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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2429

A Burmese Perspective: Let us Prepare for the Worst as we cannot hope for the Bes

By Kanbawza Win

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strike out against the injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million centres of energy and daring, those ripples built a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance,” were the famous words spoken by Robert Kennedy in the University of Cape Town at the height of the Apartheid Regime way back in 1966.

This is exactly what the people of Burma should do at the injustice of the quasi-military government backed by the Tatmadaw. “Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, are pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, to plainly prove a deliberate systematic plan reducing us to slavery.” These words of Thomas Jefferson ring no less true today, in Burma as the regime put up the semblance of democracy to please the West and continue its tyranny.

The Pope’s recent admonition that “True peace is not a lovely “façade” which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment“, is a clear calling to conscience. For Burma, it is a warning for the prospect of an ultimate war. This assertion is a reflection of the 21st Century Realpolitik of downtrodden masses of Burma as the regime used its “Divide and Rule” policy successfully on the ethnic nationalities which represent the majority of the downtrodden people. Maybe another half a century is need for their voices to be heeded across countless frontlines of oppression around the country if the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities and Myanmar pro-democracy groups are not united.

President Obama together with his former Foreign Affairs Secretary have based their foreign policy on the notion that it is better to “engage” than confront hostile nations and that such diplomacy should encourage gradual reforms, rather than revolution or regime change. Evidently, some positive results have come out of Iran, Cuba and Burma. But North Korea’s Kim John Un is learning a lesson how dictators can reap the economic and political benefits of detente with the United States while offering only token political concessions and buffing the West. In that a dictatorship can reap the economic and political benefits of detente with the United States while offering only token political concessions. It seems Uncle Sam has forgotten that more than any nation by its historic affirmation of self-evident truths, is the late comer on this scene with a vital role to play. The quality of its “daily commitment” can prove decisive in Burma.

This must be inspired, as “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” Were the wise words of Thomas Jefferson? In this regard, Burma’s strategic significance must be approached from the sure footing of moral high ground.

The international community, which so readily flocks to Rangoon in both good will and selfish interest, are unwitting contributors to Burma’s instability. This is a glimpse of “What wrong looks like”. It will likely lead not to intended peace, but to unwanted war…and more of it until full facts are faced. The simple truth today is that Burma is essentially the scene of a massive Land Rush, the likes of which the world has not seen since Sooners swept across Oklahoma grabbing up the lands of Native American Indians who were in the way of “progress”. Burma as Southeast Asia’s “Land of Sighs” is now everyone’s Cash Cow and cause célèbre to promote their causes, agendas and destinies. Long-oppressed ethnics will likely be the casualties of all this and so they seek champions committed to reasonable causes and aspirations for Liberty.

While the face of Reforms may appear confident, there are troubled fault lines to be discerned just below the surface, provided the international community would but pause to honestly explore them. The admission that “Yes, there are difficult ethnic tensions to be overcome and we are working on them” has become the dismissive standard one-liner thrown out whenever one tries to have a serious discussion in full detail about the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities that have confounded the Myanmar generals in the field for decades. Aside from their demographic dominance of half of Burma’s landmass, most of its borders and international trade routes, as well as most of its natural resource and hydro power wealth, are compelling sources of ethnic power in adversity to be considered. Malcom Gladwell, in his most recent book “David and Goliath”, reminds us of the dangerous, if not decisive advantage of “men who have nothing to lose”. The foreign Burma scholars’ hopes and dreams is ominously on the cusp of not heeding this very danger. There is ample evidence around the world today of angry men with no hope to give one pause have nothing to lose except their chains.

Today non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities are on edge facing several jeopardy in Burma, which is first aided and then aggravated by an international community of good and not-so-good intentions. This is a multi-sided ambush from which non-Myanmar ethnics alone cannot extract themselves. With open floodgates of aid, development and business interests pouring in, there is scant time for concern about what some consider inconvenient ethnic matters. These can, nonetheless, hobble everyone’s dash for destiny. If the non-Myanmar ethnics did not have unambiguous armed capacity that has killed Myanmar infantry in staggering ratios, then “ethnic matters” might be easily relegated to the fringes. As impolite as it is today to talk about “armed might” in reformist circles, deadly capacity remains the enduring fact about who wields ultimate power in Burma not only a daily basis, but on an enduring one.

Now it seems that the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities are being pushed to final desperation. Firstly the ethnic leaders are forced to negotiate with Burma’s President, who has no real power. He is accountable only to Tatmadaw masters and their business cronies. This essentially means that agreements reached with ethnics will not be enforceable. The non-Myanmar ethnics know this interface with Thein Sein and his delegates is a farce, but the international community believes in it, so the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities fall prey to Myanmar negotiators’ stalling tactics. This buys precious time that contributes to the Government of Burma’s longevity and perceived legitimacy. Myanmar in power are “on plan”, while the non-Myanmar ethnics can do little about it as the clock ticks down to national elections in 2015 and the prospect of fully legitimized Myanmar dominance over the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities.

Secondly, by using Thein Sein as their buffer, Myanmar generals enjoy a zone of separation from direct confrontation with the ethnics and the rest of the world about the real facts on toughest issues. This provides essential sanctuary that gives generals freedom of action in the shadows to continue to amass and wield real power. This power has been historically based on profit from stolen ethnic ancestral lands rich in natural resources. Nothing has changed here, as Tatmadaw generals have no intentions of ever releasing these lands stolen at the barrell of a gun from ethnics, many of whom were Western faithful allies in World War II. For America there is an enduring issue of “forgotten allies” to be faced here. This is a matter of moral allegiance that does not diminish with time.

Thirdly is the well-publicized peace talks and cease fires fronted by the regime seems to be a good will gestures of intended reform. Facts get in the way of this assertion, however. Ethnic leaders are forced to put on a happy face for the world, while being quietly coerced under peace negotiations tables to “stay in line, or else”, as well being financial corrupted behind the scenes. In parallel, the Tatmadaw expands forward basing, hardens its outposts, installs attack helicopter landing sites and conducts aggressive intelligence and reconnaissance operations to pinpoint ethnic resistance nodes. It also openly continues attacks against the Kachin, Palong (T’ang), Kokang and Arakanese a fact that astounds ethnic leaders who are totally confounded by the international community’s lack of outrage. The combination of emotions here is convulsing to ethnic logic. They might well ask: What good has been to the bleeding commitment all these many years to American ideals?

Fourthly is the worst form of international aid, development and business being manipulated by Myanmar power elites for extraordinary advantage over the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities? Myanmar insistence on control of these resources results in the deftly wielded “Soft Power” of international surrogates. This is used to penetrate ethnic regions to accomplish dominance that Myanmar themselves have been incapable of up to date. It comes in the form of land confiscation, population controls, and installation of Myanmar bureaucracies, mandated use of the Burmese language and the creation of ethnic villagers’ dependencies on foreign resources brokered by Myanmar. This is effectively international support of Myanmar counter-insurgency. Brilliant. Internationally and institutionally hand-cuffed ethnics can only watch it all play out before their eyes.

Fifthly is the growing profit logic of the international community. By this it meant that this community, in the main, has abandoned consideration of demanding accountability for Burmese generals’ crimes against humanity and oppression perpetrated against the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities for more than half a century. This is because Burma is a treasure trove of opportunity for cash profit, as well as justification of organizations’ charters and assured budgets for years to come. These international interveners need Burma’s many dire symptoms and profit potential, but without necessarily having to fully delve into compelling root causes and associated issues, let alone address them. There is not an ounce of moral rudder.

Sixthly, the Myanmar government, which harbors and hides many of the same old Myanmar power brokers, now uses this diminished ethnic status, to promote itself as the only worthy authority for the international community to trust. This begs the issue that Myanmar governance has somehow ascended from its dark and not very distant past. It also ignores the obligation to now heavily weight ethnic capacity building in order for ethnics to “catch up”. If international aid, however, is compelled by the Myanmar to be routed through them to the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities, as is presently the case, then that effectively puts the fox in charge of the henhouse. This is galling to the ethnics nationalities who did most of the dying by facing down the Burmese Army in the field for Burma’s pro-democracy movement in 1988.

Non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities are now at an extraordinary disadvantage with atrophied human, organizational, economic and military capacities. Even if they were treated with equal resources by the international community, they would still remain heavily disadvantaged because of the lopsided playing field. This capacity gap widens with each international interloper is being compelled to channel resources through Myanmar in-charge only. The lack of fundamental fairness to the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities after all these years, perplexes ethnics who were faithful allies to the Free World. The lack of memory, respect and honor of this is no small matter. It is gut wrenching in its import. But the final insult to the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities is that they are being punished for protecting their own people. The incredible illogic of punishing this belief is then further compounded by the world's acceptance of certain corrupted ethnic leaders as “legitimate” like Mutu Say Po and Yawd Sauk’s gangs. These groups have been bought off, cowed and are now taking an obedient seat at Myanmar’ peace negotiations tables. Thomas Jefferson has said “The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the young blood of patriots.” Hence it should then be no surprise when things do not turn out well as planned by international diplomacy and their cherished NGO couple with business investments. The failure to recognize the widening and deepening chasm of discontent among the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities is a fundamental flaw by collective international community in short “the truth shall make you free.” Non- Myanmar ethnic civilizations of almost three thousand years are being forced step by step to accept the final fate of systemic disempowerment of the Myanmarnization policy.

The non-Myanmar ethnics nationalities are now facing the potentially to lose everything if they do not take bold action. This is no exaggeration in this winner-take-all contest. The ethnic communities on edge and over the edge in post-conflict South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and spanning North Africa, should be seen as a foretaste of things to come. With this rate the ultimate War is avoidable.

The ceasefire efforts are of course welcome news, and the final ceasefire text appears comprehensive, visionary and liberal incorporating the notions of equality and dignity for all, at least rhetorically. Any ceasefire agreement that excludes certain key groups to be a genuine step in the direction of lasting peace. The current NCA offered by the government lacks any real potential for bringing an end to the world’s longest civil war. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Hkun Htun Oo of the Shan National League for Democracy and David Tharkacbaw of the Karen National Union Alliance Affairs, have publicly cautioned against rushing into the signing of the deal .Neither the public at large nor the Senior Delegation of ethnic minority negotiators have appreciable confidence in the government of President Thein Sein as the architect of the ceasefire. The use of security forces on 12 August to remove the President’s inner-party rival, Thura Shwe Mann, from the influential Chair position of the ruling USDP reinforced the now popular view that the Thein Sein government is little more than the military’s civilianised proxy. But the four year old quasi-civilian government, widely heralded as “reformist” and “pro-peace” unlike any of its military predecessors, is proving to be anything but genuinely reformist, benign or peace-oriented. Far from it, they are proving themselves to be reactionary.

The beautifully worded ceasefire agreement and word of its imminent signing does not trigger nationwide welcome or jubilation. For the wider public and the ethnic communities in war zones are sticking with what they know: understanding Thein Sein’s reforms and the military’s offer of ‘discipline flourishing democracy’ as window dressings performed so that the military can tango with western business and governments. The nationwide ceasefire sadly may prove to be more such spin to keep the mirage of change alive. Burma’s leaders, particularly generals past and present, lack both genuine acceptance of multi-ethnic peace on equal terms and an appreciation for the decades of bitter experiences of war-torn communities. Without these two essential pillars, sustainable peace in my country of birth is not conceivable, formal ceasefire or not.

Last week the ethnic leaders were being pressured to agree signing the ceasefire without having their demands for inclusiveness has not been met. General Min Aung Hlaing,the Tatmadaw chief demonstrated his contempt for the ethnic nationalities by going for shopping in Israel for new weapons systems to use against the ethnics. Even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has counseled the ethnics to sign only when they are certain that the ceasefire will yield a durable peace. Her message couldn’t be more obvious. Sign now with your sworn enemy and who can never be trusted, or wait until after the election to talk to us, your friend and ally, and together we will achieve not only peace but a functioning federal democracy is a clear message.

In the meantime every available modern weapons including shoulder fired missiles must be accumulated for this inevitable show down and this time let us not confine our battles only to the peripherals and frontier areas but an urban warfare targeting not only the Tatmadaw but also Western interest and foreign companies who are directly or indirectly helping these oppressors. Without standing for this ideal, there is no Western or international values on moral footing. America, which has yet to fully take a clear stand in Burma, faces the very issues and ideals that gave rise to America itself.


Ripples of Hope in Our Daily Bread 7-5-2015

Heinemann; Tim War’s Inevitability in Burma, the white Paper

Washington Post Editorial 14-3-2015

Heinemann; Tim War’s Inevitability in Burma, the white Paper


Washington Post Editorial 14-3-2015

Heinemann; Tim War’s Inevitability in Burma, the white Paper

John 8:32

Heinemann; Tim War’s Inevitability in Burma, the White Paper

Zarni; Maung & Kapi;Saw DIvisive Fire won’t bring Peace DVP 9-8-, 2015

Watson:Roland Burma’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement; Just Say No Dictator Watch 11-9-2015

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