Examining Myanmar’s progression: Past to present - Hindustan Times
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Examining Myanmar’s progression: Past to present

ByHindustan Times
Dec 25, 2023 06:36 PM IST

This article is authored by Kamakshi Wason, global COO and director, academic programmes, Tillotoma Foundation, Kolkata.

In these tumultuous times, as Myanmar faces numerous challenges, it becomes crucial to delve deeper into the strategies that can lead the nation towards peace and stability. By charting a course through this crisis, various avenues can be identified that offer potential solutions.

FILE- A Myanmarese looks towards the Indian side at the India-Myanmar border in Mizoram, India. (March 20, 2021) (AP) PREMIUM
FILE- A Myanmarese looks towards the Indian side at the India-Myanmar border in Mizoram, India. (March 20, 2021) (AP)

Myanmar, a nation renowned for its rich cultural heritage and breathtaking natural beauty, is currently grappling with some severe and momentous internal obstacles to peace and security.

By delving into the historical context, it can truly comprehend the present state of affairs in Myanmar. The country's turbulent past is marked by profound ethnic tensions and a pervasive dominance of the military in political affairs. Throughout countless years, Myanmar has served as a breeding ground for various ethnic groups yearning for autonomy while grappling with the unwavering grip of military rule.

Myanmar's landscape has been influenced by the rise and evolution of different rebel organisations since the late 1800s. This occurrence is deeply rooted in the country's complex history of colonisation and ethnic diversity. The British colonial period brought about significant socio-economic changes that inadvertently sparked ethnic tensions among Myanmar's diverse groups. These tensions were further exacerbated during World War II when different ethnic factions aligned themselves with either the Allies or the Japanese, driven by aspirations for future autonomy or independence.

After gaining independence in 1948, Myanmar's fledgling government struggled to address issues of ethnic representation, unintentionally marginalizing various ethnic groups. Consequently, armed factions like the Karen National Union emerged in 1947, marking the beginning of a prolonged era of ethnic insurgency. In 1962, General Ne Win's military coup intensified these divisions through policies aimed at promoting Burmese culture while alienating and disenfranchising minority groups. This led to the formation of additional ethnic militias.

The transition to a semi-civilian government in 2011 briefly offered hope for peace; however, it was marred by events such as the Rohingya crisis and a severe military crackdown in 2017, which drew international condemnation for allegations of ethnic cleansing. The situation worsened following the military coup in 2021 that not only overturned a democratically elected government but also fuelled widespread unrest.

The emergence of Aung San Suu Kyi, a symbol of optimism for democracy, caused a drastic change in the political arena. Her involvement in politics during the late 1980s, after the 8888 Uprising, represented a significant shift in Myanmar's battle for democracy and ethnic harmony.

During the 1990s and 2000s, her time spent at home under strict isolation, as well as the strong control exerted by the military, posed significant challenges. This military dominance not only overshadowed the political landscape but also extended the ongoing conflict. The situation became even more complex due to the military's unwavering hold on power, resulting in a prolonged period of turmoil and unrest. Throughout this era, there was a continuous struggle for democracy and human rights, which often faced severe resistance from the authoritarian regime. The prolonged nature of this conflict had a deep impact on the nation's socio-political fabric that extended far beyond just politics.

The political configuration of Myanmar has been molded by numerous significant occurrences, each impacted by particular activities and choices made by various individuals. With periods of confinement that allude to the multiple occasions in which Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was subjected to house arrest by the Myanmar military, who were governing the nation. These acts formed part of the military's endeavor to subdue political dissent.

The transition from military rule to a partially civilian government in 2011 marked a significant milestone. This change involved the inclusion of civilian leadership and was made possible through the efforts of the NLD, led by Suu Kyi, who played a crucial role in advocating for democratic reforms. The NLD's participation and active support were key factors in initiating this shift, even though the military retained substantial influence.

Nevertheless, the circumstances in Myanmar continued to be intricate and delicate. Subsequent to the NLD's triumph in the 2015 elections under the guidance of Suu Kyi, the nation grappled with the Rohingya crisis in 2017. This crisis significantly damaged Suu Kyi's international standing and emphasised the enduring ethnic disputes within Myanmar.

The condition worsened significantly with the military takeover in 2021, which deposed the democratically elected government led by Suu Kyi.

This coup caused turmoil in Myanmar, resulting in the revival of various rebel groups and the formation of new factions, thereby complicating the journey towards peace. Aung San Suu Kyi's influence and impact are still significant but met with differing opinions as the nation strives to foster unity among its diverse ethnic communities.

Myanmar still remains trapped in a complex web of internal conflicts characterised by its numerous rebel organisations. These groups reflect deep-rooted challenges related to ethnicity and politics that continue to hinder efforts towards achieving long-lasting peace and stability within the country.

