Considering that the entire population of Myanmar, save the Tatmadaw and its shills, are now effectively prisoners to a politics anathema to all ordinary citizens, here’s an update.
The army are inveigling and paying villagers and retired military personnel to go and batter anti-coup protesters, in a darkly satirical take on astroturfing straight out of the special playbook run by cash-rich demagogues controlling billions of dollars in illegal and legal assets.
Here’s what one well-connected Maqshosh contact, who did not wish to be identified for obvious reasons, told us about the so-called ‘counter-protesters’: ‘These are paid thugs. In some cases they are villagers who have no idea what they are being hired to do. They’re told they’re going to dance rehearsals or a religious ceremony and aren’t told what they’re really doing until they get to the city. In one case, when they found out, some got really embarrassed and started crying.
‘One dropped his ledger, where there is a list of items and rewards. It says if they use a knife they get 20,000 Kyat (US$15), for a slingshot they get 10,000 Kyat, and stone-throwers get 7,000 Kyat if they’re male and 6,000 if they’re female.’
The contact also told us how the citizenry in his town found out that many of the ‘police’ engaged in the crackdown were in fact army. ‘My friend runs a clinic. One policeman came in with an injury but when he was asked to take his shoes off he refused. Everyone here knows that this is an odd thing about the Tatmadaw. They have a rule that no soldier is allowed to take his or her shoes off in this way. It was obvious who he was, and both he and my friend knew it.’
The most salient point about the Tatmadaw is that they are zero-per-cent accountable. When the army ceded power in 2011, they didn’t really cede power. It was an illusion all along. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party swept the election but could not change the constitution, which allowed the army control over the key state institutions that are normally the most immediate target of any power-crazed demagogue: the interior ministry, the foreign ministry, and the defence ministry. With these in your pocket, you’re free to use the army as an enormous cash-generation machine. It can override the will of anybody and it’s beyond control. The problem is that the zygotes of evil in the Tatmadaw are a- and immoral. They are in a zone where ethics and humanity, those bothersome impediments to accruing insane wealth, do not intrude. ‘It’s a tree? A woman? An endangered animal? A child? A plot of land belonging to someone else? Sell it. Kill anyone who objects. What’s that? Villagers in the way of the gas pipeline? Well, don’t just stand there, enslave them, raze their villages, and use them to clear the jungle for the rest of the pipeline! Muslims, eh? Kill them. Kill them all if you can.’
The deal made back in 2011 was the only one on the table, everyone knew that, but it was in fact a hospital pass for the NLD, hobbled by the rampant national asset-stripping on which the Tatmadaw had by then gotten a monopoly. They controlled the arms trade, the oil and gas industries, the logging, the jade and gemstone mining, and much else besides. The Tatmadaw have in the past been so out of control that they shipped in missile and nuclear technology from their mates in North Korea. They have raped their own citizens, enslaved others, machine-gunned villagers, burned whole communities to the ground.
The Tatmadaw, with their entourages and their fat American SUVs and their disgusting wedding-cake houses, are irredeemably, unremittingly evil. They are not in any way a force for good in any universe. They reap money, and they sow death, destruction, humiliation, genocide, indiscriminate violence.
They continue to make billions of illegal dollars, launder and reinvest them through their friends in Singapore (also a key jump-off point for the North Koreans), and are so rich that in-country delights are not upscale enough for them anymore and they are required to seek titillation outside the region in destinations to which they can afford to travel by chartered jet.
So, if you’re looking for evidence that having an army outside political control and operating thereby with total impunity is in any way a good thing, you are not going to find it in Myanmar.
There is a very good argument to be made for this: If the Tatmadaw are allowed to get away with this iniquity, unpunished, what hope have we for an equitable world? It’s the victory of the thug-oligarchy. We’re all going to be serfs again, if they have their way. Their reign is a prima facie outrage, an ice pick in the heart of Justice.
Don’t be fooled by media images of ‘pro-coup’ protesters. No one supports the coup. Army pensioners and poverty-stricken villagers are a reliable enough source of manpower for the Tatmadaw, though. They’re biddable. Cracking a few anti-coup heads for cash is easy money for those who have no other means of supporting wives made redundant from Covid-affected garment factories. The army, who never say no to a bit of cosplay, are donning police uniforms and getting into the action. And they’re ready to do whatever China says.
This first appeared on Maqshosh.