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World must act now to stop genocide of Rohingya Muslims

26th Oct 2017
World must act now to stop genocide of Rohingya Muslims

Rohingya Muslim refugees flee from  Myanmar from soldiers cross-border in Palongkhali of Coxs Bazar in Bangladesh (Photo: Stringer/AA)

Anar Bata & Rumman Ahmed

Recent tragic and barbaric events in Myanmar revolving around the violent persecution of the Rohingya Muslims have led to much outcry amongst people around the world, with little to no reaction from the governments of these nations.

The US, along with neighbouring states, China and India, has said nothing in effect to condemn the leadership of Myanmar, most likely due to their competing interests to maintain influence in the region. Following the transition to democracy in Burma, the US re-established diplomatic and aid relations with the nation in 2012.

While America’s stated interest is to support the spread of democracy within the country, it is also clear that the US’s actions are motivated by the desire to contain China’s growing sphere of influence within South and East Asia regions, especially trying to undermine China’s Belt and Roads Initiative which includes both Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Prior to democratisation, Myanmar remained entirely dependent on China as its only ally but has now been accepting assistance from various other states, including the US and more recently military weapons from Russia.

The Obama Administration appeared to be very much interested in establishing a strong American presence in the country, sending the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to visit the nation in 2011, the first secretary of state to do so in over fifty years.

President Trump, however, appears to be indifferent regarding the foreign relations of the region, leaving a gap in assistance to Myanmar, which is certain to be filled by China, Russia, India, Japan and others.

China’s proximity to the state, as well as its investments and relations with various rebel groups, will allow for the continuation of Chinese influence over the region (as it also had done so historically), and it is in an easier position to guide the current peace talks between the Government and insurgent groups.

Myanmar’s other neighbour, India, may also wish to contain China’s influence over the state, due to fears that this could lead to a more pervasive Chinese presence in other parts of South Asia, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka all of whom are SAARC countries.

The country remains a top priority for India’s Act East policy, an effort to establish stronger relationships with India’s East Asian neighbours, but has so far not engaged with Myanmar to the same degree as China had done in the past 30 years.

China remains the largest foreign investor in the country and has been an active agent in organizing the peace negotiations between the Myanmar Government and rebel groups.

It is likely Myanmar will continue to rely on its Chinese ally, as Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the Government, has twice visited Beijing, but did not accept US Secretary of State Tillerson’s invitation to meet.

While the US, China and India have urged for peace in the region, they have not criticised or condemned the Government of Myanmar, and have instead urged for communication between the opposing parties.

The geopolitics of the region is likely to have further ramifications as the US, China, India, and now Russia too, continue to compete for influence over the already contested Myanmar.

For Bangladesh, it is probably the biggest diplomatic challenge in its 46 years of existence. Though it has ever increasing closer economic and military relations with China in this issue China has given its full backing to Myanmar and counselled Bangladesh to have patience, though to what end it is not yet clear either to the people or the Government of Bangladesh.

For China too it is a crucial moral challenge whether it is going to let pass what by international reckoning is considered to be a genocide and ethnic cleansing of the entire Rohingya nation who have been settled in the historic Arakan (now renamed Rakhine) State for over 500 years ever since the Arab seafaring traders ventured into this region. As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said it is the Myanmar who came to the Rohingyas by conquering their land since the Rohingyas were already well settled in this region before the Myanmar invasion of their land.

If China aspires to be the 21st century global superpower then it has to be seen to be doing the ethical thing and use its undeniable influence over the Myanmar Army to immediately stop the ethnic cleansing and all the attendant violence, killings and rapes, and persuade the Myanmar Government to fully implement the Kofi Anan Commission Report recommendations as the Commission was actually appointed by Aung Suu Kyi herself. Suu Kyi needs to confront both her military generals and the Buddhist hate mongering nationalist extremists in her own country. There is no space for religious intolerance in an evolving democracy in today’s world. If Suu Kyi fails to do so then she will lose all moral legitimacy in the eyes of the world.

The Rohingya issue will define the contours of the region’s geopolitics in the years to come. A historic injustice and wrong will always have a payback time. That is the lesson of history. Hopefully, wiser counsel will prevail in the policy-making circles of the US, India, China and Russia. Especially the latter two as they have been the main obstructionists in the UN Security Council deliberations over the Rohingya issue. The Security Council should immediately instruct the Secretary-General, Antonio Gutierres, to both visit Bangladesh and Myanmar on a fact-finding mission and report back to the Security Council within the next month and then find a permanent resolution to this festering crisis.

The OIC countries too need to get their act together. So far, apart from Turkey, Iran and Malaysia, all others have been quiet to the consternation of the fellow Muslims. The 57 OIC countries need to put their collective weight behind Bangladesh in its hour of need. The lack of leadership in the OIC is palpable.

Bangladesh needs more help and assistance on all fronts and from all countries to overcome this geopolitical crisis at whose roots lie the economic exploitation of Rakhine’s huge deposits of minerals and other natural wealth, and its accessibility to the Bay of Bengal and the southern India Ocean which is the lifeline of China’s economic growth and development and its dream of becoming a global superpower. The world must ensure that the Rohingyas are not the price for this dream. One’s dream can be someone else’s nightmare. The world’s conscience must stop this from happening to the Rohingya Muslims.

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