Myanmar national ceasefire: The way ahead

1568054_-_mainIt appears to be a season of agreements. While the Middle East and Iran are at the centre of global attention, March 31 saw a possible landmark in ending the decades-old armed ethno-political conflict in Myanmar. On this day, a draft National ceasefire agreement was signed between Myanmar and representatives of 16 armed ethnic organisations. The agreement was negotiated between the government`s Union Peace Working Committee and the National Ceasefire Coordination Team headed by Naing Han Tha on behalf of the ethnic groups.

At this juncture the fruits of the deal are still tentative. It is in the process of being internally reviewed by each of the armed groups, which may take an indefinite amount of time as no deadline date has been set and the general elections coming up in November. Additionally, given that the prominent Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) that represents the ethnically Chinese,Kokang people is not a participatory to the agreement and continues to wage war against the government, portends that there is plenty of room for a slip between the cup and the lip.  Further hurdles were made apparent on the final day of negotiations on April 7 when the ethnic groups refused to include any clause that made it mandatory for them to give up arms- the order to disarm is part of the six point of road map, a non-negotiable brain child of the Burmese Army. This bullet has been dodged for now, with the government negotiators agreeing to leave it out of the ceasefire text and including it in the political dialogue stage.

However, the agreement in itself is undoubtedly a right step in the right direction. The intent behind such an agreement is to improve the political climate and pave way for composite political dialogue between the affected parties; it must be seen as part of President Thein Sein’s larger socio-eco-political reform plan for Myanmar.

If the government does manage a nationwide ceasefire and is further able to hold it, it creates a hospitable environment for the government to participate effectively in ASEAN, India and China’s vision for South East Asia.

What it means for India

A national ceasefire will create some working room for the Burmese government to accommodate India’s security concerns. In what has been called India’s messiest frontiers, several armed groups  including NSCN(K), Manipuri and ULFA outfits continue to operate out of Sagaing region in North western Myanmar, allegedly due to tacit approval of the Tatamadaw (Burmese Armed forces), decades-old ties with local Kachin Independence Army rebels and Chinese logistical aid. Also, it seems logical to surmise that a ceasefire will affect the drug trade within the Golden triangle route adversely. Propelled by the growth in opium cultivation in Myanmar and a shift towards amphetamines and methamphetamines that are less weighty and easier smuggle, drug addiction and HIV cases are on the rise in the NER.  Plus, a pause in the conflict would enable India to move more effectively to execute its myriad infrastructure projects in Myanmar.

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