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USA trying to carve a Christian nation in South Asia? A violent Manipur and Sheikh Hasina’s caution: How the dots align

Establishing an “easy-to-control” (read poor, and desperate) Christian nation in this strategically important region could provide the US with enhanced geopolitical leverage over South and Southeast Asia.

In a recent statement, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina made a shocking claim that a plot is being hatched to carve out “a Christian state like East Timor,” from parts of Bangladesh and Myanmar and that she will not let it happen. “Like East Timor…they will carve out a Christian country, taking parts of Bangladesh (Chattogram) and Myanmar with a base in the Bay of Bengal,” Hasina said.

She claimed that a “white man” who visited with her prior to the Bangladesh elections in January of this year assured her that there would be “no problems” if she permitted them to establish an airbase on Bangladeshi soil.

Last year, the US also extended support to the Islamist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Jihadist ally Jamaat-e-Islami during its protests against the PM Hasina-led government. The US and other Western countries expected the Awami League government to step down and hand over power to a caretaker regime, and release all jailed BNP and Jamaat leaders to ensure ‘free and fair’ elections. However, India and China, despite their own disputes, backed Sheikh Hasina in dealing with US pressure resulting in her return to power for the fifth time.

Since there have been reports of the United States attempting to meddle in the elections in Bangladesh by imposing sanctions on Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and some officials alongside placing visa restrictions on Bangladeshi officials, it is being speculated that the airbase offer was made by the US.

The USA’s interference in Bangladesh is not confined to influencing elections. It has emerged that Sheikh Hasina was hinting at the attempts to carve out an independent nation of the Zo-Christian people.

Speaking to Swarajya, several leaders of the ruling Awami League have confirmed that PM Hasina was talking about a conspiracy to create a Christian nation “Zogam” for Zo people. It is said to be on the lines of “Zalengam” [land of freedom], a proposed Kuki State. This separate nation would comprise large parts of Sagaing Division and the Chin state of Myanmar, the Indian state of Mizoram, and Kuki-inhabited areas of Manipur, and the Bandarban district and adjoining areas of Bangladesh’s Chittagong division.

Except for Mizoram, the other regions have been grappling with the militancy of Kuki-Chin terror groups.

Map of proposed Zo state ‘Zalengam’ comprising areas of Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Mizoram (Image source: Swarajya)

Who are Zo people and what is Zalengam?

Notably, the Zo people, also known as Zomi, Chin-Kuki-Mizo, are an ethnic group inhabiting the hilly regions of India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. Their historical origins trace back to the Chin Hills of Myanmar and the adjoining areas of Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland in India. Over centuries, they migrated and settled across these regions, forming distinct yet related communities.

During the British colonial period, the Zo people came into significant contact with Christian missionaries. The early 20th century saw a widespread conversion to Christianity, which resulted in profound changes to their socio-cultural fabric.

After the independence of India and Myanmar, the Zo people found themselves divided by national boundaries. In India, the Zo people were recognized as Scheduled Tribes, which provided certain constitutional safeguards. In Myanmar, several militant groups including Chin National Front’s armed wing Chin National Army, Chinland Defence Force (CDF), and the Chin National Defence Force (CNDF) is engaged in an armed conflict against the Myanmar junta. In Bangladesh, the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) has been carrying out killings and loot in the Chittagong Hilly Tracts (CHT).

Meanwhile, in India, as Swarajya reported, “Kuki militants under the banners of the Kuki National Army (KNA), Kuki National Front (KNF), and Kuki Liberation Army (KLA) have been carrying out killings, kidnappings, and extortions in Manipur, and are closely involved in the ongoing ethnic strife in the north-eastern state.”

