Rohingya jihadi groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba-backed Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) are “the common enemy” of Myanmar, Bangladesh and India, says Hassan Toufique Imam, Political Advisor to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Imam, a civil servant-turned-freedom fighter during the 1971 Liberation War, also says that intelligence reports suggest that Pakistan’s ISI is trying to use the Rohingya issue to create a communal flare-up on the border with Myanmar.
“Bangladesh has zero tolerance against terror. The Hasina government cracked down on and neutralised all rebel groups from India’s northeast who enjoyed sanctuaries in Bangladesh during previous regimes. We will do the same with ARSA and other Rohingya jihadi groups,” Imam, who enjoys cabinet status in Bangladesh and is said to be close to Hasina, said in an interview.
According to Imam, ARSA is said to enjoy close links with Bangladesh Jamaat ul Mujahideen (JMB), the country’s leading Islamist terror group, and with the dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) of Pakistan.
“Pakistan’s ISI has backed Rohingya separatism since 1969 when I was a civil servant in undivided Pakistan and was serving in Chittagong and the Hill Tracts near it. They are again playing the same mischief to seek a new theatre of jihad in a strategic region wedged between South and Southeast Asia, so as to destabilise the Hasina government by creating a crisis on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border,” said Imam.
He said Bangladesh intelligence agencies have reports that the Pakistani spy agency was trying to use the Rohingya crisis to provoke a communal flare-up, possibly during Durga Puja this month.
“We are checking out these reports and an alert has been sounded, so that no untoward incident happens during the Pujas or after,” said the senior Bangladeshi official.
Imam said that Bangladesh has offered Myanmar joint military operations against the Rohingya jihadi groups working at the behest of the ISI.
“We have also offered them joint or coordinated patrolling of the border, but I am really sorry to say Myanmar has not responded,” Imam said.
“The Rohingya problem is both a security problem for us and also India and Myanmar, but more importantly it is a humanitarian problem. So we have opened our doors to the Rohingyas after initial reservations,” said Imam.
Nearly half a million Rohingyas have fled into Bangladesh since the Myanmarese army, known as Tatmadaw, started a massive counter-insurgency campaign targetting not just jihadis but Rohingya civilians.
Human rights groups say hundreds of them have been killed or raped, provoking the exodus into Bangladesh.
Imam said the ARSA struck when the Suu Kyi government had accepted the Kofi Annan report outlining a peace process in Rakhine state and promised to implement it by setting up an inter-ministerial committee.
“ARSA… is part of an emerging jihadi alliance in our part of the world. Much as we sympathise with Rohingya civilians facing Burmese military atrocities, there is no way we can be lax in tackling the terrorists of ARSA, JMB or Indian Mujahideen who seem to be backed by LeT and ISI,” Imam said.
But side by side with this tough approach on terror, Dhaka will also accommodate and look after Rohingyas, he said, calling upon the global community to push Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas and give them a life of dignity and without fear.
“My Prime Minister has said that if we can feed 160 million of our own people, we can feed half a million Rohingyas. It is our Bengali tradition that we share with neighbours in distress whatever little we have. This culture has developed through the huge distress we faced right from the days of the Bengal famine engineered by the British,” he said.
Imam said Europe is “huffing and puffing” over accommodating 100,000 refugees but “poor Bangladesh has already taken in half a million Rohingyas without making a song and dance about it”.
Imam was in Kolkata to address a seminar titled “Bangladesh Today” organised by the local Bangladesh Deputy High Commission.