Sunday, May 01, 2005

What would the late Aung San do today? To Deal or Not To Deal With Burma's Realities

Quotes of the Day:

Quotes of the Day:

"Elections are the roof of a democracy - not its foundation."

- Timothy Garton Ash, Dir. of European Studies Centre and Prof. in Contemporary History, St. Anthony's College, Oxford, 28 April 2005

"It goes without saying that the "siege or bunker mentality" that characterizesall camps in Burma, specifically the NLD-led opposition and the de factogovernment of the SPDC,is going to neither help install the roof of ourenvisaged democracy nor build its foundation."

- Compiler's Remark, What would the late Aung San do today?: To Deal or Not to Deal with Burma's Realities

"For nonviolent sanctions to work, there must be a global consensus, not justthe current series of disconnected and uncoordinated national policies...Theinternational community must unite in applying effective pressure on theBurmese dictatorship - politically and economically - until it cedes power tothose who earned it legitimately at the ballot box.

- Jody Williams, International Campaign to Ban Landmines, International Herald Tribune

"China, scouring the world for raw materials to feed its fast-growing economy,aims to start building a $500 million nickel mine and smelter in Myanmar withinthe next two years."

- In 'China extends nickel search to Myanmar', Reuters

"The Shwe natural gas field was discovered by Daewoo International Corporationon the Western Arakan coast of the Bay of Bengal. It is the biggest find inthe ASEAN region in a decade. According to a report of 'New Light of Myanmar',a state-run newspaper, the profit coming from the proposed project, will bemore than the combined earnings from the sale of gas to Thailand from Yadanaand Raytagon fields."

- In 'Burma's Shwe Gas Project: Another Nightmare?', Mizzima News

"So how on earth are we to get a global consensus when Burma is safely cocoonedin the embrace of countries which represent almost half the world's populationand which have made it crystal clear that they have ruled out economic andfinancial sanctions against Burma...?"

- Derek Tonkins, Former British Ambassador to Thailand, Vietnam and Laos

"The late Aung San defended inconsistency categorically by privileging the need to tailor a means to an end or polittical views,in accord with the realities on the ground. He was neither imprisoned by his unparalleled popularity at home nor concerned about his image abroad. He was mission-focused, his mission being the country's independence."

- Compiler's Remark: What Would Aung San Do Today?: To Deal or Not to Deal with Burma's Realities

This FBC Posting contains:

1). An open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi
2). It's the Burmese who are asking for sanctions, Opinion Essay/Editorial,International Herald Tribune
3). Derek Tonkins' letter to the Editors, International Herlad Tribune

Compiler's Remark:

Free Burma Coalition

Nearly 15 years after General Aung San's assassination, one of the most popularAmerican presidents of all times, namely John Fitzgerald Kennedy, challengedhis fellow Americans by exhorting them to "(a)sk not what your country cando for you, but what you can do for her." This was nationalist polemic which thelate Aung San would have endorsed heartily.

Burma's independence hero Aung San remains my all-time favorite (Burmese) statesman and anationalist leader. And many of the boys (and girls) with whom I grew up in Mandalay admired him a great deal. And we still do.

Aung San's integrity, honesty, effective leadership, and so on are often citedas some of the reasons why we admire this visionary state-builder whodied at the young age of 32. Many of us have devoured any and all of his ownwritings, listen to intently first-person narratives, and read up on anythingthat has been written about him.

But, for me what I admire most about Aung San and his style of leadership is notjust the usual laundry list of his now mythologised and deified leadershipqualities which I briefly - and partially - listed above.

It is primarily his political courage to take decisions that were contradictoryand inconsistent or perhaps even unpopular. He offered no apologies for his grossly inconsistent decisions of national importance; nor was grief-stricken by them.

In one of his essays even before he made serious decisions with disastrous consequences for the entire populace, such as holding hand with Prime Minister Togyo's Fascist Militarist Regime in Tokyo, he touched on this subject of inconsistency in a man's (and woman's) political views and actions. And he defended inconsistency categorically by privileging the need to tailor a means to an end or polittical views, in accord with the realities on the ground. He was neither imprisoned by his unparalleled popularity at home nor concerned about his image abroad. He was mission-focused, his mission being the country's independence.

