Myanmar, B'desh form panel on Rohingya crisis

Bangladesh and Myanmar on Tuesday formed a joint working group and signed an agreement detailing the terms of its mandate to begin repatriation of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who escaped a military offensive in Rakhine state. Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry representative Mohamed Shahidul Haque and his counterpart from Myanmar, U Myint Thu, inked the agreement to create the joint working group, which will comprise 15 representatives from each country, Efe news reported. “In the arrangement Bangladesh and Myanmar signed in Myanmar’s capital Nay Pyi Taw in November there was a mention of a Joint Working Group. Now it has been formed, we will start working on the next phase,” Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmud Ali said. “I cannot say exactly when it will start, but it will start soon. It’s important to start. I am really satisfied,” Ali said. Myanmar signed an agreement with Bangladesh on November 23 to repatriate the more than 650,000 Rohingyas who had crossed over to Bangladesh fleeing the violence that erupted on August 25 in Myanmar’s Rakhine state after the Army launched an offensive following a series of attacks on government posts in the region by Rohingya rebels. According to the agreement, the repatriation process would start within two months of the signing of the agreement. Myanmar, which does not recognise the Rohingyas — a Muslim minority community — as citizens, had agreed to their return provided they have the required documents and are not involved in alleged acts of terrorism. The Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry said that the accord will “include mechanism of verification, time schedule, transport and logistics arrangements, reception procedures, communication etc. to commence the repatriation process within the stipulated time frame”. The working group will be assisted by international bodies such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international partners in various stages of repatriation. Several human rights organisations, however, have repeatedly denounced that conditions are not appropriate for the safe return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar, where, according to recently-arrived refugees, the offensive against them is still underway. The UN and several human rights organisations had condemned alleged abuses against the Rohingyas as part of the offensive and called it “ethnic cleansing”. The non-profit Médecins Sans Frontiéres (Doctors Without Borders) reported in a study last week that at least 6,700 Rohingyas, including 730 children aged below five, had been killed in Myanmar in the first month of the crisis.

(IANS) // ]]>

LET THE RIVERS FLOW: INDIA-BANGLADESH RELATIONS

Agartala: Soldiers participate in a joint cycling expedition of Indian and Bangladeshi armies in Agartala on March 22, 2017. A team of 15 cyclists from India and Bangladesh participating in the expedition will be covering approximately 532 kms across both the nations. (Photo: IANS)[/caption] An unresolved issue is that of the Teesta waters. The Indian government at the centre has been quite accommodative of the Bangladeshi demands of release of more water for irrigation from the dams on this river. This had been the case during both the UPA regime (2009-14) and the current government led by Mr. Modi. However, there has been opposition from the West Bengal government led by Ms. Mamta Banerjee as the local perception is that there is not enough water in the river to be released to Bangladesh. West Bengal leaders feel the farmers on the Indian side will suffer. Ms. Banerjee also had a meeting with PM Hasina in New Delhi, but to no avail. The fact that people of West Bengal also have the right to draw sustenance from the Teesta should in some manner dovetail with the demands of foreign policy. International diplomacy at a certain level must take precedence over domestic compulsions and especially so when the stakes involved concern India’s neighborhood. Such trivial and local issues may have international implications when the Chinese economic power flexes its muscle  in South Asia. Bangladesh has benefitted from Chinese largesse and Chinese attempts to penetrate the South Asian region. Bangladesh recently received a USD 24 billion loan from China in 2016. Interestingly the loan was provided when the Chinese President Mr. Xi Jinping was enroute to Goa for the BRICS Summit in October 2016. Strategic analysts in New Delhi perceive the Chinese actions to be efforts in undermining India’s primacy and dominance in South Asia. It is in this context that India should not be ambivalent towards its immediate neighbours. The shared historical and cultural experiences are an advantage with India, however, in the long run, deeper economic and strategic engagement will last. The Chinese overtures have to be met with caution and a clear and nuanced strategy not only in the case of Bangladesh but also with other states in South Asia. The defence cooperation agreement signed during the recent visit of Ms. Sheikh Hasina and the offer of USD 500 million line of credit for development of various defence related mechanisms is a welcome step in the right direction. This agreement only countenances the recent spate of partnerships between India and Bangladesh with a rise in military cooperation. However, in the context of larger geopolitics of the region, the approach should be to negate the increasing Chinese influence in the region and thwart the same with persistent efforts and diplomacy. The visit of Ms. Hasina therefore is one of immense significance in the current geopolitical context with the Chinese approach towards the region, which only can be construed of as economic aggression combined with hard and aggressive stance on the territorial disputes with India.  As stated earlier it would serve India only well if connectivity with India’s Northeast is improved with the routes passing through Bangladesh territory and it is imperative that India builds the majority of the infrastructure for such a project. Furthermore, in the dispute settlement mechanisms for the sharing of waters from the various tributaries of Brahmaputra and Meghna, India should deliberate with the knowledge that it is the upper riparian state. A clearer and vigilant approach is needed in the negotiations to keep Bangladesh into India’s strategic fold in the multi-faceted interactions, which India has with Bangladesh. // ]]>