Zubin Bhatnagar writes: In South Asia, while the growing resurgence of Taliban and an increasing threat of IS in Afghanistan is in sharp focus of global and regional stakeholders; it seems that the rising threat of IS in Bangladesh and the Rohingya crises are not catching the required attention…a cause of concern for India.
Two months prior to the attack on Dhaka restaurant in Bangladesh capital which killed 20 hostages, the responsibility of which was claimed by IS; Stratfor, a global intelligence company based in Austin, Texas, on April 26,2016 had in a report stated that “The Islamic State is expanding its reach around the globe, and its latest focus is on Bangladesh”.[i] Since 2013, there have been a number of incidents in Bangladesh which indicate a groundswell of jihadism. The Bangladeshi government has denied that ISIS was responsible for either of the recent attacks, blaming them on domestic militant groups. But terrorism experts disagree, saying that such groups within Bangladesh are likely to be affiliated with IS or rival organisation al-Qaeda.[ii]
Bangladesh a predominantly Muslim majority country, with the third or fourth largest Muslim population in the world, beset with anti-government sentiment, attracts the IS to test the waters and gauge the reaction it obtains in such a country. It also allows IS to increase its reach to South Asia as it begins to suffer more battlefield losses in its heartland [Iraq and Syria].
Besides IS, Ansar al Islam affiliated with AQIS also poses a potent threat. Members of Ansar al Islam were responsible for the killings of more than a dozen Bangladeshi bloggers and activists since 2013. The group can also exploit the porous Bangladesh-Myanmar border to recruit extremists and direct them to Myanmar to fight against “those who oppress Muslims.” There are about half a million Rohingyas (refugees and illegal immigrants) in Bangladesh who view the fight against Myanmar military as an existential struggle.[iii] Rohingyas, Muslims of the northern part of Rakhine state, see themselves as an indigenous minority of Myanmar, but the Buddhist-dominated government labels them as Bangladeshi migrants. There is a history of restrictions on citizenship, free movement, work opportunities, access to government services and the right to vote on Rohingyas. On the issue, both the Myanmar military and Aung San Suu Kyi, currently in a fragile partnership in Yangon, are on the same page. But events of the past few months indicate the crisis has entered a new phase.[iv]
As far as India, the regional giant is concerned; Rohingya issue is an internal affair of Myanmar. It has maintained a cautious stance; has been receiving Rohingya refugees and allowing them to settle in different parts of the country over the years.
Rohingya issue is very complex. Any solution that treats it as only a Myanmar issue and does not involve Bangladesh will not be acceptable to Yangon regime. Under its neighbourhood first and look East policies, Delhi can ill afford to upset the Myanmar’s new regime. Myanmar assumes a key role for India to connect with Southeast Asia and also deny China access to Bay of Bengal.[v] India has real security interests as well, with Myanmar. India shares a 1643 km long border with Myanmar in four north-eastern states namely, Arunachal (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km) and Mizoram (510 km) with Myanmar’s Sagaing Region and Chin State.
The security threat is however becoming graver as Rohingya radicalisation is now real. International Crisis Group, based on primary research, flagged the emergence of a new insurgent group – Haraqah Al-Yaqin – led by Rohingya emigres in Saudi Arabia, commanded by Rohingyas on ground with international training and abreast with modern guerrilla tactics.[vi] India has already suffered the 2013 Gaya terror attack targeting Buddhists which drew a link with the atrocities against Rohingyas. The security situation in Bangladesh with increasing footprints of IS, other terrorist organisations coupled with the Rohingya issue has to be seen in its full entirety. The emerging challenge poses a severe security threat to the stability in Bangladesh and, in turn, across Assam and Northeast India.
India has to use its good offices with PM Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh and pledge support in its endeavours to counter rise of Islamic radicalisation. As far as Myanmar is concerned, India’s act east policy itself should become a driver to engage with the democratic government in Myanmar along with Bangladesh to resolve the Rohingya issue as it has the portends of destabilising the entire region.