By: Athong Makury
The reform process in Myanmar under quasi civilian-led government has come for two and half years amidst twists and turns. Hoping for a real change in the country, the International Community has given much effort in terms of both pressure and support. So also the local community comprised of mainland and ethnic community has contributed much to it yet the result seems blurringdue to so many unfulfilled, empty promises and arrogant behaviors of Myanmar military. Keeping the 2008 notorious Constitution as the core subject of the issue many efforts from both outside and inside are put but USDP, the proxy of the junta still grabs the ball for a genuine change in Myanmar. Aung Suu Kyi the democracy icon of Myanmar, who was once much on 1947’s Panlong agreement, 1990 election result, the rights of ethnic people and abnormality of 2008 Constitution, had made, amidst severe criticisms and loss of trust, U-turn and got into the house with full of hopes and promises in recent by-election after several indoor discussions with the President Thein Sein. During their open secret dialogs she was somewhat confirmed for the amendment of the Constitution but the time has made her seen the real color of the junta. Her hope to become the next president is shattered beyond her imagination.When her attempts in the house fell short, she began to realize that there was no way of fulfilling her dreams from within the parliament where the proxies of junta rule and the promises she received from their indoor discussions proved void of reality. Failing to fulfill her dreams, she signaled to walk away by saying, “We have opened the door for all.” But one way she feels that the remedy for the political trauma is to take the issue to the street and seems nudging the public to do it. But the public is aware and paranoid of the old habit of junta and the present government’s inability to control over the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army). The logic is that if the government still uses inhuman and undemocratic means to crackdown the movements e.g. the monks in Latpadaung Hill issue who peacefully walk out for the sake of the innocent public, then those nightmares of the past painted with much bloodshed can be reversed easily.
For a pragmatic change in the country, the government has to realize the fact and put it into action before it gets worse..As long as abnormal systems are active.., no genuine change or progress may be expected
The other factor is the issue of ethnic people in Myanmar! As the ethnic forces have learned enough wily tricks of the junta in the past, they have made a new paradigm shift in dealing with the government. After the failures of several individual attempts for each interest and goal, the ethnic people realizedthe need and strength of unity and thus they had come under one unit as United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) which has acquired much bargaining power, an institution that they never had in the past. One can see that it has also gained much international and local support. UNFC’s stand is clear, nothing but a federal union that safeguards and guarantees the future of the ethic people in Myanmar. Some soft-liners within the USDP began to bend with the wind by including the federal topic in the talks but within the ugly 2008 constitution. It was seen in the recent talks in Chiang Mai, Thailand where the two forces were caught up in a catch-22: one with the present and the other for a new federated constitution. And also, during President Thein Sein’s recent visit to the West, he bloomed there withplenty of promises before the world powers about the release of political prisoners, the amendment of the constitution and the ethnic issue. But the ground at home proves contrary to his claims. The public and the world are confused about who has the real power in Myanmar politics. For instance, several agreements signed on the table to ceasefire are followed by continued gunfire and bloodshed. For another example, Union Minister U Aung Min, the chairman of Union Peace Negotiating Team has said that the Team needs has only ten billion Kyats which is half of the expenditure for nationwide peace talks and for which he is begging from international community. The question is, “Are they [Burmese] really doing it practical?” The government spends billions of US dollars in procuringnuclear, Jet fighters, warships, missiles, WMDs and heavy artilleries to destroy the ethnic forces but for a few bucks, which are less than the cost of aF-16, the government says it has no fund. Another awkward thing is that the government canstill effort to make a bronze bell that will cost twenty billion Kyats. It is nothing but a plain irony that insults the ethnic people!Another key factor is Ministry of Defense headed by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, C-in-C who acts always independently. UNFC is right in commenting that Min Aung Hlaing is constitutionally and practically above all in the country and neither is he controlled by none except Mr. Shwe who pulls the thread from behind thecurtain. After all, the amendment of the constitution lies as the main subject in the reform process in Myanmar. The topic for amending the constitution still remains a hot potato for the junta-backed government. But after much counseling and pressure, this Burmese python of course begins to uncoil by forming a team comprised of 105 membersa month back to examine the amendment of the constitution. As the team begins to examine the particulars, Thura Shwe Man, the chairman of the House is heralding that much change cannot be expected from it. His message has been marked ambiguous and ambivalent. It is discouraging to learn that circumscription has come before any visible move.For Mr. Win Tin who is the brain child of National League for Democracy (NLD), people must be prepared at any time for reversal to status quo ante. It is clear to all that this impasse will remain as a chronic malady unless the core subject is addressed properly. Failing to do so, the country and innocent people will be succumbed to unending imbroglios and the road to genuine democracy in Myanmar will prove cul-de-sac.
