Bangladesh PM Was Right; Sinister Plans Are Afoot To Create A Christian State Of ‘Zo’ People In South Asia

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 08, 2024, 02:29 PM | Updated 04:28 PM IST

Map of the 'independent' ‘Zo’ state, comprising areas of Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Mizoram that Sheikh Hasina spoke about
Map of the 'independent' ‘Zo’ state, comprising areas of Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Mizoram that Sheikh Hasina spoke about
  • Top sources confirm that there indeed is a long-term project of encouraging the formation of a Christian state comprising contiguous areas of Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India and inhabited by the ‘Zo’ people.
  • Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent statement that a Western power is conspiring to create a Christian state similar to East Timor in this region ought to be taken seriously.

    Hasina was not explicit about this conspiracy. But top leaders of the Awami League who are close to the Bangladeshi premier, as well as senior security and intelligence officers in India and Bangladesh, told Swarajya that what Hasina meant was that an independent ‘Zo’ state, comprising areas of Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Mizoram, inhabited by the Kuki-Chin-Mizo people is being incubated by a Western power. 

    The Kuki-Chin-Mizo people have, in recent years, started calling themselves collectively as ‘Zo’ people. They are also aspiring for ‘Zogam’, or a homeland for the Zo people, comprising large parts of 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.

    All these areas are contiguous to each other and, except for Mizoram, are experiencing militancy by Kuki-Chin terror groups.

    The Chinland Joint Defence Committee — a joint body formed by the Chin National Army (CNA), Chinland Defence Force (CDF), and the Chin National Defence Force (CNDF) — is waging a deadly armed struggle against the Myanmar junta. 

    In Bangladesh’s Bandarban district and surrounding areas of Chittagong division, the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) has carried out acts of terror in recent months.

    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 northeastern state. 

    The Kukis are demanding a separate state for themselves, carved out of the Kuki-dominated hill districts of Manipur.

    Interestingly, almost all the ‘Zo’ people — Kukis, Chins, and Mizos, who claim common ethnicity — are Christians. Christian missionaries started alluring and converting them during British rule, and continued to do so even after the British left the subcontinent.

    Most of the ‘Zo’ people are Protestants and evangelical. Also, they are an exclusive community — Mizoram is a stark example of this exclusivity — and harbour the dream of living together in a unified Zo homeland.

    The Mizoram-based Zo Reunification Organisation (ZRO), whose primary goal is the unification of all Zo-inhabited areas in the three countries, enjoys widespread support in Mizoram.

    The unification demand is endorsed by the ruling Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) in Mizoram, the opposition Mizo National Front (MNF), and even the state unit of the Congress. 

    This demand, say intelligence sources in India and Bangladesh, is being instigated by Church bodies, especially the Baptist Church, which has its home base in the United States of America (US).

    Church organisations in the US are said to be linked closely with intelligence agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

    Hence, say top sources in Indian and Bangladeshi intelligence agencies, it is quite obvious that the US is pursuing a long-term project of encouraging the formation of a Christian state comprising contiguous areas of Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India and inhabited by the ‘Zo’ people.

    What Hasina Said

    The Bangladesh Prime Minister said at a meeting of the 14-party alliance (led by the Awami League) in Dhaka just under two weeks ago: "Like East Timor, they will carve out a Christian country, taking parts of Bangladesh and Myanmar with a base in the Bay of Bengal."

    She did not mention that the project — of creating a Christian country — also includes parts of North East India, but that would have been an "unintentional omission" on her part, Awami League leaders told Swarajya.

    Hasina also warned: "It may appear that it is aimed at only one country, but it is not. I know where else they intend to go."

    "This statement in itself alluded to the ‘Chrisitan country’ project also affecting India," said a senior officer of Bangladesh’s elite Counter Terrorism & Intelligence Bureau (CTIB).

    Hasina also referred to the earlier US demand for setting up an air base in Bangladesh’s St Martin’s Island — a small island in the northeastern part of the Bay of Bengal and also the southernmost tip of Bangladesh. 

    Though the US recently denied making such a demand, a joint-director-ranked officer of Bangladesh’s National Security Intelligence (NSI) — the country’s principal civilian intelligence outfit — told Swarajya that this request comes up quite often in private bilateral talks between leaders and top officials of the two countries.

    The Bangladeshi premier said at the meeting in Dhaka that she was made an offer by a ‘white man’: that her transition to power for the fourth consecutive term will be smooth and without any interference by Western powers if she agreed to allow the US to set up an air base in the island. She said she turned down the offer. 

