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Diplomatic rift on Rohingya widens

Diplomatic rift on Rohingya widens
It seems that the reverberation of 'ethnic cleansing' in Myanmar has had a far-reaching impact beyond Naypyidaw. While the Supreme Court Bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra had asked the Indian government, whether India can live up to its international commitments and protect a large section of humanity comprising Rohingya women, children, the sick and the old who are really suffering, this crisis has generated an apparent crack on religious lines among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Supreme Court had also rejected the Centre's claims that the crisis over its move to deport 40,000 Rohingya was not 'justiceable', being outside the domain of the judiciary. On the other hand, Kuala Lumpur's open criticism of Myanmar's treatment towards its Rohingya Muslim minority is indicative of wider regional and communal conflict in the region. Much on expected religious lines, Malaysia disassociated itself from a joint statement issued by the current chairman of Philippines, alleging that it failed to reflect ASEAN's founding principle of consensus. It may be noted that the ASEAN statement expressed support for Myanmar in efforts 'to bring peace, stability, rule of law and to promote harmony and reconciliation between various communities,' and omitted the term "Rohingya" in referring to the persecuted Muslim minority group – in accordance with Naypyidaw's opposition to its use it as an official ethnic-group classification. But for Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak—Myanmar's treatment of the minority community was an 'insult' to Islam. Though Malaysia has given asylum to around 59,000 Rohingya refugees – registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – and has provided generous amounts of humanitarian aid to refugees in Bangladesh, asylum seekers in Malaysia are still considered illegal immigrants under local immigration laws, barring refugees from legal employment, access to state schools and leaving them subject to arrest, detention or deportation. On the other hand, while China and Russia both expressed support for the Myanmar government's stand on the Rohingya crisis, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council, the violence had spiralled into the world's fastest developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare. Corroborating UN accusations that the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Rakhine State was ethnic cleansing, Nikki Haley, US ambassador to UN, also said that they cannot be afraid to call the actions of the Burmese authorities what they are appearing to be – a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority. But, the real significance of the Rohingya minority crisis of Myanmar extends far beyond the two issues currently at the centre of global attention. Yes, it is a humanitarian crisis of huge dimension as well as revealing the fragility of Aung San Suu Kyi's status as a Nobel Peace Prize winner. But what is more alarming is that, unless handled with much greater care than seen till date, this issue will long reverberate through all of Southeast Asia, far beyond Bangladesh. If it remains an exclusively Muslim issue, nobody can deny that it may widen the cracks already appearing in the edifice of the ASEAN. There is hell to pay if reversing history is the silent goal of the Myanmar government. While in the short term it will be agony for the Rohingyas, the long-term would result in a calamity for the people of Myanmar. In this combustible, post-colonial context, it is far from helpful that Malaysia's PM Najib Razak, currently pursued by allegations of a billion-dollar fraud, attempted to burnish his Islamic credentials by sharply criticising Myanmar. Next, Indonesia's effort to try to calm troubled waters by sending its foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, to Naypyidaw, didn't yield anything really useful. So far, both the Muslim Indonesians and the Buddhist Thais have kept their cool. But there is no guarantee that Indonesia's approach can last if atrocities continue. One must remember that anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar has a long history, though the Rohingya issue has a different origin and character from those against other Muslims. Despite ominous considerations, it appears that the de facto goal of the Myanmar government may be to unwind colonial-era population movements with its stance on the Rohingyas. However illogical or disadvantageous those boundaries and migrations may have been to this or that ethnic or religious group, any attempt to reverse history opens up the proverbial Pandora's box. Asian nations – who largely steered clear of reversing the past – may now get into the business of rejecting some population movements that had occurred during colonial times. And, if it is so – they must be prepared for bloodbaths on a horrendous scale. It is time when all of Asia must wake up to the Rohingya crisis as it is not a 'little local difficulty'. To be sure, the ethnic collision in Rakhine is an ongoing threat with a threat of altogether different proportions. The absence of a collective response may fuel further radicalisation, raising the risk of terrorist militants opening a new front in Rakhine.

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