In his book "Defeat into Victory", the British General William Slim of theAllied Forces operating under Lord Mount Battan's Supreme Command of Allied Forces in Southeast Asia, recounted his first meeting with the young General Aung San, which took place in Meiktila. On the outset of that meeting, Slim told Aung San pointedly that the latter was switching sides because the Allies were emerging as the victors. (Aung San and a group of young Burmese nationalists had been trained by the Japanese Forces and instrumental in the expedition of the Japanese occupation of Burma during the early years of the World WarII. Subsequently, the Japanese 'liberators' proved more dishonest, more crass and more ruthless than the British Raj Aung San decided to come over to the Allies' side toward the close of the War.) With no hesitation or embarrassment, Aung San simply retorted by saying that there would be no pointin joining the Allies if they weren't winning the War.

To be sure, our country's history doesn't offer us, the current and nextgenerations of Burmese, with a blue print as to how to get out of the quagmirein Rangoon.

But one thing appears increasingly clear.

The indignant voices and statements emanating from various corridors of power-be they from largely symbolic parliaments across South East Asia, the famous chambers of power in the West, or the exclusive clubs of international luminaries - are not going to modify the seemingly intransigent behavior of thegenerals; nor are they going to carry much weight with the regional - andprogressively global - powers such as India and China as our country's giant neighbors pursue their own own geo-economic and -political interests defined by their security and economic needs for energy resources and curtailing the other's influence over Rangoon.

Most on-going conflicts in today's world involve control over resoures, inaddition to ethnicity-based animosities and hatred.

Economic and political policies and equations are linked with the needfor resources, often by both newly industrializing and post-industrialpolitical states and economies.

Regardless of the oft-touted 'values', when it comes to national strategicinterests, which have economic, political, and ideological dimensions,democracies have not behaved significantly different from authoritarian orautocratic regimes. Examples abound. France, Germany and Russia were deeply invested in Saddam's Iraq in the monthsleading up to the US-UK-led invasion of that country, with the second largestreserve of oil in the world.
Great Britain and the United States are among the world's top 5 arms exporting nations. The other merchants of death include France, Germany, and Russia. Washington continues to support Saudi Arabia, ally with Pakistan and, by andlarge, gloss over systemic rights abuses in countries which have been condemnedin the court of public opinions as 'human rights offenders' (for instance,Uzbekistan).

So the Burmese should listen to what is said by democracies, but more importantly, they must pay much closer attentionto what is done by them. For realities - and real actions - matter - not simply the tired, old official rhetoric of "freedom, democracy and civilization."

There are three 3 things that form the significant core of Burma's realities. They are: 1). the peoples' desire to live under a government that is less oppressive, not necessarily fully democratic, and that can offer a stable social and economic order at the least human cost; 2). the richness in natural resources in the country and attendant need to exploit them; 3). the power asymetry between the military as the most cohesive and dominant institution - not withstanding the recent purge of the intelligence faction - and the rest of the country.

To focus on one form of manifestation of the popular desire to have a sociallycontracted government, without proper considerations for the other equally important ingredients of Burma's reality core is not only naive but it willalso undermine the pro-democracy movement's ultimate goal of bringing about changein Burma.

As a noted 'historian of present' and a friend of Burma's democracy movement(and the late Michael Aris) perceptively remarked, "elections are the roof of ademocracy, not its foundation."
To cling on to the results of the 1990 elections - now matter how noble and principled such a public political stand may appear - is to pay attention only to the roof, not the rapidly deteriorting foundation (of an imaginarydemocratic nation under our prefered politicians).

It goes without saying that the "siege or bunker mentality" that characterizes all camps in Burma, specifically the NLD-led opposition and the de factogovernment of the SPDC is going to neither install the roof of our envisaged democracy nor help build its foundation.

For this bunker or siege situation to change, something has to give.

