Millennium Post

A heavy price to pay

The recent anti-Rohingiya riots in Myanmar have caused considerable disquiet among a section of the Indian Muslims, and the recent riots in the Bodo-dominated areas in Assam have further worsened matters.

Already, one Muslim organisation in Srinagar has demonstrated against the recent attacks on the Rohingiya Muslims in the Rakhine province of Myanmar.

On several websites, Indian minority organisations, calling upon Bangladesh not to turn back fleeing Rohingiyas, have appealed to India to accept them. While the atrocities against the Rohingiyas has become an international issue, analysts feel that India, Bangladesh and Myanmar may come under some diplomatic pressure in the days ahead.

Myanmar has already got considerable flak from the international community for its handling of the anti-Rohingiya riots, which were sparked off by the alleged rape and killing of a woman by three Rohingiya youths on 28 May. During the days that followed, armed groups of attackers targeted Rohingiya homes and people in Rakhine province, killing, looting and setting fire to property. Thousands of scared Rohingiyas, considered stateless in Myanmar, fled to Bangladesh border only to be turned back. Scores of people were killed, while Muslim organisations put the death toll at 150.

There are around 8,00,000 Rohingiyas in Myanmar, whose nationality status along with 134 other tribes, remains undefined officially. An additional 2,50,000 Rohingiyas now live in relief camps in Bangladesh, having fled their country a few years ago after another spate of ethnic violence. Most do not want to return to Myanmar, fearing for their safety. They enjoy refugee status and receive some international help. Locals complain about their behaviour and alleged anti-social activities, near Cox’s bazaar and other areas.

Defending the decision not to help fleeing Rohingiyas, for which the Awami League government faced both domestic and international criticism, foreign minister Dipu Moni had pointed out that the country was already the most densely populated in the world. Already it had sheltered 2,50,000 Rohingiyas, and was simply not in a position to accept yet another fresh wave of humanity. The US government appealed to Bangladesh to reconsider its stand on humanitarian grounds, as did a host of international agencies and civil rights groups.

Myanmar has faced far more pressure from the international community than Bangladesh, primarily for its failure to treat the Rohingiyas humanely. After her initial silence, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi condemned the ethnic violence and called for peace. Many felt the gesture was ‘too little, too late’. President Thein Sein came in for harsher criticism for harping on the ‘stateless’ status of the Rohingiyas.

The Burmese treat the Rohingiyas as Bangladeshis who had settled in their country during the British rule and therefore were not indigenous. Contesting this, Burmese Muslims insist that even the word ‘Rohingiyas’ is derived from ‘Rakhine,’ the province where they live.

However, Myanmar authorities, who have just begun their tryst with democratic Governance, now have weightier matters to contend with than winning semantic debates over the origin of Muslim settlements in their country. Strongly condemning the anti-Muslim violence, the Al Qaeda, in a statement, in the name of an Afghan-based organisation, vowed ‘revenge’ against the Myanmar authorities for their indifference to the innocent riot victims . Earlier, the outlawed organisation had named the US, India and Israel, among others, as ‘enemy’ countries to be targeted for selective terrorist strikes. Myanmar has now been added to the list.

Other Islamic organisations have followed suit. According to US-based analyst Jacob Zenn, the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), the European arm that speaks for Al Qaeda, and two other groups from Lebanon and Indonesia have also threatened to hit back to avenge the atrocities against the Rohingiyas.

Zenn as well as other observers feel that Myanmar, a new entrant to the world democratic order, is fundamentally under- prepared and under-equipped at this point of time to handle such international pressures. There is fear among some observers that there may be pressures building up within Myanmar among political circles, to rethink whether their self-imposed isolation practiced as policy earlier, was preferable.

Bangladesh is equally uncomfortable, having been pilloried at home and abroad for turning its back on the Rohingiyas. As it is, the Awami League Government is engaged in a running battle against Islamic fundamentalists. The army also has conservative pro-Pak officers in its ranks. These elements are critical of the country’s present political direction and its close relations with India. The powerful pro-Jihadi forces have never concealed their antipathy to and distrust of the present dispensation in Bangladesh.

Also, within the ranks of the Al Qaeda and other extremist organisations, depleted as they are, Urdu and Bengali are the most common languages spoken, according to intelligence, which suggests the presence of a strong Bangladesh element.
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