Myanmar–Bangladesh Experts Meeting in Singapore on 14 December 2017
Ambassador Munshi Faiz Ahmad, Chairman, Board of Governors, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and Colonel Sheikh Masud Ahmed, SPP, psc, Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) attended Myanmar–Bangladesh Experts Meeting on 14 December 2017 in Singapore. The meeting was hosted by Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.
The discussions took place between representatives from various organizations/institutions from Myanmar and Bangladesh on the current challenges in bilateral relations and the opportunities for building confidence between the two countries with the goal of strengthening mutual understanding and bilateral cooperation. The participants included representatives from prominent think-tanks, former government officials, academics and civil society of both the Countries. Since the current Rohingya exodus from Myanmar to Bangladesh was the central challenge in Bangladesh- Myanmar relations now, it always remained as the focus of the discussion throughout.
The Salient Aspects of the Meeting
1. All the participants had an open, free and frank discussion on the current situation in Rakhine State of Myanmar. The discussants from Bangladesh highlighted the large scale migration of Rohingya people from the Rakhine State to Bangladesh and its effects on the broader bilateral relation between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Participants from both countries stressed on the current crisis and underscored the importance of addressing the root causes.
2. Trust deficit affecting both bilateral relations as well as relations between the affected communities was identified as important element to be addressed comprehensively. The role of think tanks, research institutions and the media were recognized as important in order to generate common understanding in place of the divergent narratives that are currently contributing to misunderstandings between the two countries and different communities. However, the participants acknowledged the recent diplomatic efforts of both countries and the mutual willingness to continue to engage with each other in promoting friendship, cooperation, inter-communal cohesion and preventing violence. In this regard exposure trips for community leaders were seen as an important instrument in changing negative perceptions of people on the ground and overcoming stereotypes. The need for addressing the negative narrative about the Rohingyas in Myanmar with an alternative and positive narrative was also considered important. The participants agreed that there should be more frequent people-to-people exchanges from both countries including stakeholders like civil society organizations, religious leaders, academics and the media. The same was suggested with regards to exchanges in the security sector including exchanges between military officials, between academics and think tanks considering their role in bridging misunderstanding and generating trust building measures.
3. More specifically, participants underscored the importance of consultation including inter community and inter faith dialogues involving the affected communities, host communities and other relevant groups impacted by recent events. To this end, participants suggested establishing an “Intra- and intercommunity Consultation Mechanism”. The outcomes of consultations could be provided to the respective Governments to inform them on ways to promote inter-communal cohesion as well as to support the bilateral discussions on voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar. Participants supported a facilitation role of international agencies in the process of repatriation of Rohingya people from Bangladesh to Myanmar as well. Participants from Bangladesh emphasized on the need to end the violence and atrocities against the Rohingyas and repeatedly called for ending the crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide immediately as essential for creating the appropriate environment for safe and sustainable return of the Rohingyas to their homes and hearths in full dignity and honour. They also emphasized that restoring the citizenship to the Rohingyas was essential for ensuring a long term, sustainable solution to the crisis.
4. Participants highlighted the need to also look beyond the current crisis in Rakhine State and to make sure that bilateral relation would not only be defined by the developments of the recent months. To further build confidence between the two countries, participants discussed other areas of mutual interest and potential cooperation including issues such as promotion of strengthened economic cooperation through BIMSTEC, BCIM-EC, regional connectivity, addressing drug trafficking, and mitigating the effects of climate change. Opportunities were identified for collaboration and exchanges in disaster preparedness especially drawing on the technical expertise of Bangladesh and the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) in this regard. Improved border crossing arrangements and “border passes” were noted as having the potential to reduce sensitivities and promote positive arrangements around labour migration given increasing economic development and potential for job opportunities on both sides of the border.
The List of Participants
Ambassador Munshi Faiz Ahmad
Chairman, Bangladesh Institute of International Strategic Studies (BIISS)
Colonel Sheikh Masud Ahmed, SPP, psc
Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International Strategic Studies (BIISS)
Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta
Member of the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh and Executive Director Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB)
Mr. Faiz Sobhan
Research Director, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI)
Ambassador Nyunt Maung Shein, Chairman, Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS)
Ambassador Wynn Lwin, Member, Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS)
Mrs. Kyi Kyi Hla, Member, Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS)
Mr. Ko Ko Hlaing, Chairman, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Mr. Nyunt Swe, Commissioner, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC)
Mr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing, Director, Center for Diversity and National Harmony (CDNH)
Ms. Moe Thuzar, Lead Researcher, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)
Ms. Khet Khet Tin, Independent Researcher
Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
Mr. Dennis McNamara, Senior Humanitarian Adviser
Ms. Nilar Oo, Myanmar Deputy Country Representative
Ms. Sarah Dewhurst, Project Manager
Mr. Willem Punt, Project Officer
Ms. Ni Jue, Administrative Officer
Participation in Young Thinkers Conference on “BBIN: Challenges & Opportunities”The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata, India, 8-9 November 2017
Dr Mahfuz Kabir,Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), participated inYoung Thinkers Conference on “BBIN: Challenges & Opportunities” as speaker. The conference was organised jointly byObserver Research Foundation Kolkata Chapter and British Deputy High Commission Kolkata. The objective of the Conference to bring together academics, thinkers, government policymakers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and other related stakeholders from the BBIN countries to address different facets of this sub-regional initiative on three major themes, viz. (a) Connectivity and business opportunities in BBIN; (b) security concerns; and (c) the way ahead building on achievements so far.
Important officials and renowned scholars were present in the programme. They include Dr Alexander Evans, British Deputy High Commissioner to India, Mr Bruce Bucknell, British Deputy High Commissioner, Kolkata; MrToufique Hasan, Deputy High Commissioner. Bangladesh Deputy High Commission, Kolkata;Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, former Indian Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Bangladesh, Rakhahari Chatterjee, Advisor of the Kolkata Chapter of ORF, Sita Basnet, Nepal Consul to Kolkata, Pema Tobgay, the Vice Consul, Royal Bhutan Consulate General, Kolkata;Sanjib Subba, CEO of Nepal Banking Institute; and KhampaTshering, Business Consultant, Bhutan. Scholars, officials and renowned activists participated from the member countries of BBIN.
Dr Kabir made a presentation titled “BBIN and Connectivity-Led Business Opportunities” in the first working session of the Conference on 08 November 2017. He highlighted thatBangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) initiative was mooted to promote trade and business among the collaborating countries in the sub-region. To implement this initiative, it is essential to realise the seamless connectivity especially among the underdeveloped and seemingly disconnected parts of this sub-region. The signing of the historic Motor Vehicle Agreement (BBIN-MVA) gave rise to considerable optimism among its members to enter a comprehensive connectivity regime through road, rail and waterways (both inland waterways and accessing the sea ports by land-locked countries and areas of the sub-region). Subsequently, uncertainty in full implementation due to Bhutan’s pullout has partially faded it’s colourful promise even though there is no last word in geo-politics when the geo-economic interest is involved. Given this context, it is important to comprehend the necessity of the getting the poorly connected parts on board through multi-modal connectivity projects. However, no sub-regional connectivity project has been initiated under BBIN MVA so far even though it is related with the stake of all parties, especially with the Northeast India, Bhutan and Nepal with Bangladesh as an important gateway with the world through sea. Augmented connectivity infrastructure, with access to sea ports, would promote access to Southeast and East Asian markets by the BBIN countries. Keeping in mind these opportunities, private for-profit sector of all members countries should come out with a doable comprehensive multi-modal connectivity proposal within the perimeter and spirit of the MVA.
BIISS Delegation’s Visit to Myanmar on the occasion of MoU signing between BIISS and Myanmar-ISIS on 21 to 23 August 2017.
A delegation of BIISS visited Myanmar from 21 to 23 August 2017 for the purpose of signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and Myanmar Institute of Strategic Studies (Myanmar-ISIS). Members of the delegation were Ambassador Munshi Faiz Ahmad, Chairman, Board of Governors, BIISS, Major General A K M Abdur Rahman, ndc, psc, Director General, BIISS and Abu Salah Md. Yousuf, Senior Research Fellow, BIISS.
On 22 August 2017, Major General A K M Abdur Rahman, ndc, psc, Director General, BIISS and H. E. U Nyunt Maung Shein, Chairman, Myanmar-ISIS, signed the MoU on behalf of their respective organisations. Ambassador Munshi Faiz Ahmad, Chairman, Board of Governors, BIISS, H. E. Mr. Mohammad Sufiur Rahman, Ambassador of Bangladesh to Myanmar, Dennis McNamara, Senior Humanitarian Adviser, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Geneva and high officials of Myanmar-ISIS were present in the occasion.
Before the signing of MoU, Chairman, Myanmar-ISIS, Chairman, Board of Governors, BIISS and Director General, BIISS expressed their views that both organisations can work together to further future relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The organisations can also contribute to promote new ideas for regional cooperation in the areas of security, development, energy and connectivity. They also expressed their gratitude to H. E. Mr. Mohammad Sufiur Rahman and Dennis McNamara for their contribution for making the connection between the organisations, BIISS and Myanmar-ISIS.
H. E. Mr. Mohammad Sufiur Rahman briefly discussed on how Bangladesh values its relations with Myanmar. He hoped that BIISS and Myanmar-ISIS would find out new avenues of cooperation between the countries and collaboration between the organisations would help both the countries to deepen their relations in future.
After the signing of the MoU, both organisations shared their priorities in the research arena and discussed common areas to work together. The Director General of BIISS emphasised that there are huge potentials for energy cooperation between the countries. BIISS and Myanmar-ISIS can take research projects together in this area. He also mentioned that Bangladesh and Myanmar are common members of different regional connectivity initiatives. Hence, BIISS and Myanmar-ISIS can be a platform for discussing this issue. The Chairman of Myanmar-ISIS emphasised that sharing of research data between the countries can enrich the research endeavours of both countries. Ambassador Munshi Faiz Ahmad said that the improving relations between the countries emanate that cooperation between BIISS and Myanmar-ISIS would help policy makers to determine the future destinations of both countries.
At the end, Ambassador Munshi Faiz Ahmad and H. E. U Nyunt Maung Shein thanked the participants and desired that in future both organisations will contribute in the development of bilateral relations between the countries.
Dr. Mohammad Jasim Uddin, Senior Research Fellow, BIISS attended an International Seminar on “Cross Border Connectivity and Inclusive Growth: Possibilities and Challenges with Special Reference to the North Eastern Region”.
Dr. Mohammad Jasim Uddin, Senior Research Fellow, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) attended an International Seminar on “Cross Border Connectivity and Inclusive Growth: Possibilities and Challenges with Special Reference to the North Eastern Region”, organised by Shillong College, Meghalaya, India on 24-25 August 2017. Resource persons from Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and India, including many from the North East India attended the International Seminar and made their presentations. Besides Introductory and Concluding Sessions, there were four Technical/Business Sessions – (a) Historical Linkages of Connectivity between North East and South East Asia: Ongoing Projects and Its Challenges and Opportunities (b) Market Linkages and International Trade (c) Act East Policy: Significance and Impact, and (d) Environmental Impact-Assessment and Socio-Cultural Continuum. In the first Technical Session, Dr. Mohammad Jasim Uddin was the Keynote Presenter. Professor Mahendra P. Lama, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University was the Session Chair.
The International Seminar had an in-depth analysis of opportunities and challenges of trans-border connectivity, inter- and intra- regional trade and business, India’s Act East Policy, environmental and tourism aspects of North East India. Dr. Jasim presented a paper on “BBIN and Sub-Regional Connectivity” that covered a background, development so far made on BBIN connectivity issues, challenges ahead and what to do.
