By Prabasi Nepali
Exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar
Ever since independence from British rule, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has struggled to integrate its various minorities, including the Shan, Karen, Rohingya, Mon, Chin, Kachin and ethnic Chinese. During the British imperial administration, the Muslim Rohingya was the main ethnic group in the state of Arakan – today Rakhine state. However, today the government of Myanmar refuses to recognize the Rohingya as a minority group and denies them citizenship, even though about 1.1 million were living there since generations. The Rohingya comprise nearly 4.5 percent of the Myanmar population, and are the third largest ethnic group in the country. The Rohingya have been stigmatized by the majority Buddhist Burmese as unwelcome foreign ‘Bengali’ migrants.
The United Nations now says that more than 300,000 have crossed over to Bangladesh since August 25 after their villages have been systematically burnt down. These are in addition to the hundreds of thousands of refugees already here and in other countries, including India, Malaysia and Indonesia. The military which still has a big say in government claims that these villages were torched by the Rohingya insurgents themselves. This has been debunked by INGOs and news agencies. There have now been reports that the military has planted forbidden land mines in the border areas – according to Amnesty International – in order to prevent the refugees from returning to their ancestral homes. The Rohingya militants, the “Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army” (ARSA) last Sunday declared an unilateral ceasefire to allow aid to reach the increasingly desperate fugitives. However, the Myanmar government was dismissive: “We have no policy to negotiate with terrorists.”
On Monday, the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain accused Myanmar of refusing access to human rights investigators, waging a “systematic attack” on the Rohingya and warned that “ethnic cleansing” seemed to be under way. Now, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama also added his misgivings: “Questions that are put to me suggest that many people have difficulty reconciling what appears to be happening to Muslims there with Myanmar’s reputation as a Buddhist country.”
The systematic ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar must now be the subject of urgent discussion in both the Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nations.
However, the government has already called upon China and Russia (both permanent members) to veto any resolution which condemns Myanmar‘s policies in Rakhine State.
International Community to Curb North Korea?
The United Nations Security Council on Monday slightly escalated sanctions yet again against North Korea, but they fell significantly short of the far-reaching punitive actions that the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki R. Haley had demanded just days ago. The resolution had the unanimous backing of all 15 Security Council members, but the weakened sanctions reflected the power of Russia and China, which had objected to the original language and could easily have used their votes to veto the measure. The Council members were seeking new measures to punish Pyongyang for its sixth and largest nuclear test on September 3. China would definitely not go the whole hog as it fears a collapse of the totalitarian regime which would have major repercussions domestically and in external affairs. Russia has already rubbished the utility of sanctions, arguing that North Koreans would sooner ‘eat grass’ than sacrifice their nuclear and ballistic missile programme.
North Korea itself was in contempt mode. Last Saturday, it marked the nation’s founding anniversary and the local media issued fresh calls for a nuclear arms build-up, in defiance of the mounting international sanctions. The official newspaper “Rodong Sinmun” said in an editorial: “The defence sector, in step with the party’s Byungjin policy (of ‘developing the economy and nuclear weapons at the same time’) must make cutting-edge Juche weapons in great quantities” (‘Juche’ referring to the national philosophy of self-reliance/autarky).
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test last week (its fifth was on September 9 last year), saying it was a hydrogen bomb that could be fitted onto a missile. This prompted global condemnation and calls for further sanctions. In July, it had already tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that appeared to bring much of the continental United States within attack range. “Rodong Sinmun”, the mouthpiece of the North’s ruling ‘Workers’ Party’ called for more “miracle-like events” such as the two ICBM tests to deter the United States which it said was bent on “decapitating” leader Kim Jong-Un. In another commentary, the party organ said the US would continue receiving “gift packages in different shapes and sizes” as long as it persists in its ‘hostile policy against the North’. Kim himself has called the ICBM tests “gift packages” that the North was delivering to the “US bastards” (AFP/Agence France Presse). Now the level of vile and radical rhetoric from Trump and Kim alike have been escalated to an extremely hazardous level. It is as if two mentally deranged leaders are itching to press their respective nuclear buttons!
