Burma Southeast AsiaSoutheast Asia, Burma
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Transboundary flows in Burma
Burma Bangladesh Frontier?" Neither Burma (Myanmar) nor Bangladesh are of great importance in the present programme of world domination. Burma and Bangladesh's domestic press seldom focus on the frontier area that follows them, even in writing on them. If we are reading across the Burmese frontier, for example, it is usually the long frontier that connects Burma and Thailand; if we are reading across the Bangladesh frontier, it is usually the long frontier that connects Bangladesh and India.
Secondly, the view from the frontier areas offers us a perspective that calls for "rotten assumptions" that state and social, state and country or state and government are equivalent or cohesive in territorial terms (Anderson and Dowd 1999:602-603). Looking more closely at the apparently isolated Burma-Bangladesh borderlands (see map 1) shows a wealth of activity with unanticipated trans-national significance.
On the basis of a more comprehensive analysis, this remark examines some of the connections between frontier municipalities and trans-national currents (Van Schendel 2005). Naf River fights its way through the Burmese and Bangladeshi hills before spreading into a vast stretch of waters and flowing into the Bay of Bengal.
Arakan ( "Burma") is in the back and a beacon in the foreground, the meaning of which is not obvious to the bystander. This is the most southerly marking of the boundary between the states of Bangladesh (left) and Burma. The name ASEAN is an acronym for "Association of Southeast Asian Nations", a cooperation of states that present themselves as "ten countries, one community".
" Myanmar acceded to this group in 1997. Bangladesh, on the other side, is the most eastern member of another SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). Thus, the beacon divides two parts of the globe, Southeast Asia and Southeast Asia. They have created "area studies", they have created expertise that follows policy outlines, assuming that Burma is best perceived as part of a group of companies known as Southeast Asia and Bangladesh as part of Southeast Asia (Van Schendel 2002).
Consequently, most of Burma's and Bangladesh's pupils have had their backs to each other for 60 years. Burma and Bangladesh were managed by one state, British India. Bangladesh is a relatively young frontier between Burma and Bangladesh. Its origins lie in the modest borders between the British Indian regions.
In 1937, when this vast settlement was divided into Britain-Burma and British-India, the frontier was granted semi-international stature for the first arsenal. The country became completely internationally when the Brits gave up control of India/Pakistan (1947) and Burma (1948). Burma now divided a frontier with the two separate states resulting from the partition of Britain-India, India and Pakistan.
These notes relate only to the Burma-Pakistan region. An uprising in Pakistan in 1971 resulted in a civil conflict in which a new state, Bangladesh, was born. Burma's Pakistan frontier then became the frontier between Burma and Bangladesh (Map 1). It is noteworthy that, after all these permits, there is still no consensus as to where the frontier really is.
Bangladesh's Bangladeshi administration and the CIA think it is 193 km long, but according to Burma it is 272 km ("Resist" 1999; CIA 2000; Basic Facts 1996). This is a limit which, despite the 1966, 1980 and 1998 agreement on the borders (Haque 1980:218; "Border Tense" 2001), is almost unlimited.
It is not surprising that regional insecurity has led to constant friction and frontier events. The only place where buoy mouths were placed was at the Naf estuary to divide Burma's water from Bangladesh's and to lead the vessels from the Bay of Bengal. Upriver, the boundary is less clear, as the agencies learned as soon as it was formed.
As some previously unoccupied Naf Rivers inhabited by Burmese civilians were invaded soon after the partition, the Pakistani government went to Dhaka, Chittagong and Cox's Bazar to search wildly for documentation and map files that could justify their right to these isles. Finally, they had to admit that "the border between Chittagong and Arakan together with the Naf Rivers did not seem to have been marked off after Burma's division (1937).
In this respect, the most recent example is the Revenue Settlement map created in 1929 (Bangladesh 1950). The Tumburu River, which was connected to the Naf River, migrated northwards in the early 1990', creating great tension between Burma's frontier patrols (Nasaka or Na Sa Ka), who continue to use it, and their colleagues in Bangladesh, who claim it is now in Bangladesh.
Burma eventually admitted in April 2000 that the stream was out of range ("Nasaka" 2000). Farther eastwards the frontier crosses the country and the regional insecurity can have fatal repercussions (map 2). Burma's military has been involved in never-ending skirmishes with various groups of rebels struggling for freedom.
