A career battlefield commissioned officer and general I knew some years ago said the military was proficient at killing people but not in managing governments. The history of this country would largely support this premise, but it is re-enacted all over the world on a very frequent basis. The latest example is that of Myanmar where the military has just celebrated the one-year anniversary of their coup over the freely elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Coincidentally her father, Aung San, was a military man having fought the Japanese in WWII. He was assassinated shortly after forming the Union of Burma following the war. Accordingly, General and Supreme Leader, Min Aung Hlaing, should be alerted that it is premature to pop the champagne as his country is not doing well.
There is a diversity of ethnic groups in Myanmar. Although some 68% of the population are Bamars or Burmese, there are 138 other ethnic groups that compose the remainder of the population. The Shan and Karen tribal groups represent 9% and 7% of the total in their respective states and maintain their own armies for various reasons. The Bamars are now recognizing what the other ethnic groups have known all along and that is they have no rights or protection from their own government. The Economist recently published their one-year anniversary article on the Myanmar tragedy entitled Myanmar’s Generals Have United the Country—Against Themselves. Therefore, the Tatmadaw, Myanmar military, are fighting on more fronts than they have ever faced in the past. Can you see the fear in their eyes below?
The Bamars, Burmese majority, historically loathed the Rohingyas. They are a Muslim ethnic group from Rakhine, a state in western Myanmar that were basically removed from Myanmar in 2017 by the military through systematic genocide resulting in 700,000 of them fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh. At this juncture, many of the Bamars have realized that they are now suffering the same plight at the hands of the military and their government. Some of the Bamars have made public apologies to the Rohingya if any of them are still around any news media sources.
General Min Aung Laing is shown below in a government tribunal ruling concerning the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi on ridiculously trumped-up charges. Aung San Suu Kyi was often criticized for not taking an ax to the military’s treatment of the Rohingya, but she knew the frailty of her position as the elected leader of the country. She praised the military in public, bowing to many of their whims including personally accepting criticism for the treatment of the Rohingya which was unwarranted. The Myanmar military certainly never expected to lose the mainstream support of their country, but they have never been able to judge the mood of their country and suffered a resounding defeat in the last election.
A simple coup was the military solution and to then imprison the winning side of the election and go on about their business. Most Bamars believed that the military was the glue that kept the diverse ethnic mix of Myanmar together in keeping with the original concept of “The Union of Burma.” However, when the military cracked down on the protest movement that arose from the coup, they executed participants at will in protest movements with no recognition of their ethnicity. Moreover, a shadow government called the National Unity Government which is composed of young people and ethnic minorities is now reaching out to all, including the Rohingya.
As a result, the conflict with the military government has now expanded from the originally freely elected government to a “no friends” and “all enemies” engagement with everyone else including several of the minority ethnic groups that have their own standing armies. The fact that two of these armies protect massive drug businesses is more than a coincidence. An accounting of the number of recorded incidents of unrest is shown below. Not only are the numbers growing but so is the visibility as I have been receiving video documentation of Tatmadaw planes dive bombing Karen villages. More than 400,000 people have fled their homes. Rather than pacifying the population, it is a rallying cry to build the local defense forces.
Therefore, we have a military government that is unable to govern and maintain any semblance of normalcy among their population. Accordingly, the economy is upside down and poverty is growing as shown below. The junta must be facing a massive deficit that may make it difficult for them to meet their various payrolls. The increase in the poverty rate shown below is startling. Maybe the Tatmadaw should have gone to a fortune teller for advice before they permitted free elections and then mounted a coup in the middle of a pandemic when they were not satisfied with the election outcome.
The question remains as to what the likely outcome of this mess may be. Given the deteriorating economy and a widening conflict throughout the country, it is unlikely the Tatmadaw can win a guerrilla war in unfamiliar terrain against experienced, different groups of established guerrilla forces. On the other hand, it is improbable the various guerrilla armies would ever join forces to make a march on the capital of Naypyidaw and have a go at the Tatmadaw on their turf. Therefore, barring a miracle, things will motor on with increasing casualties, a dying economy and individual strongholds established by the various armies to shrink the state. On the other hand, the Chinese could always step in, but they have bigger fish to fry. Moreover, it is difficult to capture the hearts and minds of the people when you are trying to kill them.