By Dr. Vum Son
The Union of Burma is the amalgamation of formerly independent kingdoms of Arakan, Burma, and Mon; princely states of the Shan and Karenni; chiefdoms of the Chin and Kachin; and independent communities of the Karen. The Union of Burma was formed by the Panglong agreement of the Chin, Kachin, Shan, and the Burman. However, the agreement encompasses the Arakanese, Mon, Karenni, and Karen, who were proud nations and communities and who had distinct and unique identities different from the Burman, Chin, Kachin, or Shan.
In the constitution drafted in 1947, Bogyoke Aung San promised the non-Burman equality and autonomy. After the death of Aung San, however, U Nu and the AFPFL amended the draft constitution, betraying both the letter and spirit of the Panglong agreement. The amendments invalidated the recognition of the formerly proud nations of Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, and the Shan. Therefore serious trouble was looming for Burma at independence.
Shortly after Burma’s independence in 1949, the Karen, followed by several other non-Burman nationalities, rose up in arms to fight for independence. At the height of the Karen rebellion and underground movement of the communists, soldiers defected en masse from the Burma Rifles and other army units (e.g., the Karen Rifles). Out of the five battalions of Burma Rifles only about two thousand soldiers were loyal to the union government. Because of the Karen rebellion, the government forced numerous non-Burman holding key positions in the army to retire. Among those forced to retire were General Smith Dun, the Commanding Officer of the Burma Army, Saw Shi Sho, the chief of the air force, Brigadier Saw Kya Doe, chief of operations, and all Karen nationals, to name a few. These positions were then assigned only to ethnic Burman. General Ne Win, a Sino-Burman and a member of the “Thirty Comrades” became the Commanding Officer of the Burma Army. He was also made the Defense Minister of the Union government.
General Ne Win became ambitious and requested to be made the Prime Minister. The civilian government dismissed him back to the barracks. Ne Win realized that to become the Prime Minister of Burma or to be able to run the country, he needed to be the commanding officer of a large army, and from that day on he worked on a scheme that eventually made him the oppressor of the peoples of Burma for forty years. That scheme might be called the “Ne Win Doctrine.”
Premise of the Ne Win Doctrine:
To become the ruler of the country as the commanding officer of the Burma Army, the army must be large and strong. The requisite for having a strong army is that the army must have a strong and sizeable enemy.
How could the Burma Army have a strong enemy? The answer lies in the history of Burma and the history of the members of the Union of Burma.
History of Ethnic Conflict
There are no known facts about the ethnic conflicts prior to the Burmese King Anawrahta, who became king in the eleventh century. Long before the Burman descended from the high regions of Tibet and northwestern China to the present Burma in the seventh or eight century AD, the Mon had established their kingdom in lower Burma, the Chin in Upper Burma, and the Arakanese in Arakan. Our knowledge of Burman history started with the king Anawrahta because of the aggressiveness of the Burman, who in the course of time attacked and were attacked by Arakan, Mon, and Shan. The history of the Thai, Assamese, and Meitei (Manipuris) describes the immense cruelty of the Burman forces. Because of their notoriaty, historians concentrated on the Burman history and unjustly gave little attention to the history of the other groups in the region. This one-sided view of history has had a catastrophic effect on the modern relationships between the ethnic groups because the Burmese military can convince outsiders that there is only the history of the Burman and the other people are anonymous.
In fact, there were many ethnic conflicts among the peoples that constitute Burma today. Most notably, the Burman and the Mon engaged in a great contest of power against each other. To a lesser extent, extended wars were fought between Arakan and Burma, and Shan against the Burman. The Karen apparently did not establish a powerful enough system to challenge the Burmese leadership, but they were subjected to high taxation and forced to work for the Burman. The Burman had no interest, authority, or influence on the outlying areas, such as the Chin, Naga, and Kachin. In all their wars, the opponents of the Burman know them as most brutal, and most cruel. The brutality and cruelty of the Burmese Army in post-colonial Burma has only carried on the tradition of Burman behavior.
Development of the Doctrine
With the mistrust and turbulent history between the Burman and the non-Burman, Ne Win had the means by which to create a powerful enemy that would justify a large army for him to command. Thus, he created the Ne Win doctrine.
