Swaraj is in Dhaka to co-chair the fourth meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission with her Bangladeshi counterpart A.H. Mahmood Ali.
New Delhi: Backing Dhaka’s stance on the exodus of Rohingya refugees, Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Sunday that “normalcy” can only be restored after all the refugees in Bangladesh return to Myanmar.
Swaraj conveyed India’s evolving position on the Rohingya in her press statement after co-chairing the fourth meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) with her Bangladeshi counterpart A.H. Mahmood Ali in Dhaka on Sunday afternoon.
“It is clear that normalcy will only be restored with the return of the displaced persons to Rakhine state,” she said.
As per Indian policy, Swaraj did not mention the word ‘Rohingya’ – a term which is disputed by Myanmar. It was yet another demonstration of India having to maintain a delicate balance between Dhaka and Nyay Pyi Taw over the fate of the half a million Rohingya refugees who streamed into Bangladesh after August 25.
Swaraj’s statement on the right of the refugees to return home was the first such declaration from the Indian political leadership.
India’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Rajiv Chander, had said on September 29 that efforts of the international community should be to “enable the two countries to work together vigorously to facilitate the immediate and safe return of the displaced persons and restoration of normalcy and communal harmony in Rakhine State”.
Chander had also specifically referred to the Myanmar government’s assurances to take back refugees after “verification”, based on the principles agreed upon between Bangladesh and Myanmar in 1993.
Swaraj didn’t refer to the 1993 agreement, but noted that the situation had to be “handled with restraint, keeping in mind the welfare of the population.” She didn’t discuss India’s earlier statements – that blamed the exodus on security operations by Myanmar, following the terror attack by Rohingya militants – either.
She reiterated India’s standard position that the “long term” solution to the Rohingya issue was its socio-economic development.
“We have also supported implementation of the recommendations contained in the Kofi Annan led Special Advisory Commission report,” she said.
Earlier, Swaraj also mentioned that India had provided assistance to around 300,000 “displaced persons” at the camps in Cox’s Bazaar. Conditions at the camps are hard, with many refugees said to be struggling to survive.
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) October 22, 2017
The Rohingya issue was also discussed during her call on Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“How long will Bangladesh bear it? There should be a permanent solution,” Swaraj apparently told the Bangladesh prime minister, according to Hasina’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim.
The news agency United News of Bangladesh quoted Karim saying that Swaraj had informed Hasina that “Modi told Aung San Suu Kyi she has a very bright international image and why should [she] destroy it”.
Modi had visited Myanmar in early September, where he had condoled with his host over the “loss of lives by security forces and innocent people due to the extremist violence in Rakhine state”. The absence of mention of the refugee crisis in the Indian prime minister’s public statements had propelled Bangladesh to express unhappiness and led to a recalibration of New Delhi’s statements on the Rohingya issue.
The Indian government didn’t confirm Bangladesh’s version of the discussion between Swaraj and Prime Minister Hasina.
Swaraj also apparently told Hasina that innocent people should not be targeted by security operations against terrorists.
About terrorist acts in Rakhine, Swaraj said terrorists could be punished. “Why innocent people?” she said, reported UNB.
She met with Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia and leader of opposition Raushan Ershad on Sunday night.
According to BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the cordial discussion between Swaraj and Zia revolved around the current political situation and concerns about the forthcoming parliamentary elections in 2018.
“She (Swaraj) hoped that a fair, neutral, acceptable election will be held here with the participation of all political parties,” said Fakhrul.
According to UNB, he claimed that Swaraj noted that the Election Commission should be able to discharge its duties to hold a neutral election.
Fakhrul said that the Indian minister told the seven-member BNP delegation that her country wants the government in each neighbouring country to be elected democratically.
According to Bangladesh media reports, the Bangladeshi side has proposed new connectivity initiatives at the JCC meeting.
These include air routes connecting Dhaka to Chennai and Colombo, along with shipping routes between Chittagong and Colombo via Kolkata. A new rail link between Panchgarh and Siliguri and a trade route connecting Nakugaon Land port to Bhutan’s Gayleyphung.
The Bangladesh foreign minister also said that there would be an exchange of letters soon, to implement BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement, with a clause for Bhutan to join later.
He added that they agreed that the MoU for trilateral hydropower cooperation among Bangladesh, India and Bhutan would be signed soon. Dhaka has also proposed linking internet connectivity with Bhutan through Indian territory.
Before her return to Delhi, Swaraj will inaugurate 15 small development projects.