It will be difficult to tackle an experienced army like Tatmadaw in this manner. But the situation is clearly leading Myanmar towards a civil war. Not just Myanmar alone, but the entire region will bear the brunt of this.
A full-fledged civil war in Myanmar will involve the interests of many countries. China is clearly on the side of Myanmar's military government. The US has strongly opposed this situation and has imposed sanctions against certain military officers. If a civil war starts in the region, they may not directly intervene but are likely to play a significant role. They may lend their support to various militia groups to exert their influence. Whether it is to keep China under pressure, to keep watch on Myanmar's vast natural resources or to ensure its influence in the Indo-Pacific region, if US ensures its presence in the region, this will bring about extensive changes in the area. We have seen this in the cases of Afghanistan and Syria. China has greater economic and strategic interests in the Southeast Asia region and so will put up resistance to the entry of America or its allies into the civil war. As a result, there is all possibility of Myanmar becoming the proxy battlefield of bigger forces.
Any war has an impact on bordering countries, as the war in Afghanistan had on Pakistan and Syria on Turkey. Internal conflict at one stage leads to instability and then civil war. In no time that has a negative impact on neighbouring counties. Myanmar has borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand and Laos. A civil war in Myanmar will naturally have different effects on different countries. Clashes and violence in Myanmar's bordering areas with China will pose as an internal security threat to China, which China will go all out to resist. They have already sealed their borders with Myanmar.
If there is an outbreak of violence in Myanmar and consignments of arms start coming in, Bangladesh will face a serious security threat. There will be fear of a part of the arms coming into Bangladesh which may disrupt our internal security. It will have a devastating impact in our Chittagong Hill Tracts region
From the Sri Lankan civil war experience, India already realises how dangerous it can be it have unrest in a neighbouring country. India's northeastern region has a border with Myanmar's Chin state which faces a refugee problem. If a civil war breaks out, this India-Myanmar border will be a lot like the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The separationists of the border-lying areas may take advantage of this to expand their activities, giving rise to a possible increase in arms smuggling, guerilla training and assistance in the civil war. India has sealed its border, but prior to that, India carried out a joint military exercise with Myanmar. This indicates India has deep and active ties with Myanmar's incumbent military government. India may adopt extreme strategic diplomacy in this civil war.
The recent political developments in Myanmar will naturally have an effect on the repatriation of the Rohingyas. The military coup occurred just within days of talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar on repatriation. If the situation in Myanmar deteriorates further, instead of these 1.1 million (11 lakh) refugees returning, there may be a fresh influx of refugees. Other ethnic groups may stream in along with the Rohingyas too. In normal times, a large amount of arms, drugs and humans are smuggled across the border. If an all-out civil war breaks out, this will increase manifold. So Bangladesh must be extremely alert about its border security.
While there is still time, there is need for Bangladesh to consider whether it has the capacity to absorb a fresh wave of refugees or the impact of a civil war next door. If there is an outbreak of violence in Myanmar and consignments of arms start coming in, Bangladesh will face a serious security threat. There will be fear of a part of the arms coming into Bangladesh which may disrupt our internal security. It will have a devastating impact in our Chittagong Hill Tracts region. Various terrorist and insurgent groups will get the opportunity to rear their heads again.
If border security is disrupted, the various terrorist groups of the two countries can join hands to step up attacks and clashes. The influx and presence of Rohingya refugees has already created a sort of communal and religious animosity among the people along the border. Such a situation will simply make matters worse.
It is very important to increase diplomatic awareness and to apprise the international community about Bangladesh's stand and concerns regarding the conflict in Myanmar
Sharing a maritime boundary with Myanmar as well as being linked by the Bay of Bengal, puts Bangladesh's maritime security at risk and there may be an increase in pirates and various illegal businesses. This will hamper targeted trade and connectivity, based on which we aspire to achieve a fast growing economy. This will have an impact on our supply chain. Our extensive coastline and the 200 nautical miles of special economic zone have created scope for Blue economy which is vital to our economic advancement. Given the emergence of violence in the region, many countries may increase their presence here, in close proximity to Bangladesh's port area. The presence of foreign forces near the port is always a matter of alarm.
History shows that unrest in any particular country leads to unrest in the entire region and creates breeding grounds for extreme terrorism. The involvement of a neighbouring country in civil war can lead the entire region to poverty, violence, extremism and an extreme deterioration in the defence system. The countries of South Asia do not have the capacity to face such an impact. As it is, the countries of the region are going through an economic recession because of the Covid-19 pandemic and a civil war can have a shattering negative impact.
Till now Bangladesh has maintained a neutral stance concerning Myanmar's internal affairs. But if a third force comes here in its own interests, Bangladesh will have to review its own foreign policy accordingly. It is imperative to maintain good relations with countries of the West and the East in our own economic interests. Any one-sided decision would be harmful. We may face diplomatic pressure from various countries of the region and we need to have proper diplomatic preparation to face this. It is now imperative that we form a committee with defence experts to take the possible scenario into consideration and adopt measures accordingly.
A 'crisis watch cell' can be created under the foreign ministry's Myanmar affairs section. The main function of this cell will be to keep a sharp eye on political developments in Myanmar and analyse this accordingly. It is very important to increase diplomatic awareness and to apprise the international community about Bangladesh's stand and concerns regarding the conflict in Myanmar.
* Maj. Gen. ANM Muniruzzaman (retd) is the president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS).
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir