By Raja G Mujtaba
Asif Ali Zardari paid a state visit to Myanmar from 22nd Jan to 24th Jan 2012, perhaps the first by any head of the state. This visit may not be ringing bells anywhere but certainly can develop into much fruitful economic, cultural, educational and tourism relationship. During this visit, new avenues were explored to further strengthen and cement the ties. I am a strong promoter of people to people relationship, Myanmar has a strong potential to interact in a diversified way at all these levels.
Presently, the trade volume between the two countries is very low, it’s not worth mentioning in any statistics with its volume as low as 24 million dollars. Burma is rich in natural resources, known for its teak wood. Pakistan will have to overcome it energy crisis on war footings, only then it would be in a position to boost its exports to Myanmar.
After the disintegration of Pakistan it never lost contact with Myanmar, it developed some close cooperation in defence; Pakistan sold K8 Karakorum jet trainers to Myanmar Air Force that it is using with great success. Building on this, Pakistan can certainly sell JF 17 aircraft to Myanmar Air Force. Besides this Pakistan has the potential to make sales of other military hardware like tanks, guns, munitions etc. of different kinds. Pakistan defence technologies are cost effective and within easy reach of the developing world.
Dduring the visit, Zardari offered Civil Administrative training, university education in professional colleges and in host of other areas. This should not be restricted to these areas alone; we can extend military training as well starting from our military academies to higher institutes of professional excellence.
Myanmar is 86% Buddhist population, Pakistan is the old cradle of Buddhist civilization, hence there is a strong scope of attracting Buddhist pilgrims to Islamabad where in close vicinity are the old Buddhist shrines. This should not be offered to Myanmar only but to the entire Buddhists world around. Besides promoting tourism, it will develop a very strong goodwill.
Another important feature of the visit was to meet opposition leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi. She has become an icon of the political struggle in Myanmar, she remained confined to house arrest for over two decades. When developing broad based relationships, it’s essential to meet a broad political spectrum of political array. She was conferred Benazir award for democracy.
Another significant visit was to the tomb of the last Mughal King, Bahadur Shah Zafar who was exiled to Myanmar (Burma) by the British where he died and remains buried. This should not be taken as an ordinary visit, this reaffirms our linkage with our heritage.
Once Burma, now Myanmar was a great neighbor of Pakistan, in 1971, the history changed and we lost a great neighbor. But the feeling of friendship never faded away. It was only a time that old friends had to meet again, I suppose that was now. A time when everyone is looking east, 21st century is said to be the century of Asia.
1971 was a dark period in the history of Pakistan, we lost our brethren in our Eastern Wing known as East Pakistan. One must never forget that it was in 1906 in Dhaka that Nawab Salimullah held the first meeting of All India Muslim League, a precursor of Pakistan. When our brethren and sisters in Bangladesh would dig deep in the lanes of history, they would certainly realize how this were tainted and painted black that changed the course of history; there were no ill will or negative feelings between the people of the two wings. During my school days, had many friends from East Pakistan, some of whom still communicate with me with same love and emotions, it was more of a fate that played a role never desired. Since it’s not the topic so cannot go into greater details for now.
Coming back to Pakistan-Burma relations, this was one country with which we shared a common border but never had any problem. The relations had been very cordial and friendly. During 1971 war when India in connivance with Soviet Union and covert support of the United States dismembered a sovereign state. During this war, Myanmar always kept her doors opened to Pakistan, it became a very vital lifeline for Pakistan. Most of our exits took place through Myanmar, Army Aviation not only managed to recover her fleet but also evacuated some critically wounded and sick people. This act of goodwill can never be forgotten as ia great help at a very critical time.
Since 1971, the relations between the two friendly countries did not pick to the pace to its true potential but the reasons were that Pakistan was readjusting to the new realities and had to find more adjustments on its West. Pakistan was quick to settle in its new realities but then then the Afghan invasion first by Soviet Union and now by the United States, has caused lots of problems both on the borders and internally. The time has never been easy since then, Pakistan has been subjected to one threat after the other; most threats have emerged due to Zino-Hindutwa nexus that has had tacit American support. Here even Great Britain is also playing a role to subdue Pakistan.
During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan without engaging her troops, avenged her defeat by providing extensive support to Afghan Mujahideen who were fighting the Soviets to liberate their country. Soviet Union not only lost the war but got fragmented into many independent states and collapsed in no time. Once a mighty power, it fell and crumbled like a house of cards. This honour certainly belongs to Pakistan that must be acknowledged. Likewise it appears that the US is also heading for its destruction if better sense does not prevail. America must learn from history if it needs to safeguard her prestige and honour.
Going into its history, Burma is bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. One-third of Burma's total perimeter of 1,930 kilometres (1,200 mi) forms an uninterrupted coastline along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. It is the 40th largest country in the world and the second largest country in Southeast Asia. Burma is also the 24th most populous country in the world with over 58.8 million people.
Burma is home to some of the early civilizations of Southeast Asia including the Pyu and the Mon. In the 9th century, the Burmans of the Kingdom of Nanzhao, entered the upper Irrawaddy valley and, following the establishment of the Pagan Kingdom in 1057, the language and culture of these peoples slowly became dominant in the country. Sometime during this period, Buddhism became the predominant religion of the country. Following the Mongol invasion of Burma in 1287, the kingdom of Pagan fell and a period of control by several warring states emerged. In the second half of the 16th century, the country was reunified by the Taungoo Dynasty which, for a brief period of time, was the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia. The 18th century Konbaung Dynasty ruled over an area that includes modern Burma as well as Manipur in India. In the 19th century, following three Anglo-Burmese Wars, Burma was colonized by Britain.
British rule brought social, economic, cultural and administrative changes to the once-feudal society. Since independence in 1948, the country has been in one of the longest running civil wars among the country's myriad ethnic groups that remains unresolved. From 1962 to 2011, the country was under military rule. The military junta was dissolved in 2011 following a general election in 2010 and a civilian government installed.
Burma is a resource rich country. However, since the reformations of 1962, the Burmese economy has become one of the least developed in the world. Burma’s GDP stands at $42.953 billion and grows at an average rate of 2.9% annually – the lowest rate of economic growth in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Among others, the EU, United States and Canada have imposed economic sanctions on Burma. Burma's health care system is one of the worst in the world: The World Health Organization ranked Burma at 190th, the worst performing of all countries.
To conclude, Pakistan must establish air and sea links with Myanmar and establish all that is necessary to boost the relations. A chamber of commerce must be established that should overlook the bilateral trade etc. Student exchange program can take off in the shortest possible time.
On this visit, S. M. Hali conducted a debate in his weekly program Defence and Diplomacy that covered almost all the salient features of this visit. Besides this, Yousaf Raza gillani’s visit to Davos was also covered where some pertinent suggestions were made to derive maximum benefit from the visit.