The Hindu

Suhasini Haider, Delhi 11 September, 2017

Delhi broke silence on Rohingya issue

India’s shift in position on the Myanmar issue on Saturday, where it expressed concerns about the outflow of Rohingya refugees for the first time in recent months, was prompted by a series of requests from the Bangladesh government “at the highest levels”, officials in New Delhi and Dhaka told The Hindu.

“There was some disappointment in our government when we saw that the India-Myanmar joint statement during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit didn’t include any reference to the refugee situation,” a senior Bangladeshi official said.

He confirmed that the government had raised the issue with India at several levels, and was equally concerned by India’s decision to reject the Bali declaration at the World Parliamentary Forum on human rights concerns with Myanmar that had been backed by Bangladesh.

Last week, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar had met with his Bangladesh counterpart Shahidul Haque on the sidelines of the Indian Ocean Region conference in Colombo. It is understood that the Indian High Commission in Dhaka had shared an assessment about the pressure faced by the Bangladesh government and the need for India to shift its tough stand. In the joint statement issued on September 6 in Nay Pyi Taw, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi had referred only to the “terrorism” problem in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, and not to the refugees. A similar statement was issued by the MEA on August 26, after Rohingya militants attacked police posts, killing 12 members of the security forces, which led to a crackdown on Rohingya villages.

However, on the night of September 9, hours after Bangladesh High Commissioner Syed Muazzem Ali had sought a meeting with Mr. Jaishankar whom he met that afternoon, the MEA issued another statement, clarifying that India “remains deeply concerned” about the situation in Rakhine and “the outflow of refugees from that region,” the first such reference since the outbreak of violence in August.

The MEA did not reply to requests for a comment on the issue, but Indian and Bangladeshi officials that The Hindu spoke to, acknowledged the shift in the Indian position, which they said was “welcomed” and “well received” in Dhaka.

“Bangladesh and India both see the refugee problem as a national security concern given Rohingya terror groups that are operating. That is why we conveyed the need for India to join us in putting pressure on the Myanmar government to stem the flow,” the Bangladeshi official said, referring to approximately 5,00,000 Rohingya refugees now living in various camps in Bangladesh.

Former Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Tariq Karim also warned that “the Rohingya issue could throw a spanner in the India-Bangladesh relationship, as PM Sheikh Hasina is under severe pressure on the issue of the violence in Myanmar that has forced out Rohingya.”

“India’s support to Myanmar is seen as encouraging the Burmese security forces to crack down more on the Rohingya, causing a humanitarian crisis,” he added.

Experts say India’s bid to strengthen ties with Myanmar comes amid China’s growing presence in that Country.

“India’s stand to support Suu Kyi is also in line with our tough stand on terrorism, as well as on refusing to interfere in Myanmar’s domestic politics,” said India’s former Ambassador to Myanmar Rajiv Bhatia.