Bangladesh is reeling under a catastrophic Rohingya crisis since last September when a new exodus of Rohingya population began from neighbouring State of Arakan in Myanmar because of the reign of terror and genocide let loose by the Myanmar Army, a section of blood seeking Buddhist monks and vigilant armed thugs. The Rohingyas who have lived in the Arakan province since the 8th century are not considered to be Burmese (citizens of Myanmar) under a draconian citizenship law enacted in 1982.
The Myanmar government considers them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh which is never supported by any document or history and in fact Arakan was never a part of Myanmar. It was an independent kingdom and greater Chittagong formed an important part of Arakan kingdom. Arakan was annexed by the British in 1852 and in 1948 when Burma was granted independence Arakan was given away to Burma, now Myanmar. The Arakanese people, mostly Muslims by faith wanted to join East Pakistan in 1946 but Jinnah never took it seriously. If Jinnah had some farsightedness history of this part of the world would have been totally different.
From the very beginning of independent Burma the rulers followed a policy of Burmanization, Burma for Burmans, essentially Buddhist, in disguise a theocratic state. But Aung San, the father of the Nation of the Independent Burma and father of the current State Counsellor and de facto leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi was a man of wider perception and tolerance unlike his daughter and fought for the independence of Burma alongside with many of his Muslim colleagues. The intolerant Burmese never endorsed the views of Aung San and on July 19, 1947 just before Burma was granted independence was assassinated by his political rivals along with his political colleagues that included few Muslims. Burma’s political history is full of intrigue, conspiracy and assassination and the military always had the last say in the running the state. In 1962 the military took over the country and for next fifty years till 2011 it ruled the country and made it one of the most corrupt, backward looking and fearful state in the region. Before the military take over Burma was economically prosperous and socially advanced. Fifty years of military rule just ruined the country. When Aung San’s youngest daughter Aung San Su Kyi returned to Yangon (Rangoon) in 1988 to visit her ailing mother Burma was going through a movement of restoration of democracy. But the movement lacked competent leadership and she was asked to lead the movement, capitalising her late father’s image. Initially though she was reluctant she agreed and formed her own party National League for Democracy (NLD). But due to the ruthless suppression of the movement by the military junta democracy remained farfetched and Aung San Suu Kyi was interned till 2010. Before 1988 not many people in Myanmar would have heard the name of Aung San Suu Kyi. It is just sheer luck that Aung San Suu Kyi, a lady who has been considered as the only hope of democracy in Myanmar, was made a national leader and even managed to become a Nobel Laureate. Now the same Aung San Suu Kyi is presiding over one of the most atrocious genocide and ethnic cleansing of 21st century. Though her party came out as a majority organisation in the national parliamentary election in 2015, Suu Kyi – because of her being married to a foreigner – can never become a head of government or head of state under the present constitution framed by the military junta. However a new position, akin to a Prime Minister, called State Counsellor has been created for Aung San Suu Kyi though the actual power lies with the military.
The military decided to fully execute the Burmanization policy and decided that the entire Arakan province must be forcefully vacated and as most of the inhabitants of the province happens to be Muslims they are the main victims of this policy though people of other faiths have also been affected. The original ethnic cleansing began in 1978 followed by another one in 1992 but the current exodus of Rohingyas from Arakan is unprecedented. How many Rohingyas have crossed into Bangladesh is anybody’s guess but the rough estimate puts it into at least six hundred thousand and with the high birth rate amongst the Rohingya population the number of Rohingyas in Bangladesh keeps on growing in geometric proportion. The average family has six to seven children and there are many families with twelve to fourteen children. Since the influx of new Rohingyas began at lease seventeen thousand babies were born in the camps in Ukhiya, Teknaf and Kutupalong.
The Bangladesh government, especially its Prime Minister Sk. Hasina have to some extent stunned the world leaders with her generosity of receiving these unwanted guests from across the border on humanitarian grounds but the capacity of Bangladesh with its limited resources have crossed the limits. Earlier Aung San Suu Kyi on her own formed a Commission with former UN Chief Kofi Anan as its Chief and the Annan Commission in its report clearly stated that to expedite normalcy in Arakan all displaced inhabitants must be reinstated and their citizenship restored. Prime Minister Sk. Hasina in her address at the United Nations General Assembly clearly stated that any normalcy to return to Arakan the Anan Commission recommendation must be implemented and all Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, including those living since 1978 must be taken back to their own country Myanmar with full citizenship and other rights enjoyed by citizens of any free country. Sk. Hasina’s appeal was well received by world leaders and governments, except China, India and Russia. All these countries have large economic stakes in Arakan. But with successful diplomacy of Bangladesh, Russia and India shifted their earlier position and asked Myanmar to take back their citizens from Bangladesh. In the meantime UN, EU, IOM, HRW and other international bodies have condemned the atrocities in Myanmar and demanded that all their citizens be taken back without further delay. Bangladesh’s Home Minister visited Myanmar and had talks with Aung San Suu Kyi knowing very well what would be Suu Kyi’s position and response as she is either unwilling or unable to concede to the logical demand of Bangladesh as she constantly looks through the barrel of the guns of the Myanmar Army. She talks about forming a Joint Task Force, taking back refugees who fulfil conditions as per an agreement signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar in 1992 in which it is stated that only those refugees will be repatriated whose identity have been verified by the Myanmar government. This is preposterous as people who left their homestead amidst rape, arson, murder, looting and intimidation will be able to prove their origin to Arakan with proper documentation. Aung San Suu Kyi also talks about a bilateral solution to the problem which is just a hoax. She even audaciously commented on the recent resolutions unanimously adopted by UN Security Council asking Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas from Bangladesh. She commented that such resolution will only make repatriation difficult. Occasionally Myanmar government announces that they will take back 100, 300 refugees back per day to Myanmar after proper verification which is another joke. One may ask why on earth anyone from Bangladesh or elsewhere would want to go to Arakan to live there.
Anything meaningful to happen UN must be involved in the repatriation process and more international pressure mounted on Myanmar.
Though Suu Kyi and her government talks about the 1992 agreement they conveniently forgets the 1978 Agreement signed between the two governments on July 8, 1978 by Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Tabarak Hussain and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Burma U Tin Ohn in which Rohingyas were recognised as lawful citizens of Myanmar. Though Bangladesh pins its hope on good sense of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar government for solving the current crisis the fact seems that the problem is here to stay, Aung San Suu Kyi will remain defiant and in the long run the emerging problems, those involving security, will not be confined within the boundaries of Bangladesh. Aung San Suu Kyi may be a Nobel Laureate, revered by her people and known to the world as a leader who fought for democracy but with her current activities history will remember her as person who lacked vision, vowed only to the comfort of power and could not look beyond the boots of her country’s military. Suu Kyi will remain defiant unless the world leaders and international organisations force her to be more humane and act like a statesman. Sk. Hasina has demonstrated how that can be done and she just has to learn from the leader who is her next door neighbour.
The writer is commentator and an analyst