There is a quickly developing sense that Burma, long an outcast in the international community, has begun a serious process of reform. It is as though the Burmese opposition, and the world behind it, are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, where a hostage comes to love the hostage taker following a small sign of kindness.
Burma’s human rights record over the past five decades has consistently been among the worst in the world. It is also one of the world’s biggest international drug suppliers.
To counter the damaging opprobrium this brings, the Burmese military-derived government has now released hundreds of political prisoners, signed a ceasefire with the country’s largest ethnic rebel group and has allowed the opposition National League for Democracy to re-form. The NLD has announced that it will challenge 23 of 48 vacant seats in by-elections to be held on 1 April.
The handing down of a ‘not guilty’ verdict on sodomy charges against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim indicates a tectonic shift in Malaysian politics. Following a previous overturned conviction on a related charge, the immediate outcome of Anwar’s judicial decision is significant, but its longer term implications could be profound.
In a country in which the judiciary has been used as a political tool since the late 1980s, the ‘not guilty’ decision by Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah went against expectations, even by Ibahim himself. Although the decision was widely viewed as a vindication of Anwar, it also reflects a possible break in political interference in the judiciary and, in turn, a relative weakening of what was a high level of central political control.
When one’s expectations are low, it is difficult to be disappointed. But even with almost no expectation that the report of Sri Lanka’s ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) would seriously address prima facie evidence of war crimes, it has still left a wide range of observers dismayed. The only lesson that appears to have been learned is that the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has worked out how to get away with murder.
The Journal of Foreign Relations said the report ‘exonerates the military, does not touch on the question of accountability and includes some touchy-feely language about the country’s need to move forward, celebrate its diversity and be grateful for the defeat of terrorism’.
Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is continuing at its all-time high following the conclusion of the East Asia Summit in Bali. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has come away from the summit confirming a major reduction in tariffs in trade with Indonesia, providing further "ballast" to the once-troubled relationship.
Even Australia’s agreement to host US Marines in the Northern Territory has caused fewer problems than sometimes insecure strategic commentators in Jakarta might have indicated in the days immediately after the plan was announced. Having said that, it is unlikely that Australia will take up President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s suggestion that Australia also play host to China’s military, by way of balancing assertions of regional power.
Presentation to the Asia-Pacific Civil-Military Centre for Excellence, 8 November 2011.
Gadhafi’s death brings to a close the war for liberation that has wracked Libya for much of this year, but pushes to the forefront a host of new issues that have only just remained under the surface, particularly over the few weeks. How these issues are handled will shape Libya’s foreseeable future.
There are a range of criteria that indicate the likely success or failure of a post-conflict state, high among which are ethnic or tribal distinction, and institutional capacity. Institutional capacity includes not just a functioning administration and the provision of basic services, but the extent to which rule of law is embedded in society and the legitimacy of ruling groups or individuals.
In early October, Aceh will hold its second gubanatorial elections since the 2005 peace agreement that ended almost three decades of separatist war. After five years of relative peace and stability, the main political tensions appear to be between competing factions of the former Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Other, more troubling tensions are, however, just below the surface.
There is little to divide the main factions competing in the elections. The incumbent governor, Irwandi Yusuf, has overseen the development of a universal health care system, expanded education, overseen underlying economic growth and banned logging in Aceh’s spectacular rainforest.
His main electoral opponent, GAM’s former ‘Foreign Minister’, Dr Zaini Abdullah, also supports such programs. Apart from personalities, the division between them might be characterised as one of the latter being more conservative and the former more progressive.
The announcement by East Timor’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, that his country will begin military to military links with Indonesia has caused widespread surprise, given the deeply troubled history between the small, recently independent state and its large and previously belligerent neighbour. There are a number of benefits to this new arrangement, which will also see police to police links established. But there are also many unresolved issues.
Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975 led to the deaths of more than a quarter of its population, almost 200,000 people, with its final farewell being the destruction of most of the country and the murder of around 1,500 more civilians. According to Prime Minister Gusmao, it is now time to forgive and forget.
In a short couple of months, Aceh will again go to the polls to elect a governor and vice-governor, bupatis and local representatives. The election will mark a consolidation of the democratic process in Aceh, introduced as a result of the 2005 Helsinki peace agreement.
Even though the campaign period for the elections has not yet formally started, there is great interest in who will run, what they stand for and what their chances of success might be. It is healthy that people take an active interest in the political life of their community, as the political process determines how the people of the community are to live, within the constraints imposed by their circumstances.
That the political environment in Aceh has remained more or less peaceful since 2005 represents a victory for the idea of democratic, representative government. The electoral process itself represents a victory for accountability, which is the opposite of the imposed rule that Aceh once experienced.
It is reasonably widely accepted that Osama bin Laden was able to stay in the Pakistan town of Abbottabad because he had the protection of Pakistan’s military, in particular its powerful Inter Services Intelligence organisation. It would have been all but impossible for bin Laden to have stayed in one place in Pakistan without the ISI knowing, implying it at least tolerated his presence. More likely, the ISI’s involvement was more active than mere tolerance.
The question is, then, no longer whether bin Laden had the active support of the ISI but why Pakistan’s premier intelligence organisation – from a country which is long-time ally of the United States – would host the US’s number one enemy on its soil. At risk is not just the defence relationship with the US but, more importantly, the major strategic deterrent to Pakistan’s principle enemy, India. It also risks the important, $7.5 billion, US aid budget to Pakistan.