Rohingya crisis and the unraveling junta in Myanmar


In the tumultuous landscape of Myanmar, a profound shift is underway as the Three Brotherhood Alliance orchestrates Operation 1027, a meticulously coordinated offensive against the long-standing military junta. Launched on October 27, this strategic move has not only altered the territorial dynamics but also set in motion a cascade of geopolitical implications. With Karen forces commanding 80 percent of the eastern region and the Arakan Army strategically securing vital military bases in the west, Myanmar finds itself at a critical juncture, necessitating an in-depth exploration of the complex forces at play.

As the junta grapples to maintain control, the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and People’s Defense Force (PDF) have transcended their traditional roles, emerging as formidable forces with significant territorial gains. This metamorphosis is not merely military in nature; it signifies a unified response from a disenfranchised civilian population, spanning ethnic boundaries. The post-2021 coup landscape has not subdued resistance; instead, it has catalyzed a resilient union between EAOs and civilians, envisioning a democratic and inclusive Myanmar.

With conflicts now encroaching urban centers, Min Aung Hlaing, the junta’s leader, has sounded a desperate call for a political solution, citing the potential for civilian casualties. However, the taste of success on the battlefield has emboldened the EAOs and PDF, making negotiations increasingly complex. The junta’s commitment to the three main national causes — non-disintegration of the union, non-disintegration of national solidarity, and perpetuation of sovereignty — poses a formidable obstacle to any meaningful political dialogue.

The tapestry of Myanmar’s resistance is woven with diverse threads as EAOs pursue divergent paths. While entities like the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) may lean towards honoring the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), others advocate for a federal system that grants autonomy to their respective ethnic groups. The multiplicity of objectives among EAOs introduces an additional layer of complexity, potentially leading to internal conflicts once the common enemy, the junta, is overthrown.

The junta’s pursuit of external support encounters substantial challenges as regional and extra-regional powers grapple with the fallout of perceived indifference during the Tatmadaw’s brutal crackdown. China, while showing measured interest in mediating, maintains a principled stance of non-interference. The recent joint live-fire drills between Chinese warships and the Tatmadaw signal a level of support, yet the extent of Beijing’s influence over EAOs remains uncertain.

Simultaneously, Russia’s naval exercise in the Andaman Sea underscores Moscow’s strategic interest in the Eastern Indian Ocean region. India, a key player in the Indo-Pacific, has expressed support for Myanmar’s transition toward a federal democracy, aligning with its broader goal of a multipolar Asia. The growing interest from Russia further complicates the geopolitical landscape, introducing diverse players with varying strategic interests.

Despite the resonance of the resistance movement, direct Western support for EAOs faces substantial hurdles due to the lack of formal connections. The Burma Act provides a legal basis for US engagement, but the ongoing global crises, such as the Israel-Hamas conflict and Russia-Ukraine tensions, may limit Western powers’ involvement. The fate of the Rohingya population in Rakhine state remains precarious, with concerns that EAOs, particularly the Arakan Army, may dictate their future. This poses a significant challenge for Bangladesh, already burdened with over 1.2 million Rohingya refugees.

Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors, including Laos and Thailand, have maintained warm relations with the junta, despite the divergence within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Five-Point Consensus, an attempt to compel Myanmar’s compliance, has struggled to gain traction, rendering ASEAN largely ineffective in managing the crisis. As the situation continues to evolve, regional and extra-regional actors must prepare for a myriad of scenarios, ranging from humanitarian disasters to power vacuums that could trigger insurgent factions vying for territorial control.

China’s role in the Myanmar conundrum is pivotal, given its historical ties and strategic interests. While Beijing has exhibited a measured approach, expressing a desire for national reconciliation and a political transformation process, its reluctance to directly interfere remains intact. The junta’s promise of an accelerated pace for Chinese-sponsored infrastructure projects, such as the Kyaukphyu deep-sea port in Rakhine state and the railroad linking Rakhine with Yunnan Province, underscores the strategic significance of Myanmar in China’s regional ambitions.

The recent “first Russia-Myanmar Naval Exercise” in the Andaman Sea adds another layer of complexity to the evolving geopolitical scenario. This move by Russia, perceived as an attempt to increase its strategic presence in the Eastern Indian Ocean region, has implications for India’s strategic calculus. Despite being a key partner of the U.S. and Japan in the Indo-Pacific, India’s growing engagement with Russia in this context serves its larger strategic goal of fostering a multipolar Asia.

Amid the geopolitical chess game, India has expressed significant concerns about the junta’s ability to handle the ongoing civil war. A foreign office consultation held in New Delhi between India and Myanmar marked a crucial exchange where India articulated its support for Myanmar’s transition towards a federal democracy. The escalating number of Myanmar refugees seeking shelter in India’s northeast has heightened India’s impatience and underscores its stakes in ensuring stability in its neighboring nation.

Over the last couple of years, the resistance movement in Myanmar has not only demonstrated resilience in the face of brutal counter-insurgency operations but has thrived with training and arms from insurgent groups such as the Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Organization. The challenge lies in how the exiled National Unity Government (NUG) of Myanmar can effectively unite the fighting EAOs under its leadership. The absence of direct Western support due to the lack of formal connections poses a dilemma for countries like the United States and the European Union. The Burma Act provides the U.S. with a legal basis to engage with opposition forces, but the complexity of global crises, including the Israel-Hamas war and Russia-Ukraine tensions, may divert Western powers’ attention.

As the junta’s grip weakens, the potential scenarios for Myanmar’s future range from humanitarian disasters to insurgent factions fighting for territorial control. The fate of neighboring countries, burdened with the heaviest consequences of such a crisis, will depend on regional and extra-regional countries developing a toolkit to navigate these uncharted waters. The playbook for each nation will be distinct, given the myriad challenges that may unfold.

Myanmar stands on the precipice of a complex and rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape, where the collapse of the junta seems increasingly inevitable. However, this unraveling scenario opens a Pandora’s box of challenges, demanding careful diplomacy, regional cooperation, and international engagement. As the global community observes Myanmar’s unfolding saga, it must be prepared to address the multifaceted consequences, collaborate on sustainable solutions, and ensure that the people of Myanmar can navigate through these uncharted waters toward a more stable, democratic, and inclusive future. The intricate interplay of geopolitical forces will continue to shape the destiny of Myanmar, and the international community’s role in steering this course will be instrumental in determining the nation’s trajectory in the post-junta era.


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