Wednesday, July 4, 2012



The elected MsP belonging to Aung San Suu Kyi’s NationaL League for Democracy (NLD) took their seats as newly elected members of the lower House of the Myanmar Parliament when its session began at Naypyidaw on July 4,2012. Suu Kyi, who was also to take the oath the same day, could not do so due to reported exhaustion after her 18-day, five-nation tour of Europe which ended on   June 29. She is expected to get going later this week.

2. One saw a self-confident, but cautious Suu Kyi during her triumphant tour of  Europe during which she accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace at a function at Oslo and was honoured wherever she went. She was given the honours due to a head of State. The Western Governments and people made no secret of their admiration for her.

3. At the same time, one could discern a feeling of anxiety ---particularly in London and Paris---- that the lionisation of Suu Kyi by the Western world could create difficulties for her in her relations with the Government and the Army in Myanmar. Suspicion of Western motives in backing her is believed to be high in the Myanmar Army.

4.That was why during her visit to the UK and France, the local Governments announced their intention to invite Myanmar President Thein Sein to pay an official visit to their countries. Suu Kyi too lauded their plans to do so and stressed the importance of their interacting not only with her and her party but also with the Government over which the Army still has a strong influence.

5. Some of the key themes of her speeches were the need to strengthen national reconciliation in Myanmar, her faith in the policies and good intentions of Thein Sein , her cautious optimism that the policy of reforms initiated by Thein Sein will continue though she was hesitant to say that the reforms are irreversible. For nearly 50 years, the Army has been the strongest and most assertive segment of the society and administration in Myanmar. Keeping this in view, it would be premature and unwise to talk of the irreversibility of reforms.

6. She gave the impression of being confident, though, that Thein Sein is firmly in the saddle and will be able to keep ahead with his policy of reforms. Significantly, shortly after her return, there was speculation in Myanmar that four of the hardliners in the Cabinet, known as supporters of hardliner Than Shwe, the predecessor of Thein Sein, were being eased out. The resignation of one of these four, Vice-President  Tin Aung Myint Oo, has already been announced on July 4.

7.Suu Kyi’s admiration for the Western world and her hopes and expectations that the Western investors would play a more important role in the economic development of Myanmar were repeatedly echoed in her speeches and comments during her tour of Europe. She stressed the importance of human rights and democracy friendly foreign investments.

8. She did not clarify, though, whether she considered the foreign investments from China, the largest foreign investor in Myanmar till now, to be human rights and democracy friendly and, if not, whether she would welcome Chinese investments in future.

9. It was significant that during her stay in London she received on June 19 at her place of stay His Holiness the Dalai Lama who wanted to wish her on her 67th birthday. His Holiness was on a separate visit to London to promote Buddhist teachings and he availed of her stay to call on her and greet her. The fact that she readily agreed to receive him without worrying about any adverse reactions from her Government and from Beijing indicated her readiness to take an independent stand without worrying about adverse reactions from Beijing.

10. China will have reasons to be concerned over her interactions with His Holiness and over her repeated emphasis on human rights and democracy friendly foreign investment, but it has not openly articulated its concerns.

11. Beijing, which is a major investor in the oil and gas sector in Myanmar, particularly  in the Rakhine State, would not have failed to note with concern the expression of interest, particularly in Paris, in the possible flow of Western investment in the oil and gas sector. If this materialises, this could be to the detriment of both China and India, which have been assisting the Myanmar Government in this field.

12. In response to questions from Western journalists regarding the scope for increased investment flows as a result of the opening-up of Myanmar, U Soe Thane , the Myanmar Industry Minister, who attended the Nobel Peace Prize function at Oslo, said: “ A rush is OK, but not a gold rush.”

13. It is obvious that Western business houses, particularly in the oil and gas sector, are expecting a gold rush as a result of their consistent backing for the democracy movement of Suu Kyi.

14. Will their expectations materialise? Will China and the pro-Beijing officers in the Myanmar Army watch quietly as the Western business houses try hard to be the main beneficiaries of the rise of Suu Kyi in Myanmar’s future politics? These are issues that need to be closely monitored . ( 5-7-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )



 “All indications are that the civilian leadership is keen to mend fences with the US. Zahir-ul-Islam could be the right man for the job because he was never very close to the US and, at the same time, was never suspected by the US of being mixed up with the jihadi terrorists.”
--An extract from my article of March 9,2012, on the appointment of Lt.Gen.Mohammad Zahir-ul-Islam as the new Director-General of the ISI

The three-point face saver announced from Washington DC and Islamabad on July 3,2012, marks a recognition by the US and Pakistan of the strategic reality that the continuing frictions in the bilateral relations are proving counter-productive and detrimental to their interests in Afghanistan.

2. The face-saver consisted of a  statement by Mrs. Hillary Clinton expressing US regrets for an air raid over a Pakistani border post at Salala on the Afghan border on November 26 last in which 24 members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps were reportedly killed and a Pakistani decision to allow the resumption of the movement of logistic supplies between the Karachi port and Afghanistan  through Pakistani territory without insisting on an enhancement of the transit fee paid by the NATO to Pakistan.