Ne Win Doctrine:
Create an enemy of the non-Burman by driving them to military resistance. Drive them to military resistance by exploiting the political unrest in Burma.
The political situation facilitated Ne Win’s plan to exacerbate the non-Burman and Burman mistrust. As soon as the Union of Burma was formed, the AFPFL, who dominated the politics of Burma, initiated ethnic conflict. The AFPFL betrayed the Panglong agreement by adopting a quasi-federal constitution. Although the constitution allowed some non-Burman nationalities the status of national states, the constitution gave the power of the state to the central government, which was the government of proper Burma or the government of the Burman. The states were governed by the central government, with no possible self-determination. They were practically the colonies of the Burman. The constitution refused to recognize the Mon and the Arakanese statehood, denying them recognition as a distinct ethnic group. The constitution also declared the Burman language as the common language, marginalizing the non-Burman nationalities.
Furthermore, when Ne Win assumed the post of commanding officer, U Nu, the prime minister of Burma, proclaimed martial law in some regions of the Shan state in response to the formidable Karen forces scattered in many parts of Burma including the Shan State. However, the Karen were severely beaten at Insein and were no longer a threat to the government of Burma by the mid-fifties. General Ne Win needed the continuation of the Karen rebellion and other existing civil wars to maintain the strength of the Burma Army. Therefore, the Burma Army units created renewed hatred for the Burman by roaming Karen villages to create victims. Thus began the implementation of the Ne Win Doctrine, making the non-Burman fear and hate the Burman and leading them to armed resistance.
Implementation of the Doctrine
The main feature of the doctrine was to make the Burma Army above the law wherever there was insurgency or rebellion. The army could do whatever they wanted in the countryside where there were disturbances. But its purpose was never to quell rebellion. The people had no rights whatsoever. As soon as the Burma Army came to an area, the people lost their rights to their land, property, and even their own children. Worst of all, they lost the right to their own lives. On the other hand, the officers and men of the army could do whatever they wanted. From stealing the property of the people, beating the people, raping the women, and killing people singularly or en masse, they do not have to report to any other authority. They were not accountable to any law and there was no authority the people to complain to. The Burma Army was an independent entity. The people, if they dared, could complain to the army authorities who had laid out the policies and had drawn up the guidelines for these atrocities. Their policies were to make the people hate them. If there were complaints by the people that meant the people had not learned their lesson. It meant more brutality towards the community.
The army came mainly to dehumanize the people regardless whether they belong to the rebels or not. They were treated as if they were animals. The army was the law. These brutalities produced endless atrocities. And these brutalities and atrocities brought incalculable damage to the army’s credibility and to national unity. The soldiers were seduced by the power of their guns and the tacit encouragement from their superiors. They adhered to the philosophy of being invincible and they created wars where there were none before. The result was racial hatred.
The army usually came to villages fully informed about the people. The Burma Army units usually came after a battle was fought between the rebel group and the Burma Army. They had knowledge about the men from the village who were in the rebellion. Usually the army called all the villagers to a meeting ground, usually a football field and executed a popular leader of the community. The person was executed not because he was an enemy of the Burma Army but because the Burma Army had learned that by doing so, they forced the recruitment of youngsters to the rebel army, thereby creating a large enemy for the Burma Army. If Burma Army soldiers had died in the battle with the rebel group, the army unit came to the villages to punish the people of the villages. The army then killed civilians from these villages at least double in number of the soldiers killed at the battle.
The doctrine was to deepen the suspicion and hatred that existed between the non-Burman and the Burman in pre-colonial and British Burma. It was to create hatred among the non-Burman against the Burman because the Burma Army was run by the Burman. Officers and men of the Burma Army treated the population with cruel, humiliating, and degrading inhuman practices. When the army units come to villages they went from house to house and took anything they wanted. They killed domestic animals to substantiate their eager rations. The army encouraged Burman soldiers to marry the non-Burman women. The soldiers were made to understand that to molest and rape women in the “disturbed” areas was no crime. There was no punishment for such misdeeds. The army burned villages and were instructed to destroy and burn Christian churches and Muslim mosques. During the communist rebellion non-Burman class battalions were sent to areas controlled by the communist. These class battalions destroyed Buddhist temples and killed the people including women and children. The point was to make the Burman hate the non-Burman. The army employed forced labor in disturbed areas which were created by the Army itself. The army demanded porters from the villages who were not paid. It was forced porter conscription. One of the main reasons for all of this cruel treatment was the forever prolongation of the civil war. Without the civil war a strong Burma Army was not necessary. Only cruel treatment of the people guaranteed the continuation of armed rebellion.
