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PM in Myanmar: Modi, Suu Kyi talk of Rohingyas & cooperation but make no public statements

Catch Team | Updated on: 7 September 2017, 15:01 IST
Myanmar's President Htin Kyaw, right, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, centre, and Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, left, listen to the national anthem during a dinner in honour of Modi at the Presidential palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, 5 September (AP/PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is currently in Myanmar on an official trip and besides other things that are on his agenda, he has discussed India’s commitment to the development of the Rakhine state.

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, on the second day of Modi’s visit to Myanmar, told the media that India has offered a contribution to the Rakhine State Development Programme and that India believes it as a medium-term solution to the problem. Jaishankar added that the modalities of it are yet to be worked out. India’s development assistance to Myanmar exceeds 1.7 billion dollars.

India's contribution comes in the backdrop of a serious refugee crisis, which has seen more than 1,20,000 Rohingyas crossing over to Bangladesh to escape excesses by the Burmese Security forces in Rakhine.

Earlier in the day, Modi reiterated that India shares concerns of the extremist violence in Rakhine. But he steered clear of making any public statement on the humanitarian crisis.

The government of Myanmar has blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya insurgent outfit for the excesses, rejecting claims that its security forces have been involved in a crackdown on the Rohingyas.

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“We share your concerns about extremist violence in Rakhine state and specially the violence against security forces and how innocent lives have been affected,” Modi said in his press statement after meeting State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

And then went on to express hope for a solution.

“We hope that all the stakeholders together can find a way out in which the unity and territorial integrity of Myanmar is respected and at the same time we can have peace, justice dignity and democratic values for all,” the statement read.

Counsellor Suu Kyi, expectedly, thanked Modi.

“We would like to thank India particularly for the strong stand that it has taken with regard to terrorist threat that came to our country a couple of weeks ago,” she said referring to the statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) a day after ARSA launched terrorist attacks on 25 August, which began a fresh cycle of violence.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights icon has come under increased pressure for her handling of the situation in Rakhine.

And Suu Kyi seems to be defiant. Her comments come on a day when she told Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan that global outrage over the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine is fuelled by “huge iceberg of misinformation”.

Good neighbours

Discussing the crisis in  Rakhine was on Modi's agenda. And India has clearly reassured the important neighbour of its continued support even as it seemed to have suggested that any help to resolve the crisis would be forthcoming on Myanmar’s requests.

“If we are approached we will be willing to help with socio-economic projects which may help in creating jobs etc. If you ultimately analyse one basic root cause – it is the lack of economic opportunity. Even the Kaladan project has potential. It can also play a significant part,” former Ambassador to Myanmar VS Seshadri had told Catch in an interview elaborating on how India looks at the possible solutions.

Also read: Don't understand why Rohingyas want recognition as separate ethnic group: VS Seshadri


Concerns of terror

The insurgency in Rakhine led by the ARSA has led to concerns both in India and Bangladesh. This manifested in the Home Ministry’s recent directive where India announced that it will deport 40,000 Rohingyas who have mostly crossed over from Bangladesh with a few coming in through Mizoram, which shares a border with Chin state.

Ministry of Home Affairs says the “illegal immigrants”, 16,500 of which are registered with the UNHCR, constitute a security threat.

The day Modi arrived in Nay Pyi Taw for the three-day visit, a daily carried a report on how the Indian and Bangladeshi intelligence agencies have traced ARSA’s links to Pakistan-based terror groups and the notorious ISI.

The report talks of a serious plot by the ISI and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to unseat the Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina and boost the Rohingya insurgency with one General Ashfaq.

According to the report, Ashfaq, who looks after the Eastern operations of the ISI, has flown to London to meet Begum Khaleda Zia and her son Tariq Rahman and is learnt to have spoken of the need of support from both the BNP and the Jamat-e-Islami to boost the Rohingya insurgency.

The report talks about an intercepted phone call where Ashfaq is heard talking to Hafiz Tohar, whom the agencies claim is a LeT trained chief of the then Aqa Mul Mujahidin (AMM), hails from Kyauk Pyin Siek village of Maungdaw, Rakhine.

Tohar merged his group into the ARSA after it was formed in the summer of 2016 and is widely believed to be behind the deadly attacks on Myanmar security forces from 9 to 10 October last year and on 25 August this year.

The calls were intercepted by both the Indian and Bangladeshi agencies on 23 and 24 August and that the conversation dwelt on carrying out attacks on Myanmarese security forces in Rakhine. The information could not be shared with Myanmar for the lack of security cooperation, the report states.

About cooperation

There seems to be some headway on security cooperation. “We believe that together we can work to make sure that terrorism is not allowed to take root on our soil,” Suu Kyi said after her meeting with Modi. She, however, did not name any country.

For India, Myanmar’s cooperation is necessary to rein in other terror groups active in the Northeast who have been using Myanmar border areas as their base to launch attacks on India. ULFA(I), NSCN(K), and NDFB(S) are said to have its leadership in the neighbouring country with reports of fresh recruitment from states like Assam.

However, it would be foolhardy to look at ARSA just from the standpoint of it being supported by a rogue agency like the ISI, which has had a history of fomenting trouble against India and Bangladesh.

“It is a home-grown insurgency which is a result of severe repression by the Burmese security forces which has been going on for years,” a security analyst in New Delhi explained, adding that there have been instances of some Rohingyas having links with terror outfits including the Lashkar.

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Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 7 September 2017, 12:49 IST