The Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital Kabul on August 15, shortly after the United States began withdrawing its troops. The recent unrest has prompted anti-Taliban Afghans to flee Kabul, creating a new refugee crisis. Ten to twelve countries have accepted more than a hundred thousand Afghans as refugees, but the refugee crisis is expected to intensify in the coming days. About 2.2 million Afghans have been living in neighbouring countries as refugees for the last few years. On the other hand, many of the countries that have played a silent role since the outbreak of the Rohingya crisis are today expressing grave concerns over Taliban-related security issues. The current Taliban’s diplomatic success with various parties in Doha including Russia, China, Pakistan, and consolidating power in Afghanistan by defeating the Afghan National Army with its military force, both have created new history and new threats in the old form.
To some zealots, the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul may seem like a re-enactment of “conquest of Mecca” by the Prophet Muhammad but to experts, it is a defeat for the United States and its allies. After the British as foreign rulers, the Soviet Union and most recently the United States all had to surrender to the nationalism of Afghan and Taliban. When the then US President Donald Trump announced preparations to leave Afghanistan in 2020, many countries including India were seen investing in Afghanistan without showing foresight on security issues. As a result, about 500 Indian projects worth a total of US$ 3 billion in Afghanistan are in limbo today. Moreover, in the current context, threats to India’s national security continue to be fuelled by the Taliban’s allies and shadow organisations instigated by its two nuclear-armed neighbours. The hasty implementation of the withdrawal of US troops and on the other hand, the meetings and compromises between the US government and the Taliban have made NATO members as well as India, Japan and Thailand skeptical of the US role. Meanwhile, after the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh has been raising the issue of terrorism and other possible security risks in the world court. After the Taliban’s victory, the 1.1 million displaced Rohingya living in Bangladesh could now become a thorn in India and Southeast Asia as a security threat.
On 25 August 2017, about 8 lakh Rohingyas took refuge in Bangladesh to escape genocide and violent persecution by the Myanmar military. Many countries and international organisations came forward with relief and grants, hand in hand with the generosity of Bangladesh. But in the last four years, the international community has not been able to play a significant role in repatriating the Rohingyas to their ancestral homeland of Rakhine. Moreover, the direct support of China and Russia to the Myanmar junta and the silent role of India, Japan and some ASEAN countries is really surprising. Although four resolutions on the Rohingya issue have been raised in the UN General Assembly so far, they have been limited to mere condemnation. For example, at the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations, 130 countries voted in favour of the resolution entitled “Human Rights Situation of Rohingya Muslims and Other Minorities in Myanmar”, while 9 countries voted against and 26 abstained (including India, Japan, Singapore and Thailand). Many countries in the Asian region have been ignoring the security risks posed by the Rohingya crisis in pursuit of their own commercial interests.
Although the activities of the terrorist group ARSA have not been noticed for the time being, its involvement with Al-Qaeda, IS, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Indian Mujahideen cannot be ruled out. Who will guarantee that a section of the 1.1 million Rohingyas living in an uncertain future in Bangladesh will not join any jihadi group? In the last half of 2020, a new Rakhine based jihadist group called Qatibah Al-Mahdi Fi Bilad Al Arakan (Al-Mahdi Brigade in Arakan State) launched an online campaign calling on Muslims in Asia including India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to wage jihad on behalf of the Rohingya. The victory of the Taliban will give psychological impetus to such jihadist organisations which will increase the security risks in Asia and the world.
India has abstained from voting on every resolution brought to the UN on the Rohingya crisis, citing geo-strategic reasons. It even tried to deport the only 40,000 Rohingyas who were staying in its country illegally to Bangladesh and Myanmar as a threat to its national security. But India is not looking at the possible threat to the 1.1 million Rohingyas living in Bangladesh near the Indian border. Although some call it an internal matter of Bangladesh, history testifies that terrorism has never obeyed geographical or state boundaries. Following the fall of the Afghan government, the future activities of extremist organisations such as the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are being discussed and analysed at all levels in India. The Taliban have already announced that they will have their own position on Kashmir, mocking India’s military involvement in Afghanistan. One of the sources of recruitment for these organizations is the frustrated and disadvantaged people like the Rohingyas. And the possibility of targeting the Arakan Army as well as the Rohingya as part of an international conspiracy to thwart Indian investment worth about US$ 500 million in Myanmar’s Rakhine state cannot be ruled out.
The term “security” is important both literally and practically along with `Human Rights’ and `Investment’. Countries such as India, Japan, Singapore and Thailand have so far avoided the responsibility regarding the deplorable human rights condition of Rohingyas and also the regional security issues by emphasising commercial investment in Myanmar. Myanmar’s military, which has long robbed the lives and rights of the Rohingya, is now wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary Myanmar people by staging a military coup on February 1. However, many countries driven by short-term interest are doing business with the so-called caretaker government formed by this military force. How many more human rights violations by Myanmar’s military will awaken the conscience of world?
The current situation in Afghanistan could be an instructive chapter in reshaping future security issues. Bangladesh has always expected a strong role from ASEAN, India and Japan in resolving the ‘Rohingya crisis’ through Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar. Bangladesh has sided with India in dismantling the activities of separatist organisations like ULFA to maintain peace and stability in its ally India and its northeast. Now India should also play a leading role in resolving the Rohingya crisis in the interest of its own and regional security alongside its all-time tested friend Bangladesh. Above all, ASEAN countries as well as India and Japan should take the lead in creating a democratic environment in Myanmar to keep their investment in Myanmar dynamic. They should also take immediate action to establish equal rights for all citizens of Myanmar including the Rohingya sin order to mitigate potential security risks. It remains to be seen what steps these regional powers will take in the wake of the Afghan and Rohingya crises for the future security and stability of South and Southeast Asia.
—The writer is a Bangladesh-based independent researcher and freelance writer. The views expressed are personal. [email protected]