INDEPENDENCE OR FEDERALISM?
April 9. 2005: The S.H.A.N. news article on 29 March 2005 reported the resurrection of the Shan Independence cause and a rejection of federalism, especially the ‘tripartite dialogue’ advocated by my late brother Chao Tzang and myself. This is an issue that Shan leaders have grappled with for decades.
It is not really about ‘Independence’ versus ‘Federalism’. Who does not want to be free or independent? We all do. The question is more about what is best for the people of Shan State. What will end their suffering at the hands of the Burma Army? If federalism will, we should go for it. If independence is the only way to achieve it, we should go for it. Both independence and federalism are means to an end – the welfare of the people of Shan State.
But a nation’s freedom depends on many factors – the cohesion of the people, the economic might of the nation, the military strength of its army, the vision of its leaders, and, more importantly, historical circumstances. We have only to look at the fact that Thailand and Laos are part of the Shan or Tai family and that there are Shans, Dais, or Tais living in India, China and Vietnam to see that historical circumstances and world politics play a major part in deciding our destiny. It is not sufficient to argue that we should be independent today just because Shan kings ruled Burma from the 13th to the 16th century and we were independent before the British came in 1886.
World politics after the Second World War pushed the Federated Shan States into the Union of Burma. Our leaders had no choice. China was in the throes of a civil war. Thailand had sided with Japan during the war and was not looked upon with favour by the Allies, whereas Aung San had helped the Allies although he had been originally trained by the Japanese to overthrow the British. Knowing that they could no longer remain independent but had to join somebody, the ruling Saophas decided to join Burma and tried to make the best of a bad deal with the Panglong Agreement and the 10-year secession clause for the Shan State in the 1947 Constitution.
Critics of the Panglong Agreement have said that the Saophas wanted to protect their privileges and that my father wanted to become the president of the Union of Burma. These allegations are not based on facts. The question of who should be president was never part of the agenda. In fact, Aung San almost walked out of the Panglong Conference because he was so infuriated by my father’s insistence on the rights of the ethnic nationalities. The Saophas were, on the whole, not self-seeking feudal lords. They were definitely not protecting their privileges at Panglong. Since the 1930’s they had been training young men to take over the leadership. They were in favour of democratization and in 1959 they gave up all their rights to rule to the Shan State Government.
Whether at Panglong or today, the key question has always been what is best for the people of Shan State? Any decision we make will have consequences and we will be judged by generations to come as to whether or not we were correct. I am not against those who want to seek independence. Who wants to be oppressed, have one’s womenfolk raped, one’s children and parents forced to work under appalling conditions, and be arrested or shot just because one does not obey an arbitrary order given by the Burma Army? Ask the Burmans. They do not want to be oppressed either. That is why so many have fled Burma. They cannot fight for independence because the Army is within their midst. But they can fight to change the system.
My questions to those seeking independence are these: Will we have more chances of success if we seek independence? Which country will recognize an independent Shan State? How will the government support itself? Will the new Shan State government be able to drive the Burma Army out of the Shan State? If yes, I will support it. I am also curious to know how the Burma Army can be defeated without bloodshed.
Of course, we are all outraged by the arrests of Hkun Htun Oo, Sao Hso Hten and others. And of course, I am outraged by the continued killing of our people and the raping of our women by the Burma Army. It is very painful to see our people suffering. But the future of the people of the Shan State is too important for us to allow our emotions to cloud our thinking. We need to think clearly and evaluate our options realistically. The question we should be asking is why the Burma Army arrested Hkun Htun Oo and Sao Hso Hten? Did they arrest Sao Hso Hten when he was leading the Shan State Army (North) or heading the Shan State Peace Council? No. Why not? Did they arrest Hkun Htun Oo when he was leading the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and contested the 1990 election? No. Why not? Why were they arrested in February?
The generals are not afraid of wars of independence. They have perfected their technique of destroying the land and terrorizing the people to get at the armed few. They have also been amassing new weapons since 1989 to hit the remaining pockets of resistance. They are just waiting for the right time and the right excuse to put their plan to annihilate the opposition into action and win the praise of the world for eradicating drugs and terrorism. The generals, however, are very much afraid of politics. They know they cannot win in this field if people are free to really express their will. Just look at the 1990 elections. That is why they nullified its results. The generals are also very afraid when people unite. Their strategy has always been to divide and rule. Look at the KNU and the DKBA. Look at the KNPP and the KNPLA. Look at the KIO and the recently formed KSC.
Hkun Htun Oo and Sao Hso Hten’s greatest crime in the eyes of the generals was that they tried not only to unite the Shans, but all the ethnic nationalities; not only the ethnic political parties, but also the ceasefire armies; not only the ethnic nationalities, but also the political opposition parties – including Burman leaders. This was something the generals could not tolerate. This shows that by working with all the peoples of Burma we are on the right path. We are hitting the generals at their weakest spot.
Another point to consider is that, after five decades of struggle, the United Nations for the first time acknowledged our status in 1994 by adopting a resolution calling for a ‘tripartite dialogue’ – the military, democracy advocates, and the ethnic nationalities. Prior to this, ethnic rights were not recognized. We were just rebels. But since then, our demands to have an equal say in Burma’s future have been recognized as legitimate. Even Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations has said so. The arrests have also shown to the international community that the ethnic nationalities are reasonable and willing to have a dialogue but that the generals are the main obstacle to solving Burma’s problems.
So are we in our frustration going to throw away everything we have achieved? Do not forget, our efforts have also thrown the Burma Army into disarray. Did they not just turn on each other? Was Khin Nyunt not arrested? Are Than Shwe and Maung Aye not distrustful of each other? Is there not confusion in the Burma Army ranks? This has never happened before in Burma’s history. So, are we losing or are we winning? The question before us then, is this. Do we fight the generals in the battlefield where they have superior military strength and ability or do we fight them politically where we have the superiority? Do we Shans fight the Burma Army alone or do we fight them side by side with others?
[CG Note: Harn Yawnghwe is the son of the first President of Union of Burma and prince of Yanwnghwe. At present, he serves as director of Euro Burma office based in Brussels. This article is taken from Shan Herald March 31, 2005]
By Harn Yawnghwe