A seminar was held recently at the initiative of Jahangirnagar University's newly opened Bangladesh Centre for Indo-Pacific Affairs of its international relations department. The topic of discussion was 'Bangladesh and Indo-Pacific Collaboration, Priority and Concern.'  The concept of Bangladesh's general people about the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) so far has basically been based on a proposal of Indonesia towards the start of 2013. A multilateral initiative has been taken up jointly by the US and its allies and this has now gained significant expansion.

While western countries are at the forefront, the US is the main initiator. Now efforts are being made to draw various countries of the world, Afro-Asian developing countries in particular, into the IPS fold. It is being touted that the main objective of this is to ensure that the Pacific Ocean and India Ocean (Indo-Pacific) remains free and to keep other seas free and ensure a rules-based order. Many geopolitical experts, however, feel that the actual objective of the western world and allies is to keep China at bay. They feel that the rise of China is a threat, particularly to US' monopoly of power.

The US’ Burma Act 2022 has served to strengthen NUG

When the military rule of Ne Win began in 1962, the oppression of the Rohingyas was stepped up further and then in 2017 it reached a height. Presently around 1.2 million Rohingya are refugees in Kutupalong of Cox’s Bazar. Some of them have been there from 1992.

The significant point about the present-day Rakhine is that Arakan had once been an independent state that had been taken over by the Konbaung rulers in 1785. The Burmese community in particular was settled in South Arakan (Rakhine) to change the demographic ratio of the local population there. Even so, in Rakhine there are local Arakanese Buddhists and Muslims and in the north, the ethnic communities there include Chin, Mro, Khumi and Kuki.

While the presence of Burmese in Arakan or Rakhine is strong, over 30,000 armed fighters of the local ‘insurgent group’ Arakan Army (AA) are engaged in conflict with Myanmar’s armed force (the majority of whom are Burmese Buddhists). They demand autonomy, at the least. AA initially had been against the Rohingyas, but in recent times their military and political mouthpiece, United League of Arakan (ULA), has announced that they are ready to take the Rohingyas back. They look for Bangladesh’s support. The fact that the Arakan Army has extensive influence in Rakhine is evident in the ceasefire declared by the military government amid huge losses.

There is a greater unity among the Kachin Independent Army (KIA), Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), Chin Liberation Army (CLA) and the Arakan Army. On top of that there is the NUG-backed People’s Defence Force (PDF). AA is the largest in numbers. The junta government in no way can dismiss AA as insignificant. On the other hand, AA for the first time has assured the National Unity Government (NUG) of its cooperation. NUG has declared that they will build Myanmar up as a federal state and ensure regional autonomy.

The US’ Burma Act 2022 has served to strengthen NUG. The Burma Act speaks about spreading democracy, the democratization of the region, including Myanmar. NUG feels that the Burma Act is a recognition of their efforts. NUG is in favour of repealing the 1982 Citizen’s Act. And for all these reasons, it is not expected that the present junta government will ensure the repatriation of the Rohingyas.

I believe that alternative ways and means to resolve the Rohingya crisis must be taken into consideration. Firstly, the common organisation of the various Rohingya political leaders (mostly outside of the country at present), Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) can be consolidated and work together with AA and NUG. The United Nations must be involved in the process.

Secondly, communication between ARNO must be stepped up with AA and ULA. Thirdly, initiative must be taken to have a recognized autonomous region akin to the Meizu Frontier District, which had been known as the Rohingya homeland and which had been formed from 1961 to 1964 in Mongdu, Buthidong and Rathidong along the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

There are all visible signs that the Rohingya crisis can pose as an internal security threat to Bangladesh and lead to regional geopolitical complexities. So Bangladesh must give due importance to alternative ways to deal with the situation, other than with just diplomacy.

* Dr M Sakhawat Hossain is an election analyst, former military officer and SIPG senior research fellow (NSU). He can be contacted at [email protected]