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Sheikh Hasina fears Balkanization of Bangladesh and Myanmar; by Jai Kumar Varma

Article Courtesy: Aviation & Defence Universe

Image Courtesy: ASEAN Briefing

Article No. 005/2024

In a startling revelation following the recent general elections in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has accused a Western power of conspiring to create a new Christian state akin to East Timor by carving out territories from Bangladesh and Myanmar. Speaking at a 14-party meeting at her residence, Hasina disclosed that a foreign emissary had approached her before the January 7, 2024, elections, suggesting she could secure a trouble-free re-election if she permitted a foreign military base in Bangladesh. Hasina, 76 years old is an experienced leader, had not given the name of any country, although by the reference it was clear that she was hinting about United States of America. The Prime Minister, reiterated her stance against foreign military bases on Bangladeshi soil, emphasizing the strategic and security implications for the region, particularly for Bangladesh and its neighbour, India. This bold assertion comes amid widespread criticism of the election process and heightened geopolitical tensions involving major global powers.

Sheikh Hasina Prime Minister of Bangladesh warned that a western power is hatching a conspiracy to create a new Christian country like ‘East Timor’ from carving out areas from Bangladesh and Myanmar. She also mentioned that before Bangladesh general elections held on 7 January 2024 a ‘white man’ met her and suggested that if she allows to establish a military base of a foreign country in Bangladesh, she can have a trouble-free re-election.

Hasina who is also President of Awami League revealed this at the 14-party meeting at her residence soon after the general elections. She secured the landslide victory fifth time in one sided election as the main opposition party Bangladesh National Party (BNP) refused to participate in the election. BNP, which is led by ailing former Prime Minister Khalida Zia, boycotted the elections as her demand that Hasina should resign, and elections should be held under the caretaker government was rejected by the ruling party. Awami League claimed that now there is no provision of holding election under the caretaker government in the constitution.

Bangladesh leaders claim that U.S. wants to establish a military base at strategically located St. Martin Island which is a small island and is southernmost part of Bangladesh. It is about nine KMs south of the tip of the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula. There is another small adjacent island namely Chera Dwip which is separated at high tide. In Bengali St. Martin Island is known as Narikel Zinzira and its meaning in Bengali is ‘Coconut Island’ and it is a coral reef island.

Awami League leaders assert that Bangladesh is ready to assist U.S. for its peacekeeping missions, for extending humanitarian assistance etc. but Dacca would not allow U.S. or for that matter any other country to establish military base at St Martin Island or anywhere in the country. Bangladeshis assert that they do not want any arms race between U.S. and China in Bangladesh and would not help any country to curb other country. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would not render any concession because of foreign pressure. U.S. base would not only against the interests of Bangladesh but would also have security implications for India. Bangladesh has close relations with Russia also and a military base of U.S. would harm its relations not only with China but with Russia too. Moscow played an important role in 1971 when Bangladesh got freedom from repressive rule of Pakistan. In 2023 Matthew Miller spokesperson of U.S. Department of State made it clear in a press conference that U.S. has no intention of taking control of the island.

Sheikh Hasina also mentioned that a conspiracy is hatched against her and as she has refused to provide a military base to the foreign power hence, she is facing opposition within the country as well as abroad. The foreign power wants to create a Christian country like East Timor. The new Christian country would have parts of Bangladesh (Chattogram) and some parts from Myanmar. She also mentioned that the proposal about a military base came from a ‘white man’. Without mentioning the name and country of ‘white man’ she claimed that he offered that there would be a smooth re-election if she gives an airbase. As she had not given the military base, elections of Bangladesh held on 7th January 2024 were criticised and condemned. It was alleged that the elections were not free and fair. The United States was very vocal in criticising the elections and alleging that it was not free and fair.

It is funny that U.S. has not criticised the elections held in Pakistan, where former Prime Minister Imran Khan was kept in jail. At the time of elections Imran Khan was most popular leader and although his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was banned, and he was in prison people who fought on his name or on the name of his party won the elections. There were reports that supporters of PTI were imprisoned, tortured and forced not to contest elections but U.S. ignored all these facts as it never wanted Imran Khan or his party PTI comes to power as Imran Khan criticised U.S. and mentioned that Washington wanted to overthrow him and his party.

Hasina mentioned that BNP also conspired to prevent the elections. She also mentioned that inflation is increasing worldwide, and foreign exchange reserve of several countries including Bangladesh have fallen but the situation always remained under control. She made it clear that she is not worried about the conspiracies and would not give military base to any foreign power. She also stated that Bangladesh would not purchase anything from a country which would put sanctions on it.

Sheikh Hasina’s former advisor mentioned that Sheikh Hasina does not speak without proof. It is a fact that U.S. is trying to have a base in this area to counter China and Russia and for that U.S. is also taking help from opposition parties including National Unity Government (NUG) of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and People’s Defence Forces (PDF). NUG is a Myanmar government in exile constituted by the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. The government in exile was established by elected parliamentarians who were ousted by the present military regime in 2021 through coup d’etat.

Awami League leaders also mention that Kuki-Chin insurgents in Myanmar are mostly Christians they can be exploited by other Christian countries. These Kuki-Chin insurgents have revolted against the present military regime. Awami League leaders also allege that Biden government is assisting these rebel forces in Myanmar and U.S. administration have already signed Burma Act under which U.S. administration is rendering “non-lethal assistance” to Myanmar rebels. Myanmar government has objected to U.S. assistance to rebels, but U.S. mentioned that it is helping rebels to curb rising Chinese influence in Myanmar.

Awami League also claims that U.S. assistance to Kuki-Chin rebels is dangerous for Bangladesh, Myanmar as well as for India especially Manipur which has several Kuki tribes. These Kuki tribes are mainly living in the hilly region and constitute about 30% of Manipur’s total population of about 28.5 lakh. Bitter ethnic clashes occurred in Manipur between majority Meiteis and minority Kukis in Manipur in which thousands of people were displaced and about 200 persons have lost their lives. Manipur Chief Minister mentioned that the population of Chin-Kuki-Zo tribes have suddenly increased. India has decided to fence 1643 K.Ms long India Myanmar border because of illegal influx of refugees from Myanmar. Not only this India also decided to scrap visa-free movement policy between both the countries because of large influx of refugees from Myanmar. Under visa free movement, people living within 16 KMs zone on either side of the border have visa-free movement. Analysts claim that after Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister of Bangladesh anti-India forces are not able to use Bangladesh soil for anti-India activities. Hence creation of a Christian state would also create security problem for India.

U.S. is desperate to get a military base in the region, hence it has put visa restrictions and threatened to put sanctions on Bangladesh officials. U.S. is constantly criticising Hasina government for taking action against opposition leaders and also tried to force Hasina to step down before January elections so that polls can be conducted through care taker government. U.S. is worried about developing close relations of Dacca with Beijing and Moscow. If U.S. gets a military base in Bangladesh, then the importance of India would also be reduced. U.S. understands that India being a big country with strong military and economic base cannot be bullied much and it would adopt more independent policies hence it wants to pressurise Dacca for giving the military base to U.S. However, Sheikh Hasina is a strong leader with massive following in the country hence she would not give military base to any foreign country. U.S. which is very vocal about human right violations should also not pressurise Bangladesh for providing military base. Creating a new country by annexing parts of Myanmar and Bangladesh is not only unethical but condemnable too.

(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at
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