Myanmar in 2022: Future of the Opposition’s Armed Uprising




The bloody war of the Myanmar military unleashed on the civilian PDFs and the ethnic armed organisations continues to claim lives daily. The opposition’s violent resistance,centred around restoring democracy, although impressive thus far, needs external support to succeed.      

A Bloody War on the People

Myanmar continued to witness a bloody civil war situation throughout 2022. Since the February 2021 coup, at least 2,641 people[1] have been killed by the military junta in its attempt to stablise the country and silence the opposition. Another 16,592 people have been detained. The opposition too has claimed to have killed hundreds of the junta soldiers and symphathisers. The junta has responded to the determination shown by the Opposition by launching an unrelenting phase of violence. It has repeatedly vowed to crush the ‘terrorism’ unleashed by the People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) and the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs). While the obligation of the regime to protect its interests is understandable, the level of motivation of the opposition in the face of a virulent scorched earth policy pursued by the military and the longevity of the resistance need contextual understanding.            


The motivation to keep the banner of uprising flying seems to be the outcome of the merging of two divergent senses: of hurt and betrayal for the Bamar pro-democracy civilian and politically motivated groups, and an enduring anti-military outlook of some of the EAOs. The pro-democracy groups and the supporters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) have been outraged by the military’s move to overturn the results of the 2020 general elections, which not only provides a huge setback to the prospect of democracy in the country but also cast its shadows over a lot many associated freedoms and opportunities that came along with it. For these groups and people, it is a fight to preserve the freedom they experienced for the past decade.   

Some of the EAOs who have allied their causes with that of the PDFs, on the other hand, have been fighting the military junta for decades to protect, what they consider, their inherent right to autonomy over land and natural resources. Barring a few recent years, such fighting has been a persistent reality in the country’s periphery, and so is the violence, loss of human lives and livestock, and property. For them, camaraderie with the PDFs is about continuing the same fight, with renewed momentum. Victory against the junta may result in a scenario when a new regime endorses its long-held autonomy demand. The parallel National Unity Government (NUG)’s acceptance of their demands gives them such hope. 

Longevity of Resistance

Coming together of the battle-hardened EAOs and the tech-savvy and motivated civilians is the key factor behind the sustenance of the armed uprising so far. While the EAOs bring in the elements of perseverance and commitment to continue fighting with the military even while suffering losses, the PDFs use their educational background, past exposure to the military’s functioning, and their networking capacity within the country and beyond to whip up and support a passionate fight. The EAOs like the Kachins, Rakhines, Karens, and Shans provide examples of survival for decades while pitted against a militarily superior adversary. The PDFs, over time and with the help of the EAOs, seem to have harnessed the skill of converting odd ambushes into a full-fledged urban insurgency in the heart of Myanmar. It is probably this combination of unique skill sets that make them an effective and possibly durable fighting force. 

It is this combination of typical and complementary strength, which manifests itself in a constant upgradation in the quality of attacks against the military and their perceived associates. The parcel bomb explosion in the high-security Insein Prison which killed eight persons on 19 October and the attack on the Immigration office in the southern Mon State town of Ye on 3 August, which killed five officials are among the large number of attacks carried out by the PDFs. In addition to killing police personnel, ward administrators, and suspected informers of the junta, recent successes of the PDFs include the killing of Former Brigadier-General Ohn Thwin and his son-in-law in September.    

The strategy of carrying out random attacks of opportunity has been replaced with one that is intended to spread fear among the military officials and their supporters but also prevents the junta from going ahead with its plan of holding a general election in 2023. The EAOs are doing their bit in the periphery by inflicting high casualties on the military. For instance, between 20 and 30 October 2022, intense violence in Kachin, Karen, Rakhine, and Kayah states and Mandalay, Sagaing, Magwe, Bago, and Tanintharyi regions, reportedly claimed the lives of 162 soldiers. Another 67 soldiers including an army major were killed between 3 and 7 November.  

A critical contribution of the Bamar young, enthusiastic, and tech-savvy participants, hitherto relatively absent in the EAOs decades-long fight with the military, has been to successfully highlight their achievements and also the brutalities inflicted upon the country by the military. Multiple websites, blogs, news sources, and social media profiles and handles, either run or supported by them, continue to amplify such incidents. As a result, every single incident of violence gets reported and is read by the world. These possibly are among the reasons for the continued condemnation of the junta and imposition of sanctions by a number of countries. Statements by the UN and its human rights experts have condemned the junta’s attacks on schools, civilians, and its attempts to establish a ‘digital dictatorship’. Although none of the countries have recognized the NUG, there is enough evidence that the networking capacities of the PDFs and their supporters have ensured a steady unofficial flow of resources for their war efforts.          

A Long-road Ahead

A lethal combination, however, does not necessarily become a winning combination. The PDFs and the EAOs face two drawbacks as they challenge a militarily superior adversary. First, in spite of the violence and human misery, Myanmar is not a priority for the international community. The resolve shown by Russia and China in protecting the junta and supporting its war-making capacities is hardly matched by the sanctions imposed by countries like the US, UK, Australia, etc. The ASEAN has struggled to frame a unified policy on Myanmar. 

Secondly, the opposition’s war against the military is still localized, although of late it seems to have expanded into the Shan state as well. However, a considerable number of EAOs continue to remain rather indifferent to the happenings. The junta has been trying and partially succeeding in driving a wedge between the nearly two dozen EAOS, which operate in the country. On the other hand, there is little evidence that the multiple PDFs are working under a unified strategy directed by the NUG. 

To succeed, the opposition would need external logistical as well as diplomatic support on a sustained basis. This too has to be matched by pressure on the military junta gradually crippling its attempt to normalize structural violence and assault on democracy. The ‘Burma Law’ enacted by the US could potentially unveil such a future. 


[1] Data till 23 December 2022.

(Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is the Director of Mantraya. This policy brief has been published as part of Mantraya’s ongoing “Fragility, Conflict & Peace Building” project. All Mantraya publications are peer-reviewed.)