Bharat backs Burma, bad!

Burma is in the midst of its largest protests against the military junta since 1988, when the government crushed the pro-democracy movement by killing at least 3,000 people.

The current wave of protests reached its peak on Monday, when red-clad monks led a demonstration of over 50,000 people in the capital, with protests happening in 24 other towns around the country as well. In response, the junta imposed a curfew and has shot at least two protestors who defied the orders.

The only countries with real influence over Burma are its neighbors: China, India and Thailand. Neither China nor Thailand are democratic, so I hadn’t expected much from them, but I have been really disappointed in India’s response.

“It is too early to say anything,” said an Indian Foreign Ministry official, who did not want to be named. [Link]

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p>India is not just staying quiet, it’s supporting the Burmese government economically and militarily:

India’s biggest company, the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, is to invest £75m in exploring for gas off the coast of Burma, despite the swell of pro-democracy protests against the country’s military regime. The deal signed on Monday highlighted how Burma has exploited the energy needs of its two biggest neighbours, India and China, to weaken western sanctions. [Link]

That’s right, the state run oil and gas corporation signed a deal with the Burmese government on the very same day when 50,000 demonstrators were in the streets of the capital. That sends a very clear message about which side they’re on. Here’s an in-your face interpretation of India’s actions in a political cartoon (also below the fold).

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p>Furthermore, the GOI has been consistent in its refusal to criticize the Burmese government:

Earlier this month the Indian foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, refused to put pressure on the Burmese junta to take steps towards democracy. “The cardinal principle of our foreign policy is non-interference in the domestic affairs of any country,” he told reporters in Bangkok. [Link]

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p>Why this cowardice / realpolitik?

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p>For one thing, India wants Burma’s help fighting rebels on their shared border. In return for this help, they are helping Burma bypass the EU arms embargo, and even helping train the Burmese military. This is pretty heavy support.

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p>The other is that India wants Burmese natural gas, and is afraid that China will take advantage of it if they do not. So both to feed their own economy, and to block China’s, they are willing to make deals with the junta and leave the Burmese people to … fend for themselves against the military that they have helped to arm and train. Given that the Burmese military is a almost a half a million strong (just a smidge smaller than the American active duty Army), it’s hardly a fair fight.

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p>Hmmm – a powerful country that puts security and energy above human rights and principle. Hmmmm ….. never heard that one before.

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p>Related posts: Realpolitik with Burma, An Important Message, Which Has Nothing to do with Spelling

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p>Update:

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p>The material below – both the facts and the rude political cartoon were taken from a Human Rights in Burma website.

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Facts about Burma:

  • One of the highest levels of forced labour in the world.
  • Rape is used as a weapon of war against ethnic women and children.
  • More than 1,100 political prisoners, many of whom are routinely tortured.
  • More child soldiers than any other country in the world.
  • Nearly half the government budget spent on the military.
  • One in ten babies dying before their fifth birthday.
  • Over 60% of Burmese people living in poverty. [Link]

147 thoughts on “Bharat backs Burma, bad!

  1. That is an amazing picture. [Ennis - he meant the photo of the march. The political cartoon was added later]

  2. Sadly, as has been discussed here on SM before, non-violence is only effective so long as you know that the ruling authorities will not react with extreme violence. For example, just citing the two biggest ones of somewhat recent years, the non-violence movement in India worked because the British simply were not willing at that point to do what would have been necessary to quell things such as massacre the people. Likewise, the American Civil Rights movement worked because the police, despite sending the dogs in and using water-hoses, were not willing to resort to rampant violence.

    However, we have seen non-violence fail where the government IS willing to crack down massively such as China during the Tiananmen Square protests. Likewise, I feel in Burma not enough people in the international community are willing to intervene to ensure that Burma does not use extreme force which, it appears, they are just beginning to do. They will, if history is any guide to these things, probably go slowly at first to see if there is any international fallout. When they find that the USA, China, India, Russia et. al do not really care (or rather are not willing to step in on a serious level), they will unleash the forces on the protesters.

  3. It’s foolish for India to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, especially when it has enough issues at home to deal with: human rights issues, energy scarcity, hunger, etc etc.. Our interference in Bangladesh/SL didn’t particularly help us.

    Home is where one starts from.

