Rohingya crisis: PM Hasina’s assertive role
When it comes to making a decision, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has proved to be far-sighted, firm, pragmatic, poignant, conscious and she pushes it to the end commensurate with norms of national and she international diplomacy.
As our officials at the Foreign Ministry remained in a bit of slumber on a crisis unfolding across our southeastern border, the PM moved all by herself, took the first shot and played her hands in politics, administration and diplomacy to augur local and international sentiments for all to come in aid of the Rohingya Muslims facing one of history's worst genocides against them by the Myanmar army.
They are fleeing to Bangladesh by thousands each day to escape killing, rape, arson and persecution by the Myanmar military and some monstrous Buddhist monks who have shunned Lord Buddha's preaching of love and peace but pulled away babies from mothers' lap, beheaded them and thrown into the swirling Naff border river and into the Bay of Bengal. These constituted some form of worst barbarity only comparable with heinous activities of Pakistan occupation army in what was then East Pakistn (now Bangladesh). The heinous crimes against humanity by the Pak army and their local cohorts during our nine-month War of Liberation in 1971 cost three million lives and forced 10 million people to seek temporary refuge in India.
In course of the ongoing Muslim massacre in Myanmar's Rakhine state (bordering Bangladesh) some 300,000 men, women and children have fled into Bangladesh in the past three weeks and many more are waiting to cross the borders defying landmines planted by the Myanmar army and escaping notice of frontier guards on both sides. The new entrants have joined an estimated over five million Rohingyas who had taken refuge in Bangladesh, mostly illegally, since an earlier massive influx in early 1990s. All but a few hundred of them went back home under initiatives of the UNHCR but reports say they too have returned to Bangladesh mixing with the current tide of refugees because of persecution and insecurity.
The world, including the United Nations, OIC, ASEAN and other regional and international bodies as well as the most foreign governments maintained an eerie silence over the unfolding tragedies in Myanmar until the Bangladesh PM moved the bill on her own because her country was suffering the brunt of brutalities committed on the other side of the frontier. First to react were Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia who have sent their First Lady and Foreign Minister respectively to Bangladesh to see the plight of the Rohingyas and discuss with Dhaka possible ways to resolve the mounting problem. Only after that the U.S. State Department praised Bangladesh's response to the Myanmar crisis and urged Dhaka to help the refugees - almost at the same time the Bangladesh Foreign Minister A S Mahmud Ali called meetings with foreign diplomats and aid agency representatives in Dhaka to apprise them of the grievous situation.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned against the 'ethnic cleansing' by Myanmar authorities in Rakhine state. In a letter to the UN Security Council on September 4 he expressed concern that the Myanmar persecution of Rohingyas could get spiral into 'humanitarian catastrophe'. But despite the UN Secretary General's deep concern the Security Council did not call emergency session to discuss the Rohingya issue and warn Myanmar to stop Rohingya persecution.
President Abdul Hamid attending the OIC meeting in Kazakhsthan capital Astana also took up the Rohingya issue with the leaders of OIC countries and sought their help to resolve the issue without further bloodbath. However, Bangladesh is somewhat dismayed by the role of the two biggest Asian countries India and China in the Rohingya crisis. Instead of standing by the suffering Rohingyas and Bangladesh trying to salvage them, New Delhi and Beijing surprisingly have taken side with Myanmar thus strengthening the hands of the killers. Moscow also has remained mute over Myanmar's persecution of the Rohingyas. More surprising and unpardonable that the Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who got Nobel Prize for peace, has been defending the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims by her army. Lust for power has changed her and now the barbaric acts of her army on the Rohingyas do not trouble her conscience.
The UN and other agencies initially described the happenings in Myanmar as ethnic cleansing now they have upgraded the term as a 'genocide' as the barbaric actions against the Rohingyas have taken an unrelenting upswing every day in and out.
Now it remains to see what the world acts and how promptly to stem the flow of Rohingyas out of their country, ensure their rights to citizenship and permanent residency and give Bangladesh relief from taking in more refugees fleeing from Myanmar persecution. It is the responsibility of the UN and world's powerful countries to help Bangladesh to send back who have been sheltered here legally and illegally over the decades.
Bangladesh could do it ruthlessly by itself, slam its borders shut and put its security forces on red alert with fingers at the triggers. But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, acclaimed globally for her leadership, acts with benevolence, soft and sympathetic mind while carefully dealing with any issues, more so if the issue is a humanitarian one. She wants a "win win" situation for both parties in a conflict.
Regarding the Ronhingyas, she has ordered Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB) to loosen the watch and control a bit to let the desperate flocks of people to enter Bangladesh to save their lives but not to open the frontiers altogether. Instead, she asked for tight vigil to continue while her administration along with international aid agencies and donor countries make sure no refugee dies of hunger or disease. The government has already allotted 2,000 acres of forest land in Cox's Bazar border district for the Rohingyas to live temporarily in a bid to hold them together instead of scattering around the district or the country. If the streams of Rohingyas continue maybe more land will be earmarked for them. But under no circumstances this should be taken or misconstrued as part of a plan to resettle the homeless evicted Rohingyas permanently in Bangladesh.
In early 1990s and later years, the Rohingyas stealthily migrated to Bangladesh as economic refugees. The government and UNHCR together sheltered around 25,000 in two camps in Cox's Bazar and Teknaf while a much bigger number scattered around, made tents in the forests, mingled with local Muslims and even set up family ties through marriage. Some have allegedly voted in local elections by securing voter card from dishonest poll officials, many have left for other countries especially Middle East, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries using Bangladeshi passports.
Despite the humanitarian concern, here too politics plays a dirty game., While the government is trying using assertive but quiet diplomacy to stem the flow of the Rohingyas into Bangladesh, the opposition BNP leader Khaleda Zia - now enjoying time in London with her exiled son Tarique Rahman and his family, has called for Bangladesh to fully flung open its borders with Manmar. Only someone with a derelict brain can suggest so. This is an irresponsible statement by an insensible politician pushing some dubious designs but caring less or not at all for the interest of Bangladesh and its people. However, her proposal did not sell well even with the allies of the BNP, mostly small and fringe parties.
In the troubled water in the wake of the Rohingya crisis there is a move to back the so-called 'jihadi' group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) to launch insurgency activities inside Myanmar, to unsettle Hasina government and to destabilise India's eastern front. Media reports said that Pakistan's intelligence agency ISl and international terrorist group ISIS are patronising ARSA and for this an ISI man met BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Zia in London to ensure BNP-Jamaat's support for ARSA.
Political analysts believe that Sheikh Hasina will successfully handle the Rohingya issue in the same way she did deal with this year's two spells of savage flooding, row with the Chief Justice and outcry over the trial of those who committed crimes against humanity during our War of Liberation in 1971. The flood in April destroyed almost everything in the country's vast Haor areas leaving millions of people face to face with hunger. The PM visited some of those places and ordered people of ruling Awami League and local officials to make sure that no one dies of starvation or hunger. She sternly warned against misuse of relief supplies. It worked well even with the traditionally corrupt politicians and officials - barring a few exceptions -- and thus many people on the verge of deaths have been saved. With her far-sight she decided to import food grains to offset the crop loss in Haor areas that kept the food price stable (with only slight rise) during the recent flood which left devastation in many districts.
Sheikh Hasina has adopted the same policy - with same mission and stronger perspectives -- about dealing with the Rohingya refugee problem. She is contemplating to settle some Rohingyas also on a remote river island (to ease pressure on the main land) while stoking up world opinion and lining up world leaders for sending in help and putting pressure on Myanmar rulers to stop genocide and take back their people from Bangladesh at the soonest.
The Prime Minister is due to visit Cox's Bazar today (Tuesday) to see for herself the plight of the Rohingya refugees, make on the spot assessment of their needs for immediate and long term help and plead with her global counterparts as to how to expedite the solution of Rohingya issue. Meanwhile, Bangladesh is committed to ensure all possible help to the refugees in the short run but definitely it cannot feed so many extra mouths for an indefinite time. The world should realise Bangladesh can provide temporary refuge to the Rohingyas on humanitarian consideration but it cannot ensure their future here.