February 23, 2024

Trouble In Burma Leading To Deep Cracks In The Indo-Pacific

Article by Mr Purushendra Singh

Military leaders of countries are taking lessons and studying the Russian-Ukraine war, which has entered its second year. At the same time, there has been another anniversary which nobody wants to celebrate either – A military coup in Myanmar. Myanmar is a neighbouring country of India which is pivotal for a larger geostrategic Indo-Pacific. The region faces an uneasy and complex situation. The two-year anniversary of the military coup in the heartland of Asia (Myanmar) which connects South Asia with East Asia has larger implications for other countries of this region.

Myanmar is a neighbouring country of India which is pivotal for a larger geostrategic Indo-Pacific

February 2023 marked two years of military coup or junta rule in Myanmar, erstwhile Burma. Since then, the situation has only worsened and has set the country on an unpredictable road to a deeper crisis. Recently, the Tatmadaw or the Military rule has disbanded around 40 political parties, most of them being a voice of democracy.

The two years of military regime and widespread violations has witnessed thousands displaced, killed and many still missing. As the family members of those missing, waiting at home, awaits justice, the human rights violations continue to escalate and the ongoing military censorship continues to whip the troubled voices.

Myanmar, a country which is located at the centre of North-South and East-West Asia connect and holds fundamental geostrategic importance. Due to its Bay of Bengal proximity and long coastline, it is also strategically located a few miles north of the Malacca Strait. The strategic location of this country makes it a critical juncture for the larger geo-strategy fallout in times to come. This makes this country valuable to various other countries’ Indo-pacific strategy. This was depicted in the new Indo-Pacific policy of Japan which was unveiled in New Delhi on March 20, 2023. Alternatively, Myanmar provides an alternative land route to connect the Indo-Pacific region via Thailand and Laos, which adds to its importance.

Due to its geo-economic and strategic importance, coupled with the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean, the situation in Myanmar has the potential to play a crucial role in larger geopolitical matters. In the times Myanmar plays a key role in deciding the future of the current geopolitics. India has been a major exporter of defence equipment till 2019 but more recently it has been replaced by the China-Pakistan industrial complex.

Myanmar, a country which is located at the centre of North-South and East-West Asia connect and holds fundamental geostrategic importance

INCEPTION OF TATMADAW: “THE GROUP OF 30”

It is not the first time that the military is dictating the legislative, executive and judicial decisions in Myanmar as the country has been under various military dictators, since its independence from India in 1937. Erstwhile, Burma or Rangoon has been a region of East-West connect and prosperous colony of the British. For instance, many British officers post retirement, spent their summer and winter vacations in Burma. Times have changed and so has the hands of power, but what has still remained is oppression, poverty, injustice, and bad governance.

In the 1940s, San Suu Kyi’s late father Aung San along with 29 other soldiers went for military training under the Japanese army. The group of these 30 soldiers are still revered as the founding father of Tatmadaw. In 1948, the Tatmadaw was weak, scattered and disunited without a clear objective of governing.

Myanmar as the country has been under various military dictators, since its independence from India in 1937

THE RISE OF MILITARY GAMES IN MYANMAR

Since Burma gained independence from British rule and later from Japanese fascist rule, it has been rocked by various military rules or junta rule. But, what is unfolding now is more concerning for the whole region. For the first time in its history, the National League for Democracy led by the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Ki was enjoying a democratic run and people were enjoying their rights and had a voice. Now, Aung San is serving a prison term of 33 years and she is 77 right now. The Military has done some gruesome mathematical calculations to keep her till her century if at all she turns 100.

There are two highly debated theories behind this military coup, the first is that the military was becoming politically and defence-wise weaker and less popular, hence, the generals took a decision to take over the nation with all their might. The other theory believes that the supreme leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was on his way to his retirement and he had no plans of giving up power, hence, he gave himself two titles on 17th April 2022 – “Thadoe Thiri Thudhamma” (The Most Glorious Order of Truth) and “Thadoe Maha Thray Sithu” (The Order of the Union of Myanmar) and retained the power unto his wish.

