Beyond the Politics of Condemnation:
Rethinking Burma's Political Impasse
By – Saw Kapi
The Burmese military regime, often to its own discredits, is bent on crushing the National League for Democracy (NLD) by all means. It regularly bashes the 1990-election winning party and its iconic leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, while launching atrocious military operations against the Karen National Union (KNU) and other ethnic resistance groups. In conducting its sweeping military operations, the regime's soldiers invariably commit numerous forms of human rights abuses; raping women, burning villages, and the arbitrary killing of innocent civilians.
Being an ethnic Karen of Burma, whenever there is a large scale human rights violation against innocent people, one feels an acute sense of humiliation, not just because the people we share our ethnic affinity with are invariably under attack but because the various opposition groups – Burmese and multiple ethnics alike – both at the border and the world over, in reality, cannot respond beyond condemnatory rhetoric. Looking to the international community, examining what the press has said, what statements have been issued and what position the various political organizations have adopted, one can easily see that substance is absent – there is little more than verbal condemnation of the military regime. It is simply up to us – especially those in the movement, political activists and academics alike – to analyze how the Burmese opposition has reached such a pitiful level of powerlessness that peace loving people of Burma should endure such humiliation.
Hitherto, there seems to be no coherent idea as to how we might be able to prevent the innocent Burmese people from once more becoming the victims of the military regime. There has been a general diatribe against the military regime, but what has been truly astonishing is that amid the plethora of commentary, no single political organization showed the slightest inclination to examine the reality of the people on the ground. Meanwhile, an estimated fifty million inhabitants of Burma – in a land where there exists no reliable public opinion polls, no free press and no viable opposition group – are without a voice, caught between the stubborn military regime, on the one hand, and ineffective opposition groups on the other.
While there have been demands for sanctioning and isolating of the regime, there has been no convincing explanation as to how this might prevent the regime's next military operation against ethnic people. Or how that might trigger the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. Similarly, there were calls for a boycott of economic investment in Burma, though those making such calls appeared impervious to the fact that such a move would simply serve to underline our tendency to depend more on the outside world than ourselves.
At the root of the problem lies a simple fact – the Burmese opposition movement is not taken very seriously because we put all our energy into issuing condemnatory rhetoric rather than engaging in critical yet constructive actions. Taking such a step would seem counterintuitive to the fact, for instance, that thousand of Karen families have to flee across the border after their lives were destroyed by the Burmese military's scorch-earth counter-insurgency operations, while student activists inside the country are being detained. But if we really want to move beyond the past and the current impasse, it is necessary that after the obligatory rounds of condemnation we should look into more practical matters – for example, what role the opposition movement can play in (re)constructing the country's fast-deteriorating healthcare and education systems.
It is now time for both the regime and the opposition to move past the politics of mutual condemnation and sincerely embrace the spirit of cohabitation, recognizing that each side has a role to play and positively contribute to the future of the country. Though it may be perceived as being too difficult in some quarters, this would involve asking the NLD to heal its wounds with the military regime and to come to terms with the fact that its incapability to act effectively holds millions of its supporters political hostages. Yet such an admission of ineffectiveness is necessary if the torn country and her people are ever to be healed. As for the KNU, the only credible force among the remaining armed resistance organizations, it cannot afford to stand still and be attacked by the regime's troops – or wait to be contacted by the regime's liaison. It needs to seriously delineate and propose a plausible political passage that includes a call for the cessation of all military activities by both sides. On the part of the regime in power, and most importantly to commence a national reconciliation process in the most serious sense, it will need to allow the convening of a more genuine national convention, in which the opposition, including the NLD and the armed resistance groups, are allowed to participate, freely and fairly.
Regrettably, nothing in this vein appeared in the press or in the statements issued by politicians or political organizations, at home or abroad. The easy path was taken – the regime continues to bash and arrest the opposition, to which the opposition's standard response is total condemnation. At times, fine-sounding slogans and the regularly released soul soothing statements from the international community may well express sympathy for us, but they, patently, remain insufficient to resolve an ongoing dilemma facing the people of Burma. Surely the time has come when we show the world that in addition to exercising our voice, we can take positive action in resolving our problems. That is the only way to display that we are not just a nation seething with resentment but one capable of taking the necessary steps to help ourselves.
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November 24, 2006
Beyond the Politics of Condemnation: