Rohingya crisis - a threat to stability in Southeast Asia

All eyes are on the humanitarian crisis, but what impact will the Rohingya exodus have on the region as a whole?

by
    Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistani religious group, take part in a rally to condemn violence against Rohingya Muslims [Fareed Khan/AP]
    Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistani religious group, take part in a rally to condemn violence against Rohingya Muslims [Fareed Khan/AP]

    Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been forced to flee Myanmar and their numbers are rapidly declining in the country. All eyes are understandably on the humanitarian crisis, but what effect will the exodus have not only on Myanmar's stability, but on the region as a whole?

    Images of burning villages and large parts of a population displaced are all too familiar in Southeast Asia.

    After a vote for independence in 1999, hundreds of thousands of East Timorese had to escape military violence. Indonesian soldiers with the help of local militia destroyed and burned villages in a territory that had been under Indonesian rule for 24 years.

    Of course, the struggle of the East Timorese who wanted independence was very different from the desire of Myanmar's majority-Muslim Rohingya minority to obtain citizenship of the country they have lived in for centuries.

    But there are striking similarities between the military backlashes in the two countries going through a difficult process of democratisation and reluctantly accepted civilian leadership amid strong ethnic and religious divisions.

    Violence by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has given the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar's military is called, an excuse to unleash a violent crackdown against the Rohingya minority as a whole.

    At the same time, it shows people in and outside of Myanmar that the military is the only institution that can protect the country's stability. 

    READ MORE: Who are the Rohingya?

    This makes Nobel Peace laureate and state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi not more than a symbol used by the army as the democratic face they need to rid themselves of international condemnation and sanctions.

    Looking at how Aung San Suu Kyi endorsed the military crackdown and accused humanitarian organisations of aiding ARSA, it seems a role she is happy to play.

    Many in Myanmar gave her the benefit of the doubt when she formed this alliance with the military. Their hope for a real democracy has now become increasingly slim.

    Other ethnic groups with ongoing conflicts with the military are warned.

    Region looks on

    While most Muslim communities in Southeast Asia stayed quiet during last year's military operation in Rakhine State, this time thousands have taken to the streets in Indonesia and Malaysia, many of them carrying anti-Buddhist banners.

    Fearing religious tensions and increasing pressure on his own government, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo immediately sent Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to Myanmar and Bangladesh.

    Pressure on ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and especially on Indonesia, to intervene is increasing.

    READ MORE: Critics circle Aung San Suu Kyi over Rohingya crisis

    Religious tensions between Buddhists and Muslims and a radicalised Rohingya community is something many in the region want to prevent.

    But Indonesia's quiet diplomacy has yet to bear results - even though Myanmar can learn a lot from Indonesia's history.

    During the military violence in 1999, Indonesia did accept international peacekeepers to restore security in East Timor and international investigators who could document atrocities committed.

    Although the military commanders have never been jailed, Indonesia has learned from this dark chapter in its history and grew to become a democracy ever since.

    An example Aung San Suu Kyi and the Tatmadaw have yet to follow.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR



    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    What obstacles do young women in technology have to overcome to achieve their dreams? Play this retro game to find out.

    Why America's Russia hysteria is dangerous

    Why America's Russia hysteria is dangerous

    The US exaggerating and obsessing about foreign threats seems quite similar to what is happening in Russia.

    Heron Gate mass eviction: 'We never expected this in Canada'

    Hundreds face mass eviction in Canada's capital

    About 150 homes in one of Ottawa's most diverse and affordable communities are expected to be torn down in coming months