Results of the Doctrine on the non-Burman
In all of the civil conflicts in Burma, even during parliamentary democracy, the Burma Army sought military solutions to their problems. Putting an end to the rebellion would have been easy if a political solution had been sought. Instead, the Burma Army was systematically campaigning for hate. The hatred of the military by the people guaranteed the increase of volunteers for the non-Burman ethnic rebellion. After the campaign of hate for 10 years, there was a strong rebellion in Burma that a strong enough army was created to contain the rebellion. Ne Win fostered this strong rebellion by applying the doctrine to each of the ethnic groups in Burma.
The Karen lived side-by-side with the Burman in the delta region and had suffered atrocities under Burman kings. During the rule of Burmese kings, the relationship between Karen and Burman was not friendly. Karens suffered under high taxation and racial discrimination. There was always animosity between the two communities. Although living side-by-side, the Karen and Burman seldom intermarried because of the hate existing between them. There had always been a racially-motivated segregation between the Burman and the Karen. They stood on opposite sides of the firing line when the Japanese invaded Burma during WW II. They committed atrocities against each other and the animosity between them further deepened. The Karen did not want to be a part of independent Burma. However they lived intermingled with the Burman and a solution to their problems was difficult to solve. Britain refused to listen to the Karen’s demand for separation from the Burman.
Because the Karen were honest and trustworthy, the British hired them into their armed forces and civil administration. At the end of WW II, the Karen dominated both of these parts of government. When independence was eminent for Burma after the end of the war, the Karen sought all avenues available to them to separate themselves from the Burman, but they failed. In 1949, the Karen formed the Karen National Defense Organization to protect Karen villages from the Burman. The formation of this organization started the Karen rebellion in 1949.
The Karen and communist defections in the army left only a small army contingent loyal to the government. In other words, the Karen at one time were close to taking the capital Rangoon. The few remaining Chin and Kachin rifles battalions stood their ground and saved the Rangoon government from falling. The Karen were driven out of Insein, a satellite Karen town of Rangoon.
Thus the Karen situation could explode anytime unless they could agree with the Burman on terms to build a state together.
General Ne Win and his officers never wanted peace. The Karens could have easily been beaten if a political solution had been sought. The Burmese government refused to discuss the Karen problems with Karen leaders. It was left to the military to solve the Karen problem. The Burma Army could have beaten the Karen rebellion if they had fought with good intentions. Often times Chin or Kachin forces of the Burma Army had beaten Karen units. When the Chin units thought that they could eliminate the Karen unit, the Chin Rifles were ordered to withdraw by the War Office in Rangoon. The Karen units were allowed to regroup. The Karen survived with mounting losses in life and material, and Ne Win continued to build his army with the excuse of the Karen threat.
The last stronghold of the Karen at Manarplaw was not attacked for over twenty years because the Burma Army wanted to show that they had a strong enemy. Only when Manarplaw became the second capital of Burma, where all democracy-loving people assembled, and the international media was informed of the brutality of the Burma did the Burma Army feel the need to attack. Manarplaw was not easily taken, but for a two-hundred-thousand strong army to beat a fifteen-thousand men army should not be that difficult a task.
Arakan and Mon
Arakan and Mon were independent nations before they were overrun by Burman kings. Because these people were colonies of the Burman for a long period of time, and because they were Buddhists and intermarried with the Burman, the Burman leadership believed that they were already absorbed into Burman society. The Burman leadership therefore found no reason to negotiate with the people of Arakan and Mon. On the other side, the Arakanese and Mon felt that they had been freed from Burman colonialization when the British gave independence to the Union of Burma. In independent Burma they wanted the recognition of their unique ethnic national identity and their rights as a nation. But the Burman leadership completely miscalculated the nationality feelings and endeavor of the Arakan and Mon.
