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16 THREAT PERCEPTIONS IN THE MYANMAR–BANGLADESH BORDERLANDS Helal Mohammed Khan Many complexities that symbolize Myanmar today stem from its borders, border people, and border regions. From Karen and Shan in the east to Kachin and Wa in the north, to Chin and Rakhine in the west, Myanmar’s periphery commotions affect its stability and its peace conditions (ICG 2015). Researchers have studied these phenomena, and their approaches range from queries on Myanmar’s borders (for example, Cohen 2013; Morshed 2012; Schendel and de Maaker 2014) to nuanced studies on border people, policies, and regions (notably, Chen 2014; Farrelly 2012; Pate 2010). The way peripheries have dominated Myanmar’s future brings to the fore some old questions: what are the causes of conflicts at these outer regions? How do they relate to border administration, and how do the security echelons operating on either side of the border perceive threats? Do these assessments come from physical, tangible elements of fear? Or do they draw from intangible and often imperceptible fear factors like religion, ethnicity, cultures, and languages of the bordering people? 334 Helal Mohammed Khan In this chapter I address some of these queries, using the case of the Rohingya in Rakhine State.1 Despite a long period of neglect, the story of the Rohingya is increasingly finding an audience in the political arena as well as in academia, and yet the Rohingyas’ plight is far from being alleviated. A discussion of the Rohingya offers scope for analyzing not only Myanmar’s governance at the fringe areas but also performances by their Bangladesh counterparts, and sheds light on the attendant border management by these respective countries. Since a number of scholars have delved into ethno-religious issues (Siddiqui 2011), socio-political affairs (Shwe Lu Maung 1989), and nontraditional security matters (Ahmed 2010) relating to the Rohingya, in this chapter I focus on two aspects of traditional security: border management and the conception of threat by the opposing forces of Myanmar and Bangladesh. Drawing examples from past conflicts along the border — and juxtaposing them with findings from the field — I question the way borders are typically managed and the threats constructed. My experiences of past service in this borderland region — with the Bangladesh Army in the early years of the twenty-first century (in areas opposite north-western Rakhine State) and subsequently with the Border Guards during the close of its first decade (in areas west of River Naaf) — help me in this assessment. The discussion is in three sections. The first introduces the borders and hinterlands between Myanmar and Bangladesh and highlights their geopolitics as well as the bilateral relations between these two countries. Threat perception is introduced in the second section, where I look at the traditional ways of identifying threat by the security units and other authorities at the border. In the third section I offer a few practical recommendations in light of the study and also in light of my personal knowledge of the area and of the people whom I was lucky to have met in the recent past. Introducing the Myanmar–Bangladesh Borderlands When we talk about borders or border issues for Myanmar, we often refer to its northern borders, those adjacent to India and China, or the eastern ones with Thailand and Laos, and tend to ignore the lands, rivers, and mountains at the country’s far west — those that separate Myanmar from Threat perceptions in the Myanmar–Bangladesh borderlands 335 an important neighbour: Bangladesh. This 271-kilometre borderline west of the Arakan Yoma — one of the two mountain ranges that separates the western coastal strip of Myanmar from the central plains — links with River Naaf at the south for 64 kilometres as it extends into the Bay of Bengal. The international boundary runs along the mid-stream of the river, which flows through the townships of Teknaf on the Bangladesh side, and Maungdaw of Myanmar on the other. The presence of major cities like Cox’s Bazar (also Saint Martin’s Island, a naval base and a popular tourist spot opposite Myanmar’s west coast) for Bangladesh, and Sittwe (previously known as Akyab) hosting the biggest seaport as well as air and naval bases for Myanmar, adds significance to this border region. While urbanization and trade activities around Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf have ensured a steady growth for this bordering region in Bangladesh, on the Myanmar side the Rakhine State has largely fallen behind in development. Post-independence relations between Myanmar and Bangladesh...


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MARC Record
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