The Future of Burma Cannot Be Tied to Aung San Suu Kyi

That old chestnut question "name six people you would love to have to dinner" usually holds no surprises. The guest list from many liberal, forward-thinking (and may I also point out -- male) types will include Aung San Suu Kyi. She is regarded as the epitome of elegance and sacrifice. The pinup girl for human rights causes.

And she is amazing.

This seemingly serene and fragile presence, who has been under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years, has mesmerized us with her martyrdom and noble sacrifice.

But what is all this sacrifice for? What has her house arrest achieved?

It has achieved for Daw Suu (or The Lady as she is known inside Burma) a sometimes self-defeating near-secular saint status. Her position as a figure head who has sacrificed so much has made any chance of sensible debate about Burma almost hopeless. The slightest hint of criticism of her actions brings howls of protest and accusations. (By writing this article I know I will be shouted down). Her selflessness and her symbolism have rendered her beyond and above public criticism among many in the pro-democracy movement and in the greater outside human rights movement.

This is self defeating. No matter how great her sacrifice, the future of one country cannot revolve around the actions and ideas of one person. What has happened to this extraordinary woman is of course criminal. But there are 48 million other Burmese people and they cannot continue to be held captive while the international community listens to, and complies with Daw Suu's policies of sanctions.

Daw Suu's strategy is fundamentally flawed. By maintaining that the regime must be isolated and that Burma must be the target of stringent sanctions only helps the junta reverse further into mad "behind-the-wall" strategies; she is penalizing the very people she aims to assist. Many pro-democracy activists (both inside and outside the country) who strongly support Daw Suu as a figurehead believe she is wrong about sanctions but such is her position, they often decline to say so publicly. And such is her status, that no one in a better and more practical position to try and negotiate Burma moving forward will take the reins from her.

The main battle cry of the National League of Democracy is the restitution of the 1990 election results, when they were overwhelmingly elected. That bird has flown. Nearly 20 years later it is time to come up with some other arguments, definitive strategies, a move towards the negotiation table. Saying "no" to every offer from the junta is simply daft. (Daw Suu's flat out refusal -- without wide consultation -- to refuse the junta's civilian parliament offer was completely mystifying. Her rejection of negotiating anything gets Burma precisely nowhere).

Everything about Daw Suu's cause is just, but some new fresh thinking must be found, some shirking off the old "absolutely no negotiation" policies.

As her sham subversion trial nears its end (in a pretense of due process, "closing arguments" will be heard on July 24) there are few who hold out hope for a not guilty decision for Daw Suu. It would be extraordinary if the junta did a volte-face and miraculously decided that she had no case to answer. We need to free Aung San Suu Kyi. But free or not, we must start talking about the other 48 million Burmese.