Enhancing regional stability through Myanmar-Bangladesh military cooperation

Bangladesh and Myanmar, the two neighboring countries, have had a long-standing bilateral relationship since

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Enhancing regional stability through Myanmar-Bangladesh military cooperation

Bangladesh and Myanmar, the two neighboring countries, have had a long-standing bilateral relationship since January 1972, when Myanmar recognized independent Bangladesh.

Since then, many ups and downs shaped the relationship and strengthen bilateral cooperation. Though the relationship was usually cooperative, the situation has been worsened when the Rohingya crisis erupted between the two neighboring 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 Junta military. In the Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh, the junta army's war against the Arakan Army (AA), one of the country's ethnic armed organizations, has become intensified. In the meantime, Myanmar warplanes violated the airspace of Bangladesh several times. Though mortar shells fired by Myanmar have entered into Bangladesh border multiple times, Bangladesh only summoned Myanmar with diplomatic manners.

However, apart from some exceptional incidents, relations with Myanmar have always been cordial. Especially, the security of the border area between ??Bangladesh and Myanmar has been the main area of cooperation between the two countries. 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 border in the Naf River.

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 vigilance at the border and prevent miscreant activities. The patrolling were held regularly during the pre-Covid period, but it was resumed after a long interval due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Both countries have always paid special concern to border security, which was expressed in the 8th Senior Level Border Conference between BGB and BGP held at Nay Pyi Taw from 23 to 27 November. Bangladesh delegation led by Major Gen. Shakil Ahmed, Director General of BGB, along with 10 senior officials attended the Conference. The DG BGP urged to enhance bilateral cooperation in combating illicit drugs and psychotropic substances and to prevent illegal border crossing. He also stressed to resume the joint patrols between the two guarding forces to counter the potential threats posed by terrorist groups along the border. Before that, a commandant-level flag meeting between BGB and BGP was held over the tense situation along the border in Teknaf upazila of Cox’s Bazar.

Myanmar has a 271-kilometer-long border with Bangladesh. Because of the critical geography of the border between the two countries, the possibility of committing crimes on both sides of the border is very high. Along the border with Myanmar lies the inaccessible mountainous region of Bangladesh. There are also direct river and maritime connections. As a consequence, there is a serious possibility of being used as a safe route for trans-border crimes like guns and narcotics smuggling, human trafficking, and so on. Hence the joint efforts of both countries to strengthen security on this vulnerable border is a must.

To protect mutual bilateral interests, a strong tie of cooperation should be developed between Bangladesh Army and Myanmar Army, the Tatmadaw. 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 Myanmar is now under the hand of military rulers and the Rohingya issue has become a hanging problem for Bangladesh, finding an early and sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis is a "top priority" issue for Bangladesh right now. It would need a "consultative and constructive approach" between the two governments and other international stakeholders to resolve this ongoing issue as it has become more complicated.

Hence, strengthening cooperation with the military is the best way to enhance engagement with the Myanmar government. Bangladesh always insisted on deepening cooperation to increase close engagement with Myanmar military. 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, at the Army Headquarters amid the ongoing violence in Myanmar. Likewise, Bangladesh's military chiefs have traditionally paid goodwill visits to Myanmar, seeking to develop a more meaningful relationship from a security standpoint.

The army chiefs discussed the development of military relations between the two countries, joint discussions of high-ranking army officers on various issues, exchange of training, joint disaster management, and exchange of relevant information, and urged to work together to ensure regional security. To address certain common bilateral concerns, both sides might collaborate and share their knowledge and expertise. Military training exchanges between the two-armed forces can benefit both sides in terms of improving operational capabilities.

Strengthening military cooperation has the potential to provide strategic benefits for both of them. Due to their geostrategic significance, 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 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 to expand 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, increased regional interest, and other benefits throughout the region


Sent in by Abdullah Sadi, a researcher on South Asian Political economy and International politics

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