Time to put down the guns
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.