At the beginning of the 90s, the government started to lay anti-personnel landmines in the frontier area. Sacrifices included BDR Jawans[Bangladesh's frontier guards], Myanmar's Nasaka police, Myanmar's ordinary military troops, Rohingya intruders and Bangladesh's loggers. Altogether 35 bangladeschis were murdered and 22 savage bulls died from mine explosions in the frontier areas during the six years (Islam 1999).
Myanmar frontier officials and separators such as the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) often collided over frontier controls. At one opportunity, RSO insurgents murdered 11 sentries that laid anti-personnel landmines along the Bangladesh-Band. In another meeting, one officer and two RSO combatants were murdered and 32 others were injured on both sides ("Three" 1998; "Tension" 2000).
The people of this area have been adjusting to live in an internationally borderland for two generation. The adjustments were manifold: studying one or both of the country's official language (although certainly not every person in Burma or Bengali today is speaking it), using two different currency, which cannot be formally negotiated, securing livelihood through unauthorised cross-border trading, contact with family on the other hand, looking for shelter across the borders and, if necessary, reassuring the men with guns located there.
There is an undefined frontier that encourages frontier conflicts when the states involved try to impose regional controls. However, much of Burma's Bangladeshi frontier is left unguarded and passenger traffic is hardly surreptitious. There are few frontier posts in the arduous undulating area to the west and the state is largely absent: The general manager of Bangladesh's frontier troops (Bangladesh Rifles, BDR) lamented that 100 km of this frontier not only are not demarcated, but also left unguarded, because there are no frontier posts at all ("DG" 2000).
Boundaries that are neither seen nor staffed are not realities. Their lack of state power also puts them at risk of violent conflict on the other side of the frontier. Thus, the residents of a Mru town on Bangladesh's side offered great opposition when thirty bandits from Burma assaulted them.
Abduction for ransoms is another type of cross-border criminality used by some groups of rebels to fund their fight, such as the Arakan Democratic Party, which kidnapped Marma men from Bangladesh to Burma ("Myanmar" 1998; "Two" 1999). On the southernmost tip of Bangladesh, a silent headland stretches towards Burma.
The sunshine is reflected from a sunshine couch on the side of the Naf-Fluss. Yachts with Myanmar and Bangladesh flag may be old and small and Teknaf may look like a dozy place, but the appearance is deceptive (plate 2). Both Teknaf and his pendant Maungdaw are engaged in a busy, mostly illicit trafficking of goods from all over the overworld.
Burmese merchandise is often recorded as originating in Singapore. With these goods included, the chairman of the Bangladesh-Myanmar Business Promotion Council estimates that Burma's formal import volume was approximately $170 million ("Trade" 1999; "Yangon's Strict" 2003). However, there are only a few dozens of different kinds of goods in formal trafficking, which is totally eclipsed by illicit trade: over 90 per cent of the goods imported into Teknaf may be contraband (Smith 1986; Ghafur, Islam and Faiz 1990-91).
There is a confusing number of goods crossing the boundary and the complexities of the trading network crossing the Burma Bangladesh line is amazing (Table 4). In Burma, goods come from Thailand using Thai cables, hoses, cosmetic products and seafood - and from China - electric goods and tableware - which were carried by truck through Burma. Myanmar itself offers clothing, herbs, prawns, brown prawns, brown tea, tobacco, whisky, beers, salts and antiquities.
Weapons and munitions from different parts of the globe also reach Bangladesh here. Arakan and Chin State (Burma), the Chittagong Hill Tracts (Bangladesh) and north-eastern India rely on through-the-border area. A few poor people travel by ship to a Bangladeshi harbour and are then trafficked to India, while others arrive over Burma.
Bangladesh is an important point of transition for armed forces in the area. SALWs come to Bangladesh from Afghanistan and Pakistan on the one hand and Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar and Cambodia on the other. Usually from there the guns go northwards to the insurgents in northeast India or southwards to the LTTE[Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]" (Small Arms Survey 2001:182).
Cox' s Bazar, a coastal Bangladeshi city ('Map 2'), benefits particularly from the small weapons-trading. This is where foreign and Bangladeshi clients come to buy the latest goods, most of which arrive by ship. Cox' s Bazar is connected to a large community of weapon bazars in the border area, such as the tri-junction point, where India, Burma and Bangladesh are meeting.
