Roundtable Discussion on Ongoing Crisis in Myanmar and Implications for India
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On 21 December, the Vivekananda International Foundation organised a Round Table Discussion on the “Ongoing Crisis in Myanmar and Implications for India”. Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF delivered the opening remarks, followed by brief presentations by Amb Preet Mallik, Amb Rajiv Bhatia, Amb Gautam Mukhopadhya, Brig Rahul Bhonsle and Dr Cchavi Vasisht. The presentations were followed by discussions, with a special focus on what should be India’s way forward. The attacks under Operation 1027 by the Three Brotherhood Alliance and the attacks since then represent the biggest challenge faced by the military since it seized power in 2021. Till mid December, the regime lost more than 422 bases and seven towns as the resistance offensive expanded from northern Shan State to Sagaing Region, Kayah, Chin and Rakhine states.

Myanmar’s internal polity was always shaped by a triangular relationship between the military, ethnic groups (both political entities and EAGs) and NLD till the 2021 military coup. Post military takeover, the NLD has been replaced by the pro-democracy forces, an amalgamation of NUG, PDF and others. In the background of the ongoing crisis, it seems that the opposition forces have forgotten about Aung San Suu Kyi. The discussion analysed the reasons as well as the consequences of the ongoing civil war. The opposition forces, i.e. the NUG and EAOs are coordinating their attacks against the military to end their dictatorship. However, it was noted during the discussion that if these organisations are only coordinating to end military rule, what will happen after the war has ended? Will the opposition forces come together to form a new constitution or government or Myanmar will further be divided?

Question was also raised on who is supporting and supplying arms to these ethnic armies and PDFs. China here seems to be one of the major players as the MNDAA and TNLA are close allies of China. Whether China’s interference is mere annoyance with the military leaders for failing to bring an end to online scams and slow implementation of the BRI or seriously the military is losing the ground. Even the Chinese brokered temporary ceasefire has failed to end the fighting. So the question is whether the limits of China have also been reached? One of the discussants also pointed out that these attacks by the EAGs are driven internally. Either way PDFS are growing in number and unlike a year ago, PDFs are now a capable force which is well-trained and equipped.

The discussion also noted that the situation of the armed forces of Myanmar is weak. Though the Tatmadaw is about 3.25 lakh strong, its effective fighting strength is only about a lakh. Further there are divisions within the army; incidents of defections and corruption cases are reported. But the military is also the national institution that ruled the country for decades; it will remain in position. However, it is facing an existential crisis, and therefore needs to change.

ASEAN for a very long time was the centre of attention for devising a solution to the ongoing crisis through its Five Point Consensus (FPC). However, it is now internally divided on its approach towards Myanmar. This became more evident this year during summit level talks. Finally the discussion focussed on the implications for India. As a result of ongoing civil war, especially at the Indian borders, there has been a rise in the number of refugees coming in and the increasing problem of insurgency and drugs. The Indian borders in the past few weeks have been controlled by the ethnic armies. There is a need for policy recalibration.

The discussion concluded that it is important to know the situation on ground. Therefore engagement with people in Myanmar and close cooperation between experts in the field and government is essential. India should take a whole-of-establishment approach in its engagement with Myanmar. This should include apart from the MEA, other arms of the government like MoD, MHA, Finance, Commerce, Transportation and also bordering state governments from the Northeast and non-governmental agencies like academics, think-tank and other individuals.

Event Date 
December 21, 2023

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