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Bangladesh-Myanmar cooperation: Investment opportunity, climate change, insurgency & Rohingya crisis

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]s the communities around the globe is globalizing, it would be disadvantageous for any country not to be proactive in seeking greater engagement with other countries, especially when it is a next door neighbour. Understanding this very reality, perhaps, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been seeking out greater engagement with its next door neighbour Myanmar.

The history of relations among the people from Bangladesh and Myanmar dates back to centuries, with renewed elements added to the relations every now and then. Although the relations is not quite good at the moment due to various factors (including Rohingya issue), the abovementioned approach for greater engagement with Myanmar on the part of the Bangladeshi side is a pragmatic move and deserves appreciation. The potential areas of cooperation between the two sides are, among others, trade & Investment (amid end of economic isolation for Myanmar), environment, Rohinya issue and insurgency.

Shahidul Haque, Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary, met Myanmar’s State counselor Aung San Suu Kyi last year and conveyed, as Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s envoy, a message that Bangladesh wants to forge friendship, good neighbourliness and close cooperation with neighbouring Myanmar in all areas of common interests. Daw Suu Kyi, famously known as Aung San Suu Kyi, responded with a sincere and warm gesture by expressing her government’s willingness to move forward bilateral relations with Bangladesh. Suu Kyi also emphasized that there should be frequent engagements between the two neighbours. She expressed her firmness sincerely when she said that no issues and incidents should distract the willingness of frequent engagements and increasing cooperation between the two countries. She feels that both neighbours should face all challenges jointly.

Bangladesh benefits by investing in Myanmar

There is a vast scope for the bilateral relationship between Myanmar and Bangladesh. There are a number of areas where the two countries may cooperate and work together; the key area being the improvement of existing trade relations, which is not in good shape at the time-being. Bangladesh will be largely benefitted from the improving trade relation with Myanmar amid end of the latter’s international economic isolation. Since the international community, the West in particular, is depressurising Myanmar through withdrawing the economic sanctions imposed on the country, the intra-trade and inter-trade for Myanmar would increase by many times from the current scenario. With comparatively a sizable population, beautiful tourist-favoured atmosphere, vast natural (including energy) resources and a reasonably positive attention from the West, Myanmar is the appropriate destination for any country to invest heavily and make huge profits thereby. The fact that Bangladesh is the next door neighbour of Myanmar simply makes Myanmar the appropriate-most trade partner for Bangladesh.

Cooperation in tackling climate change

Besides working for strong trade ties, countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar, which are the major victims of climate change with the worst victimization still awaiting, may work together in order to address the issues related to the global environmental deterioration. Besides the major problems of poverty and illiteracy, Bangladesh and Myanmar’s vulnerability to environmental deterioration is very alarming. The overall economic developments of these two countries have been troubled to a considerable extent by the adverse effects of deteriorating global environmental conditions.

With flat and low-lying landscape, the coastal areas of Bangladesh and Myanmar are highly vulnerable to floods and storms. Among the major impacts of the environmental deterioration – particularly of the global warming – the increasing rise in sea-level every year has been the most alarming one so far, with the possibility of submerging 6-8% of ‘flood-prone’ Bangladesh under water by 2030 (a prediction made in 2007 by the UK Department for International Development). Like Bangladesh, Myanmar could also lose a substantial percentage of its total coastal landmass under the sea water. From the fourth assessment report published by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it appears that a substantial portion of ‘flood-prone’ coastal areas of Myanmar is predicted to be submerged under water by 2050.

A substantial portion of the total population of Bangladesh and Myanmar live in the coastal areas, where majority of the population are affected, directly or indirectly, by coastal floods or tidal flows, salinity, tropical cyclones, erosion of river-bank etc. With the rise of sea-level “even by a metre”, Bangladesh and Myanmar could lose a substantial percentage of their total landmass under the sea water, turning millions of inhabitants living in the coastal areas of these two countries into climate refugees.

Challenges: Rohingya crisis & insurgency in Myanmar

One of the challenges posed to the relations between the two countries is the lack of cross-border communication of general people from the two sides of Bangladesh and Myanmar. People to people connection between two sovereign countries are the most effective ways to progress together and to keep a peaceful relationship between the concerned countries. This factor is particularly important when the concerned countries are neighbours. There was a smooth and vibrant relation between the people of both Bangladesh and Myanmar in the pre-Mughal era that continued till the British era. However, the post-British era saw degradation in the relationship between the people from both sides and circumstances only got worse when the Rohingya issue took the centre stage in shaping up Bangladeshis’ perceptions towards Myanmar. A large number of people from Bangladesh have some sort of anger against Myanmar because of the same. Solution to this problem would, without doubt, open the door to a smooth communication of people between the two sides.

A positive gesture was shown from Myanmar’s side in working for the solution of Rohingya issue during the aforementioned meeting that took place last year between Suu Kyi and Shahidul Haque. The press release, which was made from Myanmar’s side after the meeting, highlighted Myanmar government’s firm resolve to find solutions to the challenges in the Rakhine State (regarding Rohingya issue) and elaborated various initiatives undertaken by the new government under theleadership, but not presidency, of Suu Kyi. However, to the dismay of the benefit that both countries could earn from close cooperation, the recent and renewed crisis from last October in the Rakhine State has again flared up the angers of people from both sides. While a substantial portion of the Myanmarese population view the Rohingya as migrants from Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi people perceive the persecution on the Rohingyas inside Myanmar as a torture on the fellow Muslims.

In addition to the abovementioned Rohingya crisis, which is a major barrier to the bilateral relations between the two neighbours, the insurgencies in Myanmar is a burning problem. Successive Myanmarese governments have been at decades-long armed conflict, which is the longest running armed conflict in the world, against many domestic insurgent groups (including the Kachin, the Karenni insurgents, the Karen insurgents and the Arakanese insurgents) and all sides have suffered way too much loss to carry on the fighting much longer. That is why Myanmar’s government had repeatedly tried to reach ceasefire agreement with the insurgents and attempted to persistently work for peaceful settlement. Most of the times, the ceasefires that were maintained by all sides had short lived. A ceasefire deal with several insurgent groups has been reached at the last quarter of 2015 under the previous government and this ceasefire has been largely continuing (apart from few exceptions) until now under the current government.

The insurgencies in Myanmar have the potential to become barriers to the trade relation between Bangladesh and Myanmar as – (i) the commercial consignments from Bangladesh to Myanmar (and vice versa) and (ii) the Bangladeshi future business interests in Myanmar – may well be under attack from insurgent groups unless the Myanmar’s government take appropriate initiatives either to hold the existing ceasefire for longer or to neutralize the conflicts.

Observations

Taking a step towards genuine solution regarding the Rohingya issue would likely to normalize and smoothen the communication between the people from both sides. Since Bangladesh and Myanmar governments have good relations, a good relation between the general mass from both sides would help to make the trade relations better, benefiting both the neighbouring economies that are growing at faster rate.

On environmental front, both Bangladesh and Myanmar should make sure that the climate conferences at global stage should not just focus entirely on climate issues, but also should set practically applicable measures and a constructive framework, with the genuine intension to ensure reduction of environmental deterioration.

With the transfer of power from a military government to a semi-civilian one in 2011, Myanmar went on board towards economic liberalization. Although military setup in Myanmar’s Constituent Assembly still remains strong, 2015’s election enabled a (mostly) civilian government to arise into the Myanmar’s decision making structure, strengthening the way towards further economic liberalization. Since international isolating for Myanmar ended, opportunities have emerged for other countries to earn billions from exporting to, and investing in, Myanmar. Therefore, being one of the five neighbours of Myanmar, Bangladesh should try to grab such opportunities, should bolster its relations with Myanmar and take the benefit of Myanmar’s economic liberalization.

Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst and columnist, and regularly writes on greater Asia-Pacific, Indian Oceanic region and greater Middle East geopolitics. He also - infrequently - writes on environment & climate change and the global refugee crisis. Besides Modern Diplomacy, his articles have appeared at The Diplomat, Global New Light of Myanmar, Asia Times, Eurasia Review, Middle East Monitor, International Policy Digest and a number of other international publications. His columns also appear in the Dhaka-based national newspapers, including Daily Observer, Daily Sun, Daily Star, The Independent, The New Nation, Financial Express, New age and bdnews24com. He previously taught law at Dhaka Centre for Law & Economics and worked at Bangladesh Institute of Legal Development.