Like the Karen, the Mon and Arakanese had been at war with the Burman before the British came. During those wars, the Burman treated both the Mon and Arakanese brutally. The people of Mon and Arakan regarded the British occupation of their land as the end of Burman colonialization. Ironically, the British introduction of schools and the teaching of Burmese in the schools was instrumental in transforming of the Arakan and Mon society into one much closer to the Burmese society. Although animosity and hatred existed between the Burman and Arakanese and Mon, they share the same religion and intermarry. The Arakanese and Mon could have easily been content if the Burman leadership had given them their rightful position in the society of the independent Union of Burma. Luckily for Ne Win, the Burman leadership, beginning with General Aung San, completely miscalculated the nationality feelings of the Arakanese and the Mon. They believed that the Arakan and Mon had fully and completely integrated into Burman society. The Burman leadership did not recognize their unique national identity. Therefore, an insurgency started at the end of 1946, even before independence was attained.
General Ne Win only needed a little push for the Arakanese and Mon to rise up in arms and mobilize their national feelings. Cases of atrocities committed against them as punishment for disturbances quickly intensified the hate of the Burman that already existed from the past. The Burma Army used small uprisings as an excuse to send a large contingent to terrorize villages that were situated in the nearby areas. The Burma Army simply applied the Ne Win doctrine. In response, the Arakan and Mon created an independence movement. General San Yu was the commander of the Burma Army contingent in Arakan for fifteen years before he became the president of Burma under the Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Program Party.
The Karenni were independent when Burma was under colonialism, but when Burma became independent, the Karenni became a part of Burma (viz. a colony of Burma). Thus, without proper agreement for equality in the new independent state of Burma, the Karenni would always demand their rights and independence.
Like the Arakanese and Mon the Karenni fought to regain their independence just after Burma’s independence. Instead of realizing their goal of independence they were drawn into the Ne Win doctrine. As the Karenni rebellion grew, so did the army stationed in the Karenni state. The AFPFL authorities in Rangoon resorted to a military solution to the Karenni conflict, putting the fate of the people of the Karenni in the hands of the brutal Burma Army under Ne Win. He, of course, immediately applied his doctrine of making the people hate the Burman. Where the Burma Army set foot into any territory was to terrorize the inhabitants. The Karenni were no exception. The government of the AFPFL had created a new front for the Burma Army.
Unlike the Arakan, Mon, and Karen, the Shan had never been completely subjugated by the Burman in historic times. On the contrary, the Shan had at one time ruled the Burman. Historically, Burman and the Shan dealt with each other as equals and there was mutual respect for each other. The ruling Saophas were mostly well-educated and versed in politics and world affairs.
General Ne Win was able to extend his doctrine to the Federated Shan States when the Karen rebellion spilled over to Taungyi, the Shan capital, in 1950. Then the remnants of the Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) forces infiltrated the Shan State from China and gave the government even more reason to send troops there. The placing of most of the regions of the Shan state under martial law by the U Nu government delivered the Shans into the evil claws of Ne Win and his Burma Army, the Tatmadaw. The Burma Army saw the martial law as their god-sent opportunity to terrorize the Shan population. Among the Burman men, the fair-skinned Shan women were a prized commodity to exploit. When the General encouraged his soldiers to marry Shan women it was like a dream-come-true to the soldiers. The Burma Army gave promotions to those who married ordinary Shan women. Those who married Shan princess were made officers (if the soldier was a NCO). If the soldier was an officer, he received a double promotion. The purpose of the marriage policy was not purely the Burmanization of the Shan, but it was rather to reap hatred. The soldiers thus hunted Shan women for marriage or for other purposes. They ambushed Shan women on their way to their fields, and if the women tried to run, the soldiers would shoot at them. They killed some women and raped many. Shan women were so afraid of the Burma Army that they hid on seeing army vehicles. A Shan elderly said, “I could bear it when they took away my chicken, pigs, and my property. I could bear it when they burned down my house. But I cannot bear it when they abuse my wife and daughter in front of me.” The soldiers commonly looted Shan property and hunted their domestic animals to supplement their meager rations. Prominent and well-loved Shans disappeared without a trace. After ten years of the army presence, the Shan youth could not bear the oppression and degradation. The Shan youth, lead by university students, rose up in arms in the late fifties. By then many non-Burman ethnic groups had stood in arms against the Burma Army. Ne Win had once again driven the Shan to rebel against his army. The Ne Win doctrine was successfully implemented and was working in the Shan State.
