COMPREHENSIVE STUDY OF CONFLICT SITUATION IN MYANMAR
PhD (Intl Law)
The age of global trade systems and interconnectivity and the dependence of a nation on other nations for its growth and international stature has underlined the fact that the impact of internal conflict of a country is no longer confined to its territorial limits. Conflicts situations have territorial and extra territorial consequences: immediate impact upon the neighbouring countries and indirect import upon the entire region in which the country geographically exists. The conflict situation in some nations have also influenced geo politics to the extent that the world community has seen it necessary not only to be concerned and search for methods to counter or reduce the conflict situations and if possible diffuse them; also should such need arise , with international consensus, censure the ruling establishment of the country. Although the South Asia region has several countries caught in the vortex of conflict, perhaps none faces more complex challenges than Myanmar .Undeniably, Myanmar is a nation fraught with multi layered conflicts which has resulted in instability, reflected not only within its own territory but the consequences of which have deep resonance in its neighbouring countries and the entire region of South Asia.
Consequences of the long lasting internal conflict in Myanmar were examined at a Seminar in Singapore conducted by the Centre for Security Analysis on 26 and 27 May, 2010. The papers presented and the discussions amongst the informed participants highlighted a range of consequences of the conflict which are not widely known. This volume includes the papers and the ensuing discussions for the use of scholars and policy makers.
The conflict in Myanmar which is complex and multi layered has been variously seen as (a) a conflict between the Tatmadaw and the pro democracy forces, (b) a conflict between ethnic minorities and the ruling military junta of ethnic Burmese, (c) a conflict between the ceasefire groups and other ethnic armies. However, these divisions do not take into account the innumerable related issues that have made the conflict situation more complex and created deep distrust for the ruling establishment among its people. The internal conflict in Myanmar has its historical inception from the time the country freed itself from its colonial shackles. Each successive change in the ruling establishment has pushed it further and further into a deep chasm where ethnic rebels, insurgents and drug lords thrive and by their actions have drained it economically.
In recounting the gradual progression of the conflicts and their eventual crystallization in present form Dr Tin Maung Maung Than underlines two elements that have influenced the policies of the Tatmadaw (the Royal Force). The Tatmadaw sees the military rulers as the sole guardian of Burmese interest and has identified the military’s interest as the core national interest thereby justifying its existence and its policies. Therefore, the military response is seen as the legitimate and sole response to contain the internal threats of Myanmar and to deal with possible external ones. This is apparent not only in the state centric policies of the junta but also in the consequent expansion of the military forces, the acquisition of sophisticated weaponry and the constant modernization and reorganization of its defence capabilities. According to the paper, the newer challenges that the military junta may have to face are those that are the fallout of resource exploitation due to the partial opening up of the economy and the increasing demand for a role in policy making by the ethnic minorities. The elections conducted in Nov 2010 did not hold much hope in this context as it did not intend to address the core issues of ethnicity . In its dealing with the internal conflicts and possible external threats the question arises whether the Tatmadaw will pursue the policy it has followed for years and Dr. Than’s conclusion is that it will have to adopt a new paradigm in view of the fact that its military prowess has not been able to crush the armed insurgent groups. He also holds the view that the elected civilianized executive will have to face the challenge of placating the military that has remained unchallenged so long.
Consequences of the internal conflict situation in Myanmar extends beyond its borders. The internal conflicts and their transnational consequences form the crux of Kerstin Duell’s paper. The paper explains that the conflict is not just amongst the various parties pitted against the military junta but also against each other. The conflict in Myanmar has also been identified as a conflict between democratic rights and governance as well as between ethnic rights and self determination. The conflicts are further complicated because of the deadlock that has formed between the ruling military junta and the various groups. The chronology of events leading to the current status clarifies that Myanmar has three overwhelming problems which have internal and external consequences, and several serious issues that stem from those problems. The three main problems are : the prevalent ethnic disunity , economic underdevelopment and the production and distribution of drugs and narcotics .The other issues that are detrimental to the peace and growth in Myanmar are lack of governance in some areas , lack of human security, poor public health and thriving illicit border trade in drugs and humans leading to the establishment of private power lords .Taking into account the military rulers’ reluctance to bring a regime change, there only possibility of easing restrictions on Myanmar is by constructive engagements through regional bodies like the ASEAN . Sanctions against Myanmar, as apparent from similar situations in other parts of the world, only heaps suffering on the people of Myanmar and does not necessarily put pressure on the military rulers. Opening up the economy will permit countries of the region to access the rich natural resources of Myanmar which in turn would rejuvenate the slow economic growth. Besides, it is clear from the paper that the military rulers, due to their historical past , are always suspicious of foreigners and tend to be seclusive in their policies. They have also used the interest of the two powers in the region viz. China and India to counter balance the excessive influence of one or the other.
