An Anti-War Op-ed

Photo Credit: Aung Naing

No, this is not a picture of a pathetic beggar-woman on a downtown Yangon pavement. (Although there are numerous real beggars – usually the elderly and infirm, who are bearing the consequences of the non-existence of old-age pensions. Of course, there isn’t such a pension scheme because the kleptocrats who run this country don’t need one).

This twenty-something peace activist made herself up to protest against the war in Shan state. In particular the grisly fact that children have been blown to bits by air strikes. It is quite a powerful image, and I would rather that passers-by and the wider public are mesmerized by this young lady than by Aung San Su Kyi’s pretentious statements and posturings. The message HAS to get through, even though the powers-that-be are only occupied with power-that-is-to-come.

This is no longer a Shan or even an ethnic nationality issue – young people collected donations in central Myanmar and Yangon for the IDPs in Shan and Kachin states. It is also a sign that the young generation is taking matters into their own hands instead of waiting for “leaders” to resolve the country’s problems. Sure, the National League for Democracy got an overwhelming victory, but they should be doing something to leverage this to end the war instead of waiting to form a government.

There are a number of reasons why the war is continuing and even being stepped up, before and after the resounding results from the elections of 8 November. Only eight ethnic armed organizations have signed the “nation-wide” ceasefire agreement, and so the non-signatories are clearly and emphatically having to feel the edge of the consequences.

An attempt is being made in government circles to “externalize” the war, stating that China had pressured the northern EAOs not to sign. There have been many ups and downs in relations with this big neighbor over the past half-century, and although this is not rock bottom, things are inclined downwards. But blaming China is to disregard the fact that local ethnic civil society is vociferously against signing the ceasefire agreement in its present state. And for the Myanmar armed forces to respond in this way – by piling up more ‘collateral damage’ – turns even more of the public against the government-military cabal. This is what those young women sitting on the hot pavement are so eloquently displaying. Let us hope their passion has not been in vain.

The congratulations and back-slappings over the “reforms” of the past five years and now over the stunning election victory have to come to an end. The reality is before us – and the troublesome, arduous, back-breaking business of ending a 70-year-old war.

The author, Dr. Khin Zaw Win, is director and founder of the Tampadipa Institute in Yangon