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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2965

Analysis and Strategy: My Country First

By Prof. Kanbawza Win

Are we (the ethno-democratic forces) in the doldrums, now that Mr.Gambari mission has utterly failed? If so what should be our strategy and to plot this we have to analyse it and tap on the plausible strategy. Many people were outraged at the Saffron Revolution and the slow response to cyclone Nargis and want to punish the Generals by bringing them to International Criminal Court, in The Hague; others want more sanctions and want Burma to be expelled from ASEAN. Some group work for Burma to be expelled from the UN. Others opted for UN and US intervention.

But what is our target and how do we react? We have to think how to change the status quo. Will taking them to court compel the Generals to give up power? No, they will become more determine? Will more sanction make them yield or hurt the people of Burma more? Two decades have proves otherwise.

Is Burma needs more ASEAN or vice versa? The Generals can easily forget the neighbours whom he knows are out and out to exploit the natural and human resources of the country with their sugar coated word of Constructive Engagement. What about expelling the Junta from the UN? It is an impossible feat, where no one recognizes the apposition. Shall we kow tow to the men on the Dragon throne now smart with100 (51 Gold) Olympic medals, top in the world? The day after the Beijing Olympics ended, China's Defence minister told his Burmese counterpart that he wants to strengthen bilateral ties.

After the cyclone soon after brutal repression of an uprising by Buddhist monks they are ready to negotiate, while the world looked away, soothing its conscience with a useless UN envoy. The sordid Burmese Generals are smart and will not listen to Beijing, if it means giving up their power. How about intervention and applying the R2P, now that Russia has applied to Georgia? Who will do it? What about the UN Security Council? How many resolutions has the Security Council passed on Palestine? Is the problem solved?

If the international situation and genuine help is not so rosy let us peep at the domestic situation? Everybody wants a change and is ready to join any bandwagon who will really lead them. The Buddhist monks will not give up easily and is planning something. Is there a possibility of an internal split and a coup? Given the way the Burma Army is organized and how loyalty is rewarded, the likelihood of a coup is very, very slim because all the generals know that it will be the beginning of their end what in Burmese call “Nwar Kwe Kyar Kaik.” literally translated the tiger will prowl if the bulls are not united.

Obviously, the economic situation will get worst by any standard. But it does not necessarily mean that there will be a country-wide uprising to topple the regime. The people are so disorganize that there will only be several sporadic uprisings, which the military can easily quell. We have witnessed how the military is prepared to use an extremely brute force. If so what about the ethnic armed forces? They are very weak with internal split and the truth is that they will continue to be an irritant to the regime for many years to come but they are not in a position to use force to bring about change in Burma, because they never think of the whole country but only for themselves. The only formidable student group that think of the whole country and people, has been reduced from 20,000 to 200 by their leaders. If so, what about the democratic forces in Diaspora? All of them have become internet warriors and are as divided as most of them think he to be Bo Teza but acting as Bo Shu Maung of the thirty comrades in Diaspora.

But the most important factor is that Burma’s neighbors are extremely concerned about instability. If there is an uprising, China does not want to see thousands, if not million of Sino Burmese running back to China, given the hatred to the Chinese by the people of Burma. So also India and Bangladesh does not want the Indo Burman to come back to India as in 1962 where India has to send 60 shiploads to pick up the local Indians. Obviously, Bangladesh does not want the Rohingyas, even though their language is the same as the Chittagonians. Thailand will not recognize the Shan as refugees and so on. If there is no viable alternate government, the neighbors will support another dictator, not necessarily from a Myanmar tribe, to take control and the vicious cycle will start again.


Anybody from of Burma knows this strategy, to be a unified among ourselves and be an alternative to the military regime. This must be done both inside and outside of the country. This is easier said than done for both the groups, Myanmar (Burman) and the non Myanmar (ethnics). For the last two decades we are unable to wean out the Mahar Bama (whose only obsession is to overthrow the Junta and return to the pre 1962 days of the civilian government and rough ride shot over the ethnics) from the democracy groups, in as much as the racists of the ethnic group who wants Balkanization something like South Ossetia of Georgia. Both sides knew it that their goals are unreachable and impossible in this age of globalization.

In this aspect we should highlight the American mentality, as hurricane Gustav smashed into the gulf, both Democrats and Republicans joined together to face this natural catastrophe, their unanimous cry being My Country First (don’t even think of comparing with the Junta who holds the elections in face of Cyclone Nargis). What a living example? Can we take a leaf out of it?