The current state of affairs has escalated in its intensity due to the implementation of Operation 1027, a meticulously orchestrated countermeasure executed by various ethnic armed groups. This strategic move has had a profound impact on the complexion of the conflict, stretching its boundaries beyond rural areas and drawing in a broader demographic of individuals into its sphere.

The ongoing conflict has led to the emergence of a significant problem concerning displacement and refugees. Many people have been compelled to abandon their homes in order to secure their safety, either by seeking refuge within Myanmar itself or by fleeing to neighboring countries. This large-scale exodus has resulted in the urgent development of a humanitarian crisis that affects the entire region.

Over the years, instances of human rights violations have been common and widespread. The armed forces and other militias often engage in despicable acts against innocent individuals, such as outright killing them, wrongfully holding them captive, and subjecting them to unimaginable cruelty. The international community has vehemently condemned the behaviour of the military, yet these atrocious actions continue unabated and show no signs of stopping or lessening in severity.

Myanmar has been facing various difficulties in nation-building since independence. The challenge of nation-building and democratisation is further made complex by a combination of internal and external factors. The military, which is determined to hold onto power and reluctant to relinquish control, presents a significant internal obstacle. Furthermore, there is a deep mistrust between the Bamar majority and various ethnic groups (EGs), which is further complicated by religious tensions and the lack of trust among Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs). These groups rely on weapons to protect their interests, highlighting the absence of agreement on fundamental matters such as the nature of a Federal Union, the type of democracy required, and the military's role in a representative and accountable government.

The limited efficacy of international organizations such as the United Nations and the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) in confronting the issues faced by Myanmar is noteworthy. Their endeavors have not significantly progressed towards solving the country's long-standing problems. This emphasises an important fact: although finding a solution within Myanmar may appear challenging given the current circumstances, there is still a way forward. Achieving a resolution necessitates sincere involvement from both internal and external stakeholders, who must adhere to a carefully constructed plan. This approach requires a comprehensive comprehension of Myanmar's intricate complexities, a dedication to inclusive conversation, and a united effort to bridge the divisions that have impeded the nation's quest for peace and stability.

The impact of the crisis in Myanmar reverberates deeply throughout society and the economy, leaving a lasting imprint. Beyond the abrupt outbursts of violence that paint a grim picture, it has unleashed a wave of upheaval that disrupts the very fabric of people's lives. The consequences unfold from shattered livelihoods to escalated levels of poverty, rendering many vulnerable souls even more destitute. Moreover, this turmoil hinders progress and obstructs the path towards ongoing development endeavours.

The primary barriers that have hindered the success of the suggested solutions in Myanmar are primarily rooted in a deficiency of genuine political resolve, external geopolitical influences, and deep-rooted internal divisions within the country. These factors have collectively impeded progress and rendered the proposed remedies ineffective.

One area that requires careful scrutiny is the examination of unsuccessful resolutions. It is imperative to delve deeper into the reasons behind these failures and gain a more comprehensive understanding of their intricacies. By conducting a thorough analysis, valuable insights can be uncovered that can help us opt for more effective and efficient solutions in the future. This process involves looking beyond surface-level explanations and exploring the underlying factors that contributed to the lack of success. By doing so, the patterns or common pitfalls can be identified to avoid in order to improve our problem-solving approaches. Ultimately, this in-depth examination allows us to learn from our mistakes and develop strategies that are better equipped to tackle complex challenges head-on.

Numerous attempts have been undertaken in previous years to tackle the deep-rooted conflicts in Myanmar, encompassing extensive peace talks and involvement from the global community. Regrettably, despite these valiant endeavors, long-lasting tranquility still remains elusive and beyond reach.

To effectively address the crisis at hand, it is imperative to emphasize and embrace a holistic approach towards finding a solution. This involves instigating an all-encompassing and extensive political dialogue that goes beyond mere superficial discussions. It is crucial for this discourse to involve the active participation of various key stakeholders, including not only the armed forces, but also democratic factions, ethnic communities, and civil society as well.

By facilitating comprehensive political discourse, a platform can be fostered where different viewpoints can be expressed and considered in order to gain a more profound understanding of the underlying issues. This inclusive exchange of ideas will allow for diverse perspectives to be shared, enabling fruitful conversations that may lead to innovative solutions.

One key avenue towards achieving peace involves fostering inclusive dialogues among various stakeholders. This entails creating spaces where different ethnic groups, political leaders, civil society organizations, and community representatives can come together to engage in meaningful conversations. These dialogues should prioritise building trust, understanding diverse perspectives, and working towards consensus on critical issues.

Another pathway lies in promoting social cohesion through targeted interventions. By addressing deep-rooted grievances and inequalities faced by marginalised communities, the foundation can be laid for a more harmonious society. This includes implementing policies that promote equal access to education, health care, employment opportunities, and justice systems for all citizens of Myanmar.