Some leadership has to flip-flop or make a radical shift of policy or stance orstrategy. In practical terms, either the SPDC has to unitalerally announce that it will release all political prisoners, enter into dialogue - or some might prefer - tripartite dialogue - with the Opposition and discuss a power sharing arrangement based on the 1990 elections results, or the NLD and itssupporters have to unilaterally wave the olive branch by offering to call forthe lifting of all forms of sanctions against Burma and ask for legitimate andmutually respectful cooperation with the military leadership.

Either way, this will require effective and visionary nationalist leaders who place common interests of the nation above their institutional and personalinterests, preferences, or their images.

While the potential power of the proverbial masses is to be recognized, national leadership is still needed to stop our country from further descending into the abyss.

The late Aung San, indisputably the founder of the unified and independent Burma, left the legacy of his effectively pragmative, if highly inconsistent,visionary leadership.

Since our country's independence, every single leader, every singleinstitution and every political vision has drawn its legitimacy, either explicitly or implicitly, by association with this genuinely inclusive nationalist martyr.

It's about time those of us who grew up viewing Aung San as our role model ask the question:
What would the late Aung San do if he found himself with hisback against the wall of current geo-political and geo-economic realities, trying to push for change under a set of highly asymetrical power relations?

Neither Uncle Sam nor Aunty EU will send their troops to chase the local 'tyrants' down the streets of Rangoon, help smuggle out and subsequently train the latter day Thirty "Special-Op Democrats", or pour millions of Euros and Dollars into our non-violence war chest - as they have done for Ukraine and Iraqi oppositions. We may be wise to wake up from our freedom dreams during which the Goddess of Liberty is being erected on the terrace of the Shwedagon pagoda.
The 17-years' stalemate which has resulted in the serious deteriotation of civil society in Burma - that foundation of democracy - should compel us the Burmese to think inconsistently, creatively and boldly.

Surely, we take whatever form of support and solidarity we receive from our international friends. And we appreciate the sentiment and the solidarity. But at the end of the day, Burma's problems are our problems. They are inter-generational. Any potential solutions lie with us - not the internationalcommunity.

Burma's problems require Burmese solutions. Solutions require informedempircism. Blind faiths in our suffering leaders or our own goodness ofthoughts and intention alone will not do.


Daily Times - Site Edition , April 30, 2005

An open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi

At the beginning of the third millennium our global society is, thanks to modern technologies, able to easily communicate with anyone anywhere in the world. We are all becoming part of a larger spiritual dialogue that is further evolving our civilisation.

Everyone has a right to become a meaningful and authentic part of this dialogue. Everyone has something to say and, in his or her own way, something to contribute. But you have been denied this basic right for a number of years. A great many believe you have been deprived of this basic right because your voice – gentle, gracious and inspirational – resonates with the undeniable and resoluteforce of truth; a truth that threatens those who deny your right tospeak. Internationally, your voice has become an inspiration for civil society and it is a light in the darkness along the way tospiritual freedom.

People from all over the world write you letters and hold you in great esteem because you are a symbol of hope, courage and dignity.

They write you even though they know their letters and words of hope may never reach you. History, however, has taught us that neither walls nor weapons can silence even the most isolated voice of courage and truth. Indeed, the efforts to silence such a voice only make it louder. Please know that we carry your voice in our hearts for all to hear.

Combating attempts, such as this one, to silence the truth is one of the reasons that we, the undersigned, along with others, have come together to form a collective effort known as Shared Concern Initiative. Shared Concern Initiative is an informal group of political, religious and intellectual leaders from around the world who, in the interest of good governance, tolerance and respect for human rights have dedicated themselves to address important challenges facing global society.

The first undertaking of Shared Concern Initiative is this open letter to you as a symbolic attempt to jointly break through the totalitarian barriers erected so unfairly around you.
With this letter also comes our humble invitation. We would be honoured if you joined us in the Shared Concern Initiative and in our effort to form a collective voice for truth, tolerance and transparency.
With deep respect,

Václav Havel, The Dalai Lama, FW de Klerk, Prince El Hassan bin Talal, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, George Soros, Richard von Weiszäcker, Vartan Gregorian Andre Glücksman, Michael Novak, Karel Schwarzenberg, Hans Küng —DT-PS

It's the Burmese Who are Asking for Sanctions

by Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

This month the UN Commission on Human Rights issued its latest, now annual, condemnation of ongoing rights violations in Myanmar, highlighting in particular the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, general secretary ofthe National League for Democracy, and her deputy, Tin Oo, who have been held under house arrest since they were attacked in May 2003.

