Myanmar’s continuing Spring Revolution against the military regime will complete three years in February. The movement is vastly different from previous uprisings against the junta in terms of the participation it has prompted from different ethnic groups whose sole agenda is to restore the democratically elected government toppled early in 2021.
The latest offensive by the resistance groups against the military regime in a vast swathe of the country commenced with Operation 1027 last month in the Northern Shan State bordering China by a conglomerate of three groups called "Three Brotherhood Alliance".
It has been extended to other parts of the country including Chin State and Sagaing region that have borders with India where several military outposts have been captured.
The Volatile Border Region
The India-Myanmar border spans a long distance of 1643 km that begins from Anjaw in Arunachal Pradesh and ends at Lawngtlai in Mizoram. Disparate situations are found to prevail in the contiguous regions across these states in Myanmar.
The region across Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland has not been impacted by the resistance movement against the junta. The Nagas rose in rebellion against the junta as early as the mid-sixties but are too weak and faction-ridden currently to take the plunge into the Spring Revolution.
The conflict zone starts from across Manipur’s Tengnoupal district which lies roughly on the mid-point of the state’s border with Myanmar down to South Mizoram.
Myanmar Military Departs From India-Myanmar Border Region
Barring three spots, the military had ceased to exercise control over the aforementioned conflict zone along the border two years ago. The entire stretch is under the control of the resistance groups comprising primarily Chins but also Burmese, Kukis, and Gorkhas who are members of the new organisations called People’s Defense Force (PDFs).
There is a region called Tonzang in Chin State contiguous to Manipur’s Churachandpur that is under the control of Zomi Revolutionary Army- Eastern Command (ZRA-EC). This outfit is active in Manipur as an over ground rebel group and has joined hands with the junta in Myanmar against the resistance movement.
It is unlikely that the military will make efforts to drive out the rebel groups and recapture these centres given its scant resources and the mounting attacks at many regions in the country.
No wonder, the 42 army personnel who surrendered before the police in Mizoram had to be dropped by helicopters at a secured location. It is no longer safe for the military to receive them at the border. An establishment called the Army Hill still exists in Tamu which is about 7 kms from the border in Moreh in Manipur but it may be a matter of time before it is raided by the resistance groups.
The military regime does not have enough resources for a successful counteroffensive to wrest control of the territories it has lost to the resistance groups. According to an estimate, about 2,00,000 troops under 10 light infantry battalions are engaged in combatting the resistance groups in the entire country.
The junta's only option is to resort to large-scale aerial attacks which will harm the civilian populace more than the resistance squads. Therefore, more refugees streaming into India cannot be ruled out in the following months.
The United Nations has estimated that around 70 civilians were killed and more than 200,000 people have been displaced since 27 October.
Bleak Future for Indian Separatist Outfits in Myanmar
Many analysts and observers on Myanmar are of the firm opinion that the countdown for the end of the military regime has started. The opposition National Unity Government (NUG) is likely to be more pro-India than the generals for many reasons. Among the sufferers would certainly be the Indian insurgent outfits and the pro-junta militias called Pyu Saw Htee that have been involved in killings and atrocities on the civilian populace.
Among the Indian outfits, the names of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), People’s Republican Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Kangla Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), and Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) were heard among functionaries of resistance groups in Myanmar’s Chin State and Sagaing Region whom I had interviewed between January and March.
These groups are from Manipur and were allegedly ‘actively collaborating’ with the junta in attacking the resistance groups especially at Tamu across Moreh in Manipur and the region between Tonzang and Tedim.
ZRA-EC has been engaged in killing members of resistance groups. The other outfits had maintained a presence in Myanmar for the past several decades beginning from the early eighties.
Irrespective of the reasons for these groups’ activities against the opposition, their camps and training facilities could suffer serious reverses if the junta is toppled. “The Spring Revolution will certainly remember its friends and foes,” said the commander of Chin Rifles who is known by his nom de guerre Black Cat in an interview at Kalay in January.
Uncertainty of Indian Projects In Myanmar
The two major Indian projects in Myanmar linked to the Act East Policy are – the trilateral highway and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project. On the Kaladan project, there are unconfirmed reports of some progress being made to break the deadlock on the construction of the 109 km highway between Zorinpui in Mizoram and Paletwa in Myanmar.
The rebel group that dominates that region is the Arakan Army, which is part of the Three Brotherhood Alliance that had taken part in Operation 1027 in northern Shan State. It was in a tenuous ceasefire with the Myanmar military since the last one year which is believed to have ended following attacks by the outfit on a police outpost last week. The possibility of a sharp escalation of conflict in the region is high.
Around 70 per cent of the trilateral highway which begins at Moreh in Manipur and is planned to be taken to Mae Sot in Thailand, is estimated to have been completed. A major portion of the project passes through territories controlled by the resistance groups in Sagaing Region and Magway which are among the worst affected zones in the conflict.
It is unlikely that workers and professionals would be willing to get engaged in these projects in the disturbed conditions. Therefore, the projects can resume only after the war comes to an end and with the active association of local groups and communities.
Among the two projects, there is a better chance of the trilateral highway being completed sooner than Kaladan owing to what a senior government official termed as ‘multiple interests and stakeholders.’
Post Coup Scenario – Drugs and Weapons
In post-coup Myanmar, the government will have to devise ways and means to tackle drug trafficking and small arms proliferation given the enormous demand for these items in the neighbouring countries. There is an over-production of heroin and synthetic drugs in Myanmar evidenced by the seizures at regular intervals in the Northeast.
Some rebel organisations which are allies of the junta such as the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and a section of the junta officers are allegedly involved in the manufacture of and trafficking drugs from Shan State.
A section of Indian government officials tasked to combat trafficking in the Northeast also point their fingers at the ZRA-EC as being involved in poppy cultivation and production of heroin in Tonzang.
A wide range of small arms, both factory and home-made, are being used by the resistance groups in the war against the junta. At some places such as Kalay, the PDFs were compelled to set up their own manufacturing units as the NUG had been unable to equip them with automatic weapons.
The situation was not very different with the groups in Tamu but somewhat dissimilar in Chin State where weapons were received from other sources including from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that produces its own variant of the AK-56 assault rifle called KA-09.
In an interview on 24 January, the chief of North Kalay police station – Han Thar Oo admitted that it would be a ‘major challenge’ to disarm the groups and ensure the surrender of all weapons after the military is toppled.
Most observers especially academics and journalists from Myanmar who were compelled to take shelter abroad are hopeful of a new beginning for the country and a permanent end to military coups. A colossal impediment in nation-building was what the ethnic minorities perceived as Bamar chauvinism over the past several decades.
The Spring Revolution has contributed towards bridging the divide. Research has also revealed how the resistance movement is laying the groundwork for a new nation. The challenge would also be to rapidly integrate the remote border regions which are among the most impoverished zones in the country.
(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)