  4. Thanks for the great post.

    These type of Bismarkian deals are becoming more and more prevalent as resource scarcity/energy issues become the defining dimension of foreign policy. I guess in some ways it always has been, but we’re going to see that sky rocket in the next ten years; and the primary people who will feel its effects are civilians involved in struggles like these. Even the genocide in Darfur has some of its roots in the drastic desertification affecting the once fertile area.

    Also, here is the original Human Rights Watch report from December on India providing the Burmese govt with arms and training that will specifically help them target civilians and “insurgents.”

  5. It’s foolish for India to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, especially when it has enough issues at home to deal with

    When you’re arming and training an army and making deals with a military junta, I’d say you have picked sides already. Why not take responsibility for the consequences of your actions? And if you’re unwilling to, how can India criticize the USA when it does something similar?

  6. When you’re arming and training an army and making deals with a military junta, I’d say you have picked sides already. Why not take responsibility for the consequences of your actions? And if you’re unwilling to, how can India criticize the USA when it does something similar?

    Well put. I fear Kyrial is right about the Burmese military’s willingness to use extreme force, though…

  7. I have thinking about this for a few days now and been pretty upset and frustrated at the Indian government’s cop out response. Mostly I am trying to figure out if there are any ways to influence the decision making machine in New Delhi. If only I could spray some religious flavor that might convert to real votes into this issue =(

  8. i wonder if the indian govt. is in secret talks with the burmese govt./opposition? perhaps behind-the-scenes diplomacy is better than berating the Burmese with high-handed statements in public? india is in a difficult spot in a truly dificult geopolitical region. most of the other countries around it have a resentful “little brother” syndrome when it comes to india and i think anything that india does will meet with criticism. despite this, whether it should actually be arming the burmese govt. is another matter. especially since aung san suu kyi has ties to india. why not do business with burma for india’s national security but draw the line at arming them? but I guess the burmese govt. has to exact some price.

  9. It’s not the Indian Government’s job to facilitate human rights in other countries. It’s their job to do whatever it takes to ensure the security and energy supplies of their own people, both short term and long term. Manmohan Singh is doing the right thing.

    how can India criticize the USA when it does something similar?

    It should not. A simple “We do not have any opinion on the US actions in the mid-east” would be appropriate.

    M. Nam

  10. India initially tried to follow an idealistic policy with the Myanmar junta, but it changed its stance in the face of China’s growing influence in the region. Close ties to Burma give China a virtual outpost in the Indian Ocean, and this is a grave threat to India. Also, Burma has served as a training ground for terrorist outfits such as ULFA, NSCN, etc. This makes it hard for India to take an idealist view towards Burma. If you talk of dictatorships, the big elephant in the room is China. Myanmar, etc, are all small fish in comparison. Its creepy how all over the world, including the US, China is aggressively wooed, not shunned.

    I must admit the stoic protest by the monks touched a raw nerve in me. Its really sad and painful what we are all ultimately complicit to. But such is realpolitic. I can satisfy my moral itch by protesting India’s behavior, but really, can India allow four of its neighbors to be dictatorships hostile to it?

    And if you’re unwilling to, how can India criticize the USA when it does something similar?

    If you look at world opinion polls, India is one of the countries where the US is still most liked. Barring the occasional grumpy uncle you run into in the US, most Indians are over the idealism that marked Indian foreign policy a few decades ago. Most admire American strength. Indians are tired of batting on side of the losers of the world. As Dr. Evil said, there’s nothing quite as pathetic as an aging hippie.

  11. It is disturbing that India hasnt taken a stand! However, I do agree with some others here. Indian government is there to protect and serve India and not anyone else! Yes, India is the only democratic nation there but look who is surrounding it! You have Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Sri Lanka, Nepal… Its a tough spot to be in.

    Frankly, I am surprised that no one is willing to criticize and take action against China! The most problematic state within the region. Yes, ideally India should be the one to step up but so should US and the UK when it comes to China. Not just criticize but do whatever it takes to stop the human rights violations and the thousand other things within China. The thing that gets me is the Olympics next year. Thats the best way to show China how serious the world is – however, I doubt anything will happen with that!

    The other thing is India is democratic because we fought for it. Burma will also have to fight for that democratic right. Yes, there should be support from India, however, geopolitically it would be a weird position for India to be in.

