21 Desember 2010

» Home » Opini » The Jakarta Post » Myanmar: Vision and vicissitudes

Myanmar: Vision and vicissitudes

The focus on “reconciliation” for Myanmar, taken up by many notable scholars in Indonesia, is a goal worthy of scrutiny.
Such a position represents a compromise between Indonesia’s domestic aspirations for democracy in the Southeast Asian region and the necessity for a feasible foreign policy. In a nutshell, there is an unavoidable gap between Indonesia’s vision and its vicissitudes.
This vision of a democratic “push” for the region is evident in the buzz and political rhetoric surrounding the third Bali Democracy Forum (BDF).
Democracy is voiced by many as a gift to be shared outside of a nation’s border, a “sun of democracy”, with an internally embedded moral call to “salvage” the rest of the world (The Jakarta Post, Dec. 9).
As much as Indonesia would like to perform a democratic push within the region, there are limitations to what can be achieved due to the political, social, economic, and institutional constellation surrounding it, especially in the case of Myanmar.
Smarting from the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, a crackpot liberal approach is likely to bring many detrimental effects instead of a sustainable peace.
From a political scientist’s viewpoint, the focus on procedural and liberal democratic elements of reconciliation is often times more ideological and normative than it is of any analytical purpose (Chabal: 1998).
As a foreign policy, democratic visions differ from its functions as domestic politics. One needs to be careful when using it as a framework for reconciliation and be fully aware of its limitations.
Politically, reconciliation requires practical compromises that are not always in line with democratic visions and the pursuit of justice toward past grievances or atrocities — at least in the initial short-run.

Taking lessons from reconciliation in Cambodia, Indonesia’s leadership needs to show greater political will, regional commitment, and calculated risk-taking.

A reconciliation blueprint aiming to transfer power to a civilian government, consolidate effective civilian control over the military, and professionalize the military institution of Myanmar will need to obtain the involvement, if not full cooperation, of the generals who are often highly decorated with human rights abuses.
Understandably, this reality of reconciliation is quite hard to swallow for many ASEAN citizens that have witnessed Myanmar’s unimpressive track record of atrocities.
Furthermore, reconciliation means talking, negotiating, reaching an agreement, and coming to terms with adversaries, however atrocious they were.
The 2008 Myanmar Constitution does provide the regime with retroactive impunity that invalidates prosecution for their past actions. So, does reconciliation imply a zone of impunity in the transition that follows (Sriram: 2006)?
Practical compromises do not mean that past abuses and atrocities should be left unaddressed. This
is not a question of “whether” reconciliation or justice should be prioritized.
Instead, it is a question of “when” and “how” the injustice toward the people of Myanmar should be addressed. International experiences show that reconciliation can utilize a wide range of instruments, which includes truth and reconciliation commissions, tribunals, vetting, reparations, amnesty, and pardon (Sriram: 2007).
For Myanmar, some of these are apparently more relevant than others, but the point is that there is a big toolbox of options that the reconciliation blueprint can employ.
Regionally, liberal interventionism to induce reconciliation is unlikely. As a region built on the notion of sovereignty and non-interference, much resistance can be expected, not only from Myanmar, but also from other member countries.
The region itself is far from being a political miniature of a liberal order. Member countries span the whole length of the political spectrum, from liberal democracy, constitutional monarchy, authoritarian states, communist republic to military junta.
Due to the blurry vision of an ASEAN Community and the presence of a toothless ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) shackled with its limited mandate, the region still has a long way to go in developing its own justice settlement mechanism.
Furthermore, China’s vested interest in Myanmar is likely to blot out international efforts to bring the junta to justice through an ICC investigation supported by the UN Security Council (The Economist, Nov. 27).
Socially, different societies employ different strategies to reconcile themselves. A blueprint for reconciliation might have political accountability elements that are not democratic.
But then again, what is acceptable should be determined by the people of Myanmar themselves.
The ASEAN Charter speaks of a caring and sharing community, not one that is imposing and dictating. Indonesia should be aware that its involvement and efforts in Myanmar’s reconciliation will be backed only by limited diplomatic, economic, and political capacity.
The role assumed will be facilitative, not as a directive “power” intervener that can impose a certain kind of reconciliation.
Technically, a diplomatic venture of that scale will require transparent honesty, respect of confidentiality, a good knowledge of parties, strategic insight into their problems, an attitude of acceptance, and professional knowledge of procedures related to reconciliation processes (Smith: 1994).
But more importantly, taking lessons from reconciliation in Cambodia, Indonesia’s leadership needs
to show greater political will, regional commitment, and calculated risk-taking.

The writer is a fellow researcher at Pacivis, the Department of International Relations at the University of Indonesia.

Opini The Jakarta Pos 22 Desember 2010