Over the past two days, some papers in Australia have been awash with articles that provide information and analysis on Australian efforts to train Burmese counter-terrorism officials. For many obvious reasons this is a very sensitive topic, both in Australia and anywhere else that Burmese refugees have found sanctuary.
Greg Sheridan, The Australian‘s foreign editor, has now penned an op-ed. Sheridan concludes his dull piece with the exhortation that, “Now the Burmese would like more assistance in their counter-terrorist efforts. Frankly, we’d be ill-advised to decline.”
Based on the information that Sheridan presents, many honest observers would likely conclude that “we’d be ill-advised to accept“.
On this issue, of course, there are many shades of opinion and Sheridan has certainly earned the right to express his. Unfortunately, Sheridan’s hard-man stare falters when he writes:
In the real world there is no getting away from these moral dilemmas. As one official puts it, one question has to be whether providing such training is likely to help protect Australian lives. The answer is undoubtedly yes.
This glosses over a multitude of dangerous and important questions that should be at the heart of informed analysis of any assistance to the Burma State and its henchmen. Who, for example, will the Burmese counter-terrorist officials be trained to counter? The Karen, the Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi? International Islamist ideologues? Inconvenient and critical local preachers?
Sheridan misses this point. He doesn’t answer these most important of questions.
Instead, Sheridan asks, “Could any of the Burmese institutions involved in learning from Australians misuse that knowledge in domestic repression?” To use Sheridan’s own phrase, “The answer is undoubtedly yes”. Using Australian taxpayers’ money in this way seems like something of a gamble. I do hope the government, and its many diligent advisors, know what they are doing. As The Australian‘s headline makes clear: “Burma wants help to keep terrorists at bay”.
The questions should be – who are these “terrorists” and why should Australia be involved?