Than Shwe looked glum and unsmiling as he received Ban Ki-moon yesterday. He should realize all too well the repercussions that his concessions would bring, repercussions that extend beyond humanitarian relief.
The very fact that he is allowing in foreign aid workers only at the UN Secretary-General's intercession is a reversal in both senses of the word. The hardliner camp which he leads should be inwardly fuming. They had retreated behind the usual laager while mismanaging cyclone relief but this time it has not worked.
This is happening a full three weeks after the devastating cyclone, during which period the 2.5 million people affected by it were largely left to fend for themselves or depend on individual and non-government charity. There has been a huge upwelling of domestic initiatives and the resultant creation of more social capital, a process in which public perceptions of the government have taken a further beating. The arrival of international relief personnel and the systems they will hopefully put in place will add to this. There will be a lot of confusion and perhaps some tensions with township authorities, but all this will only serve to reinforce the 'state rollback' that shall ensue from the opening of the gate so to speak.
It is a little cynical, but no matter what they manage to do or not to do, the foreign aid presence should be active, and stay on as long as possible. At the very least it will be a constant reminder to the people of the state that had failed them at their hour of acute need.
After relief, there will be the even larger needs of recovery and rehabilitation. The regime's hunger for aid money will only play into this, and its ineptitude in handling this natural disaster will accentuate its many other failings. While hoping for money to pour in, it would certainly remain wary of the outside world, but in the end it is faced with an immense and multifarious situation of stress which it will be incapable of handling. This would be instrumental in its ultimate undoing.