US President Barack Obama’s visit to Myanmar might bestow the long-awaited status of acceptability that this hitherto pariah state has been desperately trying to earn from the community of nations.
Obama is one of many heads-of-state to step foot in Myanmar (though not the first), a country blessed with natural resources and offering hope for economic prosperity to its people and others who line up with the promise of engaging with it. This visit could lead to the decks being eventually cleared for a return to the mainstream and, with it, the junta being absolved of their abuse of power.
While it is natural for heads-of-state to fraternise with Aung San Suu Kyi, the poster-girl for democracy, they must remember that their efforts will come to naught should they ignore the presence of President Thein Sein — the real driving force for reform and who holds the key to the treasure trove. A delicate diplomatic balancing act must be maintained. Suu Kyi has grasped the wisdom of not rocking the political boat at what many analysts see as a critical phase for the country. She has subtly aligned herself with Thein Sein’s bigger blueprint, while leveraging her equity as a beacon for change and reform abroad. In doing so, however, she has subjected herself to self-imposed sightlessness on quite a few vital issues — the fate of the Rohingyas and the release of human rights activists being clear cases in point. By evading the issue of the Rohingyas in his speech, after his arrival in Myanmar, Obama too has fallen short of laying down some crucial markers.
In short, the world must not reward “partial reform” as Myanmar trundles forward. There is too much at stake and half-baked deals are not prudent. While it is legitimate for nations to court the junta, the question that arises is what is going to change on the ground after they are gone? The impact of reforms must be felt in the poor rural and urban areas and governance must be all-inclusive. That alone is the appropriate measurement of accomplishment.