Will Pan­g­long II end the ethic con­flict?

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - AMRITA DEY news­room@mm­times.com

NEWLY demo­cratic Myan­mar is all set to launch its 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence on Au­gust 31. State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has stressed that her gov­ern­ment is keen to make it as in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble.

The main ob­jec­tive of this year’s con­fer­ence mir­rors the 1947 Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by the state coun­sel­lor’s fa­ther, Bo­gyoke Aung San, be­fore the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain.

In his “Blue­print for a Free Burma” writ­ten in Japan, Bo­gyoke Aung San said, “We can con­fi­dently as­sert here that so far as our knowl­edge of our coun­try goes, there should be no in­su­per­a­ble dif­fi­cul­ties in the way of a uni­fied Burma pro­vided all races are given full free­dom and the op­por­tu­nity to meet to­gether and to work without the in­ter­fer­ence of out­side in­ter­ests.”

The orig­i­nal Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence saw Bo­gyoke Aung San, as head of the in­terim Burmese gov­ern­ment, meet with eth­nic Kachin, Shan and Chin lead­ers who unan­i­mously de­cided to join the repub­lic. The his­toric meet­ing also out­lined the united strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence and the fu­ture of Burma as a uni­fied repub­lic.

Al­though Bo­gyoke Aung San was as­sas­si­nated on July 19, just months af­ter the con­fer­ence and be­fore in­de­pen­dence, the spirit of Pan­g­long shone through.

The gen­eral terms of the agree­ment resur­faced in the con­sti­tu­tion adopted on Septem­ber 24, 1947. Though it made no men­tion of “fed­eral” or “fed­er­al­ism”, it was clear that power was to be di­vided be­tween Burma proper and the eth­nic states.

The coun­try was set to have a bi­cam­eral leg­is­la­ture with a 125-seat Cham­ber of Na­tion­al­i­ties and a 250-seat Cham­ber of Deputies. The Shan and Karenni States were to be re­con­sti­tuted as one with the ex­tra­or­di­nary right of se­ces­sion af­ter a 10-year trial pe­riod – a right adapted from the con­sti­tu­tion of the then Soviet Union.

The Kachin, how­ever, ap­par­ently aban­doned this right in re­turn for the in­clu­sion of the ma­jor towns of My­itky­ina and Bhamo in the new Kachin State. The Chins who were eth­ni­cally di­vided and al­ways ready to ac­knowl­edge their de­pen­dence on min­is­te­rial Burma ended up without a state; they were formed into a Spe­cial Di­vi­sion with few of the po­lit­i­cal priv­i­leges of the Shan and the Kachin.

The fi­nal des­ig­na­tion and sta­tus of a Karen ter­ri­tory and their po­lit­i­cal rights were left to be de­cided af­ter in­de­pen­dence, while the Mon and Rakhine who were about to go into re­bel­lion, re­ceived no dis­tinc­tive recog­ni­tion in the con­sti­tu­tion.

But the 1947 con­sti­tu­tion was termed a “recipe for dis­as­ter”, and any good­will for the Pan­g­long Agree­ment dis­si­pated when Gen­eral Ne Win seized power in 1962 and tore up the 1947 con­sti­tu­tion.

Among the dozens of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers ar­rested by Gen Ne Win was Pres­i­dent Sao Shwe Thaik, an eth­nic Shan who had fought to gain mi­nor­ity agree­ment at Pan­g­long. His youngest son was shot and killed while Sao Shwe Thaik him­self died in mil­i­tary cus­tody. Soon af­ter Burma’s in­de­pen­dence in 1948, eth­nic re­bel­lion be­gan, turn­ing into long, bit­ter se­ces­sion­ist move­ments. The 1947 con­sti­tu­tion was rewrit­ten in 1974 and once again in 2008.

Sev­enty years af­ter the con­clu­sion of the Pan­g­long Agree­ment, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as the de facto leader of the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led gov­ern­ment, has once again called for a con­fer­ence to ad­dress decades-long eth­nic con­flict and need for na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. She has promised to at­tach greater im­por­tance to the Pan­g­long spirit rather than to the spe­cific agree­ment signed in 1947.

Most ob­servers be­lieve that this Pan­g­long spirit is no dif­fer­ent from the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment’s call for eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties to “give up arms and re­turn to the le­gal fold”, a re­quire­ment for the na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment. It has noth­ing to do with the eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties’ de­sire for self-au­ton­omy and fed­er­al­ism.

With the Arakan Army, the Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army and the Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance de­nied ac­cess to the con­fer­ence by the Tat­madaw un­less they give up their arms, how Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ne­go­ti­ates a for­mi­da­ble bal­ance with the mil­i­tary will be im­por­tant. The NLD can­not amend the con­sti­tu­tion to grant more power to states and re­gions un­der a fed­eral Union, as the mil­i­tary rules the roost with their par­lia­men­tary veto.

“We had more ex­pec­ta­tion from the NLD by now,” Arakan Army leader Bri­gadier Gen­eral Tun Myat Naing told Myan­mar Now in June. “They tried their best in the first 100 days in of­fice. How­ever they need to make more ef­fec­tive poli­cies on a long-term ba­sis to please the pub­lic.”

Hu­man rights lawyer U Aung Htoo rightly said, “We will be able to do noth­ing if we are afraid that the Myan­mar mil­i­tary lead­ers will be dis­sat­is­fied … We have ad­van­tages that we did not have 50 years ago. When we were young, talk­ing about fed­er­al­ism was a crime. But now they [the Myan­mar Army lead­ers] have to ad­mit that fed­er­al­ism is es­sen­tial.”

U Aung Htoo went on to ar­gue that there should no longer be rigid cen­tral­i­sa­tion, al­though a cer­tain level of cen­tral­i­sa­tion was nec­es­sary for the main­te­nance of a fed­eral Union. In ad­di­tion, while eth­nic lead­ers have pro­posed es­tab­lish­ing pyi-htaung, or sov­er­eign states, such states would del­e­gate some de­gree of their sov­er­eign power to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Will the end of Au­gust mark the be­gin­ning of the end of decades of eth­nic con­flict? Only time will tell.

Amrita Dey holds an MA and a PhD in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions from Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity, New Delhi, with South­east Asia as her spe­cial­i­sa­tion. She is work­ing on In­dia-Myan­mar re­la­tions. This ar­ti­cle is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween The Myan­mar Times and New Man­dala – a spe­cial­ist web­site on South­east Asia based at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pa­cific Af­fairs, the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity.

Photo: Zarni Phyo

A Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army sol­dier pa­trols near Mai Ja Yang.

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