Does the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan have implications for the Rohingya crisis?
The Taliban seized control of Kabul on August 15, shortly after the US began withdrawing their troops. The recent unrest has prompted anti-Taliban Afghans to flee Kabul, creating a new refugee crisis which is expected to intensify in the coming days.
About 2.2 million Afghans have been living in neighbouring countries as refugees for the last few years. On the other hand, many of the countries that have played a silent role since the outbreak of the Rohingya crisis are today expressing grave concerns over Taliban-related security issues.
To some zealots, the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul may seem like a re-enactment of the “conquest of Mecca” by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) but to experts, it is a defeat for the US and its allies. The British, the Soviet Union, and most recently the US all had to surrender to the nationalism of the Afghan and Taliban.
When the then US President Donald Trump announced preparations to leave Afghanistan in 2020, many countries including India were seen investing in Afghanistan without showing foresight on security issues. As a result, about 500 Indian projects worth a total of $3 billion in Afghanistan are in limbo today.
Moreover, in the current context, threats to India’s national security continue to be fuelled by the Taliban’s allies and shadow organizations instigated by its two nuclear-armed neighbours. The hasty implementation of the withdrawal of US troops and on the other hand, the meetings and compromises between the US government and the Taliban have made Nato members as well as India, Japan, and Thailand sceptical of the US.
In August 2017, about 800,000 Rohingya took refuge in Bangladesh to escape genocide and violent persecution by the Myanmar military. Many countries and international organizations came forward with relief and grants, hand in hand with the generosity of Bangladesh.
But in the last four years, the international community has not been able to play a significant role in repatriating the Rohingya to their ancestral homeland of Rakhine. Moreover, the direct support of China and Russia to the Myanmar junta and the silent role of India, Japan, and some Asean countries has been surprising.
Although four resolutions on the Rohingya issue have been raised in the UN General Assembly so far, they have been limited to mere condemnation. For example, at the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations, 130 countries voted in favour of the resolution entitled “Human Rights Situation of Rohingya Muslims and Other Minorities in Myanmar,” while nine countries voted against and 26 abstained (including India, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand).
Many countries in the Asian region have been ignoring the security risks posed by the Rohingya crisis in pursuit of their own commercial interests. Although the activities of the terrorist group Arsa have not been noticed for the time being, its involvement with al-Qaeda, IS, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Mujahideen cannot be ruled out.
In the last half of 2020, a new Rakhine-based jihadist group called Qatibah Al-Mahdi Fi Bilad Al Arakan (Al-Mahdi Brigade in Arakan State) launched an online campaign calling on Muslims in Asia including India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka to wage jihad on behalf of the Rohingya. The victory of the Taliban will give psychological impetus to such jihadist organizations, which will increase the security risks in Asia and the world.
India has abstained from voting on every resolution brought to the UN on the Rohingya crisis, citing geo-strategic reasons. It even tried to deport the only 40,000 Rohingyas who were staying in its country illegally to Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Although some call it an internal matter of Bangladesh, history testifies that terrorism has never obeyed geographical or state boundaries. Following the fall of the Afghan government, the future activities of extremist organizations such as the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammed are being discussed and analyzed at all levels in India.
The Taliban have already announced that they will have their own position on Kashmir, mocking India’s military involvement in Afghanistan. One of the sources of recruitment for these terrorist organizations is the frustrated and disadvantaged people like the Rohingya. And the possibility of targeting the Arakan Army as well as the Rohingya as part of an international conspiracy to thwart Indian investment worth about $500 million in Myanmar’s Rakhine State cannot be ruled out.
The term “security” is important both literally and practically along with “human rights” and “investment.” Countries such as India, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand have so far avoided the responsibility regarding the deplorable human rights condition of Rohingya and also the regional security issues by emphasizing commercial investment in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s military, which has long robbed the lives and rights of the Rohingya, is now wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary Myanmar people by staging a military coup on February 1. However, many countries driven by short-term interest are doing business with the so-called caretaker government formed by this military force.
How many more human rights violations by Myanmar’s military are needed to awaken the conscience of the world?
The current situation in Afghanistan could be an instructive chapter in re-shaping future security issues. Bangladesh has always expected a strong role from Asean, India, and Japan in resolving the Rohingya crisis. Bangladesh has sided with India in dismantling the activities of separatist organizations like ULFA to maintain peace and stability.
Now, India should also play a leading role in resolving the Rohingya crisis in the interest of its own and regional security alongside its time tested friend Bangladesh. Above all, Asean countries as well as India and Japan should take the lead in creating a democratic environment in Myanmar. They should also take immediate action to establish equal rights for all citizens of Myanmar, including the Rohingya in order to mitigate potential security risks.
It remains to be seen what steps these regional powers will take in the wake of the Afghan and Rohingya crises for the future security and stability of South and Southeast Asia.
Tonmoy Chowdhury is a Bangladesh-based independent researcher and freelance writer. He is interested in migration, human security issues, South Asian politics, and economic diplomacy. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected].