Learning to Share: The PPST Strategic Meeting

(4-7 September 2017)

Everyman is my superior in some way
In that I learn from him.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

I’m sure I’m not the first one to say there is no school higher than life and we all are its students. Be humble and be diligent, and you’ll never be disappointed.

On 4-7 September, Col Htoo Htoo Lay, Advisor to the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST), the 8 person leading body of the 8 EAOs that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015, met to finalize its peace strategy before meeting the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center/Peace Commission (NRPC/PC) to work out a concerted plan for the next Union Peace Conference 21st Century Panglong (UPC 21CP).

Htoo Htoo Lay’s Plan was to divide the representatives into 3 groups PPST, UPDJC and JMC, each in one room to discuss its strategy (I shrink every time I hear the word ‘strategy’, but to Htoo Htoo Lay, it’s his life breath) for two days, 4-5 September. Then all of them would meet on 6-7 September to wrap up.

There’s a saying “Plans are made of glass.” So let’s see whether his  ambitious one just blew up or became hard as diamond.

Day One. Monday, 4 September 2017

The greatest victory is one which requires no battles.
Attributed to Sun Zi (BC 551-467), author of The Art of War

After the opening session, all of us go to the room assigned to each group. Coming from the journalist background, I’m naturally in the PPST room where the resource person, who has expressly requested anonymity, will be delivering a presentation on Strategic Communication.

Strategic Communication, according to the resource person (I’m avoiding using him or her not to give him/her away), is not just about public relations (PR) which is essentially verbal, but more about non-verbal ones (about where you and your counterpart are sitting in a meeting room, for example) which produces public impressions more telling even than what you are saying.

Here are some of what I have gathered from him/her:

·        Strategy, to put it simple, is what you do
Policy, in contrast, is how you do it

·        Four factors to consider:

1.     Audience – Who do you want to influence? (NLD government, US government, the Tatmadaw? Others?)
2.     Your message – You have a lot of information. The key is to coordinate them. Talking points must be agreed beforehand.
3.     The media ―This also includes social media, meetings and local communities, not just the press
4.     The messenger ―Who says it is important. Different messanger gives different effects

·        Needs

1.     Strategic Communications Team
2.     Spokespersons – Use each spokesperson for each audience. Each must be well trained in order to be fluent in the topic concerned and how to deliver the message. Social media spokespersons should preferably be young.
3.     Schedule and share ―(Here I miss totally what he/she says about it)

·        Strategic Communication may well be the best weapon the EAOs have. Right now other stakeholders (the government and the Tatmadaw) have everything: radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, websites, Facebooks, etc. You have nothing

·        Asking a (certain Western) government to fund the peace process is not enough. It is already a member of the Joint Peace Fund (JPF). You have to have a specific Christmas list, like:

1.     Support for IDPs/refugees
2.     Support for ethnic peace center in Thailand
3.     Equal treatment of the EAO leaders. For example, if you can train the Myanmar Army, why can’t you train us too?

·        Protocol is the relationship between people. Are they equal? Examples:

1.     Invitation – who sends it? They or you, or together?
2.     How do you enter the meeting room?
a.     Together
b.     One after the other
c.      You coming well ahead waiting for him/her to enter?
3.     Sitting plan
4.     Order of speaking
5.     Control of agenda, etc

(“At the May UPC 21 CP, it could be said that the EAO leaders were ‘hijacked by the government’s protocol.’ The State Counselor and the Commander in Chief were ‘rock stars’ and you were just their ‘admirers.’ This cannot happen again.”)

·        Here are how you should and should not sit

At the end of the day, somebody says: “Now, all these seem great. But who’s going to propose it? Who’s going to bell the cat?”

There is no answer, just smiles. That of course doesn’t mean the EAOs are short of cat-bellers. Or full of them either.

Day Two. Tuesday, 5 September 2017

It is easy to love your friend, but sometimes the hardest lesson to learn is to love your enemy.

(Attributed to) Sun Zi (BC 551-BC367)

One of the two issues that had deadlocked the UPC 21 CP #3 (officially #2) was in the security sector. (The other is the non-secession issue.)

The long and the short of it was that while the EAOs were calling for Security Sector Reform (SSR), the Tatmadaw had been adamant on the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) stance.

And the PPST wants to know how things are and how to bring them to a win-win solution.
Fortunately, Safer World, a UK based organization, has just published Security Integration in Myanmar: Past experiences and future visions in May. And the authors: Kim Joliffe, John Bainbridge and Saw Lin Chel are happy to share what they know.

On paper, at least, there is a consensus:

·        A federal system of government
·        To embark on an SSR/DDR negotiation

But when it comes to a future vision, differences become manifest:

·        Strong, capable and modern patriotic Tatmadaw
·        DDR is a necessary precursor to Tatmadaw returning to barracks
·        A standard army (“which doesn’t mean anything in the international military circles”)
·        No mention of professional conduct, ethnic makeup or human rights (The Tatmadaw is already “inclusive of all ethnic groups, including 4,500 officers from ethnic minority background”)

·        General indications that it could envisage EAOs taking on law enforcement responsibilities or becoming reserve military forces, like Border Guard Forces (BGFs) and People’s Militia Forces (PMFs) (“roles and rights still poorly defined”)
·        Current security sector is not in need of significant reform
·        A Tatmadaw respected and relied upon by the people
·        To bring the Tatmadaw under executive branch

·        To make the police independent (“Even China separates police for the military”)
·        Positions on EAO integration unclear, despite rhetorical support for Federal Armed Forces (Meeting the UNFC in 2013, she stated that “there must be a federal army if there is going to be a federal state”, according to Myanmar Times, 1 October 2013)
·        Carefully avoided security issues since taking office
·        A federal union Tatmadaw

·        A complete overhaul of current structures as pre-requisite to DDR or integration
·        Democratic oversight

·        Ethnically proportional recruitment, including officers

·        Power sharing through state governments and/or rotating command between ethnicities (“It is not clear if this (second) approach has been tried elsewhere in the world”)

·        State-level police, and state-level defense forces
·        Exact vision of how such an armed forces would be structured is not yet clear

The Tatmadaw is still seen as Bamar and Buddhist dominated, says the paper. “Writing in 2009, the scholar Maung Aung Myoe noted that non-Buddhists or husbands of non-Buddhists were unlikely to rise above the rank of major.

