From the ancient period to the present age, land is the matter of contention between individuals, tribes, and empires. After the treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the concept of ‘sovereignty’ becomes the primary concern for the security of a nation-state. From time to time, separatist movements and militancy pose challenges to the security. Bangladesh is not an exception. Geographically, since its independence in 1971, the Chittagong Hill tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh are a matter of concern for the state to maintain its national security.
The CHT, which consists of the three districts of Rangamati, Khagrachari, and Bandarban, is a remote region that serves as a safe haven for numerous armed and separatist groups. As a result, the Bangladesh Army and other security forces have been attempting to bring stability and peace to the Hill regions since the early 1980s. Law enforcement authorities have engaged in conflicts in highland areas for a long time. Though Peace Accord was signed in 1997, the armed groups have killed at least 16 members of the security forces till December last.
Recently, the security forces of Bangladesh launched an operation against the militancy in the hill tract areas that were being trained by the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) in exchange of money. Bangladesh did not face the militancy-terrorist dualities in the past. This is a new dimension that raises eyebrows for the country. During the operation in the Chattogram Hill Tracts, in October, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) detained three separatists and seven suspected members of the new militant group Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya. The RAB reported that at least 38 people who fled the country and went into hiding were given violent training at multiple camps run by a separatist organization in the Hill Tracts. The KNF, a new armed group, wants independence for the mountainous area. With their claim of responsibility for the 21 killings of CHT individuals in June of this year, the KNF emerged as a fresh source of worry.
Although the organization’s actions weren’t very comprehensive at first, they have already amassed enough strength to establish a force that is well-equipped. Armed organizations in the bordering countries are connected to the KNF and have provided training to them. Around 200 individuals initially underwent guerilla, infantry, and commando training in Manipur, Karen, and Kachin. According to local media, there are currently between 3,000 and 4,000 trained KNA members living both inside and outside the nation.
Who are they?
Chin-Kuki-Mizo belongs to the same tribe with different names residing in Myanmar, Bangladesh and India with close geographical proximity along the border region between the countries. This ethnic armed group is engaged in political and military endeavors to establish an independent state in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which encompass the majority of the Bandarban and Rangamati districts. Their political front, the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), also has an armed component known as the Kuki-Chin Army (KNA). It emerged as a non-profit development organization, but since 2017, it has evolved into a separatist group.
The Kuki-Chin is a geographical grouping of numerous Tibeto-Burman language-speaking ethnic communities that make up the majority in the Indian state of Mizoram and the Chin state of Myanmar. Along with the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, they also reside in the hilly regions of the Indian states of Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland. The KNF, often known as the “Bawm Party” locally, is made up of six members of the Kuki-Chin ethnic group: the Bawm, Pangkhua, Lusai, Khumi, Mro, and Khiang.
The existence of such an armed group in isolated border regions has also put regional and national security at risk. It is situated in a challenging and crucial geographical location. In the Indian border side, Mizoram shares 318 kilometers of border with Bangladesh. In the isolated regions of Mizoram state, there are a number of separatist organizations as well. On the other side, various rebel organizations such as the Arakan Army, Chin Defense Force, and Chin National Army are present in the Chin state of Myanmar. The connection and cooperation of KNF with these organizations will exacerbate the instability in the entire region.
A new refugee flows?
In addition to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, India and Myanmar are home to sizable populations of the Kuki-Chin ethnic group. Due to racial homogeneity, it is simple for the KNF to win over supporters from the other side of the border. Since the joint operation of Bangladeshi security forces began in the Hill Tracts on No. 11, more than 300 members of the Kuki-Chin tribe have crossed the border and sought refuge in Mizoram, according to Indian media.
The Kuki-Chin people were reportedly forced to “leave” the country as a result of a joint operation between the RAB and the Arakan Army, according to a statement from the ZO Reunification Organization (ZORO), an umbrella organization that works for the reunification of the Chin, Kuki, and Mizo tribes of India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, who share the same ancestry and culture as the Mizos of Mizoram. But how can the Arakan Army (AA) and the military of Bangladesh work together? In September, the AA, fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states, requested Bangladesh’s recognition; however, Bangladesh has not yet done so.
Additionally, Chittagong Hill Tracts has seen the presence of numerous separatist groups ever since Bangladesh gained its independence. Included in them are the two major parties, Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS) and the United People’s Democratic Forum (UPDF), as well as the Arakan Liberal Party and Mog Party. In the hills, it’s common for these parties to split apart and form new factions. Some fight for an independent Jumma land and some have their distinct self-interests. However, as a result of the disputes and rivalries, people sneak into the hills out of fear. These factions have established a reign of arms and narcotics smuggling over the hills, in addition to routine assassinations, kidnappings, and extortions.
Bangladesh’s internal security is seriously threatened by the rise of armed groups in the geographically isolated highland regions. In an effort to stop regional violent conflict, surrounding nations must actively cooperate. The bordering nations should increase mutual cooperation and intelligence monitoring to avoid the tactically important region from being a safe haven for the miscreants. The law-enforcing agencies of Bangladesh are fighting against the rising militancy in the hilly areas, not against any communities there.
[Photo by Crysis Rubel, via Wikimedia Commons]
*Nazifa Nawar is an independent researcher and freelance writer. She is interested in Refugee and Migration, Human Security Issues, South Asian Politics and Economic Diplomacy. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.