Trouble in India’s Eastern Neighbourhood

Trouble is brewing in India’s eastern neighborhood. Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are experiencing uprisings of different natures. In Myanmar, a pro-India group and its alliance seem to be gaining control, indicating a shift in power dynamics. However, the situation in Bangladesh raises concerns, and further details will be discussed in the following article.

What’s happening in Myanmar?

Operation 1027!

Over the last four days, the Myanmar Army has lost many bases and troops as People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) and numerous ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) launched a massive offensive against the Myanmar Junta (Army). The situation is so bad that forty-one junta troops from Light Infantry Brigade (LIB) 143, including a deputy commander, agreed to abandon their base instead of defending it against the ethnic armed group.

A Brotherhood Alliance has formed, consisting of three powerful ethnic armed groups that initiated a major anti-junta offensive called Op 1027, covering Shan State, Kachin State, and Sagaing and Mandalay regions—areas in close proximity to China. Groups like the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), funded by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), have joined the alliance.

Why are these groups important?

The KIA has played a significant role, especially as it holds areas near the trijunction. In such scenarios, the KIO can provide India with valuable intelligence, potentially strengthening its influence regarding Tibet-related matters. Furthermore, the KIO’s cooperation could enable access for Indian security personnel to engage with the Arakan Army (AA), currently in conflict with Myanmar’s official military force, the Tatmadaw, in Rakhine State. Notably, the Arakan Army wields significant local influence, notably impacting the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit project.

The KIO played a pivotal role in establishing the Arakan Army by offering support and sharing combat experience in and around Laiza since 2009. Despite its geographical proximity to the Chinese border, the KIO has exhibited a degree of policy independence while maintaining distance from Beijing’s strategic directives. Historically and presently, the Kachin community has sought to strengthen its ties with India.

India became interested in KIO, one of the most powerful and resilient EAOs in Myanmar, as a result of ULFA and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN-IM, intensifying their activities in the Northeast and using Burmese territory and connections with other EAOs in Burma.

So, is the success of the PDF and KIO in Myanmar Army a good or bad news for India?

Indian Defence forces and Myanmar’s Army have maintained positive relations. In 2020, India gifted the 3,000 diesel-electric submarine INS Sindhuvir, renamed UMS Minye Theinkhathu by the Myanmar Navy. However, some claim that China has deeper relations with the Myanmar Army. Reportedly, Chinese soldiers were seen in Myanmar during the 2021 coup. India has largely remained silent on the Myanmar coup and the disruption of the democratic government. Interestingly, in the past, rebel groups like PDF have eliminated terrorists from India’s northeast who took shelter in Myanmar.

Adding to Myanmar’s challenges, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), Myanmar’s main source of foreign revenue, while the UK and Canada blacklisted individuals and entities, aiming to curtail the junta’s ability to purchase weapons. Britain added five individuals and one entity involved in providing financial services to the regime or supplying restricted goods, including aircraft parts. Canada imposed sanctions on 39 individuals and 22 entities for supporting Myanmar’s military regime.

What’s happening in Bangladesh?

On Sunday, 29th October, authorities in Bangladesh detained a prominent figure, Mirza Fakhrul Islam, from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, an opposition group, and subsequently placed him in prison following hours of interrogation. This action followed the party’s call for a nationwide strike after a day of intense confrontations with security forces.

According to media reports, the violence resulted in the tragic loss of at least three civilians, including an arson attack in the capital city, Dhaka, on Sunday, leading to numerous injuries. On the preceding Saturday, a massive rally involving tens of thousands of opposition activists turned violent, resulting in the death of at least one police officer and numerous injuries. The opposition’s primary demands include the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the establishment of a non-partisan caretaker government to oversee the upcoming general elections next year.

The United News of Bangladesh agency reported that on Sunday, two individuals lost their lives, with one being an opposition activist in Dhaka, while a member of the ruling party died in the northern Lalmonirhat district. The report further stated that approximately 42 vehicles were vandalized in Dhaka and two other cities in northern and northeastern Bangladesh. The news agency also disclosed that more than 100 people sustained injuries across various parts of Bangladesh, while the police apprehended over 540 supporters of the opposition in Dhaka and several other districts throughout the country during the day-long strike. The BNP said the police have arrested nearly 2,300 of its activists since the Oct. 28 protest demanding Hasina’s resignation, and more than half a dozen party activists have been killed, including two on Tuesday when the BNP organized a three-day blockade.

What’s next for Bangladesh?

In January 2024, there will be general elections in Bangladesh. Tensions have continued to build, and both the US and the EU have urged all parties to display caution in the run-up to the national elections. According to Donald Lu, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, Washington will carefully consider imposing visa restrictions on any violent incidents. Being the largest purchaser of clothing from Bangladesh, the United States has sway.

As she runs for a fourth five-year term in a row, Sheikh Hasina has frequently stated that she will not allow a caretaker government to take over and has charged the BNP with “terrorism and hooliganism.” She underlined that elections will take place, just as they did in Bangladesh in 2018. Government operations will continue as usual. Amnesty International claims that the government has been widely detaining opposition members in an effort to scare them before the elections, especially following large-scale anti-government demonstrations over the weekend.

The prime minister Hasina recently informed parliament that the U.S. seeks to remove her from power at any cost, and the U.S. has threatened to deny visas to those it accuses of obstructing the election process, including members of law enforcement agencies and both the ruling and opposition parties.

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