Strengthening military cooperation has the potential to provide strategic benefits for both of them. Due to their geostrategic importance, Bangladesh and Myanmar have become a hotspot in the western front’s Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) and China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Bangladesh and Myanmar, two neighboring countries, have had a long-standing bilateral relationship since January 1972 when Myanmar recognized independent Bangladesh. Since then, many ups and downs have shaped the relationship. Though the relationship was usually cooperative, ties have deteriorated in recent times after the Rohingya crisis erupted between the two nations.
Recently, Myanmar-Bangladesh relations have become quite heated due to internal conflicts in Myanmar. The country's democratic government was overthrown by the military in February 2021, which fueled nationwide resistance against the military junta. In the Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh, the junta's war against the insurgent Arakan Army (AA), one of the country's ethnic armed organizations, has intensified with mortar shells fired by the Myanmar military reportedly falling across the border into Bangladesh and causing casualties. Myanmar warplanes have allegedly violated Bangladesh's airspace several times leading to diplomatic protests by Bangladesh.
Recently, a patrol was conducted between the border security forces of the two countries in the Naf river. Twelve members of each from Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Border Guard Police (BGP) of Myanmar participated in a joint patrol across the Zero Line of the river border.
BGB Teknaf-2 Battalion said in a press release that the patrolling was conducted as a part of the regular activities of the border security forces of both countries to increase border vigilance and prevent criminal activities.
Resolving Rohingya issue
Myanmar has a 271 km-long border with Bangladesh. Because of its difficult geography, parts of it are used as a safe haven for trans-border crimes like guns and narcotics smuggling, human trafficking, and so on. Hence, joint efforts of both countries to strengthen security on this vulnerable border are a must.
The military has been the most powerful institution in Myanmar since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948. Most of the time the country was under military rule and democracy couldn’t be well established there. The Myanmar Army has significantly increased its strength due to its long tenure in power. As the Rohingya issue is hanging fire between the two countries, finding an early and sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis is a top priority for Bangladesh right now.
Hence, strengthening cooperation with the military is the best way to enhance engagement with the Myanmar government. Both sides have exchanged military delegations, which could pave the path for the two nations to address their bilateral issues. A Myanmar delegation led by Lt Gen Phone Myat, Command Bureau of Special Operations, paid Bangladesh Army Chief Gen SM Shafiuddin, Ahmed, a courtesy call on October 26, 2022, in Dhaka.
Strengthening military cooperation has the potential to provide strategic benefits for both. Due to their geostrategic importance, Bangladesh and Myanmar have become a hotspot in the western front’s Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) and China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As a result, maritime cooperation between the two countries is crucial to ensure security in the Bay of Bengal, which has immense potential for both Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Military and security cooperation is also necessary for regional stability. Myanmar could be the starting point for a land-based alternative to the maritime route to Southeast Asia and Bangladesh has the potential of being a land-based alternative route to South Asia. Such a road link has the prospect of expanding the communication network between South and Southeast Asian countries. The BIMSTEC’s objective is not only connectivity but also ensuring regional security, which is only possible through joint military and security cooperation. Military relations between the two neighboring countries can provide peace, harmony, regional stability, regional connectivity, and other benefits throughout the region
(The author is a researcher on South Asian political economy and international politics. Views are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)