Myanmar May Be Closer to Becoming Burma Again Than You Think

As a concession to demands for reform, the generals of Myanmar’s ruling junta permitted elections in 2010. Rigged, though, they resulted in a victory for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. While long-time junta chief Than Shwe stepped aside, the new president is his former adjutant Thin Sein. In other words, a junta by any other name.

But, at least the brutal Than Shwe was sidelined, right? Turns out, operating in the shadows only gives him more leeway to get into even more mischief.

At Dictator Watch, Roland Watson writes that Than Shwe is “continuing his quest for nuclear arms, as the May interdiction by the U.S. of a North Korean ship bound for Burma illustrates. … The WMD program is in no way sidelined.”

While that’s a distant threat, more to the point, “Setting up a puppet government has freed him to focus on the war” against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. But, “the Burma Army is becoming stretched, and suffering large-scale casualties. Further, these casualties are more frequently extending into the officer ranks. Than Shwe doesn’t give a damn about rank and file soldiers, but he relies on mid and upper level officers for his support.” However, “An important issue with the Civil War is how much Than Shwe’s orders are being followed. … As they are increasingly targeted by the resistance, and die, the survivors will become less likely to follow his orders.” In fact

The Tatmadaw [Myanmar government army] is already having a hard time with the Karen, Shan and Kachin [ethnic minorities, as are those listed next]. Will its commanders agree to open even more fronts, against the Wa, Mongla and Mon, especially since the morale of the rank and file, already low, must be plunging even further?

Strike while the iron is hot? Watson again.

Some people are calling for the hostilities throughout all of Burma to cease. This too is a mistake. The Tatmadaw is [an] invading army, a colonizing force, in the ethnic areas. It should be treated as such, and fought against tooth and nail. The goal should be to inflict as many casualties as possible. Then, not only is there a good chance that the commanders will ignore Than Shwe’s orders; the coherence of the Tatmadaw itself may crack, leading to its downfall.

As for Aung San Suu Kyi

Is she a pacifist true-believe … or is her position more pragmatic, to avoid conflict if at all possible? … With the Civil War escalating, the pro-democracy movement’s commitment to nonviolence is being reexamined. … Her recent remarks in the BBC’s Reith Lectures have clarified her position. From the first lecture, in response to a question:

It’s possible because I have said in the lectures that I do not hold to non-violence for moral reasons, but for practical and political reasons, because I think it’s best for the country. And even Ghandiji, who is supposed to be the father of non-violence, said that between cowardice and violence, he’d choose violence any time.”

Finally, writes Watson

Simply put … the Tatmadaw cannot win the Civil War in Burma. Given the terrain, and their tenacity, the ethnic resistance armies can never be summarily defeated. [In fact] the expanding conflict in Burma is a good thing. It can be the “short burst of violence” that Daw Suu finds acceptable. If the ethnic armies can continue to wear down the Tatmadaw, and the people find a way to renew their protests … Than Shwe can be expelled.