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Forked tongue on Rohingyas, Myanmar

Message James Duglous Crickton
Pakistan says its concern for Rohingya Muslims, whom a veteran commentator once described as 'Children of lesser God', is reasonable, and, indeed justified. It has a point. It is home to some two hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims, who, as a Wikipedia post tells us, had made a "perilous journey to Karachi across Bangladesh and India" in 1947 to "escape persecution by the Burmese junta and Buddhist majority". Today, Karachi is dotted with innumerable Burmese colonies. Myanmar Rohingya Muslims account for almost fourteen percent of the city's undocumented immigrants.
At least for a section of the Rohingya Muslims, who mainly live in Myanmar's Rakhine state, Pakistan appears as the Eldorado. A recent report said scores of Myanmar women seeking employment overseas have entered Pakistan. Many of them, like scores of Chinese women, have landed in the thriving flesh and slave trade in Karachi. It is an interesting nugget that keeps escaping the attention of human-rights ayatollahs.
So much so, it did not come as a surprise when Pakistan moved a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), criticizing Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya Muslims. Backdrop to the resolution adopted by consensus is the Rohingya tragedy unfolding in the Andaman Sea, which, according to Dawn, a Karachi English daily, "has been turned into a spectacle of even more distressing proportions given that it is occurring just out of sight of some of the world's finest beach resorts".
"Boats carrying thousands upon thousands of Rohingya Muslim migrants, mostly from Myanmar but also from Bangladesh, have been subjected to a deadly match between Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand," Dawn wrote editorially on 22nd May. In its view, "While Myanmar's abandoned Rohingyas feel they have no option but to flee by whatever dangerous means are available to them, the situation is a blot on the world's conscience. Ways need to be found to convince Myanmar to recognize and address the problem."
It is this sense of urgency that was reflected in Nawaz Sharif government's global campaign to end Myanmar's raw deal to the Rohingyas, according to foreign-office spokesman Qazi M. Khalilullah.
To begin with, Pakistan's concern manifested at the OIC foreign ministers' meeting held in Kuwait on May 27. The result was a resolution on "The Situation of the Muslim Community in Myanmar". Frankly this is not for the first time that the OIC had articulated the Rohingya cause. Two years ago, in 2013, the OIC sent a delegation to Rakhine for an on-the-spot study. It pledged a series of measures to boost humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas.
This time around, with Pakistan underlining that "peaceful coexistence of all communities in Myanmar--with provision of fundamental rights like citizenship, freedom to practice religion, education and security--is essential to peace, progress and prosperity of the country", the OIC called upon Myanmar's authorities to take all necessary measures "to restore stability and launch a comprehensive reconciliation process in Rakhine state".
It was a glorious diplomatic achievement for Pakistan, which has been at the receiving end of human-rights campaigners for its very own poor record vis-a-vis minority Shia Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. A good talking point it will be till a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) or Taliban squad targets the minority groups living anywhere from Peshawar to Lahore and from Quetta to Karachi!
There was no vote on the OIC resolution at the UN Human Rights Council. Its adoption by consensus on 3rd July "conveyed the strong support of the international community, particularly the member states of the HRC" to the call for greater respect for human rights in Myanmar. It reflected the lobbying that had taken place behind the scenes. And the star of the lobbying was Pakistan, of course.
Was Myanmar shaken? We do not know. Is Myanmar worried? We don't know as yet but I don't see any reason for Naypyidaw (Myanmar's new capital) to squirm with unease. True, the foreign ministry of Myanmar asked Pakistan Ambassador Ehsan Ullah Bath to convey to Islamabad its wish that Pakistan must help stop the OIC resolution in Geneva. The request went unheeded. Yangon did not expect Islamabad to accede to its request. It was a pro-forma exercise.
Yes, the Pakistan-piloted OIC resolution has projected the Myanmar junta as human-rights pariah. It condemned "the systematic human-rights violations and abuses" committed in Rakhine State, in particular against Rohingya Muslims. It also asked Myanmar to check "the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslims and members of national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, and to end the incitement of hatred against Muslims by publicly condemning such acts".