    The US and some Western powers had severely criticised the parliamentary polls in Bangladesh earlier this year and tried to intercede on behalf of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist ally — the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.

    The BNP had demanded that the elections be conducted under a neutral caretaker regime, a demand that was turned down by the Awami League (AL) government.

    It triggered violent protests by the BNP and the Jamaat, and a strong crackdown by the government in which the entire leadership of the BNP was jailed. The BNP and its Islamist allies also boycotted the polls. 

    The US and other Western countries leaned heavily on the AL government to step down and hand over power to a caretaker regime, and release all jailed BNP and Jamaat leaders in order to ensure ‘free and fair’ elections. 

    But strong backing from India and China helped Hasina resist that pressure, and she won the parliamentary elections by a landslide.

    Why Hasina’s Fears Are Not Unfounded

    "It will be in the USA’s interests to have a Christian nation populated by pliable people in this region. Myanmar is a Buddhist-majority country and China has a very powerful influence over that strife-torn country, including its ruling junta, as well as a number of resistance groups which are fighting the junta.

    "Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country and the USA has alienated itself from the country and its people by trying to exert overt influence over Bangladesh’s internal affairs. Though Hindu-majority India is a sort of strategic ally of the USA, it always acts in its own national interest and often defies the USA.

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

    Serving and retired Bangladeshi and Indian intelligence officers told Swarajya that the ‘unified Zo homeland’ project is progressing quietly.

    "Only one powerful group in Mizoram is voicing this demand, and the demand is endorsed by political parties in Mizoram. But outside Mizoram, Kuki-Chin groups are careful not to voice this demand because it can lead to an immediate backlash. Instead, they (the Kuki-Chin groups in Manipur, Bangladesh, and Myanmar) are concentrating on strengthening themselves militarily in order to ready themselves for the ‘final push’. This ‘final push’, according to their plans, will be a coordinated and intense offensive against security forces in Manipur, Myanmar, and Bangladesh," said a senior officer of an Indian intelligence agency.

    “This may sound like fantasy, but it is not. The Kuki-Chin-Mizo people are dead serious about it, and going about achieving their objective in a very calculated and covert manner," he added.

    A senior officer of Bangladesh’s NSI, which coordinates closely with its Indian counterparts on South Asian affairs of mutual interest, fully endorsed this view.

    "The Kuki-Chin groups are amassing weapons in Bangladesh and making strategic alliances with Islamist terror groups like the Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya. They are also slowly garnering international attention by alleging that the Kuki-Chin people in Bangladesh are a heavily persecuted lot. The Kukis are doing the same in Manipur and have already succeeded in projecting themselves as a people who are persecuted because they are Christians.

    "Many Christian communities and groups across the world, especially in the West, have started extending support to the Kukis in Manipur and Bangladesh. This support will only increase as the Kuki-Chin militants launch more offensives and thus trigger harsher crackdowns, leading to more exodus of Kuki-Chin people from Chittagong to neighbouring Mizoram," the senior NSI officer told Swarajya.

    Chin-Kukis in Bangladesh

    The Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) was founded in the Bandarban district of Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) as a non-profit by Nathaniel Bom, a fine arts graduate of Dhaka University. 

    It was established to advocate the rights of the Kuki-Chin people living in the CHT. The Kuki-Chins, who are also called ‘Lushais’ in Bangladesh, number about 70,000, and all of them are Christians. 

    The KNF became a terror outfit in 2017 and started extortions and kidnappings. It started involving itself in the drug trade from Myanmar and amassing arms.

    It also offered training in arms and operational strategies to the Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya (JAS), whose leader Shamim Mahfuz was a close friend of Bom's at Dhaka University.

    The JAS was founded in 2019 by leaders of the Ansarul Bangla Team (ABT), the neo-Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI). These three Islamic terror outfits were being hounded by the Bangladeshi security establishments, and so the leaders of the three groups decided to float a new outfit. 

    Many batches of JAS recruits have reportedly received training from KNF, which had been trained in the past by the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), which is battling the Myanmar junta. The Karens, like the Chins, are Christians.

    The KNA received training in handling arms and guerilla tactics from the KNLA through the Chin militant outfits in Myanmar. The KNA and Chin outfits share fraternal ties and act in unison.

    The KNA is learnt to have made a lot of money by imparting training to JAS cadres. This money, and the proceeds from the lucrative drug trade, is now enabling the outfit to purchase sophisticated arms.

