It has been five weeks since Bangladesh launched an operation against the Ethnic separatist organization, Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF). Previously, law enforcement agencies discovered KNF’s connection with the nascent Islamist terrorist organization, Jamatul Sharqia.
Since then, KNF is constantly retreating and lost its strongholds. Apart from its physical presence and connection with Islamist terrorism, KNF also maintains a significant media presence. Upon retreating, KNF is gradually losing its physical strength. But it seems the organization is not giving up easily as it is resorting to a media offensive to regain.
KNF’s Media Presence
That KNF is an organized force is little known. It has two separate bodies. The armed wing is named, Kuki-Chin National Army; and the political wing is known as Kuki-Chin National Front. Since the past few years, KNF has had a significant media presence, especially through social media. Their target audience is the tribal people of Hill tracts. KNF affiliates are active on social media and disseminate the organization’s narrative through videos, posts, and images.
Even during the initial phase of the operation, they released a video on social media justifying their claims. The video immediately went viral. Through their social media presence, they also reportedly denied Islamic connection. But evidence points directly at them.
KNF’s primary aim was to use the media to gain sympathy, attract vulnerable youth to its platform and disseminate its narrative. As the Kuki-Chin and Mizo community stretches beyond the border in both Myanmar and India, KNF’s media presence also has a transnational characteristic.
However, upon the retreat, it seems KNF has devised a media offensive to regain its strength against the ongoing operation. It is using its sources to mislead the media and is using social media to build its influence. The offensive is already misleading many Mizoram-based civil society organizations. Zo Reunification Organization (ZoRO)- a body that works to reunify Chin, Kuki and Mizo tribes in the region has already condemned Bangladesh’s much-needed operation against the KNF based on KNF’s narrative.
KNF Scaling up Media Offensive?
Very recently, approximately 270 Bangladeshi nationals have sought refuge in Mizoram. These nationals are from the Kuki-Chin community. They are currently staying under BSF’s supervision. Why they had to migrate to Mizoram is still not clear. It could be out of unnecessary panic.
Meanwhile, KNF had to retreat to the porous borderland due to the Operation. It is weakening gradually. So, it resorts to a media offensive to tarnish the operation and the government. KNF has launched a misinformation campaign. It is propagating that Bangladesh has launched a joint operation with Arakan Army (AA) against it and has made secret pacts to provide finance and a safe haven to the AA. Apart from KNF, other vested quarters may be taking the opportunity to destabilize the hilly region as the sources of the information could not be traced.
KNF is also blaming security forces for the refugee movement to Mizoram.
However, it seems even though KNF succeeded in propagating such allegations in mainstream media, these allegations are far-fetched.
Bangladesh has no connection with AA let alone providing it a safe haven and money. Moreover, Bangladesh has sound military diplomacy with the Myanmar military. Bangladesh’s relationship with AA has never made any headlines or agenda of diplomacy. So, a joint operation with AA or pledging to provide money and a safe haven to it is contradictory to current reality.
These new claims suggest that as the situation worsened for KNF, their aim has also changed. Apart from gaining sympathy from the Kuki-chin population residing beyond the border, and attracting new recruits, Kuki-Chin is aiming to destabilize Harmony in the hill tracts. It is also trying to use the media offensive to tarnish the operation in the international arena. And lastly, KNF is trying to create a rift between Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India through this offensive.
Of doubt, KNF is a separatist organization that relies on inflicting terror. Previously KNF killed several Chakma leaders and has allegations of extortion in the hill tracts. Its latest ties with Jamatul Sharqia and providing training to Islamist militants have added a new trend in the country’s violent extremism. Surely, KNF’s media offensive is a threat to the country’s sovereignty and peace and harmony in Hill tracts. In the coming days, KNF is likely to round up its media presence as its physical presence is weakening in the hill tracts. Apart from the physical drive, addressing its media offensive is also needed to root out this criminal organization.
Shafiqul Elahi is a retired government official of Bangladesh