After two decades of struggle, the actions of the Burmese dissidents both pro democracy and ethnics alike prove that they would rather prefer to be under the military Junta rather than talk to each other. When ever an attempt was made both side said they are right and the other is wrong. Both of them cannot comprehend or give much talk to the idea of “My Country First”

No doubt both sides have painful memories of each other and these memories would never go away. It will be difficult task requiring much understanding and patience to get to know each other. The crux of the Burmese problem is ethnic problem. There will be no struggle for democracy, if there is no military coup in 1962, and there will be no military coup, if the civilian government can solve the ethnic problem. The struggle for democracy and solving the ethnic problem are two sides of a coin, if not are two eyes of a human being, one cannot do without the other. The ethnic problem is not a minority problem but major constitutional problem. Having this in mind a long term process is needed if we ever put our country first? After much suffering of the people of Burma at the hands of the Burmese military it is time to take back the country into our hands.

The Burmese proverb says “Pyet Yin A Zin Pyin Yin Kha Na” meaning if you are in the wrong once you remedy it became usable. We still have time to change our mentality and attitude if we have the will. Now, new faces have pop up in the leadership of the ENC (Ethnic Nationalities Council), the Chairman is a Karenni and the General Secretary, is a Kachin, which demonstrated that Karenni, an independent sovereign states since time immemorial, clearly indicates that they have no inclination for Balkanization and Kachin a major ceasefire group is ready to cooperate with the other ethnic groups to work for a genuine Federal Union of Burma.

On the pro democracy side especially the so called umbrella group usually refers to as UB group still needs to be flexible and show some new faces. They still need to unblock the process of letting their young compatriots to come up. In choosing a person who will be at the helm of leadership they still need to choose an honest, intelligent leader and will have to give preference to his mentality, ethics, attitude, pride and prejudices and do away with the thinking of being great guns, comprehending an independent media in this age of globalization and advanced information technology is a Must, while bearing the mask of a well mannered diplomat is far better than that of a terrorist. The genuine spirit of sharing and caring will have to be imbued again as transparency and accountability is the order of the day.

Of the two groups it will be very beneficial, if the new ENC can strengthened itself by giving more preference to the Wa and is humble enough to take the initiative and approach the Myanmar group and once and for all prove that the ethnic nationalities are also eager for democracy and ready to join hands with the Burman/Myanmar brethren. The latter having being infected by an incurable disease call Mahar Bama will not take the initiative obviously and besides their tops think tank viz. all Mr. Zs (whose name start with Z) have betrayed, gone back to Burma and have become their de facto spokesperson of the Junta in the international arena. So, if these UBs refuse to cooperate then it is high time that the ENC should give serious thought of forming the Union of Nationalities without the Myanmar and let the Myanmar fights the Myanmar.

Hopefully they will cooperate and this time will also have to bring in the Burmese intelligentsia especially the academic activists who never waver and steadfastly supported the noble cause as a third group. Both the ethnic and the pro democratic forces will have to be convinced that these academics will not take their place but only advice them while they have to be executives. These three groups will have to be combined and amalgamated in such a way to form a viable alternative to the military regime and prove it to the international community that we are a better alternative. Then and only then we will be in a position to make a change for our beloved country. This is the first prerequisite and the very foundation for us to do.

This will also be the continuation, if not more than more than the Panglong Conference of 1947. Our Pyidaungsu (Union of Burma) is like a tree. In the life of trees, one key to survival is having more roots than shoots. If a tree puts on a lot of top growth and few roots, it is liable to be weak –wooded and short lived, but if it puts down a great deal of roots and adds roots slowly, however, it is liable to be long lived and more resistant to stress and strain said William Bryant Logan (see The Frame of Civilization). This will also tantamount to laying the foundation stone for the real Union of Burma.

Making Burmese Cause an International Cause

Once that kind of unity is achieved, the rest is bureaucracy for at last December Seoul Conference, the international community has promised to help, but how? They are findings ways and means and for this we will have to prove that the ethno democratic forces are a viable alternative.

The people residing in the peripherals are best suited to do this for inside Burma the word “Federal” is anathema to the regime and people who did not know the word “Federal” is afraid to study about it. The Burmese language radios should implement this job of educating the people inside Burma. The simple reason for the Burmese army is that if there is federalism the ruling Generals will have to share their power and this is what they are solely afraid of. Now the world has known that the Burmese army has no policy but just power maniacs and is ready to help.

We should also take note that the pro democracy forces under what banner they may be have connections with those inside the country because the majority is the Myanmar/Burma and those inside the country after the saffron revolution and cyclone Nargis are more than ready to join their compatriots of the border regions. How do we exploit this situation?

In the international arena the struggle between the good and the bad, between reason and brute force, between beauty and the beast, dialogue and monologue is best illustrated by the struggle in Burma. Even though leading evil forces have protected the dictators of the world in the long run reason and a much more gentle force will prevail. Burma is a classic example and now the plight of Burma is the most highlighted in the world, what in Burmese we always boast “Myanmar Ko Kaba Thi Say Mae” .The Burmese refugees are in every country something like the Jews prior to Second World War. It is the duty of these Burmese in Diaspora to approach the government of the country which they reside and urge to take action. The dissident media is already a good job but still needs to synchronize with the united movement.

Come November, America will elect a new President, whether it is Democrat led by Barrack Obama or the Republican led by John McCain, they will show their solidarity with the people of Burma. How do we synchronize Burma’s domestic policy with their foreign policy is where the Burmese intellect will have to come in.

The policy of “I alone can do it” will have to be discarded e.g. we know that the major lobby group for Burma in the US is in touch with the high profile American leaders. But they have not uttered a word about the ethnics and want to follow U Nu’s policy of rough riding over the ethnics. Very lately the representatives of the Burmese pro democracy movement, one for Democrat and another for Republican were invited to attend their respective conventions. All of them are from the UB group, what do their share with the ethnic leaders if it is confidential and what do they report to pro democracy group? This is the kind of Mahar Bama spirit which we are pointing out. The idea of “Ko Hle Ko Hto Pa Go Yawk, Ko Myin Ko See Sa Gaing Yawk Yawk” adapted into English is what ever the consequences we would like to go it alone, no longer applies in this setting if we were to cooperate with each other.

Although the NLD without Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a lame duck, is still in a position to do something but both NLD and Daw Suu have said very little about the ethnic problem. Once democracy is achieved everything is possible sounds vague to the ethnic ears is not enough. They would make it very clear that they are eager to solve the ethnic problem and would meet the majority of the ethnic aspirations short of Balkanization.

No Choice

The Junta is against dialogue and its constitution and the seven point road map indicates that it is only gear to monologue where he will dictate and the rest nod their heads and implement the order. They want the marauding Burmese army to be in power perpetually. Without, dialogue there can be no change not to mention the role of the international community. There is no option left for us but to resort to force. The Junta is prepared for this. How do we do it?

Do we really want military intervention by outside power? Do we really want foreign troops in Burma where the foreigners will behave as occupation forces if not as our benefactors? In a modern war like in Iraq or Afghanistan, the main casualties are unarmed civilians, women and children. Burma will follow the same and beside the proximity with China can also be a repeat of the Korea War of the 50s. No, we don’t want anybody to shed a drop of blood for our liberation. Then what? We have to recollect that almost every revolution there is sacrifices. If we dared not sacrifice we might as well do nothing and let the status quocarries on

We just want arms and ammunition so that we can fight the Junta’s forces on the same level fair and square. And that is where we want the leaders of the pro democracy the ethnic forces to work together hand in hand to fight shoulder to shoulder to deliver the coup de grace. But to do this they must first sit down and talk as what kind of administration do we want once the hated military is gone. What are the constitutional amendments to convince the fear of the ethnic as well as to satisfy and fulfill their aspirations? Ethnic nationalism under the right conditions work for democracy rather than against it says a Prof. Mark R Beissinger from Princeton University (see Journal of Democracy. There are several cases where ethnic nationalism is the drawing force behind democratization efforts. India and Papua New Guinea which harbours extremely diverse ethnicities are living examples of successful democratizations. Why can’t we copy from it? Of course the spirit of give and take must prevail and prove it by actions.

In the meantime we will have to convince to the international community to take a longer term approach and start building civil society at the grassroots level in Burma. In addition to humanitarian aid, educational opportunities for the people of Burma must also be provided both inside and outside of the country. But most importantly the international community led by a super power must be the referee in our fighting with the Junta and see to it that the people decides e.g. if the Junta use their fire power in air and sea, that is where the international help is needed not only to knock out the Junta’s air and sea power, but also covering fire power if the latter use heavy guns.

No doubt blood will be shed and we are willing to sacrifice our lives for the future of our children and the younger generation. It is far better to die with our boots on, then to let live the whole generation under the boots of the military. I often quoted to take the pus out with a surgical knife, before applying the medicine. This is because Burmese Generals being power maniacs will not see to reason and understand only the language of force. They have come to power by force and now only force can drives them out.

But once the Junta is knockout is that the real test will begin, whether we keep to our promises with each other and if the Mahar Bama spirit or racist Balkanization prevails and come to each other’s throat then it will be far better for a status quo. The challenge is to make the world safe for and against ethnicity (see speeches of Senator Patrick Monyhan). The international community will not help, thinking that the Junta be a better choice. Now is the time to reconcile with each other.

- Asian Tribune -

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