It is just over a month since militants and activists of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked about 25 posts of the Myanmar police and army and killed more than a dozen members of the Myanmar security forces. This led to the launch of brutal attacks by the Myanmar military on the Rohingyas in the western Rakhine province of Myanmar, forcing them to flee across the border to Bangladesh and beyond. These incidents have starkly brought the issue of Rohingya Muslims on the radar screen of the international community. Voices have grown in volume and intensity urging the Myanmar government particularly the State Counsellor and the de-facto leader of Myanmar Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (DASSK) to speak out against these atrocities carried out by her own security forces. The shrillness grew in severity as Myanmar maintained a sphinx-like silence in disregard of the rising indignation of international human rights community and civil society groups particularly from western countries.
DASSK ultimately broke her silence on 19th September in her Address to the Nation in Naypyidaw. She contended that only terrorist elements are being acted against and that common people are not being harmed. She said that Myanmar would be willing to take back those people who had fled from the Rakhine province, after a due verification process. She had in her earlier remarks termed the campaign against her and the Myanmar government as a ‘’huge iceberg of misinformation.’’ Myanmar has said that elements of Islamic State (IS), Al Qaeda and others are members of ARSA and are busy subverting and radicalizing sections of the population in Myanmar. Leader of ARSA is a Pakistan-born person based in Saudi Arabia who is directing activities of the organization from there.
The Rohingya issue has brought India in the eye of a storm. Several thousands of them are residing in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mewar and elsewhere. It is understood that more than 40,000 Rohingyas are living in the country as illegal immigrants. On account of the serious terrorist threat from a segment of these immigrants, the government has declared that it will deport them back to Myanmar. It has quashed allegations that Rohingyas are sought to be deported because they are Muslims.
In the present instance the serious concern is that amongst the refugees are members of ARSA with linkages to Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Taiba etc. Pakistan’s ISI is reported to be active in training terrorist elements among the refugees. ISI is keen to foment violence and terrorism in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Myanmar is extremely significant for India’s security, stability and prosperity, particularly of its northeastern states. It is a vital partner in India’s business and connectivity initiatives. Several major connectivity projects including the Trilateral Highway from India’s northeast to Thailand and beyond through Myanmar. Myanmar security forces are actively collaborating with India to deny space and territory to Indian insurgents in Myanmar to carry out violent attacks against Indian civilians and security forces across the 1,640 km border with India. Success of India’s Act East Policy depends largely on productive relations with Myanmar. The expanding presence and increasing influence of China in Myanmar is a matter of growing concern for India. This necessitates a robust reach out to Myanmar and its leadership.
Similarly, India’s relations with Bangladesh are equally important. Bangladesh is the worst affected by the refugee crisis. It is reported to have received more than 400,000 refugees over the last 4 weeks. China’s increasing leverage in Bangladesh to the detriment of India’s traditional primacy and cordial relations is a matter of concern. Bangladesh goes to the polls next year and Sheikh Hasina could face an uphill task if she does not find a quick, satisfactory solution to the issue.
Bangladesh needs all possible material, diplomatic and moral support to deal with this catastrophe. Under its ”Insaniyat” (Humanitarian) initiative, India has promised 7,000 tons of relief material including food items, medicines, tents etc. for refugees in Bangladesh. Daily flights carrying these materials are travelling to Dhaka to provide succor to the refugees.
The Way Forward
Solution of the issue lies in Myanmar, not in Bangladesh or in India or any other country. A huge challenge confronts India at this juncture. This can be overcome only by creative and adroit diplomacy. The bottom-line is that because of the serious security threat as well as the fact that Rohingyas consume resources, products and services which the Indian government would better use for its own citizens, they cannot be allowed to stay in the country. Their presence in India will lead to severe social and economic stress within the communities where they might be temporarily accommodated. The matter should be taken up, on an urgent basis, formally as well as through back channels with Myanmar so that a mutually acceptable via media is arrived at and the Rohingyas are repatriated to their homeland without any loss of time.
Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar, has been Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia and
Presently Secretary, National Foundation for Communal Harmony (NFCH)