Discussion about the effects of the internal strife in Myanmar upon the neigbouring countries involves country-specific studies. Effects on countries that are discussed in detail are
Bangladesh, China and . The paper on the effects of conflicts in
Myanmar on Bangladesh by Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury records the official
statement of the military government of Myanmar while according recognition to
the newly formed state of Bangladesh in 1972 .The statement underscores the
recognition as an outcome of the desire of the military junta of Myanmar to “live
fraternally as neigbours” with Bangladesh and the establishment of a Border of
Peace. The paper explains that the internal conflict in Myanmar has affected
Bangladesh in several ways and offers possible ways by which the two countries
can co operate to reduce the effects. The crackdown in 1978 led to the exodus
of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh which seriously affected the
demography of the country and caused economic and social imbalances. The
subsequent crackdown in 1991 further exacerbated the situation with increased influx
of refugees. Although ongoing efforts are being made for resettlement, it is
pointed out that 21,000 still remain in Bangladesh as stateless person. These
stateless people are exposed to various radicalizing influences which have
resulted in major security concerns for the region. The paper also proposes that Myanmar
should consider resolving the issues of
the Rohingya Muslims with the help of the two major neighbours China and India
playing a significant role in the resolution process; as well as the
involvement of certain internationally recognized NGOs of Bangladesh who have
successfully played a major role in the economic development of Bangladesh. Early
implementation of the joint road building project of Myanmar and Bangladesh
would also help economic growth in the Arakan region of Myanmar. India
Discussions of the effect of conflict in Myanmar in the paper by Li Chenyang is specific to the conflict between ceasefire groups and the military junta in the region of Northern Myanmar abutting China and its consequence upon the specific area . The activities of the ceasefire groups (and he specifies them as five groups) controlling 50,000 square kms but having influence over 100, 00 square kms and over a population of 1,750,000 range from drugs and gambling to pornography. Referring to the Kokang Event of 2009 wherein an estimated 30,000 Burmese refugees poured into China, serious threats have been posed to security and stability of southwest China. Besides, there lurks the potential of another armed conflict in Northern Myanmar which will have severe impact on the Chinese territory. Illegal activities in the region has caused major security risk and created some strains in the Sino-Myanmar relations. The overall Sino Myanmar relations and their strategic cooperation tend to get strained with each new wave of conflict. There is also a negative impact of conflict on alternative cultivation and alternative enterprise which have been created to counter the drug problem. The other points of discussion in the paper are the impact of the conflict on anti-drug co operation, the worsening drug situation due to illegal border trade and the loss to assets and property due to the conflict situation in Myanmar .China’s current and future vital national interest in Myanmar rests on two major requirements : energy security and building access into the Indian Ocean which have greatly influenced strategic co operation between Myanmar and China.
The paper on the trans border effects of internal conflicts in Myanmar on Northeast India by K Yohme clearly enunciates the emerging concept that political boundaries should no longer be seen as lines dividing land and people; instead , borderlands should be recognized as areas of connectivity. Political boundaries should be treated as gateways for economic and social exchanges for the benefit the regions lying on both sides of the border. . Myanmar and the Northeastern states of India viz Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram have direct borders and the effect of the conflict in Myanmar is widely felt within these states. However, the policy of the governments of Myanmar and India has been to view the effect in this region only from a security perspective and this has led to negative transnational consequences. The paper points out that the effects of the conflict, in reality, go far beyond security concerns and affect the economic and social ethos of the region.
