Skip to main content

Bangladesh's Rohingya crisis: no truce with India to influence 'friend' Myanmar

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* 

No doubt, as an immediate outcome of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's recent visit India for four-days this month, seven memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in various fields were signed.
These included the withdrawal of water from the cross-border Kushiyara river, cooperation in space technology, collaboration on IT systems used by railways in areas such as movement of freight, science and technology cooperation, training of Bangladesh Railway personnel and Bangladeshi judicial officers in India, and cooperation in broadcasting between Prasar Bharati and Bangladesh Television, aimed at boosting ties between the two countries.
While she engaged in talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on connectivity, trade, free transit, defence cooperation, flood management, counter-terrorism, food security, and nuclear energy partnerships, a crucial issue is believed to have been discussed but without any outcome -- the complex Rakhine situation and the Rohingya refugee crisis.
According to information available in Dhaka, there was no agreement, not to talk of MoUs, on Rohingyas and Myanmar, even though India’s External Affairs Minister and Foreign Secretary gave assurances to help in safe and dignified return of Rohingyas in cooperation with international community.
Indeed, in recent weeks, the Rohingya repatriation issue has grown more complex for Bangladesh with a flare-up in the Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh, and which the Rohingya consider their home. On the recent turmoil in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, India made clear that India is keeping an eye on the Rakhine state of Myanmar that Bangladesh apprehends it might hamper the process of Rohingya repatriation.
Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra also asserted that “the Government of India supports a safe, stable, and early return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar from Bangladesh and other countries. In this connection, India will always play a constructive role and will have a constructive view”. He further assured the Bangladesh side that all possible support will be given to the Rohingyas and that India will provide all assistance for their return to Myanmar.
Over the last two months, an informal truce between the Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organisation of Rakhine Buddhists, is reported to be breaking down as the Arakan Army attempts to dominate the Rakhine state. The ceasefire that started in November 2020 has been fraying and, much to Dhaka’s chagrin, the conflict has been spilling over to the Bangladesh side.
According to reports, the AA, fighting for the self-determination of the Rakhine Buddhists, who consider themselves to be ethnically different from the majority Bamar Buddhists, now controls over half of the state and is trying to establish dominance in crucial border areas. The Myanmar army is responding with aerial bombardment, artillery, and mortar shelling.
On at least two of those occasions, the conflict has spilled over into Bangladesh. In response, for the third time in a week, the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry summoned the Myanmar envoy to Dhaka to express its “deep concern” over the incidents of “mortar shelling, indiscriminate aerial firing in the border areas, and air space violations”.
The Myanmar envoy was urged to ensure that no trespassing by newly displaced Myanmar residents takes place from Rakhine. According to the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Myanmar envoy was told that such activities are of “grave threat” to the safety and security of the peace-loving people, a violation of the border agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar, and contrary to the good neighbourly relationship.
Clearly, the conflict in the Rakhine state may complicate any repatriation effort, especially as the AA is said to be in control of many areas where Rohingyas were formerly living. The fresh conflict has also created concerns about new waves of displaced persons crossing the border into Bangladesh.
Bangladesh, which hosts over a million Rohingya refugees, however, has made it clear on several occasions that India must use its influence with the Myanmar junta to take them back. Even before the coup in Myanmar, Dhaka had tried without success to get Naypidaw to take the refugees back who has now been living in a settlement in Cox’s Bazar, now known as the “world’s largest refugee camp”.
Notably, in an interaction with ANI on the eve of the India visit, Sheikh Hasina terming the Rohingya issue as a ‘big burden’ on Bangladesh, had called for India’s support in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis. Failure to reach any agreement on Rohingyas happened despite Bangladesh strongly believing that India could play a role in persuading Myanmar’s concerned stakeholders to take them back.
However, given the series of flare-ups in the Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh, and which the Rohingyas consider their home, the issue has grown more complex.

