Burma: The Balkans of East Asia

By Ali Hassnain

Muslims are being violently attacked and persecuted in an unacceptable and unforgivable act of ethnic cleansing and mass murder in Burma (Myanmar). Plight of Rohingya Muslims can only be compared to persecution of Ashkenazi Jews by the Nazis.

Despite Dalai Lama’s statement in which he supported Rohingya Muslims, Buddhist extremists continue the genocide. All Buddhists don’t need to be apologetic on the acts of few, just like Muslims don’t have to be apologetic about the acts of some radical extremists. However it is of significance that important figures like Dalai Lama take a strong stance on Rohingya Muslims, much like how Muslim world has distanced itself from almost all terror groups.

Inaction of International community in general and OIC members (Muslim World) in specific is criminal. Burmese government cannot be compared to Nazis as far the military power is concerned, nor is there any economic resemblance between the two.

First we need to understand the internal conflicts of Burma. It is a little less complicated then the early 20th century Balkans.

British Burma used to be one of the richest countries in Asia, attracting many investors, visitors and immigrants alike. Sadly the country never regained its status after the brief Japanese occupation in World War 2 and its economic woes continue today. During the Japanese occupation, almost all foreigners walked to British India through the inhospitable jungle and marshes of Burma like Rohingya do today. Famous Urdu writer A. Hameed was one of them. He recounted the journey in one of his books; it is horrifying to say the least. The British formally annexed Burma and made it their colony in 1888. Until 1937 it was part of British India. East India Company practically ran it decades before that.

It appears British promised independence to almost all the parties demanding plebiscite today, before the victorious yet slowly crumbling empire abandoned them all and left abruptly in 1948. We all know Lord Mountbatten was good at it.

One can only wonder in disgust that how many more decades it would take for the wounds left by colonialism to heal. It is a country divided, at civil war since 1948, host to indigenous movements, proxies and spies of all the international and regional powers. For example, United Wa State Army is the de facto ruler of Wa State (officially unrecognised state in the east). They defeated the communist insurgency, are involved in drug trafficking and nominally (though officially) recognise the sovereignty of Yangon (or Rangoon).

Then there is Kachin state. Since independence of Burma they have been fighting for their independence as well. About 2/3rd of people of Kachin ethnicity are Christians.

Their second largest insurgency is in Kayah state. Third largest is in Kayan state. Fourth is in Rakhine and fifth in Shan state. There are numerous other movements in Burma that keep Yangon occupied from time to time.

We have to understand what is wrong with Burma? To understand that we need to open the history books.

Basically it’s a study of city states occasionally coming under the influence of empires that unified the region at times. The region fell into East India Company which handed it over to the British Crown who created British Burma.

Why are the Rohingya being killed, raped and exiled? Probably because they are the weakest people in Burma. What’s happening in Burma today would haunt regional powers in the future. It is not possible that such gross injustice would go unpunished. History has its way of balancing things.

Aristotle put forward a belief in physics called “horror vacui”, which means Nature abhors vacuum. It is inevitable that someone would eventually help the Rohingya. An Iraq like situation would be a disaster. A little arm twisting by OIC players would stop the massacre. I mean, what’s a few billion dollars for Iran and Saudis? Loyalties of officials and people of influence in the region are infamous for being flexible since the days of axis of evil. They might not have to do much, just grease some palms. Worth a try isn’t it? Taking refugees is a temporary solution. Although it must be done and their well-being should be insured. It is important that they have a right to return and live as they see fit in Arakan/Rakhine and it should not be negotiable.

There are three likely scenarios from here:

  1. UN steps in, safe zones are created and eventually a confederation of states or independent states is created.
  2. Muslim countries either through hook or crook put a stop to the persecution (less likely).
  3. Status Quo, vacuum or ISIS like organisation would sooner or later appear and lead to scenario No.1. Cost of not doing anything is way too high.

Usually destabilisation of a Balkanised state is a matter of time, unless state acts fast, in good faith, in right direction, with precision and with force. It is inevitable that future conflicts will spill over to neighbouring countries. A course correction in Rangoon needs to occur and soon.

Categories: Analysis, Geopolitics, International Affairs

Tags: , ,

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