Myanmar in Transition: Ethnic Conflicts, External Interests and Political Changes
Since 2011, Myanmar has been undergoing significant transitions in its internal political, administrative, and economic arenas. The peaceful election procedure, successful ceasefire agreements and the initiative to amend the 2008 constitution are some indicators of a positive transition in Myanmar. The geostrategic location and resource-rich lands of this country have attracted enormous external interest, made evident by high profile visits and FDI inflows.
The commentaries in this publication have thus been organised under the three main aspects of the transition process: democratic change, ethnic conflicts, and external interests. They have tried to trace the changes within Myanmar since the withdrawal of the Junta from power in 2009 and analyse its impact on the country’s development. Ethnic conflicts and social problems have posed major hurdles in the road to development in Myanmar, which some articles have dealt with. They have also attempted to examine the impact of violence on the political reform process and the local economy.
These conflicts in the border regions of Myanmar are interlinked with the country’s external interests. China’s evident interest in Myanmar and its initiative to keep the US out of the picture definitely has a repercussion on Myanmar’s transition process. Some commentaries have looked at this, as well as at India’s relations with Myanmar.
That Myanmar is in transition is incontestable. What is a matter of continuing debate among scholars is as to when the transition began; when it might end; and, above all, whether it is moving ahead on a trajectory that will bring real democracy, peace and prosperity in ‘the Golden Land’ in the foreseeable future. Listening to a range of voices in Myanmar as well as the friends of Myanmar engaged in observing, studying and interacting with the country from outside, one gets a two-fold impression: firstly, the nation’s journey towards democracy and national/ethnic reconciliation is still incomplete; and secondly, Myanmar society swings regularly between hope and angst about its future prospects.
This blend of innate complexity, unpredictability and uncertainty necessitates a close and critical monitoring of socio-cultural, ethnic, economic, political and foreign policy developments in Myanmar. Such a pursuit by our academic-strategic community is particularly required, given India’s high stakes in the bilateral and regional context. The directions Myanmar took in the current decade to reform its polity, liberalize its economy, improve its administrative machinery and introduce a new balance and calibration in its external relations, have been a subject of intense interest. This is matched by our deep curiosity and concern about where Myanmar’s transition would be in two years’ time or a decade later. An accurate assessment is crucial to our ability to recommend suitable policy action.
Myanmar’s internal politics will be moulded by the political elite’s capability to balance divergent interests represented by the government, political parties and the military. Some crave for full-blooded democracy immediately, while others do not exactly support it, and certainly for them democracy is not for tomorrow. The question of constitutional reform should be seen from this prism. Ethnic reconciliation is probably the biggest challenge facing the nation; its final shape and contours will define national identity. Economic development and inclusive growth through the path of liberalization and enhanced international linkages are achievable, but it is a process that takes many years - as we have seen elsewhere. A vital facet of transition relates to foreign policy. Amidst momentous geopolitical shifts in East Asia, Myanmar’s strategic importance has increased sharply, particularly in American assessment. This motivated the western countries to craft a modus vivendi with the military as well as promote working reconciliation between the latter and pro-democracy forces. In the process, Myanmar has secured considerable elbowroom in its relations with its neighbours and major international partners. How all these trends evolve in the short-to- medium term is a subject on which we need to engage experts.
In the domain of study, analysis and interpretation of Myanmar, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) has played a leading and sustained role through its Southeast Asia Research Programme (SEARP). The publication entitled Myanmar in Transition: Ethnic Conflict, External Interests and Political Changes is a collection of interesting essays by seasoned experts and promising young scholars. It is indeed a valuable addition to the growing knowledge reservoir in India about its eastern neighbor. Such endeavours deserve a warm welcome as we (in India) do wish to ensure that Myanmar ceases to be a neglected neighbor.
I warmly congratulate IPCS for coming up with yet another excellent product.
Ambassador Rajiv K. Bhatia
Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA)
By Amb. Rajiv K. Bhatia
I. DOMESTIC TRANSITIONS
Transition in Myanmar: Regional Implications & Future Directions by Amb. Ranjit Gupta
II. ETHNIC CONFLICTS
Myanmar’s Ethnic Conflicts by Janani Govindankutty
Profiling the 969 Movement by Bibhu Prasad Routray
Unveiling ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’ by Roomana Hukil
Kachin State in Myanmar: China’s Objectives and Strategies by Asma Masood
Social Media and Conflict: An Analysis of the Rohingya Crisis by Shanta-Maree Surendran
Why is the Clergy Angry? by Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy
III. EXTERNAL INTERESTS
China, Myanmar, and the Myitsone Dam: Uncertain Future by Aparupa Bhattacherjee
US, China and An Eastern Great Game? by D Suba Chandran
Expanding Naval Ties with India by Vijay Sakhuja
Achieving India’s Economic Interests by Asma Masood
New Challenges of Economic Transition by Yves-Marie Rault