DILEMMA OF EMPOWERING ROHINGYAS
Lt. Gen. Md. Mahfuzur Rahman (Retd.)
It has been quite clear in various segments of Bangladeshi society that solution of Rohingya issue over time is becoming a distant dream. The attitude of the West, donors towards the host gradually gravitating towards blaming instead of appreciation. Bangladesh authority is implicated for shifting Rohingyas to Vasan Char, not only this but also being criticized for not allowing proper education, skill development, lack of human rights and employment opportunities. The donors are pressurizing Bangladesh to have a long term planning and budgeting for Rohingyas. There are loose comments about the option of absorbing Rohingyas in Bangladeshi society. Apart from these, recent China mediated repatriation initiative of 700-800 Rohingyas as part family (few members from a family) at different places inside Myanmar is an uncomfortable proposition.
On the contrary, this mediation includes about 300 Hindu Rohingyas (possibly left overs of the community in the camp and as a whole family package). Meanwhile 40-60 thousands Rohingyas who fled to India during genocide are now coming back slowly (may be pushed back) to Bangladesh meaning India the regional heavy weight is also getting rid of the Rohingya. So finally it all boils down to Bangladesh. The other regional power who is trying to mediate recent repatriation initiative would favour Myanmar’s interest. As a student of society studies I understand Myanmar’s interest would get preference over Bangladesh because Myanmar is a strategic partner whereas Bangladesh is a development partner.
Meanwhile, due to pandemic, Ukraine crisis, impending food shortage and fuel politics the budget for Rohingyas would shrink and there are indications on the horizon. All these are making Bangladesh anxious and nervous from a feeling of ‘left alone’ despite her generous humanitarian approach towards Rohingyas during their critical days.
My understanding, Rohingyas are not returning anytime soon at least the way Bangladesh wants. Interestingly bargaining or negotiating from a position of weakness seldom brings desired result. Both Bangladesh and Rohingyas are bargaining from a position of disadvantage compared to Myanmar. So what are the alternatives?
To make my point, let me share a story, in 2018 UNGA in New York I was nominated to attend a sideline event organized by International Labour Organization (ILO). It was on ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Right’. In a Jam-packed conference hall, we the small Bangladesh delegation could manage to sneak in. There were seven speakers of which six of them were officials of ILO and other departments of UN. The only speaker who was not UN official but representing the indigenous people of the world was a Chakma gentleman from Bangladesh (we may argue that many small ethnic groups including Chakma are historically not indigenous people but perception at times stronger than reality). The point I am trying to make here that scope of education, exposure and empowerment have made some of our small ethnic communities hear their voice in international forum.
Rohingya issue is becoming a struggle for Bangladesh and Rohingyas should not be separated from this ordeal else the struggle might lose the emotion, tempo, impetus or strength. Rohingyas should be intellectually, politically and economically empowered to speak for themselves and assist them create position of advantage in international political, intellectual and human rights space. This approach likely to have ‘Rohingya Permanency’ anxiety among Bangladeshi strategic community.
In spite of that, Bangladesh may consider the reality and allow international level education, skill and leadership development for Rohingyas to develop their own narrative and tell their stories. A developed human resource is better for everyone. On the contrary, a trauma loaded young population without proper education, hope and dream is a ticking ‘insecurity time bomb’.
As US has recognized Rohingya catastrophe as genocide this situation may be pursued to help migrate the marginal Rohingya families to settle and educate abroad. This diaspora in two decades will turn into a major advocacy tool. However, Bangladesh has to keep this issue alive and on the table taking OIC, regional organizations, egalitarian world community and UN on board.
Bangladesh pursues the ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy on harbouring exotic and separatist elements of neighbours. Considering the culture of conflict prevalent over culture of cooperation in this part of the world this positive policy has immensely benefitted our neighbours (reciprocity seems to be in short supply). Nonetheless, it would be too much of an expectation of Myanmar that Bangladesh fighting ‘Myanmar’s Battle’ on Bangladesh soil. They should find out political solutions of political issues they created instead of securitizing them and unnecessarily blaming neighbours (it is on record that Bangladesh offered joint and coordinated patrolling along the border. This is a gesture one of its kind in this neighbourhood while Myanmar is not very enthusiastic about this). It should also not be forgotten even ‘strategic patience’ has a shelf life.
Lt. Gen. Md. Mahfuzur Rahman, rcds, ndc, afwc, psc, PhD (Retd), Former Directing Staff at War Course, National Defence College.