Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The weak points of Burma's ethnic resistance groups


FOR MORE than 50 years, the ethnic resistance groups struggling against the Burmese military government have failed to achieve success. To identify the reasons for this failure we need to evaluate our weak points.

First, our love for the nation is mainly dependent on each individual situation and position. We have failed to find a strong unity that would enable us to reach our goal.

Second, on the political front, we laid out different policy objectives, with some groups aiming at a federal Burma and others wanting total independence. These different political ideologies mean we have fought against one another - a fight that has been fuelled by people's lack of political knowledge and a lack of education that means many are easily manipulated.

On the other hand, the educated scholars are reluctant to face the hardship of struggle, and only provide moral support from the shelter of their homes. Very few educated people have made the sacrifice to come out and work for their people.
In addition, many involved in the struggle do not know how to differentiate between friend and foe. Faced with disagreement and disapproval, they break up into small factions and bow to the enemy. They become informants, giving the enemy knowledge of weak points of the resistance groups. They forget who the real enemy is.

Disagreement and argument are a natural part of internal affairs. But whatever the disagreement and however big the argument, we should not break up. We should come face to face, reconcile, compromise and find a way to beat the enemy. This means paying more attention and care to the role of alliances.

In the past, we made alliances not with our hearts but with words. These prioritised the interests of each individual and organisation over the common interest. When the enemy attacked one group, its ally failed to help, because it was not being directly attacked. But if the enemy defeated the first group, its ally would be the next target. This demonstrates that the role of an alliance should be to help one another finish off the enemy.

Third, putting individual ego before the national interest means no unified group can form - there are always splits in the gathering. Fights broke out among the groups over control of territory, but they failed to protect the people or rehabilitate country.

We could not beat the enemy because we were distracted by self-interest and disputes that weakened our unity. It is not the external enemy but the enemy within that has been responsible for the destruction of resistance groups. The lesson is clear: we must work towards reconciliation and building a strong unity via the right policies. Otherwise, there are too many obstacles on our path to success.

Fourth, if we compare our struggle with that of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh's, our efforts are no match for his. We need competent political and military leaders as well as educated people. Our people need the capacity to develop.

Shan political parties are unreliable, as most of the politicians are stuck in their houses due to the threats from the enemy. The pressure and threats from the Burmese regime prevent them from laying out the same policies as the armed groups do.

If we adopted the same political ideology of self-determination, and united against the Burmese regime, it would not be difficult to lay out political strategies. But the ethnic minority groups that wanted to become part of a federated Burma have not been able to agree with those who were fighting for total independence. As a result, finding unity has been delayed. If the ethnic Wa, Palung, Pa-O and Lahu groups could accept that ethnic nationalities have lived together peacefully in Shan State since ancient times, then a new federated Shan State is not far away. We can overcome the difficulties and guarantee the rights of the ethnic groups through open discussion.

Fifth, when the armed groups began agreeing ceasefires with the Tatmadaw (Burma's military), they lost political ground. The Burmese regime now has the upper hand in negotiations with them.

The ceasefire groups mistakenly believed that they would be able to talk politics with the regime. In the meantime, they thought they would be able to recruit, boost funds and stockpile weapons. However, the regime has played a clever game, preventing the ceasefire groups reaching both their political and military goals.

The regime offered ceasefire talks for two reasons:

1. The internal political conflict intensified in Burma after Aung San Suu Kyi became more actively involved in the political movement. The regime needed to solve its internal problems first.

2. In 1989, many ethnic armed groups mutinied from the Burma Communist Party led by Thakin Pa Thein Tin. At this point, the regime was afraid that the ethnic groups would form into a single opposition force, so offered ceasefire agreements in return for concessions. The regime was desperate to prevent the groups forming an alliance with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

(This familiar tactic of the Burmese regime is often characterised thus: "When it is weak it will kneel down and beg for mercy, but when it is strong it will ignore your requests and cut off your begging hands.")

Twenty years on since the policy of ceasefires began, the philosophy of solving political conflicts through political means has not materialised. Some ceasefire groups have abandoned their beliefs after receiving economic privileges from the regime, while others have been left in a dilemma over their political stance. With their political objectives derailed, they are now reacting to the regime's oppression in an ineffective day-to-day way. As a result, lasting peace is even further from their grasp.

Moreover, if the ceasefire groups agree to participate in this year's election or agree to transform into border guard forces, militia or police, their original political objectives will have clearly failed. The 2008 constitution is not accepted by all ceasefire groups but by contesting the election, they will automatically relinquish their political objectives.

Lastly, so far, the ethnic armed groups have only adopted guerrilla tactics in the struggle against the Tatmadaw. A large offensive with military strategy that could match that of the Burmese army has not been carried out. No central command has been formed, and battalions and brigades fail to take commands from their headquarters. In contrast to this weak and ineffective command structure, the battalions of the Burmese army obey orders from above in all cases. We have to face the fact that the Tatmadaw is stronger and better in controlling its troops. Even though the regime's political and human-rights reputation has been shattered, their decades-long grip on power remains strong.

By LT-GENERAL YAWD SERK chairman of the Restoration Council of the Shan State.

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