For better or worse, countries will often sacrifice their principles at the altar of geopolitics. It’s a fact no more evident lately than with India, which appears to be disregarding the muzzling of democracy in eastern neighbour Burma (Myanmar) to cosy up to the ruling military junta there.
Just a few years ago, India would’ve made an issue out of the illegal detention of popularly elected National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for long stretches over the past 20 years. In early 2008, for example, an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed that Burma had been advised that there was now a greater urgency for political reform and that this process ‘had to be broad-based to include all sections of society including Aung San Suu Kyi.’
But just two years later, such pressure appears to have been abandoned as the world’s largest democracy forgets its place and deepens its relationship with the junta.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The dynamics of this new relationship were on full display during the visit of Burmese leader Gen. Than Shwe, who was in India late last month and met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. During Than Shwe’s visit, the two leaders issued a joint statement and announced a number of deals, including five accords on counter-terrorism co-operation and soft loans from India that included $60 million for a road construction project and about $10 million for machinery purchases.
Such agreements are ostensibly aimed at winning over the regime in a nation that Freedom House found this year to be among the nine least free countries in the world. Indeed, last year the organisation specifically called on India to exert pressure over Suu Kyi’s trial—in which she was accused of breaking the terms of her house arrest—with Executive Director Jennifer Windsor arguing that:
‘As the world's largest democracy and a regional leader, India has an obligation to defend Suu Kyi and at least attempt to influence the actions of Burma’s ruling junta.’