The border region between Myanmar and the Northeastern states are very porous and continuous cross border activities take place in the region. In the absence of a clear policy about the region, much of these activities are termed as “illegal” and has led to the alienation of the Northeast states of India and the border regions of Myanmar. The era of globalization and the progressive economic thinking by the governments of India and Myanmar has resulted in the launch of new policies to develop the region and support peace in the border areas. Both the governments have entered into cease fire agreement with the ethnic armed groups in the region with the aim to build social and economic infrastructure and encourage participation of the local people in the development of the region. The region is fraught with several problems : similar conditions existing on both sides of the border has created linkages among the armed groups in the region and has reinforced the culture of violence and facilitated the creation of support and the establishment of sanctuaries .Illicit drugs and gun trade have led to the proliferation of insurgent groups in the Northeastern states of India. A parallel economy system has evolved in the region creating new and complex problems in the economic and social spheres. High incidence of drug use, the rise in numbers of those afflicted by H IV has caused serious concerns. However, prohibiting cross border movements for social and economic activities would be counterproductive , resulting in the growth of criminal and anti social activities. The recommendations in the paper are effective government monitoring to reduce the negative implications of cross border trade and proper identification methods along with proper monitoring mechanisms which would reduce illegal movements. Infrastructure development in the border areas in the Northeast states should be viewed as building strategic assets.
Thailand has historical and ethnic connections with Myanmar but the unsettled border region and the continuous conflict situation in Myanmar is a cause of deep worry for Thailand. Citing the creation of the Buffer Zone by Thailand, the paper by Pavin Chachavalpong discusses the negative impact of the buffer policy pursued by Thailand. The buffer zone along the border supported the anti Rangoon ethnic minorities challenging the military regime in Myanmar. The financial and logistic support extended by Thailand to the ethnic rebels worsened the situation. Over a period of time the buffer zone that was intended to ensure the security of Thailand’s border transformed into an area that has created more problems than the existing ones that it was meant to counter. It has become an impediment in the way of fostering positive bilateral relationship between the two countries and created mutual distrust. . The Burmese refugees have also caused demographic changes in Thailand leading to upheavals in the societal structure of Thailand. The perception of the local population vis a vis the Burmese refugees is that of preferential treatment being accorded to the refugees by the Government. The competition between the local population and the refugees for resources has also caused problems. The illegal immigrants have created an uncontrolled labour market; creating other problems like cheap labour, bribery, increased number of sex workers and a host of public health issues. Illegal arms trade, proliferation of small arms, and drug trafficking are other major causes of worry for the Thai authorities. The other issue that is important for Thailand is energy security; therefore, it is imperative for Thailand to maintain good relations with Myanmar. Thailand requires the natural gas imported from Myanmar through pipelines and the electricity from the hydro power the dams of Myanmar but their erratic policy towards Myanmar has resulted in mutual distrust.
India’s commitment to democracy and human rights for a long time fashioned its policies in the Myanmar context. As pointed out in the paper of B P Routary, with the formulation of India’s Look East policy, a new approach has been developed by India towards the countries in the region and specifically towards Myanmar. It became apparent that a policy based entirely on a high moral ground and based on India’s own values of democracy to be made applicable to all, does not necessarily serve India’s national interest. India required that it engage Myanmar in a comprehensive strategic dialogue which would deal with issues that were the common concerns of both countries. Cross border insurgency, arms smuggling and border management are vital to both. China’s greater role in building infrastructure in Myanmar and China's emergence as the fourth largest investor in Myanmar are causes for serious concern to India. Besides providing economic assistance to Myanmar, China has supplied the military junta with weapons and training. China’s apparent interest also extends to accessing energy and natural resources in Myanmar and it seeks through Myanmar to extend its strategic access to the Indian Ocean. Therefore, India has crafted a policy exhibiting greater patience in regime reform and not allowing the internal conflicts and human rights issues to influence its dialogue with the military junta. There are other sectors viz. power, hydrocarbon and energy, in which India has national interest. The construction for road linking the North Eastern states of India to Myanmar and India’s comprehensive package for the long neglected North Eastern states fulfills both its commitment to the North Eastern states of India as well as to Myanmar.
