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From Sarajevo to Kutupalong

  • Published at 06:29 pm November 27th, 2017
  • Last updated at 10:25 pm November 27th, 2017
From Sarajevo to Kutupalong

The recent influx of Rohingya refugees into the southern part of Bangladesh is a novel phenomenon for the people of this land.

A human flow as large as this reminds me of Sarajevo in 1994. Decades have passed since I returned from Sarajevo, but memories of Sebrenica came flooding back with the influx of Rohingya into Bangladesh.

Globally, ethnic cleansing is not a new phenomenon, but the current Rohingya cleansing operations in the Rakhine and the consequent spill-over of survivors into Bangladesh is new in this region.

We are being forced to absorb this unprecedented surge in population and that is adding significantly to our existing problems.

Not unknown to the world, decades-long persecution of the Rohingya turned into a violent and all-out offensive after the attack on the Myanmar Security Force’s camp in August.

This, apparently, triggered the genocide, which involved Myanmar soldiers raping young girls, setting children on fire, and guillotining youths -- comparable to medieval barbarism.

New stories of horror surface every day, and news of whole villages being burnt to the ground on the other side of the border are the most common yet.

The perception of the majority is that the religious identity of the Rohingyas was the primary reason for their expulsion and extermination.

Some believe that the conscience of the world is strong enough to help them return home and restart their lives as Rohingya. There is a further belief that one day they would move freely in the state of Rakhine as free Rohingya with no fear of death or persecution. But that is the belief of a small number of people whose faith in God is yet infinite.

The clamour in the national and international media is only creating more sensationalism, intended to draw in more viewers and readers but hardly providing any solution.

But what is the solution anyway in the midst of the persisting violence across the border and constant wave of refugees to Bangladesh numbering more than thousands every day?

The door for Rohingya to enter Bangladesh is still open from an idealistic humanitarian perspective but how long will such idealism hold is a critical question.

Many other issues from the realist perspective are already becoming evident, like extremists in the Rakhine blockading relief material, some Rohingyas committing crimes like murder in the refugee camps, and the sufferings of thousands of students of local schools and colleges that are in complete disarray as a result of the refugee crisis.

A nation like Bangladesh cannot share its resources and bear all responsibility for these distressed communities indefinitely.

When the supply of food runs out and the space to live gets further congested, our sympathy for the Rohingya may also start to dry up.

‘Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests’

For want of food, shelter, fresh oxygen, or water, the Rohingyas who once fled violence may turn to violence themselves.

Multilateral efforts are yet not strong enough to force Myanmar to roll back their cleansing operations and take back their own people.

Bilateral efforts already signal a long-term process, which will be a huge strain on a resource-constrained nation like Bangladesh.

Many countries in the multilateral efforts agreed to create pressure on Myanmar, while some abstained to commit to either side due to the likelihood of their own national interest colliding in the greater geo-political game.

Every state around the problem has its own strategic viewpoint from which it is to decide as to what it should calibrate with.

It is difficult to conclude who is right or wrong. But what it can remind us of is the famous quote by Lord Palmerstone: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

What lies ahead for Bangladesh in terms of this precarious issue springing from across the border?

A nation embroiled in its own internal turmoil and rarely able to co-relate the role of geo-politics into its fate and future is bound to be in shock and awe with a humanitarian crisis such as this.

The humanitarian need of these distressed communities might soon be overshadowed by the interest of different vested groups. Whose interest will advance and find pre-eminence is still difficult to predict, but there is every chance that the poorer stakes will suffer.

In retrospect, Sarajevo, in the heart of Europe, received due attention from many powerful stakes; the Rakhine might even draw some attention for its geo-political significance but surely not Kutupalong -- the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.

There is life back again in Sarejevo. But Kutupalong might see a humanitarian disaster to complicate not only the untroubled Bangladesh but the entire region.

An unknown game theory could draw Bangladesh into the complex geo-political whirlwinds. It is sure to suffer unless it manages the situation with an appropriate geo-political strategy.

It may be time for Bangladesh to recall the Palmerstone quote and to best harness its own national interest.

The principle behind determining your own interest must be founded on the national foreign policy objectives and geo-political realities.

Every neighbour is important, and everyone has their own interest, and so does Bangladesh. The sooner we recognise that and take the right course, the faster we can relieve ourselves of this unwanted encumbrance.

Brigadier General AF Jaglul Ahmed is Commandant, East Bengal Regimental Centre.

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