    Armed with sophisticated weapons, the KNA has been getting bolder. It has about 2,000 well-trained and well-armed cadres. 

    In early April, it looted three banks in the CHT and carried out some kidnappings for ransom. In May 2023, it attacked a Bangladesh Army camp in Bandarban and killed two soldiers.

    The inevitable operations by Bangladesh’s security forces against the KNA since last year has led to the exodus of thousands of Kuki-Chins from the CHT to Mizoram.

    This has enabled the Kuki-Chins of Bangladesh to garner international attention and sympathy. Their narrative — that they are a persecuted lot in Bangladesh — has gained a lot of traction globally.

    This is being leveraged silently by Zo organisations in the Western nations to collect huge sums of money that is being surreptitiously channelised to the Kuki-Chin outfits to procure arms and create a fake ‘persecution’ narrative.

    Conversions To Christianity In Bangladesh

    The Kuki-Chins in Bandarban are not only waging an insurgency against Bangladeshi security forces. They are also involved in converting other indigenous people of the CHT — the Tiprasas, Khumis, Chaks, Tanchangyas, and even the majority Chakmas — to Christianity.

    "The KNF is helping missionaries and Church bodies to forcibly convert other indigenous people to Christianity. The missionaries first try to lure the other indigenous people who are mostly animists or Buddhists through promises of material gains. But when allurements fail, the missionaries take the help of the KNF to force people to convert. This has also led to confrontations between the Kuki-Chins and other indigenous people of the CHT," said the senior NSI officer.

    The KNF has killed several Chakma leaders who opposed the proselytising activities of Christian missionaries. The Chakmas have retaliated, and that has helped the Kuki-Chins of CHT reinforce their fake narrative that they are being persecuted not only by the Muslims of Bangladesh, but also by the Buddhist Chakmas of CHT, the NSI officer added. 

    "Christian missionaries are on a silent proselytising spree in CHT and are being helped by the KNF. Many small indigenous groups have not only become Christians, but have also been forced to accept a larger Kuki-Chin-Zo identity," Shaimum Sarwar Kamal, an Awami League MP from Chittagong, told Swarajya.

    The MP’s contentions are borne out by hard evidence. The small community of Bawn people, for instance, had been converted to Christianity through allurements and force a couple of decades ago. Numbering just about 13,000 (according to Bangladesh’s 2022 census), the Bawns now consider themselves a part of the Kuki-Chin people. They had been animists and had nothing in common with the Kuki-Chins. 

    The same is the case with Khyangs, another small group of about 4,500 indigenous people who have been converted and have been forced to declare themselves a part of the Kuki-Chin people.

    KNF-backed Christian proselytisers now have their sights on the Khumis (numbering about 3,800) and Tanchangyas. Even the Chakmas (who are Buddhists) and the Tiprasas (who follow Hinduism and animism) are not being spared. 

    "The sinister objective is to increase the population of Christians, and also that of the Kuki-Chins. They (the Kuki-Chins) are now demanding more autonomy and a separate state within Bangladesh, but that’s just a decoy. Their ultimate goal is a separate country," said Kamal, the MP. 

    The strategy of forcing tribes and groups of people to accept Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnicity is not restricted to the CHT. Aggressive Kuki groups, with the active involvement of the Church, had done this in Manipur’s hill districts.

    At least five tribes — Hmar, Vaiphei, Gangte, Simte, Sukte, and Paite — who were not part of the Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnic group were forced to accept the larger Zo identity in Manipur after brutal conflicts with Kuki militants in the late 1990s and early part of the next decade.

    Larger Game Plan

    For now, none of the Kuki-Chin-Zo groups outside Mizoram are asking for a separate, unified ‘Zogam’ or a Zo homeland.

    "The Kuki-Chins in Manipur are only demanding a separate state for now. They have built a narrative that they cannot co-exist with the Meiteis under a single administrative umbrella (the Manipur state). The Kuki-Chins have been working towards this goal in a very sinister fashion. They 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. And now, when their numbers have swelled, they are demanding a separate state," said a senior officer of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) who did not want to be named, for obvious reasons.

    The ongoing ethnic strife in Manipur was triggered by the Kukis with the objective of creating an ethnic divide in order to strengthen their narrative that they are an exploited and persecuted lot and cannot stay with the Meiteis in Manipur.

