The world is witnessing what might be the final countdown in Myanmar’s Spring Revolution. The once-perceived supremacy of the military (a.k.a Sit-Tat) and its decades-long dominance in Myanmar’s political arena now appears destined for a garbage heap of a history. The cascading effect of the stunning success of the Brotherhood Alliance’s Operation 1027, and the nationwide, coordinated, military operations of the democratic forces, looks to spell the end of the military junta.
To date, democratic forces have overrun 200 military posts and seized a dozen towns in northern Shan State, Karenni State, Chin State, Kachin State, and the Sagaing region. The junta is increasingly losing control of overland trade routes with India, China, and Thailand.
This underscores the incompetence of the military leadership, which is corrupt and inexperienced. The once “mighty” Sit-Tat, is experiencing plummeting morale and unprecedented defections. At least 3 light infantry battalions have surrendered since late October.
Operation 1027 is an encouraging demonstration of a one-year plan strategized by the freedom forces. It is crucial to remind ourselves that the main opposing forces in Myanmar’s crisis are represented by justice versus injustice, and the oppressive dictators versus the oppressed people. The main driving force behind this movement is the resilience of the people. The key to victory is building and maintaining a unified front across the political and military fronts.
While there have been numerous articles covering recent battleground dynamics and postulating about key players, most treat the NUG as only reacting to the offensives of the Three brotherhood Alliance and other ethnic resistance organizations.
Such analysis fails to fully understand the complexity of the movement. Constructive criticism is part of free speech, but we must be careful not to let unhelpful criticism destroy our movement from within.
Myanmar has a long, troubled history of ethnic conflict going back centuries. The country was further fractured by colonial divide-and-conquer strategies. After gaining independence, Myanmar was seized and exploited by an oppressive military dictatorship that utilized civil war to pit Bamar against ethnic groups; and ethnic groups against each other. This violence resulted in death, destruction and widespread poverty. A glimpse of hope for freedom and prosperity was tasted for a decade in 2011 but was dashed by the coup attempt led by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on February 1, 2021.
The coup was met with strong resistance by widespread, peaceful demonstrations and the Civil Disobedient Movement (CDM). The brutal crackdown by the military led to the formation of armed resistance: Local Defense Forces (LDF) and People Defense Forces (PDF). The 298 elected parliamentarians who escaped arrest held a virtual, emergency session. They formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH).1 The National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), a national assembly consisting of CRPH representatives, ethnic groups, political parties, CDM activists, and CSOs, was established under the Federal Democratic Charter (FDC) and later appointed the National Unity Government (NUG)
While these groups are not without fault, they enjoy popular legitimacy and are the glue that holds an alliance of the CDM, the ethnic revolutionary organizations (EROs), and nearly 500 PDFs and LDFs.
Bringing together previously opposing ethnic groups into one unified front with aligned political objectives led to the birth of the Spring Revolution. The NUG led the revolution on diplomatic and economic fronts and organized administrative offices in liberated areas. The NUG played a critical role in mobilizing the LDF and PDF units in coordination with EROs. The EROs trained the PDF, transforming them into formidable fighting forces, organized under the NUG’s Ministry of Defense. Three military regions under Central Command and Coordination Committee (C3C), Joint Command and Coordination (J2C) were formed to coordinate military operations with ERO leadership.2
In the spirit of cooperation, EROs took the lead on military fronts while the NUG led diplomatic efforts, fundraising, technical support, as well as health/education services. This strong political and military alliance has isolated the junta internationally and domestically. The economic war led by the NUG, included the boycott of military owned and affiliated companies and services, and encouraged targeted sanctions which are squeezing the generals’ deep pockets and depriving them of war material.
While the free world sympathized with the revolution, they could do more. The targeted but tardy sanctions would be more effective if applied like a blanket over companies such as Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB), Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank (MICB) and Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).3,4 Unfortunately, they were not imposed earlier as in immediately following the coup—this would have limited the junta’s ability to procure weapons. ASEAN has been beating a dead horse “Five Points Consensus” instead of taking appropriate, timely action against the illegal coup and delivering humanitarian assistance to conflict affected zones. The junta benefited from countries like India and Thailand, whose foreign policies have been built on a blind faith in the military’s perpetual dominance. The Sit-Tat has continued to receive advanced weapon systems from Russia and China.
Despite all odds, the revolution has turned the tide thanks to coordinated efforts by the EROs, NUG, LDF, and PDF. Victory is on the horizon. But the challenges of the revolution are still many.
Internationally, the NUG must convince sympathetic countries that there is a winning strategy and a clear end game: the elimination of the dictatorship and formation of a true democratic federal union representing and including all ethnic groups with equal opportunity. China must be convinced that only a civilian government can be a trusted partner for co-existence for peace and prosperity. The NUG must seek assistance from the free world for humanitarian aid and for setting up a banking system to govern more effectively.
While some people express fear that if the military is defeated, Myanmar will become a failed state. This is wrong. The NUG, CRPH, NUCC remain committed to the establishment of a genuine federal democracy; the only thing that will bring a lasting peace to a country that has been at war with itself since 1948. Some countries will push for a negotiated settlement, for the Sit-Tat to save face. There will be no negotiation unless the military accepts civilian oversight and surrenders its involvement in politics.
Domestically, the century-long rivalry among the ethnic groups must be set aside and the mentality of Bamar dominance must be neutralized in the spirit of unity. The PDF units must be organized under a chain of command with professional standards that continues to abide by the Geneva Convention. Although there was quiet diplomacy in negotiation between EROs, public statements about the progress of this process are necessary. Post-revolution reconstruction plans should include overhauling the corrupted armed forces. Transparency and effective communication are vital to earn the trust of the people. Last, but not least, leadership must be from the front, not from behind, for the victory of the Spring Revolution