I was honoured to observe the peace negotiation talk first-hand, allowing me to witness the behind-the-scene drama of former adversarial parties sitting across the table from one another. The talk was quite intense (as it should be), and sometimes confrontational, and yet passionately conciliatory at the end. To me, this indicated that both parties had a willingness to find a solution to the protracted political conflict facing the Union of Burma since independence in 1948. After three days of negotiation, which was originally scheduled only for two days, the talk resulted in the signing of a ceasefire agreement that contains 27 provisions.
Substantively speaking, there are six basic provisions in the agreement. The six basic provisions would stand as both the basic framework and the foundation for any ensuing political negotiations in Burma. They also constitute the non-negotiable provisions upon which a future constitution of the Union of Burma will be based. The first three are the three national causes, which have long been safeguarded and championed by the successive military governments, and the latter three are the ones proposed by the Chin National Front.
The six provisions that both parties signed into their historic agreement are:
- Non-disintegration of the Union, meaning no secession for any constituent member state from the future Union of Burma;
- Non-disintegration of the national solidarity, ensuring racial harmony among diverse ethnic nationalities in the Union;
- The perpetuation of sovereignty, safeguarding the Union of Burma’s inherent right to sovereignty;
- The right to self-determination within the Union for ethnicity-based member states, guaranteeing that any constituent member state of the Union exercises the three essential political powers: administrative, legislative, and judicial;
- Ethnic equality, ensuring that all territorial-based ethnic nationalities, regardless of their ethnic background, are entitled to the same rights and are treated equal; and,
- Democratization of the country.
Setting aside what can happen in future, the signing of these six provisions into their agreement is a politically significant achievement and essential step in the right direction for all who long for national reconciliation, peace, equality, and freedom under a democratic government in the Union of Burma.
Throughout the history of military rule in Burma, safeguarding the three national causes has been the justification for their firm grip on power since 1962. The generals always claim they took control of power to save the Union from disintegration. The CNF's embrace of the three national causes demonstrates their commitment to safeguarding the integration of the Union, though it could also be interpreted as a dismissal of the military government's longstanding charge that the ethnicity-based armed groups represent secessionist groups plotting to break up the Union.
By the same token, the government representatives’ adoption of the CNF's three basic principles for future Union – equality, self-determination, and democracy – exhibits their recognition of the fact that no negotiation can be meaningful without recognizing the legitimate claims to pre-colonial and self-governing territories of non-Burma ethnic nationalities. In fact, securing such provisions in the agreement meant the recognition of the CNF's legitimate claim for internal autonomy within the Union of Burma.
While the Burma government deserves appreciation for spearheading the democratic reform process and striking ceasefire deals with the 10 of 11 major armed resistance groups, the ongoing warfare between the Burma army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) raises questions about the real intentions of the government. The KIA leadership insists, “they will not agree to any ceasefire deal with the government unless the provisions of the proposed ceasefire agreement contain the terms and conditions guaranteeing that there must be a political dialogue to find a negotiated settlement of the political conflict.” If securing lasting peace and fostering national reconciliation under a democratic government is the goal of the government’s ongoing peace process, the government should not have any hesitancy to accept the KIA’s proposal. Time will surely tell us about the delay, but in the meantime, one cannot be silent about the military confrontation between the two parties. Recognizing that bullets are not solutions, it is critical that members of the international community responsibly pressure the Burma government to find a peaceful solution to this unresolved crisis.
To complete Burma's transition to democracy, the country is also in dire need of thriving and vibrant civil society organizations (non-state actors), to provide civic education for the citizenry and promote democratic principles such as transparency, accountability, freedom, and human rights. International organizations and donor countries must support new capacity-building programs in the country for both government and non-governmental organizations. At the same time, the Burma government needs to create a working environment in which civil society organizations can prosper and carry out their activities to champion their respective causes.
I am neither trying to paint a rosy picture of Burma, nor portray the country’s leadership unfairly. I simply believe there must be a rational, fair path forward to foster lasting solutions in Burma. We're getting closer to democracy now than ever before; it would be a shame to turn back now.
Note by the author: My writing does not reflect the view of any organization nor any other person, but me.