On February 1 this year, the military overthrew the Aung San Suu Kyi-led national government and seized power in Myanmar, reversing more than a decade of democratic reforms. In the last eight months since, Myanmar’s junta has killed at least 1,243 anti-military protesters and detained 9,000 others in the wake of a popular uprising following the military coup. Since independence in 1948, Myanmar’s military with the help of Bamar, has continued to persecute various ethnic groups (Rohingya, Kachin, Karen, Shin, etc.). After the mass movement of 1989 and the Saffron revolution of 2007, this time the military is brutally killing its own Bamar tribes, including other minority ethnic groups. The CRPH (Exiled Legislature) was formed on 5 February 2021 by the NLD’s exiled parliamentarians as resistance and opposition, and later on 16 April, the NLD formed the National Unity Government (NUG) with representatives of various ethnic groups. The military, on the other hand, transformed their State Administrative Council into a “caretaker government”. Now the military and the government of national unity; both sides are continuing their efforts to gain legitimacy. But only time will choose the triumphant.
After nine months since the coup, Myanmar is still far from being stable. Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, is now facing layers of mass resistance: fighting the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) on all sides of Myanmar, with an exception of Rakhine. The earlier nonviolent Civil Disobedient Movement (CDM) was brutally crushed by security forces, only to be replaced by a proliferation of PDFs all over Myanmar. NUG’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) has very recently been able to declare a formal command structure to facilitate coordination between more than 340 PDF militia groups (varying in sizes) and allied EAOs. The ‘shadow government’ has officially declared a “People’s Defensive War” on 8 September. Attacks have intensified since then with bombs exploding at Military Procurement Department, CID office, Military Intelligence Office, Power Supply Authority offices. So far, more than a thousand soldiers have been killed. In addition, about 3,000 members of the military and police defected and joined the PDF. PDFs are mostly active in Western Myanmar whereas EAOs continue their resistance in rugged borderland of the East.
Tatmadaw, on the other hand, has brought out plans for an all-out anti-insurgency operation known as Operation Anawrahta, a military campaign of unprecedented scale. As of early November, the junta’s clearance operation has resulted in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and displacement. Internet and mobile services in different regions are being shut down. Lieutenant General Thanh Hlaing, one of the most brutal military commanders has been appointed to crackdown the PDF in Sagaing, Chin, Mandalay, Magwe states. Since the primary focus of Operation Anawratha is to eradicate PDF resistance from Bamar heartlands of Western Myanmar, on 26 September, the junta declared a five-month unilateral ceasefire with the ethnic armed groups, however, with little to no impact on ground.
Although Kachin, Karen and Shan rebel groups are training PDF soldiers, these influential EAOs are far from being loyal to NUG. The Wa State Army, Myanmar’s largest armed group, is playing a silent role. The Arakan Army of Rakhine, another formidable EAO, is in an unspoken understanding with Tatmadaw, moving ahead with its agenda of expanding control over Rakhine facing little opposition from the military.
Since the coup, the US, UK and EU have imposed sanctions on senior military officials and their family members, as well as military-controlled companies. Multinational companies such as Kirin, Telenor, British American Tobacco, India’s Adani Port and others are withdrawing their businesses. There has also been an impairing cash crunch in banks. According to the World Bank, Myanmar’s economy will shrink by 10 percent by the end of 2021. Asian Development Bank has put the number at 18.4 percent. The junta is now facing a huge dollar crisis as the United States withholds about 1 billion of foreign reserves. NUG demands access to this frozen reserve, claiming itself as the legitimate authority of Myanmar. Myanmar’s currency Kyat has lost 60 percent of its value as 2700 Kyat now equals to one dollar. With new foreign direct investment (FDI) being almost non-existent, unemployment reached at record 50 percent.
Since the coup, the Myanmar issue has become a divisive one in ASEAN. Thailand’ pseudo-democratic government has already addressed Myanmar’s junta chief as ‘Head of Government’. ASEAN countries that are under heavy influence of China, such Cambodia and Laos maintained silence in Myanmar issue. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, on the other hand, openly expressed their dissatisfaction with the junta regime.
