It is a glimmer of hope amidst an ongoing military crackdown in Myanmar that the member countries of ASEAN have convened in Jakarta to discuss the potential of a resolution.
The meeting was rather conspicuous because of the absence of any representative from Myanmar's civil societies. Nonetheless, it has reached an interim five-point consensus on how to resolve the current impasse.
But how effective the consensus would be in ameliorating the ever-deteriorating situation in Myanmar?
The Myanmar junta, headed by General Min Aung Hlaing, is nearing its 3 months hold of power amidst a continuing backlash from citizens and civil societies alike.
The military has used the accusation of irregularities and widespread voter fraud of the November election as a pretext to usurp the power. And it has taken over the country which is reminiscent of the country's protracted military rule.
The junta has suppressed all opposition in its bid to prolong the power hold. It has indiscriminately detained the protesters. The number of detainees climbed to 3,389.
Security forces have deployed live ammunition to quell the uprising, killing more than 740 people in brutal crackdowns. Besides, the junta has halted communications across the country by imposing a nightly internet shutdown for 70 consecutive days.
Amidst this backdrop, the regional organisation of South-East Asia, ASEAN has convened a meeting to resolve the situation in Myanmar. This is the first in-person meeting since the onset of the covid-19 pandemic, also the first foreign visit of junta Chief General Min Aung Hlaing.
In a statement, the ASEAN leaders called for: (1) the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar; (2) constructive dialogue among all parties concerned to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people; (3) mediation to be facilitated by an envoy of ASEAN's chair, with the assistance of the secretary-general; (4) humanitarian assistance provided by ASEAN's AHA Centre and (5) a visit by the special envoy and delegation to Myanmar to meet all parties concerned.
Though the five-point consensus is encouraging, it leaves much to be desired. There are many shortcomings of the meeting, and of the subsequent statement it put forth.
Firstly, there was no mention of the prisoners - both political and civilian - who were detained by the junta since February. While they had mentioned that the association has "heard the calls", it is at best quite an ambiguous selection of words in an attempt to evade the issue of political prisoners.
Secondly, the meeting was not representative enough. While the chief of the Myanmar military attended the meeting, there was no representative from the civil societies or the newly fashioned parallel government namely National Unity Government (NUG).
Therefore, the decision that ASEAN reached runs the risk of not reflecting the ground realities of Myanmar. Besides, doubts are already raised given ASEAN's abysmal record of implementing its lofty goals.
History abounds with numerous precedents where ASEAN intended to take firm actions but was futile eventually, due to its unique organisational structure and lack of goodwill. It remains to be seen whether ASEAN can bring about any decisive solution to the Myanmar impasse.
ASEAN is the epitome of regionalism as evidenced by deepening economic cooperation between the countries, but its success in the political sphere is rather shabby. In part, it is because of its cornerstone principle of non-interference, which forbids any nation to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
However, in a world marked by globalisation, the idea of the national, regional and global sphere have been blurred; and any incidents in one nation can have spillover effects in the entire region.
The potentiality of an essentially national incident to disrupt the stability of the region is well documented.
Particularly, it requires no special mention that given the geopolitical importance of Myanmar, stability in the South-East Asian region hinges on the stability and good governance in Myanmar.
Therefore, ASEAN should not remain aloof from its geopolitical calling since the situation in Myanmar transcends its national boundary. The Rohingya refugee crisis which is the manifestation of Myanmar military hawkish posture serves as a shuddering reminder to the world community.
The inability to forestall any crisis can have devastating consequences for the whole region and can disrupt the security in the region.
If ASEAN's firm action cannot be ensured, the present imbroglio can ensue a bigger crisis. This is because an assortment of ethnic communities reside in Myanmar, and they have a long history of hostility with the junta.
Therefore, ASEAN cannot trade the security and stability of the broader region under the pretext of its provincial non-interference norm. Bold and effective action by ASEAN is the crying need of the time rather than lukewarm condemnations which do not serve any purpose.
Moreover, ASEAN should come out of its record of advancing platitudes in response to pressing political issues. Rather it should take decisive action to solve the current crisis in Myanmar.
The author is studying International Relations at the University of Dhaka.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.