May 13, 2005

In Search of a Model for Burma's Future

Some thoughts about Pin-lone Agreement and the Issue of Secession
in Burma's Politics

By -- Saw Kapi

It is almost natural that we look for a model to work with as we attempt to find a solution to our country's problem. In doing so, we have a tendency to draw our inspiration from the past. At least that is what most of us in Burma are accustomed to do. Perhaps the reason we tend to look back to the history is that many of us do not have access to enough information to develop enough intellectual curiosity and therefrom capacity to explore new ways and means. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with looking into our own history in search of a plausible political model for the country. The danger, though, in doing so is that at times we fail to look outward, or forward, to the world around us in search of new models or new ways.

Speaking of Pin-lone Agreement, one should note that the Karen representatives were not there when the agreement was signed in February of 1947. Only a few Karen observers attended the conference and they were not part of the signatories. In fact, the Karens were not very keen with the idea of federalism in the beginning because our demographic composition is drastically different from other ethnic people, say, Kachin or Chin, who occupy some geographic area in northern or western part of Burma mostly on their own, perhaps until recently. The Karens at the moment seem to go along with "Pin-Lone Spirit," in a sense, to shore up support for a move towards some kind of federalism. Personally, I do not even think that those who are promoting “Pin-lone Spirit” among the opposition groups really believe in it. May be some of our Chin brothers do, but most Kachin and Karen do not.

Having said the above, this author is completely mindful of the impracticality of secession especially for the Karens, because we are demographically so intermingled and mixed with other ethnic people including the Burman. If the issue of succession is openly put forth and talked about among different ethnic people, we could end up in a fight with the Mons and the Tavoyan.

Here is the bottom line: no individual or organization in Burma's politics hitherto has offered any plausible solution to these dilemmas that Karens and other ethnic people have about maintaining their identity and cultural heritages, on the one hand and being an integral part of the Union, or whatever we call it, on the other. We need to think about formulating a strategy to come up with a new political line that leaves “secession” behind and look at Pin-lone Agreement as one of the most significant point in Burma’s history, but not as the sole model. The key here is to strike a strategic balance between the two concerns that Burma has, namely, the issue of national integration or disintegration and the issues of ethnic equality among the many groups of people, who call Burma home.

Either consciously or subconsciously, many of us are still in the old mode of thinking – we often look up to the western models and fail to appreciate the Asian approach, and think that western models are superior to that of the Asian. This unfortunately has led us to not properly recognize the strategic role of Burma’s immediate neighbors, especially Thailand, India and China. Consequently, we have made less-than-necessary efforts to develop good relationship with them and instead become increasingly dependent on the west.

We need to put all available options on the table with an open mind. If the Indonesian model, for instance, is more suitable for our country, we should not have any problem approaching our issues similar to what they have done. At least within the last two decades, Indonesians have made a lot of progress, economically and politically. If we are given 20 years and allowed to choose between the situations we are in now and the (arguably slow) progress that the Indonesians have made, I would not have any problem choosing the latter, which is more of evolution than revolution. If 17 years of revolutionary approach produces nothing, we should not rule out an evolutionary approach for the next fifteen years and expect at least a gradual progress towards a level of democratic change in that time frame.


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