Myanmar is a country that has been historically riddled with conflict. Myanmar gained independence from the British regime in 1948. In 1962, A military coup was staged by General U Ne Win transferring control in the hands of the military. From 1962 to 2011 the military force ruled Myanmar after which they installed a transitional government. On February 2021, the Tatmadaw (military), staged a coup and reclaimed control over Myanmar.
Myanmar has been in a state of unrest since the onset of the coup. As per the advocacy group The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the security forces have killed at least 759 protesters while more than 4,500 people have been detained for opposing the coup. Additionally, the military detained many including Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint, cabinet ministers, chief ministers of several regions, opposition politicians, writers and activists. Amenities such as internet access and telephone connections were suspended in major cities. The stock market and commercial banks were closed, and a year-long emergency was declared. According to the UN, ‘the political fallout from the military coup in Myanmar and the coronavirus pandemic threatens to push half of the country’s population into poverty by next year’.
Furthermore, with the military generals back in power now, the surveillance of areas with internally displaced ethnic minorities like Rakhine, Kachin and Shan will increase. The ethnic conflicts in Burma has also been very prominent. The majority ethnic Burmans, known as the Bamar, are fairly favored by the military but many ethnic minority groups, on the other hand, have faced systemic discrimination. Tatmadaw’s abuses against these civilians include extrajudicial killings, forced labor, rape, torture, and the use of child soldiers. Nearly one million people are believed to have fled abroad and hundreds of thousands are displaced internally. Most of these refugees in recent years have been Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority that has faced decades of repression. Since the army is primarily responsible for the genocide committed against the Rohingyas, negotiations with them to provide aid to ethnic minorities seems to be practically impossible. It is expected that there will be increased military involvement in decision making and travel authorization will not be provided. Hence, two international non-profits including the Danish Refugee Council and International Rescue Committee have withdrawn relief operations for the time being. Local NGOs will have to have a more hands-on approach as international organizations acclimatize themselves to the new realities and align logistical operations according to the new oppressive regime.
The coup triggered a series of protests in the country and from ‘blood paint’ strikes, to the use of the Hunger Games salute as a show of defiance, citizens of Myanmar have resorted to novel protest methods that have helped them capture international attention in a way that only a few other domestic conflicts around the world have been able to. Moreover, the clever manner in which women have leveraged their femininity against the superstitious Tatmadaw soldiers by hanging their clothing in the streets is a form of feminist protest that has never been seen before.
With the state of lawlessness prevailing, it has become necessary for global players to step up and provide humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar and save them from the tyranny of the military junta. ASEAN countries have planned to mobilize aid as a relief to the people of Myanmar. However, one of the major problems faced in the proper disbursement of aid is the on-ground travel restrictions imposed by the junta and difficulties arising out of COVID.
The Biden administration, in coordination with the European Union, announced sanctions in late March naming the military officials and other entities in Myanmar for their violence against democracy advocates. Furthermore, US has redirected more than $40 million of aid from the Myanmar government to civil society and added two conglomerates and Myanmar ministers if defense ad home affairs to a trade blacklist. The international community has sought to pile pressure on the military by hitting its business interests with Britain announcing sanctions on the Myanmar Economic Corporation, a conglomerate run by the military.
On the one hand we see condemnation of the recent happenings in Myanmar by international leaders and institutions but on the other, the neighboring countries have either remained silent or adopted a neutral stance. China’s reaction to the coup has been cautious and weighted, having cultivated cordial relations with both Aung San Suu Kyi and the military hierarchy that detained her. Similarly, India has been and will continue to be cautious about over criticizing the military regime owing to its deepening security relationship with the Tatmadaw and their cooperation in counterinsurgency and border management along the troubled north-eastern border. India will most likely have a pragmatic approach towards it relationship with Myanmar irrespective of whether there is a civilian or military regime in power. Although India has been an advocate of the process of democratization it has worked with the military regime, peacefully. In light of the ongoing tensions with China and the Sino-Indian strategic competition in South Asian, India will be concerned with the potential diplomatic isolation of Myanmar working in favor of China.
Apart from gaining popularity on social media through hashtags such as #MilkTeaAlliance, the protests seem to have failed to garner strong political and economic responses from foreign leaders. Due to the exceptional international political environment in which this coup is taking place, it seems increasingly unlikely that any external forces – especially those of the US and China – will intervene in the conflict. Apart from some mild but targeted sanctions from the West and empty words of support from the UN Security Council, it doesn’t seem the international community will be able to significantly influence what has become an existential issue for the military forces in Myanmar. Thus, as a result of the unprecedented times in which this unprecedented conflict is taking place, it is safe to conclude that the future of Myanmar lies only in the hands of its people.
This article is written by the International relations and law cluster comprising Vanshika Shah, Deepanshu Singal, Diya Narag, Amisha Singh and Sagara Ann Johny.