The history of insurgency at the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh is almost as old as the independent Bangladesh. The CHT Peace Treaty of 1997 was essential in helping to effectively end the insurgency in that mountainous region of the nation. An extremist activity at CHT is picking up steam once more with the creation of the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) and its armed wing, the Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA). The organization has killed multiple people over the past few years while frequently voicing their political demands on social media. Therefore, it is crucial to concentrate on their actions because the group could soon emerge as a serious regional threat, upending peace and concord.
The Chin-Kuki-Mizoare members of the same tribe who go by different names and who live in close proximity to one another around the international borders of Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India. With nine upazilas, including Baghaichari, Barkal, Belaichari, and Jurachari in the Rangamati hill district and Ruma, Thanchi, Alikadam, and Rowangchhari in Bandarban, the KNF was founded in 2017 with the goal of creating a breakaway state within Bangladesh. KNF, a separatist organization, keeps close relations with similar organizations in Mizoram, Manipur, Rakhine State, and the CHT. Six members of the Kuki-Chin ethnic group make up the KNF, also referred to locally as the “Bawm Party”: the Bawm, Pangkhua, Lusai, Khumi, Mro, and Khiang.
The Bom or Bawm community, an ethnic group living in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts, laid the foundation for KNF. One of Bangladesh’s smallest ethnic groups is the Bawm. Around 10,000 Bawm lived in India, 10,000 lived in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hills, and 2,500 lived in Myanmar in 2011. They converse in Sino-Tibetan Bawm. Nathan Bom, president of the KNF, earned his master’s degree from Dhaka University’s Fine Arts Faculty. He is the founding president of Kuki-Chin National Development Organization (KNDO). In the 2018 parliamentary election, he was the first independent candidate from the Bom community.
The Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA) gained fresh spotlight after two Bangladesh Army soldiers were murdered on May 17 in attacks that were allegedly carried out by the KNA in Bandarban. In the same day, a landmine explosion in Ruma Upazila’s Remakri neighborhood claimed the life of another person. The landmines, according to the locals, were planted by KNA members. In Bandarban’s Rowangchhari upazila on March 12, a senior army warrant officer was murdered when KNF gunmen opened fire on a patrol squad. On March 15, KNF members kidnapped nine individuals, including a retired sergeant, when they were repairing a road in Ruma’s Longthasi Jhiri neighborhood. The KNF asserted on March 18 that bomb traps and landmines had been planted in its territory.
In an operation against militancy in hill tract areas last year, the Bangladeshi security forces went after those whom they claimed were being trained by the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF). According to the joint forces, the operation resulted in the arrest of 68 Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya terrorists and many KNF members. According to law enforcement officials, the Kachin state of Myanmar recently sent the KNF two shipments of weapons. Additionally, 50 to 60 KNF members are reportedly receiving advanced weaponry training. The KNF became a new cause for concern when they claimed responsibility for the 21 killings of CHT people in June of 2022.
It is assumed that the KNF doesn’t accept the 1997 CHT Peace Treaty, which put an end to the long-running insurgency between the Shanti Bahini and government forces and allowed for the acknowledgement of the rights of the peoples and tribes in the CHT region.
The existence of such an armed group in remote border regions poses a serious threat to both regional and national security. Mizoram and Bangladesh share a 318-kilometer border on the Indian side. Numerous separatist organizations are also present in the remote areas of Mizoram state. The Chin state of Myanmar is home to a number of rebel groups, including the Arakan Army, Chin Defense Force, and Chin National Army. Given the interwoven nature of the Hill tracts that span all three nations, KNF’s connections and cooperation with these groups would further increase the instability in the entire region.
Due to the presence of the Kuki-Chin and Mizo communities in both India and Myanmar, there is a strong likelihood that KNF will attempt to operate there as well. Around 200 individuals initially underwent guerilla, infantry, and commando training in Manipur, Karen, and Kachin. The trained members then started training the remaining members. In the near future, KNF might be effective in enlisting vulnerable youngsters and functioning as a transnational organization. For that KNF is seriously maintaining its media presence through social media with insurgent propaganda.
India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar should prevent KNF from expanding since its operations are beginning to pose a threat to the area. Insurgency in this region also has connections with arms and drug trafficking and other heinous crimes. As there is no specific resource in the operating area of KNF and due to available arms in hand, the group will execute continuous extremist and criminal activities. Additionally, KNF’s close ties to militant groups are concerning. Furthermore, the emergence of such extremist actions along this perilous trilateral border will undermine internal and regional security, peace, and stability. As a result, surrounding nations must take a proactive role in averting such regional armed conflict.
Since the KNF is seeking a separate state within Bangladesh, their demand is illogical because they are not even the majority in the region they are claiming. Their population represents less than 1% of the total population in the map they propose. They are fully entitled to ask for their rights and development. But being a minority, a distinct state has no logical justification. They might have a case if the Bangladeshi government carried out ethnic cleansing against them in the same way that Myanmar did in the Rakhine state. But in Bangladesh, that is certainly not the case. According to the constitution of Bangladesh, the country has tried to protect the ethnic groups upholding the concept of secularism. With such an insurgency, the foreign powers or KNF’s patrons can only destabilize the area for their own gain. Bangladesh government should hence try to facilitate an accord to bring peace in CHT area by providing the ethnic extremists an opportunity to surrender as well as by ensuring their citizens’ rightsfor Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic groups.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla