With a new deal signed between Aung Suu Kyi and the government providing her greater political freedom there are hopes of a new dawn in Myanmar called in most parts of the West by its old name Burma. Suu Kyi has been the symbol of hope for the politically oppressed not just in Myanmar but across the World. The outreach by the new government in Myanmar is therefore a victory of sorts, even though this may be just the beginning of a new era of negotiations and parleys. Yet there is hope from the hardline approach adopted by the military junta in the past.
The thaw in relations started when Myanmar’s Labor Minister Aung Kyi urged Suu Kyi to legally register her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) during a meeting with her during July. This was followed up with another meeting in August and a joint statement has been issued with an agreement to provide greater scope for political activity to Suu Kyi.
The new government in Myanmar is trying hard to win international recognition. After engagement with external players including governments and other authorities the leadership has possibly realized the benefits of getting NLD in the mainstream. NLD was sidelined during the elections as it was not allowed to register.
Thus the old negotiator Aung Kyi who has been in touch with Suu Kyi during her period of incarceration was once again roped in to engage the Nobel laureate. She has rejected the offer for registration of her Party as she indicated that she does not recognize the 2008 Constitution. This position would not serve her well in the long run given that the government is not likely to repeal the Constitution which it would claim has been drafted after a referendum. Thus a long drawn out political tussle is likely to continue in the days ahead.
However meetings between Aung Suu Kyi and labour minister Aung Kyi is an indication of both sides attempting political reconciliation. On the part of the government after having rejected NLD and not allowed it to participate in the elections, the move should indicate a positive shift while Suu Kyi who has not been very forthcoming for talks so far has also shown some flexibility. This will naturally help in pulling in foreign investors and diplomatic missions in the country and whether the Myanmar government is genuinely interested in a dialogue with Suu Kyi or it is a ploy to attract the West and reduction of sanctions remains to be seen.
Aung San Suu Kyi took the initiative on 28 July calling on the army and ethnic insurgents to end a decades-long civil conflict in her first direct letter to the country's new president. "I would like to earnestly call for an immediate ceasefire and the peaceful resolution of the conflicts for the benefit of all ethnicities in the Union of Myanmar," she said in the letter, also addressed to ethnic groups. "I am ready to do as much as I can to support the ceasefire and the peace process," she said.
The Kachin Independent Organisation [KIO] reacted positively to the offer and urged Aung San Suu Kyi to play a mediating role between the government and multiple ethnic armies currently engaged in conflict in the country’s border regions. In a letter the KIO has also asked the Karen National Union (KNU), the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Shan State Army (SSA), as well as Burmese President Thein Sein to engage in dialogue through Suu Kyi. Whether this will happen in due course remains to be seen.
The government and the KIO are already in the process inking a ceasefire agreement and the terms are being finalized. The fighting in the Kachin areas has intensified after resistance to Chinese-led dam projects in the State, the most prominent being the Myitsone Dam currently under construction at the confluence of the Irrawaddy River.
Apart from majority Burman, Myanmar has Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mon and Shan major ethnic identities. There are officially 135 national races and 17 ethnic armed groups. Thus the challenge of management of these divergences and their proclivities for violence are many. Aung Suu Kyi however has the moral authority as it was her father, Aung San who had got the ethnic communities together to form the modern nation after independence from the British.
The ASEAN during its summit in Bali in July gave a clean chit to Myanmar on the nuclear issue. Concerns on Myanmar attempting to acquire nuclear technology were expressed when some defectors from the country had reported that they even worked on the site where tunnels were being dug with the intent of constructing an underground nuclear facility with the help of North Korea. This should pave the way for positive engagement with Nay Pyi Taw, however the issue of political prisoners remains contentious.
On the other hand India is set to provide US $ 6 million for development of Chin state. The Indian Consul General Dr. Madan Mohan Sethi based in Mandalay visited Hakha, the capital of Chin state and said that the Indian government will help Chin state’s development with US $ 6 million. The Indian Consul General reportedly met Members of Parliament, some leaders of the town and the state and the Chief Minister. The visit of Dr. Madan Mohan Sethi is the first in Chin state and the funding is the first of its kind from India for the state. Pu Zozam, Chairman of Chin National Party (CNP) expressed his thanks for the development funds by the Indian government to Chin state. “Chin state of the poorest state in Burma. We are very grateful to the Indian government as it is helping Chin state when we are going through critical times,” he said. India’s aid diplomacy should provide it greater say in the region especially with Myanmar which is receptive to grants and loans.
There are immense benefits of opening up of Myanmar for its neighbours as India and ASEAN who are keenly following developments there, a bit of push by them will also work wonders.