Bangladesh has launched a much-needed operation against Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) in the Chittagong hill tract for a while now. For the last 6 weeks, Bangladesh Army alongside other security forces are driving this separatist-terrorist organization from its stronghold. As KNF is retreating to a porous borderland, a small and isolated refugee influx due to unnecessary panic has taken place. Approximately 270 ethnic Kuki-Chin Bangladeshi nationals have sought refuge in bordering Mizoram, where they are currently staying under the supervision of the Indian Border Guard, BSF.
As KNF is losing its physical presence, it is maintaining a media presence through social media. Other vested quarters are also engaged in disinformation campaigns capitalizing on the situation.
However, as KNF is an ethnic separatist organization relying on terror and Kuki-Chin and Mizo population resides in India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, KNF’s armed movement could be a potential security threat for the whole region considering the interlocked characteristic of the Hill tracts stretching over all the three countries.
Even months ago, KNF was perceived to be a nascent organization. However, it grew quickly hiding from plain sight. KNF grew into a highly organized organization. It has two wings, the armed wing, KNA, and the political wing KNF. KNF got attention when it murdered several Chakma leaders. It is also engaged in various criminal activities such as extortion.
Very recently, Bangladesh has discovered a new and malicious connection regarding KNF. KNF is providing training facilities to another nascent terrorist organization. Jamatul Sharqiya — an Islamist Terrorist organization is getting training from KNF in exchange for money.
After capturing some of the militants and uncovering such a shocking nexus between the organizations, Bangladesh launched a military operation against KNF on Oct. 10. Since then, KNF is retreating and losing strengths.
However, it is continuously maintaining its social media presence and spreading its own narrative.
KNF — A New Regional Threat?
The Hill tract is a conflict-prone region. It is also a complex bordering region between three countries — India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. As it is an insurgency-prone region, various actors and militia reside within this interlocked space between the three countries.
It is also a multi-ethnic region as many tribes live here. However, these tribes have a close affinity with each other. And the tribes also reside stretching over all three countries. For instance, Mizo considers Rakhine as their ethnic cousin. Again, Kuki-Chin and Mizo are also very close to each other. India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar all have a Kuki-Chin and Mizo population. In Bangladesh, they are commonly known as ‘Bawm’.
Such stretching of the population over all the countries in an interlocked hilly terrain also developed ethnic consciousness among them. For instance, Zo Reunification Organization (ZoRO) works to reunite these communities of the three countries.
However, as the operation is intensifying KNF has no option other than retreating. But it seems KNF is not giving up yet. It is looking for opportunities to regain strength and expand over the region. As Kuki-Chin and Mizo community resides in both India and Myanmar, there is high possibility that KNF may try to operate there too. These tribal communities also have vulnerabilities due to the remoteness of their habitat, isolation from the mainstream economy, and ethnic consciousness. As a result, KNF may be successful in recruiting vulnerable youths in near future and operate as a transnational organization. For that KNF is seriously maintaining its media presence through social media continuously propagating its insurgent propaganda and tarnishing the operation.
Other vested quarters are also capitalizing on the situation with the aim to destabilize peace and security of the region.
As KNF has the potential to emerge as a transnational entity operating all over this interlocked region, it is a threat to not only Bangladesh but also to India and Myanmar. The bordering states of these countries — Mizoram and Chin state are already facing insurgency problems for a long time now. A new transnational organization would only increase the problem. Hence, KNF has emerged as a new regional threat for all the countries concerned. And the media presence of KNF and other unknown quarters spreading disinformation is a mentionable security threat in this regard.
As KNF’s activities are emerging as regional threats, India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar should not allow it to grow. Insurgency in this region also has equations with arms and drug trafficking and other heinous crimes. Moreover, KNF’s ‘sell-sword’ connection with militant organizations is also alarming. Therefore, it is high time for the countries to address this growing concern.
[Map of Chittagong, Bangladesh. Credit: TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
*Doreen Chowdhury is a doctoral researcher at the University of Groningen. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.