The Rohingya conflict in Myanmar has been going on since the 1980s, but it has recently captured the attention of the international media due to the uprise of various human rights violations, continued displacement, and chaos driven by socio-political and ethnic motivations. Most works and news media cover the conflict as a violent one, overwhelmingly perpetrated by the government as a result of differentiating religions between the Burman majority and the Muslim minority. Others cite the denial of citizenship for Rohingyas by the central government as a pivotal factor for ongoing conflict. Neither of those reasons purport to explain a deeper analysis of the cause at root. As such, looking at the bigger picture through historical and academic lenses may further define the Rohingya conflict. This paper, therefore, aims to provide an alternative point of view in the Rohingya conflict by arguing that political, rather than ethnic or religious motivations, drive the continuous violence occurring in the Rakhine state. [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
Perhaps expelling all Rohingyas from Myanmar is the ultimate objective by the perpetrators, but it is worth considering the idea that this is just a stepping stone to a larger objective. The phenomenon in Western Myanmar is currently the world’s longest ongoing civil war, yet the largest mass violence outbreak regarding Rohingyas only started a few years ago. These bring about questions about the motivating factors that led to recent mass violence occurrences and other possible motivators that lead the continuity of this war. Effectively answering this, along with other pertinent questions, is necessary in order to conclusively formulate effective de-escalation and conflict resolution strategies that can ensure lasting results.
This paper argues that the Rohingya conflict in the Rakhine State is motivated primarily by political interests led by the Burmese Military. Looking back at recent events, the military junta utilized the strained relationship between Buddhists and Muslims to legitimize their mass violence against Rohingyas in late 2016, which was the same time as the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in the general elections. The military still holds 25% of the seats in the parliament and has full authority over immigration, national intelligence, and most importantly, all security forces. [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
It is hypothesized that, in order to undermine a budding democracy, the military perpetrated violence against Rohingyas under Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration in hopes of attracting widespread international attention. As most people are misinformed by the powers vested in the NLD, they blame Aung San Suu Kyi for a lack of inaction in addressing and resolving the violence. In reality, she has no authority over how the military chooses to conduct its activities. Despite that glaring fact, the NLD is under attack and faces the potential of losing the next general election, thus consequently reverting from a hopeful, new democracy back to a military dictatorship. If the NLD works to appease their constituents, majority of whom are Buddhist, they risk international support and legitimacy that they desperately need to progress the country. If the NLD works to relief living conditions for Rohingyas, it will face national backlash and essentially strip their chances of re-election. The violent outbreak involving over 600,000 Rohingyas has never happened in Myanmar’s history and it certainly didn’t happen by mistake. As such, it is postulated that the act was a calculated move by the military to undermine the prospects of democracy through instigating a conflict that the democratic administration has no authority over. Therefore, when the NLD is unable to resolve the violence, the military will be given credit for lowering the violence when it comes time. What most will overlook is the fact that the military was only able to resolve the violence because they were the one that created it in the first place.
All these point to political motivation as a reason for inciting mass violence rather than ethnic and religious tensions. Though ethnic and religious factors play supporting roles, they do not necessarily account for an ethnic cleansing outbreak as large as the one in 2016-17. The security dilemma was driven by military leaders. The previous regime had been forged by the military. When it lost power, it concerned the various factions within the military. Some generals wanted the military to step back from its political role and submit to democratically elected leaders. Others wanted to destabilize the emerging Burmese democracy through exploitation of the unstable climate and reassert political control by the military elite. In short, when legitimate paths to power were blocked for the military, many seized illegitimate opportunities to recoup wealth and power. It is important to recognize these dimensions as root causes in order to address appropriate solutions.
History of the NLD and Military Junta
Myanmar’s recent shift from a military government to a democratic union is not the first in Asia and in history. Prior to Myanmar’s change in political structure, there came South Korea’s successful transition, Thailand’s failure, and Indonesia’s partial success (Barany). An election was held in Myanmar in 2015, the first in two decades. While this prompted both local and international media to focus on positive political and state developments that was underwent by the country, some believed that such transition is not actually fully accepted by the Burmese Military. For instance, prior to the 2010 elections where Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won, Myanmar’s military viewed its regime as a way to protect its fragile territory and sovereignty from political unrest and ethnic conflicts (Jones). Furthermore, the Burmese Military is still supported greatly by its neighboring countries, for instance China, that continues to enable its strong authoritarian force in Burma (Farrelly).
The development of the military government was influenced by the assassination of Aung San in 1947, but fully developed in 1962 when General Ne Win, through a military coup, overthrew the civilian government and founded the Revolutionary Council (Devi 46). It was during this time that a previously democratic Myanmar sulked into military governance for the next fifty years. During the military regime, the Council sought to create a new constitution and control the whole of Myanmar. Between 1962 and 1974, the country was transformed into a socialist state with just one party and the military was declared as the supreme authority. The first national election under Ne Win’s rule was held in 1974 with the military junta promising to transfer its power to anyone who wins the election; however, the transfer of power that occurred was only for General Ne Win who was renamed U Ne Win. The military junta continued to be a powerful force in the government, despite elections occurring in 1978 and in 1981.
With the strong force of the military in Myanmar, the nation’s democratic development failed to persist during the late 20th century. Along with this, ethnic and political conflict continued to take rise between states. Media outlets found difficulty in relaying news, especially when they involved military violence. The second military period (1988-2011) paved the way for the ongoing ethnic conflicts to further ensue as students started joining ethnic armies in the midst of continuous human rights violations perpetrated by the Burmese Army. In this period, it could be realized that ethnic minorities have encultured a tradition of rebellion against the junta, passing on this mindset and perception into their kin. In 1990, the military tried to take control of the situation by holding a general election. During this time, the National League for Democracy won, but the rule of the land was not transferred by the military government. This led the NLD to create an underground movement called National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). In 1991, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won a Nobel Peace Prize, further strengthening the calls for democracy in Myanmar.
Various rallies and unrest were held in various parts of Burma between 1988 to 2008 to call out the continuous occurrences of human rights violations, particularly in the northern and western part of Myanmar, related to ethnic and religious motivations. During this period, Myanmar caught the attention of the international community who imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions, via the Freedom Burma Act and the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, against the military junta for its unlawful treatment and response to the civil war. In 2010, the military government held a general election where Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won.
The National League for Democracy’s beginnings could be traced back in 1988 when there was great political uprising in Myanmar from the injustices brought about by the military government. Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San who led the Burmese Independence Movement in the 1940s, actively led the NLD. In 1989, she was put under house arrest for defying the junta’s autonomous power. However, during this time, citizens seeking for democracy had already started rising in number, and while the military government continued to regulate the uprisings, it had to strategically give in to the wants of the people (e.g. general election that was however botched and invalidated by the military) so as to avoid a greater revolution. As uprisings continued, a general election was held in 2010; however, the NLD boycotted the election because majority of their political lineup was barred from running. Another election took place in 2015, and it was during this time that the NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won. The election was considered as the “most genuinely competitive, free, fair, and orderly parliamentary elections” since the 1990s (Thawnghmung). The military government finally accepted the results and decided to submit on the newly elected democratic government.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration powers vs. military’s powers
Like any democratic country, Myanmar under a democratic rule is now focused on rebuilding itself towards a more citizen-focused nation. For instance, the democratic government sought to open a national human rights commission, strengthen its economic and trade relations, and build a trust culture among ethnic groups and political parties. Despite the emergence of this new civilian government, military power continues to be a strong force in Myanmar’s governance and politics.
For instance, 25% of the seats in the parliament are controlled by the Burmese military (Wade). The military has also made its rule in Burma more strategic by incorporating into its long-term plan a “roadmap to democracy,” all while insinuating at the current government that no changes in the current constitution (the one drafted and passed during the second phase of the military regime) should be made. Apart from this is the continuous support of some foreign state (e.g. China) in the military’s rule.
All these lead to one thing—that despite its loss in the recently-held election and its submission to the democratic party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the military junta remains to be a powerful player in Myanmar’s economy and politics. The military has been and is still considered as an institution that has its own leadership, vision, and goals. While it promotes a seemingly more humanistic platform for leadership over the last few years, its activities remain to be unjust and inhumane in the eyes of many local and international spectators. What limits the democratic government to fully take out the military is the latter’s strong influence on politics and governance backed by external support as well as its role in the current Myanmar government as the institution controlling the country’s security forces.
