THE sustained civilian resistance to Myanmar’s military coup has been drawing a ferocious, bloody response from the junta. Saturday, when the country was observing its Armed Forces Day, was one of the bloodiest since the generals sent the quasi-civilian set-up packing on Feb 1, with over 100 deaths reported, including of children. As per one count, over 400 people have been killed since the coup took place, with soldiers and police officers at times firing into crowds. In a bizarre development, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the junta leader, said the “army seeks to ... safeguard democracy” on the same day security men were mowing down protesters. It is beyond comprehension how such brutish tactics will help nurture democracy. The bloodbath has drawn widespread criticism from many in the international community. However, it is a matter of great concern that Pakistan, amongst a handful of other nations, including India, China and Russia, sent a representative to the Myanmar Armed Forces Day parade. This country should not have sent any official representation to an event meant to celebrate a military that is mercilessly cracking down on its own people.
The hybrid civil-military regime, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, that was displaced by the generals was hardly a model of good governance and representative democracy. However, it represented some hope for Myanmar, which had only recently emerged from decades of military rule. Now the clock has been turned back and while the generals have promised an election, no one knows when this will materialise. It is also possible that the junta will decide to do away with the hybrid system altogether and instal a puppet regime. The fact is that instead of aiding national integrity, authoritarianism only helps to further fragment nations, especially ethnically heterogeneous ones such as Myanmar. In an ideal world the Myanmar military would agree to go back to the barracks and restore power to the elected government. However, this is far from an ideal situation and it is highly unlikely the generals will relinquish power anytime soon. Their actions will invite isolation and sanctions from the Western-led bloc, though the generals know they can get away with it through the support of powerful foreign ‘friends’. The cycle of violence is likely to continue until the military feels it can no longer afford international isolation. Just when they reach that realisation is anyone’s guess.
Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2021