Climate Change / Sustainable Development

The Rohingya tragedy

Regarding the Rohingyas' situation I only want to share what I have learnt about their misery

Sep 9, 2017
By Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed
Regarding the Rohingyas' situation I only want to share what I have learnt about their misery:
1. First of all, their actual numbers are disputed. I have come across a figure of 7 million and another of 3.5 million but most seem to suggest the smaller figure of 1.5 million.
3. Some say that among them are included even Hindus from Bangladesh while others say that they are not Bengalis but Biharis who fought for Pakistan and are therefore not welcomed in Bangladesh. '
4. Some include all Muslims in Burma among the Rohingyas and say they have been there for more than a thousand years. Another view is that already when Shah Shuja, Aurangzeb's brother fled to Burma the Rohingyas were planted in Burma.
5. The truth is that by and large they are of Chittagong Bengali extraction who went to Burma during the British period. Some say for working in agriculture, others say as simply unskilled workers.
6. The view from Bangladesh is also a varied one. Many say that Bangladesh is already overpopulated and there is no place for more people. They say other Muslim countries with greater space and resources must accept them.
7. Yet another view is that it is Myanmar or Burma which must ensure that these people are treated well and protected from harm. In principle I agree with this situation.
8. However, a conflict between the Burmese state and the Rohingyas has been going on for a very long time. On a few occasions Rohingyas have returned from refugee camps to their homes but again they have been attacked. And so, it is clear that they are not wanted in that country.
9. Another friend pointed out that the trouble started when overzealous Rohingyas began to assert their Islamic identity and attacked the Buddhists that the reaction against them originated and has now become endemic: Rohingyas trained in camps during the so-called jihad and even later in Pakistan have been responsible for violence and terrorism in Burma and then are facing the full might of the Myanmar state.
10. A most alarming information I have received is that the impoverished, homeless Rohingyas are being brainwashed in Deobandi seminaries in Karachi and are involved in attacks on Shias.
11. One fantastic conspiracy theory is that since there is oil in Burma the Americans want to destabilize that country and therefore the Rohingyas issue is being projected as a case of ongoing genocide - suggesting that the human rights organizations reporting their suffering are simply agents of US Imperialism!
12. With so many different and contradictory perspectives and statistics being used one can only be confused and confounded.
13. I think that one can still take a principled stand that the vast majority of these unfortunate people live in abject poverty and are despised, persecuted and brutalized and they need to be protected.
14. The Islamic Umma myth once again is exposed. No Muslim country is willing to accept them except in token numbers.
15. In ethnic and religious terms the closest links they have historically are with Bangladesh but Bangladesh is indeed itself overpopulated.
16. I think the overall concern for all of us should be the ethnicization of the nation-state. Everywhere either religion, or sect or ethnicity and race are becoming the single factor around which the territorial nation-state is being promoted by attacking pluralism, diversity and heterogeneity.
17. If it is Rohingyas today it will be another group tomorrow. Of course getting these people out of Myanmar and placed in either Bangladesh or a number of Muslim countries cannot be a model to resolve such conflicts. The states have to be made responsible for the safety and security of their minorities and punished by the international community if they fail. But sometimes exceptions need also to be considered. I have a feeling the Rohingyas will always be persecuted in Burma. They need to be provided safe havens somewhere.
Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; Visiting Professor Government College University;  and, Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, *(Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012), won the Best Non-Fiction Book Prize at the 2013 Karachi Literature Festival and the 2013 UBL-Jang Groups Best Non-Fiction Book Prize at Lahore and the Best Book on Punjab Award from Punjabi Parchar at the Vaisakhi Mela in Lahore, 2016. And , Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013.  I can be reached at:

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