"From the smallest pistol to the missile thrower, from the Kalashnikov in Russia to the AK-47's China edition, from the American M-16 to the HK33 in Germany" ("Mizoram" 2000; "Bullet Smuggling" 2001).
Illicit small arms are becoming more and more available to domestic business people and policy -makers, making both cross-border trafficking and frontier policy more bloody than before. During the 1980', the frontier area became an important conduit for trafficking in Burma smack. Due to increased political pressures on the production of smack in Shan State (Eastern Burma), smack factories were set up in Chin State near the Bangladeshi and India frontiers.
Bangladesh and Northeast India handled large volumes of Burma smack onto the EU and US market. Simultaneously, along these trading lines, regional supermarkets were developing. Soon, the Teknaf Frontier became a relatively high concentrations of people using it. Smack has become entrenched as a trading activity and some poppies are also being cultivated on the Bangladeshi side of the frontier ("Crackdown" 2002; "Poppy" 2005).
The Burmese to Bangladesh trades include many goods, but the Teknaf vessels bring an equal variety of goods to Maungdaw. A number of these products come from Bangladesh, others from India or beyond. Bangladesh and India goods in Burma include fertilisers, junk, legumes, cookies, fuel and diesels, contraception and even travel.
There is a dependence on this commerce in the country's economies and many of its inhabitants do so. However, trading companies are often not indigenous; they are larger merchants who live in towns, and some have vital connections with the states that officially ban this trad. Indeed, high-ranking officials and policy makers have become important organisers, financers and intermediaries of illicit trafficking.
That was the case with Burma's MI18 military intelligence battalion based in the frontier city of Maungdaw. It had a six-man seagoing vessel, the Saw Mratt Radana, which was used for periodic trafficking to Bangladesh until the Bangladeshi government took her prisoner ("Bangladesh Returns" 2003). Unauthorized trafficking between Burma and Bangladesh makes it extremely lucrative, but also quite perilous.
Transnational merchants are more dependent on confidence than on prosecution, and the Naf is known as a place where confidence can collapse and become thieves. It has been said that men from Maungdaw in Burma (but now located on the side of Bangladesh) robbed and then killed or drowned smuggled illegal immigrants from Burma by hands ("Smuggler" 2000).
In 1947, the establishment of an interna-tional frontier gave rise to new concepts of nationality. Nations in Burma and Pakistan/Bangladesh resulted in new disparities in powers in the frontier area, as some groups were now identified as ethnic nationalities. Shortly after the establishment of the frontier, they realized that their primary occupation, weave, was under threat and that they had no authority to persuade the state to take their interests into consideration.
Producing various silks for the Myanmar textile industry, which were now so hard to achieve due to new barriers to imports and exports that most manufacturers had to stop trading. That seemed to provide a remedy until the Pakistani authorities resolved to impose a dual levy "once on unrefined tobaccos and then on cigarettes and cheroots....".
Consequently, "the inability to deal with the changing circumstances (the Rakhain) has already started in several hundred to wander to Burma against their will just to survive" (U Chin 1953). Many more Rakhain have since had to move from Bangladesh to Burma, causing the Bangladeshi people to shrink (Table 5).
One example of a more violence-orientated policy of border minimization is the destiny of the Rohingya people on the Burma side of the border who are speaking Chittagonist-Bengali and professing Islam. From the outset, the autonomous state of Burma doubtlessly regarded the Rohingya as loyal, not least because some of them had tried to establish an autonomous state in the north of Arakan or to integrate it into Pakistan (Human Rights Watch 1996:10).
The Rohingya were not recognised as Myanmar nationals and in 1948 the Myanmar military conducted surgeries against them. Several hundred towns were "set on fire and several thousand were ruthlessly murdered, causing a mass influx of exiles into what was then Pakistan" (Yunus 1995:3). The conditions were thus created for further trials by the Myanmar authority to terrorise and deport the Rohingya, which led to renewed flows of migrants to Pakistan and later to Bangladesh (Smith 1994a; 1994b; Ahmed 2004).
Initially, the local government greeted them as Mohajires ( "Islamic refugees") and, according to media coverage, planed the construction of colchose-like pilot communities ("Chottograme" 1949). At the beginning of the 90s, more than 250,000 Rohingya migrants lived in UN-controlled border camps in Bangladesh. Others merged with Bangladeshi societies, and some 20,000 still live in Teknaf neighbourhoods ((Tables 6 and 7).
The Bangladeshi government regarded at least 100,000 others living outside the camp as either illicit, unresolved or remaining fugitives or merely "arrivals". "In 1999 at least 1,700 of them were in Bangladeshi prisons for illegally crossin' borders (UNHCR 1997:254; "Twenty-five" 1999). Over the last few years, the frontier has become the centre of two geo-political matches.
" The motorway, launched in 1959 by ECAFE (Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East) and now operated by UNESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), is still a work in progress and not a real one. While UNESCAP charts show that the section of this motorway will pass through Bangladesh and north-east India to North Burma, the Bangladesh authorities want it to pass through South Bangladesh and via Arakan ("coastal Burma") to Rangoon (Yangon) (Map 3).
This will allow trade and goods between Bangladesh and Southeast Asia without involving Bangladesh's major neighbor, India. Burma and Bangladesh in 2002 decided to lead the Asian highway through Teknaf and Maungdaw, but recently Burma decided to travel via north-east India. India and Burma have both just ratified the United Nations Intergovernmental Agreement on the Asian Motorway Network (2004), but Bangladesh is reluctant to do so (Intergovernmental 2004).
Instead, it began work on the Bangladesh-Burma Friendship Highway through Teknaf to create a connection between Dhaka and Bangkok ("Highway" 2004). For many years, Bangladesh has been discussing the idea of developing Teknaf into an important seaport, building a viaduct over the Naf to connect it with Maungdaw, thus enabling a swift increase in cross-border commerce and transport, but Burma's lack of interest has often frustrated these intentions.
Second geo-political match around the Burmese-Bangladesh frontier involves the use of methane. In 2000, the Myanmar authorities began allowing Daewoo, SAK Corporation, ONGC Videsh and the India Ltd Gaz Authority to prospect the Bengal Sea off the Myanmar coastline.
lndia wants to buy the natural-gas. It is cheapest to guide them through Bangladesh, but policy appropriateness can have different priority. When Bangladesh and Burma drew up blueprints for the expansion of the Teknaf-Maungdaw Strait and the Teknaf River in order to conduct much more (legal and thus tax-liable, but above all illegal) trading, India became active.
Surveying crews began to investigate the feasibility of building a cross-border highway and natural gas tunnel through the previously remote Mizoram ( "India") and Chin State ("Burma") hills at a point just south of the tri-crossing point between India, Bangladesh and Burma (see chart 4). Had Burma agreed to such a settlement, India could rely on a smooth flow of Burma's natural resources and a significant detour of Teknaf's trading, excluding Bangladesh ("Dhaka" 2002; "Indo-Burma" 2003).
Tension increased and in 2005 the three states found a common Burma cross the Bangladeshi boarder line (Route 1 in Map 5) and possibly a split into two arms, one in India in Tripura and the other in West Bengal. In exchange for Burma natural gas via Bangalore, India must allow Bangladesh's hydropower transits from Nepal and Bhutan to be imported and traded with these two nations (which have no borders with Bangladesh).
India should also alleviate the large disparity in the balance of payments between itself and Bangladesh. Like the reflections of Delhi, Rangoon and Dhaka civil servants, this initiative will decide whether Burma's long ignored Bangladesh-Burma frontier will see an upturn in infrastructure developments, a consequent widening of the frontier management and a displacement of the relocation of the relative volume of authorizi ated and nonauthori ed goods and passenger movements across the frontier - or whether it will go on as in recent years.
It could make this frontier territory more recognisable to large groups of Burmese, Bangladeshi, Southeast and South Asian and global populations. Scientists from (Southeast) Asia can also draw attention to the importance of studies in frontier regions. As with other frontier areas, the area linking Burma and Bangladesh is an important place to explore how much influence there is on how domestic, foreign and domestic resources are shaping the lives of humans at the same time and how frontier municipalities and multinational rivers are interconnected (Van Schendel 2006).
Willm van Schendel is a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam and the International Institute of Social History. Rohringya refugees in Bangladesh. "In State, Society and Displaced People in South Asia, Hrsg. Imtiaz Ahmed, Abhijit Dasgupta und Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff, S. 281-307. Borders, border regions and territoriality: "The Arakan Gas Campaigns are holding a press conference in Doaka.
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