The Drug Army That Could Take Out the Taliban

| Mon May 3, 2010 9:01 AM EDT

I've made it two weeks without a Burma post, but I'm going to let myself off my well-deserved Burma leash to talk about this bit of news:

China's army has moved 5,000 troops to its side of the Burma border. Why? Because tensions are running high between the Burmese army and the 25,000-soldier United Wa State Army, one of the world's largest insurgent groups. Scared civilians have been scattering in case a war erupts, which apparently the Chinese government also thinks is a possibility. I know, it's just a civil war between a government and rebels and that happens all the time without impacting our lives and certainly not our media, but it makes me ache a little that the world has never heard of the Wa, because their backstory is sooo good. Allow me to plagiarize myself liberally:

The Wa are former headhunters (official open season was March to April) who claim as their ancestors not, like most peoples, gods or majestic sea creatures or rainbows or whatever, but slimy tadpoles and ogres. In colonial times, one European visitor to this mountain-dwelling collection of tribes said that they were so dirty that the only thing that kept them from getting dirtier was that more dirt couldn’t stick to how much dirt was already on their bodies. They were naked. They were pretty much the closest existing things on earth to actual bogeymen, and the British were terrified of them and left them largely alone, as the Wa couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t kill white people who wandered into their territory, their towheads being quite the catch on the headhunting scene. [...] Now the Wa just have the biggest nonstate army in Burma, which they fund by running probably the biggest drug army in the world, a commander of which is wanted by the US government for druglording. So if you want to collect $2 million from the State Department, find out where Wei Hsueh-kang is.

Sometimes another Burma geek and I like to geek out by speculating about what would happen if the United States paid the Wa to take on the Taliban. They're totally natural adversaries, as Burma and Afghanistan have long vied for the title of World's Top Opium Producer, and these groups have a history of controlling big pieces of those countries' respective drug pies. My friend contends that the fight between these powers would rip the universe apart, and then we laugh, in the way that geeks laugh at jokes no one else would think were funny.

Anyway, the United Wa State Army is my pick for ethnic insurgency to watch this year. It's always had a cease-fire with the Burmese government, but its forming alliances with other local insurgencies and getting bigger than its already-huge britches could force serious military action on the part of the junta. Which could force the involvement of China, which is friendly with both the ruling Burmese and the Wa, and is close enough to Wa territory to bear the brunt of any resulting refugee crisis or even stray fire. So maybe the Wa won't remain unknown to the world after all.

 

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