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Sunday, May 17, 2015

In Burma: Peace Was Possible Within

The 7th NCCT-UPWC Meeting (Photo: MPC)The 7th NCCT-UPWC Meeting (Photo: MPC)

The most important thing in a peace negotiation is what the parties involved at least feel about winning on their side, no matter what “peace” means to the either side of the negotiating parties, although the process might involve a long and tedious work of repeated dialogues, brainstorming sessions, finding options, drawing new strategies, formal and informal meetings, technical input and so and so forth. In particular, the present peace process in the country seems to be taking much longer than what the people in general could expect. Kachin peace process in particular started in the year since 1963 in just a span of a year or two after Ne Win took power by staging coup dˈétat. The ceasefire between Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) that lasted for seven teen years between 1994 and 2011 was a missed opportunity for both the KIO and government, and other ethnic armed organizations in the country alike.

We must accept that the conflict in the country is based upon deep-rooted issues of misunderstanding, false promises, dictatorship of ethnic Burman majority, animosity, absent of equality, deprivation of fundamental rights, lack of trust, absent of rule of law, lack of recognition on either sides, legacy of the British rule, not realization of democratic values, and so on and so forth. It is therefore we must say that the ethnic struggle in the country has not been based neither on communal tension, ideological conflict, religious intolerance nor, mere armed-conflict due to resource sharing matter nor, dominance over other fellow ethnic populations, conflict rather has based on the genuine political problems which ethnic armed organizations have long been advocating for realization of equality, power decentralization and the fullest realization of right to self-determination. These in fact are the fundamental principles of historic Panglong agreement. But in due course of decades long armed conflict there found no solution rather caused collateral damages and counter productiveness while military men built their muscles and amassed wealth at the cost of this notorious war raged which makes many to see the conflict as a resource curse, and based just on the matter of resource control. At the end the conflict has brought nothing but untold miseries to all sections of people in the country.

The terminologies, usages and definitions hold on the notion of nation, state, sovereignty, self-determination and union by the successive governments and ethnic armed organizations in themselves need to be reconciled. Overtly believing in astrology, omens, and believing in fortune tellers is also a problematic while promoting the market economy on the other creates confusing situation surrounding the lauded nascent democratic reform in the country on the other. It is no doubt that we cannot simply term the country as a “failed state” in the way as in the Libya, Syria and Yemen are now. The country no doubt has been withstanding the political turbulence of the past – communist forces, ethnic armed rebellion, pro-democracy movement of 1988 and economic sanction by the western countries, etc. Now that communist forces have fallen, pro-democracy forces are tamed, 2008 constitution functioning and military-backed government installed although ethnic armed struggle remains. Ceasefires and peace deals are ballooning in the air but this has not found safety net for grounding yet. The story of ceasefire deal dates back to 1989 when the present Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) made a ceasefire for the first time with the then military government which was follow suit by other ethnic armed groups in the following years. But the problem was that non-other than Kachin made cease fire based on gentlemen agreements and needed to sign ceasefire soon after present Thein Sein took the incumbent of presidency in 2011. Although the Kachin and government had the ceasefire agreement signed on paper, but no clear road map was set in a way to having political solution for lasting peace. The first ceasefire with MNDAA ended up when the military launched attack and drove the Peng Jiasheng’s group out of Kokang in 2009, and installed government’s stooge from the Yangs’ family; in the following year of 2010 elections were held throughout the country when new Kokang representatives were also elected to the parliament. New problems surfaced now in troubled Kokang region with the resurgent of Peng Jiasheng’s group after a five year of hibernation. Deadliest war ever in the country’s history being fought causing heavy losses on the government’s military side prompting hundreds of thousands of civilian to flee to China as well to other parts of the country. The situation in Kachin is also nothing different from the present Kokang. Tension mounted between Kachin and government as latter proposed the former to transform its armed wing into government monitored Border Guard Force (BGF) but Kachin rejected the proposal. The armed confrontations began in 2011 which sooner or later spread throughout Kachin state and northern Shan state causing serious humanitarian crisis. Thus the ceasefire ever made on paper was also ended up in brutal armed confrontation.

One of the biggest problems now is the constitution itself in which one will find non-democratic values such as – discrimination, role of unelected and unrepresented military in country’s politics, and over centralization of power taking the prominent position. Many of democracy forces, activists, foreign countries and diplomats see 2008 as a window towards future democratic Burma, and started to look for new business opportunities. The military brand themselves as a patron for democratic changes and the guardian of all; for these unfounded reasons the military has 25% in of all the country’s parliamentary seats, and sticks onto an extra-constitutional law which they regard as six principles of military. All the political actors under 2008 constitution are confined within despite the constitution itself is not a democratic while the ethnic armed groups talk about politics outside the parliament. Ethnic politics cannot simply be taken for granted; there are many more things to understand on the backgrounds of respective organizations, nature of struggle, nature of alliance making, grouping, strength and political orientations. One such prominent grouping is United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and other worth mentioning arrangements are United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) – which is an alliance of ethnic political parties registered, and even contested 2010 general elections, Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) which is presently acting as coordinating body for future Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA), and feelings among ethnic people base on signatories and non-signatories of Panlong agreement.

In the pursuit for fullest realization of democratic values all must agree that democracy provides no space for war and violence rather encourages for constructive dialogues, tolerance, non-discrimination, respects for universal human rights and values, allow diversities to exist side by side for expanding pluralistic society, non-dominance over weaker section of society, legal protection measures for minorities, discouraging economic disparity, and so and so forth. At this very moment one should explore beyond the headlines of today, and look deeper into the longstanding issues that make the country crippled and trailing behind all nations in socio-economic aspect. Ceasefire efforts, many other peace initiatives, and support for peace building work should base on the above mentioned pragmatic values. Constitution and military themselves should not pose as a stumbling block for the on-going peace effort by all, at the same time intertwined nature of ethnic politics should not also be the reason for further go-ahead for peace talk and achieve NCA signed in the end. Lessons learned in the past are already good enough to drive the country moving towards building peaceful democratic Burma or Myanmar or else; and why then government keeps insisting on wanting to dominate on the weakers, flexing muscles to show military might. It is for sure, present peace effort cannot be achieved- unless there is trust, unless there is sincerity among the politicians, unless NCA ushers as a guarantee for future political dialogues, unless there is proper transitional period arrangement that ensures respect and dignity of all the members of parties to conflict, unless ethnic feel safe to be within, unless federalism and equality prevails, unless animosity is removed, unless the religious extremism finds no space in the country, unless deadlocks pose in the peace process due to constitutional provisions are removed, unless there finds a common political ground to accommodate diverse interests, unless government, military, political parties and ethnic armed organizations have political will, unless win-win solution is achieved, and many more.

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