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Comments on Obama's Visit: Part V & Last– Unwarranted Remarks on India's Myanmar

President Barack Obama’s support for India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC) was not direct and unconditional. It was indirect and conditional on an agreement being reached in the UN General Assembly on a reformed UNSC that will include India as a permanent member. This is the meaning of what he said in his address to the Parliament on November 8, 2010. He said: “As two global leaders, the United States and India can partner for global security – especially as India serves on the Security Council over the next two years.  Indeed, the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate.  That is why I can say today, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.”

2. A reformed UNSC with India as a permanent member is a long way off. China is not prepared to support a reformed UNSC which includes Japan as a permanent member. The US is unlikely to support any reforms which exclude Japan. The Islamic world, at the prompting of Pakistan, has been canvasing for a reformed UNSC which would include at least one Islamic nation as a permanent member—-either Indonesia or Saudi Arabia. If this idea is accepted and the US prevails in having Japan included, there will be two new members from Asia and there will be no place for a third new permanent member. India would be automatically excluded. China has been firm that the new permanent members should not have the right of veto—- a condition which would not be acceptable to India.  It is going to take years before these issues are sorted out. Public and media euphoria in India over the statement of Obama was, therefore, not called for.

3. In the context of India’s aspiration to become a permanent member of the UNSC, Obama made critical references to India’s support to the military regime in Myanmar in a language which was unwarranted and injected a jarring note in an otherwise cordial and friendly visit.  He said: “Now, let me suggest that with increased power comes increased responsibility.  The United Nations exists to fulfill its founding ideals of preserving peace and security, promoting global cooperation, and advancing human rights.  These are the responsibilities of all nations, but especially those that seek to lead in the 21st century.  And so we look forward to working with India – and other nations that aspire to Security Council membership – to ensure that the Security Council is effective; that resolutions are implemented, that sanctions are enforced; that we strengthen the international norms which recognize the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all individuals.      This includes our responsibility to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons…..Now, we all understand every country will follow its own path.  No one nation has a monopoly on wisdom, and no nation should ever try to impose its values on another.  But when peaceful democratic movements are suppressed – as they have been in Burma, for example — then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent.  For it is unacceptable to gun down peaceful protestors and incarcerate political prisoners decade after decade.  It is unacceptable to hold the aspirations of an entire people hostage to the greed and paranoia of bankrupt regimes.  It is unacceptable to steal elections, as the regime in Burma has done again for all the world to see.   Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community – especially leaders like the United States and India – to condemn it.  And if I can be frank, in international fora, India has often shied away from some of these issues.  But speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries.  It’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations.  It is staying true to our democratic principles.  It is giving meaning to the human rights that we say are universal.  And it sustains the progress that in Asia and around the world has helped turn dictatorships into democracies and ultimately increased our security in the world.”

4. It would have been impolite and inappropriate for our leaders to have replied to Obama immediately after his speech. He was our honoured guest. Now that his visit is over and he has left the country, it is important for our Prime Minister to point out that Obama at his Town Hall meeting at Mumbai on November 7 had sought to justify the US reluctance to condemn Pakistan on the terrorism issue on the ground that Pakistan is strategically important to the US. Washington DC has been silent on the suppression of the rights of the Balochs, the Sindhis, the Mohajirs, the Pashtuns and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan by successive regimes in Pakistan. It has kept quiet on the frequent massacre of the Shias by the Sunni extremists and the failure of the Government to protect them. It has not taken any action for stopping the use of terrorism by the State of Pakistan and for the interrogation of A. Q. Khan, the nuclear scientist, on his clandestine proliferation of military nuclear technology and equipment to North Korea, Iran and Libya.  After 9/11, the US, which was dependent on Pakistan for its war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, kept quiet on the suppression of democracy by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. In spite of all the transgressions of the military regime and its successor, it has been pouring money into Pakistan by way of economic and military assistance. For nearly three decades, the US closed its eyes to the suppression of the human rights of the Indonesian people by the Suharto-led military regime.  Obama’s remarks on India’s relations with Myanmar were totally unjustified. Myanmar is strategically as important to India as Pakistan is to the US.

(Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group. The writerMr B Raman,  is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail:

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