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OP-ED: Being ostriches doesn’t help

  • Published at 01:36 am April 19th, 2021
myanmar protest
Demonstrators fash a three-finger salute during a protest against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar April 13, 2021 REUTERS

Bangladesh has to make some hard choices

John Kerry is a seasoned politician well-versed in diplomacy, diplomatic parleys, and speech. His seven hour visit to Bangladesh was an unabashed recognition of the zeal with which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has pursued the climate change issue. 

In the torrid days of a disease that continues to spiral out of control, Kerry’s visit gains more significance. Besides delivering President Joe Biden’s personal invitation to join the Glasgow COP24, albeit online, he addressed the press and met President Abdul Hamid. 

Such discussions are privileged. The words he chose for the press briefing were carefully crafted, except for one sentence on Myanmar: “We hope the current administration will work towards reestablishing democracy.” 

Foreign Minister Abdul Momen managed to smile through it all but the profundity of the statement watered down the previous assertion that the Rohingya issue was not Bangladesh’s alone. Now that more Myanmar citizens are fleeing to India, the equation may change. The moot question is when.

World-wide there have been political statements of outrage at the coup and the use of force to depress dissent. Five hundred have died and so far the world hasn’t reacted, barring sanctions on individuals. This relatively new phenomena is more symbolic than anything else. 

What isn’t symbolic is that two ambassadors of Myanmar, one at the United Nations and the other in the United Kingdom, have been fired by the junta. Both have been allowed to stay in the US and the UK. Diplomatic immunity is obviously going to change in shape and style. 

Over a year ago, our home minister said that the longer the Rohingya stay in Bangladesh, the higher the likelihood of a sudden spurt in terrorism, drug peddling, and a threat to national security. The PM has moved pillar and post to get a lasting solution, so much so that she did not officially condemn the coup. It wouldn’t have made matters any better.  As it is, all of our neighbours have essentially abstained from voting against the refugee crisis at the UN. China’s stakes are well known. 

A number of mysterious fires in the refugee camps, the discovery of arms, and an up-scaling of violence over inevitable control of the camps, has forced our PM’s hand. Entry and exit to and from the camps is forbidden by sunset. Barbed fencing has had to be put in place around them. 

Yet some escape, as is inevitable. Their needs, beliefs, and future thoughts differ from ours. If history is to be traced, Myanmar disowns them, while claiming more than Arakan is theirs. In current times, they do want to go home, provided they have safety and recognition. 

Essentially, this should be a matter between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The reality is that the lure of Naypyitaw’s natural resources is a lure that overrides the semblance of democracy there. China seeks a base there, India seeks gas supply, and Western nations have both security and trade interests.

Former US president, Donald Trump was silent on the issue when PM Sheikh Hasina brought it up. The change in leadership and Kerry’s visit has given her the opportunity of offering a special economic zone dedicated to the US. That could be the only resort left barring China’s ambitious Teesta project that has been openly opposed by India. 

China’s open threats to Philippines vessels trying to reach islands where their troops are stationed, and which is historically claimed by her, leaves little to be guessed. Biden’s overture to create a grouping to combat Chinese expansionist ambitions has made it clear. The UN agreed that a new world order is taking place. Bangladesh has to make some hard choices.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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