Rohingya crisis needs deft diplomacy, national unity

Syed Abul Maksud | Update:

Syed Abul Maksud. A Prothom Alo illustrationWhen disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, the only way out is unity among the people of the nation, regardless of religion, race, political affiliation or views. Multiparty democracy is bound to have different views, but that is no obstacle to collaborating during times of distress.

It was such unity that accelerated the struggle for independence in 1971. There was help from the outside world, but nothing would have been achieved without the people’s unity. It is not possible for the ruling party alone to safeguard independence, ensure socio-economic development and establish a peaceful state. Cooperation is needed from people and institutions outside of the government too. And those in power must ensure that an environment is in place for this.

While things may be peaceful in the country, the people are not free of apprehensions. The people are not clear about Bangladesh’s stance when it comes to international and regional geostrategic equations. The rhetoric spewed out by the TV talk show speakers has little impact on the people. The people are not duped by the leaders. They have their own analytical powers to discern what is happening around them.

The fiftieth anniversary of independence is not too far away. Down the decades, there have been many achievements. Poverty has been reduced to an extent, but one can’t say that the majority of the people are faring well.

There are a large number of fortunate people to whom it makes no difference whether they have their original homes or not, because they spend more time in their second or third homes. They have flats or houses in Dhaka, but their permanent abode is elsewhere. They will spend the twilight days of their lives in peace and happiness as ignoble fourth class citizens. There they will live, there they will die, their own country be damned.

But the common people have nowhere to go. That is why the worry is theirs, that is why they are concerned about the condition of the country.

Had the nationalists of the Indian subcontinent not arisen, India and Pakistan would not have won independence in 1947 and Myanmar’s independence would have remained a far cry.

Ever since independence, the people there never saw democracy. It was known as a damaged state and the military juntas there have been oppressing the people for 70 years. But in this world of free market economy, Myanmar has more friends that the struggling Bangladesh. These big countries close their eyes to all the unpardonable crimes and carry on business with Myanmar. In the meantime, Bangladesh’s scope for business is shrinking.

The world rushes after money. Truth, ethics and humanity have taken flight. These are mere words now. There are countries that term the brutality in Myanmar as genocide, but continue to do business with the military of the country. These include UK, Canada, China, Russia, India, both the Koreas, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Israel, Norway, Switzerland, France and others.

Many of these western countries are very vocal when it comes to human rights. Every year they talk about human rights in Bangladesh and our leaders fail to defend themselves.

When a democratic state signs an agreement with another country concerning political matters, outside of trade, commerce or culture, the members of parliament first study the clauses of the agreement. They assess if it has any loopholes or if the country’s interests are being compromised in any manner. The opinion of the opposition members of parliament is also taken into consideration.

The agreement signed happily by the previous foreign minister with Myanmar was not discussed in parliament. Even if it had been discussed, it would not have made any difference as there was no opposition in parliament that would bring up any differing views.

Other than a handful of our leaders, no one expects the Rohingyas to be taken back by those who are trying to get rid of them. Even so, when the government said that 3500 refugees would be taken back on 22 August, the people thought that maybe this would happen. But the Rohingyas would not return without being recognised as citizens. Not only that, two days later hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas held a protest rally in Kutupalong-Madhuchhara. The situation has taken a fresh turn.

Without assessing what difference it would make if a few thousand Rohingyas returned, or didn’t return, the concerned officials have begun making all sorts of statements. It is wrong of them to blame others for their own diplomatic failure. Bangladesh has been praised for providing shelter and security to the Rohingya refugees, but such meaningless rhetoric simply serves to earn condemnation.

It is Myanmar’s responsibility to take back their citizens. Myanmar is Bangladesh’s neighbour. Bangladesh wants to maintain friendly ties. If Myanmar does not value Bangladesh’s policy of peace and its good intentions, they are to blame. Since Myanmar is not a democratic country, their military junta and fanatic Buddhist majority have no qualms to keep up a conflict with Bangladesh. If a few thousand Rohingyas returned this time, then Myanmar could show the UN that they are willing to take them back and the process is on.

Things are getting more complicated. It is not possible to resolve the Rohingya crisis without deft diplomacy and national unity. The global and regional powers are silent spectators for the time being and will eventually try to gain their own interests from both the countries.

America and its allies are not as strongly positioned in Myanmar as they are in Iran and Venezuela. The Rohingya crisis will test the mettle of Bangladesh’s leaders. In the meantime, the citizen’s registration in India’s state of Assam is yet another cause of concern for the people.

* Abul Maksud is a columnist and researcher. This column appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.

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