SEEKING PEACE – Progress made, but still a lot remains to be done
Progress made, but still a lot more remains to be done
Anew report by the Asia Foundation, ‘The Contested Areas of Myanmar: Subnational Conflict, Aid, and Development’ states that ‘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.’ It also notes that ‘these conflicts are among the world’s most enduring, posing significant challenges to national political reforms, economic growth, and human development.’ The year-long study comes at an essential moment amid longstanding conflicts in many parts of Myanmar but especially in northern Shan State where the Northern Alliance operates. Although political dialogue to address the concerns of numerous ethnic groups, and not unsurprisingly a desire among international donors and aid agencies to support the peacebuilding process play a major part in the ongoing negotiations they continues to falter.
Findings from the Asia Foundation study highlight structural changes that are crucial for achieving sustainable and comprehensive peace in the country and reveals the intimate connections between what it defines as subnational, as in ethnic, conflicts and national politics in Myanmar. The report mainly points out that, ‘[There are] instances where development interventions have contributed to uneven power dynamics and fuelled armed [ethnic] resistance,’ and that ‘international aid can sometimes damage prospects for peace when initiatives are not sensitive to conflict.’To address this, the study underscores a critical need to continue the ongoing political and economic reforms while building a system of government that is widely recognised as legitimate by people of all ethnic nationalities. “As Myanmar emerges from decades of authoritarianism, armed conflicts, and entrenched poverty, the ongoing reforms and peace process in the country are inherently linked. Understanding how different forms of development assistance interact with conflict and governance dynamics on the ground remains crucial to assess prospects for peace in a rapidly transforming nation,” said Dr Kim Ninh, The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Myanmar. “We hope the findings can contribute to the ongoing dialogue on development and conflict as part of Myanmar’s ongoing historic transition.”
Key findings of the study
Myanmar’s subnational conflicts are not a peripheral issue and directly affect muchof the country In 2016, areas affected by active or latent subnational conflict were found in at least 11 of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions. One hundred and eighteen of 330 townships, containing almost one-quarter of Myanmar’s population, currently demonstrate live or latent characteristics of conflict.
Myanmar’s conflicts are not caused by underdevelopment
There is no simple correlation between human devel-- subnational conflicts will not be resolved by measures to improve development outcomes. Conflict townships are on average only marginally less developed than non-conflict townships, notably when Yangon is excluded. Some conflict townships exceed national averages, while others have the lowest development indicators in the country.
Tackling underdevelopment alone will not create peace
Development interventions alone can never lead to peace. Myanmar’s conflicts are inherently political and connect to the structure of the state. Political solutions are,
therefore, required to solve subnational conflict. Given the complex nature of Myanmar’s armed conflicts, interventions and policies should be strengthened to address the underlying drivers of conflict and be more responsive to the power inequities that have driven conflict over years, especially during transitional political periods.
Development policies can drive subnational conflict
In many contested areas, economic changes and increased natural resource exploitation have ratcheted up tensions, engendered rivalries, fuelled grievances, and provided funds that have sustained conflict. Foreign assistance can sometimes be manipulated to serve security objectives, particularly where government officials or leaders of ethnic armed organisations are able to decide project locations. In short, development interventions are never neutral.
Aid can build momentum for peace as well as damage the prospects for peace
Projects that serve the security aims of one side can damage the confidence of ethnic groups in the country’s transition, while programs that support political reforms, such as decentralisation, can help build momentum. USD 13.7 billion in aid was committed to new projects between 2011 and 2015. Closer alignment of donors with government offers advantages in coverage, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability, but it also poses risks for peace.
Internally displaced people in Kachin State. Photo: Khon Ja-Facebook