  12. Quoting from the latest report from the following cfr link todays

    “Despite U.S. and EU sanctions, Myanmar’s junta has been bolstered by ties to India and China. Beijing and New Delhi compete for access to Myanmar’s natural resources. A recent report says China’s diplomatic support of Myanmar appears to have played a role in winning a gas contract for PetroChina. India, not to be left behind, pledged $150 billion (AFP) in gas exploration in Myanmar despite protests from pro-democracy activists. Beyond energy, India also seeks strengthened ties with Myanmar’s regime on counterterrorism and defense as part of its Look Eastpolicy (WorldPress.org). Given these circumstances, a new media release by the International Crisis Group notes that only China, India, and, to a lesser degree, the Association of South East Asian Nations have any influence on the military regime “

    So to add to the growing list of India’s foreign policy headaches – Kashmir,Tibet,NE-Srilanka- is it realpolitik versus human rights again ?

  13. It’s foolish for India to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, especially when it has enough issues at home to deal with: human rights issues, energy scarcity, hunger, etc etc.. Our interference in Bangladesh/SL didn’t particularly help us. Home is where one starts from.
    It’s not the Indian Government’s job to facilitate human rights in other countries. It’s their job to do whatever it takes to ensure the security and energy supplies of their own people, both short term and long term. Manmohan Singh is doing the right thing.

    I second jujung @3 and Moor Nam @ 9. What the Indian Govt. doesn’t do, individuals seem to be doing privately — I got an e-mail petition yesterday from my second cousin in Delhi, an invitation to sign a petition at this link:

    http://www.avaaz.org/en/stand_with_burma/v.php?cl=19984959

  14. As Dr. Evil said, there’s nothing quite as pathetic as an aging hippie.

    Ah well, Dr. Evil said aging hipster, not hippie. But aging hippies are sad too ;) .

  15. Oh, and how about did the Indian Govt. do anything at all about Lal Masjid? I don’t think we even brought that up.

  16. It’s not the Indian Government’s job to facilitate human rights in other countries.

    Why limit it to Indian government? if you believe this, then surely you must believe:

    It’s not the [insert government]‘s job to facilitate human rights in other countries.

  17. EU/US imposed sanctions on Burma because they could afford to.. How about sanctions on China?? What about colluding with the military dictator in Pakistan?

    Doing business with the military junta need not necessarily mean support to the military. It just means doing business with whoever is in power. Democracy has to be fought for by the people.. Imposed democracies don’t work for long.

    how can India criticize the USA when it does something similar?

    India criticizes US for the same reason that US criticizes India!

  18. Oh, and how about did the Indian Govt. do anything at all about Lal Masjid?

    They weren’t arming the Pakistani government.

  19. i think there are three issues (a) morality vis-a-vis human rights/democracy (b) realpolitik vis-a-vis China (c) strategic vis-a-vis oil supplies. India should do the same as what US is doing wrt Saudi-Arabia. Don’t lose sight of any of the above options and raise the ante for any of them at the right time and at right place. Never put all the eggs in one basket. This is akin to modern version of the Anglo-Russian Great Game of in central asia.. Time to play the same game the same way the superpowers played it and still play it to this day.

  20. It’s not the Indian Government’s job to facilitate human rights in other countries.

    Why limit it to Indian government? if you believe this, then surely you must believe: It’s not the [insert government]‘s job to facilitate human rights in other countries.

    Yes indeed, that is exactly the point. Human rights violations are increasingly used as a pretext for military intervention.

  21. It’s not the Indian Government’s job to facilitate human rights in other countries.

    And so the Indian Government can arm a horrible dictatorship and not take any responsibility / blame for what happens next? This isn’t just a refusal to criticize, they’re arming and training the Burmese military.

  22. Moornam:

    It’s not the Indian Government’s job to facilitate human rights in other countries. It’s their job to do whatever it takes to ensure the security and energy supplies of their own people, both short term and long term. Manmohan Singh is doing the right thing.

    Yes, but isn’t it in India’s best interest to have a stable, democratic Burma? These gas exploration deals can be very tenuous when you have a fickle dictatorship. An secure and open Burma would eventually help India (through trade) far more than any gas or oil they find.

