From the Editor-in-Chief: The Rohingya issue… after the Pope’s visit

Enayetullah Khan
Thursday, December 7th, 2017
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The recent visit to Bangladesh by Pope Francis is an event which cannot but be given the importance it deserves. A particular reason why we in Bangladesh are happy with the Pope’s visit is that he did not disappoint us on the issue of the Rohingyas, though we must confess that when he refrained from mentioning the Rohingyas by name in Myanmar, we were all left surprised, even shocked. Clearly, the Pope sought to make amends for this deliberate, calculated lapse during his visit to Dhaka, going to the extent of associating the Rohingyas with the presence of God. That was a boost not only to the morale of the hapless Rohingyas but also went a long way in an acknowledgement of Bangladesh’s concerns over an issue which tests it politically, economically and diplomatically.

 

It is with these concerns in mind that our cover story this week focuses on the Rohingya issue in terms of the diplomacy pursued by Pope Francis on his Dhaka mission. With nearly 700,000 Rohingyas having already come into Bangladesh and with Myanmar showing little sign of taking any steps to resolve the crisis it has created — and that despite what has been described as a deal reached by Bangladesh’s foreign minister with the Myanmar leadership during his recent visit to Naypyitaw — Dhaka has reasons to suspect that not everything is well yet. It is in such conditions that the moral authority of the Pope comes in. Specifically, it is the degree to which he will be able to exert his influence on Aung San Suu Kyi and other Myanmar leaders which will be keenly observed. One wonders, though, if that kind of influence will at all be there since the Pope happened to be more forthright in his articulation of the Rohingya issue in Dhaka than he was in Naypyitaw. Even so, the Pope is a global religious figure not many can afford to ignore.

 

The Rohingya issue also calls for the international community to maintain pressure on the Myanmar leadership on guaranteeing a safe return of these Myanmar citizens back home. The United States, Britain, the European Union, China and India have their various degrees of influence on Myanmar which they ought not to turn away from. Indeed, if more statesmen — and not just in the countries mentioned — were to emulate the firmness which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have in recent times expressed over Myanmar’s ill treatment of the Rohingyas, the situation could begin to look hopeful. And for Bangladesh, the requirement remains: its pursuit of diplomacy on the Rohingya situation must be educated, articulate and firm.

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