Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding

Opinion Editorials, February 2021

Share the link of this article with your facebook friends


Al-Jazeerah History


Mission & Name  

Conflict Terminology  


Gaza Holocaust  

Gulf War  




News Photos  

Opinion Editorials

US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)




Myanmar Coup a Chance for India to Champion a New Global Agenda

By Mohamed Zeeshan

SCMP, February 15, 2020 

Protesters hold placards and shout slogans as they march in front of the US embassy during a demonstration
against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 10. People have continued to rally across the country
despite orders banning mass gatherings and reports of increasing use of force by police against anti-coup protesters.


New Delhi’s inconsistency in its foreign policy has alienated neighbours, with China becoming the default option for counterbalancing India’s regional primacy The lack of advocates for proactive state-building gives India a chance to lead this new agenda and solidify its global standing

When the Myanmar military staged yet another coup early this month, it was a case of déjà vu for New Delhi.

Three decades ago, when democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was last detained, India started out with an aggressive campaign for her release and the installation of democracy. As the impasse continued, however, New Delhi changed tack and began engaging more with the military junta, even as the West maintained sanctions.

India’s main strategic challenge at the time was competing with Chinese influence. Beijing had ingratiated itself with the military junta, and Myanmar soon became China’s gateway to South Asia, including home to its earliest  infrastructure projects . India, therefore, sought to deepen its own cooperation with the junta. The price for New Delhi was the credibility of its commitment to a set of coherent values – not least in Myanmar. Elsewhere in South Asia, India continued to grapple with similar dilemmas – whether to continue standing up for the rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka or the reinstatement of democracy in the Maldives after a coup that deposed New Delhi’s ally,  President Mohamed Nasheed .

India’s inability to be consistent in its foreign policy alienated all sides of the dispute in these countries. China soon became the default option for counterbalancing India’s primacy in South Asia, especially for more authoritarian leaders.

The dilemma is now back, but with higher stakes and more to lose as far as India is concerned. Myanmar is now India’s gateway to Southeast Asia, the entry point for its  “Act East” policy  and home to various connectivity projects. The Myanmar military has also been an important security partner in recent years against insurgents in India’s restive northeast region, located along the border between the two countries. Meanwhile, the ideological interests have also heightened. India is now  an elected member  of the United Nations Security Council and hopes to use its term to build a case for a permanent seat. Such influence is not possible unless it builds a loyal constituency of support for the long term. EVERY SATURDAY SCMP Global Impact Newsletter By submitting, you consent to receiving marketing emails from SCMP. If you don't want these, tick here By registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

That requires consistency in the pursuit of a set of coherent and well-defined values, so as to reliably represent the interests of that constituency of support.

So far, New Delhi has suggested it wants to champion the interests of the pro-democracy lobby in Myanmar, at least in rhetoric. While China blocked a Security Council statement condemning the coup, India released a statement saying “the democratic process must be upheld” and that India would remain “steadfast” in support of democracy.

However, if New Delhi wants to build a case for global leadership, it will have to find a way to follow through on its words. Under US President  Joe Biden , Washington also will be closely  watching India’s approach . As much as the coup in Myanmar is a challenge for India, it is also an opportunity. New Delhi can take up an agenda-setting role – breaking away from India’s traditional  fence-sitting attitude  on sensitive international issues – especially at the UN Security Council. This is a truly global problem befitting a global agenda. Myanmar is now part of a  wave of political instability  that, in many ways, makes up the biggest threat to international security today. From Lebanon to Venezuela and Myanmar, countries are suffering from debilitating violence and civil strife because governments have lost legitimacy in the eyes of their disenchanted people.

Myanmar was never far from that list. Even before the latest coup, the country suffered from imperfect and weak state institutions, a democratic set-up that failed ethnic minority groups and a parliament and civilian leadership still overshadowed by the military.

While democratic transition is typically a time-consuming affair, there was little sign that Myanmar was moving in that direction.  Majoritarian politics  overwhelmed the fragile checks and balances of the country’s democratic system.

To transition back to democracy, Myanmar needs much more than just Suu Kyi’s release. It needs a gradual move to a political order that gives fair and equal space to all the country’s ethnic minority groups.

There must also be credible state institutions that protect those rights – including an independent judiciary, a free press and a vibrant civil society. All this begins with wider dialogue with all stakeholders and communities within Myanmar’s diverse social fabric.

The experience of recurring civil wars and coups around the world over the years – most resulting from the lack of political dialogue and credible state institutions – has already convinced  the UN leadership  of the need for a global agenda in favour of proactive state-building as opposed to knee-jerk reactions.

In 2019, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renamed the UN Department of Political Affairs the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. He did so to capture this idea of building a credible and inclusive state to prevent the recurrence of ethnic conflict and coups.

But with most world powers taking up extreme positions aimed at immediate gratification, there are few champions on the world stage for such gradual state-building. That opens up space for New Delhi to champion such an agenda by leading this narrative in the Security Council, building a coalition of allies to support it and engaging with the military junta to establish a transition process based on common ground between various stakeholders.

If India can lead this effort in Myanmar, it will also give itself a coherent agenda to champion as an emerging power, far beyond just Myanmar. The ball is now in India’s court.

Mohamed Zeeshan is a foreign affairs columnist and the author of Flying Blind: India’s Quest for Global Leadership

Myanmar coup a chance for India to champion a new global agenda | South China Morning Post (


Share the link of this article with your facebook friends




Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah & &