‘Extremists may take advantage of situation in the region’

Mizanur Rahman Khan | Dec 23, 2019

President of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies (BIPSS) ANM Muniruzzaman

President of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies (BIPSS) ANM Muniruzzaman,
in an interview with Prothom Alo, spoke about India’s Citizenship
Amendment Act, the state of security in the region and other
geopolitical issues.

Prothom Alo: Will the case with the International Court of Justice accelerate Rohingya repatriation or retard it?

ANM Muniruzzaman: I do not think this will be of any
significant help to Rohingya repatriation. But we will have to wait and
see whether it will pose as an obstruction. Myanmar may decide to wait
until the case is settled. An interim order may be of use in this
regard. The UN and other agencies who cannot visit the Rakhine state
now, may find access easier. But that may also lessen international
pressure on Myanmar.

Prothom Alo: The US placed sanctions on four military
generals of Myanmar. Do you think other countries may similarly change
their stance?

ANM Muniruzzaman: There is no
significant change visible. Canada and the Netherlands have openly
taken a stance against genocide, but they had already taken this stance
earlier. So this is nothing new on their part. The US had imposed
sanctions before too. They simply made it a bit stricter now. This is a
positive sign. But the chief of Myanmar’s armed forces was in China at
the same time and China gave a lot of important to the visit and praised
him. I do not see any change in the mindset of Myanmar’s allies. In
fact, India for the first time has given a submarine to Myanmar. India
is also closely involved in providing training to Myanmar’s armed
forces. Russia is keeping up its cooperation too.

Prothom Alo: How do you view India’s Citizenship Amendment Act? Has it affected relations with Bangladesh?
ANM Muniruzzaman:
I am more concerned that the citizenship of 2 million people in Assam
has been snatched away. I am also seeing efforts to drive their citizens
into Bangladesh. And the impact of India’s Citizenship Amendment Act
will affect the entire region. So no one should take this lightly.

Prothom Alo: Do you see any link between the quick succession
of events – the NRC, withdrawal of Kashmir’s special status, the
Citizenship Amendment Act, the Babri Masjid verdict, etc?

ANM Muniruzzaman:
All this is happening because BJP has come to power with a huge
mandate. They are now fulfilling their election mandate. However, it is
not just the neighbours, but many states within India that are
expressing concern.

Prothom Alo: How do you see the future of Bangladesh-India relations?
ANM Muniruzzaman:
They have friendly relations though tensions crop up from time to time.
There is a degree of unease now on certain issues, but I see this as
temporary, nothing permanent.

Prothom Alo: Myanmar took its decisions based on a certain
religion and now India has done almost the same. What are the
similarities and dissimilarities between the two and possible
repercussions in the region?

ANM Muniruzzaman:
Both countries are our neighbours. Certain situations have arisen there
based on religion and they have changed their state policies
accordingly. This will certainly have a negative impact on us. Extremist
groups in Bangladesh can take advantage of this, use this to instigate
trouble. We must be alert. We must ensure that our communal harmony is
not disrupted by these events.

Prothom Alo: Should such a situation be viewed from a counter-terrorism angle or politically?
Muniruzzaman: I would emphasis the political angle. We must proceed
along the path of our values of national identity, that is our religious
and social values.

Prothom Alo: Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has said that the
Rohingya crisis is linked to regional stability. Now if relations with
India deteriorate due to circumstances, what will Bangladesh do?

ANM Muniruzzaman:
There seems to be no solution in the offing. Friendly countries must be
approached about the Rohingya issue, they must understand that this is
not Bangladesh’s problem alone. This may become an issue of regional
security and the signs are already there.
Firstly, the relations
between the Rohingyas here and the local populace have deteriorated
drastically. Secondly, many Rohingyas have been fund to be involved in
bringing yaba into the country. Thirdly, small arms have been
infiltrating the country and Rohingyas may be involved. This will add a
new dimension to security concerns. Fourthly, local and international
trafficking rings have already involved Rohingyas in human trafficking
and have been successful in doing so. This is alarming. If we fall into
the US category of human trafficking, we will face all sorts of

Prothom Alo: Will that mean trade sanctions too?
ANM Muniruzzaman:
There can be all sorts of sanctions and that is why the Rohingya
refugee presence is creating a security threat. It is putting pressure
on stability. Also, extremist groups will try to recruit people from
among these Rohingya refugees. They will spread their extremist ideology
among them.

Prothom Alo: How far can Bangladesh proceed with its diplomatic efforts and abilities?
ANM Muniruzzaman:
It must be admitted that we have arrived at this situation because of
our diplomatic isolation. None of the bigger countries have come forward
directly to assist us. They have all been working on the side of
Myanmar. Another litmus test is, you will notice, though the Arakan army
is involved in an armed struggle there, those countries are still
investing in Myanmar. India has increased its military cooperation with
them. The US recently led a multinational naval exercise in the South
China Sea and Indian Ocean area. Myanmar was not supposed to have
joined, but it did. All the countries are proceeding in their own
interests, which do not tally with ours. You can assess whether this is
our diplomatic weakness or failure. Now that a case has been taken up in
court, we should put this momentum to use and adopt certain fresh
diplomatic initiatives.

Prothom Alo: What about the Indian stance?
ANM Muniruzzaman:
India has taken up a double-standard policy. It leans towards the US
strategic policies and it is likely to be at the forefront of all the US
strategies in the region. It will act as a manager in implementing US
strategies in the region. Then again there is the rise of China, and
India is dealing with this pragmatically. They will not enter into any
direct conflict. India is looking to a workable relationship with China.
It will not turn directly against China.

Prothom Alo: Will Bangladesh be sandwiched between these two
big power equations? Won’t this make it more difficult for Bangladesh to
deal with the Rohingya problem?

ANM Muniruzzaman:
Bangladesh has been successful in creating a diplomatic balance. We
have ‘strategic ties’ with China and ‘deep ties’ with India. We also
have ‘good relations’ with the US. Then on one hand there is China’s
massive Belt and Road Initiative and on the other the US Indo-Pacific
Strategy. We have been successful in not siding with one particular
country, but maintaining good ties with all. Geopolitically speaking,
Bangladesh has gained much importance. We need to use this clout

Prothom Alo: What has Bangladesh been able to gain from this advantageous position?
ANM Muniruzzaman:
We received a 40 billion dollar commitment from China for joining the
Belt and Road Initiative. This is a significant achievement. We have
good investment opportunities with China. China is building a massive
economic zone in Chattogram where Chinese industries will be located.
China continues its military cooperation with Bangladesh.

We have managed to create grounds for strong bilateral trade with
India. We have managed to ensure duty free and quota free access of our
readymade garments. We have gained other advantages and there is likely
to be more to come.

We have a lot of support from the US too and not only in the economic
field. We have various types of military cooperation with the US. The
US is providing us with financial and technical support to counter

So we have received all sorts of support from these big countries. But we can gradually increase this support.

Prothom Alo: But we are certainly not receiving support from two big countries where the Rohingya issue is concerned.

ANM Munirizzaman: No, we are not. The US is
extending support, but not our two closest neighbours. They are helping
in a humanitarian way, but have not supported our stance. We have to
think of ways to involve them afresh.

Prothom Alo: Let me wind up with the Rohingya issue. Canadian
professor John Packer has said that the non-Muslim countries should
come forward with a fresh appeal to the International Court of Justice.

ANM Muniruzzaman: I don’t envisage this any time
soon. I do not even see more cases with the ICJ will necessarily be
successful. No individual can be accused in this court. And the court
does not have the scope to enforce the verdict. If Myanmar does not
implement the verdict, it will go to the Security Council. So the issue
all depends on international politics. If anyone vetoes the matter, it
all ends there.

Prothom Alo: China and Russia already issued their vetoes. Do you foresee any change in their positions?

ANM Muniruzzaman: I do not foresee any change in
their positions so far. But if there is a vast change in public opinion
on an international scale, then it is a different matter. Now what is
transpiring may be a moral victory. And if there is an interim decision,
then perhaps there may be some temporary relief. Internationally, there
has been a momentum created in favour of the Rohingyas. Intentionally
or unintentionally, Myanmar has admitted in court to many of their
transgressions. They have said that war crimes may have taken place, but
no genocide. I expect that the hearing will begin in ICC too. The head
of state has admitted that war crimes took place and this is an

Prothom Alo: Thank you.

ANM Muniruzzman: Thank you.

* This interview, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.

Source: South Asia Journal
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