As such, while the democratic government continues to lead Myanmar, the military junta, behind the spotlight, continues its violent and chaotic mission of putting forth socio-political, ethnic, and religious motivations under its control. The win for the NLD is a double-edged sword in politics as it still allowed the strong ruling of the military whilst promulgating a democratic type of governance. A prime example of this situation is the ongoing conflict among Rohingya Muslims occurring in the Rakhine State.
General reasons for an increase in violence
Even with the rise of democratic power in Burma, ethnic conflicts still continue in many parts of Myanmar. With ethnic groups consisting of a third of the Myanmar population (Singh 925), the divide among ethnic groups began in 1946 and still continues even until this day, making it the longest recorded civil war in history. While all 14 states of Myanmar have their own armed ethnic groups to fight off the military junta, perhaps the greatest focus at present is the Rohingya conflict in the Rakhine State. An examination of previous events, motivations, goals, and behaviors of all parties involved in this issue lead to insinuations that the violence among Rohingya Muslims continue to persist because of (1) violent and influential Buddhist ideology, (2) aims to combat or pre-empt the threat of Rohingya insurgents, terrorism, and armed militia, and (3) to force out a growing population of people that allegedly never belonged to Myanmar, essentially to prevent the Rakhine State from being a Muslim stronghold so it would not have a strong chance of seceding from Myanmar in the future. To further clarify these motivations, a more detailed discussion shall be done in the next few paragraphs.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
Violent and influential Buddhist ideology.
Myanmar is a country whose primary religion has always been Buddhism. Throughout history, the participation of Buddhist leaders became a strong force against the military government. For instance, in 2007, Buddhist monks rallied in the streets to protest against military powers (Aung Aung 19). While Buddhism could put forth a positive force in social change, it could also drag down groups based on religiosity. Buddhism as a religious and political power is evident even in social media and the Myanmar way of life. With more than 90% of the Myanmar population being Buddhists, it could be expected that discrimination may be experienced by those following a different religion. Mishra claimed that the displacement of thousands of Muslims in the Rakhine State is greatly influenced by religious factors. Buddhist Rohingyas, for instance, sought to rule out the Muslim population in Rakhine in order to “cleanse” their state and strictly become a primarily Buddhist state (note that Rakhine state is the only state in Myanmar to have a different primary religion). In particular, a violent conflict between Rohingya Buddhists and Muslims ensued in 2012 where thousands of people were displaced, hundreds of lives were lost, and thousands of homes were destroyed (Kipgen). This was, of course, backed by the military junta who aimed at the continuous implementation of authoritarian tactics.
Combatting and pre-empting the Rohingya upsurge. The military junta has long believed that Myanmar, as a nation, is frail and weak in its ability to withstand political and ethnic ruptures. As such, for the longest time, the military has seen ethnic groups as threats to the country’s peace and development process. The same mindset and reasoning goes for the events occurring among the Rohingya Muslims. The formation of the Rohingya army further threatened the Burmese military, enabling the latter to further its combats against an expected upsurge.
Non-recognition of Rohingya Muslims as Myanmar nationals. The ethnic group of Rohingyas were of Indo-Aryan (India-Bangladesh) descent—instead of the Sino-Tibetan descent where the Burmese came from—and only became under the ruling of Burma when the country colonized the region in the 1700s (Rahman 290). As such, in historically and geographically terms, the Rohingyas were already different from the major population. As ethnic, religious, and political conflicts continued to perish in the Rakhine State, many people argue that the predispositions behind such is the non-recognition of the Rohingyas as authentic Myanmar nationals (Alam). A research by Alam also argued that the continuous human rights violations to Rohingyas are brought about by their status as a minority. This became strengthened by four salient developments in Myanmar’s history, particularly: the development of Burmese nationalism, the development of the political identities of the Burmese majority, the removal of the Myanmar citizenship of the Rohingya, and the continuous ethnic division in Myanmar (Alam).
Political motivation as the driver of continued violence
A report from Amnesty International in 2004 cited that the Rohingya people have been suffering from oppression and human rights violations from the Burmese military since 1978. At present, thru the passing of the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingyas are dismissed from a Myanmar nationality and are stripped away of any benefit that comes with it (Misha). The chaos and violence being upheld in the Rakhine State could be seen as an uprising driven by ethnic or religious interests promulgated by the military junta; however, looking at the issue deeper, it could be realized that certain political factors motivate the continuous violence among the Rohingyas.
