Civil war in Myanmar inflicts grave regional coercions

Published : Tuesday, 23 January, 2024 at 12:00 AM

The South Asian region has turned into the focal point of the world due to the worlds possible shift towards bi-polarity again. This region can provide the super powers a great strategic control if they can establish their dominance. The great fight for economic supremacy between the USA and China has intensified the situation. Any political, military or economic event in this region can draw special focus. The current unrest in the Southeast Asian nation Myanmar which share borders with South Asian giant India and Bangladesh as well as China has raised new concerns. Hence, this conflict and influx of Myanmar citizens to the bordering nations can create new turmoil in both India and Bangladesh.

After achieving its freedom from British colonial rule during the post-World War II era, Myanmar was placed under military administration before it could establish democracy. Burma has been embroiled in a civil war since the military overthrew an elected government in 2021. The northeastern area of India is now home to over 50,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Myanmar. After the Arakan Army (AA) rebels, an ethnic armed organization in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine, stormed their camps, about 600 soldiers from the Myanmar Army and numerous civilians crossed into India amid fierce fighting. Mizoram stressed that the Myanmar Army soldiers must return home as soon as possible. The appeal is made in the midst of mounting worries about the rising tension and the impact it could have on the regions stability.

News of the China-mediated ceasefire between the ruling Myanmar junta and the Three Brotherhood Alliance, comprising Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Arakan Army (AA), and the Taang National Liberation Army (TNLA), came as a relief not only for the people of Myanmar but also for the countrys neighbors, including Bangladesh and India. Within days, however, things turned volatile once more.

With mutual cooperation, India has long acted to prevent an unrestrained Chinese presence in Myanmar. New Delhi kept providing military assistance to Myanmar notwithstanding the instability that was plaguing the country. India has often reaffirmed its commitment to peace in Myanmar, a neighboring country, and it has backed the appointment of an ASEAN special envoy to assist in mediation efforts. But the increasing violence in Myanmar is starting to affect its neighbors, including Bangladesh.

Since 2017, the Myanmar military junta has forcefully displaced approximately 1.2 million Rohingya refugees from the Rakhine state, who were victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing. These refugees are currently being housed in the camps in Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh. Dhaka is pleading with foreign organizations to support the refugees repatriation. However, the foreign agencies and powers have not been able to take any meaningful action. Now, these new events in Myanmar may create new challenge for Bangladesh too, along with India and China as well.

Myanmars internal disputes have been directed against Bangladesh since the 1970s. Other nearby nations are also in risk as well. The return of the Rohingya refugees now residing in Bangladesh is even less certain because of the absence of an effective government.

There has been a protracted conflict between the Buddhist community and the Rohingyas. It all began in the 1940s. The local Buddhists, who were allies of the Japanese Army, were engaged in combat with the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmars northern Rakhine state, who had collaborated with the British during World War II. The Rohingya Muslims were denied their right to citizenship by the newly established Union government of Myanmar after independence in 1948, and then by the military government in the 1980s. Later the military junta started to commit genocide against these Rohingyas. That caused several events of Rohingya influx in Bangladesh in the 1980s and 1990s and the latest from August, 2017 due to brutal genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh has to prioritize its national security in addition to helping the Rohingyas in the face of severe economic hardships. An insurgent group from the Rohingya community, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), has been reported to have already entered Bangladesh and to be responsible for killings and disturbances in the Rohingya camps there. A portion of these evildoers are actively engaged in the smuggling of drugs and weapons into Bangladesh. The civil war is also having an impact on Bangladeshs trade interests in Myanmar. Furthermore, Bangladesh faces extra challenges as a result of the Kuki-Chin insurgent issue in the Hill Tracts, which also involves Myanmar and maybe other major world powers.

China and India, two neighboring nations, are also affected negatively by the civil war in Myanmar. The Shan State and a number of towns that are located near important trade routes with China are already allegedly under the control of the Three Brotherhood Alliance. Beijings worries about the continued turmoil and the extent of Chinas influence over the ongoing civil war have been brought to light by a fragile agreement to cease the fighting in northern Myanmar. There has been intermittent violence notwithstanding the accord mediated by China.

Chinas desire for peace in Myanmar is understandable. Trade routes have been obstructed by the fighting, and Chinese residents of border towns are being put in greater danger. China has historically been able to influence politics in Myanmar. However, new resistance groups have emerged as a result of the civil war, and they have no intention of reaching a deal with the military of Myanmar. Beijing has always supported the government in Myanmar by default, and relations between Beijing and the democratic government were positive even before the coup of 2021. China and India have been two of the top four suppliers of weapons to the Myanmar government since the coup in 2021.

The United States, Chinas strategic adversary, may possibly enter the fray in an effort to increase pressure on the rebel forces. The Burma Act could be used by the US to impose comprehensive sanctions. The US strategy for post-coup Myanmar has involved striking a careful and practical balance between its interests and its principles. Although Washington opposes the junta, it is also cautious about upsetting its regional allies and partners, some of whom have continued to interact with the Burmese military following the coup.

Competition between China and its adversaries is altering domestic politics in many Indo-Pacific countries, forcing local actors to choose sides. The Maldives and Sri Lanka have long been mired in a geopolitical quagmire between India and China. However, the stakes are especially high in an armed conflict like Myanmars, where Chinas rising engagement risks prolonging misery and raising great-power tensions.

For its part, the US should realize that it can no longer disregard Myanmar as being strategically irrelevant. Stability in Myanmar is crucial for regional stability because of its location at the intersection of Southeast and South Asia. As it promised to do in the Burma Act, the United States should first focus more on Myanmar and urge its allies and partners to align their policies with it.

Bangladesh has been warning the world for years to the long-running Rohingya problem and its potential geopolitical ramifications in the region. The military regime in Myanmar has persistently carried out acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing against its own people, who were without arms and unable to defend themselves. The military junta is now seeing stars in the daylight, albeit with some opposition. In the past, those who do horrible crimes against its people have always had to lose. Eventually, the military junta in Myanmar will likewise fail and come to be despised by its own citizens.

If Myanmars civil conflict continues on its current path, it could have repercussions in Bangladesh and other neighboring nations. It is admirable that China has taken a proactive approach to bringing the warring parties to a cease-fire, even if the efforts ultimately failed. However, the Myanmar military junta cannot be trusted. It is past time for all influential parties to recognize that Myanmars military regime is rogue and incapable of governing the country. They must be persuaded to step down and allow the country to return to democracy, as the majority of Myanmars people wish and deserve. Only if the global leaders act in that direction, peace can be eventually established in this region.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla

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