Though Aung San Suu Kyi spoke about the fate of the Rohingyas at last, she addressed the Myanmarese audience which elected her to office rather than her many critics. The plight of the Rohingya is not going away, as their statelessness has led to their being forced to flee their native Rakhine State into refugee camps in Bangladesh. They used to be a Pakistani problem in the days of a united Pakistan, but with the creation of Bangladesh, are not. Yet Pakistan’s National Assembly felt it necessary to pass a resolution supporting the Rohingya, and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi saw fit to mention their plight in his address to the United Nations.
The Rohingya issue is one Pakistan might prefer to keep quiet on, considering that China is a vocal supporter of the Myanmarese government. Myanmar (then Burma) has been friendly with China for more than 50 years. Burma borders China, and its amiable settlement to their border in 1960 contrasts with India’s bellicosity, which led to war in 1962. Therefore, China is backing the Myanmarese government, whatever it might do. Incidentally, China’s cultural ties with Myanmar are with the majority, not the Rohingya.
Moreover, the Rohingya are Muslim, and the Beijing government has got its own problems in Xinjiang with the Muslims there. It may well be that the clash is more an ethnic one, between the Uighur inhabitants and the Han Chinese settlers encouraged by the Beijing government, but the fact that the Uighurs are Muslim and the Han non-Muslim is no help. This clash has helped fuel the rise of the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan, a jihadi group which Pakistan has helped suppress.
Another state which has supported Myanmar is India. It is interesting that both India and China are on the same side in this issue, and Pakistan on the other. The National Assembly and Prime Minister Abbassi are not supporting the Rohingya because they feel for them. They probably do, but that is not the reason for their vocal-ness. It is because of the pressure from the constituents. Whenever the National Assembly, or a provincial assembly, assesses a resolution, it means that the members’ constituents feel strongly about the issue, and they will show their support in order to earn brownie points at election time. With a general election around the corner, members do not want to miss even a half-chance.
The grandstanding by the National Assembly thus becomes more of a relief mechanism than a serious attempt to make the Myanmarese government change its behavior. Indeed, it should be recognized that Aung Suu San Kyi did not support the perpetrators of the atrocities upon the Rohingya people because of any sympathy (though she may have it), but because it was electorally popular. It should be recognized that what is popular can lead to the most horrible results. Hitler is now universally excoriated, but it should not be forgotten that he came to power by winning an election. He was then defeated by military force, which indicates another solution to the Rohingya problem: that of military force.
There is some consternation in the West about the Rohingya issue, not just as a humanitarian crisis, but as a possible source of terrorism. Myanmar may well try to build up support by labelling Rohingya activists as Muslim terrorists, but Western observers fear that another Palestine or Kashmir could be on the world’s hands. It cannot be denied that the creation of Israel, and thus of the Palestinian problem, is one of the primary motivations for 9/11. In Pakistan, the Kashmir issue is a primary motivation for militancy. The West does not need another reason for radicalization.
It should be noted that South East Asia has already got Muslim minorities under pressure, though none of them has caught the imagination of the Muslim world. Because of these minorities, the Muslim-majority South Asian states are provided a source of friction against the non-Muslim states. It might be noted that the Bangsamoro people of Mindanao are in rebellion, to the extent that they are still contesting the town of Marawi. Bangsamoro have been leaving the Philippines for some time, and going across to Sarawak state in Malaysia, which is, along with Indonesia and Brunei, overwhelmingly Muslim. Then there are the Pattanis of Thailand, who are across the border from Rakhine state. The Pattanis are at the moment the most vulnerable to radicalization for this reason, and also because they are ethnically more akin to the Rohingya.
Thus, the Rohingya are ready to capture attention of the Muslim world. It may be argued that they have already done so, and the brutality of the Myanmarese crackdown has already backfired.
The crisis lends support to many theories, none of them complimentary to the non-Muslim world, and whose dismissal as conspiracy theories does not win them much support. The first is the muted response to the atrocities in world capitals. It is almost as if the Myanmarese government is using the respite it has gained from allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to take power after elections, to crack down on the Rohingya. Aung herself has shown, as she did in her recent speech, that she is not willing to use the Rohingya issue for a showdown with the military, and may well share the majoritarian view that the Rohingya are actually Bengalis.
The ‘Bengali’ accusation prevents the Rohingya being citizens or, crucially, having the vote. As Aung was elected, she has no compunction about abandoning the Rohingya in favor of the ethnic Myanmarese, the Bamar people who form 68 percent of the population, and who do have the vote. The distrust of the Rohingya is so strong that the Myanmarese military, which ruled directly from 1962 to 2011, has shared it strongly. The Myanmarese military is still very influential, and is dominated by the Bamar people. The military policy of ‘Burmanisation’ in this country of 135 government-recognized ethnic groups continues, and is a popular one, allowing the demonization of the Rohingya. It should be noted that active persecution of minorities began with the 1962 military coup, with 300,000 people fleeing the country. Even the use of the term ‘ethnic nationality’, rather than ‘ethnic minority’, has not prevented a persecution that led to 200,000 fleeing in 1978, and 250,000 in 1993.
Nothing illustrates better the tyranny of the majority than the plight of the Rohingya. Their ancestors may well have migrated from what is now Bengal, but Bangladesh does not accept them as citizens while India actually supports Myanmar. (That in turn means it is pressing the Bangladeshi government, but that is a whole different story.) Anyhow, the BJP government does not want an influx of Muslims into Bengal. As the Bamar are the majority, their claim that another ethnic group is alien cannot be countered. They have the numbers. They win the elections. They can say that night is day and war is peace if they want to. And that ‘genocide’ is just a word.