In her address to the 72nd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “I have come here with a heavy heart...after seeing the hungry, distressed and desperate Rohingyas from Myanmar, who took shelter in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.” With those words, the PM wasn't just expressing her own disappointment to the UNGA, but rather, one that is shared by most Bangladeshis in respect to the tragic plight of the Rohingyas and the inaction of the international community in the face of it.
This is because unlike the rest of the world, Bangladesh isn't only just beginning to take notice of their misery now, but has had to bear witness to it for much longer. Its citizens, having suffered unspeakable brutality at the hands of the Pakistani army, are themselves no strangers to the level of cruelty that forces people to flee their homes in fear of being killed, or of having to suffer much worse. And they can, thus, imagine more easily the true extent of helplessness that the Rohingyas are experiencing, which the international community had largely remained oblivious to until recently.
But that and humanitarian reasons aside, pragmatic reasons too force Bangladesh to seek a quick end to the violence and, most importantly, ensure that it does not escalate any further. The economic and administrative costs associated with handling such a large-scale crisis (nearly singlehandedly) have already taken a toll on Bangladesh (showing no signs of subsiding anytime soon). Then there are socioeconomic costs that must be considered, along with various other security concerns.
Some of these were mentioned by the PM's political adviser, HT Imam, in an interview with WION's Saad Hammadi, where he mentioned the increased likelihood of “safe” havens “for arms, ammunition, drugs...and also human trafficking” popping up, amidst the chaotic movement of people across border areas. Additionally, wherever there is the movement of drugs and armaments, the one major concern that always comes along, which Bangladesh must remain most vigilant about, is that of terror financing and extremism.
Even HT Imam mentioned this, when he explained how the Rohingya Liberation Front and the Rohingya Liberation Army were created a long time ago, with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) being “deeply involved and with funding from abroad”. This view, it is important to mention, was even confirmed by former Pakistani Ambassador to Myanmar, Kamruddin Ahmad, in his diplomatic memoir.
It is a concern not restricted to Bangladesh alone, however, but applies to the region as a whole. Which is what makes India and China's lack of action and involvement on the matter all the more surprising. China, to the surprise of some, had even vetoed a UN Security Council statement condemning the Myanmar government and its actions, along with Russia. Their reasoning being that it is an internal issue of Myanmar and that they have not seen any evidence to suggest that Myanmar is carrying out an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingyas. Such a stance has been a major disappointment for Bangladesh. One, because although it is quite often the case that countries nowadays unjustifiably interfere in the internal affairs of others, causing major blowbacks that make things worse, it is difficult to justify, in this case, how this is only an internal affair of Myanmar.
This is because the violence that is forcing refugees to flee to Bangladesh is having a major effect on it as well. Isn't Myanmar supposed to take any responsibility for that? And what about the cost being inflicted upon Bangladesh? Why should Bangladesh have to foot the bill when it is the Myanmar government that has failed to maintain peace on its own territory and is forcing its own citizens to flee here?
If Russia and China have doubts as to the authenticity of the accusations that have been made against the Myanmar government, why not conduct their own independent investigations? In regards to Syria, which has been the victim of the worst conflict of the 21st century, Russia had constantly asked for investigations and political dialogue in the past. And that has actually worked. Instead of escalating the violence (when it could have a number of times) in Syria, the Russian initiative has now helped to nearly end that conflict, allowing for hundreds of thousands of Syrians to return to their homeland.
China too has done the same in regards to North Korea where, instead of increasing tensions, China has repeatedly called for dialogue and restraint. Thus, why not do the same in Myanmar, after conducting their own independent investigations? Of course, let us not forget that the Myanmar government had vehemently opposed investigations on its territory in the past.
Given, however, the amount of economic leverage China has over Myanmar, there is no reason why China cannot negotiate with Myanmar on this front, especially because it has very large investments in Rakhine, which would surely be badly affected, should things deteriorate any further.
India too should have the same concerns. Granted that it does not have as much investment in Myanmar as China; the mere fact that any form of violence in Myanmar threatens the Bangladesh-China-Myanmar-India economic corridor and poses a real threat of increased extremism and destabilisation in the region should be enough for India to take the matter seriously.
And this is where Bangladesh should focus its diplomatic efforts—to bring China and Russia on board in trying to convince the Myanmar government to end all violence as soon as possible, and with the help of regional players like India and China, to try to find an immediate political settlement to the crisis. Keeping in mind PM Sheikh Hasina's five proposals to the UNGA, which were: i) “Myanmar must unconditionally stop the violence and the practice of ethnic cleansing in the Rakhine State immediately and forever”; ii) The “Secretary General of the UN should send a 'fact-finding' mission to Myanmar”; iii) “All civilians, irrespective of religion and ethnicity must be protected in Myanmar”; iv) All sides will “ensure sustainable return of all forcibly displaced Rohingyas in Bangladesh to their homes in Myanmar”; and v) “The recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission Report must be immediately implemented, unconditionally and in its entirety.”
These are all reasonable demands which the Myanmar government, if it is indeed sincere in regards to ending the violence, can and should, agree to.
Eresh Omar Jamal is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.