ARSA common enemy: Bangladesh PM’s adviser

Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Screen grab from Facebook

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army ( ARSA) is a 'common enemy' of Bangladesh and Myanmar, says Hassan Toufiq Imam, political adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

"Bangladesh's present government maintains its policy of zero tolerance when it comes to fighting terrorists. Moreover, those who attacked 30 police stations and army bases are terrorists," he told Mizzima in an exclusive interview.

He said that Bangladesh has dismantled bases of rebels from India's Northeast and deported several top leaders and activists from that region who were sheltered in the country during previous regimes.

"What we have done with rebels from India's Northeast will be done with these terrorists from Myanmar. We will not tolerate their presence and not allow our soil to be used for any mischief in Myanmar," Mr Imam said.

He said after the Aug 24 coordinated attacks in northern Rakhine, Bangladesh offered joint military operations and coordinated joint patrolling of sensitive border stretches.

'But we have got no response from Myanmar for reasons we dont understand. We have excellent security relations with India specially in areas like counter-terrorism," Mr Imam said.

However, he insisted that Myanmar's army needs to be restrained during counter-insurgency operations.

"Go after the terrorists by all means, but not after the Rohingya population, the innocent villagers, because they are your people. Avoid ethnic cleansing," was his advice for the Tatmadaw.

Imam, a Pakistan civil service officer who fought in the Bangladesh Liberation War, has vast experience of counter-insurgency when Bangladesh security forces fought Shanti Bahini rebels in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

"It does not pay in the long run to alienate the whole population because counter-insurgency is all about fighting insurgents and not the people," he said.

Mr Imam said that Bangladesh has taken in nearly half a million Rohingya refugees since the Aug 24 attacks.

"Is that not something the world needs to know! Europe grappled with 100,000 refugees and that made headlines. We have taken in four times more without making a song and dance about it," he said.

However, Imam clarified that while Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina has asked the administration to accept and accomodate the Rohingya refugees for humanitarian reasons, it had 'very good reasons' to hit out at the ARSA terrorists.

Bangladesh intelligence had suggested before that the ARSA enjoyed close links with Bangladesh's leading jihadi group Jamaat ul Mjahideen (JMB) and Paklistan's Lashkar e Tayyaba (LET).

Imam was keen that Myanmar should take back the Rohingyas and allow them to live 'life with dignity' in a democratic federal Myanmar.

"As a neighbour,  we have a vested interest in Myanmar's stability. If Myanmar is disturbed, we are affected," he said. 

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