A New Myanmar Is Emerging

Comments Off on A New Myanmar Is Emerging 97

ASHLEY SOUTH |

ANTI-REGIME forces in Myanmar have made remarkable gains over the past six months, taking control of at least 400 army bases and 50 towns across the country through coordinated attacks.

■ This file photo shows women farm workers tending to a rice plantation outside Naypyidaw | Thet Aung

The State Administrative Council (SAC), as the military regime calls itself, is no longer able to function effectively. Chairman Min Aung Hlaing, meanwhile, is committing the cardinal sin of Asian strongmen — failing the test of performance legitimacy, with the military regime unable to provide many basic services or protection to citizens.

In this context of state collapse, long–standing ethnic armed organisations and a new generation of post–coup People’s Defense Forces are now the country’s most dynamic political and military actors. They will define a new Burma, built from the bottom up.

 

Long–standing ethnic armed organisations and a new generation of post–coup People’s Defense Forces are now the country’s most dynamic political and military actors. They will define a new Burma, built from the bottom up

 

China has been providing significant aid to several of these groups as well as to the SAC to protect its own interests. Now is the time for Western powers to step up ties with and support for resistance forces to prepare for the next stage of Myanmar’s evolution.

Most of the armed groups, though, are less interested in reshaping the fatally damaged union of Myanmar than in assuring self–determination for their own areas.

■ A member of the Karenni Revolutionary Union (KRU) is seen in the back of a pick–up truck in Kayah State, Myanmar | Daphne Wesdorp

Myanmar has never been a proper country. A number of its ethnic groups, including the Arakan, Shan, Karenni and Mon, have their own state histories, which have been suppressed by successive national regimes.

The concept of Myanmar was forced on non–Burman minority peoples by Burman kings in pre–colonial times. The British then kept up the fiction as has the country’s military in the post–independence period.

 

Arakan Army, Kachin Independence Organisation, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Karen National Union, the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force and other armed groups will not be so willing to give up their hard–won achievements on the battlefield

 

The international community legitimised Myanmar’s arbitrary colonial boundaries, despite aspirations to self–determination among ethnic elites. Since then, central government attempts at promoting unity by assimilating the Myanmar’s diverse ethnic communities have only fueled grievances.

Neighbors including China, India and Thailand have long supported Myanmar’s militarised central state, partly out of fear that its collapse could be disruptive, driving population displacement and spreading social ills. In addition, these neighbors have cultivated private economic connections with Myanmar’s military elite.

Ethnic nationalists, who have long rejected Myanmar’s centralised state, in many cases would strongly prefer independence or at least a loose, networked federal union based around the autonomy of ethnic states.

 

As the war grinds on, and climate change kicks in, the reality of Myanmar’s collapse will become increasingly clear. Neighboring countries and global powers may not like it, but Myanmar’s fragmentation, both politically and geographically, is well underway

 

With the resurgence of ethnic armies since the military’s February 2021 takeover, the reality of self–determination cannot be denied. The Arakan Army, Kachin Independence Organisation, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Karen National Union, the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force and other armed groups will not be so willing to give up their hard–won achievements on the battlefield.

Having liberated large amounts of territory from SAC rule, these groups have already achieved provisional independence. Their challenges are how to maintain their de facto autonomy in the face of relentless Myanmar military airstrikes targeting insurgents and civilians alike and how to effectively govern areas that include substantial populations of other ethnic groups.

■ Members of an ethnic armed forces group with an armored vehicle allegedly seized from the Myanmar military in Shan state | AP

There is also a broader challenge. Anti–regime resistance groups are increasingly vital actors in adapting to and mitigating another huge threat to Myanmar’s security: the growing impact of climate change.

Projections indicate that within 10 or 20 years, large parts of central Myanmar will become uninhabitable. Rising temperatures, increased flooding and landslides, and disrupted rainfall patterns will drive the collapse of food security, especially in the lowlands.

Some 12 million people living in dry central Myanmar will have to migrate or face starvation. These factors will further drive the failure of Myanmar as a viable state.

In this context, armed resistance groups and civil society organisations are working with communities to support a range of local adaptation activities. Anti–junta political authorities and civil society actors also have important roles to play in conserving the natural environment.

 

Within 10 or 20 years, large parts of central Myanmar will become uninhabitable. Rising temperatures, increased flooding and landslides, and disrupted rainfall patterns will drive the collapse of food security, especially in the lowlands

 

Forest conservation and reforestation are vital to the mitigation of climate change, as both can help sequester carbon through photosynthesis. Much more could be done with greater international support. Precedents exist in the field of health and education, where ethnic armies provide services to millions of civilians in conflict zones.

As the war grinds on, and climate change kicks in, the reality of Myanmar’s collapse will become increasingly clear. Neighboring countries and global powers may not like it, but Myanmar’s fragmentation, both politically and geographically, is well underway.

Prospects for putting the country back together again are vanishingly small. Rather, the challenge is to identify local power holders who can cooperate with neighboring countries and the international community to provide services and inclusive governance in their emergent micro–states. Post–Myanmar polities are likely to include majority Bamar–populated areas such as the Sagaing and Magwe regions, which are currently at the forefront of the struggle against the SAC.

 

China, India and Thailand have long supported Myanmar’s militarised central state, partly out of fear that its collapse could be disruptive, driving population displacement and spreading social ills. In addition, these neighbors have cultivated private economic connections with Myanmar’s military elite

 

Diplomats and donors need to stop living in the past. The recognition of the new reality may be uncomfortable, but also can point to geopolitical opportunities.

As Myanmar disintegrates, and the world descends into climate chaos in the coming decades, anti–regime forces could be key allies for regional and global powers. By providing protection and basic services to civilian communities, they could help limit the impact of armed conflict and curb attendant instability in the border areas of neighboring countries.

An essential step for external actors is to recognise and support the crucial role of ethnic armies and new state–based governance administrations. This should include military assistance to anti–SAC forces, including much–needed ground–to–air defensive systems.

Failure to provide such aid will only prolong the agony of a dying country and a doomed military regime. Better to support the emergence of a new and networked federal democracy in what was once Myanmar. ■

LOOKEASTis not responsible for the opinions, facts or any media content presented by contributors. We are reproducing an AsiaNikkei reportage.

Similar articles