Partnership with Myanmar – reality or fantasy?
Dr. Habib Siddiqui
April 26, 2015
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened a meeting in the UN headquarters on Myanmar on Friday, April 24, 2015. In his speech to the participants of the Partnership Group for Peace, Development and Democracy in Myanmar, Mr. Ban warned Myanmar that stability in its most sensitive region can’t be achieved unless it addresses the issue of citizenship for minority Rohingya Muslims. He told a Myanmar delegation that the U.N. has seen “already troubling signs of ethnic and religious differences being exploited” as elections approach later this year.
Speaking at the meeting, India’s permanent representative to the UN, Asoke Kumar Mukerji noted that in Rakhine State, the Myanmar Government "has taken steps towards restoration of law and order and has expressed readiness to cooperate with UN and other humanitarian agencies regarding rehabilitation of those affected by violence." "We urged member states to agree to the discontinuation of annual resolutions on the human rights situation in Myanmar," Mukerji said. "In our view, this would convey the world community's strong support and encouragement for the reform measures that are already underway in Myanmar."
While disappointed to hear the statement from the Indian rep, I am not too surprised. After all, India has her own ‘Rohingya problem’ in Jammu & Kashmir, where people have been denied their basic human rights. The Government of India has not allowed a UN sponsored plebiscite - long demanded not only by its own people but also the world community as reflected in UN Resolutions dating back to 1948.
Much like the Burmese leaders of our time, the Indian leaders have repeatedly told the world community that the Kashmir problem is an internal affair which India will solve internally without outside interference. India has not done anything in the last 68 years since her independence in 1947 from Britain to solving the problem. It was a hypocritical gesture to derailing the world opinion and ignoring human rights of the affected Kashmiris. Since 1989 when serious insurgency began, at least 80,000 Kashmiris (mostly civilians) have been killed by the Indian forces. The Indian Occupied Kashmir remains a police state with one soldier for every 10 Kashmiris living in the valley. These Indian troops are not only responsible for the massive destruction there but also committing heinous crimes, like rape as a weapon of war, while ensuring the Indian control of the disputed territory by hook or crook.
Lest we forget, on November 2, 1947 India’s first prime minister Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru, standing beside Kashmiri leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, addressed thousands at Lal Chowk of Srinagar and said “The fate of Kashmir will ultimately be decided by the people. We have given that pledge and Maharaja (Hari Singh) had supported it. It is not only a pledge to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it.” Much in contrast to that and other similar promises of holding a referendum made to the Kashmiri people the Indian government paid little attention to the political views of the Kashmiri people. The government would often dissolve assemblies, arrest elected politicians and impose president's rule. The government also rigged elections in 1987. The Indian record when it comes to honoring the pledges she has made to the Kashmiri people and her treatment of the non-Brahmins inside India, esp. those living in the north-eastern corner of India, sandwiched between Bangladesh, Myanmar and China is simply shameful.
So, it is not difficult to understand Indian rep Mukerji’s deplorable position vis-à-vis Myanmar. Just as India has been able to bury the UN resolutions on Kashmir all these decades, Mukerji wants to sell the absurd idea that the discontinuation of annual resolutions on the human rights situation would encourage reform inside Myanmar.
What reform is Mukerji talking about when some 650,000 people are homeless and forced to live as IDPs inside Myanmar? What reform when one after another xenophobic, racist and bigotry-ridden bills and laws are passed in Thein Sein's parliament? What reform when the Rohingyas are targeted for genocide and elimination? What reform when they are put behind the bars with long prison term sentences or are sentenced to death when they are the ones who have been victimized while their tormentors get away scot-free in Myanmar's legal system? What reform when rape is used as a weapon of war against targeted minorities in the Rakhine, Chin, Kachin and Shan states? What reform when racism and bigotry are promoted by the very government agencies that is supposed to curb its deadly effect? What reform when the eliminationist policy against the minority Rohingya and other Muslims has become a national project with deep support enjoyed from President Thein Sein at the top to NLD leader Suu Kyi and RNDP leader Aye Maung in the middle to NaSaKa to local government agents and thugs at the bottom? What reform when the fascist groups like 969, led by the Buddhist terrorist monk Wirathu, dictate the future of Myanmar?