    It must be remembered here that it was the Kukis who launched brutal attacks on Meiteis in Kuki-dominated Churachandpur district on 3 May last year, knowing fully well that their action would trigger a backlash against Kukis in Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley.

    "The Kuki groups wanted an exodus of Kukis from Imphal Valley and the creation of an ethnic divide with Meiteis. They have been successful," said the IB officer.

    As mentioned earlier, for the time being, the Kukis in Manipur only want a separate state. However, conversations with Kuki leaders and intelligence reports suggest that the next step would be the integration of such a ‘Kuki’ state with Mizoram.

    The Chins in Myanmar are also demanding autonomy, not a separate country, for now. A demand for secession from Myanmar and independence, they are well aware, will alienate other ethnic groups and also invite opposition from China, which does not want balkanisation of Myanmar.

    That is why the Chins of Myanmar are treading carefully and demanding only autonomy. But this, say experts, is only temporary.

    Final Push, As Happened With East Timor

    East Timor, or Timor-Leste as it is officially called, was under Portuguese occupation for 206 years, from 1769 to 1975. The Portuguese colonists were driven away by Indonesia in 1975. But by that time, the Portuguese had succeeded in converting all the people of the eastern part of the island to Christianity through allurements or brute force.

    After being forced to leave East Timor, Portugal and some other Christian nations started encouraging dissidence against Indonesia and even sponsored a full-blown civil war. Portugal and these Christian nations supported Chrisitian militias, namely the Revolutionary Front, for an Independent East Timor (commonly known as ‘Fretilin’, the acronym of its Portuguese name) in East Timor to create unrest.

    The unrest and insurgency fuelled a crackdown by Indonesian forces. And as happens with such crackdowns on insurgency, the Indonesian forces committed excesses that were then leveraged by the Christian East Timorians to create a narrative that they were being persecuted because of their faith by Muslim-majority Indonesia.

    The conflict intensified, and that triggered demands for independence. The US, which had earlier supported Indonesia, withdrew support for Jakarta in 1991 after Indonesian troops killed an estimated 200 violent demonstrators.

    The withdrawal of US support led to the downfall of President Suharto. His successor, B J Habibie, was forced to agree (by the US, Australia, and other Christian nations) to a proposal for a plebiscite in East Timor.

    A large majority of the Christians voted for independence in August 1999, and this led to intense clashes between the Fretilin and East Timorese militias who preferred to remain with Indonesia.

    Indonesia was again forced to allow a United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Force to restore order and maintain peace. The UN also took over the administration of East Timor later that year. 

    After months of strife, the first democratic elections were held under UN supervision in East Timor in August 2001. On 20 May 2002, East Timor was formally recognised as an independent nation by the US and other Western countries, as well as by the UN.

    The Portuguese tried the same tactics in Goa, but were unsuccessful because they had failed to convert a majority of Goans to Chrisitianity, and also because Sardar Patel had foiled their plans.

    Drugs And Arms Trafficking

    The Kuki-Chin militant and terror groups in Myanmar, Manipur, and Chittagong share close fraternal ties, and are working in unison towards the common objective of creating a Chritian ‘Zo’ country. 

    All these groups are involved in the cultivation of opium and trafficking drugs, including synthetic drugs, from Myanmar and Manipur through Mizoram and Bangladesh. 

    Drug production and trafficking is the biggest source of revenue for the Kuki-Chin terror groups, say intelligence agencies. The astronomical proceeds from this is enabling these terror groups to stockpile weapons. 

    The overground frontal organisations of these terror groups are also flush with funds, thus allowing them to easily create and drive false narratives in the national and global media, including social media, about the persecution of Christian Kuki-Chin-Zo people by Hindu Meiteis, the Buddhist Myanmarese regime, Buddhist Chakmas, and Islamic Bangladesh.

    But projecting themselves as a highly persecuted lot due to their faith and ethnicity in India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, the Kuki-Chin-Zo people are building a narrative in favour of the creation of a ‘Zo’ country. 

    If things go according to their plan, the contiguous areas of India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh that are inhabited by the ‘Zo’ people will see a sudden and sharp spike in violence, as well as counter-violence. 

    This, the Kuki-Chin-Zo people hope, will invoke intervention by the US and other Western powers. 

    Hasina was right in sounding the alarm about this audacious and sinister plan to carve out a Christian country in South Asia. By doing so, she has succeeded in making the intelligence agencies of India and Bangladesh realise the need for synergy to defeat this game plan in a coordinated manner.

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