The Myanmar military seized power in a coup by toppling democratically elected government in February 1, 2021. In 2020 election, National League for Democracy had a landslide victory and was preparing to lead the democratic government for the second time in Myanmar’s recent history. People spontaneously came out to protest against military takeover. Myanmar military tried to use lethal force to disburse the protesters but failed to control the agitation of the people’s movement. Myanmar is currently in a state of civil war and the army is desperate to control the conflict and has increased the level of torture and oppression on the people. They are now committing human rights violations including killing and torturing civilians. For more than a year military government is trying their best to control the conflict but failed to do so. Western countries are continuously creating pressure to Myanmar’s military to end the ongoing civil war.
The Myanmar military is no longer dominant within the country. Common people and political parties want to be freed from the shackles of military rule. The political parties have formed the Government of National Unity (NUG). The NUG appealed to the international community to support them and many countries responded. Foreign ministers of ASEAN and Malaysia have already met their delegation publicly.
After taking over the power military government began crackdown on pro-democracy activists, as a result many of them took refuge in remote areas of the country. There they receive support and military training from ethnic armed groups. Around 100 new armed groups have emerged in Myanmar since the coup, and most of them are based in remote areas.
The NUG formed the People’s Defense Force – PDF by mobilizing pro-democracy activists across the country. The PDF is now fighting the army along with other ethnic armed groups. They put up strong resistance against the military regime and the local administration in the towns, cities and villages of central Myanmar. By October 2021, PDF has established itself in all urban areas of the country. In this unrest, eleven ethnic groups of Myanmar, such as the Arakan, Kachin, Karen, Shan and Wa forces, which have long been fighting with Myanmar government for autonomy, started a new struggle in their areas to increase their dominance and control. PDF fighters are gaining combat experience by joining with them and fighting against the military forces.
The army that ousted the democratic government and seized state power was not well received by ordinary Myanmar citizens. During the anti-junta protests, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people were killed and the persecution of them is still going on. The scars of torture and looting carried out by Myanmar army are still embedded in the minds of the common people and there are rebellions and protests scattered in different parts of the country. The rebels are fighting against the army with the help of common people.
At present, the support of the citizens of the country for the Myanmar army is almost non-existent. This is why no one is interested in joining the army. Once upon a time being a member of the army was considered a matter of pride by the young society and through this they used to show their patriotism. With the passage of time that passion has now bottomed out. The application deadline has also been extended twice after a nationwide media campaign for new Army recruitment even though very few applications received.
During the 2021 military coup, many military officers and soldiers voluntarily quit the army. For that army is suffering from manpower shortage. About 20,000 soldiers have been killed and about 7,000 seriously injured in ongoing clashes with rebel groups. As a result, there is an urgent need to recruit soldiers in the army. The youth of the country is not interested in joining the army, which was seen earlier among the youth.
Since the 2021 coup d’état, the military junta has been dealing with various challenges. They have to keep busy dealing with opposition from political parties as well as insurgency by armed groups. More than a year and a half after the coup, the army has failed to establish absolute control over the country. In addition to ongoing clashes in various parts of the country after the coup, there are massive clashes with the army in Magway and Sagaing regions in the central part of the country. These areas are mostly inhabited by the mainstream Bamar community. The Bamars, the main ethnic group of the country, have so far not taken up arms against the army. Now they are also involved in fighting with the army.
The army has been using massive force to suppress the opposition since the coup. The military junta has to fight with multiple forces in some parts of the country. Government forces are deployed on multiple fronts across Myanmar and are battling armed groups there.
Fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) has intensified in recent times. The Arakan Army has captured several military bases and taken control of strategic transport routes.
The Arakan Army has claimed that hundreds of soldiers have surrendered to the AA in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine and southern Chin states. Apparent peace has reigned in Rakhine and Paletwa for nearly 16 months following an undeclared ceasefire that began ahead of November 2020 general elections. In May 2022, isolated clashes broke out in Paletwa and in August, the conflict spread to the Indo-Myanmar border.
At that time, the conflict also started in Maungdaw area near Bangladesh-Myanmar border. In the wake of this conflict, the government is continuously increasing the deployment of troops, as a result of which the intensity of the fighting will increase in the coming days. Members of Myanmar’s top seven armed ethnic groups meet in Pangsang, Wa state, amid rising violence. These groups are believed to have around 30,000 members. The main goal of the meeting will be to increase unity among them.
Currently, the Myanmar army is fighting to establish control over northern Rakhine, Chin, Shan and Kachin states. They have entered many towns with the help of heavy weapons and tanks, burning several villages there and raiding from village to village. The use of heavy weapons by the military on the general public indicates a major change in the strategy of the military government.
Recently there have also been clashes in areas inhabited by the majority Bamar ethnic group, who make up the largest number of soldiers in Myanmar’s military. As rebel activities started among them, it is understood that their attitude towards the military government has also changed. The Myanmar army has started using tanks, heavy weapons as well as warplanes to quell the insurgency in different parts of the country. Now Myanmar’s military is simultaneously fighting separatist groups in various border provinces, as well as clashing with pro-democracy PDF forces in various interior provinces.
As the Myanmar army is forced to spread across the country to prevent this multi-pronged armed movement, they are not able to handle it properly anywhere. The morale of the soldiers and within the army is not what it used to be, many soldiers are deserting the army.
Number of junior officers and soldiers in particular are leaving the army and joining the PDF directly or fleeing. With the collapse of government rule in many areas, Ethnic forces and the PDF are taking control of more areas and increasing their connections and capabilities.
The military entered Burmese politics shortly after independence from British rule in 1948. Within a short period of time, a civil war broke out between ethnic groups in the country with the majority Bamars. At that time, in the absence of strong political institutions, the military forces established their dominance in the political arena in the name of the integrity and security of the country.
Currently their dominance is being challenged. Myanmar’s economy has suffered due to various factors, including international sanctions, and inflation and unemployment have increased. All in all, Myanmar’s economy is not doing well. China, Singapore, Japan and India have investments in Myanmar and trade relations with some friendly countries allow them to ignore these pressures.
As the military’s conflict with the PDF and ethnic armed groups escalates, they will face more organized resistance in the future, causing casualties, increasing encounters, and negatively impacting the peace process and stability. Clashes near the Bangladesh border will also go against the Myanmar army. All in all, the absolute authority and dominance of the Myanmar military is now being challenged. Their main goal should now be to move forward with the people, avoiding conflict and conflict for the security, stability and development of Myanmar and the region.
– Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, ndc, afwc, psc, MPhil, Researcher on Myanmar, Rohingya and ASEAN affairs (CBGA).
Published in eurasia review [Link]