The Buddha once said that the cause of suffering can be attributed to one seeing the world and events as they appear or as one wishes them to be, rather than as they truly exist. Consequently, subsequent actions are unskillful, and result in suffering and unsatisfactoriness. His words can be applicable to the decades-old political situation in Myanmar.
The reality about the political situation in Myanmar as it really exists, not as many wishes it to be, is not a pleasant one and differs from present narratives. However, unless this reality is seen as it truly exists, the suffering of most of its people will continue. With clear vision, skillful actions may be undertaken which can alleviate some of the more harmful effects contributing to this ongoing suffering. This unpleasant reality sees the following through clear undistorted lens:
- The Bamar elite and Tatmadaw have historically shown, through successive civilian, military, and hybrid Union governments since independence, that they want a top-down, quasi-federal union government structure rather than a “genuine” federal union government with equitable political, fiscal, and administrative power sharing between the Union, state/region, and sub-state/region government levels.
- With little widespread movements toward secession by the ethnic people and weak-to-moderate control of populations/territories (especially cities and key towns by the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), the lack of sustainability/unity among the EAOs, and the EAOs’ inability/reluctance to project armed force outside their controlled areas to Bamar areas, all tangible movements toward “genuine federalism”, since independence, are ignored, dismissed, repressed, or delayed by the Bamar elite and Tatmadaw.
- The United Wa State Party (UWSP) and United League of Arakan (ULA), the two largest EAOs, have stated that they wish to have their own special confederation relationships with the Union government, implying asymmetricities in power sharing. Both steadfastly pursue their own respective concepts of self-autonomy which differ from the symmetrical federal democratic union structure sought by other ethnic people. Thus, a symmetrical federal democratic union, as in the United States of America, is not possible.
- Should the UWSP and ULA receive separate asymmetrical and individualized rights/powers for their territories, the Bamars and remaining ethnic groups would be expected to seek their own individualized governance considerations. So, an asymmetrical federal democratic union, as in Canada and India, is not possible
- The sole governance model to keep Myanmar as an “united” political entity would be a Confederation Union. This governance model considers the sharing of limited executive, parliamentary/legislative, and judicial rights/powers between strong self-governing states/regions and a central overarching government as in the European Union, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Republika Srpska/ Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina), and Iraq (Kurdistan Region/Republic of Iraq). Yet, this most feasible governance model is given no attention or consideration.
- Ethno-nationalism has dominated the political landscape of Myanmar since independence and has made compromise between the Bamars and the ethnic people extremely difficult, and almost impossible given their different ethnic-related political, social, economic, resource, territorial, security, and other needs/wants. Some ethnic people may choose not to remain as a territorial part of Myanmar and desire to have their territory secede and become independent. Their voice is not allowed to be seriously heard, understood, or respected by the Bamar elite, Tatmadaw, and international community.
- There is no guarantee that the Bamar elite will not use a security sector reformed Tatmadaw to further Bamarize the ethnic people into one nation, one language, one history, one religion, and one blood.
- Adverse climate change, causing severe flooding in the Ayeyarwady Delta and extreme heat in the Bamar heart lands, and combined with profit-seeking resource extraction will cause more ethnic conflict between the Bamars and ethnic people as the Bamars migrate to the relatively more favorable ethnic lands.
- The National Unity Government (NUG) funding can be expected to plateau and decline as time passes without significant victories on the battlefield, especially in regard to control of cities and major towns.
- The NUG has no Theory of Victory as to what is considered as a defeat of the Tatmadaw and how to realistically to achieve it. Thus, victory over the Tatmadaw will be elusive and scare resources of funding and weapons will continue to be wasted on non-strategic objectives.
- The NUG controls its People’s Defense Force (PDF), Local Defense Force (LDF), and People’s Defense Teams (PDT) as long as it continues to fund and arm them.
- The NUG stated that it wants the Tatmadaw under civilian control and out of politics: yet that will not stop the Tatmadaw from mounting coups as had other militaries done in their countries, including neighboring Thailand.
- Because of the series of broken promises by both the Bamar elite and Tatmadaw, there will be a strong reluctance for the EAOs to give up their arms through security sector reform/demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (SSR/DDR) or even become a state/region militia in any governance model.
- There is no talk about SSR/DDR, in respect to the Tatmadaw and Tatmadaw-allied armed groups as well as anti-Tatmadaw PDF, LDF, and PDT which can evolve into anti-government guerrillas, criminal gangs, and private militias after any defeat of the Tatmadaw.
- Myanmar is now a fragile state and becoming a failed state.
- China will militarily intervene in Myanmar should it find its major strategic political, military, and economic interests seriously threatened by lawlessness and spillovers from an ongoing civil war. India may respond to any such Chinese incursions with sending its own military forces into Western Myanmar to protect its own strategic interests.
- The U.S. has no major strategic interests in respect to Myanmar and cannot expect to assist the NUG and other anti-Tatmadaw forces beyond general non-lethal humanitarian assistance.
Unfortunately, this “unpleasant reality” does not bode well for the future of Myanmar, its territorial integrity, and its people. The security sector situation in a Myanmar Union, after any defeat of the Tatmadaw, would be expected to be extremely tense and volatile, and may invite the possible foreign intervention by its neighbors.
Furthermore, some ethnic populations/territories may seek to close themselves off from the rest of the country through confederation enclaves or warlord fiefdoms. Other ethnic people may use the present opportunity to leave what they consider a dysfunctional family of a Myanmar Union and also to avoid a possible future Bamar encroachment on their territories due to adverse climate change and profit-seeking resource extraction. They would seek to secure a sustainable peace for their populations/territories as independent and sovereign countries.
Moe Gyo is a political consultant and strategist working on the Thailand-Myanmar border.
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