  23. I actually agree with ennis; it is one thing to not interfere with what is going on in other countries (as pranab mukherjee, somewhat hypocritically said, its the job of burmese people to fight for democracy in burma), its quite another to actually facilitate the repression of democratic movements (by de facto supporting the junta). india seems to have already implicitly taken sides in this ostensibly “internal” struggle (its far from neutral as it claims to be). but it is also somewhat naive to expect states to behave otherwise, for states (or for that matter any institution that has the backing of the state) are, by their very nature, far from moral agents (so they can only be compelled, either by other states, or by its population). people are, and they seem to be doing something…

  24. Indian Government can arm a horrible dictatorship and not take any responsibility / blame for what happens next? This isn’t just a refusal to criticize, they’re arming and training the Burmese military.

    Come on…Didn’t the CIA in league with th ISI arm the Afghan warlords ? Didn’t the US arms the Iraqis against the Iranians ? Didn’t the Pakistanis arm the Kashmir militants ? So much for the human rights recently Brits approved a multi-billion dollar fighter plane deal with the Saudis ? Isn’t US giving F-16s to Pakistan ? What about these illegal activities of of a democratic country

    lets be practical..Where does India’s self-interest/priorities lie ..that is the right question that Indian govts/India people and various organizations involved should ask ?

  25. And how does India feel about US support for Pakistan? Do they think it is good?

    How about when the USA supported a government that killed 3 million in what was then East Pakistan? Did India think those actions by the USA were OK?

  26. Why limit it to Indian government? if you believe this, then surely you must believe: It’s not the [insert government]‘s job to facilitate human rights in other countries.
    And so the Indian Government can arm a horrible dictatorship and not take any responsibility / blame for what happens next? This isn’t just a refusal to criticize, they’re arming and training the Burmese military.

    That was all of a piece actually, Ennis. You can ask exactly the same question of the Bush Administration re Pakistan. Mebbe the thought is, where’s the gas coming from if India’s foreign policy becomes constrained by the 123 Agreement? — or indeed if the USA invades Iran, as, judging by the recent treatment of Ahmedinejad, it is clearly gearing up to do before the present Administration’s term is up. We can expect plenty more conundrums from Sonia Gandhi and her appointees pulled to the fore from behind her pleated, invisible semi-purdah.

  27. just b/c the u.s. did it does not make it ‘right’. on the other hand, apropos this case in particular, i don’t think india’s taking a position against the junta (by freezing aid) is going to have any effect as long as the junta continues to have chinese support.

  28. Yes, but isn’t it in India’s best interest to have a stable, democratic Burma? These gas exploration deals can be very tenuous when you have a fickle dictatorship. An secure and open Burma would eventually help India (through trade) far more than any gas or oil they find.

    Yes absolutely true. Democracy in Burma may mean better prospects for India. But it may also mean that other nations will probably beat India to get the oil. So with demand rising up exponentially in India and the need for oil for its development and to raise the standard of living, lets say it takes X years to “surely” get oil without democracy and 5X years to “probably” get oil with democracy. I say get the oil and ask the human rights organizations like Amnesty and Red cross to put the soft-pressure. Or send in folks like Richard Gere to protest against human right abuse.

  29. Human rights violations are increasingly used as a pretext for military intervention

    are you saying military intervention is not good, when it’s done genuinely to alleviate human rights violations?

  30. There is no other better example/lesson for India in handling the Burmese problam than how a democratic country like US deals with China. Look at how much business US does with China and how many western multinationals operate in China in spite of all the hue and cry over human rights and lack of freedom. In spite of all the business there are many organizations which soft-pressurize China for democracy. Profit and Self-interest go hand in hand with morality. Thats is the name of the game in the mdoern world.

  31. Yes, but isn’t it in India’s best interest to have a stable, democratic Burma? These gas exploration deals can be very tenuous when you have a fickle dictatorship. An secure and open Burma would eventually help India (through trade) far more than any gas or oil they find.

    SkepMod, stabilty and democratization are syncretically overlaid over here when it suits purposes of raising support for military intervention, but pulled apart when not– Pranab Mukherjee is right about one other thing- you can’t stun a people into self-rule, whether by imposing sanctions on the nation’s economy as a whole or by punishing their government– by doing what? Taking their armaments away?

