Over the past year, Myanmar has undergone a number of far-reaching reforms carried out by the new democratic government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Its efforts mainly focused on modifying the rare political and socio-economic landscape in Myanmar with a gradual growth and enriching the social welfare of its people.
Since Myanmar government pushed forward one of the country’s most important priorities, "National reconciliation and peace", the decisive announcement of “Government’s Roadmap for National Reconciliation and Union Peace” have revealed during the last October.
To describe the roadmap simply, it is to review and to amend the existing Framework of Political Dialogue for Peace and to convene the 21st Century Panlong Conference. It includes signing of Union Peace Agreement, amending the Constitution, holding the multi-party democracy General Elections. The genuine and utmost commitment of the Government and people of Myanmar is to build a Federal Democratic country.
By following the popular sayings of “Learn from mistakes of others and avoid making them yourself”, a Myanmar Peace Delegation comprising of twenty one members visited Kathmandu from 29th March to 4th April to explore the experiences of Nepal Peace Process. The visit was jointly organized by Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD)and the Institute of Crisis Management Studies (ICMS) of Nepal. The composition of the delegation reflected on how Myanmar was positively desperate to figure out the peace in their country . The delegation was led by the Secretary of Myanmar Peace Center who is also a retired Lt. Gen. from Myanmar Army. High ranking officers of Myanmar Army, leaders from Ethnic armed groups, MPs, regional minister, officials from Attorney General Office and Myanmar National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) were included as members. The delegates come from different political backgrounds, held different views, opinions and visions on building Peace. The compositions of delegation seemed to be categorized as Army versus Ethnic Groups, government versus opposition, and the politicians versus nationalists.
The delegation was well received and briefed by most of the stakeholders of Nepal peace process including Army senior officers, politicians and former combatants. The then prime ministers and the then ministers who were involved in the negotiation and reconciliation process and signing of the Nepal Comprehensive Peace Agreement, shared their experiences on how agreements were reached, implemented and the problems associated with them. The implementation of peace agreement ended a decade long insurgency and paved the way for democracy and federalism.
The most valuable message came when the former combatants and Vice President Nanda Kishore Pun and Prime Minister Puspha Kamal Dahal shared their experiences on how they tackled and negotiated the peace. Likewise, the responsible persons from Joint Monitoring Coordination Committee explained about the resolution of disputes at the lowest level and the management of arms and combatants. These processes finished in expected time but there were also difficulties due to misunderstanding in keeping the arms in the containers in the cantonments and verifying nearly 32,250 Maoist combatants.
The peace delegation learned and they were fully convinced that UNMIN (United Nations Mission in Nepal) also played a critical role in verification, monitoring the arms of both, Nepal Army and the Maoist rebels and the preparations for Constituent Assembly elections in 2007. Afterward, UN development agencies provided straining for rehabilitation of 4008 (Verified minors and late recruits)former combatants that would help them get integrated back into the society successfully and peacefully.
The delegation also paid a courtesy call on Chief of Army Staff of Nepal Gen. Rajendra Chhetri. Although he was in amid of a very busy schedule, it's not for a word, Chief of army Staff had explained patiently about roles and duties of Nepal Army for implementing the peace, democracy and federalism.
A true challenging problem in peace process for all stakeholders was dealing with yesterday's enemy but present day’s superiors or colleagues in the same organization. Even though there may be some minor misunderstanding between them, all participants will have to overcome the dilemma completely at a time.
The delegation studied Nepal Peace Process by engaging in discussion and dialogue. The most interesting part was when a high ranking Officer of Nepal Army, briefed about integration of combatants into the army; how they had verified, trained and enabled them to shoulder the responsibilities against their appropriate ranks, posts and salary after integration.
After the briefing, during the Q&A session , the members of the delegation asked difficult and tricky questions. One Myanmar politician asked “What was the most challenging thing when the Royal Nepal Army that was under the command of the monarch had to go under the Democratic government?” The officer answered, “Nepal Army is a professional one, so there was no significant difficulty to come under the government formed by peoples representative that were elected under the prevailing constitution”.
Moreover, another leader from ethnic armed group raised a question "Why Nepal Army didn’t attempt a coup through the civil war". He replied " Nepal Army is a real professional organization, we are not trained to govern the country and we believe it is the job that has to be done by the civilian government and politicians". He added that if country is not in peace and not developed, people will surely blame Army.
At this moment, one Myanmar Army officer asked, “If country’s situation is highly unstable, can Nepal Army stay calm?” Everybody in the room was interested to know what the answer would be. He replied, “whenever the country went through the critical times in the past, Nepal Army was mobilized according to the constitution to normalize the situation. Once the situation improved, Army returned to the barracks after handing over the area to government authorities."
If we look back into the history, we will see the military’s critical and inevitable role in Myanmar’s politics. After the interaction, Myanmar peace delegation was expected to get ideas, visions and lessons from Comprehensive Peace Process of Nepal. These ideas and lessons may help the architect of Myanmar Peace Process to find a new and unique plan that would be acceptable to many Ethnic Armed Organizations and the Government of Myanmar.
Though the post war transition of Comprehensive Peace Agreement of Nepal was admirable, building process of Federalism was a little bit delayed due to circumstances that developed during the transition to peace. Currently, Nepal’s political landscape is difficult to predict. Some political parties, mostly the Terai based parties want amendment in newly promulgated constitution where as some of the old and established parties want no change but engage in implementation of the constitution. Both the Constitution amendment bill and the impeachment motion of the Chief Justice are registered in the parliament. Some parties have boycotted the local level elections. Nepal is passing through a difficult political transition. Some experts have criticized Nepal politics like 'two steps forward, one step backward’. We will have to wait and see how the politicians handle the difficult political problems.
Nepal recently conducted the first phase of two phased local body elections. The results are encouraging to some and discouraging to others. It will be interesting to see how the Terai based parties will react to election of the second phase. Election is the first step of the implementation of the constitution in post constitution Nepal.
If the election is held peacefully, it could be regarded a success of constitutional implementation and a big step forward to nation building. Thus, we hope for the best after the worst and we do believe Myanmar will imitate and adapt not only the peace Process of Nepal but also for the country’s efforts to achieve Federalism.
Lwin Oo is the ambassador of Myanmar to Nepal