What led to the rise of KNF?
MEHADI HASSAN PALASH
The current hot topic in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is the Kuki-Chin National Front, abbreviated as KNF, and its military wing, the Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA). The history of this group’s struggle is not new even though the existence of the organization only became known in April 2022. A Google search or a brief look back will reveal that plans for an independent state called Greater Kuki Land have been in existence for a long time. The map of this fabled Kuki land includes a part of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Myanmar’s Chin and Kachin states, and India’s Mizoram and Manipur states. The tribal people living in this region collectively identify themselves as the Mizo or Jo people. In the local language, the word ‘mi’ means man and ‘jo’ means hill. Thus, the word ‘Mijo’ means hill people. It’s important to note that the region is highly hilly, so the rise of the KNF is not surprising.
Secondly, why was the KNF created? Deprivation is one of the main reasons behind the Kuki-Chin movement or the KNF. Although the Peace Accord signed on December 2, 1997, was well-intentioned, there remain several important flaws, whether due to haste, carelessness, or a lack of input from all concerned parties. One flaw is the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord with Santu Larma, the leader of a section of the JSS (Jana Sanghati Samiti), the only organization in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It is important to note that Santu Larma does not represent all the tribes of the hill tracts, and JSS is not an organization that represents all communities, nor is Santu Larma the leader of JSS at all levels. Consequently, when the Peace Accord was signed with Santu Larma’s JSS, it was not acceptable to others, and it failed to ensure the rights and demands of other communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
JSS is primarily a Chakma tribal-dominated organization, and not all Chakmas are affiliated with JSS. As a result of the Peace Accord with JSS, the Chakma community and other ethnic minorities affiliated with JSS have been enjoying the majority of government facilities provided to the small ethnic groups of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. This has led to severe deprivation among the marginalized communities outside of JSS or the Chakma community in the region. For example, the Santal community in Panchari of Khagrachari faced significant deprivation for a long time. In September 2017, Chandni Santal became the first Santal girl to secure a government job as a primary school teacher. However, among the Chakmas, there are secretaries, major generals, ministers, MPs, university vice-chancellors, and other high-ranking positions, both domestically and internationally. This example highlights the extent of the deprivation faced by marginalized communities. In response to this deprivation and exploitation, marginalized communities such as the Kuki, Chak, Khiang, Lusai, Murong, Pangkhua, etc., have been voicing their concerns for a long time. The previous organization, KNDO (Kuki National Democratic Organization), was also formed to demand the rights of the deprived people and used to address these issues through political and democratic means. KNDO’s demands were sympathetically considered by the government at that time.
On April 10, 2022, the existence of the KNF came to the attention of the people of Bangladesh through Parbatta News. It is worth noting that the influence that the KNF is currently spreading speaks to the deprivation faced by six marginalized nations. However, it is primarily a Bawm tribal-dominated organization, led by the Bawm people. According to the 2021 census, there are 13,193 Bawm people in Bangladesh. Assuming that fifty percent of them are women and fifty percent are men, excluding children and the elderly, there are approximately 4,000 young Bawm individuals who are capable of fighting with arms. It should be noted that the Bawm people cannot be considered the most backward population in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Although not as advanced as the Chakmas, the Bawm population, which is 100% Christian, leads a fairly developed life and is dispersed across the country, including Dhaka and Chittagong, for employment and other reasons.
Considering the KNF’s claim of having thousands of fighters, it is unlikely that only a handful of Bawm community members from Bangladesh are involved in the KNF’s fight. It is also worth mentioning that the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which has lasted for over a year, has caused a shortage of weapons for Russia, the world’s second-largest arms exporter. Russia has been importing weapons from various countries, including Iran. In contrast, the KNF has been fighting for almost a year without facing any shortage of arms and ammunition. The source of their weapons, such as rocket launchers, mortars, and European, American, and Chinese automatic rifles seen in their videos, is a question that arises. These weapons are not manufactured in Bandarban, and the upazilas of Thanchi and Ruma are not located near the sea, making it unlikely for their arms and ammunition to be delivered by sea. It is also unlikely that they receive any assistance from the West, as Bengalis and other tribes in the region do not sympathize with the KNF. Therefore, it is evident that the supply of arms and ammunition is coming through the eastern border. The KNF primarily receives training and arms support from the Mizo National Front (MNF) in Mizoram, the Chin National Front (CNF) in Chin State, Burma, and a couple of other Burmese insurgent groups.
