Saw Ba U Gyi’s three strategies for the Karen struggle for freedom and autonomy
Saw Day Chit
Karen people have been struggling for freedom and autonomy for over 70 years. In 1948 they started peacefully asked for freedom and autonomy from Burmese government, but it did not work, so they started the armed struggle in 1949. In 2015, the KNU signed the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) to start political dialogue with Burmese government. In 1950, Saw Ba Gyi held congress in Papun on July 17-19 and introduced three ways for the Karen struggle to gain the freedom and autonomy: (1) armed struggle; (2) political dialogue and negotiated settlement with the Burmese government; (3) and the international intervention and arrangement on the Karen people behalf. Karen people have practiced all three ways above, but they have not reached the destination so far. My essay focuses on the negative and positive outcomes of these three ways, and analyzes three ways for Karen struggle for freedom and autonomy to succeed based on my experiences, knowledge and some concrete evidences.
Firstly, it is about negative and positive outcomes of the armed struggle. The negative outcomes of armed struggle in social sector were many Karen people fled from home .Some became IDPs/refugees. Some lost their lives. Some become handicap. Some properties were destroyed and looted Burmese military. Seven Karen refugee camps on Thai-Burma bonder were created. Regarding to transportation and communication during armed struggle, it was difficult for Karen people in Burmese government control and Karen people in Kawthoolei to communicate and visit one another. For example, the four cuts strategy was used to block Karen people access to food, funds, recruits, and information from Karen revolutionary group. In cultural sector, Karen people in control of Myanmar government were manipulate and were not allowed to learn their language and practice their culture. We have seen some Karen people from Yangon and Irrawaddy divisions cannot speak Karen and do not know their Karen history anymore. In economic sector, it was difficult to do businesses during the armed struggle because it was risky for the investors in conflict zone.
The positive outcomes of armed struggle are Karen people are known more almost globally because they use the armed struggle becoming the hot issue in global level. Due to the armed struggle, some Karen people have the opportunities to resettle to the third countries to have better life as well as better education, and Karen people spread out globally. Those Karen can become supporters for their people who live in Kawthoolie. Because of armed struggle, Karen people can still control some of their own territory and administration.
Secondly, it is about the negative and positive outcomes of the political dialogue and negotiated settlement with the Burmese government. The negative outcomes in social sector during the political dialogue are the Burmese government use the social welfare for the influence and expand their administration by promoting free education and healthcare in the KNU control like turning Karen schools to Burmese government schools and Karen clinics to Burmese government clinics. In political sector, there is little movement of political dialogue and looks unhealthy. We have seen the movement of 21st century agreement Panglong agreement without any implementation. The Joint Monitoring Council [JMC] was founded to solve the problem between the KNU and Burmese military whenever conflict occurs, but mostly Burmese military rejected the win-win solution. Burmese government and the KNU have held meeting several time, but there hasn’t any implementation for freedom and autonomy so far.
The positive outcomes in regard to the communication and transportation, it is easier for Karen people in the KNU control area and Karen people in the control area of Burmese government to communicate and visit one another. For example, Summer Youth Camp training in Pha-An District in 2017, many young people from Burmese government control could attended the training and talk about Karen politics to have stronger Karen political building. In cultural sector, there are less restrictions in the control area of Myanmar government. For example, Karen language can be provided in the community as summer school. Karen wrist tying can be celebrated. However, some Karen special days like Karen Martyr's Day and revolution day encompassing the political issue are permitted, but it is not allowed to talk about politics during the event. In economic sector, during the ceasefire there are more opportunities to do businesses. Different economic activities such mining, coal, logging, etc. are started, so the KNU can get some incomes from these economic actives to function the circulation of the KNU. Regarding to the infrastructure, Burmese government promotes project road for better communication and hydropower dam to generate the electricity.
Thirdly, it is about the outcomes of the international intervention and arrangement on the Karen people behalf. Historically, the international intervention plays the important role to give pressure to Burmese government to make positive changes. For example, Myanmar started following the road of democracy due to the pressure of the international community. When Burmese military attacked Karen people, the information is reported globally to stop the military offensive, and Burmese military were boycotted by the international community in terms of economic sanction, etc. The Burma campaign raises the awareness of Burmese military’s bad activities to the international community.