The destruction of Shan society through opium was also mainly the work of Ne Win and the military. The growing of opium and the opium trade may have been started by the KMT and international drug smugglers, but the Burma Army was the authority in the Shan state. Without the tacit approval of the military, the opium production could not have continued. The Burma Army used the excuse that the military could not control opium production in the Shan state because of the Shan rebellion. This excuse was extremely misleading because, as explained above, the military was the cause of the rebellion. The military and Ne Win benefited by the drug trade because they were the main transporters of the drug inside Burma. A major aim of the Ne Win Doctrine was to destroy the Shan social establishment. The production of opium and heroin enhanced the implementation of the Doctrine, and Ne Win would apply this part of the doctrine elsewhere.
The Kachin State is rich in natural resources. Many Kachin profited from the large jade deposits which are found in Kachinland. The Kachin served loyally in the British Burma Army and in post-independence Burma. There had never been problems with the Kachin until 1960. But soon U Nu came to the aid of Ne Win. During the election campaign in 1960, U Nu made an election promise to make Buddhism the state religion if he was given the mandate to govern Burma. He won the election and Buddhism did become the state religion. Because of these events, the Kachin formed the Kachin Independence Organization, initiating a rebellion against the ruling government of Burma. The Burma Army immediately applied the Ne Win doctrine in the Kachin state. By the time the Kachin Independent Army signed a cease-fire agreement after thirty years of civil war, Kachin villages had lost much of their previous relative wealth. Total destruction of the Kachin society and Kachin properties resulted and the Burma Army is in every corner of the Kachinland. The Kachin have traded their rights as human beings and their right to be treated as an equal by the Burman for a cease fire.
Communists and Wa
The Burman communists met the same fate as the non-Burma ethnic insurgency. Chin, Karen, Burman, and Kachin battalions were deployed to fight the communists. As with the Karen, the communists were attacked, allowed to regroup, and attacked again. Within a few years after independence, the communists were no longer a formidable force because, unlike the non-Burma ethnic groups, the Ne Win doctrine could not make the Burman hate the Burman, perhaps because they understood what the Burma Army was doing. Whenever the communists had a stronghold, the Burma Army terrorized the local people. When the villagers were tired of the harassment from the Burma Army and the taxation of the communists, they simply moved away. Unlike the non-Burman they did not have elaborate housing and they could easily farm somewhere else. The communist regained their momentum only when they moved to the Chinese border and persuaded the Wa to fight for them. When the Ne Win doctrine was applied to the Wa, the Wa started to hate the Burman of the Burma Army. The racial hatred transferred to hatred of their Burmese communist masters. They eventually overthrew the Burman communists and started an ethnic war against the Burman. Because of the huge assistance given by China to the Burma communist party, there were incentives for the Wa young men to join the communists. The price tag was high for the Wa. Almost every Wa household lost a son or a family member in the conflict. After the Wa signed the cease-fire agreement with the Burma Army, the Wa ran drug production and trade under more peaceful circumstances. Due to the Wa rebellion, a powerful contingent of the Burma Army was needed and the Burma Army fulfilled its purpose controlling the drug trade.
Historically, the Chin and the Burman did not have much contact. Their interaction was mostly limited to mutual raiding, including taking war prisoners as slaves. Being in the remote areas of the hills, the Chin were isolated from the valley-dwelling Burman. Consequently, they never dominated one another, or had any other diplomatic relations.
For forty years since joining the Burman, the Chin Hills continued on relatively quietly because there was no reason for the Ne Win army to go there. General Ne Win and most Burman had never been to the Chin Hills themselves, and perceived it to be a very primitive area whose simple inhabitants had neither the ability nor the will to develop their country. However, when Ne Win visited the Chin Hills in 1955 as the commanding officer of the Burma Army, he saw that the Chin were not as primitive as he had thought. Moreover, he realized that the Chin lived in bigger houses than the general Burman. Whereas most Burman lived in bamboo thatch houses, the Chin used wooden planks as walls with wooden floors and corrugated iron or slate as their roofs. Ne Win would wait and find a way to apply his doctrine.
In the late 1970s, the BSPP under Ne Win began to grow opium in the Chin Hills. They had found this strategy successful in the Shan State, where the army had been stationed since 1950. Army officers profited by transporting the drug and were able to addict many of the people by making the drug easily accessible. The Burman then could easily acquire their property.