  32. are you saying military intervention is not good, when it’s done genuinely to alleviate human rights violations?

    Yes, HMF, that is exactly what I am saying, because military intervention is a synonym for invasion (and when is that dine “genuinely”?), and invasion never does alleviate any human rights violations without wrecking infrastructure and imposing imperial rule.

  33. For the record, India today did break its silence on Myanmar.

    The government of India is concerned at and is closely monitoring the situation in Myanmar. It is our hope that all sides will resolve their issues peacefully through dialogue. India has always believed that Myanmar’s process of political reform and national reconciliation should be more inclusive and broad-based.

    (Link)

    I think, the last line is a change from its previous stance of not in any circumstance ruffling the junta’s feathers. It has gone far enough to almost criticise the Myanmar government of not being inclusive in its “reform” process, which in diplomatic terms, is quite a strong rebuke from India. Maybe, its the pressure of the international community or maybe the Indian foreign office feels that the junta is showing some real chinks in its armour. Perhaps, it is only a way of keeping avenues open with a possible popular government in the future, whose functionaries would have long memories on who were their active supporters or who remained silent during their struggle.

  34. Thanks Scribina – I researched the post last night, before they made that statement. One thing:

    long memories on who were their active supporters or who remained silent during their struggle.

    It’s not just silence, it’s active military and financial support for the Burmese government. That would make the Indian government an active supporter of the other side, or an active opponent of the protesters.

  35. Yes, HMF, that is exactly what I am saying, because military intervention is a synonym for invasion (and when is that dine “genuinely”?), and invasion never does alleviate any human rights violations without wrecking infrastructure and imposing imperial rule.

    That’s fine, but if you’re part of the “the government should do what’s best for its citizens period.” camp, then military invasions that go under the guise of humanitarian cause should be exactly what you support? Unless you’re not in that camp.

  36. Amrita:

    stabilty and democratization are syncretically overlaid over here when it suits purposes of raising support for military intervention, but pulled apart when not– Pranab Mukherjee is right about one other thing- you can’t stun a people into self-rule, whether by imposing sanctions on the nation’s economy as a whole or by punishing their government– by doing what? Taking their armaments away?

    I am not sure what you mean by the first sentence. I didn’t suggest military intervention. I simply pointed out that while considering the potential benefits of gas/oil in Burma, we are sacrificing a much larger opportunity of trade by keeping a repressive govt in place. Yes, taking their armaments away might indeed be a way to exert some leverage over the junta.

    Brij:

    lets say it takes X years to “surely” get oil without democracy and 5X years to “probably” get oil with democracy.

    I think its just the opposite. Dictatorships are far less rational than freely elected governments. There is no “surely” when you’re dealing with despots; and India will get the oil only if its willing to pay market price for it. Do you think India will get the oil at a 20% discount because she was good to the despots?

  37. lets say it takes X years to “surely” get oil without democracy and 5X years to “probably” get oil with democracy. I think its just the opposite. Dictatorships are far less rational than freely elected governments. There is no “surely” when you’re dealing with despots; and India will get the oil only if its willing to pay market price for it. Do you think India will get the oil at a 20% discount because she was good to the despots?

    There was a survey a few years ago that showed that most American corporations prefer dictatorships.

  38. There was a survey a few years ago that showed that most American corporations prefer dictatorships.

    Especially when they install half of ‘em.

  39. This blog post is a perfect example of what may keep what happened in the 1980s from happening again. The coverage of state violence, even with heavy restrictions on journalists, will be many times greater than before the advent of the internet and cell phone cameras. If we start to see pictures of big piles of dead monks in the streets, the international response — including India’s — will be stronger.

  40. Didn’t the US arms the Iraqis against the Iranians ?

    This gets thrown around A LOT, but objectively speaking, most arms the Iraqis used against the Iranians were of Soviet origin. Their armor was primarily the T-Series tanks and Russian personnel carriers and aircraft were MiGs/Sukhois. Iraq’s air defense system was a classic Russian style network and their infantry weapons were also of Russian origin (AKs, RPGs, mortars, etc). I belive they also had French Arms, too. Iran was the one actually using American arms (procured originally under the Shah of Iran) that included F-14s.