Furthermore, investing in sustainable economic development initiatives is paramount for establishing stability amidst the crisis. By focusing on job creation programs, infrastructure development projects, and facilitating foreign investments responsibly while safeguarding local interests; Myanmar can build a resilient economy that provides opportunities for its people.

To ensure lasting peace and stability in Myanmar not only requires effective short-term measures but also long-term planning. Strengthening governance institutions by enhancing transparency, accountability mechanisms while safeguarding human rights can create an environment conducive to peace-building efforts.

The participation of regional organisations like Asean and international institutions plays a vital role in promoting and facilitating this exchange, ensuring that it is conducted fairly and inclusively. These esteemed entities bring a wealth of expertise, resources, and networks to the table, enhancing the effectiveness and success of this endeavour. By actively engaging with various stakeholders from different countries and backgrounds, these regional bodies foster an environment where every voice is heard and valued. Their involvement also brings a sense of accountability, as they can oversee the implementation of regulations and guidelines to ensure that the exchange operates on transparent principles. Ultimately, through collaboration with these influential entities, we can create a platform for meaningful dialogue, cooperation, and mutual understanding among all involved parties.

Targeted economic sanctions specifically aimed towards the leadership of the military regime, alongside incentives for progress made towards achieving peace, have the capacity to yield some positive results. However, it is of utmost importance that careful attention is given to ensure that these measures are meticulously tailored in order to avoid exacerbating the plight of ordinary citizens and further worsening their suffering. Needless to say, the effective execution of this prescription is a tall order.

In order to establish responsibility for the actions of the military, it is essential to employ legal and human rights interventions within the framework of international humanitarian law. These interventions have a critical function in ensuring that those who are responsible for any misconduct are held answerable. Maintaining a strong emphasis on safeguarding human rights is of utmost significance when considering potential resolutions or actions. This focus on protecting human rights not only acts as a moral obligation but also serves as a fundamental principle to advance justice and equity in society. By prioritising human rights, a system can be established where individuals are held accountable for their actions, thereby fostering an atmosphere of accountability and responsibility both within the military and beyond.

To effectively execute the resolutions, it is imperative to develop a comprehensive roadmap that outlines each task, assigns responsibilities to individuals or teams, and establishes clear timelines for completion. This detailed plan serves as a guiding framework, ensuring that everyone involved understands their roles and is aligned with the overarching objectives.

Furthermore, executing resolutions should involve strategic resource allocation to optimise efficiency and maximise productivity. Allocating resources judiciously includes determining which tasks need more attention or investment based on their significance and potential impact on achieving the desired goals. It also requires identifying any potential roadblocks that could hinder progress, such as budget constraints or limited manpower, and proactively addressing them through innovative solutions.

At present, the interactions between India and the military government in Myanmar are being influenced by a range of strategic and security factors. In light of the coup that resulted in military rule in Myanmar, India has cautiously commenced engagements with its neighbouring country under this new regime, with a specific focus on promoting connectivity initiatives that are vital to its Act East Policy. However, India faces significant strategic challenges due to Myanmar's increasing proximity to China and the substantial Chinese investments in the country, especially within the Indian Ocean region.

In addition to these concerns, there are also complexities arising from border instability and an influx of refugees from Myanmar into Northeast India. These factors have further complicated both the security landscape and social dynamics in this region. In response, India has taken measures such as promoting development initiatives in its Northeast region and establishing peace agreements with local insurgent groups.

The predicament in Myanmar is a complex and multifaceted issue. It requires collective efforts from the international community, regional stakeholders, and individuals within Myanmar. The country is at a critical juncture, with challenges to democracy post-coup, and a deepening crisis. People's awareness of their rights and resistance to military rule signal societal shift. The dynamics involving India and China add layers to the situation. Asean's mediation attempts and India's role as a neighbour and trade partner are pivotal. The Rohingya crisis further complicates regional stability. China's increasing presence in Myanmar raises concerns about power balance. Civil war and political turmoil threaten Myanmar's future, with democracy hanging in the balance and Aung San Suu Kyi's role uncertain.

Looking into the future, India is anticipated to adopt a strategic approach towards Myanmar that takes into consideration its own interests, regional security needs, and acts as a counterbalance to China's influence in the region. The subject of Myanmar and India-Myanmar relations has undergone various stages, encompassing the transformations within Myanmar itself, the bilateral ties during different historical eras, and an extensive examination of the dynamics between India, Myanmar, and China. It is imperative for India to strike a balance in order to ensure stability and protect its own interests while effectively navigating the ever-evolving nature of this crucial relationship.

The ultimate goal is to create a peaceful and prosperous Myanmar that upholds the rights and dignity of all its people. While there will undoubtedly be challenges along the journey, by maintaining unwavering optimism and persistent commitment, achieving a stable and peaceful Myanmar is within reach.

This article is authored by Kamakshi Wason, global COO and director, academic programmes, Tillotoma Foundation, Kolkata.

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