The KNF claims to receive two types of training: three months of theoretical training followed by three months of practical training. They undergo theoretical training in Mizoram for the first three months and then proceed to Myanmar for practical training, where they fight alongside various insurgent groups against the Myanmar Army.
It is noteworthy that the six tribes mentioned by the KNF are almost 100% Christian, and the KNF is a 100% Christian-dominated organization. Other insurgent groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts do not emphasize any religious identity, but the KNF openly declares its Christian affiliation. Recently, the KNF has been attempting to attract the attention of Christian-dominated states and organizations worldwide by presenting their members who have been killed by the army or in inter-party conflicts as Christians, in order to garner sympathy.
Investigations have revealed that the KNF has entered into an agreement with an Israeli Christian organization called Manasseh. The KNF Training Center in Mizoram hosts a “Lost Tribe of Israeli Jews.” This topic will be discussed in detail in the next article. Consequently, if JMB or Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya can be considered Muslim militant organizations, then the KNF can be considered a Christian militant organization.
Another important point to mention is the new phenomenon of world politics and Indian Ocean politics that is currently visible in South and Southeast Asia. Various conspiracies, blue designs, and ambitious plans have emerged. It is uncertain whether these phenomena have influenced the creation of the KNF. Geopolitical events such as the Indian Ocean-centered Western Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), Indo-Pacific Defense Forum (IPDF), AUCAS, Quad, Burma Act, Japan’s Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt Initiative (BIG-B), Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FYP), China’s String of Pearls, One Belt One Road Initiative (OBORI), China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), base construction on Great Coco Island, India’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Kaladan Multimodal Project, US Navy receiving special privileges in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chittagong-Ramgarh-Sabrum transport corridor privileges as an alternative to India’s chicken neck, Thegamukh land port, Rohingya issue, rise of Arakan Army, and the presence of militant organizations like Arsa and RSO have turned the southeastern region of Bangladesh into a new battleground of world politics. These issues will be discussed in upcoming articles.
While the KNF or the Kuki-Chins engage in terrorist activities in Bangladesh, the Kukis of Manipur state in India have also become active. As mentioned earlier, Manipur State is included in the Greater Kukiland state map. Therefore, it is worth investigating whether there is any connection between these two movements. However, there is another dimension to consider.
In 1946, prior to leaving India after the Second World War, a British diplomat named Sir Regisland Coupland presented a plan to the British Queen for the creation of a Christian buffer state similar to Israel. The proposed state would encompass territories extending from Chittagong Hill Tracts and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, Kachin and Arakan in Myanmar, and Mizoram, Arunachal, and Nagaland in India’s Seven Sisters, reaching the China border. This plan was known as the Crown Colony and is famously referred to as the Coupland Plan of India. However, prior to that, on November 13, 1941, the British Governor General of Assam, Robert Nile Rides, first announced the establishment of a crown colony state under direct British rule in the tribal areas of India and Burma, in Shillong.
Upon receiving Coupland’s proposal, British Queen Victoria agreed to the idea but expressed concerns about the feasibility of maintaining troops in India for Britain’s economy after two successive world wars. Despite the British departure from India, a significant number of missionaries arrived in neighboring regions, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Cox’s Bazar, and Myanmar, as well as the Seven Sisters States in India. Not all of these missionaries were genuine clergy members.
According to many, retired officers of the British and European military and intelligence agencies arrived in the guise of religious preachers, with the intention of implementing the Coupland Plan or establishing a Christian buffer state. With the emergence of new phenomena centered around the Bay of Bengal or the Indian Ocean in global politics, the British Burma Act is seen to be revitalized in a new form by the United States, reigniting concerns about the Coupland Plan. Further investigation is required to determine whether these new phenomena in South and Southeast Asia have played a role in the rise of the KNF.
Editor, Parbatta News, Chairman, CHT Research Foundation