The international community lauded Bangladesh for providing shelter to the Rohingyas, but has played no effective role in repatriating them. How far is geopolitics responsible for this?
I do not consider geopolitics as the main factor here. It is trade and commerce that poses more as an obstacle to the repatriation of the Rohingyas. The international court has directed investigations into whether there has been a genocide in Myanmar or not, but even so the powerful nations continue their trade and business with Myanmar. After the military takeover in February, 900 people were killed in Myanmar. But even after that, the countries of the West as well as China, Japan, India, Singapore and ASEAN countries have not suspended business with Myanmar.
Myanmar has good relations with India and China. Neither of these countries has any visible role in the repatriation of the Rohingyas. Do we have any diplomatic shortcomings in this regard?
A community has been evicted from their country. The global community certainly has a responsibility towards them. Public awareness must be mobilised so that the countries which have business and investments in Myanmar put pressure on them. The civil society and the media in those countries can play an important role. However, no discussions are held in India, Japan and many other countries on this matter.
The World Peace Conference is scheduled to be held in Bangladesh this year. The international community must be made to understand what a big obstacle the Rohingya refugee problem is to peace. The discussions must take place on many levels. Discussions must be stepped up not just at a government level, but at a non-government and civil society level too. Everyone need not even be brought to Dhaka for the conference. The international community must be made to understand that the problem is not just of Myanmar and Bangladesh. There are Rohingyas in 19 countries of the world. The Rohingya writers and intellectuals living in those countries have been highlighting at various forums the brutalities that were committed and are being committed against the Rohingyas. Many expatriate workers, writers and intellectuals are also actively supporting the Rohingyas. Such activities must be increased.
The problem has been exacerbated after the military takeover in Myanmar. Does it look like the military government will pay heed to global opinion?
We must keep in mind that the military in Myanmar was always in power and still is. They had given a share of power to the National League for Democracy's leader Aung San Suu Kyi in their own interests. They felt this would appease the countries of the West and the economic sanctions against Myanmar would be lifted. And that did happen. They then removed Suu Kyi from power. Aung Sun Suu Kyi no longer has the image she had before coming to power. No country is imposing any economic sanctions for democracy to be established in Myanmar or for Suu Kyi's release. They are not halting their business either. Only New Zealand has said that they will not have any business dealings with the military junta. The others may criticise the military rule, but maintain their economic and business relations unchanged.
What can Bangladesh do in these adverse circumstances?
As I said, multilateral initiative has to be taken. And pressure must be put on Myanmar to implement the bilateral agreement signed with them. The countries which are doing business with Myanmar, particularly China, Japan and India, must be told -- go ahead with your business, but do not involve the Rohingya issue with this. The Myanmar government has chased out the Rohingyas, has committed genocide. They must be taken back. The military rulers do not have public support and that is why they are stepping up oppression against the public.
While this is a problem for us, it can be an opportunity too. The Aung Sun Suu Kyi government had a facade of democracy. That has been stripped away and so the international community can increase pressure on them. We must remember that a military government was in power in Myanmar during the last two times that the Rohingyas went back.
It has been almost four years that the 1.1 million Rohingyas have been in Bangladesh. Alongside the financial burden, this has also created social and environmental problems. Can't Bangladesh seek compensation for this from the international community?
Myanmar's injustices must be spoken about more forcefully at international forums. Demands for compensation must be made. But this task must be carried out along with other countries where Rohingya refugees are sheltered, such as Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia and more. The Rohingya issue must be highlighted in international media. Myanmar may not use the term 'Rohingya', but they have never denied that they are residents there. Human rights organisations, NGOs, writers and intellectuals must be more active.
A recent report of the World Bank has recommended that the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh be given status as full-fledged refugees. Does that mean the donor agencies want them to be accommodated here permanently?
The government has already given its response to the World Bank report. It has rejected it. It may be mentioned here that the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol regarding refugees were both centred on the European refugee problem. The cause and the background of refugee problems is not the same in all countries. The 1951 Convention says that refugees cannot be forced to return. Bangladesh had acquiesced to that condition. No one is being forcefully sent back from here. The 1.1 million Rohingyas are living here more or less safely. Historic reasons may be at play here. Bangladesh has never behaved adversely with outsiders. It has always offered shelter to those coming to the country from outside. This is a part of Bengali civilisation and culture. People are shot dead at the Mexico-US border. We do not do that.
As a representative of Bangladesh, I was present at the ICJ hearing in The Hague. At that hearing, Aung Sun Suu Kyi didn't say that the Rohingyas were from Bangladesh. She said they were Arakan Muslims. Arakan is a part of Myanmar.
I would say World Bank's report is unfortunate. They cannot force anything on us in the name of assistance. There is European investment in Myanmar. There is American investment there. Questions will arise as to whether the World Bank is protecting their interests through this report.
There are Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran too. New circumstances are evolving in that region after the announcement of US troops being withdrawn from Afghanistan. The deal that was made, calls for an understanding between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But the Taliban are putting importance on power, taking over cities. So what does the future of Afghanistan look like?
First of all, the American armed forces may have been in Afghanistan for 20 years, but they could never take over the entire country. The American troops and the government presently in Afghanistan dominated in the urban areas. The rural areas were fully under Taliban control. The Afghan government's administration did not function there. There was public support behind the Taliban too. That is why though it was in Afghanistan for 20 years, America could not get the Afghans under their control. It failed to win the people's hearts. No occupation forces could do so. So it was not unexpected that they decided to pack up and leave.
However, there has been a lot of change among the Taliban. Their diplomatic skills indicate that. They have held talks with the Russians, with China and with Iran. The Taliban of 20 years ago was absolutely isolated. They had relations with no one other than Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
It is also to be seen how America will digest such a big defeat. Even if the Taliban were to usher in an Islamic state system, there are two models. One is the Iran and the other is Turkey. If they want a solution through war rather than understanding, it is doubtful that America will allow this easily. They will want to uphold their interests. The Taliban are much more mature than before. They are unlikely to repeat their past mistakes, though there have been incidents of vengeance.
India, Pakistan and China are close neighbours. India has massive investment in Afghanistan. It will want to safeguard that investment. They will have to negotiate with the Taliban too. They made a mistake in relying too heavily on the government in Kabul. Pakistan also has to understand that they will have to pay a heavy price if unrest persists in Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis have died over the past two decades.
If a Taliban government is established in Afghanistan again, what effect will that have on Bangladesh? Will we hear the slogan again -- 'We are all Taliban, Bangla will be Afghanistan'?
One thing is clear. No militant group in any country can be empowered on its own. This requires support and sponsorship. There had been state sponsorship when the 'We are all Taliban' slogans were made. But after coming to power, the Awami League government has taken a stern stance against militants. After the Holey Artisan tragedy, particularly, the government has been showing zero tolerance towards militants. So I don't think 'We are all Taliban, Bangla will be Afghanistan' slogans will be heard anymore. However, surveillance should be stepped up so that no militant group can rear their heads again.
Thank you too
* This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir