Under the broad agenda of ‘Nations in Transition’ and their internal political dynamics, Zakir Husain Delhi College had organised a conference on “Political Transition in India’s Neighbourhood: Afghanistan and Myanmar” on 11th April, 2014. The dilemmas of political transition in Afghanistan and the nature of democratization in Myanmar are issues which require critical interventions. Therefore, the conference aimed to compare and contrast the nature of transition and current political developments in both the countries, particularly in the wake of the Presidential elections in Afghanistan and the recently conducted census in Myanmar.
The various sessions focused on a comparative analysis between Afghanistan and Myanmar and the similarities in the transition that both the countries are undergoing.The Conference was organized in collaboration with American Centre, Sarcist and Bookage Publishers and discussed the issues of state building in the context of post-conflict society of Afghanistan and national reconciliation process in Myanmar.
It provided a forum for discussion and interface between the Diplomats, academicians, media persons, research scholars, policy analysts and practitioners representing various institution in India as well as abroad. The outcome of the conference serves as an important contribution for future academic research on political transition and change in these regions.
Today the region in India’s neighbourhood stands at the crossroads of history. Political uncertainties, growing internal and regional insecurities, weakening social fabrics, economic hardships despite the mirage of growth and systemic human rights violations define the political climate of the south Asian region.
India’s neighbourhood particularly Afghanistan and Myanmar, on the west and east respectively, are undergoing a rapid political transition embrowned with a number of possibilities. Political transition in both the countries affects not only the life of the people of the two countries but also has tremendous bearings on peace, security, stability and development of the entire region. However, the nature of the political turmoil, historical background, geopolitical imperatives and undergoing transition in the two countries and their implications for the region and India in particular are very much different.
Afghanistan’s predicament is the result of a mix of:
- · Legacy of cold war
- · US-Pakistan post-cold war lopsided policies
- · Post 9/11 US militarism
- · Obama’s half-hearted approach towards Afghanistan’s reconstruction and lack of clarity in his Pakistan’s policy
- · Afghans’ collective inability to reach a comprehensive political reconciliation.
The Afghanistan challenge is the challenge of post-conflict nation and state building in a country still rooted in tribalism and absence of a viable economy. The stumbling blocks on the path of stabilization in Afghanistan are as follows:
- · Taliban’s extremism
- · Opium cultivation
- · Warlordism
- · Resistance to the authority of centralized state
- · Dependence on foreign donors’ money
- · Pakistan’s elusive search for strategic depth against India
There are allegations of rampant corruption under Karzai government and his uneasy relations with the US have delayed the signing of the Afghanistan-US Bilateral Security Agreement despite its approval by the National LoyaJirgah.
There are mixed signals of whether Afghanistan will be able to maintain peace and stability and prevent the reemergence of Taliban from forcibly capturing state power or preventing a civil war reminiscent of the days of post -Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Taliban has been no doubt weakened but it remains a serious contender for power. The conduct of elections to Presidency and Parliament is a challenge which hopefully will be carried out and new government may sign the Bilateral Security Agreement. The US and international assistance in non-combative role and financial assistance will be required for a long time to come. Lots of stakes of the international community and India are involved in peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan and maintenance of its independence and sovereignty.
The new democratic regime in Myanmar is now taking its baby steps and embarking on a new era of democratic reforms on the path of – ‘disciplined democracy’. At this stage, it has to face a number of teething troubles and has a long way to go from infancy to adolescence. As it moves forward in its growth and maturity, we hope these problems can be overpowered with the emergence of a more open and mature democracy. The newly established national and regional parliaments are the centerpiece of the country’s reform process. Still, the new Constitution greatly inhibits the creation of a genuine civilian government in Myanmar. One reason is the reservation of 25 per cent of all seats in the National Parliament for military personnel.
It also assigns key ministerial portfolios such as Defense and Home Affairs exclusively to military representatives. The other controversial clause relates to Article 59(F) which prohibits any citizens whose parents, spouse or children owe any allegiance to a foreign power.
Moreover, ethnic nationalities have also been demanding a federal constitution, granting them greater autonomy. Although, the change is coming slowly to the isolated country, but still, it has a long way to go. With the elections being held and release of Aung San Suu Kyi, there is a ray of hope for democracy and change in Myanmar. The entry of Suu Kyi and her party to the parliament has been a means of legitimizing newly established civilian regime’s mandate to govern and enhance its own reform credentials. The regime needs Suu Kyi in the parliament to bolster the authority of its own political system and spur on easing Western sanctions. However, Suu Kyi needs the military perhaps more than anyone else if she is to advance politically and amend the constitution, given a quarter of seats are reserved for the military. The reform process, however, in Myanmar is scared by the reformists and hardliners in the army. The hardliners have become more concerned after the last bye- elections when military backed USDP could just get one out of the 45 seats.
Nevertheless, resolving the ethnic issue will be Myanmar’s biggest challenge now. Overcoming of sixty year old ethnic conflict will not be easy and the government will have to do a great deal to build the trust necessary to move beyond temporary ceasefires to resolve the underlying political issues. These developments, therefore, have a significant implication for the dynamics of power struggle and future road map to the presidency in Myanmar in the 2015 elections.
The dilemmas of political transition in Afghanistan and the nature of democratization in Myanmar are issues require critical interventions.