Changing tide: On democracy and Myanmar’s civil war

The Tatmadaw has been stretched thin in the civil war in Myanmar

December 01, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 11:21 am IST

There seems to be a rejuvenation in the hopes for a return to democracy in Myanmar if recent events in the civil war are anything to go by. The Tatmadaw (the junta) has never had a bigger challenge until now since its February 2021 coup that ousted the National League for Democracy-led government. The violence now and reverses suffered by the ruling junta point to a new phase in the war. Ever since the launch of coordinated attacks by the Three Brotherhood Alliance (TBA) in late October, the junta has lost scores of bases and is being stretched thin as its forces have to battle opposition militias, especially in rural areas of the country. The junta sought to overcome the protests following the coup with crackdowns besides detaining NLD leaders in its attempt to reverse the changes in Myanmar’s polity since its controlled democratisation in 2010. But this has only led to the NLD and its allies, which formed a National Unity Government (NUG) in exile, creating rebel militias called the Peoples’ Defense Forces, who along with Karen, Kachin, Chin and Karenni ethnic forces took on the junta even as their political representatives engaged in a dialogue platform for Myanmar’s federal and democratic charter.

The groups within the TBA — the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army — besides others had initially retained their ceasefire status with the junta, but have now joined the civil war, weakening the junta’s hold in the northern Shan State and engaging in hostilities in Rakhine State. This, combined with renewed attacks by other NUG allied ethnic armed forces, such as in Chin State neighbouring India, has put the junta in a bind. Most international actors have condemned the coup but have stopped short of outrightly supporting the NUG, except for the European Parliament which has recognised it as the legitimate government of Myanmar. While India has supported democratic reforms, it has cautiously cultivated ties with the junta, as it seeks to counter China’s influence in Myanmar. These ties seem to have played a role in New Delhi’s allowing the junta’s soldiers fleeing the violence in Chin State into Mizoram and facilitating their return through the Moreh border. But with the junta reverting to its tyrannical ways of bombing civilian targets in its efforts to negate the growing resistance even as the NUG has gained greater legitimacy, and heralding better prospects for a truly federal, democratic Myanmar, it is time New Delhi reviewed its ties to the junta.

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