DT 10 Editorial SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2017 TODAY We are all Rohingya We must help them avoid the cruelest of fates: Becoming nothing PAGE 11 Tribulations of a diabetic At a wedding party, everyone around me would feast on the food while I would be an onlooker, because the party organisers hadn’t thought of keeping some food items that were suitable for a diabetic patient PAGE 12 A crisis out of hand Literacy for development MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU The fourth nightmare The test for all the parties determined to have a say in the governance of Pakistan will be the next general elections Be heard Write to Dhaka Tribune FR Tower, 8/C Panthapath, Shukrabad, Dhaka-1207 Send us your Op-Ed articles: firstname.lastname@example.org www.dhakatribune.com Join our Facebook community: https://www.facebook.com/ DhakaTribune. The views expressed in opinion articles are those of the authors alone and they are not the official view of Dhaka Tribune or its publisher. PAGE 13 Repeated calls to the international community regarding the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar appear to be falling on deaf ears. But if the world is unwilling to take action on the humanitarian grounds to help these unfortunate souls, there is another reason that should incline us all to pay attention to the crisis. The ceaseless persecution of the Rohingya runs the risk of empowering extremist elements into seizing their The ceaseless persecution of the Rohingya runs the risk of empowering extremist elements plight as an opportunity, and, in turn, widening the conflict to trans-national terror groups. The greater the inaction of the international community regarding this issue, the greater the space for extremist groups to swoop in and gain a foothold in a region they have thus far been unable to penetrate. History teaches us that extremism thrives where there is a breakdown of the state. If what we are witnessing in Rakhine State gets mutated into a full-blown insurgency, it leaves the region open to terror networks to conduct operations in. It is in the interests of both Bangladesh and Myanmar, the whole world in fact, to avoid such circumstances. But if the world continues to let the Myanmar army burn the Rohingya out of their villages, that is where we may all end up. For a country which has goals to becoming a middle-income nation in the near future, improving literacy amongst its citizens is a crucial step. And while Bangladesh has taken great strides in improving the quality of life of its citizens, sadly, when it comes to being able to read and write, almost half the population lags behind. While we have set the goals -- Vision 2021 had plans to achieve 100% literacy by 2017 -- we have to do much more in terms of seeing these goals come to fruition. Additionally, past initiatives launched forth by the government have been lacklustre and eventually perished due to various administrative and academic issues. A key problem has been that donors believe that primary education requires focus as opposed to adult literacy. While education from the ground up is extremely important, ensuring that every one in the country, no matter how old, have the skills to read, write, and do basic arithmetic is an essential cornerstone of any ambitious nation. These are crucial elements towards not just improving people’s lives, but also boosting the country’s economic prowess. Literacy opens doors for each and every individual to move with much more ease through life, interact with much greater efficiency, and conduct business. What is encouraging, however, is that Bangladesh has recently allocated Tk500 crore towards a basic literacy program. If implemented, these could seriously boost the literacy rate. We must remember that we have done much in the last few years, overtaking Pakistan’s per capita GDP recently. And we definitely have the potential to ensure that each and every individual in this country is literate.
We are all Rohingya The world has abandoned them, but Bangladesh must not Opinion 11 DT SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2017 • K Anis Ahmed On August 26 of this year, Myanmar launched a fresh campaign of violence in its Western Rakhine province that killed hundreds of Rohingya civilians and displaced a staggering 100,000 to neighbouring Bangladesh in barely two weeks. Myanmar forces unleashed such a carnage in response to sudden attacks carried out on August 25 by the self-styled Rohingya insurgent group ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army). ARSA’s coordinated attacks on 24 police posts left 11 security personnel dead. No state would tolerate attacks on its security personnel. But to punish an entire community is never an acceptable response to aggression by a few. To turn those acts of aggression into a pretext for ethnic cleansing is to commit crimes against humanity. Many nations are rightly wary of non-state armed actors in the post-9/11 world order. However, it is important to remember that not all armed groups -- especially those that fight only members of security forces who have a record of mass civilian killings -- are “extremists” or part of international terrorist conspiracies. Let us be clear at the outset in saying that neither Bangladesh -- nor Dhaka Tribune -- supports ARSA, nor do we condone its violent attacks. Indeed, the state of Bangladesh does not support separatist groups anywhere, least of all among its neighbours. But unfortunately, Myanmar’s allies China and India have been all too ready to go along with Myanmar’s demonstrably partial narrative. And so Bangladesh is compelled to stand apart on this issue, and also feeling the full brunt of Myanmar’s persecution of Rohingyas -- a far greater crime than ARSA’s ill-conceived adventure last month. Myanmar’s policy towards the Rohingyas is to clear them out entirely from their homeland, Rakhine province. It is possibly the most openly stated and diligently carried out ethnic purge of recent times. Thanks to this policy, Bangladesh has had to play host to Rohingya refugees in small numbers as far back as the late 70s, and in substantial numbers since the early 90s, numbering