From the Viewsroom

The Myanmar logjam

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on March 25, 2021

Given our interests, India must push for peace in the country

In the November 2020 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy pulled off a truly extraordinary victory, winning 85 per cent of the vote. That alone should have warned the army that it would face strong resistance to its February coup. Nearly two months on, the demonstrations show no signs of abating. Wednesday marked a Silent Protest Day with a near nationwide shutdown and protesters were out in force again on Wendnesday. Some 275 protesters have been killed with the army showing it’s willing to be utterly ruthless in crushing opponents. The protesters have also attacked Chinese businesses because they believe China is backing the army. (China initially made the colossal error of downplaying the coup as a ‘cabinet reshuffle’.)

So, which way does Myanmar head from here? On one side is the army, firmly convinced it knows what’s best for the country. On the other is a huge mass of the population that wants the army back in its barracks. So far, the army’s shown no sign of responding to international pressure. But the international community is watching closely. The US has slapped sanctions on the nation and last week’s Quad meeting reiterated the importance of democratic values for the region.

Underlying developments is the fact Myanmar has become ever more geo-strategically important. The Chinese, keen to gain overland access to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan and Myanmar, have invested $17 billion in dams and other infrastructure. Japanese firms have also invested heavily. India, all along, maintained good ties with the military and even gifted them a retired Indian Navy submarine. We’ve been fairly ambivalent in our coup statements, referring to “balanced outcomes.” We’ve got a tricky hand to play in seeking to counter China’s regional strategic ambitions. We’re also facing an issue with Myanmarese police and military crossing into Mizoram which has close-border ethnic links. Given our interests, we’re unlikely to extend any overt support to Myanmar’s democracy forces. Where are the exits from this logjam? Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Bangladesh today and possibly he should confer with other heads-of-state there about Myanmar. Peace must be forged, and if we can use our influence to that end, we must.

Published on March 25, 2021

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