3. Separately, a US official indicated that as part of the deal, Washington would release about $1.1 billion to the Pakistani military from a US "coalition support fund" designed to reimburse Pakistan for the cost of counter-insurgency operations.

4. Mrs. Clinton said in her statement:" (Pakistani) Foreign Minister (Hina Rabbani) Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again."

5.Qamar Zaman Kaira, Pakistan’s Information Minister, announced as follows in Islamabad: "The meeting of Pakistan's defense committee (DCC) of the cabinet has decided to reopen the NATO supplies."

6.Pakistan's new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who chaired the meeting,  said it was time to end the blockade. He reportedly told the Committee: “The continued closure of supply lines not only impinge on our relationship with the US, but also on our relations with the 49 other member states of NATO."

7. While a face-saving formula has thus been found to end the post-November 26 frictions arising from the death of Pakistani para-military personnel in the US air raid, a face-saving formula has not yet been found to the frictions  that arose after the US Navy Seals raid on the hide-out of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad on May 2,2011.

8. Two frictions arose from the Abbottabad raid. The first related to Pakistani complaints of violation of its sovereignty by the US undertaking an unilateral raid in Abbottabad without its permission. The second related to the US complaints of Pakistani harassment of some Pakistani nationals who had helped the CIA in establishing the identity of OBL The US has been particularly concerned over the Pakistani arrest and jailing of a Pashtun doctor (Shakil Afridi) who had helped the CIA in covertly collecting blood samples of  the inmates of the Abbottabad hide-out of OBL for DNA tests.

9. The pending issues relating to the Abbottabad raid are still under negotiation between the two Governments. A face-saver should not prove very difficult since no Pakistani military and para-military personnel were killed during the Abbottabad raid. There were no Pakistani civilian deaths either, except some living with OBL in his hide-out. It is understood that attempts are being made to find a save-saver under which Pakistan would allow the Pashtun doctor to settle down in the US after a token sentence.

10. The belated  US decision, after dragging its feet for seven months, to reach a face-saver with Pakistan is an indicator of its coming to terms with the ground reality that an invading power would need Pakistan’s support for disengaging from Afghanistan without humiliation. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan post-1988 was facilitated by the pressure exercised by Pakistan on the Afghan Mujahideen not to attack the withdrawing Soviet troops.

11.Similarly, the US is hoping that Pakistan would facilitate the thinning out of the NATO presence in Afghanistan by pressuring the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network not to attack the withdrawing NATO forces.

12. Moreover, as admitted by US officials, the continued closure of the logistic movements through Pakistani territory would have  made the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan time-consuming and expensive if the NATO forces were to use only the Northern route through the Central Asian Republics.

13. Will the face-savers work? Will the tensions be over once and for all? Will the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and the withdrawal of heavy military equipment through Karachi be smooth?

14. The answers to these questions will depend on the sincerity of the Pakistani political and military leadership and the kind of control that the Pakistani Army and ISI are able to exercise on the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

15. During the Soviet withdrawal, the Pakistan Army and ISI had effective control over the different Afghan Mujahideen groups and were able to ensure that they did not attack the  withdrawing Soviet troops.

16.The Pakistani Army and ISI do not definitely have effective control over the Tehrik-w-Taliban Pakistan as the Pakistani Taliban is called. Their ability to pressure the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network not to attack the withdrawing NATO forces is yet to be demonstrated.

17. Moreover, the continuing presence and activities of the remnants of Al Qaeda from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan would be an additional complicating factor which was not there during the Soviet withdrawal. The US will have to maintain a high level of Drone strikes to disrupt the activities of Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and the TTP operating from FATA. This could create  fresh friction.

18. In return for the Pakistani removal of the ban on the movement of equipment from Afghanistan to Karachi during the withdrawal phase, Pakistan might not be satisfied with an expression of the US regret for the Salala raid.It would expect the US to be favourable to its interests in Afghanistan and vis-à-vis India.

19. That could mean fresh Pakistani expectations of US support for limiting the Indian presence in Afghanistan and dilution of the pressure on Pakistan to act against the anti-India terrorist groups.

20. The mending of US-Pakistan fences, if it proves durable, could create problems for us in our relations with Afghanistan and in our counter-terrorism efforts. Our policy-makers have to anticipate the kind of problems that India is likely face and identify the options that would be available to us in future.

21. As the NATO withdrawal gathers pace, it will be a dynamic situation with oft-changing power play. We have to have a dynamic mind-set to be able to limit damages to our interests and to counter new threats to our security.

22. I had stated on many occasions in the past that we should not count on a permanent estrangement between the US and Pakistan. Our policy-makers should not similarly count on permanent US support for our concerns relating to Pakistani backing to anti-Indian jihadi terrorists and threats to Indian interests in Afghanistan. (4-7-12)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )