M A Hossain
The collapse of power-sharing co-existence between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) and Aung San Suu Kyi at the helm of democratisation in Myanmar has recently upended to the direction of massive setback. The military refused to acknowledge the result of the General Election, held on November 8, 2020, and declared a state of emergency, announcing that it would govern the country for one year, after which it promised to initiate a fresh election. This scenario was anticipated well in advance by the political pundits. Now Myanmar's political volatility threatens the repatriation process of Rohingya sheltered in Bangladesh, but the military has a track record of taking back the Rohingya in 1978 and 1992 from Bangladesh. No doubt, this time Myanmar military will utilize the repatriation as an opportunity for softening the International opprobrium as well as to gain dominance in the geopolitical context.
In the walk of democratization, the Myanmar military had always control over the key Ministries. In 2020, Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) proposed dozens of constitutional amendments to curb the military's encroachment in Government decisions. This intervention by Suu Kyi did not curry favour with the top military brass and this was conducive to deterrence upon Suu Kyi from assuming the office on February 01, 2021, as the country's 2nd consecutive term de facto leader. Another matter, which directly attributed to this political depredation, was perhaps the insatiable political ambition of General Min Aung Hlaing. As a Commander In Chief, his 2nd five years' term was about to come to an end, paving for his mandatory retirement. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the unelected military parliamentarians could not attain the magic figure seats in the last Parliamentary election which could have elected him as the President. It would help him to avert prosecution for genocide on Rohingya and protect the interest of the oligarchs of the country.
Mrs Suu Kyi is unfailingly popular and known as" the Lady" to the Buddhist majority in her country. This Buddhist ethnic group does not recognize the Rohingya as their citizens. Suu Kyi's international reputation was damaged after she implicitly endorsed the majority view in Myanmar that the Rohingya were "interloper" from Bangladesh rather than an ethnic minority. But historically, the Rohingya are the original citizens of Arakan (the former name of Rakhine). A total of eleven Muslim kings successively ruled Arakan for a century from 1430 to1530. There is a well-founded proof of the historic presence of Rohingya in Arakan since the 7th century. According to the historical records from the British period up to the 2010 election, there were Muslim participants in all Myanmar's parliamentary elections and this Rohingya Muslims served the nation as lawmakers as well as Ministers. So the ethnic-confrontation is the pro-long unresolved issue in Myanmar. In retrospect, Muslims minorities also faced atrocities for long and those persecuted group took shelter in the neighbouring Bangladesh, India and Thailand and were subsequently repatriated to their motherland.
Since 2017, Bangladesh has been hosting more than one million Rohingya refugees in the country's southern part in Cox's Bazaar, which is also the country's main tourist hub due to the world's longest sea beach being located there. This huge number of refugees, with crammed makeshift settlements in that area, also put a drastically adverse impact upon the socio-economic and ecological infrastructure of the said area. So, it is imperative that our diplomatic acumen efforts should shed light on the Rohingya repatriation issue to the International eyes.
We have to consider the Sino-US and Sino-Indo relations in the context of global superpower rivalry. Bangladesh, among the Delta states in South Asia, is bearing the utmost importance related to geopolitics. So Rohingya repatriation became the burgeoning issue to lean towards China bloc. China always reiterated this Rohingya issue as bilateral engagement and showed restraint to any third actor's intercession, especially the meddling of the Western countries. Beijing provided the economic and diplomatic lifeline to the previous military regime in exchange for access to natural resources and abundant political influence on Naypyidaw. Today, China is the 2nd highest investor in Myanmar. Moreover, the Myanmar military regime is well acquainted with international sanctions.
On the other hand, India invested a huge amount of fund in Myanmar and has provided a submarine to the Myanmar navy. New Delhi is also a development partner to Naypyidaw. Here lies the real diplomacy for Bangladesh.
Today, China is one of the most important development partners for Bangladesh and is also now working on many mega projects. India is Bangladesh's biggest and most influential neighbor and has assured Bangladesh to stand in favor of Dhaka in Rohingya repatriation issue. India is now enjoying transit, transhipment and seaport facilities from Bangladesh. So Dhaka should put New Delhi in a diplomatic obligation to convince Naypyidaw to take back its people from Bangladesh's refugee camps. China has also offered to help these two countries to find a solution, beginning with a tripartite meeting in New York in January 2020. The China-Bangladesh-Myanmar meeting was chaired by the Chinese vice foreign minister Luo Zhaohui, which paved the way to hold both sides to account for their respective commitments to each other.
Now Bangladesh needs strong and high-profile delegates to persuade the present government in Myanmar to get the Rohingya repatriated. This delegation must accelerate diplomatic efforts as well as push the International community to take proactive measures against Myanmar. Our diplomatic mission now needs to be more vigilant in discussions and processes with the new government and convinces China leadership in pushing the Tatmadaw to not only take back its people but also to ensure their due rights as a citizen with dignity and safety.
M A Hossain, a political and defence analyst writes on diversified topics in Bangladeshi and foreign newspapers. His Twitter handle is @writemah71