For a pragmatic change in the country, the government has to realize the fact and put it into action before it gets worsethat real peace in nationwide must start with practical approach from the initial level. So that the real meaning of union will be fully understood and experienced in the country. As long as the abnormal systems are active in the process, no genuine change or progress may be expected.However, it is a good signal that the system from the part of government may anyway go out of track, UNFC seems well experienced this time about such abnormalities. Further, it feels doubtful of Suu Kyi’s stand even as she remained silent in recent clashes and civil wars with the ethnic forces. For many, her speech in Yale University was seen an escape. Though the ethnic people longed much for her intervention in those bloodyissues, she replied that she was not invited to participate in the team. It seems she forgot that she was unwelcome and uninvited to participate in Myanmar politics by the junta government but looking for an invitation after securing a place in the house. However, after much pressure and request from communities she now walks into the team but her role and power in the team is unknown thus far which is a matter of concern. On the one hand, UNFC is also not fully strong until all the ethnic forces in the country are incorporated into it. By now more than 15 groups are already in but some groups like Karen National Union (KNU) who thinks herself ‘alone but a lion’ yet to give a hand for common goal as she is also fighting for a federal union. For KNU, it is like “wait and see” as she learned a good lesson during the times of National Democratic Front from which KIA/KIO made immediate departure by signing ceasefire agreement with the junta in 1994 and in following KNU was severely singled out by the junta.Here, it is pretty weird to learn about the absence of the Nagas in UNFC!It might be true to comment that sometimes Nagas seem too proud of ourselves.
For example, NSCN-K is known for her traditional stand “Sovereignty” as its unique claim but this claim, though dearing and admiring, seems sometimes making the Nagas isolated more and more from the real world when its procedure is not well defined or unclear “the how.” Some think-tanks among the Nagas in Myanmar worry that the Nagas will be out of track politically in the near future when we are not accustomed to the changing scenario of the political trend around us. Some are of the opinion that the Nagas also should participate as observers at least, not necessarily as full-fledged member and support them by supplying technical and academic assistance yet not compromising for what we stand: perhaps on a same train but to a further station.To be logical, a unique claim has to do with a unique preparation. Or in other word, idealism is good up to some extend but to bein a dialectical mode is a must lest we end up as day dreamers. For instance, NSCN-K’s silence on Chin-Naga issue wherein Nagas are mentioned as one of Chin tribes and mentioning of Mt. Saramati as the highest peak in their Chinland documentary report and land demarcation of Naga Self-Administered Region which is just one third of our ancestral territory has caused doubts in the minds of the Nagas in Myanmar. Further, NSCN-K is yet to clarify on accountability of poppy farming and allowing the use of opium in the region. It is reported that even NSCN officials themselves cultivate poppy in the region. It might not be beautiful to see poppy fields under the banner of “Nagaland for Christ.”Hence, it’s a reminder to all that our activities should not prove that our claim is far-fetched. Or else we will have to redefine our claim for better.
The ceasefire agreement between NSCN-K and GoM is a welcome matter and the Naga public wanted it to be of good and progress holistically which should also pave the way for our final goal. It is sad to learn that before the talks have reached Union Level some people have been stripped and some ground realities picture that the talks need some more preparation. The Naga think-tanks in the East feel disquiet that our boys will be trapped as border guard force if continued as usual. The progress of talks after a while is unclear from both GoM and Naga group. The recent meet in Naypyidaw with the Naga delegates went silent except hearing that Naga delegates received a package of wheels for off-road travel. What will be the next and the next is an interesting update to see. On the one hand, it may not be wrong on the part of public to ask for transparency and what’s being done for the Nagas.
The Naga public in Myanmar is also a matter of concern. It’s nice to see that the nascent nature of the people in the region has begun to experience some new waves of changes and the region also begins to see some visible developments as their elders from the Western sidereach out to them. The relation between the East and the West becomes closer and gets warmer. Yet the USDP-led regional government looks at the public with much doubt and uncertainty but the problem is USDP members are more attentive to their higher authority than to the public in the region. Having the insecure feeling, they are afraid to fully educate the public to claim even for a few bits and crumbs mentioned in the 2008 constitution. Naga National League for Democracy (NNLD) who once made loud claims is now out of station when the time has come. It might be a serious need that both regional parties and Naga national workers have to remove the gap and get closer to the public for trust and support so that all the decisions and verdicts made will reflect the reality in the region which will pave a way for overall development in the region.
As the Naga political organizations both over and underground are moving on their own, the public starting from grass hoot level also need to be enforced with capacity building and mobilization with a proper education to catch up the changing trends around them. For which, all the stake holders must be accountable for a better future of the Nagas. When the reform process is taking its own shape in the mainland, the Nagas in the Hills also should be ready to face anything that comes on our way. Every sensible Naga willcomment that it is a prerequisite to have pragmatic preparationto fulfill our beautiful dreams lest ours exists as utopia.
(To be continued)
*The writer hails from Layshi, Eastern Nagaland. He, after completing his studies
in Nagaland and in South India, left for Thailand where he did a Tribal linguistic research.
Now he remains as an observer to Myanmar-Naga politics based in Thailand.