In a frank cable, leaked by whistleblower website Wikileaks, an Indian diplomat responsible for Southeast Asia, Mitra Vashishta, elucidates India’s views on democratisation in Burma with outspoken criticism of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“According to Vashishta, democracy in Burma is too closely linked with the greatly respected Aung San Sui Kyi (ASSK), whose ‘day has come and gone’,” the cable said.
The cable is dated 2 November 2004 and followed a visit by Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe in October of the same year.
Indeed Vashishta suggests that the senior general made the visit with two other general’s wives, using them as “hostages” against potential coup plotters.
“Vashishta observed that Than Shwe travelled with the wives of two other powerful generals, Thura Shwe Man and Soe Win, who she mused may have been used as “hostages” to ensure tranquillity among the generals in Rangoon during Than Shwe’s absence.”
This fact she says was symptomatic of a weak junta – at the time former Prime Minster and intelligence chief, Khin Nyunt, had just been purged by Than Shwe, with speculation that he feared that the intelligence chief could oust him.
Ruing Burma’s isolation, apprently brought on by sanctions which “haven’t helped democratisation in the country”, the cable tellingly adds: “Burma is so isolated that members of Than Shwe’s delegation wondered whether they would have to “go nuclear” to get US attention, she remarked, noting the comparison to Pakistan.”
Also discussed was former UN special envoy to Burma Ismail Razali’s trip to India, also in October 2004, whom Vashishta is similarly outspoken about.
“..she argued that the organisation [the UN] “has lost credibility” in the eyes of developing countries and should at least make an attempt to be more “pro-Myanmar [Burma].”
It continues that, “The EU is too obvious, shabby, short-sighted and full of contradictions’ to play a meaningful role in Burma, she argued, while Thailand takes a pro-active approach to Rangoon only ‘because one of their ministers wants to be the next UN Secretary General’.”
It’s likely that she was referring to Surin Pitsuwan, now Secretary General of ASEAN, whom former Thai PM, Thaksin Shinawtra, almost nominated to be Kofi Annan’s replacement as Secretary General of the UN.
She also indicates how India are suitable, on the other hand, to promote democratisation in Burma after it “has agreed to provide grants and limited military equipment to Rangoon”.
India’s warming to the generals is no secret, but this leak comes only days after Suu Kyi appealed to the Indian government. India is a country she used to reside in and a government that has bestowed her with its most prestigious award, the Jawarhalal Nehru Award.
Whilst India used to be supportive when Suu Kyi first became active in the struggle for democracy in Burma, it has since gone on to imprison 34 ethnic Burmese freedom fighters in a bizarre sting operation. They remain in incarceration 12 years on, perhaps a telling sign of the diplomatic support that India offers its eastern neighbour.
The Indian government has also pursued economic opportunities in the country, which many see as an attempt to compete with rival China over lucrative natural resources and strategic influence.