    Sorry for the side-bar.

    Focus: My question is this – can India afford to take the high road, especially for a resource as crucial as oil? What is to say that via established links with the Junta, India can’t leverage them into a more open society instead of forcing them by sanctions. Sanctions only work when everyone toes the same line. With China lurking around the corner ready to take any slack and more, what position does that put India in? Another thing to think about is the physical boundaries of India itself – Pakistan (hostile), Nepal (unstable with a Maoist insurgency), China (the heavy weight), Bangladesh (border disputes and minor firefights between security forces), Myanmar, and Bhutan (pro-India).

    I don’t think India is in any position to ‘lose’ out, but it’s quite uncomfortable for a Republic to be surrounded by unstable, hostile, and undemocratic countries. For India’s long term protection, I’d think it would want a free and democratic Myanmar. But their strategy may be less confrontational and more of back channel ‘convincing’. I don’t know…

    Here is an article on Chinese strategy of containing India. It’s a passive-aggressive strategy that is underpinned by co-opting neighbors of India to provide material support to China. IMHO, India on the other hand to counter this is building up it’s blue water Navy and Airforce to project power over longer distances.

  41. “you can’t stun a people into self-rule, whether by imposing sanctions on the nation’s economy as a whole or by punishing their government–”

    but that’s exactly what previous Indian governments – Congress ones at that, like this one – advocated as measures to pressure and punish South Africa. but india could afford to treat south africa like that back then, just as the u.s./britain can afford high-minded ideals against Burma but not Saudi/Pakistan or any other country they need.

  42. the other side of the argument is that it’s easy to criticize govts. like india/us for double standards, but how many of us actually go out of our way to sacrifice our self-interests for our principles? how many of us don’t buy any products made in countries with human rights records of which we disapprove? what about made in china products? what about the gasoline for our vehicles? what about the petroleum that goes into products we use everyday? it comes from countries criticized by Human Rights Watch. but we continue to put our own needs first, so is it realistic to expect govts. to ignore their own countries’ self-interests?

  43. the other side of the argument is that it’s easy to criticize govts. like india/us for double standards, but how many of us actually go out of our way to sacrifice our self-interests for our principles? how many of us don’t buy any products made in countries with human rights records of which we disapprove? what about made in china products?

    I find it strange that no one even seems to notice anymore that China is a ruthless communist dictatorship. Its now just the huge economic miracle. It is funny how quickly $$s pip human rights.

  44. ruthless communist dictatorship

    it’s arguable whether it is communist after all. additionally, so long as people stay apolitical the chinese gov. pretty much seems to leave most people alone. that’s the key. it is a dictatorship, but it isn’t quite totalitarian in the way north korea is (iran might be a good analog to china, though their economy isn’t humming quite the same way). there is a difference between authoritarian and totalitarian. if you went through the cultural revolution then the current state of freedom might not look bad.

  45. it’s arguable whether it is communist after all. additionally, so long as people stay apolitical the chinese gov. pretty much seems to leave most people alone. that’s the key. it is a dictatorship, but it isn’t quite totalitarian in the way north korea is (iran might be a good analog to china, though their economy isn’t humming quite the same way). there is a difference between authoritarian and totalitarian. if you went through the cultural revolution then the current state of freedom might not look bad.

    Yes, but N. Korea has nowhere close to the influence that China has in Asia. The economy is what is keeping the chinese people happy for now: most chinese guys I know are scrupulously apolitical and happy that China is the talk of the world. If their economy goes south, say in a few decades, dissent will certainly increase, and they might create an escalation in south Asia just to distract from social or political unrest. As an Indian, I’d say China is India’s biggest threat, and requires India to be constantly vigilant.

  46. India maintains very cordial relations with Cuba, Zimbabwe, North Korea (India’s favorite progressive newspaper published an elegy for Kim Il Sung), and a few other unsavory regimes. So what is special about Burma?

  47. India maintains very cordial relations with Cuba, Zimbabwe, North Korea (India’s favorite progressive newspaper published an elegy for Kim Il Sung), and a few other unsavory regimes. So what is special about Burma?

    Cordial relations are very different from arming a military which is under an arms embargo, training that military, and investing heavily in that country. It’s not Burma that is special, it’s India’s close relationship with Burma.