The Myanmar military – Tatmadaw – is still undoubtedly the single most powerful stakeholder in running the democratic reform process in Myanmar, including the peace process. Either for good or bad for the country, they are at the centre-stage of the reform process. With the constitutional rights and powers that they wield under the 2008 constitution, they can either be instrumental in advancing the cause of the reform process or be detrimental in sabotaging the entire reform efforts. Without Tatmadaw buying in, it would be really difficult, if not impossible, for Myanmar’s reform process to succeed. As such, understanding the thinking, positions, policies, and interests of those senior leaders of Tatmadaw, who are at the helm controlling the Myanmar military as an institution, is absolutely essential.
While so much speculation about the military’s position on peace process is ongoing, it is very timely that the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar military armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, gave a speech on the 13th February, 2018 in Naypyitaw, outlining the policies of Tatmadaw with regards to the peace process. This was during the signing ceremony of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) by New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Lahu Democratic Union (LDU). The following points are some important highlights of the Commander-in-Chief’s substantive policy speech in essence. They are:
» What NCA is all about: “the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is not only for the ceasefire but also for a path of the genuine and firm eternal peace which can practically implement the wider aims and desires of all national people.”
» The purpose of signing NCA is: “to solve political problems – which have existed in the country for nearly 70 years and were previously solved by means of armed struggle – through peaceful political dialogue around the table in order to achieve eternal peace, as well as stability for development of the country.”
» Tatmadaw adhering to the existing laws and the NCA: “Since the Tatmadaw is an institution that upholds the four oaths including “We will be loyal to the people and the State” and has to abide by existing laws issued by the State as well as Tatmadaw Acts and rules, it will not say one thing and do another. It has strictly implemented provisions in the NCA without deviating from six-point peace policy since peace process was initiated. [...] The NCA and the six-point peace policy of the Tatmadaw is the way paved in the interests of the people and the Union for the armed struggle to proceed to peace, and then to a Union based on genuine democracy and federalism without causing troubles to any force.”
» Welcoming the new NCA signatories: “I warmly welcome the New Mon State Party and the Lahu Democratic Union which will walk along the path with trust and farsightedness, and they correctly and bravely have decided for the people who have been living in the country since yore through thick and thin. Their signing activities will reduce doubts and worries of the signatory ethnic armed organizations to some extent as well as will create anticipations of the organizations which remain to sign the agreement in order to make continuous cooperation without wrong decision and doubts and with trust.”
» NCA-based peace process is a negotiated one: “The agreements included in the NCA were not drawn by an individual or a group but drawn by the government, the Tatmadaw and all ethnic armed groups with a combination of each chapter, section, paragraph and usage based on prior suggestions made by the ethnic armed groups after heated discussions and negotiations.”
» Preparation for security sector reintegration: “We have found that some ethnic armed organizations with personal feelings cast doubts and illusions by mistakenly thinking that security sector reform is for them to surrender. [...] I would like to say that the ethnic armed organizations themselves should not have such doubts, illusions and concerns. [...] In so doing, what we need to notice is that we need to make preparations in security sector reform in advance, in accord with the international peace process.”
» The need of a timeframe: “In implementing the peace process from the NCA to eternal peace, an exact timeframe is necessary and we will overcome all difficulties through coordination and negotiation.”
One of the most controversial as well as difficult issues that sometimes become a matter of heated debate between ethnic armed organizations and the Myanmar military is disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR). Even within ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), there are different interpretations on the position of Tatmadaw on DDR. True or not, there is a prevailing perception among some EAOs that the Myanmar military is mainly pursuing a policy of disarming EAOs, and that they do not want a substantive political dialogue. Because of this perception and fear of being forced into disarmament, some of them do not have a strong incentive to press ahead with the political dialogue.
From the beginning of this peace process, EAOs unequivocally made clear their longstanding position on the issue of a DDR program, when they negotiated the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). First and foremost, they wanted to achieve a political settlement to resolve the political crises through sustained political dialogues. This political settlement is chiefly about securing agreement on basic principles and policies for a future federal democratic system. Second, based on the agreed framework of political settlement (which would include a list of basic principles and policies on a future governing system), they wanted an agreement on a set of policies governing the conduct of a security sector transformation of the country. Unless the two conditions were achieved, they would not engage in the undertaking of a DDR program, which would come at the last stage of the entire process. EAOs hereby mainly underscore the primacy of finding a political solution first.
In the actual NCA agreement of Chapter (5), the third step of the seven-step roadmap, both Myanmar military and EAOs have agreed to, “negotiating security related reintegration matters and undertaking other necessary tasks that both parties agree can be carried out in advance.” In their subsequent meetings, both sides also came to agreement saying that the security sector reintegration means SSR/DDR. However, there is no agreed common definition of what they actually meant so far. Among the five thematic topics chosen for the ongoing political dialogue, the security sector is the only area where the sides have not yet made any formal agreement, but still are at the stage of “brainstorming and discussion”. This difficulty with the security sector is mainly due to lack of a common understanding and varying interpretations of the agreements.
The Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar armed forces is fully aware of the difficulties that surround the negotiations on the security sector, and also that some members of the EAOs are questioning the Tatmadaw’s position on this controversial issue of the security sector. Utilizing the special occasion of the NCA signing ceremony by NMSP and LDU, he was giving a forthright substantive political speech in which he outlined the policy and positions of Myanmar military on the ongoing peace process. He insists, “We have found that some ethnic armed organizations with personal feelings cast doubts and illusions by mistakenly thinking that security sector reform is for them to surrender. […] I would like to say that the ethnic armed organizations themselves should not have such doubts, illusions and concerns.” Worth noting here, is that he does not use neither SSR nor DDR in his speech, but security reintegration (in Burmese), which needs elaboration in future negotiations.
Basically, his speech can be construed as him trying to counter the wrong representation of the Tatmadaw’s position, and state that Myanmar military is not demanding EAOs to lay down their arms. He backs up his argument by saying that, “The NCA signing is a political culture in which political problems are peacefully solved at a roundtable.” The message he wants to send is whatever issue they discuss in the peace process, it could be done only with the consent of all parties concerned. In fact, it is necessary to be reminded that the Myanmar peace process is not dictated by one party or one person alone. It is a joint undertaking between the Government of Myanmar, EAOs and political parties. From the negotiation of the NCA to the implementation of all agreements, including designing the whole architecture of the peace process and its mechanism. Each party to the process can have their own policy and position. For instance, EAOs might have their own policy on a certain security related issue and the course of action that they want to take, and so does the Myanmar military. They both have every right to do so. However, what matters the most is the mutual agreements that are made between them at the end of their intense negotiations. The final outcome of their negotiation on any issue matters!
After all, the peace process and the political dialogues in Myanmar would not have been necessary if there was no conflict remained unsolved. There can surely be more and more disagreements among key stakeholders as they continue making attempts to put an end to this longstanding conflict. Disagreements does not mean the end of the peace process. No matter what happens, the parties to the process should be encouraged and supported in their persistent efforts to find compromises and move forward. No military means can solve the armed conflicts of Myanmar, only political means of negotiation among the parties can!