By Yasser Latif Hamdani
A number of ill-informed articles have appeared in the national press recently which have taken a rather strange line: Jinnah is responsible for the plight of Rohingyas in Burma. Jinnah – who died in 1948- is supposed to be responsible for the plight of Burmese Muslims in 2015 because in 1948 the Muslims of Arakan i.e. Burma appealed to him to help them secede (the Mayu region) from Burma and join East Pakistan. Jinnah refused stating that such an event would be tantamount to interference in Burmese affairs. He further advised the Burmese Muslims to work for their rights as citizens of Burma. Rohingyas as such constituted a very small percentage of the Burmese population and the idea that they could claim territory on that basis was preposterous. Ultimately a number of Rohingyas did move to the then East Pakistan – now Bangladesh. Jinnah had given a personal assurance to General Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) that he was not a supporter of the secessionist plan. (See Pages 96-97 of the book “Muslims of Burma” by Moshe Yegar) Should Jinnah or subsequent rulers have gone to war to annex part of Burma where in any event there were no contiguous Muslim regions? Such a move would unjustified morally, ethically, legally and practically.
The contradictions of Jinnah’s critics are remarkable. On the one hand they accuse Jinnah of “annexing” Kalat (even though no princely state in the subcontinent was allowed to go independent), though it must be said to their “credit” that they have never raised a voice against the genocide of Hyderabadi Muslims in 1948 by the Dominion of India during Operation Polo. Nevertheless they would have wanted Jinnah to invade Burma and take over a part of its territory through war. And because Jinnah refused to go to war with Burma to annex parts of it to East Pakistan, “he is responsible for the plight of Rohingya today”. The best case that Rohingyas have today is that they were, they are and they will be the natives of Burma – and that was the advice the Quaid-e-Azam gave them. Pakistan in any event has no moral claim to speak for Rohingyas given the absolute hash of things we have made vis a vis our own religious minorities. The case of Rohingyas does not lie in saying that they are Bengalis or Pakistanis or what have you. The case of Rohingyas is that they are citizens of Burma- a right denied to them by the Citizenship Act of 1982. This rhetoric therefore by certain sections is counterproductive because it shows that Arakan Muslims never wanted to be part of Burma. Citizenship is very different from nationalism. Nations can straddle states and boundaries. Citizenship however is the social compact between the state and the individual. Muslims of Burma want to be citizens of Burma (as they were advised by Jinnah in 1948). 90 million Muslims with 60 million living in contiguous units of a subcontinent under multiple tiers of sovereignty asking for a homeland is very different from a small minority of less than a million staking claim to separatism.