A new security threat emerges from Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts; wake-up call for three countries

KNF's suspected ties with Jamatul Sharqia and providing training to Islamist militants have added a new dimension to the country's violent extremism.

Shafiqul Elahi Nov 29, 2022
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Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF). (Photo: Twitter)

It has been five weeks since Bangladesh launched a military operation against the ethnic separatist organization, Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF). Law enforcement agencies have discovered KNF's connection with the nascent Islamist terrorist organization, Jamatul Sharqia. Since then, KNF is said to be on the retreat and has reportedly lost its strongholds in the Chittagong Hil Tracts (CHT) where it seeks to carve out a separate state in an important trijunction between Bangladesh, India and Myanmar. 

That KNF is an organized force is little known. Formed in 2008, tt has two separate bodies; the armed wing is named Kuki-Chin National Army, and the political wing is known as Kuki-Chin National Front. Since the past few years, KNF has had a significant media presence in the region, especially through social media. Their target audience is the tribal people of the CHT. KNF affiliates are active on social media and disseminate the organization's narrative through videos, posts, and images.

The KNF claims that all members of the Bawm, Pungkhua, Lushai, Khumi, Mro, and Khyang tribal groups in the area, who are largely Buddhists, are part of the greater Kuki-Chin race.

Through their social media posts, they have reportedly denied any Islamic connection. But, according to Bangladeshi security officials, evidence points to the contrary.

Cross-border presence

KNF's primary aim was to use the media to gain sympathy, and attract vulnerable youth to its platform. As the Kuki-Chin and Mizo communities are across the border in both Myanmar and India, KNF's media presence also has a transnational character.

The offensive is already misleading many Mizoram-based civil society organizations. Zo Reunification Organization (ZoRO), a body that works to reunify Chin, Kuki and Mizo tribes in the region, has condemned Bangladesh's military operation against the KNF.  About 270 Bangladeshi nationals, mostly from the Kuki-Chin community.  have reportedly sought refuge in neighbouring Mizoram. 

KNF is also propagating that Bangladesh has launched a joint operation with Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organisation in Rakhine State in Myanmar, against it and has made secret pacts to provide finance and a safe haven to the AA. KNF is also blaming  Bangladeshi security forces for the refugee movement to Mizoram. 

Suspected Islamist links 

Apart from gaining sympathy from the Kuki-chin population residing beyond the border, and attracting new recruits, Kuki-Chin is aiming to disrupt social harmony in the hill tracts.  And it is also trying to create a misunderstanding between Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India.

KNF is a separatist organization that relies on inflicting terror. It is a threat to the country's sovereignty and peace and harmony in the CHT. Previously, KNF killed several Chakma leaders and there have been allegations of extortion against it. KNF's suspected ties with Jamatul Sharqia and providing training to Islamist militants have added a new dimension to the country's and region's violent extremism. 

(The author is a retired Bangladesh government official. Views are personal. He can be contacted at shafiqul.elahi1960@gmail.com)

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