An offer the minorities cannot refuse

Is Aung San Suu Kyi a pawn in the generals' attempt to neutralise Burma's ethnic rebellions?

In his Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Karl Marx wrote: 'The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.' Such an assessment is only half-right when it comes to Burma's internal conflicts, of which ethnicity is of equal importance to class. Whether ethnicity is largely a matter of 'political choice', as many academics suggest today, has little relevance in the lives of these ethnic peoples. The Karen, Kachin, Mon, Shan, Karenni and others have chosen to hold on to their AK-47s or M16s in order to fight on. The unappealing alternative is surrender and subjugation at the feet of their uncompromising enemy in Rangoon and, since 2005, Naypyidaw.

With varying degrees of ferocity, intermittent waves of ethnically mobilised wars have flared up since independence in 1948. Most of these were triggered by the non-Bamar communities' perception and experience of being denied a fair share of state power and control over resources by the Bamardominated governments, both civilian and military. Like the colonial Burma, the military-ruled Myanmar is in effect a garrison state; unlike British Burma, the generals' Myanmar remains so after a half-century of their monopoly rule. Under the Raj, Burma was the lucrative 'rice bowl of the world', exporting nearly half of the total global output; the Burmese generals, on the other hand, have succeeded in turning Burma into the region's 'basket case', worse off than post-genocide Cambodia.

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Himal Southasian