Humanitarian
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M K Bhadrakumar |

The Trump administration is shifting gear on Myanmar. After positioning itself on the “right side of history”, Washington is making the first signs of inserting itself into the Rohingya issue. It is an extraordinary feat by the Trump administration, which has been branded as a bunch of Islamophobes by the world opinion, to take the heights as the champion of a Muslim cause.

A highly fragmented political landscape with over 130 ethnic groups clamouring for autonomy, and, above all, an overbearing military that refuses to return to the barracks and give way to representative rule

On Friday, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement that the US is “deeply troubled” by the crisis in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. “We reiterate our condemnation of those attacks (on security forces) and ensuing violence.” The statement urged the Myanmarese government to allow media access to afflicted areas as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in London on Thursday that Myanmar is facing a “defining moment” and must stop the violence against its ethnic minority Rohingya population. Tillerson said he understood that Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel prize laureate and de facto head of the government in Myanmar, was in a power-sharing agreement with the military and she found herself in a “complex situation”. “I think it is important that the global community speak out in support of what we all know the expectation is for the treatment of people regardless of their ethnicity,” he added. “This violence must stop, this persecution must stop.”

Read more: Delhi feels threatened by hapless Rohingya refugees

Of course, it is a nuanced stance, aimed at securing a toehold in the developing situation in the first instance. But Myanmar government is quite familiar with the US pressure tactic. A senior state department official deputed from Washington, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy will not be given permission to visit the affected region of Maungdaw district in Rakhine state, but could meet government officials in Naypyitaw, and attend an address to the nation which is expected to be delivered by by Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday.

The religious and ethnic conflicts have deep roots in Myanmar’s history and geography, compounded by the forces of globalization and modernization that the country

While highly sensational reports continue to appear in the British media regarding developments in Myanmar, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson gave a balanced account based on information from own sources. Excerpts follow:

  • Tensions have subsided to a certain extent. Since September 7, no major armed clashes have been recorded between the Government troops and the militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army… At present Myanmar’s military transport planes are delivering food, medicines and other humanitarian relief to the Rakhine State. Mobile medical posts are receiving local people; destroyed infrastructure facilities are being restored. Another trip to the north of the Rakhine State has been organized for local and foreign media accredited in the country…
  • Myanmar established a committee headed by Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye, which includes representatives of law enforcement and economic departments (to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.)
  • They will be assisted by relevant local and foreign experts… We (Moscow) note that the Myanmar authorities are helping internally displaced persons to return to the places of their permanent residence. (According to the available information, about 2,000 have already come back home.)… In this context, we paid attention to the collective statement by the leading organizations representing Myanmar’s multi-ethnic Muslim community. They denounced the armed actions of radicals in the Rakhine State and urged their brethren-in-faith not to yield to extremist provocations.

Read more: The disinformation behind linking the Rohingya issue with Pakistan

Spokesperson Maria Zakharova framed the Russian position on these lines:

  • We continue watching the developments in Myanmar’s Rakhine State… On September 13, the UN Security Council members, including Russia, expressed serious concern over the situation in the region. They urged immediate measures to put an end to violence, reduce tensions, restore law and order, guarantee the protection of civilians, reestablish normal socio-economic conditions and resolve the refugee problem in the Rakhine State.
  • We welcome the measures taken by the Myanmar Government to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. .. We support the efforts to develop an inter-religious dialogue with the participation of the spiritual leaders of all religions in Myanmar. It is important to understand that an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state may only further exacerbate religious strife. I would like to emphasize again that we support the efforts to promote in Myanmar inter-religious dialogue involving the spiritual leaders of all religions.

They will be assisted by relevant local and foreign experts… We (Moscow) note that the Myanmar authorities are helping internally displaced persons to return to the places of their permanent residence

Conceivably, the above Russian stance would more or less reflect the thinking in Delhi as well. Quite obviously, the situation in Myanmar cannot be viewed simplistically or through the prism of humanitarian considerations alone. The religious and ethnic conflicts have deep roots in Myanmar’s history and geography, compounded by the forces of globalization and modernization that the country, a traditionally religious country, has had to pass through in a compressed capsule of time.

Read more: “Plight of Myanmars Rohingya’s: Destabilizing Muslim Governments?”

The Western and Islamic world considers what is happening in Myanmar as ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the Rohingya. But when large-scale ethnic conflicts erupt in developing countries, they have a way of spiraling out of control and leading to horrific violence against ethnic minorities, triggering massive internal displacement or flow of refugees fleeing from the violence. Almost all countries in the region have experienced this at one time or another.

Of course, it is a nuanced stance, aimed at securing a toehold in the developing situation in the first instance. But Myanmar government is quite familiar with the US pressure tactic

Equally, Suu Kyi’s reticence in condemning the ‘genocide’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’ needs to be understood in the context of the power calculus in Myanmar where she is under compulsion to balance several countervailing factors – mainstream public opinion imbued with Burman nationalism, a fledgling democracy barely coping with its socio-economic agenda and electoral mandate, a vulnerable legal system, a highly fragmented political landscape with over 130 ethnic groups clamouring for autonomy, and, above all, an overbearing military that refuses to return to the barracks and give way to representative rule.

Read more: Persecution of Rohingya Muslims: Will ASEAN countries find a solution?

To my mind, Suu Kyi’s heart is in the right place alright. Her address to the nation on Tuesday will testify to her deft navigation of the leadership toward a pathway leading ultimately to the assimilation of the Annan recommendations. Read a perspective on Suu Kyi, written with great understanding and empathy by the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – Aung San Suu Kyi Faces An Almost Impossible Dilemma. Don’t Give Up On Her.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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