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India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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India’s open invitation to a nuclear Armageddon

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Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that “India was not averse to the possible demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier ,  the world’s highest battleground and an old sore in India-Pakistan ties , provided the neighbour accepted the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) that separates Indian and Pakistani positions. Acceptance of AGPL is the first step towards demilitarisation but the Pakistan side loathes doing that”. He said, ‘The Siachen situation occurred because of unilateral attempts by Pakistan to change status quo and countermeasures taken by the Indian Army’ (Not averse to demilitarisation of Siachen if Pak meets pre-condition: Army chief, Hindustan Times January 13, 2022).

Reacting to the Indian army chief’s statement, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan reminisced that the Siachen could not fructify into a written agreement because India wanted Siachen and Kashmir to be settled together. India’s approach ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ scuttled the agreement. As for Kashmir, “a simultaneous effort was made through the backchannel …in what is commonly known as the Four-Point Formula” (Siachen recollections, Dawn January 16, 2022). Riaz laments Indi’s distrust that hindered a solution.

Shyam Saran, a voice in the wilderness

Shyam Saran, in his book How India Sees the World (pp. 88-93) makes startling revelations about how this issue eluded solution at last minute. India itself created the Siachen problem.  Saran reminisces, in the 1970s, US maps began to show 23000 kilometers of Siachen area under Pakistan’s control. Thereupon, Indian forces were sent to occupy the glacier in a pre-emptive strike, named Operation Meghdoot. Pakistani attempts to dislodge them did not succeed. But they did manage to occupy and fortify the lower reaches’.

He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot dragging. He says ‘NN Vohra, who was the defence secretary at the time, confirmed in a newspaper interview that an agreement on Siachen had been reached. At the last moment, however, a political decision was taken by the Narasimha Rao government to defer its signing to the next round of talks scheduled for January the following year. But, this did not happen…My defence of the deal became a voice in the wilderness’.

Saran says, `Kautliyan template would say the options for India are sandhi, conciliation; asana, neutrality; and yana, victory through war. One could add dana, buying allegiance through gifts; and bheda, sowing discord. The option of yana, of course would be the last in today’s world’ (p. 64, ibid.).

India’s current first option

It appears that Kautliya’s last-advised option,yana, as visualised by Shyam Saran, is India’s first option nowadays. Kautlya also talks about koota yuddha (no holds barred warfare), and maya yuddha (war by tricks) that India is engaged in.

Cartographic annexation

By unilaterally declaring the disputed Jammu and Kashmir its territory does not solve the Kashmir problem. This step reflects that India has embarked upon the policy “might is right”. In Kotliyan parlance it would be “matsy nyaya, or mach nyaya”, that is big fish eats the small one. What if China also annexes disputed borders with India?  India annexed Kashmir presuming that Pakistan is not currently in a position to respond militarily, nor could it agitate the matter at international forums for fear of US ennui.  

India’s annexation smacks of acceptance of quasi-Dixon Plan, barring mention of plebiscite and division of Jammu. . Dixon proposed: Ladakh should be awarded to India. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit and Baltistan) should remain with Pakistan. Whole Kashmir valley should have a plebiscite with no option to independence. Jammu should be divided on religious basis. The river Chmab should be the dividing line. Northern Jammu (Muslims dominated) should go to Pakistan and Hindu majority parts of Jammu to remain with India.

In short Muslim areas should have gone with Pakistan and Hindu-Buddhist majority areas should have remained with India.

India’s annexation has no legal sanctity. But, it could have bbeen sanctified in a mutually agreed Kashmir solution.

India’s propaganda

India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries?

The world is listless to accounts of former diplomats and RAW officers about executing insurgencies in neighbouring countries. B. Raman, in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.

 Will the world take notice of confessions by Indi’s former intelligence officers and diplomats?B. Raman reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, hijacked a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore.

India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces’… `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud’, delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach’. When New Delhi queried about the benefit of costly support to Northern Alliance chief Massoud, Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”

Death of back-channel

In his memoirs In the line of fire (pp.302-303), president Musharraf had proposed a personal solution of the Kashmir issue.  This solution, in essence, envisioned self-rule in demilitarised regions of Kashmir under a joint-management mechanism.   The solution pre-supposed* reciprocal flexibility.

Death of dialogue and diplomacy

Riaz warns of “incalculable” risks as the result of abrogation of Kashmir statehood (Aug 5, 2019). Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. In the absence of a dialogue on outstanding issues, war, perhaps a nuclear one,  comes up as the only option.

Concluding remark

Sans sincerity, the only Kashmir solution is a nuclear Armageddon. Or, perhaps divine intervention.

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