INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY: Love Obama, bunk his lecture Strategic trio force Delhi’s Yangon hand – why, because only the US is supposed to be the moral police of the world, not our country with (or yet to show ?!!) a conscience, India ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY SUJAN DUTTA
New Delhi, Nov. 9: President Barack Obama has asked India not to “shy away” from the Myanmar question but in New Delhi — and in Calcutta, from where Fort William largely shapes the country’s Burma policy — the security establishment is unwavering in continuing to engage Yangon.
Even as the US mounts pressure on India to be more vocal in its support of the democratic forces personified by Aung San Suu Kyi, military officials in Fort William and the defence ministry are preparing for another high-level exchange of delegations with Yangon.
If such determination in New Delhi, despite US and western sanctions on Myanmar that has an atrocious human rights record, is rare, it is because, as one official told an inquisitor today, “you have the luxury of asking questions but I have the compulsions of my neighbourhood”.
At play are three huge compulsions:
India’s 1,643km-long porous border with its eastern neighbour that has often been used by northeastern militants to fuel insurgency;
China’s deep inroads into Myanmar where it is building not only roads, bridges and railways but also listening posts and military facilities; and
Energy-hungry India’s need for gas supplies from the Irrawady basin.
India practically effected a turnaround in its Myanmar policy — for the record, it wants Suu Kyi to be released and democracy restored — when George Fernandes was the defence minister in the NDA government.
Myanmarese pro-democracy activists were sheltered in his official quarters in Lutyens Delhi’s Krishna Menon Marg. Military officials convinced Fernandes that India could not afford to have hostile neighbours on either side of it and that China was taking advantage of the distance between New Delhi and Yangon since the junta took over.
That policy has continued since, first, Pranab Mukherjee and, then, A.K. Antony took over. India’s Myanmar policy, for practical purposes, has been executed largely through the defence ministry and not the external affairs ministry.
In March this year, India hosted a member of the junta, Lt Gen. Thar Aye, and followed it up in July by welcoming the military ruler, Gen. Than Shwe, to Calcutta and New Delhi.
In three years, there have been nearly a dozen high-level visits by either side — by top Indian military and civil service officials and by members of Yangon’s State Peace and Development Council. India acceded to a Myanmarese request to supply inshore and offshore patrol vessels for its navy.
Earlier, India transferred two outdated British-made BN2 Islander maritime surveillance aircraft to Myanmar. The UK protested in writing because, it said, the aircraft were given to India on the understanding that they would not be transferred to a third country and certainly not one that was under military rule.
In New Delhi, the western sanctions on Myanmar have little meaning in the strategic mindset. Sources speaking on background on the Obama visit said India was not “prickly” about the US President’s comments.
“If we have to take our place at the high table we will have to deal with all the slings of arrows of fortune,” a source said. Another added: “One has to be brain-dead or oblivious to the situation India has to face on the border with Myanmar.”
But even while Obama was in India, secretary of state Hillary Clinton issued a strongly worded statement from Washington on the “sham” elections in Myanmar. Media across the world have today reported that thousands of refugees, presumably democracy supporters, were pouring into Thailand in the wake of the forced elections.
Indeed, Obama is not the first major leader to bring up the issue with India. The UK’s David Cameron also brought up the subject during his visit in July. But Obama said it in the Indian Parliament.
If the military appears to be at the forefront of shaping India’s Myanmar policy, that is because New Delhi has found that the junta understands its language best. The Indian and Myanmarese militaries now co-operate not only at the top, but also at the sector level.
Fort William has briefed, and continues to brief, Myanmarese military officials who are commanders near the border to get information on Indian militant leaders. The junta member who came in March, Lt Gen. Thar Aye, for instance, was the commander of the Bureau of Special Operations and his responsibility covered the Sagaing division. India suspects Naga militant leader S.S. Khaplang, who heads his own National Socialist Council of Nagaland, is based there.
India has also supplied field guns and light artillery to Myanmar, overriding western protests, since 2004.
The BJP today said India should have responded to Obama’s “snub” and “lecture” over Myanmar.
New Delhi has just decided to let it pass. “After all, the US has a record of supporting military governments across the world even though they are not in its neighbourhood,” said one officer. “We do not want to bring that up,” he said.
