Any time a rogue regime like the present military junta in Myanmar releases a political prisoner, there is a sense of celebration. Only time will tell how much the dictators are willing to walk along the road to democracy, though their past record has been abysmal. The very fact that there are still hundreds of political prisoners languishing in the nefarious Myanmar jails should dampen undue optimism. Democracy can return to the land only when the country is transformed from the present jail without walls.
I am willing to accord credit to the approach of engagement bordering on impotence adopted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but the bald fact is the sanctions imposed by the Western countries have made the generals think.
Dire economic straits are hurting the generals in more ways than just their pockets: it is starting to sow doubts among the rank and file soldiers who cannot be pampered like before. The recent coup plot involved not only the former dictator Ne Win, the erstwhile godfather of the army, and his scions but also military commanders. It surely is a wise move by the West to keep the sanctions in place till more positive signs emerge and should not let the mercantile interests of business derail it in its search for cheap labour and easily exploitable natural resources.
There is a genuine case for both parties to compromise. In Aung San Suu Kyi, the dictators have the best hope to pull off a deal that will allow them to avoid the fate of many before them. The country has been so polarised by the hideous regime that only Ms Suu Kyi has the credibility and trust of the people to negotiate this difficult impasse.