‘Once resolved, the Teesta issue will help further Bangla ties with India’
Syed Muazzem Ali, High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India, talked to The Sunday Guardian on Rohingya crisis and on India-Bangladesh relations. Excerpts: Q: How has the continuous influx of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh affected the country? A: Bangladesh does not have any bilateral problems with Myanmar. The only issue we had was demarcation of the maritime boundary and we resolved it six years ago with the help of the United Nations. Our trade and commerce with Myanmar is smooth and we have normal diplomatic relations. The crux of the Rohingya issue is simple; Myanmar’s inability to recognise a group of their people as citizens of their country. Since 1962, this has been causing troubles. The problem originated in Myanmar and we will have to find its solution within Myanmar. Now, as far as Bangladesh is concerned, we have been facing a huge crisis since 1971 when the Rohingya refugees started coming to Bangladesh. It is a humanitarian crisis that has triggered huge health and environmental concerns. There are thousands of people living in camps with limited resources and they are vulnerable to diseases. They have levelled down hills, cut down trees, affecting the natural habitat of the area. Finding employment for these people is another major challenge. Q: China has offered to act as a mediator between Myanmar and Bangladesh. China has also been helping Bangladesh with humanitarian aid. Is Bangladesh considering accepting China’s offer? A: We have a number of dignitaries visiting Bangladesh over the weekend. The Chi- nese foreign minister was here, the Japanese foreign minister and several American senators, too, were in Bangladesh this week. Everybody has extended their support and wants to resolve the trouble. This problem will be solved with international pressure; otherwise, I am afraid the process will be futile. So, it is not about China supporting us, everybody needs to come together… It will be in the interest for all of us to resolve this issue at hand. Otherwise, 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, might fall in wrong hands. They can fall victim to radicalisation… Q: Where do the negotiations between India and Bangladesh on Teesta water treaty stand? A: The two governments had already signed MoUs in 2011. The issue is not between the two countries anymore. The issue now stands between India and its own states. There are three parties involved—the Government of India, government of West Bengal and the government of Sikkim. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that he is working on the differences and hopes to get back to us soon. Yes, Teesta has become a crucial election issue in Bangladesh because water is a highly emotive subject. Conditions deteriorate drastically in the lean season, between DecemberMarch, which is almost here now. For nine months, our basins are full; so there is no shortage. Water shortage affects livelihood which affects the country’s politics. This issue also has a direct effect on promotion of our relations with our neighbours. Once resolved, the Teesta issue will be a great benefit in furthering our ties with India. Q: Once revised, the National Register of Citizens, Assam, might render thousands of residents in Assam homeless as it is likely to identify “foreigners” who came to India after the creation of Bangladesh and make them “non-citizens”. One possibility is that then these people will be deported to Bangladesh. How do you see this situation? A: Not all Bengalis are Bangladeshis. We have twothree states where people speak Bengali. There is an established practice between India and Bangladesh regarding deportation of illegals. Currently, India is undergoing internal discussions. Let these conclude. We will cross the bridge when we arrive.
Syed Muazzem Ali