Learning from Myanmar

Published: October 16, 2011

The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist who has worked as senior editor at The Indian Express from 1997-2004 and since then has been writing for Khaleej Times, Business Standard and Wall Street Journal jyoti.malhotra@tribune.com.pk

Who says Delhi doesn’t like dictators?

Watching the Indian government romance the president of Myanmar U Thein Sein over the last few days has been fascinating. To be sure, Mr Sein is now the head of an elected, civilian government, even if the electoral process itself was suspect because of democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s celebrated refusal to participate in the vote.

Be that as it may, as the cliché goes. Mr Sein is here to stay for a few years and as Delhi’s eastern-most neighbour, the Myanmarese chief got a red-carpet welcome that began with the perambulation in Bodh Gaya on full moon night, considered by Buddhists to be inordinately auspicious. This was followed by a $500 million credit bouquet in the capital.

Of course, this is tied aid. Meaning, Myanmar will get $500 million to spend, but all the goods have to be bought in India. It’s unclear, so far, how the money will be spent, because Myanmar is still under US-European Union-led sanctions, which means that Singapore makes a killing (in dollars, of course). That tiny city-country behaves like a clearinghouse, you see, much like Dubai does for Pakistan.

That’s what the economic reform has enabled India to do, loosen its purse strings. Never mind how things are falling apart at home right now, and how everyone is in election mode already (state elections in Uttar Pradesh are expected anytime in the next six months, and with 80 seats, UP is widely believed to be a dry run for Delhi).

For the moment, though, Myanmar is the flavour. Last week Delhi feted Hamid Karzai — this, after India signed a cheque for another $500 million when Manmohan Singh went to Kabul a couple of months ago. Last year, when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to town, she was handed over another $1 billion.

Clearly, this isn’t about dictatorship or democracy, but about India’s national interest. After all, when General Pervez Musharraf was coming to Delhi-Agra in July 2001 and then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called to invite him, he began his telephone conversation with what was then considered both obsequious and controversial: “President sahib…”

Vajpayee had dearly hoped that he could get Musharraf to promise the end of terrorism against India, so nothing was too big, including flattery. Musharraf’s conceit, of course, got the better of him in Agra and he proceeded to wreck the summit with his grandiose statements.

The same applies to Myanmar. An exciting concatenation of circumstance is underway : In the wake of the elections, Suu Kyi has been allowed to get out of her house, even though her visits are tightly controlled (she has even come to the Indian embassy once); and Myanmar has announced that it will slowly move towards a market economy.

Over the last few years, the Myanmarese have also been especially sensitive to shutting down insurgent camps that use Myanmar’s territory to target Indian civilian and military installations in India’s northeastern states.

Get the drift? Stop the insurgency and watch India open its heart and its wallet. There’s a growing constituency inside India for greater linkages with its neighbourhood, but peace is a pre-requisite.

Perhaps Pakistan’s generals could learn from their Myanmarese counterparts — who are also great friends of China — in giving peace a chance.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2011.

Reader Comments (15)

  • TightChuddi
    Oct 16, 2011 - 10:08PM

    Pakistan is no Myanmar! What sort of article is this? Are you trying to say Pakistan a nuclear armed state should bo in front of India so that they can provide some few million dollars. US has provided Pak BILLIONS and still Pak wont listen to them

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  • Max
    Oct 16, 2011 - 11:39PM

    So India is the new benevolent in South Asia? Good, and glad to know. Also it has learned the use of purse when nothing else works. Neither Musharraf nor anybody else in Pakistan will ever accept Indian dole. Got it? Spend it alleviating widespread poverty at home.

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  • Bipul Rajput
    Oct 17, 2011 - 12:23AM

    @author: “Get the drift? Stop the insurgency and watch India open its heart and its wallet. There’s a growing constituency inside India for greater linkages with its neighbourhood, but peace is a pre-requisite.

    Ms. Jyoti – I do not see the connection between stopping “insurgency” and India opening its heart and wallet. Insurgency must be stopped PERIOD, no IFs or BUTs.

    Pakistan is the boundary of the Islamic world. India is the boundary of the Buddhist/Hindu/Secular world. If linkages are to be built, they need to be built eastward. With Burma, etc I am all for unrestricted access, trade etc.