Highlights on BBIN and sub-regional connectivity:
- Ratifying BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) by all members
- Concluding a comprehensive transport agreement (including transit and vehicle agreements, shipping and air transport agreements)
- Identifying routes (e.g. having cargo trial run from Bhutan or Nepal to Bangladesh and then to India) and mutual consent on the routes by all members
- Harmonising fees, charges and taxes
- Immediately undertaking some early harvest projects
- (a) Upgrading sections to provide landlocked countries immediate access to nearest seaports and improving substandard sections
- (b) Improving roadside amenities and warehouses
- (c) Some road stretches to have concurrent development on both sides of the border
- (d) Introducing electronic data management system and screening
- (e) Introducing GPS-enabled transport vehicles and biometrics for transport licenses
BIISS Delegation Visit to CIISS, China
Major General AKM Abdur Rahman, ndc, psc, Director General, along with 5 member delegation from Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) visited China from 17th to 21st July, 2017 on the invitation of China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS). The visit was in accordance with the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two institutions. The delegation includes Dr. Mohammad Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director; Mr. Ashique Rahman, Research Fellow; Mr. A.S.M. Tarek Hassan Semul, Research Officer, Ms. Shanjida Shahab Uddin, Research Officer and Major Md. Khurshidul Islam, SUP, psc, Deputy Director.
Major General Rahman and his team took part in a day long dialogue at CIISS Headquarters, Beijing. CIISS delegation was led by Major General (Retd.) Xu Nanfeng, Vice Chairman, CIISS. The Dialogue had three sessions. In the Dialogue, various important issues related to potential Bangladesh-China Cooperation was discussed. The Discussion included regional connectivity initiatives such as, Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) previously known as One Belt One Road (OBOR), Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC); Bangladesh-China Cooperation in Couterterrorism effort as well as trade, commerce and investment opportunities. The topic of discussion also included energy, research and technology transfer, and infrastructural development.
The Dialogue ended with the commitment of intimate institutional cooperation to engage in joint research collaboration, exchange of delegation visits, joint fellowship programme and joint organisation of conferences. The visit had enormous achievements in terms of Track-II initiatives to strengthen Bangladesh-China bilateral relations.
The delegation also visited Peacekeeping Center in Beijing, a facility for international exchanges in peacekeeping including international conferences and training the peacekeepers from home and abroad. During the visit to the Centre, Senior Colonel Zhou Zhe, Deputy Director of the Centre gave a short appraisal where possible institutional collaboration on peacekeeping and peacebuilding was also discussed. General Rahman emphasised on stronger Bangladesh-China cooperation in UN peacekeeping operations in terms of civilian engagement as well as training/expertise sharing between the two countries. He also mentioned Bangladesh Government’s initiative on building the Bangladesh Peacebuilding Centre (BPC) to bolster the global peace efforts. General Rahman and the BIISS delegation also visited various training facilities of the Centre, which was significant for future references.
The Peacekeeping Center, China offers training facilities for developing peacekeeping skills, including simulated UN peacekeeping camps and de-mining training grounds as well as swimming and driving facilities.
As part of the visit, the BIISS delegation visited few historical landmarks in China, which includes Yuexiu Park, Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family and Shamian Island.
Dr Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), attended "South Asia Trade and Integration Conference" in World Bank, Washington DC on 28 June 2017
Dr Mahfuz Kabir attended “South Asia Trade and Integration Conference” in World Bank Headquarters in Washington DC on 28 June 2017. The conference was sponsored by the World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, the South Asia Region, as well as the Development Economics Vice Presidency, Trade Team of the World Bank. The conference focused on, among others, policy, institutional and infrastructural barriers in increasing intra-South Asian trade flow; how to strengthen the value chains in textiles and clothing within the region and between South Asia and the world; problems of trade negotiations, SAFTA, intra-regional tariff and non-tariff barriers; and how to utilise the potential of South Asia through increasing trade and investment.In the conference, Dr Kabir explained the issues of Bangladesh’s trade and economic integration with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka through strengthening value chain in textiles and clothing (T&C) in which Bangladesh has achieved strong comparative advantage as downstream country. He shared his thoughts on Bangladesh’s regional trade in T&C with India in the context of regional value chain and how to smoothen the value chain for deriving maximum benefit for Bangladesh. Dr Kabir also interacted with some of the top international experts of international trade, such as Uri Dadush (Bruegel, Washington, DC), Caroline Freund (Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington, DC) and Will Martin (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC). Among others, Muhammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, Alternative Executive Director of World Bank Headquarters for Bangladesh;Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist and Coordinator, Regional Integration, South Asia, Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice; Shanta Devarajan, Chief Economist, MENA region, and Senior Director, Development Economics; Michael Ferrantino, Lead Economist, World Bank; andMarinosTsigas, Lead Economist, United States International Trade Commission were present in the conference.
