Time to welcome outside expertise to help the peace negotiations
WHILE the decades-long conflict in Myanmar is unquestionably unique, some of its aspects resemble those in other countries afflicted with protracted internal armed violence. Many of these have benefited more than Myanmar has from the attention and involvement of the international community.
International involvement in the Myanmar conflict has been discreet. The military regime that governed the country for decades showed no interest in consulting foreign experts, and the U Thein Sein administration elected in 2010 mostly limited international engagement to the provision of funding. For instance, the former Myanmar Peace Center, established to assist the Union Peacemaking Central Committee and the Union Peacemaking Work Committee for the peace process, was opened as part of an agreement with the Norway-led Peace Donor Support Group. It was launched in November 2012 with a start-up fund of 700,000 euros from the European Union, a member of the PDSG. In 2013, the center also received US$1.2 million from the Japanese government.
The current government in Nay Pyi Taw has likewise showed every sign of wanting to go it alone in dealing with the ethnic armed groups. Though representatives of China, Japan and the UN have been invited to observe at some key stages, carrying the peace process forward has been very much an internal Myanmar affair.
However, a pool of international expertise does exist, comprising specialists who have been involved for many years with seemingly intractable problems of internal armed conflict in other countries. Might the time have come for the Myanmar government to draw more openly upon this expertise?
Another conflict Myanmar could perhaps learn from is South Sudan. South Sudan’s long history of mostly internal conflict spawned a culture of armed violence and a highly militarised society which, together, are a recipe for continuous armed rebellion. The country’s bitter and protracted war of independence lasted for more than 50 years as multiple armed groups fought against the central government in Khartoum.
The talks that eventually helped resolve these interconnected conflicts arose from a general consensus that the only way out was a negotiated settlement that would benefit them all. The subsequent failure of these agreements and the return to war in South Sudan came about because the consensus was not in fact shared by all, and the efforts to demilitarise the country and create local economies stumbled very early on through lack of real agreement. In fact, parts of South Sudan never felt fully part of the peace process. Instead, excluded and marginalised, they resorted to violence when politics got them nowhere. Myanmar can take steps to avoid a similar fate.
In the Myanmar context, the government and the ethnic armed groups will have to negotiate a peaceful settlement that will inevitably touch on what happens to the forces that currently exist in the country: not just their command structure, but also the individuals who serve in them. Questions will be raised and debated about how the rule of law can extend to all parts of the country as the military responsibility for supporting internal law and order shrinks with each stage of the journey toward peace.
The agreements on these issues become the security framework for the broader peace agreement. The activities to deliver this agreed security framework tend to come under the umbrella of Security Sector Reform, a technical term that refers to all the programs and funding required to put in place the agreed security framework for the future and the support it will receive from the international community once agreement is reached.
Part of this will include managing the military forces that by agreement are no longer needed. This means agreements to eventually dismantle surplus military organisations, disarm surplus troops and find a way to reintegrate them back into communities safely and in a way that supports the peace process, the economy and respect for the rule of law.
The establishment of agreed security arrangements should follow soon after the reaching of a political agreement. Security arrangements should always be preceded by a detailed SSR agreement and followed immediately by the installation of a comprehensive and adequately staffed and funded disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration program. Demands by any side that their opponents should disarm first tend to hinder progress toward creating an environment conducive to reaching agreement and would not help build confidence. Part of the reason the Sudan conflict lasted so long was the insistence that one side or the other should disarm first.
In general, negotiations are conducted on the assumption that any agreement will require the eventual consent of all participants.
If Myanmar is to avoid the early mistakes made by similar peace processes, it would do well to involve all groups at the earliest possible stage, in the knowledge that a ceasefire is a key tool to create the conditions for the longer journey toward peace – a journey that will eventually and inevitably see a gradual transformation of the security sector to something that all the people of Myanmar can believe represents and protects them equally. This transformation will include disarming fighters and helping them become civilians taking their own steps on the journey to peace.
International advisers can help by bringing knowledge and expertise in the design and construction of disarmament and demobilisation procedures in remote and insecure locations, as well as properly supported reintegration programs to help former fighters return to civilian life. What worked in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan could also work in the mountain passes of Kachin or Shan states.
The commander-in-chief, Upper House Speaker, vice president and state counsellor pose for a picture on the first day of the Panglong conference last month.