Myanmar poses new geopolitical challenge for Bangladesh
I have long been saying that the internal developments in Myanmar are emerging as a big geopolitical challenge to Bangladesh. It is important to review the recent changes in Myanmar to get an understanding of the overall situation.
After the general election in 2020, the situation of Myanmar has been changing fast. In the election, former state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi's League for Democracy defeated the military-backed party by a big margin. The military didn't like the commitment NLD made to amend the constitution.
In 2021, the military ousted the elected government and sent NLD leaders including Myanmar's popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi to jail. Military rule in Myanmar is nothing new. But the resistance that has been built up now against the military rule, is unprecedented in the history of Myanmar.
The main powerful group Bamar has started building up this resistance. In the continuation of this, the Exile National Unity Government consisting of NLD and elected MPs was formed. Simultaneously, the military wing National Defence Force (NDF) was also formed.
Alongside building up resistance against the government, NDF coordinates with different ethnic armed groups, who have been fighting for the federal government and the autonomy since 1948, and built up a strong resistance. Their goal is to build a federal state and establish a civil democratic government system.
As part of this initiative, a total of 14 ethnic groups of the country consolidated their struggle against the military or Tatmadaw government since 2021. Most of these groups engaged in arms struggle against the government in the west, north and eastern regions. At one point of time the Three Brothers Alliance was formed, comprising three armed groups. The Arakan Army was the strongest among them, in manpower, military power and strategy. The two other groups are Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army.
As the Three Brothers Alliance occupied many important towns and government bases along the Chinese border, Myanmar's trade with China was about to be halted. The Myanmar junta was mostly affected when they occupied Laukkaing, the capital of the self-administered zone of northern Shan state. This was the main route of Myanmar with China. After the occupation of Laukkaing, China has become active and started to support the armed groups.
Given the current situation in Myanmar, the problem Bangladesh is facing over the Rohingya issue will not be resolved by jut bilateral discussions or the mediation of China. It should be kept in mind that the insurgent groups have not taken position to split Myanmar. Their demand is regional autonomy and to turn the country into a federal state. If such a thing happens, the issue of repatriation of Rohingya has to be thought anew.
'Operation 1027' was jointly launched in October last year strongly in Rakhine state. China has supported them and simultaneously enforced a ceasefire in the border region. Through this strategy, China is trying to protect its border areas and maintain stability as Myanmar is the main geopolitical support of China. Not only geopolitics, Myanmar is a big hub of business for China too.
The events unfolding in Rakhine state will have an impact on Bangladesh. As part of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar government at different times, about 1.2 to 1.15 million Rohingya have taken shelter in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government has tried to repatriate them but couldn't. Now the Arakan Army is about to occupy North Rakhine. This is emerging as a new reality for us.
In the face of attack by the Arakan Army, members of Myanmar army, Border Guard Police (BGP) and government officials are taking shelter in Bangladesh and have started surrendering. Meanwhile, the number has crossed 200.
The Arakan Army and Three Brothers Alliance took control of Paletwa, a key township in Chin state. As a result, Rakhine's traditional town Mrauk-U comes under their control. According to different sources, the deep sea port and economic zone established by India in Sittwe of Rakhine are now on the face of attack. In a nutshell, India undertook the Kaladan project as an alternative to Siliguri corridor, which is now going under the control of China-supported Arakan Army. As a result, the geopolitical conflict between India and China may take a new turn in north Rakhine.
India's relations with the Rakhine's main force Arakan Army and their political wing United League of Arakan (ULA) is historically bitter. Sources said different agencies of India have tried to contact the Arakan Army, but the attempt was not successful. It is clear that the conflict between China and India and the repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh depend on the situation of Rakhine state.
It is notable that although China is backing the rebels, the country is also maintaining relations with Tatmadaw simultaneously. There is no doubt that the Arakan Army and UAL have an influence in the Rakhine region.
Meanwhile, the US is weakening the Junta government by the National Unity Government, PDF, Chin, Karen, Kachin and Karenni groups through the Burma Act.
There seem to be a.chang is that three brotherhood alliance comprised of Taang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) apart from AA not KIA and National Army
Please check also United League of Arakan (ULA) not UAL
The main purpose of this writing is to find out a way to ensure overall security at our border and Rohingya repatriation amid the evolving situation, the position of Bangladesh in the equation of India and the US, China in geopolitical consideration and the future of Myanmar including Rakhine.
It has been urgent to discuss the conflicts of three forces centering Myanmar and the importance and way out of the Bay of Bengal based security and Indo-Pacific Strategy
Given the current situation in Myanmar, the problem Bangladesh is facing over the Rohingya issue will not be resolved by jut bilateral discussions or the mediation of China. It should be kept in mind that the insurgent groups have not taken position to split Myanmar.
Their demand is regional autonomy and to turn the country into a federal state. If such a thing happens, the issue of repatriation of Rohingya has to be thought anew.
If Bangladesh does not take the side of any group in Rakhine state, the rise of the Arakan Army and their political wing has to be taken into consideration.
In the question of Bangladesh's future security and Rohingya, bilateral negotiations and dependence of China are not working. Bangladesh has to think about building relations with the National Unity Government and the Arakan Army. As the repatriation of Rohingya is not the only issue, there is a question of their permanent citizenship.
Both NUG and Arakan Army are flexible and sympathetic. The Arakan Army claims that they are getting support from the Rohingya.
We have to remain alert amid the Myanmar current situation and storm of geopolitics. There is no doubt that the government has a challenge centering geopolitics regarding Rakhine, Rakhine situation and the future of the Rohingya.
*Dr M Sakhawat Hossain is a former election commissioner, an election analyst, former army officer and a senior research fellow of SIPG (NSU). He can be reached at [email protected]
* This op-ed, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.