Participation in the National Conference on “Advancing the BBIN Sub regional Cooperation” at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, May 2017
Dr. Shaheen Afroze, Research Director, BIISS participated in the National Conference on “Advancing the BBIN Sub regional Cooperation” at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi on the 04-05 May 2017 organised by Delhi Policy Group (DPG) in collaboration with the Asia Foundation. The participants of this Conference came from Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Dr. Shaheen Afroze was invited in the conference as speaker at the two sessions: Energy, Hydropower and Water Resource Management and People to People Connectivity Issues.
On Day 1 (04 May 2017) there was an interactive session where the participants discussed, deliberated and came up with concrete solutions, outcomes and recommendations to solve the real issues within the BBIN Framework and advance the sub-regional cooperation. The purpose of this session was to encourage greater levels of interactions among the participants that will lead to the formation of BBIN Core Group which will continue to forward ideas to the Track 1 level officials.
On Day 2 (05 May 2017), the core group participants spoke and presented their findings on BBIN related issues to a bigger audience comprising of stakeholders from various sectors including government, academia, think tanks and civil society.
Participation in “Tobacco Control Workshop”, Kathmandu, Nepal
Dr Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, participated in “Tobacco Control Workshop” Organised by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (TFK). It was held in Radisson Hotel,Kathmandu, Nepal on 10 March 2016. The objectives of the programme were to
• Review the law implementation progress on smoke-free provisions, tax, Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship (TAPS) and health warning violations and on smokeless tobacco.
• Review the achievements in Bangladesh and plan for the remainder of the year 2017 with a visionary look towards achieving the government goal of Tobacco Free Bangladesh by 2040 and reducing 30 per cent tobacco consumption by 2025.
• Discuss the progress of institutionalisation of tobacco control law implementation in Bangladesh.
• Highlight the success in regional countries through good practices that include India and Sri Lanka.
• Promote the government officials and activists in Bangladesh to institutionalise the tobacco control according to FCTC and tobacco control act 2013.
Notable participants of the programme were Mr Ruhul Quddus, Joint Secretary and Coordinator, National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC), Government of Bangladesh; Mr SM Ahsanul Aziz and Dr Md. Sarwar Bari, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Bangladesh; Ms Ferdous Rawshon Ara, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Bangladesh; Md. Shaiful Islam, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Public Administration, Government of Bangladesh; Ms Vandana Shah, Director of South Asia, TFK; Ms Jaspreet Kaur Pal,Communications Director, TFK India; and Mr Claudio Tanca, Associate Director of International Communications, TFK.
Dr Kabir I highlighted the following points in the programme:
• The tobacco control act 2013 is a commendable initiative by the Government of Bangladesh. However, the tax and price measures taken by the Government are not as per the Act because the pledges made in the FCTC regarding the price and tax measures have not been reflected in the Act. Indeed, the Act does not reflect all the clauses of the FCTC. Therefore, the Act should be revised in order to incorporate at least the price and tax measures to reduce tobacco use and incidence of tobacco related non-traditional security threats.
• The government has been receiving increasingly higher revenue through raising tobacco tax and prices except the year 2012-13. Therefore, the Government has both comfort and apprehension in raising tobacco price and tax. In addition, these measures are ad hoc in nature.
• Global evidence reveals that increasing price of tobacco through tax measures is an effective way to reduce tobacco use and raise government revenue. The increased revenue can be spent on tobacco-related diseases. Therefore, there is need for conducting rigorous quantitative research to understand the trajectories of increasing tobacco tax to reduce tobacco use and increase government revenue in Bangladesh.