No one is fooled by such a statement from the Indian rep Mukerji. His condescending remarks say that his government is okay with everything that is going wrong inside Myanmar and the death and carnage of the victims are all 'collateral damages' in 'reformed' Myanmar. India is committed to investing billions of dollars inside Myanmar. That explains why Mukerji is urging member states to hide Myanmar's crimes under the rug, much like what India has been doing with the Kashmir crisis. As I have noted before, human rights have long ceased to be a guiding principle lived by and/or promoted by the government of India, and surely not under BJP’s rule. With Modi’s ascension to power, it is all too natural that we see tying knots with a murderous regime that promotes the Buddhist version of his Hindutvadi fascism!
2015 is the year that ASEAN aims to become one community of Member States that share a vision and goal to become a zone of peace and stability.
If ASEAN is genuinely serious about its declared objective, it must make it crystal clear that Myanmar’s so-called reforms are not working and need an overhaul of intent and purpose. It must insist that the race, family and religious bills recently passed inside the parliament as well as the absence of swift action to regularize the status of White Card holders (most of whom are Rohingya people) will be seen as institutionalized discrimination. It must school Myanmar government that the long-term stability in the Rakhine state will remain unattainable without comprehensively addressing the issue of status and citizenship of the Muslim populations -- particularly the plight of those who self-identify and are recognized by the world community as “Rohingyas” but whom the government calls “Bengalis”; without these steps, the Myanmar Government will find itself continually exposed to international criticism. It must insist that the 1982 Citizenship Law violates several international laws and must be repealed. It must insist that the Rohingya and other stateless minorities (previously holding the White Cards) who were born there are given full citizenship rights immediately to live at par with other dominant ethnic groups and be allowed to vote in the upcoming constitutional referendum, paving the way for participation in a general election later this year.
ASEAN must warn the Myanmar government that its insistence to depicting the Rohingyas as ‘Bengalis’, which they are not, is tantamount to denying a group’s self-identification, and thus, qualifies as an international crime of highest proportion.
ASEAN must inform the Myanmar leaders that ethnicity is a colonial era invention which has no place in our time, and that it is divisive, and thus, suicidal or a sure recipe for disintegration in a multi-racial, -religious and –ethnic state like Myanmar. If Myanmar were to survive, it must embrace a federal character with regional autonomy, much in common with original Panglong Agreement signed between Aung Saan and leaders of other ethnic minorities.
ASEAN must insist that Myanmar’s top leaders – civilian and military - send a unified message against incitement of hatred and create and promote an environment of harmony and social cohesion in this fractured country of many races and religions. It must insist that the Myanmar regime punish terrorist Buddhist monks like Wirathu who have been behind most of the genocidal activities directed against Muslim and other religious minorities. It must insist that Myanmar’s Buddhist political and religious leaders promote understanding and mutual respect with others.
ASEAN must insist that Myanmar allows for unimpeded access by humanitarian agencies to the vulnerable populations especially in the IDP camps to provide much needed aid in a timely fashion.
ASEAN must insist that Myanmar adopts a strategy to address her myriad of challenges failing which the stability and security of the entire region, as already seen through human trafficking and slave labor camps in places like Thailand and elsewhere, will be threatened. Such forced or voluntary exodus from Myanmar is destabilizing to the entire region and must be stopped through tangible measures which address the root causes of the problem, and not the symptoms.
Without such changes taking root inside Myanmar, delivering tangible results, ASEAN’s shared vision and goal to become a zone of peace and stability will only remain an illusion, and nothing else. The desired changes won’t happen with either flattering speeches or looking the other way.