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  • Bob Ka Baap
    Oct 17, 2011 - 12:58AM

    Pakistan values ghairat. Money means nothing for them. India’s baniya mentality might succeed with China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar, but Pakistanis are warriors. Money means nothing to them. Honour and dignity does. No peace with India till Pakistan gets Kashmir, Junagarh, Hyderabad, five rivers of Punjab, and Bollywood!

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  • It Is Economy Stupid
    Oct 17, 2011 - 2:07AM

    @Bob Ka Baap:
    “Money means nothing for them” : Fiscal woes: 53% of foreign receipts may get blocked
    Pakistan’s fiscal woes are likely to deepen further as 53% of the estimated foreign receipts may get blocked, threatening to deplete foreign currency reserves, besides shifting three-fourth of the budget financing to the domestic market.
    The country may receive only $2.2 billion external receipts this year against the budget estimates of $4.7 billion.
    Factors like termination of the $11.3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, Greek debt crisis, dispute with Etisalat and patchy relations with the United States has put a question mark on the release of $2.5 billion foreign loans and grants at this point in time. This amount is 53% of the total estimated external receipts.
    Against estimated receipts of $2.2 billion, the government needs to pay back $3.3 billion in principal foreign loans. The government may end up paying the difference out of the central bank’s foreign currency reserves.

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  • Nothing but the Truth
    Oct 17, 2011 - 3:06AM

    @Bob Ka Baap:
    You forgot East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh), Qadian in Gurdaspur.District (Home of Ahmadi community).

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  • Infidel Humanist
    Oct 17, 2011 - 5:23AM

    @Bob Ka Baap

    A very wise comment. I am sure you know about the recent research at MIT which has shown that ‘ghairat’ can take the place of food, education, health-care, law-and-order, and infrastructure.

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  • Homa
    Oct 17, 2011 - 7:06AM

    Fabulous, Jyoti. I liked your sassy message and liked your stand for a change. India really needs to do a better job of protecting its cities and towns from sponsored jihadi violence. I agree with Bipul Rajput: linkages should be pursued with a better class of nations.

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  • punjabi
    Oct 17, 2011 - 9:24AM

    @Bob Ka Baap: lol “money means nothing to them”,go tell that to america or saudi arabia.

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  • Arindom
    Oct 17, 2011 - 10:20AM

    @Bob Ka Baap:
    get out of your esttablishment text books!! Warriors ha! What about all with dual citizenship and money stashed in London?Recommend

  • common sense
    Oct 17, 2011 - 11:03AM

    @Bob ke Baap………your own TV anchors & leaders ary crying full throat everyday pakistan should stop to live with begging bowl & instead try to live with trade & not aid…….But you are still day dreaming of Kashmir & moon. Leave alone Kashmir first try to keep Baloochistan & Khyber with you till it is too late

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  • BruteForce
    Oct 17, 2011 - 11:05AM

    Wonderful article!

    Pakistan wont listen to the US, in spite of taking its money for different reasons, such as conflicting interests(Pak wants Taliban, US doesn’t in Afghanistan for instance) and goals. Pakistan will listen to anything China will say because it treats it as a backup for the US and hopes that China’s hostility will make China more generous towards Pakistan, more specifically its military.

    But, a wonderful message at the end.

    India might not give money to Pakistan they way it gives Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. But, it will definitely save tons and tons of money on the Pakistani side itself, which is its own reward.

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  • MD
    Oct 17, 2011 - 3:52PM

    If you want to know how Burma deftly using its giant neighbors against each-other to extract maximum benefits for itself, then, please read the following story.
    It should be an eye opener for Pakistan, but, fat heads in Pakistan are not likely to learn anything.
    http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2011\10\16\story16-10-2011pg14_8

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  • anil
    Oct 17, 2011 - 5:04PM

    In recent yrs ,India’s foreign policy has been good . If we offer Myanmar a few, we will reapn its twice .It is economy.After all ,everyone needs money .If Myanmar and Bangladesh offers railways to connect to east ,then our rail can connect to Thailand and other countries.

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  • Oct 17, 2011 - 5:08PM

    @TightChuddi:
    Don’t be so negative and despondent please! We all know this feeling. Not everyone in India is rich. But Pakistani food, clothes and many other things can find a good market in India. The good Indian economy is part of destiny. But alas all good things come to an end! So it’s Kaal Chakra. We donot know what will happen when? I am sure Pakistan can take the money, don’t consider it aid from your side. Maybe when Pakistan becomes a very rich country in the future, we can then think about the repayment. But as of now people in Pakistan must take power in their hands and decide what is best for them. Do you not want good things for your family?

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