Crisis at the Border: How Myanmar’s Unrest Threatens Bangladesh

Last Updated on November 29, 2023 10:52 am

Rajeev Ahmed

By Rajeev Ahmed

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.

Tracing the Trails: A Glimpse into the Potential Regions for Weapon Smuggling in Myanmar
Tracing the Trails: A Glimpse into the Potential Regions for Weapon Smuggling in Myanmar

The Brotherhood Alliance has publicly declared several objectives for their military operations. They seek to protect civilians from the ongoing conflict and violence. The alliance asserts its right to self-defense and the defense of its territories against attacks by the military junta. They aim to maintain control over the areas they represent and are committed to responding resolutely to ongoing artillery attacks and airstrikes carried out by the military government. The alliance is dedicated to dismantling the oppressive military dictatorship. Additionally, they are committed to combating online gambling scam centers operating along the Myanmar-China border, which involve thousands of foreign workers, many of whom are forced labor victims. However, it remains unclear how they intend to safeguard civilians living near civilian territories from the considerably more heavily armed Myanmar Army. Furthermore, while they oppose the military government, they have not expressed any interest in establishing democracy as Myanmar’s state ideology. Their focus on dismantling the gambling centers primarily serves the security interests of China. Additionally, there are reports of Brotherhood Alliance members frequently breaking truces with government forces.

Meanwhile, 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.

Fighters of Brigade 7 of the Karen National Liberation Army with sophisticated weapons rest on the back of a pickup truck after returning from the front line in KNU headquarters in October. (Washington Post)
Fighters of Brigade 7 of the Karen National Liberation Army with sophisticated weapons rest on the back of a pickup truck after returning from the front line in KNU headquarters in October. (Washington Post)

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.

Regarding the resemblance of these weapons to those of other countries, it is crucial to recognize that many modern weapon systems are utilized by multiple nations. Without specific details regarding the types of weapons employed, drawing direct comparisons is challenging. Consequently, a thorough investigation by regional security agencies is warranted.

Sharing the Pie situation in geopolitics

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.

Chin National Army take full control over Rihkhawdar town close to Mizoram, raises flag over India-Myanmar border (India Today NE)
Chin National Army take full control over Rihkhawdar town close to Mizoram, raises flag over India-Myanmar border (India Today NE)

Given Myanmar’s significance to India’s national security, the two countries have established a pact to exchange real-time intelligence in order to combat Indian insurgents operating from the border region. This collaboration is particularly crucial as four north-eastern states – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram – share an international border with Myanmar.

However, a rebel group has already declared Chinland, an area adjacent to the border districts of the northeastern state of Mizoram, an independent territory. Additionally, India has been managing the influx of refugees from Myanmar, with over 20,000 Chin refugees having already crossed into India. These refugees reside in camps scattered across southern districts of the state along the Myanmar border. India has exercised caution in refraining from actions that could be perceived as legitimizing the military junta. However, India has also been hesitant to sever ties with Myanmar entirely, as this could destabilize the region and create a power vacuum that could be filled by China.

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.

Severely affected areas in Myanmar civil war
Severely affected areas in Myanmar civil war

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.

China views an unstable Myanmar as a potential power vacuum that could endanger its investments in the country and provide the United States with an opportunity to gain a foothold through its support of EAOs and the National Unity Government (NUG). Furthermore, the surge in illicit business activities along the China-Myanmar and Thai-Myanmar borders, fueled by Myanmar’s conflict-ridden economy, is a significant concern for China. Consequently, China has been engaging with both the government and rebel forces to safeguard its interests.

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.

In response to the evolving conflict in Myanmar following the military coup of February 1, 2021, the United States Institute of ‘’Peace’’ (USIP) established the Myanmar Study Group. It sounded like CIA-backed intelligence activity focused on the Indo-Pacific theatre. The group engaged in discussions on topics of critical relevance to the crisis in Myanmar, complemented by consultations with ‘’key stakeholders in the country and the region’’. In other words, in the name of studying the conflict of Myanmar the Americans are active in Myanmar’s internal affairs.

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.

Bangladeshi soldiers at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Bangladeshi soldiers at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Bangladesh must deter looming threats to its security

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.

Bangladesh wants to resolve all prevailing crises with Myanmar through peaceful discussion, says Border Guard Bangladesh official
Bangladesh wants to resolve all prevailing crises with Myanmar through peaceful discussion, says Border Guard Bangladesh official

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.
Written by Rajeev Ahmed
Geopolitical Analyst, Strategic Thinker and Editor at

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