Former head of mission of Bangladesh in Myanmar, Major (retd) Emdadul Islam, discusses the issues of Bangladesh-Myanmar border and Rohingya crisis in an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune's Tarek Mahmud
The Myanmar Army and Border Guard Police have increased their troop strength in the border areas. What is your analysis of this action of Myanmar’s security forces and why have they done this?
They are doing it to create panic among the Rohingyas so that they become unwilling to return to Rakhine state. On the other hand, the international communities will also highlight that Myanmar is not a secure place to send Rohingyas back. This way the Myanmar military will be able to achieve their goal to uproot Rohingyas from their motherland.
Bilateral talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh on Rohingya crisis have taken place. Yet, Myanmar security forces are staging such activities. How will the actions affect the Rohingya repatriation?
This double standard of the Myanmar authorities is sending us two messages. Firstly, there is no coordination between the civil authority and the military authority. Secondly, they may have secretly adopted this strategy to carry out negotiation for repatriation on one hand while the military carries out operations to jeopardize the repatriation on the other.
How can Bangladesh stop or respond to such acts of provocation by neighboring security forces?
There should be responses on two fronts – diplomatic and military. On the diplomatic front, we have to keep trying to convince Myanmar to take back their people from our soil with full security. On the defense front, we have to give a strong message to Myanmar that no instigation along our border will be allowed.
Is the Bangladesh government doing enough to solve this Rohingya crisis through diplomacy? If not, then what should Bangladesh do?
Yes. In my view, our authorities are sincerely trying to resolve the Rohingya crisis while trying not to develop any sort of enmity with Myanmar and jeopardize our future bilateral relationship. But our policy makers should keep in mind that the Rohingya crisis is not a bilateral issue. It is a multilateral one. So, international stakeholders have to be involved in resolving this crisis. From this perspective, there should be more focus on the involvement of China and India.
Has the international community done enough to address the crisis? What more should it do?
The response so far does not meet the demand of the situation. The international community even failed to stop the atrocities carried against the Rohingyas. The UN Security Council failed to adopt a resolution condemning Myanmar.
The international community should create effective pressure on Myanmar by considering as necessary the use of economic embargo, military force, and the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
How will the Rohingya crisis affect security in Bangladesh as well as other Asian countries?
In the Kofi Annan Commission report “Towards a peaceful, fair, and prosperous future for the people of Rakhine,” it is clearly mentioned that “if human rights concerns are not properly addressed and if the population remains politically and economically marginalized, the northern Rakine state may provide fertile ground for radicalization, as local communities may become increasingly vulnerable to recruitment by extremists”. To me this scenario is going to be the most alarming security threat to Bangladesh as well for the region.
The Rohingyas have been displaced by their government several times. How do you see the future of the Rohingya crisis?
Rohingyas are the victims of state sponsored discrimination against their right to citizenship, ownership, movement, education, medical care and employment. This is the right time to focus on this injustice and get a permanent solution in the light of the Kofi Annan Commission report.
After the Oxfam controversy, there has been much debate about the role of aid workers in exploiting vulnerable women in crises such as this. Do you think there are such dangers here?
Sexual exploitation takes place when there is vulnerable group of people facing food and security crisis. If this can be addressed, the risk of sexual exploitation will be reduced.
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for her role in the crisis. To what extent do you think she bears responsibility? What can she do now?
Aung San Suu Kyi is not in a position to play any role going against the will of the military. Proof is that despite having the requisite majority, she could not get through her candidature for presidency. We should remember that it was she who convened and ratified the Kofi Annan Commission in parliament. But due to the opposition of the military, she is absolutely silent on this. Given this context, we cannot expect much from Aung San Suu Kyi.