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Dhaka Tribune

Stick to the plan

It would be a mistake for Bangladesh to not uphold its bilateral agreement with Myanmar

Update : 30 Apr 2019, 12:02 AM

Two months away from the rainy season, the relocation of camp-dwelling Rohingya looms in uncertainty. Earlier, the government planned to relocate some of the Rohingya to Bhashan Char, however, it flinched as many were not ready to move.

It is not interpolated in the original plan how the education of Rohingya children will happen in Bhashan Char and how to ensure free movement between the camps in Bhashan Char and those in Cox’s Bazaar.

Obviously, the government has plans to carry forward projects on educating the Rohingya. But observers do not see any educational infrastructure in Bhashan Char. If the cyclone shelters are meant for this purpose, then the government should divulge the matter to the public. Who will teach the Rohingya in Bhashan Char? No matter on which sides of the border they will reside educated Rohingya will be true assets for both the countries.

Free movement of goods and people need to be addressed in the Bhashan Char relocation plan. It is not clear what transportation system is going to be introduced there. Traditional sea truck, engine boats, and vessels operated by Bangladesh Navy could be good options. I bet many donor agencies will espouse any genuine government initiative to install a transport system in this waterway.

As the uncertainties regarding the relocation plan looms large, there have been reports that Rohingya are clearing the nearby forests for makeshift camps, causing further irritation to the local population and administration. 

Meanwhile, latest developments in Rakhine insinuate that the region is sucked into a secessionist maelstrom and both the feuding parties are incurring heavy losses. This might encourage certain quarters within the government to eschew the bilateral agreement it signed with the Myanmar government -- that would be a mistake.

I think we should stick to this plan. 

Many here loathe what the Tatmadaw did to the Rohingya population. Certainly these atrocities must not go unpunished. But at any cost, Bangladesh should not drag its feet into the internal turbulence of Myanmar. 

We have to keep in mind that the Tatmadaw has been running the country for a long period of time. Despite several insurgencies on multiple fronts, its leverage on Myanmar and its people has not been compromised since it assumed power. The truth is that Tatmadaw is a unified organization.

No mutiny has taken place within the Tatmadaw in the last decade. It is a disciplined organization, steered by strong leadership.

Recently, Bertil Linter, in his report titled “The Real Driving Force Behind Myanmar’s Opium Trade,” talked about how a UN agency for drugs and crimes, UNODC, did a survey on narcotics in Myanmar which found that most of the poppy cultivation took place in areas where Kachin Independence Army (KIA) holds sway.

KIA, however, put the blame on Tatmadaw-backed militia.

A splintered or destabilized Myanmar is not in the best interests of Bangladesh. Imagine a worst-case scenario where Myanmar has fallen into the hands of several insurgent groups. A fight for dominance will soon be ensued and Bangladesh may host another wave of refugees.

In an unruly Myanmar, its waters will become treacherous. Incidents of piracy may spiral up in the waters through which Bangladesh does maritime trade with the rest of the world. Our export and import will take a hit and inflationary pressure may make lives more difficult here. Clearly, our policy makers and strategic thinkers are not ready for this kind of reality.

Bangladesh should take cues from Myanmar’s formidable neighbours, who maintain good relations in spite of being victims of demographic and drug invasion. For instance, Thailand houses millions of Myanmar refugees and fought a long drug war, worsened by Myanmar.

Yet it made some kind of deal with Myanmar and significantly reduced drug-related problems. The country even awarded Myanmar’s Chief of Army its highest civilian award when he paid an official visit to Thailand last year.

Reaching out to all levels of civil and military leadership in Myanmar will pave the way for resolving outstanding issues. We can invite their businessmen to invest in one of our special economic zones and allow Myanmar nationals to bank with our financial institutions.

A retired army officer who knows how this kind of regime works during a democratic transition period could be sent as High Commissioner to Myanmar to convey these messages. 

These initiatives will not only have profound implications for bilateral relations but for the region as a whole. By making them stakeholders of our economy, we will be able to make them understand the gravity of problems. Eventually they may assist in solving problems, such as dismantling the drug infrastructure along the Bangladesh border.

This idea of thawing relations may raise doubts from certain quarters. But this one-to-one agreement, with the right kind of support, holds the key to a prosperous future for both countries. It is indeed a good sign that we inked a deal with Myanmar to resolve the Rohingya issue. And we should stick to this plan till the end. 

Rezaul Hoque is a freelance contributor.

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