Time to put down the guns

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

It is about time the peo­ple of Myan­mar honoured Aung San Suu Kyi’s wishes. When she came to power in 2016 and took up the role of State Coun­sel­lor, the de-facto leader of the coun­try, her first words in­cluded her wish to end the con­flicts that have plagued the coun­try for decades, a call for peace. It is sad to see that the guns have not fallen silent. In this is­sue of Mizzima Weekly, we run a com­men­tary tak­ing a look at the Asia Foun­da­tion’s year-long study that analy­ses the roots and pat­terns of armed con­flict in Myan­mar, de­vel­op­ment trends in con­flict-af­fected ar­eas, and the im­pact of for­eign aid on con­flict and peace-build­ing.

As the Asia Foun­da­tion re­port points out, sig­nif­i­cant progress to­ward peace has been made since 2011. But heavy fight­ing and deadly clashes have in­ten­si­fied in many of the coun­try’s con­tested ar­eas, in par­tic­u­lar, Rakhine State, which has led to mas­sive dis­place­ment, and Kachin and the Shan States. Th­ese con­flicts are among the world’s most en­dur­ing, pos­ing sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges to Myan­mar’s na­tional po­lit­i­cal re­forms, eco­nomic growth, and hu­man de­vel­op­ment. While much of the world is fo­cused on the con­flict in Rakhine State, and its stag­ger­ing hu­man cost, it is es­sen­tial to rec­og­nize that clashes have been con­tin­u­ing in Kachin and Shan states – de­spite the ar­rival in power of a gov­ern­ment that would like to por­tray it­self as more demo­cratic and more open than the pre­vi­ous regimes, in­clud­ing that of Pres­i­dent Thein Sein. The rea­sons for the in­di­vid­ual con­flicts are com­pli­cated. But a sig­nif­i­cant part of the prob­lem lies in the half-cen­tury of mil­i­tary rule in Myan­mar and the con­tin­u­a­tion of that mil­i­tary rule un­der the guise of a demo­cratic façade.

Find­ings from the foun­da­tion’s study shed light on struc­tural changes that are crucial for achiev­ing sus­tain­able and com­pre­hen­sive peace in a coun­try of great eth­nic and cul­tural di­ver­sity. In ad­di­tion, it re­veals the in­ti­mate con­nec­tions be­tween subna­tional con­flicts and na­tional pol­i­tics in Myan­mar, in­stances where de­vel­op­ment in­ter­ven­tions have con­trib­uted to un­even power dy­nam­ics and fu­eled armed re­sis­tance, and ways in which in­ter­na­tional aid can some­times dam­age prospects for peace when ini­tia­tives are not sen­si­tive to con­flict. In this con­text, the study un­der­scores a crit­i­cal need to con­tinue the on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­forms while build­ing a sys­tem of gov­ern­ment that is widely rec­og­nized as le­git­i­mate by peo­ple of all eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for peace should be re­spected, and ef­forts should be made to get to grips with real so­lu­tions that will see the lay­ing down of guns. But to do this, it has to be recog­nised that the an­swer lies not only with the eth­nic armed groups, still car­ry­ing their guns, but also with Myan­mar’s se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, the legacy of the mil­i­tary-writ­ten 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion, and el­e­ments within the coun­try in­tent on con­tin­u­ing to stir up trou­ble. Th­ese are the un­der­ly­ing is­sues that are hold­ing back the grant­ing of Aung San Suu Kyi’s wishes for Myan­mar and putting a se­vere damper on the de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try.

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