But I will defend to the death your right to say it.
People usually don’t see things the same way. Readers don’t need me to tell them that.
Sometime in 1996-97, I was watching a documentary on Tibet produced by two top Thai TV journalists, Thepchai Yong and Sutthichai Yun.
What struck me was their conclusion:
- The majority those in exile, away from their homeland, stood for a radical solution: Independence from China
- On the other hand, the two were able to talk to many of those in Chinese-controlled Tibet who believed there was a win-win solution, one that allowed both the Chinese and Tibetans to live together in peace
Then, a few years earlier, another military confrontation between Thailand and Cambodia over the sacred Prasat Phra Viharn, better known as Preah Vihear Temple, was looming again.
Most of the agitators for war came from out of harm’s way: the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and the Thai capital of Bangkok. Both were exhorting their respective countrymen to fight to the death for what was rightfully theirs.
However, people in the Preah Vihear Temple area on both sides of the border, upon inquiry, gave different opinions. If shooting started, it would be they who would be bearing the brunt of it, and understandably, they wanted none of it. What they wanted, they said, was a peaceful solution. Fortunately, those for peace won the day.
Lately, I found out that Burma is no different from Tibet, Cambodia or Thailand. We have our own hardliners and ‘softliners,’ the former mostly living outside of the killing fields and especially the IDP camps. “It is those who are not being driven away from their homes and live from hand to mouth daily in an IDP camp that can afford to be tough,” I was recently told by a lady I have known for more than 20 years. “But ask those who are in the camps, for whom the situation is such that they are given not food nor clothing, but only money to buy them from where, they don’t know. And they’ll tell you that they want their leaders to sign the NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement).”
This is of course the classic case of half-full/half-empty glass of water:
- Those who have refused to sign it say, “We won’t come to the talks unless it is filled to the brim by the government”
- While those who have signed it say, “Let’s go and try to fill it to the full by ourselves”
Right now, there’s no way of knowing who’s going to be right and who’s going to be wrong. Because, in war and peace, as well as in life, there’s no such thing as certain.
The question, or questions, now are:
- If the glass is successfully filled (or almost) to the full by the signatories, will the non-signatories follow suit?
- On the other hand, if the signatories fail to fill the glass (or if the glass is broken) and they decide to return to armed struggle again, will both be friends again?
By SAI KHUENSAI / Director of Pyidaungsu Institute and Founder of Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N)
All views expressed are the author’s own.