Guest Column

Time to Review the Peace Process in Myanmar

By Aung Naing Oo 31 July 2019

Once again, I am calling for a review of the peace process. I do not recall how many times I have encouraged all stakeholders to look back so that we can look move forward. This is for practical and strategic reasons.

In my mind, given all that has not but should have happened, it is now time to embark on the road of seeing what works and what does not, and what troubles us and what helps the process achieve concrete results.

Most importantly, as someone who has followed the peace process intimately, I feel that we have tried our best to follow the path that the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) laid out, but it seems we have lost our bearing along the way. We’ve proceeded as if there were a clear path before us, forging ahead and not looking back. This should must change.

It has been eight years since former Chief Negotiator U Aung Min’s first meeting with representatives of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in Chiang Rai, Thailand, in November 2011. Then, the government he represented negotiated both bilateral and NCA agreements.  The successor NLD government has since organized three sessions of the Union Peace Conference, or the 21st Century Panglong.

In short, in the past eight years, while there have been some successes, failures abound.

After all, ours is a peace process with many twists and turns. From the very beginning, it never promised to be smooth and tidy.

Generally, failures and impasses are synonymous with the breakdown of peace and ceasefire deals. It is therefore common at some point for a peace process to fail or run aground.

I understand there is little interest now in reviewing the peace process and its issues but, to save time, energy, and above all the entire peace process, it is now time to look back, in order to avoid possible mishaps going forward. Most critically, we need to find ways to strengthen existing ceasefires and produce tangible results in political negotiations. In short, the objective of such a review is to repeat past successes and avoid future failures.

At the tail end of President U Thein Sein’s tenure, in March 2016, I organized two sessions of a peace process review at the now-defunct Myanmar Peace Center (MPC). Attendance was low. Even some of the MPC key members did not attend the meetings—and understandably so, as we were about to be shown the door.

The NLD government began their term by re-starting the peace process without an intimate knowledge of the peace negotiations or the required expertise. When the MPC was abolished, the institutional memory of various ceasefires negotiations was lost. Furthermore, with the 2015 election taking center stage in national politics, some NCA provisions that needed further deliberation had to be rushed before elections were held. Now, all of these shortcomings have come back to haunt the peace process, resulting in our current stalemate.

So then what should be reviewed?

The peace architectures created out of NCA structures such as the Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting, the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee, and the Union Peace Conference, among others, should be examined.

The structures, processes, mechanisms, decision-making methods and so on in these architectures need to be looked at with a view towards making them more effective and efficient.

Likewise, the review should cover peacemaking institutions on both sides to see if they have the capacity to respond to current challenges. Further, communications, coordination, compliance aspects need to be scrutinized and must be strengthened.

The effects of formal and informal dialogues, the need for flexibility and the notion of delegation should all be examined without prejudice. Equally critical are the issues of strategic, confidence-building measures, which need urgent implementation.

In sum, there are countless issues and processes to pay attention to. Such a review should lead to a healthy and comprehensive plan for the future.

The EAOs, individually and collectively, have organized their own review sessions. I am not aware of the government doing the same.

In all probability, EAO review sessions are unlikely to be objective, as their analyses will tip toward their own group interests—likely centered more on how to strategically navigate or align themselves in complex negotiations rather than on looking at the peace process holistically.

Perhaps a joint review session would be a great way forward because it could inform all stakeholders on how wide or small the gap is between them, and because it may show them how to narrow or close those gaps. More importantly, it may give them a shared path for moving the peace process forward.

Additionally, all sides could form an independent committee of local and foreign experts who have worked on the peace process. If this is untenable, the government, the Tatmadaw and the EAO representatives could be part of the committee, making them semi-independent. Then they should spend a considerable amount of time examining key, if not all, aspects of the peace process.

In the end, the committee should come up with a sound and comprehensive set of recommendations and action plans to make the peace process work better.

All in all, we know that the peace process in Myanmar is ailing. It is time to diagnose the problem accurately so we can find the cure with the power and capacity to confront the myriad of dauting challenges.

Aung Naing Oo is the author of Lessons Learned from Myanmar’s Peace Process. He is currently the Executive Director of the Technical Secretariat Center of the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent the JMC.

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