Fourthly, this is about the whole analysis of three ways to succeed autonomy and freedom. The first analysis is the armed struggle. To gain the autonomy, military is the key. Regarding to Karen military defense, we have seen Burmese military try to deploy their troops to destroy Karen revolutionary group, but it is very difficult for them to destroy everything they want. Karen Army have small weapons and fewer troops to compare with Burmese military, but they are well experienced and good at fighting on the ground. Forests and mountains become the important tools to support Karen Army too. Karen Army have the local knowledge and know how to cope with life in the forests and mountainous areas but difficult for the Burmese Army to survive in Karen territory. For example, in the 2000s Burmese military planned to destroy the whole 5th brigade, but their plan finally failed because when they entered the 5th brigade, they faced not only Karen Army but also the hardship of mountains and forest. Karen also use guerrilla warfare strategy to stop the enemy to enter into territory like the successful guerrilla warfare used by North Vietnam when fighting against American troops.
The armed struggle causes the refugees and IDPs/refugees. The IDPs/ refugees face the difficulties like lack of food, lack of accessing to education, poor living condition, but they are not neglected completely. There are some organizations looking after the IDPs to provide basic needs. Some get supports from oversea Karen people, too. Some refugees get the opportunity to resettle in the third countries for better life, and they can support back their people in Kawthoolei financially. Some can bring back different soft and hard skills like IT, engineering, etc. to Kawtholei.
Overall, the armed struggle has more potentials to gain autonomy and freedom because it represents that Karen people stand on their own feet to deserve freedom and autonomy. To gain freedom and autonomy, Karen people have to buy with their bloods and sweats. For example, many East Timor people scarified before getting autonomy and freedom. Armed struggle plays crucial role to maintain the territory and governance of Kawtholei. At least when Karen have weapon to defense themselves, Burmese military dare not treat them whatever they want. Karen can build stronger Army to gain freedom and autonomy by getting support from overseas Karen too. Karen army cannot get weapons officially from any country, but they always can them secretly from their neighbors. Even if Karen doesn’t get the legitimacy of freedom and autonomy from Burmese government, Karen people can enjoy the autonomy and freedom when they have strong Karen Army.
This is my analysis about the political dialogue and negotiated settlement with the Burmese government. The political dialogue and negotiated settlement with the Burmese government is unclear to bring success for the Karen autonomy and freedom because the 2008 constitution is a big block for it. The NCA: Chapter 6, Article (26) stated “We shall submit this Agreement to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw for ratification in accordance with established procedure” meaning all issues must be discussed and agreed by all related parties at the Union Peace Conference and must submit to Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [Parliament] for ratification before implementation. In doing so, this principle always act as an obstacle in the implementation process of the NCA because no ratification will be obtained for implementation unless the will of the 25 percent military in parliament. The 25 percent military can use veto power to reject anything they dislike, and it needs at least 76 percent of majority votes in order to implement issues that have been submitted for ratification to Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. In addition, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) has a mandate to monitor and to implement “troop related provisions, the military code of conduct and ceasefire-related rules and regulations.
As I mentioned above, Burmese government promote the economic activities for the KNU, but the KNU must work under the structure of Burmese government. For example, the Thoolei Company of the KNU has to work under the Burmese government companies. Burmese government calls the NCA as ceasefire capitalism to trace the geography of military centralization, securitization, land control, and primitive accumulation in ceasefire zones. The places such as ceasefire zones are turned under the control of Burmese military by expanding the administration and securitize those places. They capture the particular modes of finance, governance, and Burmese state formation within ceasefire spaces gradually. Trans-national businessmen and ethnic political elites together reconstruct a political-economic frontier landscape progressively conducive to Burmese government control. They use strategy “from battlefield to marketplace”. Businessmen/companies are used in order to open the way to change marketplace from battlefield. The development projects like mining, dam, coal, etc. cause huge environmental degradations and negatively affect the local Karen people without compensation. The benefit of development project mainly flow to the Burmese government and foreign investment. Some land has been grabbed by military and companies.