Why India hates to hate Barack – or Indians love to love him, how about a US president of Indian origin or Indian ‘Gorkha’ for that matter – however, are Indians that broad minded or too petty, short-sighted and parochial ?!!
BY SANKARSHAN THAKUR
New Delhi, Nov. 9: When diehard anti-imperialists rejoice in a Peace Nobel to a White House incumbent, it’s reason to reflect. When bleeding-heart peaceniks begin to “understand” the laureate’s war whereas they had lambasted his predecessor’s, it’s cause to wonder. When communists break their boycott of an American President and arrive to applaud, it’s time to begin inquiring.
What is it about Barack Obama that makes even those who loathe America love him? What is it about this man that casts him in the beam of a spotlight all his own, unhinged from the umbra of the “evil empire” that he presides over?
Obama has proceeded, the hold of Air Force One spilling over with gathered goodies, his strategic objectives assuming concrete contours on his workstation. Yet the story Obama appears to have left behind is of favours he granted rather than the favours he got.
To him, surely, it was an “its-all-about-economics-silly” trip, the message ringing loud off the mid-term spank handed Obama by the electorate back home. To most of us, it seems to have been quite the opposite of hard business — “It’s not about America, silly, it’s all about the man.”
Obama has left Indian hearts iridescent in the afterglow of his departing jet. Never, perhaps, has an American President been seen or judged by the Indian eye as so blamelessly insulated from the often unsavoury requirements of the office he holds.
Sociologist Ashis Nandy is sharp to warn of the perils of separating the man from the task he has been elected to.
“One reason (for gushing Obama adulation among Indians) can be that there is symbolism attached to his being black,” Nandy says.
“But I think that symbolism has worn off a bit. We should not forget that US institutions are strong. It is the institutions that make a President and it needs enormous political skills on the part of a President to get his way. Clinton did that. Obama does not have that skill. Technically, there is no reason why we should love Obama more than Bush. In fact, Bush was much nicer to India, openly partisan towards India.”
The White House is no dressing room of virtue. Vice, quite often, as Machiavelli reminded us long ago, is an essential virtue in rulers. The art of manipulation and manoeuvring. The temper to manage contradictions. The sagacity to employ faith and to employ suspicion. The talent to marry firmness with flexibility. Sleight of hand. Glibness of tongue. And, when required, the dint to be diabolical.
It can be nobody’s case Obama has got where he has innocent of the obligations of the rough road. But there’s a Teflon quality to him; or is it merely that he is black?
That, if anything, is a grey issue. To former CPM MP Hannan Mollah, shunning Obama, like they shunned George Bush Jr and Bill Clinton before him, was not an option simply for reasons of race and colour. “He is an Afro-American and there is a long-running sentiment of solidarity among Indians with black people, how can we forget that? How could we have boycotted such a man?”
But to a comrade of Mollah’s who wouldn’t be named, it’s about more than just the colour of his skin. It’s about the stables from which he has arrived, different stables, different from those that produced many Presidents of the past.
To her it was more about what Obama is not than what he is. “He is not the Ugly American, and that is what is most different and warming about him,” she says. “He is not overbearing of manner, he is not full of himself as most Americans tend to be, he does not talk down, and he is prepared to listen and willing to explain.”
She could have added he is equally willing with praise, something humans — Indians in particular — are not particularly averse to.
When great Indians are quoted to Indians by visitors — as Obama did eloquently and repeatedly — to suggest they too might possess the inherited shine of bygone glory, Indians become easy to please.
Obama is probably also fortunate he follows after eight years of the world having to cope with George Bush Jr —blunt, blundering, burdened and blinded by self-belief rather than accumulated wisdom.
In comparison, says an Indian diplomat who avers he isn’t rosy-eyed about Obama or his presidency, the man is almost civilisational.
“He effuses values that we not only deeply respect as a people but are a bit in awe of, often jealous of. He is educated, erudite, plural, young, open. There is a human part of him that often — and dangerously for others — masks the political aspect of him. He is nobody’s fool, but he can lure you into thinking he’s just the man next door.”
Sonia Gandhi got that sense off Obama during his Central Hall address and at the two dinners hosted to toast the visit. “Very personable,” the UPA chairperson is learnt to have told leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj. “He is so easy to talk to.”
That’s the grand and simple trick Barack Obama has slipped into the persona of his presidency.