The unfolding Rohingya tragedy has gone through several manifestations, starting with the sea of desolate humanity entering Bangladesh, to the latest situation where the Pope was on stage in Bangladesh with the persecuted people, listening to their tales of woe.
All through this human catastrophe, what became evident plus perturbing at every step was the assertive presence of realpolitik over simple moral imperative.
Those who were supposed to be blamed unequivocally, were spared while international censure by global leaders often seemed too reserved, covered by layers of appeasing mealy-mouthed rhetoric.
We had a papal visit recently and the breaking news was that the Pope had eventually mentioned the word “Rohingya” in the end.
This he had carefully avoided doing in Myanmar, reportedly, to ensure that the minority Christian community in that country did not face the wrath of the people plus the military.
I am not blaming the spiritual leader, whose visit was more of a show of solidarity rather than to achieve anything tangible for the oppressed.
The real problem is pushed under the carpet
In all this frenzied activity around the displaced people, the actual problem -- a country where the army is calling the shots with a flimsy face of farcical democracy -- is never mentioned by anyone.
While there is circumspect rhetoric about maintaining social harmony among all ethnic minorities, global leaders have not pin-pointed the Rohingya issue, refraining from directly blaming the men in uniform whose actions drove scores of people to leave their homes to seek refuge in another state.
Interestingly, whenever we hear that some global icon is visiting either Myanmar or Bangladesh there is expectation that maybe there will be some direct admonition/denunciation of the atrocities.
The aid agencies have called this “ethnic cleansing,” while the narrative from several global movers and shakers was nebulous. The Indian PM totally ignored it during his trip to Myanmar.
In this whole operation of taking back the displaced people, unwavering involvement of other, more powerful nations are essential
Reportedly, the exodus of the people began following an attack on Myanmar security posts by insurgents.
Obviously, we do not support insurgency of any format but when global personalities only talk of one side of a problem, completely disregarding the other, more diabolical face of a situation, it seems like covert approval.
The deal, sealed?
An agreement has been signed recently between the two states to begin repatriation of the people who fled to Bangladesh. The valid question remains: With memories of torture and violence fresh in the minds, will they want to go back?
Naturally, Bangladesh can’t look after them forever since our resources are finite and, at one point or the other, a process of returning will start, but in this whole operation of taking back the displaced people, unwavering involvement of other, more powerful nations are essential.
The term “Rohingya” seems to be an anathema in Myanmar; and since the Pope cautiously sidelined the word, we can understand that even usage of it carries the potential to spark a socio-political upheaval.
If that is the case, then once these people go back, how will they be identified?
If I am not wrong, one of the desires of the people is to be known as Rohingya. Hypothetically speaking, let’s assume the people go back from where they fled. They will face the uphill task of rebuilding a shattered life plus the ignominy of having no identity.
Bluntly speaking, signing an agreement may be a way forward, though the most important part is to ensure that once the people go back, they feel some sense of security and live freely, not in ghettos.
To ensure this, Bangladesh needs to have major powers by her side, otherwise, down the line, there will be another incident triggering another exodus.
Realpolitik and business
And then there is the real world -- comforting and caring in rhetoric, calculating and cold in thought.
Here, own interests take precedence. From what I understand, Myanmar, opening to the world after remaining cloistered for so long, is like corporate-business Shangri La. Everyone wants a chunk of it, either it’s for a fizzy drink or a pizza chain or for imposing infrastructure projects.
The green signal for justifying their commercial interests is the face of Suu Kyi -- the so-called fledgling image of democracy.
Who actually calls the shots in Myanmar has become crystal clear from the Rohingya crisis; yet, for some odd reason, foreign dignitaries, during their visit to Myanmar, are mostly seen talking to the civilian face of the government when it’s in fact just a charade.
The rationale given by Western government representatives is that if they are seen talking to the military then it might be interpreted as giving legitimacy to the army control.
But let me ask, when you talk to a civilian front of a regime controlled by the military then what are you giving credence to?
The Pope called for unity among ethnic segments in Myanmar during his visit. Honestly, speaking such a line is so vague that it can actually be used in almost all countries in the world and one does not need a humanitarian disaster either.
But then, coming back to reality, what else could he have done? To look at the positive side, his visit worked indirectly, as the Pope, in Myanmar and Bangladesh, brought the Rohingya plight in front of the global audience, using the spiritual cachet as a catalyst for reconciliation.
Hopefully, this trip will inspire world leaders to unite and pressure Myanmar to treat the returnees with civility.
The halo in the right place at the right time -- very strategic indeed.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.