Growing cooperation

Despite this setback, among the seven pacts signed on September 6, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on withdrawal of 153 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Kushiyara by Bangladesh is most welcomed by Dhaka. It is the first such deal the two countries have inked after the Ganges river water-sharing agreement in 1996 and is seen as a breakthrough in addressing an issue that has cast a shadow on their otherwise close ties.
The agreement will benefit southern parts of Assam state in India and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh. The two leaders engaged in talks on connectivity, trade, flood management, counter-terrorism, food security, and nuclear energy partnerships.
In a bid to enhance Bangladesh’s power generation capacities and deal with the energy crisis that the country is facing in because of the growing energy prices worldwide, the two leaders unveiled the first unit of the Maitree Thermal Power Plant, a 1320 MW supercritical coal-fired thermal power plant at Rampal in the Khulna division of Bangladesh. Experts believe that the project will give citizens of Bangladesh access to affordable electricity, boosting Bangladesh’s energy security.
An important project that was inaugurated was the Rupsha bridge. The 5.13 km Rupsha rail bridge is a key part of the 64.7 km Khulna-Mongla Port single-track Broad Gauge rail project, connecting for the first time Mongla Port (Bangladesh’s second largest port) with Khulna by rail, and thereafter to the India border at Petrapole and Gede in West Bengal.
The connectivity initiatives are part of the ongoing projects in Bangladesh that are aimed at converting the country into a major connectivity hub of South and Southeast Asia. It is believed that with the expansion of connectivity, and the development of trade infrastructure on the border, the two economies will be able to connect more with each other.
To narrow the prevailing trade gap between India and Bangladesh and to further accelerate economic growth, the two sides agreed to begin negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) this year. It is deeply analysed that bilateral trade potential would be USD 40 billion when the CEPA is operationalized.
Bangladesh hopes that the Indo-Bangla partnership which has now got extended to more fields, including trade and commerce, power and energy, transport and connectivity, science and technology, rivers and maritime affairs, will act as a catalyst for closer coordination and cooperation in resolving outstanding bilateral issues, too.
Indeed, practical steps are needed for a safe, secure and conducive environment to ensure safe, sustainable and voluntary repatriation of Rohingyas to the place of their origin, Rakhine state.
---
*Security and strategic affairs analyst, Dhaka

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Union budget 'mum' on relief to marginalised communities facing climate change impact

Counterview Desk  ActionAid, an international advocacy group which claims to work for a world without poverty, patriarchy and injustice, has wondered if the Union budget 2023-24, which is being acclaimed for providing succour to the middle classes, has anything to offer to the India's poor. In a statement, it said, while the budget may have "prioritised inclusive development", the financial outlay for ensuring it "does not show the zeal as hoped." Stating that the Finance Minister said Rs 35,000 crore revenue would have to be "forgone" due to a reduction in personal income taxes, "fiscal prudence is not enough to expand public employment, social security, welfare, education and health expenditures considerably." "The need of the hour is to raise revenues through the reduction of revenues forgone and innovative mechanisms such as wealth tax on super accumulation of wealth", it added. Text: The Union Budget 2023 has given significant

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

New rules to make lakhs of tribals vulnerable to summary eviction: NAPM tells MPs

Counterview Desk  The top civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), has said that the new Forest (Conservation) Rules 2022, pending in Parliament and may be passed any day in the current Budget session, needs to be “strongly opposed” in Parliament. These Rules will allow easy diversion of forest land for projects and companies without the consent of gram sabhas and will allow the eviction of forest communities without the recognition of forest rights”, it alleged.

Lack of welfare schemes, BSF curbs force West Bengal farmers to migrate far away

Counteview Desk  In a representation to the National Human Rights Commission chairperson, a senior West Bengal based activist has complained that villagers living near the border with Bangladesh are forced to migrate to as far away as Mumbai and Kerala because of lack of government sensitivity towards their welfare in original villages. Giving specific instances, Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), said, if the Border Security Force (BSF) had not put any restriction on agricultural activities, and if villages had properly implemented welfare schemes, these people would never migrate to other States. Text: I want to attract your immediate attention to the inhumane condition of the migrated workers of Gobra village, Swarupnagar Block in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal to seek your urgent intervention to protect the rights of these people. Gobra is a village situated near the Indo-Bangladesh Border where the border fencing is about 500 meters i

FSSAI 'refusing to empower' citizens to have their right to informed choice on GMO

Counterview Desk  The advocacy group Coalition for a GM-Free India in response to Food Safety and Standards Authority of India's FSSAI’s) “weak forms” for licensing of GM foods, has insisted on the need to have “strong regulations to ensure safe food for citizens”. Stating that this form is different from the FSSAI GM draft regulation which had come out recently for which it had shared its response, the NGO network said in letter to Pushp Vanam, joint director, Science and Standards, FSSAI, it is problematic that these forms were not shared at the same time as the GM regulation draft as it would have enabled more people who read and respond to it. Text: This is in regards to the notification from FSSAI asking for inputs on the forms. We find it problematic that these forms were not shared at the same time as the GM Regulation draft as it would have enabled more people who read and responded on the regulation draft to have been able to comment on the forms too. Our response to the