New Delhi: India on Sunday said it was deeply concerned with the violence in Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist Rakhine state from where hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingyas have fled into Bangladesh putting pressure on the Bangladesh government.
Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj who is on a two-day visit to Dhaka for the India-Bangladesh joint commission meeting, an umbrella framework that oversees bilateral cooperation in areas spanning border management and trade to culture, said India had conveyed to Myanmar that the “situation be handled with restraint, keeping in mind the welfare of the population."
“It is clear that normalcy will only be restored with the return of the displaced persons to Rakhine state. In our view, the only long-term solution to the situation in Rakhine state is rapid socio-economic and infrastructure development that would have a positive impact on all the communities living in the state. India, for its part, has committed to provide financial and technical assistance for identified projects to be undertaken in Rakhine state in conjunction with the local authorities. We have also supported implementation of the recommendations contained in the Kofi Annan led Special Advisory Commission report," Swaraj said.
Swaraj’s comments are key given that in September India had said that it shared Myanmar’s concerns over “extremist violence" in Rakhine state during a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to that country. Modi’s comments upset Bangladesh with Dhaka’s envoy in New Delhi conveying his country’s concerns to the Indian foreign secretary. Dhaka’s unease stems from the fact that it has been sheltering thousands of Rohingyas following a Myanmarese military push after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base in August.
Nearly 600,000 Rohingyas have crossed the border since 25 August when coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts sparked a ferocious counteroffensive by the Myanmar army, a Reuters report said quoting United Nations numbers. The report also says that the UN considers the Myanmarese military action and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs since late August amount to a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingyas.
About 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship in Myanmar, with their movement and access to services restricted, another Reuters report said. Many in the Buddhist-majority country view them as unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh.
For India, both Bangladesh and Myanmar are important neighbours as it shares long borders with them. Insurgents operating in India’s northeast have taken shelter in both countries in the past, using bases there for hit-and-run operations. India has viewed with concern increasing Chinese aid and infrastructure assistance to both countries—fearing a heightening of Beijing’s profile and a waning of its own influence in its periphery.
Ties between India and Bangladesh have warmed considerably since New Delhi ratified and signed a land boundary agreement with Dhaka in 2015 that had been languishing since 1974.
In other remarks, Swaraj said that India and Bangladesh had resolved to tackle the challenge of “terrorism, extremism and radicalization" and continue to fight “this scourge together and along with other like-minded countries. We are both determined to protect our societies from the threat of ideologies of hate, violence and terror by adopting a zero tolerance policy and a comprehensive approach in fighting violent extremism and terrorism at all levels."
India has so far extended three lines of credit amounting to $8 billion to Bangladesh, the largest development assistance that India has extended to any country worldwide. “We are confident that this credit will be invaluable to Bangladesh as it pursues its developmental priorities, especially in the areas of infrastructure development," Swaraj said.
In the area of power, India is now supplying 660MW to Bangladesh to take care of its shortfall, she said.