In Mizoram, the ruling Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM), the opposition Mizo National Front (MNF), as well as the state unit of the Congress party endorse the unification demand made by the Mizoram-based Zo Reunification Organisation (ZRO), whose main objective is the unification of all Zo-inhabited areas in the three countries. It has been reported that church bodies, particularly the US-based Baptist Church is instigating this “Zo-unification” demand. These church bodies are reported to be closely linked to the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Moreover, in June last year, the World Kuki-Zo Intellectual Council (WKZIC) submitted a memorandum to the United Nations and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking their intervention to carve out separate Kuki state from the hilly regions of conflict-hit Manipur. The memorandum said, “To grant Kuki statehood under Article No.3 of the Indian Constitution for self-governance free from the control and discrimination in all aspects by the majority community. In case of any hesitancy from the part of the Government of India for the creation of Kuki State…..Your kind intervention is a must for the declaration of Kuki Country…”

Despite the Manipur conflict being India’s internal matter, WKZIC’s move was seen as a blatant attempt at giving the foreign entities an opportunity to question India’s territorial integrity. It was seen how US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti although deemed the Manipur issue as India’s internal matter, offered to ‘assist’ India if asked.

Thus, it is a matter of concern for not just Bangladesh and Myanmar but also for India when Sheikh Hasina says that attempts are ongoing to carve out separate Christian nations comprising the portions of territories of these countries.

How will a Christian nation right in the middle of India-Bangladesh and Myanmar territory serve USA’s interests?

Carving out a separate Christian nation in South Asia serves the interests of the US since a Buddhist Myanmar is heavily under the influence of China. The hostility in US-China relations is widely known. Its latest example was seen when US President Biden announced heavy tariffs on Chinese products. On the other hand, the US’s exertion of influence in the internal matters of a Muslim-majority Bangladesh has miffed the Bangladeshi people. Meanwhile, India, though a strategic ally to the US, under the Modi government does not allow any sort of foreign influence in its internal matters, and prioritises its national interests.

Thus, establishing an “easy-to-control” (read poor, and desperate) Christian nation in this strategically important region could provide the US with enhanced geopolitical leverage over South and Southeast Asia. Besides, the territories inhabited by the Chin-Kuki-Zo people are rich in natural resources including minerals, narcotics, oil and gas. A new Christian nation aligned with US interests would help its ambition of establishing military bases a reality, which Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina, India under Narendra Modi and Myanmar junta influenced by China would never allow.

Notably, the establishment of military bases in the so-called “Zalengam” would also bolster the US presence near China and provide a strategic counterbalance to Chinese influence. The US’s alleged attempts, however, could exacerbate ethnic and religious tensions in an already volatile region, leading to prolonged conflicts and humanitarian crises and also resulting in a diplomatic fallout with Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India.

Speaking to Swarajya, a retired Major General who has served in Bangladesh’s Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) said, “The US is thus frustrated over failing to acquire a firm ally in South Asia. A Christian country which looks up to it will fit into the USA’s long-term plans to play a decisive role in South Asia perfectly.”

Kuki-Chin groups joining forces with Islamic terror organisations

Meanwhile, an Indian intelligence officer has said that the Kuki-Chin groups are strengthening themselves militarily for a ‘final push’— an intense offensive against the security forces in Manipur, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. It has also been said that these Kuki-Chin groups are joining forces with the Islamic terrorist group Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya. Last year, it was reported that Jama’atul Ansar terrorists were training under the supervision of the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) in their camps in CHT.

In Manipur, the Kuki-Chin groups have built a narrative that a peaceful co-existence with Meiteis in the state is not possible. An Intelligence Bureau officer told Swarajya that “Kuki-Chins have got tens of thousands of Chins from neighbouring Myanmar to illegally enter Manipur and settle down in the state, thus boosting the Kuki-Chin population of the state exponentially.” As their population has now increased dramatically, they are demanding a separate nation. 

The Kuki groups deliberately created situations that would result in the exodus of Kukis from Imphal Valley to foment a divide with the Meiteis. Initially, they plan to demand a separate state and then demand a merger with Mizoram. Notably, these militant groups earn money through the cultivation of opium and trafficking drugs, including synthetic drugs, from Myanmar and Manipur through Mizoram and Bangladesh.

The revenue generated from these activities is then used to buy weapons and peddling false victimhood on social media and other forums building a narrative that they are being persecuted by the Hindu Meiteis in Manipur, the Buddhist regime in Myanmar and Islamists in Bangladesh. The sole motive behind this is to justify their demand for Zalengam.

Thus, Sheikh Hasina’s statement should not be taken lightly, particularly by India since Manipur is still far from achieving peace in the state. The Indian security forces and intelligence must effectively counter the separatist groups and puncture the sinister designs of foreign entities to harm India’s territorial integrity.

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