“How do we emerge victorious from the quagmire?”
Many among us take pride in Pakistan’s position as one of the prime bastions of Islamic ideals in the modern Muslim world. The Islamic Republic’s ongoing negotiations with Myanmar, therefore, are a matter of some concern for an average Muslim patriot.
In a global political climate where many Muslims already feel besieged by external colonial forces, a new name is fast emerging among our list of oppressed Muslim groups from Palestinians to Kashmiris. And that name is ‘Rohingya’. More commonly known to Pakistanis as simply “Burma ke Musalman”, the Rohingya people are a predominantly Muslim Indo-Aryan population from the Rakhine state in Myanmar.
This new entry to the vernacular and argumentation ammunition of a Muslim nationalist constitutes a story of human misery that is mortifying by any objective standard. A great bulk of the Rohingya people inherited their perceived criminality from their forefathers in the 60s, who rebelled against the Buddhist-dominant authorities and their discriminatory policies. The resulting resentment against the Muslim population led to the promulgation of the Burmese Nationality Law, which denies the Rohingya people citizenship and essentially renders them stateless – not unlike the Palestinians.
There has been some controversy in the past concerning the degree of the oppression by the state of Myanmar. Pakistani web spaces were flooded by fake images of devastation caused by the military forces. In a country where Pak Studies, among other Islamo-nationalist devices, has generated a fertile ground where stories of Muslim victimhood are taken at face value, the images were accepted largely uncontested.
The liberal citizenry of Pakistan should make no mistake here. Irrespective of the accuracy of the visual aids found on the internet – the oppression of the Rohingya people is undeniably brutal.
In 2015, a damning study by International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) concluded that the Rohingya “face the final stage of genocide” at the hands of the Buddhist extremist groups as well as the Burmese authorities themselves. The study has well maintained its validity till now, especially considering a recent government crackdown that may have killed more than a thousand Muslims. The survivors’ accounts of rape, torture, property destruction, and wanton murder that have emerged in the crackdown’s wake are harrowing.
The same Burmese government, it seems, is now at the cusp of being rewarded with an arms agreement with none other the Islamic Republic of Pakistan itself.
Myanmar and Pakistan are engaged in advanced negotiations to license-build the JF-17 Thunder – an agreement that could help markedly expand Myanmar’s local defence industry. This is the same military force whose brutality against the Muslims of Rohingya has been substantiated by grainy videos in circulation on the internet, as well as international journalists and human rights organizations. The JF-17 was developed in collaboration with China – a country tarnished by its own history of violations against the Uighur Muslims, which I have discussed in detail in my previous writings.
This Pakistan is beyond our recognition. This is a state that has invested great effort into establishing its role as a political defender of oppressed Muslim brethren. This has been the foundational doctrine of all of Pakistan’s military and diplomatic policies regarding Kashmir, as well as the primary reason why your Pakistani passport says that it is not valid for travel to Israel.
It is astonishing how rapidly the doctrine of solidarity with Muslim brethren is vaporized, when it comes to abetting the bane of the Muslim populations of Xinjiang and Rakhine for our own economic and military gains. By what marvel of mental gymnastics, do we settle the cognitive dissonance of rattling sabres in support of Kashmiri Muslims, while simultaneously pushing Musalmanan-e-Burma under the bus?
The Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Pakistan Air Force have so far declined to comment on the apparent mismatch.
The JF-17 deal is an important one in the making; not simply because of its significance to the Myanmar Airforce, but as a determinant of Pakistan’s self-made identity as a vanguard of Muslim people.
Do we now affirm this identity, or do we invite accusations of hypocrisy?