By: Parvej Siddique Bhuiyan
The power shift in Myanmar and the subsequent polarization between the great powers has sparked a new geopolitical hot spot in Bangladesh’s strategic backyard, which the latter cannot reluctantly afford to ignore. It seems that the United States and other Western countries are taking an authoritarian approach while other major powers, such as Russia, China, India and Japan, have begun to explicitly (or covertly) normalize their relations with the Tatmadaw (the army of Myanmar).
Myanmar continues to be a priority in Bangladesh’s economic and security strategy. Although democratic Bangladesh has a moral dilemma in supporting the military government, it has yet to officially condemn the military coup or demand the release of Aung San Su Kyi. This underscores Dhaka’s keen support for the junta’s “one Myanmar government policy”. So in foreign policy circles, the immediate discussion is whether Dhaka’s position is a “well-thought-out approach or just premature polarization.”
In-depth analysis suggests that Bangladesh’s position stems from very specific strategic considerations. First, Bangladesh is well aware that sanctions and condemnation, a typical Western practice, are counterproductive in Myanmar as long as China and Russia continue to expand their diplomatic and military shields. Second, the previous NLD government failed to address long-awaited issues of connectivity, border security, or the Rohingya crisis in Dhaka. Third, Dhaka seeks to develop warm relations with the Myanmar military based on a non-confrontational and non-interference approach. Thus, he does not want to enrage the Tatmadaw by participating in a smear campaign that does not even address the country’s basic security concerns.
Given rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics, it is not strange to predict that major powers like China, India, Russia and Japan will remain on Myanmar’s military side, underscoring their own strategic narratives. This will undoubtedly give the military a chance to consolidate its grip on the country as well as its diplomatic status and military position. With a recent resumption of diplomatic exchanges, China is rekindling its historic “Pauk-Phaw” (brother and sister) ties with Myanmar. He began to normalize his relations with the State Administrative Council, mainly to secure his strategic infrastructure projects that would give Beijing a vital gateway to the Indian Ocean.
Although Russia, one of Myanmar’s largest arms suppliers, has no pressing geostrategic imperatives in Myanmar, it has attempted to diversify its cooperation with the country to increase its investment portfolio. In addition, the China-Russia axis should play a more active role in the central Indo-Pacific to compensate for the expansion of Western dominance. Although India and Japan, two allies of the QUAD, feel uncomfortable doing business with a military regime, they will avoid Western-centric coercive measures and instead follow “two-way diplomacy”. to engage with military administrations as well as pro-democracy forces. Apparently, the main strategic reason for this position is to avoid alienating Myanmar and pushing it into China’s knees.
This is how Bangladesh discovers that its key strategic and development allies, who wield significant influence over Myanmar, are on the side of Tatmadaw. Thus, based on a rational calculation of interests, aligning with the NUG, which holds no solid territory and no de jure recognition from any foreign government, would have negative ramifications for Burma-Bangla relations.
There is no doubt that finding a quick and lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis is currently a “priority” issue for Bangladesh. But political analysts acknowledge that this protracted problem has become more complicated and would require a “consultative and constructive approach” between the two governments, as well as international stakeholders. In this case, Bangladesh would have to deal with the Myanmar military even though it is governed by representatives of the people, as the 2008 Constitution places the military in a central position in the government with complete authority over the ministries of defence, interior and border affairs. Accordingly, any attempt to resolve the crisis without the active cooperation of the country’s military would be futile. Recall that Bangladesh repatriated the Rohingya twice, in 1978 and 1992, through dialogue and diplomacy with the military regime. Thus, Dhaka sees no problem in keeping its channels of communication open with Burmese generals to maneuver a step-by-step model of crisis resolution.
Both countries are wary of the Rakhine Army’s growing control over Rakhine State, as well as the resurgence of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which has been blamed for several violent attacks on Myanmar police outposts, as well as the murder of MohibUllah, an influential leader of the Rohingya community. ARSA is believed to have a political agenda to prevent Rohingyas from returning home, thus prolonging the crisis. Furthermore, it is easy to assume that the 270 km long Bangladesh-Myanmar border would be a hotspot for cross-border insurgencies and crimes due to the ongoing security crisis in Rakhine and its proximity to the Triangle. Golden. As a result, Bangladesh might see collaboration with the military administration as the only tactical option to combat the escalating drug and arms smuggling and human trafficking.
Another main strategic objective of Bangladesh is to realize its eastward gaze policy by connecting with China and ASEAN countries through Myanmar. Bangladesh is also considering joining the ASEAN bloc and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway initiative. Therefore, Bangladesh should convince Myanmar’s central government to develop plans for accessing each other’s markets as well as regional markets to address post-LDC challenges.
Military diplomacy: “New channel of communication”
Despite strained ties in the past, Bangladeshi military leaders have traditionally paid goodwill visits to Myanmar, seeking to develop a more meaningful relationship from a security perspective. Importantly, Bangladesh was among only eight countries that sent their defense attaché to attend the Myanmar Armed Forces Day Parade in Naypyitaw in March 2021, a month after the coup, which prompted Min AungHlaing to consider Dhaka as one of his allies. Obviously, Dhaka does not want to close the door to negotiations with the new military administration.
Tatmadaw’s recent participation in ASEAN’s military intelligence and chiefs of defense meetings, as well as the largest multilateral Indian Navy exercise, MILAN 2022, as well as those of QUAD members, could open the way for other countries to adopt military diplomacy to deal with political issues and diplomatic concerns. Bangladesh may calculate that very intense security engagement through security dialogue and cooperation, joint exercises and training, staff meetings and intelligence sharing will forge meaningful bonds. to address major challenges such as the Rohingya crisis, insurgency, transnational crime, and other non-traditional security threats.
In a nutshell, Bangladesh is trying to reorient its policy in Myanmar in light of regional power and the new army regime in Naypyidaw. Pursue a multidimensional approach to engagement with the Government of Myanmar. and convincing them to address security issues could be a viable strategic option for Bangladesh at this time.