South Asia’s dangerous three

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London: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Burma are countries where minorities remain at high risk of mass violence or even genocide, according to the Minority Rights Group’s annual report. The countries are part of the top ten which are susceptible to further massacre.

Groups including the Shias and Christians in Pakistan, Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar and other communities on either side of Afghanistan’s ethnic fault-lines, including the Hazaras, are subjected to brutality.

MRG’s Executive Director Mark Lattimer said although the situation for minorities had improved in some parts of Asia, threats still remained. He added that sectarian and ethnic conflicts have been major problems in Burma and Pakistan, where the government failed to protect minorities’ rights, and is at the risk of escalating in war-torn Afghanistan.

Sectarian violence and religious persecution are rampant in Pakistan. The plight and threats to these minorities has, however, been downplayed by the extensive international media coverage focused on the conflict with radical groups.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other militant groups have persistently targeted Shias, including Hazaras, who make up a fifth of Pakistan’s large Sunni population and members of the Christian and Ahmedi community – which resulted in hundreds of deaths last year.

Afghanistan, which has been struck by a decade-long crippling war, has been entrenched in the top ten for several consecutive years. With Afghanistan facing a fundamental realignment of its political equilibrium, there are pressing concerns that a conflict between Pashtuns and Uzbeks and Tajiks and Hazaras will resurface.

Myanmar, which made its transition from a half-century of military rule to a civilian government, has made ambivalent progress on the treatment of its ethnic minorities in the last year and has fallen by one place (from seventh) to occupy the eighth position in the index.

Although the Myanmar government has continued ceasefire negotiations in a major step to end one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies, ethnic violence continues to spark up in the northern Kachin and Shan states, resulting in thousands of internally displaced people.

Moreover, hate speech and xenophobia against the country’s Muslim minority are also on the rise. Last year, Buddhist hardliners in the country stoked hatred across Myanmar with episodes of violence against the Muslim minority.

Lattimer is of the opinion that the Myanmar government has failed to quench the strain of religious hatred while reinforcing its discriminatory policies against the long-persecuted Muslim minority. He said that it was unfortunate that all conditions were in place for persecution against the Muslims, particularly Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya — who have been denied basic rights by the state, which has not recognised them as citizens, for decades.