A welcome mat in Naypyidaw | india | Hindustan Times
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A welcome mat in Naypyidaw

India has a huge stake in Myanmar. It must help sustain the president's reformist drive.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2011 21:48 IST

Overshadowed by events in the Arab world, another political spring is unfolding closer home in Myanmar. The announcement that Ms Aung San Suu Kyi would run for an elected seat is just the latest in a series of rapid steps towards the ending of autocratic rule. Since President Thein Sein outlined a reformist political agenda in his March inaugural address, Myanmar's military government has opened so many doors so quickly that what would have once been considered momentous barely receive any attention. Suu Kyi has now been allowed to travel outside Yangon and address rallies. She met with Mr Thein Sein and he symbolically ensured her famous father's image was prominently displayed. Exiles have been invited to return. Legislation on providing an amnesty to those guilty of political crimes is being drafted. Thousands of political prisoners are being released in phases. The list goes on.

Myanmar is rightly being rewarded by the world for these changes. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) confirmed that Myanmar would chair their organisation in 2014. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit ended a half-century of US diplomatic isolation. However, the primary driver for change in Myanmar has been domestic considerations, though the specific workings of the military's mind may not be clear. An acceptance that the hardliners' isolation and defiance has done little to solve Myanmar's problems, including endemic ethnic strife in its north and creeping Chinese economic domination, was probably one influence. Nonetheless, the world needs to help sustain this reformist impulse. The best way would be to gradually lift the sanctions. The president spoke of a reform process that would last through his five years in office. But every step forward remains uncertain, especially the ultimate political reform: the surrender of military authority to an elected civilian government. Indian can exult modestly at these developments. After all, they seem to endorse New Delhi's case that economic sanctions and isolation were not the means to bring about change in Myanmar. This apart from the benefits India accrued from the military in curbing Northeastern insurgencies and keeping Chinese influence at bay. It is possible the combination of Indian-Asean outreach, Western anger and Chinese domineering all played a role in changing the military's mindset. This is academic today. What India needs to now do is prepare Myanmar for the opening of its polity towards its people and its economy to the world. Myanmar is poorly equipped for either and the likely teething problems would damage the legitimacy of reform. Help in governance, economic modernisation and institution-building are the sort of things India needs to be offering to Myanmar to ensure Asia's spring does not fall afoul of the kind of stormy weather besetting reformist Arabia.