The Kuki-Chin National Front: A new concern for Bangladesh’s security

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh have once again heated up! Early in April, the Kuki Chin-National Front (KNF), an insurgent group, perpetrated offensive attacks. The separatist organization has spread fresh tension in the mountainous region of Bangladesh through bank robberies, the abduction of a bank official, and assaults on police stations. As a result, the terrified locals were forced to relocate to safer areas. According to Bangladesh’s security services, Nathan Bom is the mastermind behind the rising insurgency in southeast Bangladesh. 

The Identity of the KNF 

The Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) is a proscribed militant organization currently operating in the Rangamati and Bandarban districts within the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region. The KNF members belong to the Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic group that dwells in Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar. The majority of the Tibeti-Burman population practices Christianity and consists of six distinct communities: the Khiang, Mro, Khumi, Lusai, Pankhua, and Bom. 

The ethno-nationalist separatists aim to establish a sovereign state for the Kuki-Chin people in the CHT region. To achieve their objective, they have engaged in crimes such as abduction, homicide, extortion, and armed conflict. Moreover, the KNF collaborates with Kuki militants in northeast India and Chin rebels in western Myanmar because of the proximity of these regions to southern Bangladesh. Given their close geographical proximity, the KNF may readily collaborate in terms of armament supply, combat strategies, and training. 

Assessing the mastermind’s psychology 

Prior to examining the concerns expressed by the insurgent group, it is imperative to analyze the psychology of Nathan Bom, the main perpetrator behind the unrest in the CHT region. Nathan Bom, the KNF’s commander, was a Fine Arts student at the University of Dhaka. Although he was highly ambitious, the socio-economic backwardness of his people compared to other tribes in the hills always enraged him. 

For example, he applied for a project that the United Nations Development Programme planned to implement in the Hill Tract region prior to KNF formation. However, he claimed that the employers prioritized the Chakmas over the Boms in the job. He even asserted that the rejection of his application was due to his tribe’s perceived backwardness compared to the Chakmas. As a result, he has taken an anti-Chakma stance.  Besides, Nathan Bom submitted his nomination paper to participate in the 2018 National Election. But his nomination paper was rejected due to a lack of supporting documentation. Capitalizing on the experience of socio-economic and political discrimination, he has spanned the armed forces in the hills. He also conveys a message to the Kuki-chin youth, asserting that armed struggle is the last option for their people’s liberation. This is how he inducts 4000 KNF members, spreading chaos in the hills and endangering Bangladesh’s security. 

How is the KNF threatening Bangladesh’s security? 

Previously sporadic in nature, the KNF has escalated its assaults over the last two years. The insurgents previously engaged the security forces in combat; instead, they are now also directing their efforts towards civilians. The separatist organization has thus far verified over twenty-four homicides that have occurred in the Hill Tracts since 2022. Besides, acts of aggression such as abducting locals, assaulting construction workers, torching a Buddhist temple, and attempting to demolish a bridge exemplify their aggressive attitude.  

The KNF harbors resentment toward the Bengali settlers, as do other prominent ethno-nationalist armed groups in the Hill Tracts. The state-sponsored migration of landless Bengali Muslims into the region began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during the reign of then Bangladeshi President General Ziaur Rahman. Around 4,00,000 Bengali settlers established their settlement on the indigenous people’s land. Consequently, the hill tribes were fearful of being outnumbered in their own territory. Since then, tensions between the indigenous and Bengali populations have flared.  

Furthermore, Bangladeshi national forces are stationed in the CHT to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and security. Due to its close proximity to northeast India and western Myanmar, the area persistently experiences tension. Therefore, Bangladeshi police and military forces are deployed to strengthen its security in the CHT region. Still, the KNF considers the national secutity’s presence in the CHT to be an attempt to militarize the region. They also view it as a barrier to creating their own autonomous state for the Kuki-Chin people. This is why Kuki-Chin militants have escalated their gunfire with Bangladeshi security forces.  

In December 1997, tribal leader M.N. Larma and current Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed the historic “Chittagong Hill Tract Treaty’’ to pacify the mountainous region. Through the negotiation, she aimed to bring peace to the area through development and civil facilities. However, certain ethnic groups, such as the Boms, ponder that the agreement solely benefits the Chakmas and Marmas and leaves the other communities powerless. As a result, the KNF has clashed with Chakma and Marma-led political factions for years. M. Sakhawat Hossain, a security analyst, asserts that by portraying themselves as the preeminent militant organization in the region, the KNF militants may signal to their rivals. 

Additionally, to pose Bangladesh’s security concern, the KNF has enhanced its cooperation with fundamentalist groups like Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya. According to Bangladeshi security authorities, the KNF has offered combat training and operational strategies in their camps in exchange for money. Most importantly, the KNF separatists are leveraging southern Bangladesh’s geographical position, which borders northeast India and western Bangladesh. In northeast India’s Mizoram state, the Mizos hold the majority, while the Chins are the dominant tribe in Myanmar’s Chin state.  Armed clashes involving the Kuki-Chin ethnic rebels have previously broken out in these two locations. The Chin National Front is battling the Junta rulers in Myanmar, while the Kukis are confronting the Meitei in northeast India. Interborder cooperation among the Kuki-Chin ethnic militants has expanded in terms of supplying weapons, training facilities, drug deliveries, and so on, due to their already significant presence on the India-Bangladesh-Myanmar border. This is how the transborder Kuki-Chin militias endanger Bangladeshi security by providing the KNF fighters shelter.

 Therefore, Bangladesh must collaborate with Indian and Burmese authorities to thwart the ethnic militants through security cooperation. If serious issues are not addressed, transborder insurgency would lead to numerous crimes, which could intensify security concerns in this region. 

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