What are the factors that are causing prolonged Rohingya crisis in Myanmar? The geo-political and geo-economic position of Myanmar is inherently connected with the crisis. Different international bodies are aiming mostly at the country’s state counselor, Aung San Suu kyi for not taking bold steps and being somewhat reluctant about the issue. In reality, she does not have decisive power to handle the crisis. Aside from the state counselor, there are some other actors who maintain significant power and influence in the country. To understand the Rohingya crisis and accordingly take precise steps, their role and power dynamics with each other should be analyzed. The actors are the military, the Buddhist monks and the astrologers. Although, the role of the military behind Rohingya persecution is somewhat given attention, the role or other two actors is largely ignored.
The geo-economic location of Myanmar is so unique any nation in the world will love to have it. It borders two emerging super-powers China and India. It connects two most economically growing regions in the world- South Asia and Southeast Asia. Indian Ocean which is highly important maritime region lies at its south. Two of the six corridors of ‘maritime silk road’ of Belt and Road Initiative being developed by China go through Myanmar. Till today, Chinese ships have to move round Malacca strait to import oil and to export its goods to overseas markets. This long route is both expensive and time consuming. Now, China is developing a port project in Rakhine called Kyauk Pyu which will help to carry oil from Kyauk Pyu across Myanmar to Southwestern China and thus save time and resource. Against increasing Chinese investment, India has also opted for extensive investment in Rakhine. The country works as the integral part of India’s ‘Look East Policy’. One notable project is ‘Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project’ which connects Kolkata with Sittwe port in Rakhine state. India intends to reduce its dependence on Siliguri corridor to connect with ‘Seven Sister States’. Besides, Japan and Russia also have big investment interest in Myanmar. To sustain these investments, the stability of the region is required. The interest of these big powers goes in the favor of Myanmar.
Current Rohingya crisis has its historical roots. The country had been under British India for long time. In 1937, it had been separated from British India but still remained under British rule till 1948 when it got independence. During colonial rule, a large number of people from Indian subcontinent went there as soldier, businessman, government employee and construction worker. The number of Indian-descendents at Yangon, the capital of Burma that time, just before the second world war reached around half of the total population. The majority Bamar ethnic group considered it as a threat for their religion and culture. Their dissent against people of different religion and different ethnicity dates back that time. In 1962, General Ne Win came to power ending the civilian rule. He nationalized all industries, businesses and media in ‘Burmese way to Socialism’. The military government asked Indian-descendents to leave the country. Only in 1964, 300 thousand of them fled the country. The people of Myanmar developed some values within themselves thanks to the impact of long military rule. Now the values have become inherent within them. The first prime minister of Myanmar U Nu declared that the common identity of China would be one religion that is Buddhism. After that, General Ne declared that one common language that is Burmese language would be the general identity. Later on, General Than Shwe said that one ethnicity will form the identity of the people of Myanmar. Thus the drive towards one singly identity reflects the fear of the country. The military has a fear that Muslims especially Rohingyas may outnumber the majority Buddhist. The people of the country have higher level of trust on the military. So the military’s fear spilled over to general people.
Due to internal and international pressure, Myanmar government formulated new constitution in 2008 and subsequently general election held in 2010 starting its journey for democracy. But the military which is known as Tatmadaw made some provisions in the constitution to take hold some power. The country now is ruled by this constitution. According to constitution, 25 percent of parliamentary seats are reserved for the military personnel. Besides, some key ministries such as Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs are reserved under direct control of the military and these ministries must be headed by serving military men. The police being constitutionally under the Home Ministry are controlled by the military. Ongoing Rohingya crisis has gone by the provision of law under the Ministry of Border Affairs and thus supervised by the military. The democratic government under Aung San Suu kyi cannot single-handedly take decision over this issue. Actually, the military of Myanmar enjoy absolute autonomy in the country, thus it controls itself and does not tolerate external intervention. In order to truly reach a solution, the role of the military should also be taken into consideration.
The Buddhist monks have also significance influence over the country. The country has around five hundred thousand monks which is the highest in proportion to its population. The monks played the leadership role in famous saffron revolution in 2007. The name of the most prominent Buddhist monk is Asin Wirathu who heads the ultra-national Buddhist organization- Ma Ba Tha that works to preserve the religion and culture of Myanmar. He propagates that Buddhism is now under threat in Myanmar. He brought example of Indonesia, Bangladesh and other countries saying once Buddhist-prone these counties have now become predominantly Muslim. Wirathu has influence in the government. The previous military-dominated government passed several laws by the influence of Wirathu. One law was to illegitimate marrying Buddhist girls by other religionists. Another law was to decrease conversion to another language. Astrologers do have certains influence in the county.
According to the analysts, the people of Myanmar are among the most superstitious in the world. The military are one step ahead in this regard. The country's independence was announced at 4.20 am on January 4, 1948 as astrologers suggested the time to be most suited. The name of the country has been changed from Burma to Myanmar following their advice. The astrologers maintain great influence on the general people, the military and also the government. Many of Myanmar's military officers have personal astrologers and they are consulted for big policy change. Late General Ne Win took most of the important decisions consulting his personal astrologer. In 1970, driving direction along the road was changed from left-hand side to right-hand side as Ne Win's astrologer thought that the country had gone too far to the left. In 1987, General Ne Win introduced 45 and 90 kyat notes currency as they are divisible by 9 which is his lucky number. The capital has been shifted from Yangon and built in a jungle area as the astrologers warn an imminent foreign threat that can only be halted by shifting the capital. The construction work has been started in certain date and time as the astrologers advised so. Former president Thein Sein admitted in French documentary-makers in 2013 that he consults forecasters saying, “Sometimes they give me advice on how the situation of the country could be affected from the astrological point of view.” He further added, “I willingly take this advice into account.”
Rohingya crisis is very complex and getting more complicated with time. A simple set of recommendations cannot bring results here only making the situation worse. Comprehensive and cautious steps must be taken to solve this crisis. For that, the role and interest of various players and their interaction with each other must be analyzed carefully. (Md Sabbir Ahmed Jubaer, Penulis adalah Research Associate di Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS). Artikel ini mewakili pendapat pribadi dari penulis, tidak mewakili pandangan P2SDR LIPI.)