The seventy-two year-long Ethno-nationalist insurgency led by over twenty insurgent groups against the Myanmar government remains inconclusive, due to military’s implicit political interests, and the continuation of ethnopolitical ambitions by ethnic rebel groups. Since its independence in 1948 from British colonial rule, the Myanmar state remains challenged from various ethnic groups — Shan, Kachin, Kayin, Wa, Rakhine Buddhists, and Kaya, among others; with each contesting to preserve their cultural and political identity in a predominantly Burmese ethnic state. In 1962, under the pretext of national security, the military took over the government, ending parliament rule. It promulgated a new constitution and delineated the country into seven states and seven regions. In 2011, as part of the political reforms, the military transferred power to a semi-civilian government formed under the leadership of U Thein Sein, a retired military general turned politician, and released political prisoners. Under his leadership, the government was successful in persuading around ten ethnic armed organisations (EAO) to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which concluded in 2015. The same year, National League for Democracy (NLD) under the leadership of Ang San Suu Kyi won national elections. It formed the civilian government, with key ministries — defence, interior and border affairs — remaining with the military. As a consequence, the efforts by the civilian government to bring non-signatory rebel groups under ceasefire agreement table have failed due to imposition of preconditions by the military.
The Rigid Rules of Engagement
The consolidation of force among various rebel groups and Tatmadaw’s disinterest in serious engagement will not only frustrate the peace efforts by the civilian government but also linger the civil war situation in Myanmar. On December 12, 2018, three prominent political groups — Myanmar National Truth and Justice Party (MNTJP), Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF), and the United League of Arakan (ULA) — called for a unilateral ceasefire in order to participate in the national reconciliation process; that led to an eight-month-long unilateral ceasefire announcement by the military across its four commands. However, the peace talks never took place. Instead, the moratorium was used by the military to direct fight against the Arakan Army — known for their tech-savvy information operations and guerilla tactics to harass government forces in the Rakhine and Chin region. That resulted in the launch of joint attacks by the Northern Alliance Brotherhood ranks on military and police installations. Tatmadaw continues to hold the four key principles — abstaining from misusing peace agreements, commitment to past agreements, abide by existing laws and not to burden local people — as a precondition for non-signatory rebel groups — Arakan Army, Ta-ang National Liberation Army, Kachin Liberation Army and United Wa State Army — to join peace talks.
As a consequence, despite the civilian government’s effort to engage with all EAOs and reach a peace process with a follow-on constitutional amendment for multiparty democracy based on federalism, remains severely restricted. Despite the internal instability, Myanmar has drawn considerable investment from China, under the promised $7.3 billion China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). With much of the CPEC projects lying along with the rebel-held regions, China has been able to secure its interests through the supply of funds and weapons to either side. It is also a party to the negotiation between the government forces and rebel groups.
The onus to end the civil war and bring political stability rests on the accommodative policies of the Tatmadaw, that would create space for the civilian government to engage with various EAOs. If it misses the opportunity, then there will be no end to protracted civil war in the South-East Asian state.