Myanmar: Mandatory Conscription Signals Junta’s Desperation – OpEd


By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

Myanmar, once a nation brimming with hope for democracy, finds itself mired in the throes of conflict, despair and authoritarian rule. This month’s announcement that a 2010 law for mandatory conscription into the nation’s military will now be enforced stands as a stark testament to the desperation of the junta in the face of mounting rebellion.

As rebels seize territory and challenge the regime’s grip on power, it is becoming increasingly evident that it is teetering on the brink of defeat.

The decision to enforce mandatory conscription underscores the military government’s acknowledgment of its dwindling control over the country. As rebels capture swaths of territory and challenge military strongholds, the regime is resorting to drastic measures in an effort to shore up its ranks. Conscription reflects not strength but rather the regime’s profound weakness and inability to quell the rising tide of dissent.

According to the 2010 law, which had not been enforced until now, men between the ages of 18 and 35 and women between the ages of 18 and 27 are required to serve in the military for up to two years. Specialists, such as doctors, up to the age of 45 must serve for three years. State media announced on Saturday that the period of service can be extended to a maximum of five years during the ongoing state of emergency.

For years, the military in Myanmar has wielded unchecked power, suppressed voices of opposition and perpetuated a culture of fear and repression. However, the resilience of the nation’s people and their unwavering commitment to democracy have shattered the illusion of invincibility that once surrounded the junta. As protests have erupted across the country and rebel forces have gained ground, the regime’s stranglehold on power has begun to unravel.

Since the end of October, against all odds, ethnic armies and pro-democracy fighters have successfully captured more than 400 Burmese army bases and about 30 towns. The junta is facing an unprecedented threat. On Jan. 31, the eve of the third anniversary of the coup d’etat in which the military seized power, the regime further extended the state of emergency for another six months.

The success of the rebels has accelerated as ethnic armed organizations advocating for autonomy along Myanmar’s borders have joined forces with anti-coup factions in a conflict that has escalated to levels unprecedented in the country’s history.

The resistance forces are united not only in opposition to a shared adversary but by a collective aspiration to dismantle the military-controlled political structure and establish a federal democracy that respects the rights of its ethnic minorities to self-determination.

The specter of defeat now looms large over the junta, casting a shadow of uncertainty over Myanmar’s future. With each passing day, the rebels grow stronger, emboldened by the support of ordinary citizens and fueled by a collective desire for freedom and justice. Meanwhile, the military finds itself increasingly isolated, clinging to power through sheer force and intimidation.

Even the military-installed president, Myint Swe, a former general, has sounded the alarm, warning of the country’s perilous descent into chaos and disintegration. His dire pronouncements serve as a sobering reminder of the junta’s precarious position and the existential threat posed to it by the burgeoning rebellion.

As the conflict escalates and any prospect of reconciliation fades, Myanmar stands on a precipice, teetering between the forces of tyranny and the promise of democracy.

The failure of the regime to address the root causes of unrest and inequality has only exacerbated the crisis, pushing Myanmar to the brink of civil war. The imposition of mandatory conscription is not a solution but rather a desperate attempt to cling to power in the face of overwhelming opposition. By compelling young people to take up arms against their fellow citizens, the junta is sowing the seeds of further discord and division, deepening the fissures that threaten to tear Myanmar apart.

In the face of mounting repression and violence, the international community must stand in solidarity with the nation’s people, offering support and assistance as they strive to reclaim their democratic rights.

Targeted sanctions and diplomatic pressure can help to further isolate the junta and compel it to heed the demands of the people. Moreover, efforts to mediate a peaceful resolution to the conflict must be redoubled, with a focus on fostering dialogue and reconciliation among all parties.

Ultimately, the fate of Myanmar rests in the hands of its people, who have shown remarkable courage and resilience in the face of adversity. As they continue to defy the forces of tyranny and oppression, they offer a beacon of hope for a brighter, more democratic future.

The road ahead is fraught with uncertainty and peril but the spirit of freedom and justice that animates the people of the country cannot be extinguished. In their struggle for democracy, they inspire us all to stand up and speak out against injustice, wherever it may arise.

As the junta struggles to reclaim lost territory and maintain its grip on power, it risks plunging Myanmar deeper into turmoil and chaos. The international community must stand in solidarity with the people of the country as they strive to realize their aspirations for democracy and human rights.

The time for action is now, before it is too late.

  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the director of special initiatives at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington, D.C. X: @AzeemIbrahim

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