In the meantime, the tense situation in North-East Asia has propelled discussion among experts about the ability of the US to defend itself against North Korean ICBMs. South Korea is expecting North Korea to launch an ICBM anytime soon. The US could use its “Ground-based Midcourse Defence” (GMD) system – designed to intercept incoming warheads in space – if threatened by a North Korean ICBM. The US military says its defence system and network of radars, for instance on Shemya Island (in the north Pacific, east of Russia’s Kamchatskaya Peninsula) and in Fort Greely, Alaska, allow it to successfully track and destroy incoming warheads. But test conditions do not accurately simulate those of wartime and critics are skeptical the country can truly defend itself, even after spending US 40 billion dollars over 18 years of research and development.
The head of the “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg came out strongly for collective international action: “The reckless behavior of North Korea is a global threat and requires a global response and that of course also includes NATO.” However, he did not categorically stress the military option: “There is no easy way out of this difficult situation, but at the same time we have to . . . continue to work for a political solution, continue to press also the economic sanctions.”
Sino-Indian Confrontation in Doklam: Nepal’s Neutrality Misplaced?
“Republica’s” columnist Hari Bansh Jha, who is also a visiting fellow at “Observer Research Foundation”, New Delhi, is of the opinion that it was “not advisable for Nepal to remain neutral” when there was “a war-like situation in our neighbourhood” (September 10, 2017). Furthermore, “Nepal’s Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India is, for all practical purposes, a security pact. He implies, therefore, that Nepal should have taken the side of India; in fact, the said treaty made it compelling for Nepal to do so.
Jha is completely off the track. First, whatever may be read into the Treaty (between the lines and any secret protocol thereof), it is completely outdated and redundant after nearly 70 years, and must be re-negotiated and replaced. Second, taking the side of India would have been completely against our national interests and a grave risk to our sovereignty and territorial integrity. It would have contradicted the basic tenet of our foreign policy which enjoins us to follow ‘equidistance’ in our foreign affairs as regards Beijing and New Delhi. After all, as the great unifier of our nation, Prithvi Narayan Shah laid down more than two–centuries–and-a-half ago metaphorically laid down, we are ‘a yam between two rocks’ (and cannot, therefore, afford to be rubbed down by one or the other (each acting alone), or God forbid, by both (acting in unison). Or in the language of today’s geo-strategy, we are ‘between the dragon and the tiger’, and it is wise to keep our distance. Jha is completely off the mark when he claims: “A war in [the] Doklam area could have forced this country to take the side of one of the neighbours.” It seems that he is completely in the dark about the Sino-Indian Border War of October 1962, or the three Indo-Pakistani wars, in all of which Nepal remained studiously neutral, in spite of the fact of tens of thousands of Gurkhas fighting on the Indian side. Incidentally, neither China nor Pakistan protested officially.
Unfortunately, Jha is an India-apologist and his recommendations would be the death knell for our country. His whole exercise is to place Nepal within India’s ‘sphere of influence’, as in Bhutan. He is all praise for India, conveniently forgetting – the not very distant — Indian/Madhesi crippling and diabolical blockade just after the devastating ‘Great Gorkha Earthquake’. This was an appalling experience that all “Nepalis” should not forget so easily.
Jha’s whole interpretation of the ‘Doklam Incident’ is lopsided in favour of India, branding China as the aggressor. India has absolutely no ‘locus standi’ in the Doklam Plateau, a disputed area only between Bhutan and China, i.e. it had no right under international law to interfere militarily at a place quite some distance from the international Sikkim-Tibet-Bhutan border tri-junction. It is, therefore, utter nonsense to maintain: “India’s image in the international community was greatly enhanced for the way it boldly faced China in Doklam.”
UN: Myanmar waging “Ethnic Cleansing”
By Prabasi Nepali