Myanmar’s Civil War and The Bangladesh Perspective

“There is not much of a hope for Bangladesh at the moment but there is also no cause for dismay.”– Shahab Enam Khan, Professor IR, Jahangirnagar University.

This statement regarding the prospect of Myanmar’s civil war spilling into Bangladesh might not be headline-worthy. After all, “we’re fine” is rarely a headline that generates clicks. But that is the thesis of Dr. Khan on Youth Policy Forum’s webinar titled ‘In the Shadow of Conflict: Civil War in Myanmar and the Bangladesh Perspective’. As always, the Youth Policy Forum continues to champion nuanced dialogue involving experts in every field, instead of chasing clicks.

The Rohingyas have been subjected to violence for hundreds of years for a variety of causes, including religious and political perspective. Bangladesh, as a border country, has always been entangled in Myanmar’s wars. Due to its proximity, Bangladesh is now facing numerous threats, and the future is uncertain. As a result, many issues have been raised about the conflict’s origins, the economic consequences of the crisis for Bangladesh, security challenges, nontraditional threats, and so on. The foreign policy team organised a webinar on February 23, 2024, to shed light on these concerns.The webinar discussed the most important aspects of the civil war, such as the historical context, economic consequences on Bangladesh and its national interests, and classic and non-traditional security challenges.

The webinar began with a thorough context briefing by moderator Nusanta Audri, the leader of the YPF Foreign Policy team. Following that, the first panellist, Obaida Shammama, PhD in Political Science from the University of Mississippi, dived deep into the complexities and historical context of all the different ethnicities that constitute the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. The history of Myanmar has been marked by numerous twists and turns,, one aspect has remained ever present: the persistent conflict stemming from ethnic divisions and class disparities.

She further emphasised that one of the major fault lines of the conflict emerged from discrimination against Muslim Rohingyas by the predominantly Buddhist Bamars. Despite their longstanding presence in Myanmar spanning thousands of years, Rohingya Muslims have faced persecution as a minority group. Recent accounts propagated by the majoritarian Buddhist population in Rakhine dispute the Rohingya identity as indigenous to Arakan, instead labelling them as Bengali migrants from Chittagong. However, the fabrication of origins to rationalise their oppression is not a new phenomenon; it dates back to 1948, post-World War II.

The military rulers attempted to systematically hide their identity by changing the name of Arakan to Rakhine state. In 1982, the Rohingyas were even denied their national status, rendering the Rohingya people stateless in their very own lands. This act deprived them of all of their civil and political rights in the Union of Myanmar. Due to waves of increased oppression, there have been various refugee influxes, including in 1978 and 2012, However the most serious was in 2017, when unprecedented acts of genocide and war crimes against the Rohingya peoples conducted by the Burmese military, the Tatmadaw, forced the majority of Rohingya people’s to seek refuge in Bangladesh.

As of today, 730,000 Rohingya people are enduring camp life in Bangladesh, with ever-dwindling resources and support, and 600,000 Rohingya people are living under military-enforced apartheid back in Rakhine.

The second segment began with Dr. Shahab Enam Khan, a political scientist, who gave several insights into the Rohingya’s historical backdrop. He referred to the Rohingyas as Cultural Homogenization since they had intercultural marriages with people from other cultures and their culture was highly homogeneous. He even spoke to the Rohingya Genesis as being thousands of years old and disputed all accusations that they were Chattogram migrants. However, he began his major discussion by discussing the economic impact of the Rohingya crisis on Bangladesh. Definitely, he didn’t fail to observe that the Rohingya refugee situation has significant current ramifications and shows no signs of future risks. He quite boldly mentioned, “there is hope, regardless of who comes to power since both the Arakan army and National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG) have shown positive signs and firm commitments to take refugees back.” Also here the international organisations can work on the repatriation process and help Bangladesh take some pragmatic actions. To begin, economic incentives will be sent to Rakhine to help stabilise the situation. Furthermore, Bangladesh could collaborate with the United States, China, and Japan, who are large investors in humanitarian causes and can help Bangladesh with repatriation. Finally, he emphasised that Rohingya refugees represent an untapped economic resource. If they can be converted into human resources, it will benefit not only Rakhine but also Bangladesh and the rest of the World.

YPF’s Executive Director, Aamer Mostaque Ahmed provided additional insights into the Bangladeshi perspective on the war, highlighting the significant loss of Bangladeshi lives. He cautioned that a dovish approach towards the conflict could weaken Bangladesh’s ability to deter further aggression; meaning, if the other actors in the conflict do not witness decisive response from Bangladesh, they will not be deterred from causing further spillover. Given the fact that Bangladesh has a conflict at its doorsteps, Aamer did not rule out the idea that certain military actions might be reasonable for Bangladesh to undertake. Proposals such as creating buffer zones and fortifying border security could be feasible measures to safeguard every Bangladeshi citizen.

Ayreen Khan, founder of iCan, an organization dedicated to combating child abuse, underscored issues deeply personal to her. Drawing from her firsthand experiences within the camps, she provided vivid descriptions of the dire circumstances in which many are stranded. She emphasised that for an entire generation that is currently being raised under the austerity of camplife, attaining a future of dignity seems ever-further away. Ills such as unemployment and crime are bound to rise in a ghettoised society where the youth have very little hope to look forward to in life. Nevertheless, Khan expressed optimism, stating that supporting youth with education and training not only steers them away from illegal activities but also transforms them into valuable assets. This approach, she noted, holds potential economic benefits for Bangladesh and fosters stronger international connections. 

The webinar concluded with a spirited question and answer session. This incredibly informative and thought-provoking discourse gave us an opportunity to gather knowledge on all the key factors related to the Myanmar Civil War from a historical perspective, a traditional viewpoint, and Bangladesh’s own security concerns.


Written by-

Mirza Moshi, Foreign Policy Associate


Nusanta Samayel Audri & Anannyo Samayel 

Co-Leads, Foreign Policy Team


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