Bangladesh has made a strong pitch for India's intervention in persuading Myanmar to take back nearly one million Rohingya refugees and ensure their safe return.
Bangladesh's High Commissioner to India Syed Muazzem Ali said, “The core problem of the [Rohingya] issue is the refusal of Myanmar authorities to recognise them as their citizens although they have been living there for centuries as their citizens.
“We believe that continued and sustained international pressure on Myanmar would be catalyst for a long-term solution in this regard in order to ensure the rights of the Rohingyas so that they could return home and live there with peace and dignity,” he said while addressing the Foreign Correspondents' Club on Monday night.
Ali further said, “We believe that India, as a regional power with common borders and good relations with both Bangladesh and Myanmar, can and should play a crucial role in persuading Myanmar for the early and secured return of the Rohingyas to their home.”
He added Bangladesh appreciates the Indian government who, as a humanitarian gesture, sent substantial relief materials for the forcibly displaced Rohingyas, by air and ship, and said, “We also count on India's continued support in the international arena for the early return of Rohingyas.”
Ali said the ultimate solution to the Rohingya crisis is that they have to return to Myanmar.
During his speech, Ali gave a comprehensive overview of India-Bangladesh relations covering various sectors including security, counter-terrorism, trade, transit, energy and sharing of waters of common rivers.
Referring to the vexed issue of Teesta water sharing, Ali said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, after assuming power in 2009, took an initiative to break the deadlock in this regard.
“The two countries also worked out a solution for an interim water-sharing agreement in 2011, but it could not be concluded due to the last-minute objection raised by the West Bengal government,” he said, adding, an early conclusion of the agreement on Teesta “would open up newer opportunities for cooperation” between India and Bangladesh.
He said security issue had earlier bedevilled India-Bangladesh ties in the past, but Hasina, since assuming power, has firmly controlled the situation and did not allow any terrorist activities, or any terrorist groups, to use Bangladesh soil to launch any attack against India or any other neighbouring country.
Naturally, Bangladesh expects strict reciprocity from all her neighbours on this account, he said.
Turning to the huge gap in bilateral trade balance which is heavily tilted towards India (Bangladesh imported goods worth $5.4 Billion and exported goods worth $689.6 million in financial year 2015-16), he said a small and capital-shy economy like that of Bangladesh would need substantial investment to broaden its exportable base.
Citing the existing trade equation between the US and Canada and Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) treaty, Ali said, “The most practical cause of action would be to set up a series of buy-back projects.”
Under NAFTA treaty, the US has ensured substantial investment and trade access in Canada and Mexico, which has tremendously increased their export to the USA, he said and suggested that Indian investors should similarly take advantage of Bangladesh's cheaper labour costs and closer proximity to India's northeast markets.
He further said while it is common to have bilateral problems with one's neighbours', more so for India and Bangladesh which share huge land and maritime boundaries and also use common rivers, and rail and road and river networks, “it is heartening to note that the earlier mistrust and tension between Bangladesh and India have been largely cleared.”
Bangladesh and India, he said, should take note of each other's sensitivities and vulnerabilities and demonstrate greater political will to establish mutually cooperative ties.
“A stable, strong and friendly neighbourhood is a necessity for any country, big or small, and especially in our region where several armed terrorist groups are eager to exploit differences between them,” Ali observed.