Dhaka wants Delhi pressure for Rohingya return

AKM Moinuddin
Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Six Memorandums of Understanding have been signed between Bangladesh and India (UNB)


Indian foreign secretary visits Bangladesh, no development on Teesta front


Today, it is widely said that the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India are the best ever, and also described as ‘golden era’. We understand the relationship between countries, in particular neighbours, can never be excellent if there is lack of political will on either or both sides.


We note with dissatisfaction that there has been no visible progress over Teesta water sharing deal despite having many achievements in diversified areas since 2009. However, we feel fortunate to have political leaders on both sides – Prime Minister Sheikh hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi – who are willing to go the extra mile to take the relationship to newer heights for the benefit of people, countries and the region.


When any significant visit takes place between Bangladesh and India, Teesta automatically comes up for discussion. People are still interested to know about the update on the issue.


Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale visited Bangladesh on April 8-9 and held meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and held bilateral meeting with his Bangladesh counterpart M Shahidul Haque.


No Update on Teesta


Before his arrival in Dhaka, we knew there is no update on Teesta issue despite sincere efforts from the Indian central government. After his meeting with Shahidul Haque, Indian Foreign Secretary Gokhale they are “working hard” internally to resolve the outstanding issues with Bangladesh. “…. we are also aware of a few of the outstanding issues. We assure you we are working hard to resolve them,” he said. Teesta water sharing agreement is one of the major outstanding issues between Bangladesh and India though the Indian Foreign Secretary did not specify it.


Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said they discussed the Teesta issue in the official meeting. “I am very happy to say that the Indian government reiterated its commitment to that. They are looking at resolving this issue as soon as possible.”


Gokhale informed Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that their Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to fulfill all the commitments he made to Bangladesh.


Bangladesh and India have resolved many problems successfully through discussions. “Now one problem needs to be resolved,” Hasina said adding that she is hopeful of settling the Teesta issue, too.


The Indian Prime Minister is looking forward to holding a meeting with Sheikh Hasina on the sidelines of the CHOGM summit to be held in London next week.


We cannot deny that India is our most important neighbour and a key trade partner, in fact the biggest partner in South Asia. India says it remains a committed development partner of Bangladesh and it has extended lines of credit of over US$ 8 billion to Bangladesh in the last seven years.  This is the largest amount of credit India has ever committed to any single country.  We need to make the best use of the LOC.


From 2008-09, bilateral trade has almost tripled from US$ 2.75 billion to 7.52 billion in 2016-17.  Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia. Cooperation in the area of energy and power sector is a source of satisfaction to both sides.

Peaceful Rohingya solution


India is keen to see an early solution to the Rohingya crisis as it thinks the issue might emerge as a “serious security concern” for them having borders with both Bangladesh and Myanmar.


India also wants to see Myanmar to take steps as per the repatriation agreement signed with Bangladesh to resolve the crisis.


The issue came up for discussion at a closed-door meeting between a select group of people representing media and civil society and visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale at a city hotel on Sunday evening.


On Rohingya issue, the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary said they discussed all the aspects including Rohingya issue. “We are very happy the way our friend from India is looking at this issue, looking at peacefully resolving this issue.”


The Indian Foreign Secretary said he has focused on the “tremendous progress” they have achieved in bilateral relationship in the meeting.


He also said India will continue to help Bangladesh resolve the Rohingya crisis as early as possible.


“Today, I am happy to announce our second phase of humanitarian assistance for the relief camps in Cox’s Bazar,” Gokhale said.


Under this, the Indian Foreign Secretary said, medical field hospitals specially focused on women and child care with all necessary medical equipment and support systems are envisaged.


Relief supplies including milk powder, baby food, dried fish, cooking stoves and cooking fuel, raincoats and gumboots are also planned, he said.


This is based on the requirements projected by the government of Bangladesh, especially to cater for the difficult rainy season to come.


The Indian Foreign Secretary said Bangladesh’s humanitarian gesture in supporting lakhs of displaced persons from the Rakhine state of Myanmar is “admirable”.


“India has been fully supportive of the efforts being made to resolve the crisis, including early repatriation of the displaced people,” he said.


On the part of the government of India, he said, they had sent relief materials for 300,000 people in September last year under ‘Operation Insaniyat’ to support Bangladesh in its humanitarian efforts.


On the Myanmar side, India is providing socio-economic support under Rakhine State Development Programme including construction of pre-fabricated housing in order to meet the needs of the returning people.


PM Hasina’s Call


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged India to put more pressure on Myanmar to take back their over one million Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh.


“We want India to put more pressure on Myanmar…,” she said during a meeting with visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale at her Sangsad Bhaban office.


Gokhale said India is well aware of Bangladesh’s problems due to the arrival of Rohingya refugees. “We shall continue to urge Myanmar to take back Rohingyas,” he said.


Bangladesh is preparing an island to relocate about one lakh Rohingya refugees as there is a possibility of landslide in Cox’s Bazar during monsoon. Bangladesh is in touch with five neighbouring countries, including India, China and Thailand, over settling the issue.


Not too much pressure


India cannot put too much of pressure on Myanmar on Rohingya issue considering its strategic issues with Myanmar as it might become counterproductive for them.


“We cannot put too much of pressure on Myanmar because there are issues, as far as Myanmar is concerned and we have strategic issue of China,” said Dr Pushpita Das, a research fellow and coordinator of the Internal Security Centre at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi.


She, however, said whatever India can do is to provide greater humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh at the same time whatever pressure it can put without “really pushing Myanmar into the lap of China.”


Pushpita, while discussing in the first session titled ‘Security, Counter Terrorism and Cross Border Cooperation’ said the Indian government believes that Rohingyas are a security threat for India because these Rohingyas are vulnerable to the influences of global Islamic jihadist group.


“So it is not in the Indian interest to house these Rohingyas inside India. There is also another thinking that if we house these Rohingays, we have to provide facilities from the existing resources. While doing so, we will be depriving Indian citizens and this will in the longer term lead to resentment against Rohingyas and social disharmony,” she explained.


The Indian expert said India does not share direct border with the Rakhine state and so refugees are coming into Bangladesh. “Now do we accept these refugees? The government says no. What we can do we can help Bangladesh in providing greater humanitarian assistance.”


She said India can use their diplomatic initiatives and to some extent put pressure on Myanmar for the repatriation of these Rohingyas.


One such challenge is that of terrorism, extremism and radicalization and we will continue to fight this menace together and along with other like-minded countries.


Bangladesh and India are satisfied with the progress achieved in areas such as trade and investment, security, connectivity, border management, power, energy, shipping, people-to-people exchanges, to name a few.


Terming Bangladesh a ‘Sonar Bangla’, the Indian Foreign Secretary congratulated Bangladesh on achieving a very significant milestone in meeting the criteria for graduating from LDC to developing country recently.


“We remain fully committed to playing a useful role as Bangladesh’s development partner as you move to achieve your goal of becoming a middle income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041,” he said.


Bangladesh has sought joint efforts to speed up sub-regional economic cooperation to maximise benefits for the people of this region. Bangladesh welcomes more Indian investment in infrastructure projects, including joint ventures, to expedite development efforts here.


We understand lot more needs to be done. It is time to intensify and speed up the ongoing efforts to take the relations to greater heights to maximise benefits for common people. There is no time of slowing down the efforts, rather making it faster.

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