Photos: Anurup Kanti Das
On October 4, 2015, more than a half month ago, two Bangladeshi tourists along with their local guides were abducted by members of a separatist militant group of Myanmar. Just a month earlier, on September 5, Bangladesh army and Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) got involved in a violent conflict with the insurgent group called Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) which has allegedly abducted the Bangladeshi tourists. Besides these insurgent groups, Border Police of Myanmar (BGP), Myanmar's counter part of BGB, often acts with no less enmity against Bangladeshis. Several months ago, they abducted one of the BGB men without any reason, and unprovoked attacks from Myanmar's border police on Bangladeshi border patrols are also quite regular.
Bangladesh's 271 kilometre long border with Myanmar is not at all stable. Frequent gunfights between the border guards of two nations, militant activities by the separatist groups of Myanmar, and transnational crimes like human and drug trafficking have made this area one of the most volatile parts of our country. This 271 kilometre long border includes some of the most inaccessible mountainous parts of Bangladesh, where the government's territorial control and law enforcement is limited to some distant border outposts and overstretched border patrols. In addition, BGB men also have to guard the 54 kilometre long turbulent Naf River bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar, which is one of the world's busiest drug-trafficking routes.
Lack of manpower and resources, hostile terrain and lack of coordination between the border patrols of the countries have made these areas a haven for organised crime and militant activities. 15 days have passed by (till October 19, 2015) since the missing of two Bangladeshi tourists, however, still no trace of these unfortunate people could be found. Recently on October 18, 2015, another violent skirmish between Bangladeshi joint forces and militant groups of Myanmar broke out in Bandarban, killed a village defence party personnel and injured one BGB member and one Bangladesh army personnel according to our local correspondent. However, the joint forces successfully demolished some strategic base camps of the militants.
There are several armed separatist groups of Myanmar which are operating actively along the Bangladesh-Myanmar Border. Among them, the most active is Arakan Liberation Army (ALA), the armed wing of Arakan Liberation Party (ALP). This armed Buddhist separatist group of Myanmar, formerly known as Rakhine State, has been fighting against the armed forces of Myanmar to 'liberate' the Rakhine people, however, excluding the Rohingyas. One of the facts of their scheme is that they consider Chittagong as the historic part of their so called Rakhine State and dream of annexing it with their futuristic territory. Experts believe that these separatist groups, to finance their militant activities, commit transnational crimes like cross border drug smuggling and human trafficking.
As a result, lethal drugs, like heroin and methamphetamine tablets, have flooded the Bangladeshi border towns of Teknaf, Bandarban and even Cox's Bazaar. Every other day Bangladesh police and BGB seize hundreds and thousands of meth tablets locally known as 'yaba', however, according to them this is not more than 10 percent of the total amount of smuggled narcotics. These areas are also the hubs of deadly human trafficking, that has led to the killing of thousands of poor Bangladeshis and Rohingyas.
However, in facing these separatist groups, who are likely to be the common threat for Bangladesh and Myanmar's security, Bangladesh finds Myanmar surprisingly reluctant. A BGB official stationed in Bandarban, under the condition of anonymity, says, “Whenever we launch combing operations against the militants, we request BGP to close their part of the borders so that the miscreants cannot escape. However, they do not pay heed to our requests at all.”
As a result, it has become a very difficult task for Bangladeshi security forces to completely annihilate these miscreants. Bangladesh's soil, which we have achieved at the sacrifice of three million patriotic lives, cannot turn into hideouts of terrorists and miscreants. Recently, a leader of ALA has been captured in Bangladesh. It is high time for Bangladesh to take stern action to get rid of this looming threat. Otherwise if allow the time for them to gather strength, these militants and organised criminals can inflict a serious blow on Bangladesh's national security in the near future.