Jones argued that the operation of military forces in a country should stop once it realizes the attainment of its goals. Seemingly, in the case of Burma, this happened when the military junta allowed for the democratic party in 2016 to lead a new Myanmar, only acting as an institution promoting discipline and peace among its people. However, as Farrelly pointed out, a military junta has its own mindset and interpretation of success that could only be met when its end goals have been reached. As such, the question of the role of the military junta in the democratic government and their participation in the ethnopolitical conflict among Rohingyas could lead to questions of further political interests and political control.
The military junta’s willingness to remove itself in Myanmar’s political landscape in the future is unlikely (Barany). Since the beginning of the military regime in the 1960s, the military junta has made decisions based on strategies to improve and strengthen in presence in Myanmar. For instance, there is a question of why the military party accepted Aung San Suu Kyi’s democracy in 2016 when it has always denied the NLD of its supposed political status after winning prior elections in the late 20th century. Apart from this is the distinct and powerful presence of the Burmese military even at present, despite the ongoing democratization of Myanmar. In particular, the recent events in the Rakhine State has dragged Aung San Suu Kyi’s name primarily, as the nation is led under a democratic rule; however, in reality, the military junta is primarily responsible for the continuous displacement and human rights violations among the Rohingyas. In addition, the presence of military forces in the parliament also dictates positive outcomes for the military junta. Laws passed on through the parliament are regulated by a major Burmese population, a portion of which supports the military. Simultaneously, the military, as an institution has become unstoppable in promulgating violence and chaos among ethnic groups for political and economic gains. Examining these occurrences only bring about a picture of how the military government uses strategic methods to obtain or control power.
In its policy formation and regulation, the NLD has allowed the military junta to continue and even expand its presence in Myanmar. As such, the democratic values to which the group has been built upon and has been so keen in protecting is now being questioned (Roewer). Aung San Suu Kyi is being blamed by the international community for the Rohingya conflict in Rakhine; meanwhile, Buddhist supporters and the military, with the blame not being pinned amongst themselves, continue to see violence against the Rohingya Muslims as a way to safeguard Myanmar’s culture, politics, and religion.
While supporters of the military junta fully understand the institutions reasons in promulgating violence, spectators from the international media do not. Blaževiè (103) postulated that since the 2003, the military has long been laying out its master plan to eventually seek favor and bring the institution back to power. It should be remembered that prior to the ruling of the NLD, while the Rohingya conflict is occurring in the Rakhine State, many people all across Myanmar also became victims of violence and human rights conflicts perpetrated by the Burmese military. This resulted in many movements to oust the then military rule and to replace Myanmar with a more citizen-focused political strategy through democratization. This continuous conflict and uproar is what the current military is avoiding with its 2003 master plan. The military plan particularly entailed a seven-step roadmap that would give focus to a new constitution that is still definitely in favor of the military junta and the reorganization of the parliament in favor of the military, among others. In addition, Blaževiè (103) cited that Thun Sein as a leader of the democratic party, was weak because of his party’s limited values and resources; therefore, he could easily be controlled by the military junta who, as an institution has been backed by strong favors and supporters.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
Welsh, Huang, and Chu postulated that a democratic ruling in Myanmar is challenging because the economic and cultural challenges faced by the nation is blocking the democratization process. For the military junta, this is also an advantageous opportunity to discredit the democratic government. By doing so, people’s perceptions about democracy may change in favor of the military. Alongside this, the military junta also capitalizes on the weakness of the ethnic minorities. Among Rohingya Muslims, for instance, it could be easily realized that the group is at a disadvantage from the beginning. According to Aung Aung (53), minority ethnic parties are actually disadvantanged in terms of autonomy, coherence, roots in society, organization, interparty relations, and international relations. These challenges are further utilized by the military in order to shift the focus on the Rohingya Muslim conflict as perpetuated by ethnic and religious conflict. This seemed to be successful because of the continuous negative forces put forth by the Rohingya Buddhists to the Rohingya Muslims alongside military violence.
The conflict occurring within Rakhine State poses threats to further democracy and peace. Zin cited that the configuration of power from a military to a democratic government may be surprising, but the military junta will not allow for full autonomy and a radical shift. As such, many political scientists and researchers seek to appease the situation in Rakhine State by resolving political issues occurring throughout the country. For instance, Zin calls for gradual political and state reformations instead of abrupt changes in order to promote positive changes. It was advised that such political changes should focus on upholding inclusive reconciliation rather than pushing for institutional autonomy or constitutional reform, changes that the military junta will definitely fight against. It is postulated that such movement will enable ethnic armed groups to reproach the government, such as what the Karen Nationalist Union (Brenner).
Despite this, the government should also provide particular focus on the Rohingya Muslims because they have been the subject of international focus where international organizations such as the United Nations had stated its concern and active participation to ease the problem. For instance, a study by Rahman (293) concluded that the Rohingya people have been considered as the world’s least wanted and most suppressed ethnic group. Rohingya Muslims are stateless refugees that were deprived of stable homes, jobs, identity, and security. As such, should the government or even the military would want to uplift their status in the international scene in terms of their humanistic tendencies and respect for human rights, they should provide long-term support, reconciliation, and solutions that would favor all parties involved in the conflict. Should this conflict not end soon, it is hypothesized that the civil war would become greater, with the armed ethnic groups garnering support from various extremist groups all over the world including the Al Quaeda (Hookway).
Researchers and political scientists postulate that the ethnic conflict in Rakhine State that has its undermining political interests is seen by the military as both a curse and a blessing in its plan to overturn the current democratic government; moreover, with the military’s experience in laying out long-term plans and strategies in their favor, it is possible that future outcomes of the Rohingya conflict will enable them to restart a third phase of military resurgence.
The Rohingya Muslim displacements and human rights violations in Rakhine State that began in 1978 continues to exist even up to this day. More than ever, the Rohingya Muslims have been treated poorly both by the military junta and the Rohingya Buddhists by disabling them from achieving a Myanmar national identity, acquiring basic needs, and living in peaceful circumstances. This phenomenon, however, were seen by people from the local and international community as fueled by ethnic and religious, rather than political, motivations. This paper, therefore, aimed to examine such occurrence and its continuity as a product of politics.
The history of military presence in Myanmar is long and distinct, with majority of the nation’s contemporary history being ruled by seemingly unjust laws set forth by an autonomous regime led by the military government. The military government ruled Myanmar in two phases, and in these phases, significant political changes in the course of politics, economy, and culture have been made by the military junta. For instance, the change of the constitution paved the way for the military to exercise greater power over its citizens. By the latter part of the 20th century, Myanmar found itself burdened with conflict from minority ethnic groups fighting for their individual rights. This occurred alongside the emergence of the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi. As such, the second phase of the military rule was met with intense conflict among these groups. The military government was therefore forced to hold elections that would stabilize the then enlarging conflict within the country; despite this, power ultimately remained within the military for the next decades to come.
The year 2015 became a hallmark of democracy in Myanmar’s history when the military government was finally overturned by a democratic government that sought people-centered reforms in the field of politics, economics, culture, and trade. The emergence of such government gave rise to a more positive outlook on Myanmar; however, the persistent and ongoing segregation and displacement of the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State became a focus by the local and international community to question the current government’s ability to take control of the situation and to provide solutions that is appropriate for all parties. Some people, on the other hand, questioned the motives behind such occurrences and postulated that the Burmese military who had already stepped down in its long duty as the primary leader of Burma, had plans of undermining the politics of the situation.
The Rohingya conflict continues to occur because of violence perpetrated by the Buddhists, the belief that the Rohingya Muslims are planning an upsurge in the future, and the perspective that the Rohingya Muslims are not from Myanmar to begin with, and in the end should not be allowed to experience all benefits that a citizen of the country should attain. Researchers and political scientists believe that the military’s leadership in casting out these Muslims are part of a bigger plan to acquire back the rule of Myanmar through disenabling the capability of the democratic government and to shift the upsurge against the military to the former. Seemingly, because Aung San Suu Kyi has been the subject of blame and focus by the international community, this plan is going as planned. [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
In the end, it is imperative for either the military government or the democratic government to resolve the Rohingya conflict firsthand to alleviate Myanmar’s focus on the international community. It is hypothesized that in order to prevent the military government from aggressively acting out against the current democratic rule, the NLD should focus on enhancing the economic potential of the country, rather than going for radical changes in culture and politics (e.g. changing the constitution that was created by the military government during the second phase of their rule). Nevertheless, the military regime has proven itself to be a strategic institution that decides on and makes its move on well thought out plans. As such, it could be realized that the military’s continuous presence and violence towards the Rohingya Muslims of the Rakhine State is perpetrated by motivations pertaining to political power.
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