In his famous essay, “Politics and the English Language,” the British writer George Orwell lamented that political language, at times, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In fact, Orwell seems to have believed that the language used was intentionally vague, and at times meaningless, as it was deliberately designed to hide the truth rather than express it. So, in the long-term interest of the country, one should, perhaps, focus more on deeds than words in the Myanmar peace process.
Almost all the meetings or talks on a nationwide ceasefire in the current peace process are conducted in Burmese language, the only official language of the multi-ethnic country. But, for most ethnic leaders, Burmese is their second language. If words or the use of language should impact the direction or success of the peace process in a way that favors those who can cleverly exercise the use of words, it will not be difficult to predict the outcome of these talks.
The majority of ethnic people, therefore, are looking for deeds, not mere words. In fact, they want the government and its military, known as the Tatmadaw, to take actions that positively contribute to building a lasting peace in the country. When they see that promises made in unofficial meetings between the commander-in-chief and the Karen National Union (KNU) leaders ring hollow, it is understandable that they remain doubtful about the prospect for real peace.
To date, despite repeated requests by the KNU delegation, the Tatmadaw has not withdrawn any of its frontline positions in the Karen areas, especially the military outposts that are next to Karen villages. Even more troubling is the repeated appearances in the Myawaddy news agency, a military mouthpiece, of the six principles of peace of the commander-in-chief, even amid ongoing military offensives in Kachin and northern Shan states. What’s more, the Tatmadaw recently shot to death a Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) soldier in Tanintharyi Region, while Tatmadaw soldiers are increasingly accused of raping women in Kachin, Shan and Chin states. These military actions are the deeds by which the Tatmadaw is being judged.
The question now is whether the peace process can continue without meaningful actions taken by the Tatmadaw. This depends on the kind of peace the military wants. If the kind of peace that the Tatmadaw wants requires the defeat of all ethnic armed forces without relinquishing any power, political or otherwise, on their part, the end result is quite clear. Myanmar still has a long way to go.
Since President Thein Sein came to power, his official rhetoric on national reconciliation, often through his controversial proxy, the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), has been marked with sentiments of “goodwill” and a willingness to engage on amicable terms with ethnic armed resistance groups. Friendliness between the president, the commander-in-chief and the KNU leaders is more like a façade than a serious political outcome.
If words are all we can get from the government’s negotiators, the prospect for a genuine peace in Myanmar will still be a distant dream. Good deeds, not mere words, on the part of the government are essential to achieve a lasting peace in the country.
Saw Kapi is a cofounder and director of the Salween Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was written in response to “Words and Peace,” an article published earlier this week by an official with the Myanmar Peace Center.