Myanmar junta may have reasons to be upset with something else, namely the Pak-OIC call through UNHRC for "HR accountability", and "full, transparent and independent investigation into reports of violations of international human-rights law and international humanitarian law". Also with Pakistan's efforts that have been in full bloom from 1999 to make the UNHRC speak up against "de-faming Islam" in the context of the global war against Islamist terrorism, and the post-9/11 phenomenon of Islamophobia.
If my understanding of the Myanmar psyche is correct, the ruling establishment generally works to a plan and never allows itself to be intimidated by high rhetoric or inundated by high decibel. Naypyidaw has just demonstrated this trait vis-a-vis China, with which Myanmar has very close economic relations. So much so, it has no reason to search for a thinking cap in the face of Pakistan's diplomatic offensive.
Moreover, it is Pakistan, rather than Myanmar, which may have reasons to be worried over a negative fall-out of its Rohingya campaign. Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistan Army's Shura, which controls the country's foreign policy, knows that Myanmar has a multi-billion-dollar arms wish list. Their interlocutors in Naypyidaw are aware of Pakistan's desperation to retain their arms market share, and to make further in roads. if possible. This was why Pakistan pushed through the sale of three JF-17 Thunder fighters even as its Rohingyaism was in full cry. For the uninitiated, the deal was stuck in March 2015, days after four Chinese civilians were killed by bombs dropped by MiG-29 fighters of the Myanmar Air Force (MAF). The deal was announced during the Paris Air Show in June amidst Pak-led OIC preparations to table a censure motion in UNHRC.
The JF-17 is a multi-role fighter from China's stable and has been seeing action in the Chinese and Pakistani Air Forces. It is only in recent times that Pakistan has taken up their production with half the components coming from China. There is still no word on the number of JF-17s that Myanmar Air Force will buy but the order is expected to keep the cash box ringing for Pakistan Ordinance factory for a long while.
When broached this subject, my American friends remarked, "'Pakistan loves to play both sides of the net." It is Pakistan's natural instinct, according to them. From America to Afghanistan, and, India, several victims of terrorism have been accusing Pakistan of acts of perfidy in the war against terrorism. The State Department's annual reports on terrorism have almost come close to branding Pakistan as the epicenter of terrorism -- a charge many of the American generals who did duty in Afghanistan have been liberal in leveling.
Pakistan's Rohingya campaign and its military ties with Myanmar fall in the same 'perfidy' mode. While pursuing the Rohingya cause as a true Muslim nation for brownie points in the Islamic world and at home where Islam and politics have become a deadly mix, Pakistan is taking special care of military relations with Myanmar as an expression of gratitude for old favours.
During the 1971 war with India, which resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh, Burma, as Myanmar was known then, had helped several Pak army and air force personnel escape from the war theatre through its territory. This fact was clearly recorded in Pakistani Brigadier Siddique Salik Shaheed's memoirs, "Witness To Surrender". On page 209, he narrates how Commanding Officer of the Army Aviation squadron Eastern Command, Lt Col Liaquat Bokhari, GOC 39th Ad Hoc Division, Major General Rahim Khan, and several other top officials escaped to Burma for protection against Indian Army and Mukti Bahini militants.
According to Jane's Intelligence Review, Pakistan has forged close military links with Myanmar even when it was branded as a pariah state. In a report on June 1, 2000, the Jane's said, "Over the past 12 years Myanmar has been branded a pariah state by the West and made to endure a range of political, economic and military sanctions. The Myanmar armed forces (or Tatmadaw) have lost their access to the arms, training and military technology of most of their traditional suppliers. However, some countries have ignored international opinion and developed close defence ties with the Yangon regime. While a few of them, notably China, have barely troubled to conceal such ties, some smaller and diplomatically more vulnerable countries still attempt to hide the links that exist between their armed forces and arms industries, and those of Myanmar. One of these countries is Pakistan."