up to half a million at times. The attacks today show signs of a new intensity. Reports of military and police personnel, at times with machete-wielding civilian militias in tow, are burning villages, hacking children, and shooting unarmed civilians. Bodies are floating up the Naf River bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh. Fleeing refugees have had their legs blown off by landmines laid by the Myanmar army on their side of the border. In the middle of such carnage, Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, went ahead with a prescheduled state visit to Myanmar, where he expressed full solidarity with the Myanmar state in their fight against “extremist violence.” But he said nothing about the killing of civilians. He stressed the importance of “unity and territorial integrity,” perhaps channeling Indian anxiety about their own separatists. But that may not be the only reason behind his distinctly one-sided statement. China and India have their own complex set of relationships in this region. India right now is shaken from its recent confrontation with China over the Doklam plateau in Bhutan. In the past decade, India has also tried to cultivate Myanmar, which fell into China’s orbit during its long sojourn as a pariah state. Yet as China has cozied up to India’s old ally of Bangladesh, India has felt the need to strengthen its ties with Myanmar as a hedge against China’s regional aspirations. Hence, it may look away as Myanmar conducts atrocities against its own citizens. Meanwhile, China as per its longstanding policies, doesn’t believe in chiding anyone over matters of human rights. Bangladesh fully shares the Indian and Chinese concerns about respecting the “unity and territorial integrity” of states. But to condone the wholesale killing of civilians in the name of fighting insurgents is not tolerable. Western powers, meanwhile, are sounding the right notes, but may no longer be in a position to outweigh the influence of regional heavies. The West is hardly guiltless in the plight of the Rohingyas. Western powers nurtured Aung San Suu Kyi as an icon of liberty back when Myanmar was a pariah coddled by the Russo-Chinese bloc. The West was so anxious to see Suu Kyi anointed a leader that they went along with a charade of democracy arranged by Myanmar’s military junta, ignoring both that there was no real transfer of power The greatest test of our humanity We must help them avoid the cruelest of fates: Becoming nothing taking place and the continuing tendency to commit gross human rights abuses by those powers. If anything, fronting a figure like Suu Kyi has made it easier and more attractive for the junta to carry on its long-running ethnic purge of the Rohingyas. If the West had been guilty of folly, then India and China are practicing realpolitik. India today is playing a role, incidentally, that America played in 1971 when the Nixon administration decided to let Pakistan have its genocide in Bangladesh as a price for access to China. Bangladesh was saved then by a pugnacious India -- and leaders like Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, and his iron-willed counterpart across the border, Indira Gandhi. In an acute irony of history, today it has fallen on Bangladesh, and Sheikh Mujib’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, prime minister now of Bangladesh, to give shelter to a people as desperate as we ourselves were in 1971. To shelter the Rohingyas will not be an easy task for Bangladesh. We are the most densely populated large nation of the world, and we have only recently graduated to lower middle-income status. What’s more, for a long time, many Bangladeshis remained wary of the Rohingyas. Many have argued that camps of destitute people would become a hive of criminal activity and upset the social balance of wherever they settled. What such prognoses get wrong is the causality; it’s not the poor who cause those crimes -- they become tools of the criminal, if they are not given adequate protection. Bangladesh, one of the biggest emigrant nations -- both legal and illegal -- cannot indulge in the kind of prejudice that they themselves face in many places where they seek a better livelihood. I confess that during a similar episode of violence against Rohingyas back in 2012, I too had argued for keeping a tight border, fearing that an open border would only encourage more persecution. Such considerations were predicated on the world putting pressure on Myanmar to stop its policy of ethnocide. As we face a new reality today, where Myanmar seems intent not so much on killing a few to chase away the many, but to kill as many as they can, there is a sea-change in Bangladeshi public opinion in favour of assisting those fleeing imminent death. The signal for a new approach came right from the top when MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for “humane” treatment at the border. As a result, despite an occasional show of pushing some refugees back by the border guards, the Rohingyas are allowed into Bangladesh by the thousands every day. At a time when the whole world has abandoned the Rohingyas, I personally no longer see housing them as a burden. Rather, I see it as a privilege. It’s not every day that one is called to play the role of saviour. It is the most sacred of duties, and the greatest test of our humanity. Where much bigger countries are unwilling to step up, it is a testament to the resilience and humanity of Bangladesh if we can play host to the Rohingyas -- without condescension, without prejudice, without resentment. Few writers of the 20th century have captured the terror of the sudden breach of order as well as VS Naipaul. In the bleak but unforgettable opening line to his novel A Bend in the River, he wrote: “The world is what it is. Men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” The government and the people of Myanmar have decided that the Rohingyas are “nothing.” This is why we must give the Rohingyas shelter. We must help them avoid the cruelest of fates: Becoming nothing. No matter how cruel or indifferent the world, no one deserves to become nothing. • K Anis Ahmed is the publisher of the Dhaka Tribune and Bangla Tribune.