Is Myanmar Teetering On The Verge Of Another Disaster? – OpEd


Myanmar’s military junta is confronting its most formidable challenge since seizing power three years ago. A coalition of ethnic militias and anti-coup groups has disrupted vital trade routes and captured strategic territories and towns. These incursions into former military strongholds mark a historic shift in power dynamics, with resistance forces now commanding control over almost half the country – an achievement unprecedented in Myanmar’s tumultuous history. The junta’s predicament reflects the aggravating complexity of Myanmar’s political landscape, characterized by deep-seated ethnic divisions and a populace weary of military rule.

Data from the Institute for Strategy and Policy – Myanmar reveals a distressing reality. Conflict has engulfed 221 townships in three years, with 141 teetering on the brink of insecurity. Opposition forces have seized at least 35 towns, underscoring the military’s failure to maintain control. This prolonged state of unrest not only exposes the regime’s inability to restore stability but also highlights the resilience of opposition forces. China brokered peace talks between the Tatmadaw and the Brotherhood Alliance on January 10-11, 2024 – resulting in atemporary ceasefire in northern Myanmar. However, the Arakan Army (AA) continued its clashes with the Tatmadaw in Rakhine State, where it now controls several towns. This success has emboldened other opposition groups, including ethnic resistance organizations (EROs) and the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs), which collectively seized at least 35 towns. 

The Brotherhood Alliance’s triumph signals a new phase for Myanmar’s resistance movement. Despite the Tatmadaw’s extension of the state of emergency, the National Unity Government (NUG) and three EROs — the Chin National Front (CNF), the Karenni National Progress Party, and the Karen National Union — issued a joint statement advocating for the eradication of military rule and the establishment of a federal democratic union. The diverse array of resistance groups, each with its own agenda, presents inordinately complex  challenges. At the moment, the equilibrium of power is teetering on the edge of upheaval as the military junta faces increasing pressure from insurgent factions such as the People’s Defense Force (PDF).

The wavering loyalty of senior military figures, evidenced by defections, signals cracks in the junta’s authority under Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. Yet, the looming threat of another coup unleashes a chilling uncertainty. The prospect of a new leader emerging from the chaos raises fears of heightened brutality, eclipsing the current regime’s repression. Myanmar stands at a crossroads, where each shift in power carries profound implications for its people and the region. As the crisis deepens, the international community must reckon with the possibility of further bloodshed and human suffering in this troubled nation. In the past three years, and notably in recent months, resistance movements have achieved remarkable military successes, securing sizable territories and defying expectations. 

Amidst a year marked by turmoil, Myanmar’s people have shown extraordinary resilience. Despite escalating violence and egregious human rights violations by the military, their calls for democracy persist undeterred. The emergence of the People’s Defense Force, comprising civilians and dissident military members, adds complexity to the junta’s grip on power.

Each day sees the regime more isolated and defensive. The looming specter of another military coup in Myanmar demands immediate attention. With insurgent forces gaining ground and internal dissent brewing within the junta, the risk of disaffected military officers seizing power is palpable. ASEAN, as a key player, must confront this crisis head-on. Reaffirming its commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law is paramount. ASEAN’s credibility rests on its ability to uphold these principles amidst adversity. ASEAN’s first priority should be reiterating its dedication to democratic principles and condemning any military attempts to undermine civilian governance.

Diplomatic efforts must also be intensified, facilitating dialogue between the junta, civilian opposition and other stakeholders. Despite dim prospects, sustained diplomatic pressure and incentives for cooperation may yield positive outcomes.

In late April, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin proposed a peace plan involving multiple ASEAN member countries to address Myanmar’s crisis. The plan seeks to engage with Myanmar’s military junta to bring peace to the conflict-ridden nation. The ASEAN Troika, comprising past, present, and future chair countries (Indonesia, Laos, and Malaysia), alongside other concerned ASEAN members, is expected to convene meetings to tackle the crisis. Thailand, in coordination with Laos, the current ASEAN chair, is spearheading efforts to host these crucial discussions.

With Myanmar’s junta weakening, Srettha’s government has been  rightly advocating for pragmatic approaches to mitigate the humanitarian crisis gradually and engage with the Junta as well as all the stakeholders in Myanmar. In addition to finding a political solution, ASEAN must be ready to provide humanitarian aid to alleviate civilian suffering, including food, shelter, and medical supplies. Member states should offer refuge to those fleeing persecution, showing solidarity in times of adversity. In facing Myanmar’s crisis, ASEAN’s credibility as a regional arbiter hinges on upholding fundamental values and delivering tangible assistance to those in need. The international community, with ASEAN at its helm, must act swiftly to prevent further bloodshed and alleviate the plight of Myanmar’s people.

Dr. Imran Khalid

Dr. Imran Khalid is a geostrategic analyst and columnist on international affairs. He has been regularly contributing to some of the most prestigious publications in the region including the South China Morning Post, the TRT World, The Asia Times (Hong Kong), the Daily Sabah (Turkiye), Mail & Guardian (South Africa), The Jakarta Post, AJU Business Daily (South Korea), The Geopolitics, the Bangkok Post, The Nation (Thailand), the Brussels Morning (Belgium) and the Manila Times etc.

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