RECENT escalation of the never-ending violence in Rakhine State certainly has raised further grave concerns on the deepening circle of violence that will subsequently be meted out, and how it must not lead to another humanitarian crisis.
It goes without saying that in such cycles of violence, extremism will only beget extremism, and the ones most affected are the innocent and the vulnerable.
The issue of Rakhine, if left at current pace, is fast becoming an albatross around the neck for Asean, especially ever since the regional group’s endorsement of the Langkawi Declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates, and of how it was projected to be a contribution from Asean to the world in shaping global development, peace and security.
The challenges to Asean, therefore, concerning the dangers that the crisis may pose to the region, are twofold, being physical as well as intrinsic in nature.
FIRSTLY, the challenges of the situation in Rakhine State underscore the importance of all relevant parties, especially those in Myanmar, as well as the Asean community, to work together to find a common solution towards the cessation of violence for peace and stability in the region.
Despite its policy of non-interference, it must act and execute in the most delicate form of cooperation for the greater communal good, with due mutual respect for Myanmar and her sovereignty.
Asean, through its annual rotational chairmanship, has worked ever ceaselessly to develop the region’s cooperation as well as capacity to prevent and manage potential conflicts.
Throughout its 50 years of existence, it had seen its fair share of conflicts, but has steadily managed to develop conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms between member nations.
Asean’s success, thus far, and its future aims on the acceleration of growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint-endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian nations can only happen through a mutual desire and spirit between its communities. Thus, it is imperative that no country or community be left behind as we seek to uphold the principles of cooperation and sharing of responsibilities and benefits.
SECONDLY, as we seek to promote the values of moderation as a norm, we must also strive to ensure that the exhaustive body of violent extremism reported and portrayed does not become a norm. Norm not in the acceptable kind of sense, but that it is no longer new — or newsworthy — in this region.
Asean, both its leaders and its populace, must digest and understand that in the current global climate, the region can ill-afford to have an equivalent to the Palestine issue, especially since the latter has yet to see a viable, let alone, peaceful solution.
It is for this very reason that Asean must not allow it to fester and become an untenable situation, ever ripe for geopolitical power play as well as a breeding ground exploited by terrorist and extremist networks, if it has not already. Suggestions, as of present, still continue to indicate that the issue of Rakhine is very much a humanitarian issue, but with valid grounds of becoming a terrorist issue.
The root causes of the conflict must be addressed, for fear it may turn to sectarian violence or even be simply and carelessly termed as a terrorism/extremism problem; blamed under the global terrorism banner, which is currently and unfairly ensnared towards Muslims in general.
The Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF) rightfully continues to believe and recognise that moderation, together with the movement in itself, is a core platform of value, a palpable tool in diffusing tensions, preventing and countering violent extremism in whatever shape and manifestations they may be.
Thus, given the current volatile and ever-widening mistrust surrounding the area, what immediate and longer-term measures can be facilitated and required in addressing the issue?
Admittedly, these measures require mutual recognition, focus, cooperation and acceptance by the Myanmar civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the military, community leaders of Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya, and, if permitted, the relevant international community.
Simply put, the situation in Rakhine is a challenge for proper, exquisite and transcending leadership, akin to the spheres made by leadership icons of recent memory, such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
Short-term, all concerned stakeholders, from leaders to followers, need to ensure restraint from further escalation of the situation.
Given that the recent Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State concerning long-term solutions to the violent-stricken Rakhine area — conducted by a nine-member advisory commission led by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and was implied to be at the behest of Suu Kyi — we do hope that there are grounds for optimism, and that there exists a political will for a reconciliation process.
This is despite debates and arguments noting on the report’s lack of fully reflecting the gravity and severity of human rights violations committed in Rakhine State.
Nonetheless, for the purpose of moving forward in ending the atrocities committed, the report must act as a catalyst for cessation and for reconciliation between all concerning the crisis.
This should also be followed by further investigation and reports — cooperatively formed between trusted international and national bodies — which complements any other points that may have been amiss by the Annan Report. What should not be, however, is for the Annan Report to simply be a lackadaisical attempt or ploy to escape further criticism or sanctions as well as international pressure.
With regards to long-term measures, it will require patience due to the long-drawn, messy complications of the crisis.
But one primary objective or suggestion would be for the convening of a body of groups that pay greater interest and focus towards addressing and reviewing for proper and effective implementations on the recommendations made by the report in question, which should mutually, if begrudgingly, accepted by both Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya.
This is in line with the advisory commission’s proposal for a ministerial-level appointment tasked with specifically coordinating the feasibility of the report’s recommendations.
Efforts and recommendations should include finding solutions to the enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, addressing the long-drawn conflict of Rohingya statelessness and, eventually, holding perpetrators of gross violations accountable.
Community-based engagements on massaging the depths of mistrust and suspicion will be required in steps, and somewhat naturally, be a long-drawn process.
GMMF, too, within its Asean-oriented initiatives, will seek to fully digest the report and conduct, where applicable, complementary efforts or programmes that go hand in hand with outcomes as outlined in the Langkawi Declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates.
Ultimately, Asean is a diverse region, with a steady mix and concentration of Buddhist, Christian and Muslim populations, where conflicts are few and far between.
We believe that together, the leaders and communities of Asean nations possess the willingness to share their experience and best practices, thereby ensuring that the march towards moderation and peaceful co-existence will ultimately prevail.
But the ball is in the court of the Myanmar government and its Nobel-prize winning leader, Suu Kyi, as to whether they desire for proper justice and accountability to take place unbiasedly.
GMMF, in extending our deepest sympathies and prayers to victims and families afflicted, hopes a viable solution be found to the crisis, in addition to settling of conflicts and differences in a peaceful manner that befits the spirit of the Asean Declaration, and its fundamental principles.
Datuk Dr Nasharudin Mat Isa is executive chairman and chief executive officer of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation.