By Mikael Gravers*
18 months after the Tatmadaw seized power, General Min Aung Hlaing and the junta are not inclined to negotiate with the National Unity Government (NUG) and the resistance he describes as ‘terrorists’. ASEAN’s five-point peace plan for the country is a failure and China merely worries about its investments in support of the regime. While the generals use visits from envoys from the UN and ASEAN to legitimise their regime, the NUG and the resistance are similarly unwilling to negotiate.
The question is whether or not ASEAN and the other neighbouring states can afford to allow Myanmar to descend into total social and humanitarian chaos. It is critical for these states to recognise the NUG and help the resistance.
The military misjudged the civilian resistance at the start of the conflict. The Tatmadaw’s decade-long indoctrination in the nationalist ideology of preventing national disintegration, protecting Buddhism and stopping foreign influence has blinded the generals. Their self-identified historical role as the guardians of unity and sovereignty means that they view civil society as the enemy.
According to the NUG, the resistance now controls 50 per cent of Myanmar. The military has suffered an estimated 10,000 casualties and material losses. The call for veterans, members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party and the wives of soldiers to undergo military training shows that recruitment is very difficult for the Tatmadaw.
The military relies on air strikes to combat the resistance, while an estimated 8000 soldiers and police have defected. But despite defections, there are no signs of internal cracks in the corporate unity of the military. Min Aung Hlaing is replacing regional commanders, but he seems in control of the main ranks after placing loyal officers in key positions.
Another major problem for the military is the economic crisis. Fuel scarcity has pushed prices up and inhibited production, increasing food prices. Strict military control of foreign currency has further deepened the crisis.
While the resistance is widespread and has achieved some success, the People’s Defence Force (PDF) — the military wing of the NUG — lacks weapons, training, coordination and leadership. The Karen National Union supports local PDF groups and has engaged the military in several battles. The Chin National Front, Kachin, Karenni and Arakan armies are also active in resisting military rule.
Min Aung Hlaing invited ethnic armed groups to peace talks in June 2022. Seven ceasefire groups and three non-ceasefire groups attended the talks. Keeping these armed groups from re-entering the struggle is crucial for the junta to maintain power. Min Aung Hlaing even invited them to join the military’s Border Guard Forces.
The NUG includes lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic representatives, most of them in exile. The NUG is supported by the Karen, Karenni, Kachin and Chin ethnic groups, yet it still struggles to gain international recognition and the material support needed to eliminate military rule.
The NUG’s Federal Democracy Charter asserts that Myanmar’s states should own land and natural resources. It also claims that the police and army should be under the control of state civilian governments. The NUG believes that all citizens who swear allegiance to the nation, regardless of their ethnicity, should have the right to full citizenship — a clear departure from the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law. It also argues for the separation of religion and politics. But many NLD members from the majority Bamar ethnic group may not fully endorse the Charter.
It is unclear whether the resistance can continue without more international support and recognition amid an escalating economic and humanitarian crisis. The military still gets supplies from Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin has welcomed Min Aung Hlaing as Myanmar’s leader by inviting him to Russia and meeting him at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum. The military is used to surviving sanctions and diplomatic isolation — a situation that merely confirms their nationalist ideology so long as they still get military supplies from patrons like Russia.
The military continues to engage in brutality against civilians, including torture, executions, looting and the cruel treatment of former state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and others. Stopping the killing of civilians, including many schoolchildren, is crucial before any negotiations begin. Violence and mistrust are major obstacles to any peace agreement.
There is a high level of resentment and fear among the military and their supporters created by the assassination of state administrators and informers, as well as bomb attacks on police posts and offices. The generals enjoy the support of nationalist senior monks, including Sitagu Sayadaw, as well as businesspeople and renegade politicians. The military will defend their power to sustain their self-proclaimed ‘guardianship’ of Myanmar and Buddhism, remaining unaccountable for their atrocities. In their view, the NLD and NUG are responsible for the ‘disintegration’ of national unity.
After discovering that the Constitution did not secure his military power, Min Aung Hlaing launched a coup that produced more violence through which the military could reaffirm its national role. While the military fights to survive, the NUG aims to eliminate the regime. That makes international support for the resistance crucial to pressure the military into negotiations.
*About the author: Mikael Gravers is Associate Professor Emeritus at the School of Culture and Society in the Department of Anthropology, Aarhus University.
Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum