Written by Gaung
Several nations’ people around the world have come to believe that armed resistance can liberate them from oppression and build sovereignty. As a result, in the current political climate, the people of Myanmar are increasingly recognising that revolution is the key to rebuilding a country that has been torn apart by oppression.
The Arakanese people in the western part of Myanmar are enthusiastic about the path of armed resistance and visions of building a new and prosperous society from that.
Now with the Arakan Army’s influence, a revolutionary government called the United League of Arakan (ULA) is competing with the military council to rule the people of Arakan State. The ULA’s activities are becoming more and more visible, and for many it is seen as a dream come true, and the first steps toward building an independent nation-state.
“If we do not have the political status we want in this union, we will have to create it ourselves and continue to build our government and our future nation-state in partnership with the international community,” U Khaing Thukha told reporters at an online press conference on March 5.
However, U Khaing Thukha said that even if the political aspirations of the Arakan Army are achieved in Myanmar, the AA will remain in solidarity with the ethnic nationalities of the larger Union. This shows that the Arakan Army is working to connect with the international community to establish a confederation state within a federal democratic Union. In addition, the Arakan Army has officially stated that it wants to increase diplomatic, military and economic relations with neighbouring Bangladesh.
The ULA/AA’s political aspirations target a separate nation-state, and it is interesting to see what the current steps are based on that overarching vision.
A Political Opportunity Is Seized
The Arakan Army fought with the Myanmar military for more than two years, from the end of 2018 until the end of October 2020, and then ceased hostilities with the Tatmadaw after the 2020 general election. The Myanmar military accepted the Arakan Army’s request to hold elections in many areas of Arakan State where the ousted NLD government did not hold elections for security reasons, and an informal ceasefire was reached between the two sides.
Mainland political forces have criticised the Arakan Army for keeping quiet about the coup after the military takeover, as junta troops have clashed with other ethnic armed organisations (EAOs).
The Arakan Army responded that they were saying that critics did not understand the history of the Arakan revolution and the current situation. The Arakan Army said it was not standing alone because it had no interest in the coup d’état, but because the local situation was different.
If we look at what the Arakan Army is doing now, it can be said that it is working hard to establish a separate state. This is because the Arakan Army is centred on the interests of the Arakanese people and stands for their rights.
The Arakan Army also said that despite the lack of armed conflicts in Arakan State during the Spring Revolution to overthrow the military dictatorship, it has stood with its allies, praising the fighting ability of the People’s Defence Forces (PDF) and recognising their grievances.
Asked by a DMG reporter at an online press conference on March 5 about the peace process and the relations between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, U Khaing Thukha said it was not easy for the Arakan Army to discuss a political deal with the military council because the junta is not a government elected by the people.
The Arakan Army said that although a ceasefire with the junta was negotiated, no long-term political settlement has yet been reached.
“Political dialogue is about negotiating political give-and-take. So, if we are to discuss political give-and-take, it would only be OK to discuss with a legitimate government, which we define as a government elected by the government and ruling in line with the Constitution. We can’t hold political talks with a government that has seized power in a coup,” the AA spokesman said in response to DMG’s question during the press conference.
The AA and Myanmar’s military have observed an unofficial ceasefire since November 2020, but the two sides have yet to reach any concrete agreement, so there is no guarantee that peace will always prevail. Clashes could erupt at any time in Arakan State, with both sides in a state of military readiness. The regime has offered EAOs peace talks under the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) framework, but EAOs have little trust in this regime.
The AA accepted Covid-19 vaccines supplied by the regime and provided jabs to its troops and Arakanse people in its territory. Veteran Arakanese politician U Oo Hla Saw attended a junta-organised Union Day event in Naypyidaw in February, representing the ULA.
The AA delegation, however, discussed nothing serious with the regime at the event. The ethnic armed group sent representatives to the event solely for the purpose of prodding the regime, which calls itself the State Administration Council (SAC), to release individuals who Myanmar’s military had detained on suspicion of having ties to the armed group.
Some might interpret the AA’s presence at the event as the regime and the AA getting on well with each other. But Arakanese people are well aware that the ultimate goal of the AA is to establish an independent country or gain proper autonomy, and thus its cordial relations with the regime are nothing more than to facilitate the implementation of that goal.
AA, NUG, SAC and Other Acronyms
Myanmar has descended into chaos since the military seized power in a coup on February 1, 2021, citing fraud in the 2020 general election.
Opponents of the junta have formed the National Unity Government (NUG), which includes ousted lawmakers largely from the National League for Democracy, members of ethnic minority groups and other prominent figures involved in the anti-coup movement. The NUG and its armed wing, the People’s Defence Force (PDF), has said that they intend to build a federal Union and federal army in the future.
The NUG has invited the AA to talks. AA chief Major General Twan Mrat Naing has acknowledged that the group has engaged in political dialogue with the NUG.
The two sides have held at least two online discussions on political issues and the country’s Spring Revolution against military dictatorship. But details of the discussions were not disclosed to the public.
The AA has said it is a part of neither the NUG nor the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC). NUCC is a platform for political dialogue, which is made up of representatives from opposition groups that include, among others, the NUG, deposed lawmakers, human rights and civil society organisations, leaders of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), activist networks, ethnic minority political parties and EAOs.
The armed group also does not share a common stance with the NUG or the NUCC on the Spring Revolution, the AA has said, adding that it is only a member of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee, formed by EAOs based in northern Myanmar.
However, the two sides seem to have a consensus of opinion about the threats of a military dictatorship in Myanmar. The AA will apparently adopt the policy of “no eternal allies, no perpetual enemies”, and take pragmatic approaches in the interests of Arakanese people.
Authority in Arakan State
The AA says it now has control over some 60 percent of Arakan State’s territory. Its political wing, the ULA, has been building a separate administration in the state with an independent judiciary, revenue department, public security offices and other administrative institutions.
Much remains to be done for the AA to realise its battle cry of achieving the “Arakan Dream”, as Arakanese people can only enjoy some liberty at the moment.
The AA foresees that it needs to possess the strength and influence that can guarantee its say, whether the military dictatorship is toppled and a new civilian government emerges, or some other form of federalism is introduced through other political reform in the future. The ethnic armed group has been building up its strength and influence toward any end.