Let’s say that you are a Chinese or Burmese businessman, and you own some jade mines in Kachinland. Do you think that your business is safe just because you are working with the Burmese government? If you did, you just might be mistaken. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the fighting in Kachin State, which has raged for the entire time I have been here in Thailand, not too far away, has cost both considerable blood and treasure to those who mistakenly believed that Kachin land was safe for their business efforts. Too bad, so sad.
The story, as I have heard it, is that after nine months of (impatiently) waiting for support from international sources, the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) decided to “tax” the jade mines in Kachin land, charging a “fee” for each backhoe and earthmover that the various mine owners had. Some paid the fees, and some did not. Payment improved, according to the reports I have heard, when one of the backhoes was destroyed in the middle of the night, and when some of the more recalcitrant mine owners were disposed of. Rebellion is an ugly business, and it appears that the Kachin Independence Army is pretty ruthless when it comes to ensuring compliance with its demands, probably no less ruthless than the Burmese on the other side. Often in life there are no good guys, unfortunately.
Nor is this the only example of ruthlessness that has been reported on. Given that the Kachin are a relatively small people (only about a million to a million and a half inhabitants, about half of them in Kachin state ) opposed to the much more populous Burmese, it is not surprising that the Kachin Independence Army makes some strong demands on its people to support their independence movement. Like the Chinese portrayed in the movie Mulan, it is expected that each Kachin family will send one of its family members to join the Kachin Independence Army, and stories about the long arm of the KIA’s spies, even into areas like Rangoon, which are far away from their base of operations, to capture those seeking to escape the forced military service, frighten those who are not inclined to seek after military service in the jungle.
A fair question to ask is why the Burmese seek to fight the Kachin at all. Like most fights, it would seem wasteful and unnecessary to waste blood and treasure trying to attack a small people with no imperialistic ambitions but with a fierce military culture that simply seeks to enjoy peace and prosperity in its own land. Would it not be much easier to co-opt such a people into becoming a military caste, given honor and respect and opportunity in exchange for using its military prowess in defense of the larger people rather than against it? Would that not be so much easier for everyone? Why do people never seem to think of this?
Would it not be worth some autonomy, and the willingness to share the spoils with the local population, to avoid endless and wasteful conflict? A lot of the problem seems to relate to mindset. If you are selfish and only desire to take from and exploit others, you will not think of how you can gain while encouraging others to gain. After all, you will think in terms of win-lose, a zero-sum game, where any gain by someone else means a loss for you, and in such a circumstance one will not seek to benefit one’s past, present, or potential enemies and rivals. A change in behavior depends on a change in mindset.
And who knows how long it will take for this to happen. I do not know if there is even the desire to change a mindset on the part of the Burmese (or the Kachin, who certainly have no trust for the Burmese), and even if there is a desire, the work is daunting and will take many generations. These sort of problems take a long time to develop, and will take a long time to resolve, assuming there is the will to do so, and that is often in question. Time will tell if it happens in Kachin state, or anywhere else in this deeply troubled world.