Barack Obama, the just-re-elected president of the United States, made history, when he paid last Monday a brief visit to Myanmar, which until recently used to be considered a pariah state. The Obama visit, the first one by any US president, is considered an important event in Dhaka because of possible developments that might take place in areas of democratic reforms and conflicts between the majority Buddhist population and the ethnic Muslim minority, called Rohingyas, living in the Rakhine province. During his short visit to Myanmar which is now considered in Washington strategically a very important geographic location because of the China's rising influence, Obama praised the incumbent Yangon administration for the progress it has so far made to bring the country out of military rule and, at the same time, pressed for more reforms.
There was concern among a section of human rights groups that the US president's visit to Myanmar would amount to 'rewarding that country too much too soon'. But Obama shrugged off such concerns as he seemed determined to 'lock in' democratic changes that are already underway in that country. The Myanmar authorities also did not disappoint Obama as they released dozens of political prisoners, many of whom are dissidents, hours before his visit. However, Obama is not under any illusion that the changes in this resource-rich country would be very fast. That is why he has found what is being done under Myanmar's incumbent President Thien Sein in terms of democratic and economic reforms is part of a 'long journey'. He expressed the hope that the Myanmar authorities would sustain the current momentum towards democracy and reforms and take meaningful steps to end ethnic conflicts.
Obama, during his visit to Myanmar, made no secret to demonstrate his strong affinity and admiration for Nobel laureate and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. There is no denying that she would continue to play an important role in her country's full transition to democracy and in efforts to end ethnic strife of all sorts. The government and the people of Bangladesh have always admired the strong role she has been playing in democratic movement in Myanmar. But her recent stance on the Rohingya issue has come somewhat as a shock to most people here. She has traced the origin of the Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh claiming that those people had moved into Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, from Bangladesh. Such a fictitious claim has all the potential of heightening the ongoing conflict between the majority Buddhists and the Rohingyas, the latter being victims of organised attacks.
The ministry of external affairs of the government of Bangladesh protested last Sunday Ms Suu Kyi's comments, citing past instances where Myanmar took back quite a large number of the Rohingyas, who had entered Bangladesh to avoid persecution in their homeland. Obama mentioned the violence between the Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims in his speech at Yangon University and did understandably take up this issue of consequence with the Myanmar leaders, though he did not say much publicly about it. The leaders of Myanmar did, however, reportedly promise to work seriously to resolve this long-lingering problem. Unless and until Myanmar stops considering the Rohingyas illegal immigrants and recognise them as its citizens, the situation would not improve and Bangladesh would continue to suffer unnecessarily for violent acts taking place in its immediate neighbourhood.