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How Myanmar's unrest threatens Bangladesh

Published : Sunday, 3 December, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 621

How Myanmar's unrest threatens Bangladesh

How Myanmar's unrest threatens Bangladesh

Myanmar is gripped by a multifaceted crisis encompassing political instability, economic hardship, human rights abuses, and a devastating humanitarian situation. This turmoil, compounded by domestic, regional, and geopolitical tensions, has intensified significantly since the military's seizure of power and the country's battle against a severe third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The political and security landscape remains highly volatile, with uncertainty gripping the nation.

Operation 1027 is an ongoing joint military offensive launched by the Three Brotherhood Alliance, a coalition of three ethnic armed groups: the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Rakhine Arakan Army (AA), and the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The alliance has targeted military camps in several townships, including Lashio, Laukkai, Namhkam, Naung Cho, Muse, and Kyaukme. It is estimated that the alliance has deployed approximately 20,000 troops for this operation. Even before the commencement of Operation 1027, the State Administration Council acknowledged that it had lost control over at least 132 of the country's 330 townships and had imposed martial law in 44 townships across nine states and regions.

Myint Swe, the president of Myanmar's State Administration Council, has warned that without effective management of the crisis in the border region, the country faces the risk of fragmentation. He has called on the public to support the government's efforts to restore order. It is plausible to assume that a covert objective of Operation 1027 is to fragment Myanmar and weaken the military's grip on power.

According to available information, the Three Brotherhood Alliance has reportedly captured a substantial arsenal of weapons and ammunition from the Myanmar Armed Forces during their operations. Social media photos have depicted bodies that appear to be security force personnel killed in the fighting, captured soldiers, and damaged toll gates. However, the precise origins of these weapons are not explicitly stated in the available sources. Nevertheless, some photos suggest that the weapons bear similarities to those employed in the Ukrainian conflict. However, the exact mechanism by which these sophisticated weapons have reached the Three Brotherhood Alliance remains a mystery. It is plausible that arms smuggling groups have procured these weapons and sold them to Myanmar separatist rebels, as was observed in Hamas's hands during its attacks on Israel.

Despite the Myanmar military's actions that have run counter to India's interests, New Delhi has maintained cordial relations with the neighboring nation. India's envoy Vinay Kumar recently met with Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin in Naypyitaw, where they engaged in discussions regarding bilateral relations and potential avenues for collaboration. While India has voiced its support for democratic reforms in Myanmar since the coup last year, its actions seem to be accommodating the military junta's rule. However, India has refrained from endorsing the legitimacy of the 2020 election results, in which Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party secured enough seats in parliament to form the government.

China's response to the crisis in Myanmar is a complex interplay of military and diplomatic strategies. While China has outwardly supported Myanmar's government forces, it has also hedged its bets by maintaining ties with some of Myanmar's most powerful ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). This balancing act allows China to expand its influence in Myanmar as the country's governance failures pose a threat to China's national security and increasingly lead to transnational criminal challenges. While China publicly expresses concern over the rise in crime, Myanmar's efforts to crack down on powerful Chinese crime syndicates have paradoxically resulted in more Chinese security influence in the country than initially anticipated.

As Myanmar enters its third year of civil unrest since the 2021 military coup, China has reinvigorated its diplomatic engagement with the country. By initiating peace talks with the northern EAOs, organizing business delegations to revive the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), and receiving high-level People's Liberation Army (PLA) delegations in Naypyitaw, China has seemingly breathed new life into a relationship that had been largely frozen since Myanmar's coup.

The United States and Western countries have adopted a multi-pronged approach in response to the crisis in Myanmar. The United States has implemented sanctions, aid cuts, and export bans on Myanmar in an effort to reverse the military coup. The Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2022 (BURMA Act), passed by the U.S. Congress, authorizes sanctions against senior officials in Myanmar's military and state-owned commercial enterprises. However, the effectiveness of these sanctions may be limited due to the Myanmar military's long history of defying international pressure.

The United Nations Security Council, which includes Western countries, convened an emergency meeting immediately following the coup to vote on a resolution calling for the "restoration of democracy" in Myanmar, condemning the Myanmar military's actions, and urging the release of detainees. Western countries have also been providing ''humanitarian aid'' to the people of Myanmar.

As a result, the geopolitical dynamics among the major powers have created a situation where Myanmar's resources and strategic location are perceived as a pie to be shared among the major powers of the West, China, and India. Each of these powers has its own interests in Myanmar, and they are all vying for influence in the country. This competition has further complicated efforts to resolve the crisis in Myanmar.

Bangladesh, nestled strategically along Myanmar's southwestern border, must maintain a heightened level of security vigilance in light of the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. The country faces two distinct threats emanating from the turmoil in Myanmar. The first threat stems from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region, where the possibility exists that rebels stationed there, with support from other regional rebels like the Kuki Chins in Mizoram and Myanmar, could seize control of the area with overwhelming force. Such an event would not only pose a grave security concern but also trigger a massive refugee crisis in the CHT region.

The second threat looms over the coastal region of Bangladesh, where fighting between Rakhine rebels and government forces could exacerbate the already dire situation in the Cox's Bazar area, which is bearing the brunt of the Rohingya refugee influx. The intensity of this crisis could potentially jeopardize and paralyze the entire Chittagong region, the economic heartland of Bangladesh's trade and commerce.

Therefore, in addition to closely monitoring the volatile political opposition during election periods, the government must prioritize its security focus on its borders with Myanmar and the northeastern Indian states in light of Indo-Pacific geopolitics. Moreover, it is strongly recommended that covert communication channels be established with all warring factions in Myanmar and northeastern India to gather as much intelligence as possible and prepare the country's defense mechanisms to deter such looming threats.

In conclusion, the crisis in Myanmar poses a significant threat to Bangladesh's national security. The influx of refugees, the spillover of violence, and the potential for regional instability all contribute to the urgency of addressing this issue. Bangladesh must tread carefully in its dealings with the various warring factions in Myanmar and northeastern India, while also strengthening its border security and defense capabilities. Additionally, working closely with international partners is crucial to effectively address the crisis in Myanmar and protect Bangladesh's interests.

The writer is a Geopolitical Analyst, Strategic Thinker and Editor at

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