Internal conflict in Burma continued after independence in 1948, as successive central governments of Myanmar fought myriad ethnic and political rebellions. Some of the earliest insurgencies were by Burmese-dominated “multi-colored” leftists and by the Karen National Union (KNU). The KNU fought to carve out an independent Karen state from large swaths of Lower Burma. Other ethnic rebellions broke out only in the early 1960s after the central government refused to consider a federal style government. By the early 1980s, politically oriented armed insurgencies had largely withered away, but ethnic-based insurgencies remained alive and well during the conflict.
These insurgencies were supported or used by foreign states, exacerbating the isolation, suspicion and concern among Burmans over both their minorities and foreign powers. Some British had supported the Karen; East Pakistan (and then Bangladesh) backed the Muslim Rohingyas on their border with Middle Eastern backing. The Indians were said to be involved with the Kachin and the Karen. The Chinese assisted the CPB (later the Wa), the Naga and Kachin rebels. The United States supported the Kuomintang, and the Thai a wide variety of rebel groups, essentially creating buffer states or zones. Prior to the ceasefires, the largely Burman-dominated armed forces made futile annual dry season campaigns, only to see the rebels return after they left.
The Burman dominated central governments (civilian or military-alike) were unable to reach a political agreement even though the stated goal of most, if not all, major ethnic insurgencies (including the KNU) is autonomy, not secession. Today, the government has signed uneasy ceasefire agreements with most insurgent groups but the army has not gained the trust of the local populace. The army has been widely accused of mistreating the local population with impunity, and is viewed as an occupying force in the ethnic regions.
More recently, the conflict was against the military regime that ruled the country from 1962 to 2011. The conflict was the oldest ongoing war in the world, and received international attention as a result of the 8888 Uprising in 1988, the work of activist Aung San Suu Kyi, the anti-government protests in late 2007, and the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis, which left over 80,000 dead and 50,000 missing in mid-2008.