As Director general of the State Counselor Office Zaw Htay’s official answer of May 2017, regarding Panglong Agreement query, resurfaced again on Facebook one year later, it is essential to again clarify the ethnic nationalities position, especially for those who have been engaged in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)-based ongoing peace negotiation process.
The question posed, on 21 December 2016, by MP U Lin Lin Oo of Tanai constituency, Kachin State, regarding the 1947 Panglong Agreement were:
- Whether the Panglong Agreement signed on 12 February 1947 is still being legally recognized;
- If the said agreement copy could be sent back together with the answer; and
- Where the 21st Century Panglong stands in relation to the Panglong Agreement.
The official answers of Zaw Htay, on 18 May 2017, were:
- If the facts that include in the Panglong agreement signed on 12 February 1947 is not against the 2008 Constitution they will still be considered as valid (officially).
- Copy of the original Panglong Agreement can be obtained according to the procedure of national documentation historical archive law.
- The 21st Century Panglong defines “Panglong Spirit” as unity achieved (between different ethnic peoples) despite diversity in order to reach the destination of peace, through hand-in-hand cooperation, which will remain the (cornerstone) major crucial sector (in nation-building).
In sum, Zaw Htay’s answer could be concluded as:
- If it is not against the 2008 military-drafted constitution, it is in order.
- In 21st Century Panglong it is Panglong Spirit that is the key and not the Panglong Agreement.
Echoing Suu Kyi’s position
The political position of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi which emphasizes Panglong Spirit as key and not the Panglong Agreement is already well known. But the 2008 Constitution overriding the Panglong Agreement is relatively new, given the fact that the National League for Democracy (NLD) government is keen to amend and publicly announced to do so.
Suu Kyi’s reasoning to disregard the Panglong Agreement is due to its lack of all-inclusiveness of all ethnic nationalities and her commitment to replace it with the 21st Century Panglong Conference outcomes, in place of the historical treaty signed in 1947.
But the response of Zaw Htay, who is Director general of the State Counselor Office under Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government, could be now considered as the official government policy line, regarding the Panglong Agreement.
And as such, the fact that the 2008 Constitution is placed as more superior to the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which is considered by the ethnic nationalities as a genesis of the Union of Burma formation in 1948, would bring more fundamental theoretical political disagreement that is impossible to bridge in the already turbulent political landscape.
Thus it is essential that we look at more precisely on what are really the Panglong Agreement, Promises and Spirit.
- Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) summarized the said topics in 2016 as follows:
- Point 1-4. Shan, Chin and Kachin representatives will be appointed as minister and deputy ministers respectively responsible for matters relating to Frontier Areas affairs (now known as Border Affairs)
- Point 5. Full autonomy in internal affairs
- Point 6.A status of state for the Kachins in the future independent Union. (The Chins then did not request the same status)
- Point 7. Rights and privileges fundamental in democratic countries (which is interpreted by the author as Human Rights and Democracy)
- Point 8-9. Financial autonomy as in the Federated Shan States for Chin and Kachin
During the 4-day negotiations in Panglong, 8-11 February 1947, the following demands were made by the Joint Chin-Kachin-Shan Committee, officially dubbed Supreme Council of the United Hill Peoples (SCOUHP):
- The right to secede if and when we choose
- Equal status
- Joint responsibility for common subjects such as foreign affairs, defense and coinage and currency
Gen Aung San reportedly had accepted all in principle but requested that they be included in the Union constitution to be a drafted by the upcoming Constituent Assembly instead. His solemn word of honor thus became known as the promises of Panglong.
The Panglong Spirit
The NCA, both in the text and its attachment, which contains 36 resolutions passed in the 9 formal meetings, doesn’t have anything to say about what the word means.
However, Judging by what the Burmese leaders have repeatedly said, the much-vaunted Three National Causes (Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of National Solidarity, and the Perpetuation of National Sovereignty) appears to be their interpretation. To the non-Burmans, this summing-up means they have to live under Burmese domination as second class citizens whether they like it or not.
Their own interpretation: Equal status, sense of joint ownership and sense of joint responsibility, has not been sought out, let alone agreed.
As long as this ambiguity continues, it is doubtful a genuine union will be realized.
To sum up, unless Panglong Agreement is seen as a treaty and sole legal bond between the ethnic nationalities and the Bamar State and an agreement to be fulfilled there is little chance that the ethnic dissatisfaction and grievances could be addressed in an appropriate setting, much less the political settlement along the line of an acceptable federal union based on equality, democracy, rights of self-determination and universal human rights.
From the position of the ethnic nationalities, nullifying the Panglong Agreement only convince and empower their thinking of being under Bamar military occupation, treated as its colonial possession and they are waging a resistance war. In other words, the country has reverted back to the pre-Panglong Agreement period, which in a legal sense means the ethnic nationalities and the Bamar-dominated government, including the military, nothing more to do with each other.
The ongoing 21st Century Panglong – Union Peace Conference could now be viewed as another deliberation to rebuild the federal union, which has abruptly been halted by the military coup in 1962 while trying to amend the 1948 Union of Burma Constitution (federal in name but unitary in essence) by tabling the Federal Amendment Proposal with endorsement of all the ethnic nationalities in the then union parliament.
The pretext given for launching the military coup was to protect the country from disintegration, as federal amendment proposal was seen as eroding the national unity and to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity. And as all could see just the opposite is happening in the country, with more wars and more disharmony across ethnic lines within the country.
Finally, if the powers that be is so inclined to write off the Panglong Agreement for good, as is now the case, the goodwill rebuilding deliberation of the ethnic nationalities, armed and unarmed, would come to naught and have nothing more to choose but only resistance, which means to resist the military occupation to the bitter end.
For now the NLD regime and the Military still have the chance to do the right thing.