong kind of people, but in long term it allows us to weaken those regimes by making them more reliant on others who in turn can force these regimes to change. For the regimes, since they would be used in communicating and cooperating with other regimes, it would be unthinkable for them to isolate and do their businesses alone.
Let therefore our message be one of reconciliation, peace and perseverance. Let us say in loud and clear language, no more songs of wars, no more aggressive tactics to ensure ‘democracy’ but to create space for everyone and give them time to learn to dream of a better world. We want to see an end to the bloody clashes in Burma, but that must be achieved without creating more bloodshed at greater scale. Burma should be our moment of reckoning where we resolve to strengthen international institutions and increase our capacity to deal with this kind of regimes.


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