General, many times you mentioned the importance of the Panglong Agreement, once even suggested calling another national assembly in Panlong. Do you really believe ‘Panglong 2’ is possible?
The first meaning of the Panlong Agreement is the historical one. The Agreement on our road to independence from the British. That time the Burmese and the minorities were united. Today, however, Panlong Agreement as known from 1947, is over. The second meaning of Panglong Agreement is that all the nations of Burma, which means the Burmans and we, the ethnic minorities, live in peace and equality.
It is precisely the second meaning of Panglong Agreement that I’m asking about.
Before the independence our country was simply Burma, but after the Panglong Agreement and Independence in 1948 it became the Union of Burma. Without Panglong Agreement there’s no Union of Burma, only Burma. When Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) met with the army commanders in 2011, we asked them: “Is the Panglong Agreement still valid? Is it alive?” They didn’t reply until now.
How would it be possible to introduce the system after 60 years of the tatmadaw’s dominance in Burmese politics? Especially when actually it’s still the tatmadaw which has all the power in Burma.
I believe the change will come with time. The army will change with the time being. The real peace and calm can come only if the whole army, and the whole Burmese public change. When the Burmese society changes in accordance with the global world, so will the army change with the time being. Then we might be able to talk about introducing federalism.
We can make change by expanding the knowledge between the soldiers, the recruits of the army. We believe that with the opening of the society and expanding knowledge between ordinary soldiers and officers, we can change the army with time.
But it is the army which controls the information processing, the media, newspapers, television, radio, they have the Military Academy in Maymyo. How can you expect change in these circumstances?
The army will change because the world has already changed. They have to interfere with the external world, they have to have relations with the external world. It is impossible to keep their present stand in the modern world. If they only became aware of the modern world, they will change.
Really? The West has just started doing good business with the generals. Burma’s openness to the world doesn’t have to mean change. Do you really believe Burma’s opening up can help the ethnic minorities?
The changes happening in Burma now follow the path similar to everywhere else in the world. One cannot stop them. They will bring change. First, it is the social change that will happen. With the generation change, there will be next generation, new soldiers, new officers and new commanders, more open to the world, more able to understand it more knowledgeable. The human mindset of the army will change in accordance with the global changes.
You talk a lot about changes, I see that gen. Than Shwe was replaced by gen. Min Aung Hlaing. Do you see many differences between them?
3-5 years it is very little time. Their mindset hasn’t change yet. But this will happen later. We need time.
Since KIO started its struggle in 1961 the tatmadaw was unable to conquer you, but you couldn’t win either. How long this stalemate can last?
Judging by the military perspective, it is precisely so. And it will be so. But from the political perspective we are strong and will be even stronger. We have the support from our people and our spirits are high.
You have the spirit but the army has the money. They can spent it on the new equipment that may finally allow them to conquer you. Aren’t you afraid of that scenario?
We are not worried. If they continue to attack us, the world public will see it.
But the West has its own interests in Burma now, they won’t care about ethnic minorities. Why do you care so much about the public opinion?
Do you really believe we rely on Western countries?
I asked about the importance of Western public opinion.
Burmese military mindset will not change because of the foreign countries, but because of the continuous stream of knowledge that is coming from integration with the external world.
You don’t rely on the external world (West) but you rely on China. Aren’t you afraid of being Beijing’s tool?
We are afraid of no country. We can survive anytime, without being afraid of any country.
But you need the funds for your fight and you get them from the trade with China.
Actually, we do business not in their territories but in our territories. Besides, our income doesn’t come from doing business with them only. We have many partners. Chinese money represents only a few percent of our income. We are not dependent on them.
The UNFC (United Nationalities Federal Council), alliance of ethnic minorities, is often compared to the former, NDF (National Democratic Front). Is it correct?
NDF was primarily a military alliance, whereas UNFC’s goal is a political one. We want to live together, to unite, to unite all the ethnic minorities in a political way. We are still trying to do so. It’s all about the politics, it’s not a military alliance.
There are some differences between the ethnic minorities. Some prefer the political dialogue, whereas the other have a “pragmatic” approach, which means accepting the “peace through development” agenda of Burmese government.
In the current situation, we need to discuss all issues. I believe it is still possible to have one position – and that is to concentrate on political solutions. We don’t think that if we have the development, we will automatically have political solution.
Don’t you think peace through development is better than nothing?
No, we don’t. Even if there is development, this doesn’t mean good solutions, this doesn’t mean the political solution. There are many countries that have development but don’t have political solution. The political solution is what we consider essential.
The gap between your expectations and army’s agenda seems to be so huge that imagine you accepting a compromise. How will you make it?
We don’t know but we must take time.
Forging the ceasefire agreement means that they will stop shooting at you. Isn’t it better that nothing?
We don’t want to sign a ceasefire because we believe it won’t get better. We have already sign one in 1994, 17 years ago, but there was no progress. On the contrary, situation for our people deteriorated. There are many things we want to do in the future for our people, not just stop shooting. That why we don’t want a ceasefire.
Which conditions are better for Kachin people? Before 2011 (the breaking of ceasefire agreement) or after?
Both situations have its advantages. Now, after 2011, we have esprit de corps between our people. This is something we are looking forwards with hope.
Do you have high hopes for the 2015 elections?
Not with the present constitution. We must change the constitution, otherwise the elections won’t change anything.
Aung San Suu Kyi struggles to change the constitution. Do you think she will succeed?
She is quite clever, but it doesn’t mean she can get what she wants to.
Isn’t she better for the ethnic minorities than army?
I can’t say if she is good or bad, because she hasn’t have the chance show her real agenda yet.
But she made significant and symbolic gestures towards ethnic minorities, like wearing their traditional clothes.
We can’t say she helps the ethnic minority peoples just because she dresses in their clothes. That’s much too little.
During the tatmadaw’s offensive in December 2012 there have been reports of military commander who didn’t obey president’s orders. Do you believe in this “good cop /bad cop” scenario?
We believe in what we see, and what we see is that the field commanders don’t listen to the president. They do what they want to do.
So who is the most important decision maker in Burma?
It is difficult to say, everybody there is so important!
He interferes in many aspects of policy but not in all.
What about China?
The first thing is that the Chinese government is worried about security situation on the border between China and Burma. The second thing is that they are worried about their business in the border areas. And finally, China is worried that Burma will follow the western countries.
Do you really believe Burma can follow the Western countries?
Burma always follows the strongest and most important country. The Burmese army during WWII first cooperated with the Japanese, then, when Japanese started losing, the Burmese switched the sides and joined the British. Later, after the war they followed Americans and finally, in last 20 years, the Chinese. Now they turn to the West again.
General Gun Maw is the deputy chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and KIA’s most important spokesman; KIA is the military wing of Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), currently tatmadaw’s (Burma Army) most important opponent.
Michal Lubina holds a PhD in political science from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and works as aAssistant Professor at the Institute of Middle and Far East Studies of the Jagiellonian University. His research interests are focused on South East Asia. He is also an expert on Burma in Poland-Asia Research Center, leading Polish think tank specializing in East Asia, and an author of two books about Burma published in Polish.