Rohingya crisis: a pragmatic approach for Pakistan

By Sadia Kazmi

The killing of Rohingya Muslims through systemic ethnic cleansing by the state of Myanmar is the most horrific genocide in the history of mankind. In the garb of security operation against the Rohingya militants/insurgents in Rakhine state, the government of Myanmar has carried out the most brutal and disproportionate act of slaughter ever. More than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled the army campaign since August 25 and have escaped to Bangladesh. Despite the recurrent news flash on TV channels and social media handles, the very existence of this humanitarian crisis has been denied by Myanmar’s Security Advisor U Thaung Tun who while addressing the UN Security council stated that “there is no ethnic cleansing and no genocide of Rohingya Muslims”. Even though the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres termed it as the “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare”. However, Myanmar views them as mere allegation and maintains that if at all there is a mass exodus, the reasons behind it is not the crackdown by Myanmar army but the act of terrorism. The security operation as is claimed by Myanmar government, has led to 400 deaths, which are mostly terrorists, belonging to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

However, this doesn’t really explain the satellite images of civilians being viciously murdered. Nor does it change the fact that unarmed civilians are being killed even if it is at the hands of terrorists and the government is not only unable to control the situation but apparently is largely unaware of the whole fiasco. The state Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has been widely criticized for not being able to address the issue adequately. However, at the same time, China extends its support to Myanmar government and expresses the need for strict action against the elements causing unrest for the state. This makes the situation a bit complicated as while on one hand there is a growing international pressure on Myanmar as the United Nations rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated that this is a typical example of “textbook ethnic cleansing”, on the other hand China expresses appreciation and encouragement to Counsellor Kyi. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang supported the state effort to “uphold peace and stability” in Rakhine. A possible reason as to why China has adopted this stance is because Myanmar serves as an important pillar in China’s energy, trade and infrastructure strategy in the Southeast Asian region. Aung Suu Kyi maintains that the army was only doing its “legitimate duty to restore stability” and that the troops were under the orders by the state to “exercise all due restraint and to take full measure to avoid collateral damage”.

While China supports Myanmar government, another country that has been condemning these heinous acts since the beginning is Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the security forces in Myanmar of waging a “Buddhist terror” against the Rohingya Muslim minority and also lamented the failure of international community to lay sanctions against Myanmar. In a recent speech, he lambasted the international community for its biased approach where the “Islamist terror” is quickly denounced unlike the “Christian terror”, “Jewish terror” or the “Buddhist terror”. He also urged Bangladesh to open its borders for the incoming Rohingya refugee and not be worried about the economic burden, as the expenses would be covered by the government of Turkey. With this official stance, Turkey is being hailed as the Human rights hero as well as hero of the Islamic world. In Pakistan, also similar sentiments are being witnessed. Not only rallies and processions have been carried out in solidity with the Rohingya Muslims, but the federal Cabinet passed a resolution against Myanmar for Rohingya genocide. Government of Pakistan officially condemns the cold-blooded and callous genocide of innocent Rohingya Muslims, including women, children and infants, under the direct patronage of state institutions of Myanmar. Indeed, it is the right approach adopted by the government of Pakistan. The resolution echoes the widespread feelings of the whole nation and calls upon the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to take immediate steps to stop the atrocities being committed in Myanmar. Just like Turkey, Pakistan demands the world community to put pressure on Myanmar and also urges the United Nations to take the lead in stopping this genocide.

Some voices inside Pakistan also suggest allowing Rohingya refugees to come into Pakistan. However before actually undertaking this option, this will have to be pragmatically thought out without any emotional traces in the decision. Moreover, for now this hasn’t been officially taken up by the government. Nonetheless this could be considered by keeping certain facts in mind. First, there is no denying the fact that the plight of the refugees is real, not because they are Muslims but most of all because they are humans. Second, Pakistan should first see if it can take more burden on its economy when it is already providing shelter to a large number of Rohingya and Afghan refugees, despite its dwindling economic conditions. Third, if in case more are allowed inside, what strategy should Pakistan adopt to ensure that the downtrodden refugees will not be allowed to be the soft target for the hostile anti-state elements. Pakistan might have to adopt strict measure and set up a camp for the refugees and database with fingerprints for better accountability. Last but not the least, Pakistan should also take into account the propaganda from the Indian side where the attempts are being made to link Pakistan with the chaos in Myanmar.

Indian media and blogs are harping upon a serious negative information about ARSA group and its alleged training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has also been reported in Indian media that Lashker e Tayyaba / Jamat ud Dawa from Pakistan have been operating since several years in Myanmar and are instigating the local Muslim population against the majority Buddhist. Pakistan should not ignore these allegations and give a fitting response. Not just for the sake of counter India’s attempt at maligning Pakistan’s image internationally, but also for the sake of letting the world know the real facts.  Pakistan should also learn from the past experience where it has always rushed to provide shelter to the Muslim brothers and sisters in need whenever required. Apart from the human factor, this has largely proven counterproductive, by increasing the state’s economic burden. Hence it is important that Pakistan adopts a rational approach in sync with its potentialities.

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Sadia Kazmi

Sadia Kazmi works as a Senior Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. She is a PhD candidate at the National Defense University

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