In any conflict it is always the hardest part to give way from one’s entrenched position to a middle ground, or should we say to try and stand in the shoes of your adversary, so that a feeling of compromise could be first instilled.
The conflict in Arakan or Rakhine State between the Rohingya and the Arakan majority and the Rohingya and the government, including its security apparatus, are also not different in this respect and their conceptual differences need to be transparently and earnestly pin-pointed, so that possible, humane solution could be advanced and eventually applied, to end the conflict.
Before going further let us first look at the entrenched positions of the adversaries.
Its core belief is that it has been residing in Arakan State from time immemorial and that it has the right to be taken as indigenous and also the rights to citizenship like all the other ethnic groups residing within the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. And indeed during the era of U Nu government, before the 1962 military coup, they were recognized as indigenous and granted citizenship, but were revoked after the military took over.
The Arakanese reject the term Rohingya and said that it is a relatively new political construct and all are illegal immigrant from Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, and thus should be called “Bengali”. At the most the group could be tolerated as a long-time immigrant of Bengali origin, but not as an indigenous group within the union.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) Government
Its position is also the same as the Arakanese majority. But the only difference with the Military is that it is more inclined to accept the Kofi Annan Commission’s recommendation, while the Military rejects it almost completely.
Its position on the Rohingya, which it calls “Bengali” are illegal immigrants and that all will have to submit to national verification process and determined whether they will be eligible to be naturalized and after such undertakings, the rest that are not recognized and naturalized would be put in camps, with the possibility to migrate to the third countries.
Secondly, this conceptual differences that could be argued within the context of historical background should for the moment be cast aside and look at the reality of the problem on the ground, where 1.1 to 1.3 million Rohingya are already practically been residing in Arakan State and how to resolve this racial-like conflict between the two communities, within the mold of peaceful co-existence, if not out of love but merely for sheer political settlement purpose.
Thirdly, the de-escalation measures should be initiated by the government and the best place to start is with the Kofi Annan Commission’s recommendation, as the Commission is formed with the blessing of the government. This would not be the hundred percent liking for all stakeholders involved, but it is definitely a place to start the negotiation process rather than just armed confrontation or win-lose zero-sum game, which is closely being identified with hundreds of gross human rights violations, tarnishing the country’s image and likely inviting foreign intervention, whether we like it not.
The Commission’s recommendation clearly stated: “In the short-run, the Commission calls for an acceleration of the citizenship verification process in line with the 1982 Citizenship Law. The Government should develop a clear strategy and timeline for the process, communicated through a broad outreach campaign.”
It also calls for the rights of those whose citizenship application is not accepted to be clarified, emphasizing: “(T)he need to revisit the law itself and calls on the government to set in motion a process to review the law. Such a review should consider – amongst other issues – aligning the law with international standards, re-examining the current linkage between citizenship and ethnicity, and considering provisions to allow for the possibility of acquiring citizenship by naturalisation, particularly for those who are stateless. The Commission calls for the rights of non-citizens who live in Myanmar to be regulated, and for the clarification of residency rights.” (Source: Mizzima – August 24, 2017)
However, although the Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD is said to be ready with the implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission’s recommendation, the Military is openly against it.
According to the Voice of America’s August 28 report, when Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing met Kofi Annan on August 24, he was said to have indicated that some parts of the recommendation couldn’t be accepted. Included in his rejection is the most crucial 1982 Citizenship Law, which the Kofi Annan’s Commission has suggested to review and alter it according to the international norms.
Earlier, during the meeting with one European diplomat, Min Aung Hlaing insisted that the 1982 Citizenship Law is the officially accepted law and in verifying the Muslim in Arakan State, it has to be followed accordingly. He said if it is within the bound of the law, citizenship will be granted and if not will be put in holding camps and would be allowed to go to the third countries and so on.
Underpinning his hardliner’s stance, on September 1, the Commander-in-Chief at a ceremony to make cash donations for security personnel, civil servants and displaced ethnics in Rakhine, in Naypyitaw said: “We will never accept the situation of 1942 territorial loss. It is possible that they (the Rohingya) might try to annex the territory and stay with the people of the same race after they have obtained the territory. I don’t know their real intention. It is just speculation. I just want to say that Myanmar’s territorial integrity would never be allowed to disintegrate.”
And thus, the Suu Kyi-led NLD regime would need to work out a compromise with the Tatmadaw, before even wooing the Arakanese and also the population at large to be on board in implementing the Kofi Annan Commission’s recommendation.
Meanwhile, the controversial anti-Islam and nationalist monk, Ashin Wirathu and many hardliners are advocating an unmistakable zero-sum outcome from the Rohingya conflict. Nobody knows for sure if this radical course could be corrected. Perhaps, it might be a bit too late, given that this emotionally charged issue has been allowed to run its radical confrontation course for so long.
Consequently, many academic and seasoned Burma watchers are of the opinion that the said radical anti-Rohingya course might as well comes from “Islamophobia” and “over-foreignization” angst.
Outlook and Perspective
Looking at the given facts and the development on the ground, it is fair to conclude that the Islamophobia and over-foreignization angst might be unfounded.
Islamophobia, from the facet of Islam overwhelming Burma as a whole and make the country an Islamic one is impossible, as one million Rohingya converting or overwhelming the 50 million or so Buddhism worshipers would be next to impossible.
The same goes for over-foreignization or foreign infiltration, for keeping the country’s border secure is solely the duty of the government and it has not been doing a bad job, if not an excellent one as yet. Otherwise, within the time span of nearly seven decades after the independence from the British in 1948, the Rohingya population should have reached ten folds if not more and not just one million, given that Bangladesh next door has a population of over 165 million. Besides, no sane person would like to migrate into a well known notorious open jail, of which the present Rohingya’s dwelling place in the north of Arakan State could be depicted as such.
Again, the zero-sum game of win-lose outcome won’t work, as the whole one million Rohingya could not be pushed into the sea or thrown out of the country and Bangladesh has already made clear, time and again, that the Rohingya are not Bangladesh citizens and would not be accepted as such.
Thus, accommodation and political settlement would be the only way left to get out of this mess.
As in all conflict situation, the middle ground of give-and-take would be where the solution could be found, if cooler heads are allowed to prevail, and this opportunity should not be rejected out of hand, as stubbornly continuing the radical solution of win-lose, zero-sum game path would only bring in more disaster and increased woes to the country as a whole.
As death toll climbed up to some 400, most of whom were Rohingya and over 2500 of their homes burned down, which the Military accused that the Rohingya have torched themselves, according the news media, it is hard to imagine if a compromised solution could be still on the agenda of the warring parties, especially from the part of the powers that be that is more responsible for the institutionalized violence.
A very fair and timely analysis indeed!
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