A special ASEAN meeting on Myanmar was held on 24 April 2021 which was attended by the junta chief. Since no representative of the pro-democracy CRPH was invited, it led to a de-facto recognition of the coup regime. However, the 5-point resolution adopted in the meeting failed due to non-cooperation of the military. Junta has also denied ASEAN envoy access to Aung San Suu Kyi. As a result, the junta chief was not allowed to attend the latest ASEAN summit in October, a major blow to the military which is facing crisis of legitimacy also at home.
Instead of accepting the junta’s nominee at the 76th UN General Assembly, UN Credentials Committee, based on an understanding reaching between the US and China, has kept NLD-appointee Kyaw Moe Tun as permanent representative to the UN although he was not allowed to speak during Session. The UK is also yet to receive the new ambassador appointed by Junta.
NUG, on the other hand, has established representative offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic, Australia, and South Korea. On October 6, the French Senate unanimously voted to recognize the NUG. If the lower house of the French parliament approves the vote, France will be the first country to formally recognize Myanmar’s shadow government. On October 7, the European Parliament passed a resolution supporting the shadow government and its parliamentary committee as the legitimate representative of Myanmar.
Although China has been persistent in support for the junta, it is also liaising with all parties: both NUG and anti-junta EAOs. At the core of China’s stance is to fend off any effective western or Indian influence on Myanmar.
In return for China’s support and recognition, junta is approving ambitious Chinese infrastructure projects, most of which did not receive go-ahead from NLD government. However, due to its support for junta, anti-China sentiment is at all-time high, leading to arson attacks on Chinese-owned factories, causing a loss of millions of dollars.
Since the path to Kremlin’s heart leads through lucrative arms deals, Myanmar’s junta chief visited Moscow in June and signed a number of military hardware procurement deals. Russia’s support for junta regime is solely based on commercial interests. Although Moscow is not in touch with NUG, it has not addressed Min Aung Hlaing only as the Head of State or Government during his visit.
India has been maintaining a strategic silence when it comes to Myanmar, abstaining from voting in all UN resolutions against Myanmar since the Rohingya genocide. Although India has made some statements apparently favoring the restoration of democracy, it has not taken a stand against the coup or in favor of the NUG. According to watchdog Justice for Myanmar (JFM), Indian arms maker Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) exported a remote-controlled air-defense station to Myanmar in July and continues to trade arms.
Since the coup, more than 8,400 Myanmar refugees crossed over into India, entering northeast Indian states Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur.
Covid-19 and Vaccination
A total of 6 percent of the population has been covered by the military’s immunization program. On the other hand, NUG announced in the last half of August that it would collect 6 million doses of vaccine from the UN Covax program for its own inoculation program. They have already formed the National Health Committee in coordination with the Ethnic Health Organizations. NUG’s finance minister, Tin Tun Naing, announced in late September that US 300 million raised from online lotteries and the Burmese Diaspora fund would be used to secure vaccinations for about 1.1 million civilians living in the occupied area of armed ethnic group.
In the wake of coup, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing made obscure hint that it is willing to continue repatriation talks, possibly in hopes of international recognition. However, as it continues to consolidate power, Hlaing turned the tide in an interview with China-based Phoenix TV on May 20, dismissing any possibility of repatriation. On the other hand, on June 3, in a bid to win global recognition, NUG revealed its policy of granting citizenship to the Rohingyas. Moreover, NUG declared that it would continue to co-operate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to hold Tatmadaw accountable for atrocities against the Rohingyas.
Analysis of possibilities
In terms of troops strength and fire power, the Tatmadaw is in much advantageous position than all PDFs and EAOs combined. However, war is never a number’s game. Access to field intelligence and knowledge of the terrain enables resistance guerillas to conduct hit-and-run operations, damaging Tatmadaw’s foot soldiers’ morale. However, external help and recognition is necessary for the NUG to sustainably continue its resistance. Unless the NUG, through victories of PDFs and EAOs, managed to establish its control over some territory or a permanent base, the chances of getting meaningful external support are quite slim. If the number of defections rises considerably, there is a possibility of coup within the Military, Min Aung Hlaing being replaced by another military regime, as happened in the aftermath of 1988 Uprising.
Lastly, in the hope of strengthening its position within the country as well as gaining recognition from the international arena; the military and the NUG are both adopting their own strategies. Due to the use of violence, the internal situation is currently occupied by the military; the NUG-backed mass resistance forces also seem to have made a bet not to give up. Democracy or dictatorship; which one wins, so it remains to be seen.