“The Complex Dynamics of Myanmar’s Armed Groups: A Franchise-like Structure”

Myanmar Spring Chronicle – September 12 Scenes

MoeMaKa, September 13, 2023

“The Complex Dynamics of Myanmar’s Armed Groups: A Franchise-like Structure”

A recent news report sheds light on a concerning development within the National Special Force, a People’s Defense Force (PDF) armed group active in Brigade-7 of Karen State under the control of the Karen National Union (KNU). Three leaders from this group, including the commanding officer, second in command, and platoon commander, allegedly defected to the military council, absconding with a substantial portion of the group’s funds and some weapons. The remaining 40 members of the PDF were taken into custody by the Southern Military Region Command. The PDF had accumulated approximately 90 million kyats in funds, and several weapons were reportedly seized. This marks the first such incident in Karen State, where ethnic armed groups operate.

There are two plausible explanations for this incident. Firstly, it may reflect the challenges and disillusionment faced by armed revolutionaries who initially believed that armed struggle would yield a quick solution within a matter of months or a year. Secondly, there is a possibility that these defectors had affiliations with the military council from the outset, acting as covert insiders. This scenario resembles the military’s narrative regarding defectors seeking refuge among the civilian population, whether with or without weapons, being labeled as insiders.

As of now, the true cause behind this incident remains undisclosed. In the realm of warfare and politics, there are often strategies to obtain intelligence from the opposing side. However, not every event is meticulously premeditated. Instances occur where political trust, precarious positions, and unrealistic expectations, often referred to as false hope, meet the harsh reality, leading to abandonment, defection, or surrender.

Reflecting on the broader context, the movement against the military coup, commonly referred to as the Spring Revolution, which has been ongoing since February 1, 2021, encompasses diverse factions. These include unarmed movements, urban guerrilla activities, armed groups aligned with liberated areas of ethnic armed organizations, and armed groups defending their villages.

Most PDF armed groups operating outside ethnic regions in Myanmar, engaging in guerrilla warfare, and urban guerrillas within cities, have not been formally integrated into the National Unity Government’s Ministry of Defence. They have independently formed these armed groups, relying on public support. While these groups maintain a degree of communication and cooperation, security concerns limit information exchange and collaboration. Many of these groups sustain themselves through donations. Some collaborate to varying extents with the NUG’s Ministry of Defence, while others, not formally under the Code of Conduct (CoC), unite against a common adversary.

In essence, it’s akin to a franchise system in business, where separate outlets operate under the umbrella of a parent company, sharing a brand identity. In business, the parent company permits subsidiary franchises to benefit from a percentage and divides responsibilities. In the current armed revolution, however, one might question whether a similar structure has inadvertently evolved among armed groups. Without intentional planning, MoD battalions, local PDFs, guerrilla groups, ethnic armed resistance groups, etc., are establishing hierarchical and lateral relationships, akin to a franchising model.

Armed groups and urban guerrillas operating in this franchise-like system have been active for over two and a half years. While entities like PaKaFa, PaAFa, and PaLaFa, formed by former members of the NLD party and parliamentarians, have emerged in regions where the Bamar majority resides, they have yet to organize all locally emerged PDFs and urban guerrillas comprehensively.

These factors can lead to defections, surrenders, and mistrust among groups, similar to how a sub-franchise might switch allegiance to a rival franchise company in business.

The strength of the Spring Revolution’s armed movement lies in its organic emergence within communities in response to the military coup. However, for the long term, it might be beneficial to consolidate politically, adopt a structured military command system, and enhance mutual support to aim for victory within a defined timeframe. If they find value in the franchise system for interim purposes, fostering systematic and transparent franchise branches could be a viable option.