When conjoining the conflict in Myanmar with the elements of regional integration and discussing the responses, three broad questions have to be addressed: to what extent does Myanmar’s military mindset interfere with the concept, what investments can the countries in the region make to ensure peace in Myanmar and do such opportunities exist and if they do what are the challenges that they will have to overcome. Anna Louis Strachtan lays great emphasis on regional integration identifying Myanmar as having great potential to be a trading partner between neighbouring countries of the region. A greater responsibility is prescribed for the countries especially Thailand, Bangladesh, India and China by which they can play a positive albeit diverse roles in facilitating conflict resolution. The main factor that is seen as possibly achieving this goal is fostering economic prosperity in Myanmar. The countries in South and Southeast Asia need to pursue greater regional co operation not only as part of national interest but also as part of fulfilling the desire to maintain stability and security in the region. Economic integration in the form of physical connectivity through trade by countries of the region in their individual capacity as well as through the regional organizations would be a positive step in achieving the mentioned goal. ASEAN, SAARC, BIMSTEC, and a progressive ASEAN Economic Community have all been invested with the opportunity of increased engagement with Myanmar. The example of neighbouring countries investing in building infrastructure to promote stability and economic growth in Afghanistan exhibits how such enterprise can be successful. There have been setbacks in Afghanistan and specifically for India, which has had to face destruction of property and death of its personnel engaged in infrastructure building from the elements opposed to bringing peace. Despite that, a proactive role in the movement to stability and peace through investment is a better option than political pressure in Myanmar . A change is desired in the isolationist attitude of the military junta and their mindset of being distrustful of any foreign influence which has resulted in the partial segregation of Myanmar in the region.
Echoing that benefits will accrue by economic development in Myanmar through increased trade and foreign investment Larry Jagan envisages a movement that will create ethnic integration. Myanmar’s military junta places high emphasis on territorial integrity and therefore they see themselves as the single unifying force in the country. The protective isolationist ideology of the military junta has not benefited the country; therefore, there should be sincere efforts to integrate the ethnic minorities groups into the political mainstream. Unfortunately, the election of Nov 2010 did not move towards this. The indicators that set out the military junta’s agenda for retaining control was apparent in the election process that has been formulated therefore, subsequent to the election no real solution has emerged in Myanmar. A federal structure which would include ethnic minorities has greater chance of ushering transition on the socio-political level. Permitting the ethnic minorities to retain their identity by allowing education to be carried out in their own language is also suggested.
Ramu Mannivanan underlines another aspect of the dialogue and reconciliation process. Referring to the Seven -Phase Roadmap, the paper draws attention to the first step of the fulfillment of such a plan which is the holding of free and fair elections. Questions do arise regarding the true commitment of the military junta to this end and whether elections would lead to the other steps that are mentioned viz. step-by-step implementation towards a democratic system, convening the Hluttaw (legislative body) and the drafting and adoption of a new constitution. The unwillingness of the military junta to prune its powers and the Proposal for Reconciliation in Burma (2009) which seems to address the apprehension of the military junta regarding the transition to democracy rather than address the concerns of the ethnic minority groups are some primary concerns Undoubtedly , rejection of the military’s junta’s right to rule will not solve the present conflict; creation of an environment for dialogue through protracted engagement could be the key to economic and social transformation in Myanmar.
Two events have recently transpired in Myanmar that is significant. First, the nationwide elections which were held in November 2010 , and the other the release of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi , the leader of the National league for Democracy held in house arrest since July 1989. The elections were held in tightly controlled conditions wherein political activity was denied to certain parties and individuals. However, the party formed by the military junta was provided with overwhelming facilities leading to total lack of credibility about the fairness of the election and subjecting it to sever criticism from several countries. Although the international community welcomed the release of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, there is yet much speculation as to her future political role in Myanmar. Meanwhile, the ongoing clashes between the armed dissidents and the military forces continue resulting in thousands of refugees fleeing from Myanmar to Thailand.
Internal conflict in Myanmar had resulted in wide ranging external consequences in several countries in the region. These consequences have themselves become driving forces in the continuation of the conflict as have been discussed in detail in the papers of this volume. It is therefore , important that policy makers inside and outside Myanmar have a clear insight of the situation and evolve a series of options in the areas of economic and foreign policy which influence the social and human spheres.