Reading and viewing Western print and satellite TV and their Southeast counterparts recently, it’s hard to believe that there is deep understanding about the historical, cultural and economic context of what these media call present day Myanmar and Pakistan.
The staple line of argument among liberal media circles in the West is that the “military junta” or “military regime” in Myanmar and Pakistan need to be changed into liberal democracies along the lines of what politicians, legislators and media pundits in America and Britain seemed to be obsessed with. The illusion that Aung San Suu Kyi, Benazir Bhutto and/or Nawaz Sharif and their coterie of politicos/lawyers are able to devise a alternative, competent and unifying “democratic”political system remains a strong and, at the same time, naive and dangerous one.
Some 8 years ago, at the residence of the British ambassador in Jakarta, I was invited to meet for tea with Michael Aris, husband of Aung San Suu Kyi. I asked him pointedly whether the National League for Democracy which his wife headed was really a viable political organization that could galvanise a sense of national purpose among Myanmar’s civic society, particularly among Shans, Karens, Kachens and other minorities. His answer was so carefully guarded that I did not press the point. I had earlier remarked to him that (then) Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri was still grappling with forging unity within her PDIP party. In other words, for the NLD and PDIP there were limits to riding on the on the charisma of Aung San and Soekarno, to which both Syuu Kyi’s and Megawat relied upon for their influence and legitimacy.