Lastly, taking the advantage of the rising Rohingya clashes in the Rakhine state, the military helped the ethnic majority armed groups such as the Arakan army to clamp down on the Rohingya Muslims. This way the military fired two shots with one bullet, and they were successful.

The military gained control of larger parts of Myanmar, especially in the west and north-west regions. Additionally, they won the popular support of some common citizens who started obeying the military. The ones who did not obey, formed rebel armed groups, which still exists. The largest of the rebelled arm – The Arakan Army- has now allied with Tatmadaw. More so, Tatmadaw has de-listed the Arakan Army as a terrorist organization.

Summarising the rise and continuance of the Tatmadaw, it still remains comparatively a weaker force, but has gained wide-spread power and currently governs the country. To an extent, the credit goes to the management of its massive army. They do so by appointing Regional Military commands (RMC) much like the regional command systems of other countries. Among all the RMCs, the largest is the Coastal Region Command which presently holds 43 infantry battalions.

Tatmadaw, it still remains comparatively a weaker force, but has gained widespread power and currently governs the country

CHALLENGES FOR INDIA’S SECURITY

The four Indian states share a boundary with Burma, a combinedly 1643 km. Manipur shares a land boundary of more than 300 km with Myanmar, and has recently passed a law to contain immigrants flowing in from the Rakhine state and other states who are fleeing the country because of its large violence and unrest.

Adding to the worry is the reception of MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) related visit by the Pakistan official for the necessary upgradation and repair works. Myanmar had acquired 11 JF-17 fighter aircraft, a fourth-generation jet which was jointly developed by China and Pakistan. These jets are currently under repair and Myanmar seek to acquire more jointly produced weapons from China, Pakistan, India and Russia. This again rises alarms in the west, as the west sees China expanding its military base even further.

China now manufactures and sells weapons to Myanmar in all three domains of war. China accounts for 77% of the arms supplies to Pakistan and both combinedly produce for Myanmar. In a multilateral approach, Myanmar is a part of larger geopolitical positioning and the China-Pakistan manufacturing base is placed to counter the rise of India. The Tatmadaw spends roughly about $ 2.5 bn on the defence budget and capital outlay. Its core strength is the active military personnel which is estimated to be about a million at present.

China now manufactures and sells weapons to Myanmar in all three domains of war

Further, most of the military equipment in Myanmar is from the Russia-China-Pakistan military complex. In the land domain, the Main Battle Tanks, armoured vehicles, towed artillery guns, KS-1M air defence systems, and surface-to-air missiles are majorly from these three countries. In Tatmadaw’s air force the Sukhoi-Su 30, Mig-29, Chengdu J7 along with JF-17 are all Chinese or Russian-made. Alongside, the attack helicopters and multi-purpose helicopters are also from the Russia-China military complex. For a change, in terms of water warfare equipment, the corvettes, submarines and patrol vehicles inducted in Myanmar’s navy is leased out or procured from India. This is fast changing as India might be still exporting patrolling vessels to Myanmar and Vietnam but the INS-class Sindhuvir submarine is soon going to be commissioned out of the Myanmar Navy. They are in search of newer submarines and talks are on with the Chinese Naval agencies to co-develop diesel-powered submarines.

As much of the history of the 21st century will be written in the Indo-Pacific, and as the world looks at the Indo-Pacific with a new vision, the authoritative military rule remains to be a thorn in the collective vision of open, prosperous and safe Indo-Pacific for all in the region. Furthermore, we are at an inflection point where China’s hegemonic and aggressive adventurism may lead to deeper disconnect for India between South Asia and the East-Asia. [End]

The authoritative military rule remains to be a thorn in the collective vision of open, prosperous and safe Indo-Pacific

Author

  • Purushendra Singh

    Research Associate in Indo-U.S. relations at CUTS International WDC. He writes about Affairs concerning geo-political security and diplomatic affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @puru_354

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