Myanmar’s Ominous Horizon: Navigating Complex Crisis And Current Situation – OpEd


Myanmar, once heralded as a promising nation in Southeast Asia, is presently facing a complex and far-reaching crisis that has profoundly unsettled its military junta. The emergence of the Brotherhood Alliance (BA), a coalition comprising ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), has ushered in a pivotal moment in Myanmar’s recent history. This significant offensive by the BA carries implications that extend beyond the nation’s borders, intertwining neighboring countries into the unfolding conflict.

A comprehensive understanding of the situation necessitates an exploration of the crisis’s background, an examination of the current state of affairs, and an analysis of the contributing factors that are eroding Myanmar’s stability.

Since orchestrating a coup on February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military has initiated a harsh nationwide crackdown on millions opposing its governance. Security forces of the junta have perpetrated widespread atrocities, including mass killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, and sexual violence, amounting to crimes against humanity. Freedom of speech and assembly are severely restricted. Despite attempts at peace dialogues between May 2022 and February 2023, tensions persisted. The recent turning point occurred in October 2023 with the formation of the Brotherhood Alliance (BA), consisting of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Tang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Arakan Army (AA). Their capture of Chin Shwe Haw, a vital Sino-Myanmar trade hub, marks a new and formidable challenge to the military regime.

Current Situation in Myanmar

The Brotherhood Alliance’s (BA) unyielding offensive in Myanmar has led to the capture of vital border towns, trade route blockades, and widespread attacks across the nation. Myanmar’s military junta is grappling with heavy casualties, surrenders, and a loss of control in multiple regions. The toll on civilians is immense, with the UN reporting over 500,000 displaced individuals since October 2023. The junta’s efforts to create divisions between Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) and civilians face resistance, as major city residents continue supporting ethnic armed groups.

Changing Dynamics of Support: Erosion of Traditional Backing

Traditional support from Myanmar’s core Bamars for the military is on a downward trajectory, posing significant challenges to the junta’s strength. Once buoyed by widespread backing, the military now grapples with a diminishing reservoir of support. The reluctance of Bamar youth to enlist further exacerbates the strain on the military, impacting both its resources and capabilities. This shifting dynamic signals a broader societal disillusionment with the military regime, highlighting a need for a recalibration of governance approaches.

Fragmentation among Buddhist Monks: Fractured Loyalties in Religious Circles

Historically aligned with the military, the divisions among Buddhist monks represent a profound loss of unified support. As ordinary people withdraw their backing, the junta’s once-strong societal foundation experiences weakening fractures. The rifts within the monastic community not only reflect a disintegration of previously shared allegiances but also carry implications for the legitimacy of the regime. The waning support from a historically influential group marks a critical challenge to the junta’s authority.

Pro-Democracy Populace Support: Popular Backing for Change

The majority Bamar population’s resolute support for pro-democracy movements, particularly exemplified by the BA Alliance, emerges as a formidable force against the military regime. The involvement of monks in non-violent resistance alongside students signifies a seismic shift in societal alliances. This evolving support base indicates a profound yearning for democratic values and a clear rejection of authoritarian rule. The populace’s commitment to change introduces a crucial dynamic that the military must contend with in navigating the crisis.

International Dynamics: Global Pressures and Economic Impact

The interplay of international dynamics introduces an additional layer to Myanmar’s crisis, where external forces exert influence. Western pressure, in stark contrast to support from China, Russia, and India, creates a diplomatic tug-of-war that intensifies economic challenges. The conflict-induced disruption of cross-border trade compounds the economic decline, impacting both the junta and the general population. Myanmar’s geopolitical significance amplifies the stakes for external actors involved in shaping the outcome, elevating the crisis to an international concern.

Myanmar’s Humanitarian Crisis: Escalating Displacement and War Crimes

One-third of Myanmar’s population, exceeding 18 million people, is in urgent need of humanitarian aid, prompting the United Nations to issue a stark warning. Seeking $1 billion in donations for the coming year, the UN emphasizes the severity of the crisis that has unfolded since the military takeover in February 2021. The displacement of over a million people, both internally and across borders, has given rise to a severe humanitarian crisis, with reports of civilian casualties and war crimes further underscoring the dire situation.

Displaced Populations and Aid Blockades

The conflicts in Myanmar have internally displaced nearly 1 million people since the coup, while an additional 70,000 have fled to neighboring countries. The junta’s blockade of essential humanitarian aid exacerbates the suffering of millions, aligning with its longstanding “four cuts” strategy aimed at isolating and terrorizing civilian populations. This obstruction of aid, particularly in areas of armed conflict, constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law, intensifying the challenges faced by those in need.

Consequences of the “Four Cuts” Policy

The consequences of the junta’s “four cuts” policy are evident in the staggering statistics compiled by the United Nations human rights office. Between February 2021 and April 2023, the military and its affiliates killed at least 3,452 individuals, arrested 21,807 people, and convicted 5,839. The conflict has displaced around 1.5 million people internally, with an additional 75,000 seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Disturbingly, junta troops have burned 70,324 civilian houses by the end of May 2023 in 13 of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions. This data vividly illustrates the devastating impact of the junta’s actions on the civilian population.

Myanmar’s Economic Collapse: A Bleak Outlook and Regional Implications

Myanmar’s economy, battered by ongoing crises, is expected to witness a mere 1% growth by March 2024, according to a report by the World Bank. The rising resistance against the military regime has significantly disrupted the country’s vast border trade, contributing to the economic downturn. The World Bank’s semiannual Myanmar Economic Monitor predicts that gross domestic product growth will remain stagnant at around 2% in the next fiscal year. This assessment reflects the challenges faced by Myanmar’s generals in suppressing opposition and the impact on vital revenue streams, particularly from lucrative border trade.

The conflict has triggered a collapse in Myanmar’s economy, leading to the departure of foreign investors and the closure of land trade at troubled borders. The region’s status as a communication and trade hub is under threat, with repercussions extending to neighboring countries. The inability of Myanmar’s generals to control opposition forces has resulted in the loss of revenue from lucrative border trade, further exacerbating the economic downturn.

The fighting has severely disrupted Myanmar’s trade with neighboring countries across land borders, accounting for 40% of exports and 21% of imports in the six months leading to September 2023, as reported by the World Bank. Key transport routes within Myanmar have been blocked, restricting the movement of people and the flow of goods. This disruption has led to shortages of essential items in local markets, compounding the economic challenges faced by the nation. The region’s status as a communication and trade hub is not only jeopardized by internal conflicts but also affects the broader regional economic landscape.

S. M. Saifee Islam

S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Analyst at the Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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