The growing of opium in the Chin Hills in 1997 means nothing less than the ruin of the future of the Chin people. It was reported that heroin is being refined in Tahan, Tedim, and Tamu under the military supervision. This is clearly an attempt to destroy the Chin people in order to be able to control them. Until now Ne Win was incapable of making the Chin hate the Burman. Soon he will destroy the Chin people as more and more people become addicted to heroin.
The Chin were drawn to the same fate as other ethnic groups in only after the 1988 general uprising against the practice of the Ne Win doctrine in the whole of Burma. Three Chin men formed the Chin National Front (CNF) in 1985 in India. The CNF was formed as an armed independence movement and grew to about fifty members, mostly Chin students who fled to Mizoram in India. The CNF had no money, arms, or supporters in 1988, but its existence was enough to serve as an excuse for the Burma Army to destroy the Chin social establishment. In 1980 there was only a Burma Army company in the Chin Hills. By 1995 ten thousand Burma Army soldiers were stationed in the Chin Hills because the CNF had grown to about one hundred and fifty soldiers. The Burma Army came to the Chin Hills not necessarily to fight the CNF but to instill hatred and fear for the Burman consistent with applying the doctrine.
Results of the Doctrine on the Union
In 1958, after leading the Burma army for almost ten years, General Ne Win felt that his army was strong enough to overthrow the government of the Union of Burma under U Nu. Ne Win’s subordinates gave U Nu the ultimatum that the Burma Army was going to take over power either peacefully or by force. U Nu cleverly announced on the Burma Radio that he had requested General Ne Win to take over the administration of the country until the general election, which was to be held soon. Because such a transfer was legal under the 1947 constitution, the general attained what he wanted but was still bound by the constitution. However, at that time several high-ranking army officers opposed a military dictatorship. Once again General Ne Win had to go back to the barracks. Within a few months of his return, he forced out all the officers that might oppose his next attempt to take over.
Ne Win remained the prime minister as well as the commanding general of the Burma Army from 1958 to 1960. In that time, he steadily raised the strength of the army. At a conference in Taungyi in 1961, non-Burman parliamentarians and politicians, lead by Shan leaders, requested the amendment of the constitution, which would have given the non-Burman more autonomy in their affairs, equality among ethnic groups, less interference by the central government authorities in the non-Burman ethnic regions, and a fair distribution of the nation’s money. Ne Win understood what they wanted. If there was equality and peace in Burma he had no chance to ever rule the country.
By 1962, almost all the non-Burman ethnic groups were up in arms against the government of the union. All non-Burman ethnic people had only hatred and distrust for the Burman and the Burman-led government. By that time, General Ne Win had built a strong enough army to control the whole country at gunpoint. In March 1962, Ne Win staged a coup d’état and seized power. The future held more rebellion and more oppression to instill hatred. From a two-thousand man Burma Rifles plus two battalions each for the Chin and Kachin in 1950, the Burma Army rose to number 180,000 in 1988.
Ne Win’s Miscalculation: The Doctrine Worked too Well
The application of the Ne Win doctrine raised the non-Burman ethnic rebellion to approximately 60,000 soldiers in 1988. The end of the Burma Socialist Program Party and a mass pro–democracy uprising in 1988 paralyzed the government in Rangoon and the Burma Army was in a very weak position. They were short of arms and ammunition because they concentrated their fighting forces in the non-Burman ethnic areas. Moreover there were many high ranking officers who supported the pro-democracy movement. These officers refused the order to shoot into the crowd on September 1988. The result of the 1990 election showed clearly that the majority of the members of the armed forces were pro-democracy. Had the non-Burman army seized the opportunity and marched towards Rangoon, the Burma Army would have had no means nor will to defend the city.
“Big Father’s” Big Luck
The nightmare and catastrophe created by the Ne Win Dictatorship was the source of income and livelihood for many corrupted officials of the BSPP. Those who benefited from Ne Win’s dictatorship affectionately called him “Big Father.” Indeed, Ne Win took advantage of the foolishness of the non-Burman as well as the mainstream Burman line of thought. In 1988, the non-Burman passed up the only chance to defeat the Burma Army. As usual they kept to themselves and to their territory and never gained the aspiration to advance to Rangoon. At the moment that the Ne Win army was incapable of ruling the country, the Karen and the Mon were attacking each other for control of trade routes in their areas which brought in trade taxes. Not only did the non-Burman lose their only chance to table their demands for equality with an upper hand, they awakened Ne Win to the realization that he had made a wrong calculation. He was rescued by the incompetence of the non-Burman groups and the inability of leading Burman politicians to unite themselves into a force that could assume power.
