June 21, 2015

India Misses J. N. Dixit as NSA

M K Bhadrakumar

The Indian discourses on Myanmar are increasingly looking surreal. The official mantra is that New Delhi and the leadership in Myanmar (dominated by the military) have one hell of a Faustian deal between them to crush the Naga insurgent groups advocating separatism within Myanmar and in India. The government has leaked to the press that the iconic figure of the Indian Army’s recent “hot pursuit”-cum-revenge attack on Naga rebels, National Security Advisor Aji Doval is packing his bags to travel to Myanmar to discuss a joint action plan of security operations for the period ahead to crush the ethnic separatists in our northeastern regions. However, the red carpet welcome accorded to the Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Beijing should come as an eye-opener for the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling attention to the dramatic shift of the tectonic plates of regional politics. As a gifted politician, Modi will understand things that Doval may not. Suu Kyi arrived in Beijing on June 10 on her first visit to China, which is a 5-day visit, and by the afternoon of the second day already, President Xi Jinping had received her at the Great Hall of the People. By that time she also had talked business with China’s foreign-policy focused state councilor Yang Jiechi. Suu Kyi is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Li Keqiang later today, and, interestingly, her itinerary also includes a visit to Yunnan as well. As a western report promptly took note, “That is the kind of all-star line-up usually lined up [by Beijing] for major national leaders, not opposition party figures.” The angst is palpable in the western media — Suu Kyi is spinning out of western control and is transforming as a Myanmarese national leader first and foremost. But then, in the run-up to Suu Kyi’s arrival in Beijing, Chinese media had amply signaled that in the Chinese assessment, she is the life force of Myanmar’s political future; she is no more to be perceived as an one-dimensional western plaything; and, most important, that Chinese diplomacy needs to urgently make the required adjustment to the advent of democratic rule in Myanmar that can be expected following the general election in November. Clearly, China anticipates that it is distinctly within the realms of possibility that Suu Kyi would eventually emerge as the country’s president. The Chinese commentaries, here and here, all but suggested that much diplomatic leg work preceded Suu Kyi’s visit to China and that Beijing has grounds to expect that notwithstanding the close partnership with the military dictatorship in Myanmar through the decades of military rule (often very brutal), and despite China’s studious indifference all along toward the tortuous struggle for democracy in that country, Suu Kyi has come to appreciate the crucial importance of the role of Chinese economic assistance and political support in the consolidation of democratic rule in her country and in the success of a new government formed by her party, which is certain to win the November election. In sum, Beijing assesses that it has every reason to expect a “level playing field” opening for it in the coming period in Myanmar, which was drifting aimlessly toward the western orbit in the recent years. Of course, Myanmar is no less important for China than Russia, Pakistan or Iran would be as a strategic gateway for the “Belt and Road Initiatives”, which makes that relationship to be of core concern and immense consequence to China’s rise as a global power. The Xinhua dispatch quotes Xi as emphasizing to Suu Kyi that “a community of common interests and common destiny sharing weal and woe” bind the two countries together and that China takes “a strategic and long-term perspective” toward ties with Myanmar. Most important, Xi assured Suu Kyi that Beijing will do all it can to boost the cooperation provided her leadership “will also maintain a consistent stance” on the relationship “and be committed to advancing friendly ties, no matter how its [Myanmar’s] domestic situation changes”, apart from playing a “constructive role” in molding the public opinion in her country toward relations with China “in an unbiased and rational way” that would give positive momentum for the relationship. The Chinese Communist Party has signed an agreement of cooperation with Sui Kyi’s political party. Beijing seems highly pleased with the talks with her and her delegation. (here). Meanwhile, the Chinese overture to Suu Kyi is to be seen also against the backdrop of the robust efforts Beijing has been making lately to help Myanmar clean up the decades-old fratricidal strife involving the ethnic armies that has been tearing the country apart. Significantly, Chinese diplomats are making this a joint effort with the United Nations. Thus, negotiations are commencing in the town of Chiangmai in mountainous northern Thailand (bordering Myanmar) to formalize a draft ceasefire accord involving the authorities and all armed groups, which has been under discussion for over an year. The draft accord was initialed in March by the government and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team comprising the ethnic groups. On Thursday, the ethnic Kokang in northeast Myanmar announced a unilateral ceasefire, brokered by China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said China is “playing an active and constructive role” in stabilizing the border areas. To cut a long story short, it will be useful if before proceeding to Naypyidaw, capital of Myanmar, Doval first travels on a trans-Atlantic flight to New York to have a quiet word with a highly experienced ethnic Indian diplomat, Vijay Nambiar, aide to the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon and Special Envoy of United Nations. Actually, it is Ambassador Nambiar who is jointly brokering the historic peace accord in Myanmar paving the way for the democratic transition in that country along with Sun Guoxiang, Special Envoy of China on Asian Affairs. Suffice it to say, the Indian security establishment is hopelessly missing the plot by planting the cock-and-bull stories in the Indian media and confusing the gullible Indian political leadership that Beijing instigated the June 4 attack on the Indian Army in Manipur in a political conspiracy to sabotage Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming visit to Bangladesh. Whereas, the ground reality is that • Myanmar’s democratization process is accelerating in anticipation of an end to the insurgencies bleeding that country. • The emergent democratic forces in Myanmar do not have the mindset of a “national security state”. • The Naga insurgents, in particular, will soon cease to be the enemies of the Myanmarese state while they will still continue their militant struggle inside India in the absence of a robust search for peace in India’s northeast region, facilitating a vacation of the Indian Army. • The calculus of power in Myanmar will inexorably slip out of the hands of the military, which has been India’s key interlocutor. Alas, India’s security-driven foreign-policy prism is grossly inadequate in coping with the torrential flow of events in the politics of Myanmar’s democratization in the coming months. The bottom line is that “communist” China could realize the stirrings of democracy in neighboring Myanmar and is swiftly making the necessary readjustments to harmonize with the spirit of the times, while “democratic” India seems unable to do that and is hopelessly tying itself in knots and resorting to mass hysteria over “hot pursuit” and what not to cover up policy failures. Probably, what Modi requires at this point is a counterpart to Yang Jiechi in professional experience to assist him in New Delhi. The heart of the matter is that diplomacy is not really the stuff of intelligence; and, all that cloak-and-dagger stuff is seductive alright when handed down to the public in media “plants”, and may even merit a police award or two for our functionaries, but is actually hot air and bravado in the handling of inter-state relationships. Diplomacy is cerebral in quality, it has substantial intellectual content, and it demands handlers with professional skills – and, of course, minds with the exceptional ability to transmute raw intelligence into fine thought processes that go into the making of sustainable, enduring foreign policies. India misses J.N. Dixit as National Security Advisor today. Posted in Diplomacy, Politics. Tagged with Aung San Suu Kyi, India-Myanmar, Nagas, Narendra Modi. No comments » By M K Bhadrakumar – June 13, 2015