In January 1989, a senior official from Pakistan's arms industry visited Yangon to offer war supplies. Two months later a group of senior Tatmadaw officers, led by MAF Commander-in-Chief Major General Tin Tun, made an unpublicised visit to Islamabad. The visit resulted in an agreement to buy 150 machine guns, 50,000 rounds of ammunition and 5,000 120-mm mortar bombs from Pakistan, according to Bertil Lintner, Swedish journalist, who is an authority on Asian strategic issues.
This consignment was followed by rocket launchers, assault rifles and, ammunition valued at about US$20 million. All these weapons were not of Pakistani make. Many of them came from shipments sent by Americans for use in the proxy war the CIA had mounted with the help of Mujahideen to drive the Soviet Red Army out of Afghanistan. By 1998 or there about, Pakistan also became the source of Chinese jet trainers to Myanmar.
In short, the year 1989 marked the beginning of "a secret military partnership with Myanmar that continues to this day". It also heralded the use of Pakistani arms by Myanmar government to fight its rebels. It is not my case that Myanmar is closely aligned with Pakistan in strategic terms and militarily. From all accounts it is a working relationship. But it has the potential of going into a tailspin if Pakistan persists with its 'double game'.
Pakistan is indulging in similar 'double game' with Rohingyas as well for years despite its high-decibel "Justice for Rohingya Muslims" campaign. "Govt has not done enough for us since our arrival in Pakistan," Rohingya Muslims lamented in an interview with Rabia Ali of The Express Tribune on Aug 3, 2012.
"For Noor Muhammad, a Burmese Muslim who migrated in 1979 to Pakistan, setting foot in Karachi was a joyful moment as he thought he would be able to build a better life for his family in the absence of persecution. More than 30 years of living in squalor, he has changed his mind, like many other residents of Korangi's Arakanabad (Karachi)," Ali wrote in his dispatch.
Reporting that many Rohingya Muslims live without basic amenities, he added, "The houses in Arakanabad are dilapidated, roads are broken and there are no schools. Agitated by the lack of a sewerage system, the residents used their entire savings to lay down pipes in the area five years ago."
Ali's dispatch ended thus: "Based on his experience, Noor Mohammad feels that escaping to Pakistan is not a good solution. Whenever his relatives, who are being persecuted by the troops and citizens in Myanmar, express their desire to migrate, he squarely says, 'become martyrs there, but don't ever make the mistake of coming to Pakistan'".
A year later on August 20, 2013, The Express Tribune published another lament under the heading "Invisible Pakistanis: Neither here nor there".
"'I've been in this country for over 30 years,' says Muhammad (name changed) quietly, speaking with the articulate poise of a man schooled at a convent in Rangoon, Myanmar," reported Faiza Rahman, adding, "Following the year 1962, Pakistan's sprawling urban centres were freshly peopled by throngs of Muslim families from urban Myanmar, on the run from discriminatory Communist reforms in their home country. Five decades later, these migrants stay on as unregistered citizens -- they are neither Pakistani, nor Burmese."
No less damaging Pakistan's Rohingya campaign is this take from Washington DC-based journalist, Ahson Saeed Hasan. Writing under the heading, "The Rohingya of Burma is the Shia of Pakistan", in The Express Tribune blogs (May 19, 2015), Ahson said: --I feel terribly let down after having read what is happening with the Shias in Pakistan. Makes me wonder if they are the Rohingyas of the 'land of the pure'! Ironically, Shias are Muslims and they are being persecuted in an 'Islamic republic'. Can it get any worse than that?"
He went on to remark: "Dare I say that the Burmese atrocities on the Rohingyas pales in front of the treatment meted out to the minorities in Pakistan?"
Difficult to disagree with Ahson! Perfidy has become an old game.
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A blogger since July 2008 James Duglous Crickton is a London based consultant working with a consultancy firm focusing on Asia, particularly South Asia and East Asia. Political Research is his functional focus area. While his interests are (more...)
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