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Bangladesh has an opportunity to internationalize the Myanmar issue

Imtiaz  Ahmed

Imtiaz Ahmed

Fri, 9 Feb 24

The political situation in neighboring Myanmar is gradually becoming complicated. Myanmar is not a modern and democratic state in the sense of what we call a modern state in the light of the Western framework. Myanmar is a very fluid state. It is a country that has always had internal political crises and conflicts. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But the state has always gone through complications. Myanmar could not develop in the same way as the modern democratic state is built. The people of Myanmar could not create the country as a single nation-state. The country has constantly been tormented by ethnic conflicts between the Karen, Kuki, Chin, Wah, etc. Notably, these conflict-causing groups have never sought complete independence for their controlled territories. Instead, they want to grab a larger share of autonomy. Revenue collection is one of the foremost sources of strength for the state. And the conflicting groups have been demanding a stake in it.

I do not consider the current conflict in Myanmar within such a state structure unusual. Through this kind of conflict, the Myanmar army is re-energized. And an argument is made for the state to hold power. If there is complete peace and stability in the country, the question may be raised about why the army is occupying the state power. In that situation, the demand for a return to democratic governance may intensify. Therefore, the army also does not want a permanent peace in the country. Rather, they seek limited conflict. The military must have limited strife on its own merits. Many people think all countries want peace, but that is not the point. Those in power prefer conflict in many countries because it furthers their power and acceptance. If the military can hold state power, their involvement in the business and commerce of the country enhances that, which is not possible in any way under normal conditions. Commission trading opportunities arise when buying arms from abroad. If we analyze it, we will see that the Myanmar military has also created such a structure. As a result, the ethnic armed conflict in Myanmar shows no signs of abating any time soon.

Now the question is, due to the ethnic armed conflict raging on in Myanmar, how is the neighboring country Bangladesh being affected or suffering? Earlier, a large number of Rohingyas took refuge in Bangladesh due to the fear of Myanmar army operations. They have been staying in Bangladesh for almost six years. No independent country can want refugees from another country to remain in its country day after day. Myanmar's ethnic armed conflict has increased in scope and depth in recent times. Several members of the Myanmar military have taken refuge in Bangladesh after being chased by the rebels. This incident happened not only on the Bangladesh border. A similar incident occurred on the border between India and China. The horror of the internal political situation in the country is undoubtedly being realized, given the Myanmar armed forces members taking shelter across the border in the neighboring countries. If Myanmar's ethnic conflict worsens, refugees from that country may again come to Bangladesh. Every crisis creates some possibility. The current ethnic conflict in Myanmar has also created some opportunities for us. Now, if we want, we can make a forum to discuss the situation in Myanmar at the regional and international levels. We can negotiate with Myanmar if we wish to. I can even raise the issue of the situation in the United Nations.

The United States has already passed an act called the Burma Act that vests certain powers President's hands. If the US president thinks he will provide aid to any group in conflict in Myanmar, he can give it. Time will tell whether the US President will exercise this power or not. But the United States inevitably closely watching Myanmar. The Myanmar issue has not only made things tricky in the country concerned but also created complications with India and China. In addition, there is a fear of US interference in the country's internal affairs. In other words, Myanmar's internal issues may become multi-dimensional.

In this situation, it is time for Bangladesh, as a neighboring country, to take some effective measures. Right now, Bangladesh can sit with neighboring countries on the Myanmar issue. This issue can be discussed with India and China in particular. India and China can play essential roles in the Myanmar situation. If the US intervenes in Myanmar, it will in no way favor the interests of China or India. Bangladesh can contribute to getting countries to agree to control the situation. Bangladesh can hold talks with India, China, and the Myanmar military. They can be made aware of how dire the situation in Myanmar could become. And at one point, there is a danger that the situation in Myanmar will go entirely out of their hands. Nowadays, military technology has changed a lot. It will never be possible to deal with the new technology with legacy technology. The situation could spiral out of control if some of the US advanced technology being used in Ukraine ends up in the hands of Myanmar's armed groups. So, the Myanmar forces should normalize the situation in their interest.

The International Court of Justice has a provisional judgment on Myanmar. The judgment clearly stated that no further attacks should be waged against the Rohingyas who are in Myanmar. I believe the Myanmar government is aware of this so that no new military attack is carried out on the Rohingyas. It is necessary to start talks with Myanmar as soon as possible. The issue can be taken up on a larger scale and open discussions on the Myanmar issue with China, India, Myanmar, and other regional powers since several shells landed on Bangladesh soil from Myanmar. A few innocent people were injured. And two have already died. Hence, the issue can be raised to the UN for internationalization. Bangladesh needs to take a significant initiative on the Myanmar issue. Bangladesh 20 years ago and today's Bangladesh are not the same thing.

Bangladesh has now become much more important in the international arena. Someone can be given full-time responsibility to work on the Myanmar issue. Admiral Khurshid was tasked with demarcating maritime boundaries with Myanmar and India. Someone can be given the same responsibility on the Myanmar issue. A separate wing may be opened under the Ministry of External Affairs to deal with Myanmar issues, which will highlight Bangladesh's position at different stages. As the foreign minister is so busy with countless issues, it may not be possible for him to focus on a single issue all the time. If a separate division is formed on the Myanmar issue, the issue can be raised at different levels through that division. At the same time, initiatives can be taken to raise the issue in international forums, including the United Nations.

Writer: International Relations Analyst and Professor, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University

Transcribe: M A Khaleque

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