The Rohingyas status as the world’s most unloved people remains intact after Myanmar’s State Counselor and de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, responded to the wave of international criticism against her country’s treatment of the persecuted Muslim minority. The most generous thing that can be said is that Suu Kyi seemed to argue that the world should recognise that Myanmar’s democracy remains in its infancy and should be given some leeway when events like the Rohingya refugee problem erupt.
While there is a case for this, too many of her statements were so questionable that most overseas listeners would be hard put to cut her any slack. She claimed the Rohingyas did not face discrimination inside Myanmar, that the violence against them was ebbing and a number of other suspect claims. There can be little doubt of her metamorphosis from a champion of civil liberties to a hard-nosed politician who feels she has to cater to her xenophobic Burmese voters and the concerns of the country’s military, still the most powerful force in Myanmar.
India is similarly turning its back on the Rohingyas, at least when it comes to providing them a haven from the violent persecution they are facing in Myanmar. The NDA government, echoing Suu Kyi’s charges of violence by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, says the Rohingyas pose a security threat. They cite credible information that Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba have become involved in fomenting Rohingyas against the Myanmar government. It has gone as far as to claim that the Supreme Court, which is presently considering the Rohingyas’ case, lacks jurisdiction when it comes to the issue of migrant deportation.
Both Naypyidaw and New Delhi are being disingenuous. Only a handful of Rohingyas, a Sufi-influenced Muslim population, have taken up arms and even fewer are known to have taken to radical Islamicism. There is a very clear causality between this shift towards radicalism and literally decades of persecution by the Myanmar authorities. The obvious solution to Rohingya terrorism is to end the state violence they are facing at home.
The international community is simply too distracted and fragmented to put any serious pressure on Myanmar. And there is a fear that the country’s attempts to distance themselves from Chinese influence and military control would be damaged by too much external pressure on the Rohingya issue. India’s private urgings to Myanmar and its various aid programmes are the sort of band-aids being proffered by almost every country to help the Rohingyas. But the claim the Rohingyas pose a threat is the basis for such half-hearted responses. The reverse is true: not helping the Rohingyas is why they will become a genuine security threat in future.