On top of the hard to resolve mind boggling Rohingya problem, which has produced a series of gross human rights violations, some 600,000 mass exodus of the Rohingya to Bangladesh, and thousands of torched homes and accusations of rape as a weapon of war by the Military or Tatmadaw, the Myanmar’s ethnic conflict rears its head once again as a stark reminder that the decades-old problem is far from over, after nearly seven decades of independence from the British.
On November 8, the Arakan Army (AA) ambushed the Tatmadaw’s machine-propelled boats in Chin State, Paletwa area, that left a dozen or so of Tatmadaw troops dead and many wounded. Since then, the Tatmadaw has heightened its offensive against the AA, with no sign of ending them in a foreseeable future.
As all know, the peace process negotiation has been going on since the tenure of president Thein Sein in 2011. Now after more than six years the guns are not still silent and the stagnation of the peace process is there for everyone to see. Maybe it is now time to look at the underlying theoretical shortcomings, rather than just muddling through on details in the ongoing peace process, so that stakeholders would be on the same wavelength in instilling an awareness that is in tune with altruism and the aspirations of the people as a whole.
What is the most crucial theoretical underpinnings to first stop the war or internal ethnic armed conflict, that would lead to conducive peace negotiations and eventual political settlement?
Seen from the logical point of reasoning, the order of sequence ought to be firstly nationwide ceasefire, secondly political discussion (negotiation), thirdly reaching the agreement and fourthly the political settlement.
If this is so, the first sequence of nationwide ceasefire should be given a priority and everything that hinders to achieve the goal have to be taken into account and iron it out so that the real ceasefire atmosphere conducive to the peace process according to the said sequence could be followed.
It is true that the military Code of Conduct (CoC) and Terms of Reference (ToR) and all that have to be included cannot be ignored in relation to the ceasefire monitoring and adherence of the ceasefire itself. But this piece input is primarily concerned with the theoretical underpinnings or basic concept that has to be agreed by all stakeholders first and foremost, before starting anything, which has still not been the case so far. Thus it will not touch on the details of how a nationwide ceasefire should be monitored and maintained.
This brings us to the point on what sort of basic concept or theoretical underpinnings should the stakeholders agreed upon.
Basically, the Tatmadaw and the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) are negotiation partners and as such should be equal in the negotiation process. But in reality, the Tatmadaw is not only a negotiation partner but also plays the role of an enforcer, as a sole ownership and protector of the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity. This in turn makes the Tatmadaw the decision-maker of the nuts and bolts of the relationship between itself and the negotiation partners, who are also opposition EAOs at the same time.
In other words, the Tatmadaw could choose to either have good relation or attacks any EAO according to its mood at anytime, anywhere, without explanation.
This tremendous amount of decision-making power, even more than the elected National League for Democracy (NLD) civilian government, that makes the Tatmadaw “a state within a state”, comes from the Military-drawn, 2008 constitution, that creates a hybrid quasi-civilian-military system of governance.
The Military-drawn constitution allows the Tatmadaw to occupy, without election, 25% seats in the parliament and administer the three most important ministries – the home, defense an border affairs. And as the crucial articles of constitutional amendment needs more than 75% endorsement from the parliamentary representatives, nothing could be done without the Tatmadaw’s consent on this score.
On top of this, the Tatmadaw also call the shots in peace negotiation process.
For example, regarding the policy of all-inclusiveness of all the EAOs. Originally, Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD civilian part of the government wanted to involve all the EAOs and literally implement it. But later have to yield to the military’s wish to leave out the Northern Alliance members of Kokang, Palaung or Ta’ang and Arakan ethnic armies, which have a very keen interest to participate in the peace process but have to be engaged in running battles with the Tatmadaw because of the rejection for the last few years.
Another example is that the Tatmadaw goes about with its offensives against the EAOs, especially in Shan and Kachin States, under the pretext of area clearance posturing to be the sole protector of sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity, when in fact it should behave to accommodate in facilitating the ongoing peace negotiation process and refrain from armed confrontation.
After all, isn’t the peace negotiation process all about adjusting and having shared responsibility on the issues of sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity?
To put it differently, the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities want shared-sovereignty in place of the Tatmadaw’s sole ownership. Likewise, the protection of territorial integrity of the whole union responsibility should also be a shared burden, not the sole domain of the Military. And they reasoned that only after this is worked out, can the question of national unity be tackled through an agreed federal union system of government.
But why should the military then act as if these are all taken for granted, when in fact they are the main source of political grievances and dissatisfaction that have triggered the ongoing ethnic conflict in the first place?
Many would still recall, during the president Thein Sein tenure that the Military rejected the presidential directive to end the attacks on the EAOs so as to be conducive to the peace process, but the Tatmadaw has never listened and instead even escalated the conflict.
The same thing is happening over and over again and it is not a wonder that all-inclusive participation cannot be achieved and the war with the EAOs could not be stopped.
In sum, the Tatmadaw must get off from its moral high horse of being a sole protector of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and become an equal negotiation partner like the others. It cannot be a negotiation partner and plays the part of enforcer or judge at the same time.
Beside, it is also essential that it takes order from the civilian regime and not operates on its own self-formulated policy or to its liking, especially where the peace process is concerned, as is now the case.
Thus, this hybrid civilian-military rule or dual administration needs to be changed, as the present dual administration mode is confusing, contradicting and competing each other and hinders to come up with a unified directive that could be conducive to the whole peace process.
In a nutshell, until the civilian authority over the military could be established, or at least a cooperation-coordinating working relationship between the Tatmadaw and civilian part of the government could be worked out within the mold of all-inclusiveness, there is little hope that the guns would go silent and peace and reconciliation restored within the country.