Tackling Myanmar Crisis Together
Updated: Jan 19
By Fikry A Rahman, Head of Foreign Affairs of Bait Al Amanah
- BERNAMA file pic, for illustration purpose only.
LETTERS: On May 1, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah proposed that Asean have an informal engagement with Myanmar's National Unity Government (NUG) focusing on humanitarian aid deliverables.
He deplored the lack of cooperation from the military junta to carry out Asean's Five-Point Consensus (A5PC) to end the political stalemate and violence in Myanmar.
NUG was established in April last year comprising former lawmakers, ethnic groups and anti-coup protesters to deal with the military junta.
However, Saifuddin's proposal, an audacious effort by Malaysia, was lambasted by his military-appointed Myanmar counterpart, who labelled it as "reckless".
Other Asean members are mum, showing a lack of interest and unity for collective action on Myanmar.
It is high time Asean considered engaging NUG and the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) to provide humanitarian assistance to the Myanmar people.
It is foreseeable that the proposal will not be adopted, at least for now, due to Asean's non-interference policy and the divisive stance between its members on conflict management.
Although Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore have shown the will to pressure the junta, they are diverging on the best mechanism possible since the ineffectiveness of A5PC is pertinent.
The political impasse of Myanmar's conflict, the inability of A5PC to materialise and the proposal to informally engage NUG indicate three pressing areas that Asean must look into.
FIRST, the inclusivity of the key internal and external stakeholders in the conflicts is paramount to ensure a solid framework for peace.
The engagement with NUG is not an attempt to delegitimise the State Administration Council of Myanmar, but rather a precursor for humanitarian assistance as stipulated in A5PC to reach out to multiple parties and communities.
SECOND, Asean needs to re-evaluate the push-and-full factors that hinder the development of A5PC. Internally, the junta seems to be able to resist the pressure from its Asean peers and stall the development even further.
Externally, despite multiple efforts and meetings on the crisis, the divergence between members on how to contend with Myanmar shows a lack of unity in solving internal squabbles.
The hesitation, especially on Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand's part to extend their unhappiness about Tatmadaw's attitude on A5PC, will exacerbate the bloc's divide.
THIRD, Asean must act collectively to ensure Myanmar listens to A5PC. Cambodia as the Asean chair and other regional leaders must play their role.
Cambodia and other Asean members must forge a path for inclusive cooperation between external and internal parties to jointly act on humanitarian aid. It requires a collective Asean to exert its political will in demanding the junta's cooperation.
Despite the junta's resistance to A5PC's implementation, Asean, through its special envoy to Myanmar, must be backed by the regional bloc to initiate a dialogue with multiple parties in Myanmar.
Although the trends among Asean members show their divisive nature to engage with the junta, it is plausible that concerted efforts by Asean can still be mounted to propel A5PC if each member plays its part.
Malaysia has done its part to contend with the crisis through the proposal, and it must be followed by Asean to condemn and conceive a solution while empowering the A5PC's execution.
It is time to rethink the non-interference policy and Asean Way if the condition in Myanmar persists since Asean's principles and values must not be compromised at the expense of the lives of people.
*This article was originally published in News Straits Times, dated 16th May 2022.