I was able to meet with Suu Kyi at her home in Yangon, the capital, just three months before that attack, while she was traveling in the north of Myanmar to promote democracy. During that visit, she said that although the authorities had tried to destroy the NLD after prohibiting its candidates, and those of other prodemocratic parties, from convening a Parliament after their decisive electoral victory in 1990, a combination of internal and external pressures had allowed the parties to survive. She said that the NLD was continuing to ask for international sanctions to isolate the military regime and help force peaceful change in the country.

Now the people of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, are again asking the international community to stand with them as they engage in the largest civil disobedience action the country has ever seen. The NLD, which has never legallybeen banned in Myanmar, initiated a public petition late last year calling onthe authorities to release Suu Kyi. A member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines visiting Myanmar recently was told that by late February, almost a half a million people hadadded their names to that call. The simple act of signing a petition is illegal under the military junta's draconian laws, and people who have previously circulated petitions requesting political change or challenging decisions of the junta now languish in jail. When the ICBL representative asked if people were afraid to sign the petition, members of the NLD's Central Committee responded, "Yes, they are afraid. But they sign."

The petition campaign continues to grow, virtually ignored or unknown outside Myanmar. Just as the 1990 election showed massive popular support for democratic governance, this petition shows popular condemnation of the seizure and detention of Myanmar's Nobel Peace laureate.

For every person who risks signing the petition, there are many more who are sympathetic but afraid to take action. Yet many Burmese people continue to be willing to take significant risks to try to bring about peaceful change.

It is now time for external pressure to be stepped up and consistently applied. Some argue that sanctions against the military junta should be dropped and replaced by "constructive engagement" with the regime. This is despite the call of the NLD itself for sanctions, and the clear example of the international isolation and economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa that helpedinternal forces bring democracy to that nation.

For nonviolent sanctions to work, there must be a global consensus, not just the current series of disconnected and uncoordinated national policies. Myanmar has never lost the support of key states, which help supply it with arms, for example, such as Singapore and Pakistan - neither a beacon of democracy. The military junta must not be allowed to continue to hold democracy hostage in Myanmar. External pressure must be applied in support of activists if we want nonviolent political change.

The international community must unite in applying effective pressure on the Burmese dictatorship - politically and economically - until it cedes power to those who earned it legitimately at the ballot box.

Jody Williams is founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

Sir, Jody Williams makes the point (IHT 26 April 2005) that for non-violentsanctions to work to bring about change in Burma, there must be a globalconsensus.

I agree entirely. But she surprisingly mentions only Pakistan andSingapore as examples of countries which support Burma.

The true size of theproblem would be more apparent if she had mentioned instead those two dynamic developing countries, totalitarian China and democratic India, or those two industrialised giants Russia and Japan, not to mention South Korea, Israel, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia - the list goes on and on, some autocratic societies, but many models of democracy, and two of them alreadyPermanent Members of the UN Security Council (China and Russia) and two soon tobecome (India and Japan).

So how on earth are we to get a global consensus when Burma is safely cocooned in the embrace of countries which represent almost half the world's populationand which have made it crystal clear that they have ruled out economic and financial sanctions against Burma, though some are at long last willing toapply increasingly strong political pressures? Even the EU has had enough of sanctions, and is now actively pursuing a policyof carefully targeted humanitarian and development aid, rather to the dismay ofthe United States which would seemingly still much prefer to see the Burmese people suffer to the point where they see no alternative but to sacrifice themselves in a massive bloodbath in the face of an utterly ruthless military machine. Is that what Jody Williams really wants?

Yours sincerely, Derek TonkinFormer British Ambassador to Thailand, Vietnam and Laos