Seeing he had miscalculated and nearly lost control, Ne Win immediately carried out what would prolong his grip on the population of Burma. His first step was to take Manarplaw. Manarplaw, the headquarters of the Karen National Union, had become the second capital of Burma. True to his doctrine, Ne Win did not attack the KNU capital for over twenty years, giving the Karen a sense of security. The existence of Manarplaw had been one of the excuses for Ne Win to build up his army. All forces opposing Rangoon had representatives in Manarplaw. Manarplaw served as headquarters for non-governmental organizations and international media to collect news items and facts, especially on the human rights abuses of the Ne Win regime. The realization that the non-Burman, together with the mass pro-democracy movement, could have taken over Rangoon brought Ne Win to the understanding that he needed to destroy Manarplaw.
In the past, Ne Win’s terms of peace had always been only “unconditional surrender,” knowing full well that the non-Burman freedom fighters would never give in. But after 1988, Ne Win had no choice. He undertook what he had never allowed himself in the past: he decided to sign cease-fire agreements with most of the non-Burman ethnic groups so that they would no longer pose a threat to his domain. He allowed the rebels to keep their arms and territory so he could continue to use them as an excuse to keep his large army to watch over these freedom fighters.
Ne Win also used the cease-fire agreements to gain access to the lucrative drug trade of the opium-growing Wa people. In the past the army was not directly involved in the drug trade. Drug traders were international drug smugglers, mostly Chinese. But the officers of the Burma Army were involved in transporting drugs. Whereas civilian drug carriers were subjected to searches, army convoys and transports were never bothered. Moreover the revenue and profits from the transportation were distributed among the officers. A captain would give a portion of his drug money to his boss, and that officer would share with his boss, and so on up the ladder. The cease-fire arrangement put opium transport and trade securely in the hands of the Burma Army. The SLORC’s announcements of confiscation of drugs and arrests of drug handlers in the government-controlled news media did not mean that the government was trying to stop the drug trade. The announcements were supposed to inform the people that the military government was serious about the elimination of the drug. In reality the military was trying to eliminate its competitors.
With this drug money, Ne Win improved the fighting ability of the Burma Army by buying over $1.4 billion worth of arms and ammunition from the Chinese. A convoy of trucks transported the arms and ammunition across the Burma-Chinese border for four months. Within five years, the Burma Army grew in size from 180,000 in 1988 to 400,000, making it the sixth largest army in the world. In the meantime, Burma became the poorest country in Asia and the sixth poorest in the world. Meanwhile, the SLORC reached its lowest point by becoming the worst human rights abuser in the world.
The Panglong agreement brought together different nationalities to form together the Union. When the Union of Burma drafted its constitution in 1947, the politics in Burma were dominated by the Anti–Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) of the Burman. This constitution betrayed the Panglong agreement, leading to dissatisfaction among the non-Burman nationalities, who chose to fight for their separation from the Burman. History has shown that a betrayal of an agreement can loose bloodshed and all the atrocities of war on the people. The peoples must decide whether they want to live in peace and prosperity by respecting one another, or to continue to dominate each other, which will be the continuation of the present nightmare in Burma.
Today after 35 years of Ne Win’s rule and the practice of the doctrine, there is so much hatred between the nationalities. The non-Burman blame the Burman for the suffering they endured under the Ne Win dictatorship because they see the leadership under Ne Win dominated by the ethnic Burman. The Burman on the other hand feel no responsibility because they likewise are suffered under the Ne Win dictatorship and blame Ne Win and the Burma Army for the ills of Burma. It is therefore impossible to agree on any agenda that might bring the non-Burman and Burman together. It will take many long years, even under democracy to bring the nationalities together, in mutual respect and understanding. Until and unless the Ne Win doctrine is destroyed, the future of the Union of Burma is doomed. The destruction of the Ne Win Doctrine can be accomplished only by working together, non-Burman and Burman alike towards an honest and trusting relationship.