One of the worst terror attacks in Myanmar’s recent history was blamed on a group led by a man trained in Pakistan but tackling terrorism cannot be only about isolating organisations or nations, the country’s de-facto ruler Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday.
The world community needs to isolate terror itself and focus on the reasons why people resort to terrorism, Suu Kyi, who is Myanmar’s State Counsellor and foreign minister, told Hindustan Times.
Her remarks came against the backdrop of India’s campaign to isolate Pakistan over using cross-border terrorism as a policy, an issue which figured prominently at the BRICS Summit and meeting of Bimstec leaders in Goa that was attended by Suu Kyi.
“Terrorism is rife all over the world, so I think it’s terrorism we need to isolate and to eliminate. I do not like to think in terms of individuals or organisations or countries, although these come into the equation as well,” she said in response to a question about New Delhi’s drive to isolate Islamabad for sponsoring terror.
“Basically what we’re trying to get rid of is terrorism, the use of terror to achieve one’s ends… I’m certainly not in favour of violence, let alone terrorism and I think we all need to work together to find the answer to why people resort to terrorism. What is it about, it’s not as easy as some people think it is, people resort to terror because they like terror – no, it’s not like that,” she said in her measured response.
Suu Kyi acknowledged that two men handed over by Bangladesh in connection with the October 9 terror attack on three police facilities in the restive Rakhine state had said the strikes were “organised by a man who had received six months training in…Pakistan”. But she sounded a note of caution about apportioning blame.
“We don’t know the full details, we don’t know when those six months were. And we are also told he had been receiving funding from various Islamic countries. That is just information from just one source, we can’t take it for granted that it’s absolutely correct,” she said.
A statement issued by the Myanmar President’s Office on October 13 said the attacks were carried out by Aqa Mul Mujahidin, which is linked to the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation. The leader of the group was identified as Havistoohar, an extremist who attended a “six-month Taliban training course in Pakistan”. Nine Myanmarese policemen were killed and 64 weapons looted during the attacks.
Suu Kyi defended her government’s handling of the issue of Rohingyas, saying it was working on both national reconciliation and reconciliation between different communities in Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh.
Deflecting criticism of reports that the Myanmar government had advised the US envoy against using the term Rohingyas, she said: “These terms had increased the gap between the two communities (Muslims and Buddhists). The Rakhines insist on referring to the Muslims as Bengalis, and the Muslims, but not all the Muslims, some Muslims say they must all be referred to as Rohingyas.
“It’s not since we came to government, even before when we were in opposition, our principle was that we always refer to the Muslims of Rakhine state because we are not going to take sides. We do not see the point in using terms that only inflame people…,” she said.
“We think that saying Muslims in the Rakhine state is a factual (position).”
Suu Kyi said countries such as Bangladesh could have a role in addressing the Rohingya issue, but solely from a security perspective. “Bangladesh has been very cooperative…they have given us information when there was an attack looming and we were able to make necessary preparations,” she said.
She also rejected the perception she had tilted towards China because of India’s prolonged engagement with the military junta, saying: “We must keep a very healthy balance because after all, both of you are our neighbours and we have been very successful in maintaining a neutral foreign policy.”
She added, “We want to keep on good terms with all our neighbours. I keep repeating it like a mantra: You can’t move away from your neighbours, you might just as well get on with all of them. You can’t change (your neighbours) so you’ve got to make the best of it.”
Myanmar looks at India as the strongest democracy in the region and wants it “to support and understand us in the challenges that we have to face in trying to make the democratic culture take root in our country”, Suu Kyi said.
“I hope…India will be most sympathethic to our efforts to make democracy take root, it’s very difficult because we are dealing with a situation which has been in effect for more than half a century. We want to change it and we want to change it as quickly as possible but you don’t want to overdo your speed.”
India, she said, could play a role in developing Myanmar’s rural economy, which supports 70% of the population. “This is an area where we need to create jobs, where we need to give the people hope, where there needs to be visible progress in the shortest time possible and we hope that India will be able to help us,” she said.
Here too she sounded a note of caution over opening up Myanmar to India’s northeastern states, saying connectivity leads to more trade but also “brings its own problems as well because there is also the import of elements which are not always positive”.