Burmese Tatmadaw Back in Business Evolving Uncertainty Regarding Rohingya Repatriation -Imran Nazir


Journey of so-called electoral democracy in Myanmar has ended with the military taking control of Myanmar state on February 1, 2021. Newly formed military regime has arrested the supreme de facto leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and other key political leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD). Rohingya refugee humanitarian crisis, one of the worsts human rights violence incident in the 21st century by national military force, remained unsolved despite having civilian government in last couples of years. Possibility of Rohingya refugee repatriation deteriorates in the context of recent coup as Myanmar national military force namely Tatmadaw was largely responsible for Rohingya genocide in 2017. However, this new development in the internal politics of Myanmar has wider implication for Bangladesh foreign policy as well.

It was less surprising but a bit of odd as Myanmar military takes control of the nation in the current context. Everything was under the terms of military in Myanmar but peculiarities involve regarding the necessity of this coup as Myanmar was successfully overcoming all international pressures and accusations while making a good diplomatic breakthrough in attracting massive Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Notably only three months ago Myanmar national election took place in November, 2020. NLD of Suu Kyi won the majority seats with dominant result while 25% seats in both upper house and lower house are reserved for military constitutionally. Military evoked that this the election was corrupted and rigged. Interestingly military affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the second largest political party after NLD, has underperformed compared to previous election held in 2015. Analysts urge that the military of Myanmar is fearful of losing their supremacy in the wake of democratic development in Myanmar. That is why they are unwilling to share any power with civilian government as bargaining power of political front was steadily increasing through electoral legitimacy.

The state of Myanmar has always been tightly connected with military. So, it would not be arbitrary to claim that the history of Myanmar is a history of military ruling, ethnic cleansings, counter-insurgencies and coups since its inception back in 1948 while Myanmar was granted Independence from the British rule after short Japanese invasion in the World War Two. Initially political leaders had upper hand in Myanmar but they lost their position gradually as military started to involve in operations against ethnic and political insurgencies. Alongside, Myanmar, a vital hub of illegal drugs trade, is asymmetrically bordered with China, Laos, Thailand, India and Bangladesh which compel the involvement of military inevitable in the state affairs. Notably the Burmese Army hold the ministerial affairs of defence, border and home which are vital pillars of any state. So, both theoretically and practically military runs the state of Myanmar while democratic representatives are the passive parochial acting in a military commanded political drama. Only partial civilian control in Myanmar started in 2011 and now returned its old position- direct military control. Question arises why military had to stage a coup in Myanmar as everything is normal? We have already given the answer above but additionally we can add that the military is perhaps psychologically fearful of democratic taste. It is clear that the democracy of Myanmar is not near the perfect quality as still one-quarter of electoral seats do not go through formal election procedure rather military entitlement. But we cannot deny the fact that the taste of freedom is vicious. Maybe the limited fair election was the first cornerstone of democratization in Myanmar but there was no guarantee that citizens would not crave for greater freedom of expression, participation and openness in their society and displacement of military from central position. So, it is likely that the military was precautious in disrupting this flow so that their long-term interest is served.

Future of the Rohingya refugees was already uncertain under the democratic rule. Evidently, Suu Kyi has also given all kind protection to her military men who have committed serious human rights violation against ethnic Rohingya minority and liable for genocide in Rakhine province according the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of genocide. Even Suu Kyi shamelessly negated all accusation against Myanmar military in the International Court of Justice in December, 2019. So, it became clearly understandable to the Western gods of democracy that Suu Kyi is an unreliable false prophet of democracy. Consequently, her popularity as noble laureate surely been hampered and nearly none is mourning over her imprisonment and charges by the Burmese military whom she vehemently supported. Citizens of Myanmar are slowly but at steady pace are gathering to protest military coup while international community has responded very poorly. Predictably China and Russia rejected the bill of condemnation at the Security Council due to their vested interests with Myanmar military. Western countries are also putting some sort of sanctions against Myanmar but they are likely to be futile. This time western countries are caught in the diplomacy of Myanmar. Military opened the country for democracy for few years so that western investors come to Myanmar. Indeed, they were successful in luring potential affluent investors by increasing annual FDI 1.4b USD in 2012-13 to a peak of almost 9.5b USD in 2015-16. Even 5.5b USD FDI came in the fiscal of 2019-20 in Myanmar. Singapore, China, Japan, Hongkong and USA are the major investors in this proportion. So, it would be naïve to believe that the Western countries and other democratic countries would respond strongly against Myanmar. They will follow their economic interest. It sounds harsh to listen but money always triumphs human over the passage of time for worse or better.

Bangladesh foreign policy is lacking vigour from the outset of Rohingya refugee crisis. There are three major strategy in refugee crisis resolution. Repatriation, local integration and third country settlement are them. Talks over Rohingya repatriation have hardly seen any hope in last couple of years. Myanmar used to set terms and criteria in these meeting. But recent coup in Myanmar creates further uncertainty as military have intentionally committed genocide in Rakhine to make them stateless. So, in upcoming days, it is unlikely that they would sincerely agree to return stateless Rohingyas. Moreover, third country settlement is far from realistic as none is willing to accept refugees from developing countries. Alongside, Bangladesh could not draw its regional allies in favour as well in this crisis. Nation states only know interest. Few analysts urge that Bangladesh is providing some economic zones to China while Myanmar is ready (already did in Rakhine, Karen, Kachin, Shan) to commit genocide for hosting China economically all over the Myanmar. So, we have no option but to be pessimistic in resolving Rohingya refugee crisis as military takes control Myanmar. In worst scenario, Burmese military may give their last push to drive out the last Rohingya living on the land of Myanmar and in best scenario, Bangladesh can prepare itself tightly to host them.