Myanmar's military regime has once again chosen to extend the state of emergency imposed two and a half years ago, marking the fourth extension since seizing power from the elected government in 2021. This latest decision prolongs the state of emergency for another six months, further delaying the promised elections that were supposed to occur under the military's rule this month.
The ostensible justification for the extension is the need for additional time to prepare for elections. The move, however, is not surprising since the military that effectively controls the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) is facing considerable challenges in organising the polls owing to widespread opposition to their rule.
Junta’s Grip Slipping
Inside Myanmar, the situation has grown increasingly precarious, with multiple insurgencies and conflicts involving various ethnic armed groups becoming more prominent. The Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State remains unresolved, and clashes between the military and ethnic rebels have intensified in different regions, necessitating the imposition of martial law in almost 50 townships across Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, and Magwe regions, as well as Chin and Kayah states.
The military's continued use of force against these groups has exacerbated the situation, leading to a spiralling cycle of violence and displacement. According to various estimates, security forces have been responsible for the deaths of 3,868 people and the arrests of 24,137 individuals, with 19,687 still detained or sentenced. As of March 2023, the number of internally displaced people has reached 1,704,000, further intensifying the humanitarian crisis.
The military's continued use of force against these groups has exacerbated the situation, leading to a spiralling cycle of violence and displacement.
In the face of mounting challenges, the junta's grip on power appears to be slipping. Armed resistance groups have grown more assertive, resorting to guerrilla warfare tactics and strategic offensives even with financial constraints. The ongoing internal war severely threatens the nation, aggravating chaos and suffering.
Democracy Not On Agenda
Moreover, economic hardships, soaring inflation, and humanitarian crises have added to the people's discontent and disillusionment with the military rule. Despite having a significant advantage in resources and weaponry, the army has struggled to quell resistance and maintain control.
The military regime’s persistent postponement of the democratic transition reflects a lack of genuine commitment to democratic governance. It has shown little inclination to relinquish control and allow for a truly representative and inclusive political process, leading to growing scepticism among the domestic population, its immediate neighbours, and the international community about the junta's intentions.
The recent reduction of Aung San Suu Kyi’s prison term from a 33-year combined sentence to merely six years along with her relocation to a state-managed residence, is unlikely to alter these perceptions.
How India Can Help
For India, this situation poses a number of challenges. Myanmar's ongoing crisis is significantly impacting India's northeastern border regions. Over 54,100 Myanmar nationals have sought refuge in the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, straining resources and posing security challenges for India. The influx of displaced people and potential for cross-border insurgent activities demand India's careful and proactive approach, especially as China remains keen to exploit the extant situation to its advantage.
As a democratic nation with deep historical and political ties to Myanmar, India has followed a constructive approach while dealing with its Southeast Asian neighbour keeping its own strategic interests in mind. However, India must not hesitate to convey a firm message to the junta, expressing its concerns about escalating instability in Myanmar and exerting pressure on the military government to take more decisive actions toward achieving a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
As a democratic nation with deep historical and political ties to Myanmar, India has followed a constructive approach while dealing with its Southeast Asian neighbour keeping its own strategic interests in mind.
India's approach should prioritise humanitarian assistance and support for displaced people as well as showcasing its commitment to regional stability. Providing aid and service to those affected by the crisis will alleviate suffering and demonstrate India's solidarity with the people of Myanmar.
Role At Talks Table
Moreover, India should use its influence to open channels of dialogue with and between the junta and the opposition, including armed ethnic groups. The shifting of Aung San Suu Kyi to house arrest opens up new possibilities and could prove valuable to all parties involved in any such dialogue. Despite the waning influence she holds over the growing and increasingly militant resistance movement, Aung San Suu Kyi remains a prominent symbol in the nation.
In addition to its bilateral efforts, New Delhi should collaborate closely with the ASEAN nations to assess whether their proposed peace plan requires reformulation or revisions. Working in coordination with regional partners can enhance the effectiveness of initiatives to bring stability and peace to Myanmar. India's active involvement in regional forums will strengthen collective efforts to address the crisis and find viable solutions.
With the ground situation in Myanmar evolving rapidly, India's efforts hold immense significance in fostering regional peace and cooperation as well as preserving Indian interests in a country which is critical for India’s own internal security in the northeast.
This commentary originally appeared in Moneycontrol.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.