Myanmar’s emergences as a regional threat
Since the military junta, Tatmadaw, took control of Myanmar in February 2021, there have been large-scale demonstrations, armed resistance and mass killings. As the fighting between military and opposition forces intensified, the security situation within Myanmar and its bordering states is deteriorating rapidly.
The recent conflict between military and Arakan Army(AA) in Norther Rakhine, the violation of Bangladesh's airspace and territorial sovereignty by firing mortar shells on September 18, 2022 and Myanmar ambassador's blaming AA for this attack have, therefore, raised serious questions on whether the junta regime is failing to establish effective control over its territory? If that is the case, is Myanmar emerging as source of security threat to its neighbours?
To understand this, let's take a closer look into Myanmar's internal security situation and its implications to its neighbouring states in South and Southeast Asian region.
Since its independence on 1948, Myanmar has been suffering repressive military rule and conflict among ethnic minority groups. As Myanmar is made up of 135 ethnic groups, ethnicity and conflicts are deeply linked in this land, creating a vicious cycle of violence and making it the longest-running civil conflicts in the world.
Though the transition from military to democratic reforms had started in 2011, military hold strong control over the state power as it constituted 25% of the seats in Myanmar parliament. Tatmadaw has always seen the ethnic minority groups as a threat to the unity and stability of the country and engage in constant warfare with ethnic armed groups. Even in 2017, Myanmar's Buddhist majority along with Tatmadaw carry out genocide against the Rohingya community in Rakhine state of Myanmar.
However, the hope for democratic process completely shattered when military seized power in Myanmar in February 2021. The violence in Myanmar has now entered into a new chapter, as the coup d'état and political turmoil weakened Myanmar's existing institutions and making it a failed union.
The military junta are now facing fierce opposition from ethnic armed organization which were fighting for autonomy even before the coup as well as a pro-democratic front which later transformed into arms resistance in the face of military's brutal crackdown on opposition forces and protesters.
A shadow government National Unity Government (NUG) has been formed to resist the Junta government. It has also established an anti-coup resistance movement named People Defence Force (ODF) which mobilizing fighting forces across the country.
Junta's failure to consolidate its control over large areas of the country has also led Ethnic Armed Forces Organizations (EAOs) to forge their alliances to counter the Junta. Recently, leaders of Myanmar's seven most powerful ethnic armed organizations: including the Arakan Army's met in Wa State's Panghsang, the headquarters of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) to booster their alliance. Though all the groups aren't actively fighting for overthrowing the regime or in support of the objective of PDF, some EAOs are providing military training and other forms of support to anti-coup resistance.
The military is now deliberately targeting civilian populations defining as the enemy. The junta is using fighter jets, attack helicopters and heavy artillery to shell civilian populations. The villages and towns which has perceived links to opposition groups are being burned to the ground by the security forces. Since the coup in February 2021, over 21,00 people are killed by the security forces, nearly 15,000 got arrested and more than 10,000 people are taken in detention.
This indiscriminate violence against the country's civilians has diminished the already depleted popular support for the Junta, pushing the country to the verge of a civil war.
As Tatmadaw's tactics has grown more violent in the face of resistance, the internal conflicts between Myanmar military and its own people is posing a grave threat to the regional stability.
In a recent clash between Military and Arakan Army in Northern Rakhine and Chin states, Myanmar fired three mortar shells inside the Bangladesh territory on September 16 in the Tambru border of Naikhyanchari in Bandarban which left a young man dead and wounded six others. Myanmar also fired at least two mortal shells 120 metres inside Bangladesh in the Tambru border on September 3.It fired two more mortar shell inside Bangladesh August 20 and 28.
When Bangladesh summoned Myanmar ambassador Aung Kyaw Moe for the fourth time in less than a month for the violation of international law, he blamed Arakan Army for landing shells and bullets in Bangladesh counterpart.In the face of continuous shelling and fire of bullets into Bangladesh territory from the Myanmar borders, Bangladesh is considering the evacuation of 300 families from Gumdhum union under Naikhongchhari in Bandarban. Apart from Bangladesh, Myanmar is also violating the territorial sovereignty of Thailand.
The security situation within Myanmar is not only creating tensions among bordering states but also fuelling further refugee influx to its neighbouring countries. Since the military seized power in 2021, at least 1.3 million people have been forcibly displaced to escape attacks by the military and many refugee are taking shelter in the neighbouring states e.g. India, China, Thailand and Bangladesh. The Indian state of Mizoram has witnessed the most significant rise in refugee influx with nearly 30,000 Myanmar nationals have taken shelter in Mizoram. Despite strict monitoring in border areas, Bangladesh is also experiencing a limited refugee influx. Since September 10, at least 10-15 Rohingyas have taken shelter in Kutupalong and Balukhali shelter camps in Cox's Bazar. Earlier, another 2,500 people had crossed into Thailand from Myanmar to escape fighting between Myanmar troops and rebels in the eastern state of Karen.
Beside border tensions and crossovers, the transnational criminal activities in Myanmar border is a major source of concern for the regional states. Since the ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar rely on illicit drug trading and other transnational crimes for their funding, it poses serious threat to its neighbouring countries. Thai police have reported a significant increase in drug related crimes in Thai-Myanmar border. Earlier this week, Thailand arrested Junta-linked businessmen suspected of drug trafficking. Chinese security force have also arrested people illegally crossing Myanmar-China border into criminal hubs in Kakong, Mongla and War. Besides, Myanmar is also the largest source of drugs to Bangladesh.
With the Myanmar military rapidly losing its strength and control over the country, the escalating violence between junta and the ethnic rebels groups has put Myanmar on the verge of a full blown civil war. The continuous violation of bordering states' sovereignty in recent weeks, renewed refugee crossover in neighbouring countries along with transnational criminal activities in the bordering areas have, therefore, made Myanmar as a regional source of security threat to its neighbours in wider South and Southeast Asian region.
The writer is a student,
Department of International
Relations, University of Dhaka