Too many cooks stir­ring Ro­hingya pot

Myan­mar must show the po­lit­i­cal will to solve eth­nic is­sues demo­crat­i­cally. It can take cues from In­dia’s North­east plans

The Hindu Business Line - - THINK - PRATIM RANJAN BOSE AFP

Re­cent de­vel­op­ments in Myan­mar are proof that there is no im­me­di­ate so­lu­tion to the Ro­hingya is­sue. The events also vin­di­cate In­dia’s sup­port to the Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD-led gov­ern­ment in Naypy­itaw — ig­nor­ing pres­sures from key ally Bangladesh, em­pha­sis­ing on the re­turn of the refugees — as part of a long-term strat­egy to gain foothold in Myan­mar, where China holds sig­nif­i­cant clout.

China has a long-stand­ing relationship with the Burmese armed forces, the Tat­madaw, and was a party to the peace process. Bei­jing also has eco­nomic and strate­gic in­ter­est in north­ern Myan­mar’s Kachin State, which didn’t par­tic­i­pate in the peace process ini­ti­ated by the civil­ian gov­ern­ment.

Hasty agree­ment

On Novem­ber 23 — ex­actly three months af­ter the lat­est round of trou­ble broke out in the Rakhine State, dis­plac­ing over six lakh Arakanese Muslims — Myan­mar and Bangladesh en­tered a hastily drawn pre­lim­i­nary agree­ment, at the be­hest of China, for repa­tri­a­tion of refugees from Bangladesh, shut­ting the door to any “third party” in­ter­ven­tion.

This is the third such agree­ment be­tween the two na­tions on refugee repa­tri­a­tion in 40 years. The pre­vi­ous one, in 1992, failed to bring any so­lu­tion as refugees kept com­ing.

The 2017 agree­ment is drawn on the tenets of 1992, which Myan­mar al­ways used in its own favour and, is re­stricted to only those Ro­hingyas dis­placed in the re­cent vi­o­lence. There is no com­mit­ment ei­ther on the part of Myan­mar or China on cru­cial cit­i­zen­ship is­sue or the fate of nearly four lakh Ro­hingyas pushed out to Bangladesh be­tween 1992 and Au­gust 2017.

How­ever, Bangladesh dropped its de­mand for a last­ing so­lu­tion un­der UN su­per­vi­sion that was op­posed by China. “If we two can solve the prob­lem, why do we need a third party?” Bangladeshi Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina re­port­edly said in Dhaka on Novem­ber 26.

De­signed to fail

The prob­lem can­not be re­solved un­less Myan­mar strikes a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion of the cit­i­zen­ship is­sue, created by the mil­i­tary regime. The all-im­por­tant Tat­madaw, which con­trol af­fairs in Rakhine and cit­i­zen­ship is­sues, didn’t show any in­cli­na­tion to change track, till re­cently.

At a sec­re­tary-level bi­lat­eral meet­ing in Naypy­itaw, in Oc­to­ber, the Tat­madaw (con­trol­ling home, de­fence and bor­der af­fairs) didn’t al­low Bangladesh to men­tion the refugee is­sue. The meet­ing went hay­wire as Myan­mar de­cided ev­ery­thing right from agenda to the joint dec­la­ra­tion uni­lat­er­ally.

Did Tat­madaw change its opin­ion af­ter the bi­lat­eral pact? On Novem­ber 24, a day af­ter the bi­lat­eral pact was signed, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping met Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary chief Min Aung Hlaing in Bei­jing.

Ac­cord­ing to Reuters, the army chief claimed on Face­book that they dis­cussed the “pro­mo­tion of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the armed forces of the two coun­tries, the sit­u­a­tion of China stand­ing on Myan­mar’s side at the fore­front of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity re­gard­ing the Rakhine is­sue,” and other is­sues.

It is any­body’s guess where Tat­madaw stands vis-a-vis the gov­ern­ment in the bal­ance power af­ter the agree­ment, and why Ro­hingyas have lit­tle to ex­pect from this deal. As in the past, many may not re­turn to Myan­mar again.

Se­cu­rity will be a ma­jor con­cern The Ro­hingyas flee­ing Myan­mar

for not only Bangladesh but also In­dia that shares a 4,100 km por­ous land bor­der with Bangladesh. In­dia al­ready has 40,000 il­le­gal Ro­hingya im­mi­grants.

