Ko Ni – a constitutional expert and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi – was assassinated in Yangon on 29 January 2017. Lawyer Ko Ni was not only a human rights defender who voiced out for Rohingya rights, but he asked for abolishing the 2008's constitution of Myanmar as well.
This constitution reserves 25% parliamentarian seats for the Tatmadaw – the armed forces of Myanmar – and also reserves the ministries of home, border affairs and defence for serving military officers.
So, neither the assassination of Ko Ni nor the state councillor Suu Kyi's silence afterwards came as a surprise considering the influence of the all-powerful Tatmadaw.
Since the independence of Myanmar in 1948, the military juntas ruled the country for more than 50 years. Democracy returned in 2011, but the military maintained enormous influence thanks to the 2008 constitution. However, when Suu Kyi's NLD won a sweeping majority in the parliament for a straight second term in 2020, the military refused to recognise the election outcome and grabbed power in a coup.
Some experts say the military needed economic relief, so they allowed limited democracy for a few years, and now they are done with it. Some would say they feared their influence was eroding in the country's political spectrum. There are several explanations.
Since military dictator General Ne Win grabbed power in 1962, Tatmadaw's love for power and hence its political ambition were well-known.
General Ne Win ruled for 25 years through civil unrests and spearheaded a drug empire to finance his mafia regime.
A story of blood and drugs
Many in Bangladesh might wonder why the Yaba invasion from Myanmar never stopped after so many meetings between the governments and constant promises from the Myanmar authority.
To find an answer, let us travel decades back in the past.
When China's Mao Zedong defeated Nationalist Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) leader Chiang Kai-shek in 1949, the KMT retreated to Taiwan. As all of them could not manage to retreat to Taiwan, some took shelter in Burma's Shan province, continuing their fight against Mao from there.
To finance their fight against Mao, the Chinese produced drugs in exchange for gold at the Myanmar, Laos and Thailand border – the reason why this region got a reputation for being the 'Golden Triangle'. In fact, the country's entanglements with drugs can be traced hundreds of years back into the colonial period as well.
However, after military dictator Ne Win grabbed power in the 60s, an income bereft Myanmar began wholescale opium production.
Besides, when China began to arm the Communist Party of Burma to counter KMT fighters in Shan province, arms and drugs proliferated throughout every region in Myanmar; the country was turned into a narco-state.
Dictator Ne Win formed Ka Kwe Ye (KKY) at that time to fight the rebel groups in exchange for security for their drug cartels. Drugs became a regular business under state sponsorship as respectable businessmen also joined the profitable market.
As drug business proliferated, on the other side, infightings between various rebel groups and the military also continued to escalate. These fights never stopped, and till now, thousands (around 250,000) of civilians lost their lives, and tens of thousands were displaced.
Besides, as many rebel fronts fight in many parts of the country, the military makes a truce here and fights there and then breaks the truce whenever it suits to advantage their political ambitions.
From the 8888 massacres in 1988 when thousands of pro-democracy protesters were brutally murdered to the present day after-coup murders, Myanmar's military never felt remorse for killing unarmed civilians for power.
A UN prosecution team including Judge Pedro Nikken of Venezuela, a former member of the executive committee of the international commission of jurists, and Ganzorig Gombosuren, a former judge at the Supreme Court of Mongolia at the two international criminal tribunals found that UN documents have included a range of human rights and humanitarian law violations in Myanmar since 1992.
The International Human Rights Clinic of the Harvard Law School prepared a report by reviewing four types of crimes perpetrated in Myanmar: murder, enforced displacement, torture and sexual violence that had been documented in various UN reports since 2002.
Another inquiry by the law school of Harvard in 2014 said that three military commanders and a combat division of the Myanmar army committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Kachin and the northern Shan State of Myanmar in 2005-06. The report portrayed a vivid description of how the soldiers fired mortars at villages; opened fire on fleeing villagers; destroyed homes, crops, and food stores; planted landmines in civilian areas; forced civilians to work; and captured and executed civilians.
Besides, the Tatmadaw's heinous crimes against the Rohingya minorities, how they perpetrated ethnic cleansing and genocides, burned villages, tortured and raped are known to us all. But nothing happened to them. Neither did they ever hold back the mass production of drugs.
A drug trade twice the size of GDP
In the 1990s with the arrival of Yaba, the crazy pill of Myanmar, the country struck a new gold mine. As the traditional opium and heroin business became costlier and riskier, Yaba is indeed the largest income source for the drug cartel now.
If you look at the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime data, it shows the opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar has dropped from more than 160,000 hectares in 1996 to just 37,300 hectares in 2018.
But in a similar timeframe, if you look at the seizures of methamphetamine tablets in 2008 – a few million – to in 2017, it increased to nearly 450 million in the Mekong region.
It is hard to imagine how many of these crazy pills actually reached the Mekong consumers escaping the law enforcing agencies. Usually, it is assumed ten times more than what is captured.
Thanks to the crazy pills, it is believed that Myanmar's drug trade income is twice the GDP of the country. And there are numerous reports indicating the Myanmar military's involvement in the Yaba trade.
Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist known for his expertise on Burmese issues, wrote years ago, "It is clear that the drug lords in the northeast are enjoying protection from the highest level of Burma's military establishment. The close cooperation between Burma's drug lords and the SLORC/SPDC has led many to speculate that the government may be more closely involved in the trade than just providing protection."
The Rohingya massacres and the tale of a deluded Suu Kyi
During the peak of Rohingya genocides and ethnic cleansings perpetrated by the Tatmadaw in 2017, the military was not directly in power. It was Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD. But the military had money, and a tainted constitution gave them enough power to hold the NLD on the throat to get their agendas done through Suu Kyi.
There are plenty of theories why Suu Kyi did not take action and speak out against the Rohingya genocide in Rakhine state. Some experts would say she waited for the fragile democracy to mature when she would make everything alright, but most would criticise her inaction and collaboration in the ethnic cleansing in thirst for power.
However, when Suu Kyi appeared at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to defend a military that not only committed the massacre against Rohingyas for decades but also killed thousands of Burmese people – both the protesters for democracy and the rebels, the military that never had to think twice to kill human rights defenders like Ko Ni, Suu Kyi perhaps wanted to gain the trust of this mafia military.
But she actually lost everything – her international appeal as a champion of democracy and human rights defender waned.
The Tatmadaw had it all – the defence of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for their heinous crimes against humanity, the economic relief they needed to breathe after years of sanctions, and internationally tainted image of the NLD and Suu Kyi for their shameless silence when the Rohingyas were slaughtered.
The military of Myanmar is now back in the game in its true self – seized power, arrested the leadership, and killing the protesters in hundreds every day.
The mafia kingdom of Myanmar is back to square one.