In a 2017 paper, veteran Myanmar scholar Robert Taylor states that the Tatmadaw is diverse and relatively representative among the lower ranks but Bamar-heavy in the officer classes.”

The authors’ conclusion is that “A political solution will be inextricable from security arrangements.” “In the spirit of federalism, there would be numerous options for providing states and regions with equal influence over defense affairs.”

“Another option would be for the NDSC (National Defense and Security Council) to be reformed to include representatives from each state or regions security forces and/or civilian governments.” Mr Joliffe notes here that Germany has a council representing states to oversee the military.

On the question of unit-level incorporation or segregation, “history has shown that cases of violence following such integration are rare, while maintaining segregated forces has often led to conflict further down the line, as illustrated by the July 2016 outbreak of violence between segregated units in South Sudan.”

Burma also has had similar experiences after Independence, according to the authors.
“You cannot depend on them (segregated units) alone to prevent war,” says Mr joliffe.

Following the presentation, one participant comments that:
What the Tatmadaw wants is for A+B to become A, which to the EAOs is unacceptable. The EAOs, likewise cannot call for A+B to become B.What may be successfully negotiated therefore is for A+B to become C. Naturally, we cannot expect A and B to totally dismantle themselves right away, to become C. So an agreed series of steps must also be negotiated.

We have another session with the Strategic Communication expert in the afternoon. But to my disappointment, I’m called away to a meeting with the faculty from the University of Songkla coming from the Deep South.. They are interested in Hopeland’s peace process, especially the JMC.

Another meeting with them is agreed, probably in Pattani.

Day Three. Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The greatest bankruptcy in life is hopelessness.
Attributed to the Buddha

Today, all the three groups: PPST, UNDJC and JMC return to a combined meeting.

The UPDJC, led by coordinator Comrade Myo Win, reports that several options had been discussed two days earlier on how to smooth out the problems facing the organizers of the next UPC 21 CP. Which I’m not supposed to report here. Suffice to say that the EAOs UPDJC has been taking into consideration the pros and cons of their proposed options.

The JMC, led by Dr Suikhar, then takes the floor. He says, despite being seen as the less problematic committee, it is not without one. “What to monitor, and how, are still unclear.”

One big obstacle is the terminology in the NCA’s Chapter 3 (Ceasefire Related Matters) and Chapter 4 (Maintaining and Strengthening Ceasefire) which each side interprets differently. Examples:

·        Reinforcement (Does it include BGFs and PMFs?)
·        Civilian protection (Do we agree to include the people called Bengalis too?)
·        Demarcation (We planned for two workshops, one in Pa-an, and the other in Namzang, but the Tatmadaw failed to send its representatives)

Col Khun Okker, commenting on the presentations, concurs:
“Following the drafting of the NCA, a paper explaining the terminology was also jointly prepared, to be published together with the NCA. However, somehow it did not materialize. Many problems that arose later originated in our failure to publish it.”

Padoh Kwe Htoo Win, who was assigned to meet the Peace Commission, following the PPST meeting on 9-10 August, is the next speaker.

According to him, he and his delegation met the PC on 25 August, when he reported that the PPST is of the opinion that there is a great need for the two sides to meet to discuss the following subjects:

·        NCA implementation
·        SSR/DDR
·        Joint Pyidaungsu Accord implementation
·        Framework for Political Dialogic (FPD) review
·        The holding of national political dialogues (ND)
·        Joint Coordination Board (JCB) for Peace Funding
·        The ceremony for the second anniversary of the signing of the NCA on 15 October
·        Visa issue for EAO members
·        And that all these would need the holding of the JICM (Joint Implementation and Coordination Meeting) to sanction them

“Since Daw Suu took office,” comments comrade Than Khe, “only 1 JICM has been held. Some say two but I disagree. Because the first one failed to bring the JICM back to life. Only the second one that was held on 23 April this year with the participation by top government leaders such as the State Counselor, Deputy CinC Soe Win and Attorney General Tun Tun Oo, we were able to make meaningful decisions.”

He proposes a JICM during the month of September, taking into account the State Counselor’s planned attendance of the UN General Assembly later in the month (which is to be cancelled later.)

Delay may be dangerous,” he says, “as our country is gradually falling into an abyss. Sooner or later, traveling abroad is likely to become a scary adventure for Myanmar citizens.”

Day Four. Thursday, 7 September 2017

Who wishes to fight must first count the cost.
Attributed to Sun Zi (BC 551-BC 467)

Many items are discussed and decision was reached on many of them, but not on the elephant in the room. And you know what I mean.

But since writing about it amounts to killing the goose, I beg to stop here with quotes from the Buddha and Martin Luther King Jr:

In this world, hate has never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and eternal.

Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

Great minds run together, don’t they?


Allwebsitetools © 2014 Shan Herald Agency for News All Rights Reserved