Despite being a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), it seems highly unlikely that Dhaka will get any help from the group of ten nations including Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis, according Bangladeshi diplomats stationed in different countries belonging to the bloc. The main reasons, according to them, are Buddhist majority in most of the ASEAN countries, economic interests and the group’s policy of non-interference.
Since August 25, more than 6 lakh Rohingyas had to take shelter in Bangladesh to escape from the atrocities committed by the Myanmar security forces and local Buddhist mobs. This number is in addition to about 4.5 lakh Rohingya refugees already living in the country for decades. Apart from Malaysia and Indonesia, there has been no visible move yet from any member state of ASEAN to resolve the crisis created by Myanmar, said the diplomats.
It took the bloc one month to issue a statement regarding the crisis, which is described by many as one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in recent times, they said.
“The foreign ministers of ASEAN expressed concern over the recent developments in Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar and extended their deepest condolences to all the victims and affected communities of the conflict,” said a statement issued by ASEAN chair on September 24. “They condemned the attacks against Myanmar security forces on 25 August 2017 and all acts of violence which resulted in loss of civilian lives, destruction of homes and displacement of large numbers of people,” it said.
“If you look at the statement you will see they first condemned the attacks on Myanmar security forces. Then they referred to the loss of civilian lives, destruction and displacement without mentioning Myanmar security forces and Rohingyas,” said an ambassador stationed in one of the ASEAN countries.
They, of course, called for the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Annan commission, he said. About the reasons, the diplomats bluntly said that since the majority of the people of ASEAN countries are Buddhists, they are not willing to ‘antagonise their constituents’.
Things would have been much more different if the Rohingyas were not Muslims, they observed.
Even, prime minister’s international affairs adviser Dr Gowher Rizvi recently referred to the issue of Buddhist majority in most of the ASEAN countries.
Aside from the religious aspect, there are economic factors, said the diplomats, adding that all the countries are more interested in trade and commerce than the humanitarian face of the Rohingya crisis.
And, they said that they are doing their bit in terms of Rohingya crisis by issuing mere statements.
They are avoiding their involvement in any effort to resolve the crisis under the cover of ‘ASEAN policy of non-interference’, said the diplomats.
“Malaysia is the most vocal for the Rohingya causes,” said an ambassador.
“Even, the role of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country and the largest one in the bloc’ is dubious. They are not as vocal as they should be due to their own problems at home, their investments in Myanmar and their military’s cooperation with Myanmar military. Whatever they did so far was to appease their Muslim population,” he said.
“If Indonesia became vocal like Malaysia, effects would have been much stronger and some other countries including Singapore, most developed country among the bloc with better respect for human rights, might have done more than issuing statements,” he added. The diplomats, however, emphasised that despite these challenges Dhaka’s efforts must continue to reach out to the ASEAN nations to persuade Myanmar, one of their member states, to resolve the Rohingya crisis.