Dhaka, it may be re­called, was silent all across in the past, ab­stain­ing dis­cus­sions in the UN on Ro­hingya is­sue, at the be­hest of its mil­i­tary that has a strong bond with China and the largest buyer of Chi­nese mil­i­tary hard­ware. Army-ruled Bangladesh for onethird of the 45-year his­tory and is now a par­al­lel power cen­tre.

In Septem­ber this year Dhaka made a strong pitch against Myan­mar in the UN. The del­uge of refugees had drawn the at­ten­tion of the en­tire world in­clud­ing Asean, Europe and the US.

But China and Rus­sia — per­ma­nent mem­bers on the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil — blocked the way for UN res­o­lu­tion in Ro­hingya’s favour. Hasina may now use that as an ex­cuse for the volte-face. But many in Dhaka be­lieve she com­pro­mised na­tional in­ter­ests to brighten her elec­toral prospects.

Pos­i­tive take­aways for Delhi

Which­ever ver­sion is true, China’s im­age took a ma­jor beat­ing in

Bangladesh, for com­ing to the res­cue of Myan­mar and its anti-Ro­hingya stance. And, that’s a pos­i­tive take­away for In­dia, which be­came ex­tremely un­pop­u­lar in Bangladesh in last three months for its Myan­mar strat­egy.

That’s not the only pos­i­tive take­away. China jumped into ac­tion in re­sponse to the mod­er­a­tion of the US strate­gies along the In­dian line of thought.

Dur­ing his joint press brief­ing with Suu Kyi in Naypy­itaw, on Novem­ber 15, US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son made a de­par­ture from the past and re­posed faith in the civil­ian gov­ern­ment to ad­dress the eth­nic is­sues in Myan­mar and re­minded se­cu­rity forces it was in­cum­bent upon them to “re­spect” the com­mit­ments of the civil­ian gov­ern­ment. Re­al­is­ing that pres­sure is build­ing up on Tat­madaw; China im­me­di­ately swung into ac­tion.

Bei­jing claims it will help re­solve the con­flict through eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of Rakhine and cre­ation of eco­nomic cor­ri­dor to Yun­nan. This has been in the pipe­line. They have a port at Rakhine with pipe­lines to Yun­nan and pro­posed build­ing SEZ.

What goes un­said is Chi­nese projects were fac­ing lo­cal re­sis­tance for in­dis­crim­i­nate land ac­qui­si­tion by the mil­i­tary. And, the Suu Kyi gov­ern­ment was re­sist­ing China’s arm-twist­ing tac­tics like claim over a higher stake on the port than ini­tially agreed. China may just be us­ing the sit­u­a­tion to clear the hur­dles.

The big­ger is­sue is de­vel­op­ment for whom? Rakhine has fer­tile farm­land and 11 lakh Ro­hingyas were the lead­ing agri-com­mu­nity. Of the to­tal four lakh fled to Bangladesh be­tween 1992 and Au­gust 2017.

An­other 1.2 lakh are liv­ing in a camp in Sit­twe since 2012. The rest six lakh have left the coun­try in last three months. And, no one ex­pects all of them to re­turn to the war zone again.

Is China propos­ing de­vel­op­ment for Ro­hingyas or with­out Ro­hingyas? Will Rakhine or Myan­mar be peace­ful with­out Ro­hingyas? On Novem­ber 8, a Rakhine Bud­dhist in­sur­gent group am­bushed on se­cu­rity forces, in Paletwa, killing nearly a dozen. They are wag­ing war against the ma­jor­ity Ba­mar Bud­dhists.

Myan­mar is fac­ing too many mu­tinies from the eth­nic re­li­gious and cul­tural mi­nori­ties spread along the en­tire bor­der re­gion and Ro­hingya con­flict is one of them. But how Myan­mar han­dles Ro­hingya is­sue will de­ter­mine the course of the peace process.

Myan­mar needs the po­lit­i­cal in­tent to solve those con­flicts, they can learn a thing or two from Delhi’s han­dling of eth­nic con­flicts in the North East­ern In­dia.

Pro­tracted di­a­logue re­solved most of the eth­nic con­flicts in the North East­ern In­dia over the last 30 years.

Even those hard­line Naga lead­ers holed up in Myan­mar have grown too old fight, while at­tend­ing end­less meet­ings in Delhi. It is time Myan­mar learnt the art and craft of democ­racy.

Nowhere peo­ple

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