Organized Panel Session
Successive Myanmar governments have sought illiberal approaches to the resolution of the oldest civil wars in the world. Since the 1990s, state-led management of peacebuilding – characterised by brutal strategies of counter-insurgency alongside extractive commercial ceasefires with ethnic armed elites – have offered very limited institutional space for the demands for recognition and autonomy made by minority populations. Many of the ceasefire agreements from the 1990s, and then the new wave agreed since 2011, have instead been designed to erode the legitimacy and control of ethnic armed groups among local populations through joint extraction pacts. What has emerged are hybrid orders, where illiberal peace sustains economic and political activity across peri-conflict Myanmar. Drawing on in-depth qualitative fieldwork conducted during periods of ceasefire in Kachin State (1994-2011) and Karen State (2012-now), this article shows how illiberal peacebuilding processes in both states have largely ignored the “symbolic languages of authority,” which were enlisted and enacted by armed groups and their societal allies over decades. As the Myanmar state expanded governance roles in contested areas following ceasefires, societally-rooted rebel governance structures – animated by grievances of ethnic chauvinism and expectations of ethnic empowerment – have continued to offer implicit, and often explicit, critiques of state expansion. In the absence of liberal, institutional responses to demands for greater ethnic minority recognition and autonomy, the grassroots struggle between ‘insurgent social orders’ and the central state for intermediation of development and social order emerges as an important yet paradoxically corrosive dimension of illiberal peacebuilding solutions.