Regarding to infrastructure of road building promoted by Burmese government, it effectively functions a stronger Burmese government system. Burmese military build the roads into the KNU control areas to have stronger and quicker transportation. For example, when roads are built everywhere in KNU control areas, Burmese military can send their troops and weapons easily and quickly. This is the strategy of reducing time and space for the state.
Overall, using the political dialogue and negotiated settlement with the Burmese government has less potentials to gain autonomy and freedom because Karen must negotiate with Burmese government. The things Karen people need and want can be rejected/ blocked by 2008 constitution. Burmese military uses the NCA as a trick to grab natural resources and control more Kawthoolie.
The last analysis is about the international intervention and arrangement on the Karen people behalf. Based on my knowledge, each state has its own sovereignty over the United Nation. For instance, Myanmar has sovereignty to decide the autonomy and freedom for Karen people. The international community cannot arrange it easily for Karen by taking it from Burmese government. Even a state has done something wrong, the UN cannot punish and cannot take over the power of that state as the UN wants due to the state sovereignty. The UN can pressure and boycott Burmese government but need to go through several processes to reach the final decision. Some decision makings in the United Nations must go through five veto power countries; USA, UK, France, Russia and China. Two veto power countries; China and Russia always stand with Myanmar as brotherhood to reject the veto power. We see Taiwan enjoy its autonomy from China, also known as “one country _ two systems’. Taiwan can make it because the USA stands with Taiwan. We see Wa can enjoy its autonomy because China stand with Wa, too. For Karen, it is hard to gain autonomy because there is no special country to stand with Karen. Kawthoolei and Thailand are connected, but ASEAN principle: non-interference is a barrier for Thailand and Kawthoolei to work together officially. Thailand is not allowed to support Karen legally because of the principle of ASEAN. Some countries gained the independence due to the international intervention and arrangement like East Timor. However, the case of East Timor is different from the case of Kawtholei in Myanmar. Regarding to the case of East Timor in Indonesia, there was no veto power country allied with Indonesia, so it was easier for the international community to help East Timor to gain independence. Regarding to economic sanction in Myanmar, even if western countries put sanction on Myanmar, China and Russia always trade with Myanmar. Even if some military leaders are boycotted in terms of blocking companies, they can still use other people names to run their businesses.
Overall, using the international intervention and arrangement on the Karen people behalf also has less potentials to gain the autonomy and freedom because it seems as if Karen relies on other people for help, and there several rules and regulations like sovereignty of state, the veto power, and the principle of ASEAN can block the way for autonomy and freedom o f Karen.
In conclusion, as I have mentioned above, the three ways for the Karen struggle to gain the freedom and autonomy such as: armed struggle; political dialogue and negotiated settlement with the Burmese government; and international intervention and arrangement on the Karen people behalf have both negative and positive outcomes. Among them, based on my analysis above, the armed struggle has more potentials to gain autonomy and freedom because it shows that Karen people stand on their own feet and fight confidently for freedom and autonomy to reach destination by giving their bloods and sweats. The local knowledge, guerrilla strategy, mountains and forests are crucial tools to support the warfare of Karen. Base on my analysis above, armed struggle creates many negative outcomes, but some negativities have the solutions like IDP and refugees receiving supports from NGOs /INGOs. Overseas Karen become key actor for financial support and human resource to help Karen in Kawtholei to gain autonomy and freedom, too. Using the political dialogue and negotiated settlement with the Burmese government has less potentials to gain autonomy and freedom because Karen have to negotiate with Burmese government. The things that Karen need/want can be blocked in different ways like the 2008 constitution. Burmese government also uses the NCA as a strategy to control more Kawthoolie militarily, politically, economically, territorially. Using the international intervention and arrangement on Karen people behalf also has less potentials to gain the autonomy and freedom because it seems as if Karen depends on other people for help, and the process helped by other people can end up with state sovereignty, veto power before reaching the destination of the autonomy and freedom.