ROHINGYA ISSUE: THE BIGGER DANGER FOR THE REGION AND INDIA

In a first attack after August, fighters of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) ambushed a Myanmar military truck, wounding several members of the security forces.

No option but to continue fighting say insurgents

Rohingya Muslim insurgents said they have no option but to fight what they called Myanmar’s ‘state-sponsored terrorism’ to defend the Rohingya community, and they demanded that the Rohingya be consulted on all decisions affecting their future.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched raids on the Myanmar security forces on August 25, which sparked counter-insurgency operations in the Muslim-majority north of Rakhine State that led to widespread violence and arson and an exodus of some 6,50,000 Rohingya villagers to Bangladesh.

The UN condemned the Myanmar military campaign as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar rejected that.

“ARSA has… no other option but to combat ‘Burmese state-sponsored terrorism’ against the Rohingya population for the purpose of defending, salvaging and protecting the Rohingya community,” the group said in a statement signed by leader Ata Ullah and posted on Twitter. “Rohingya people must be consulted in all decision-making that affects their humanitarian needs and political future.”

Myanmar and Bangladesh meanwhile, have been discussing a plan to repatriate the refugees but more insecurity in Myanmar is likely to raise even more doubts about how quickly that might happen. The refugees complain that they have not been consulted on the plan. Details of the repatriation plan have yet to be finalised and many questions remain, not only about security but also about the terms refugees will return under, and whether they will be able to go back to their homes or be resettled in camps. Rohingya have for years been denied citizenship, freedom of movement and access to services such as health care. Myanmar regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Conspiracy of China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar

During his recent visit to Dhaka and interaction with top Bangladeshi Ministers, diplomats and defence strategists over there, Manash Ghosh (veteran Kolkata-based journalist) notes that “one strand that was common in their interpretation about the Rohingya crisis was that it was no more about ethnic and religious minority cleansing, as many had sought to project and highlighted it to be, but a result of a well-planned and well coordinated action strategy of four nations — China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar — whose leaders, in order to secure their own respective national interests and also their geo-political and economic goals, goaded the Myanmar military to unleash mindless violence on the Rohingyas, thereby forcing over six lakh of them to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.”

During the interface, Ghosh points out “all of them agreed that Rohingyas are but a victim of the Chinese economic aggression in Myanmar’s Rakhine Province. Since Beijing has begun investing heavily (about $10 billion) in modernising Sittwe port and building oil and gas pipelines from Sittwe to Yunan in south China and also building special economic zones to ‘develop’ Rakhine’s huge and rich untapped natural resources, natural gas, oil, timber, tin and precious gems and stones, it wants to safeguard its investments and assets in this Province, bordering Bangladesh. Moreover, their investments are going to treble in the coming years, which makes China an important stakeholder in whatever happens in Rakhine Province.”

Ghosh says the presence of Islamic terror groups like the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, Afghanistan and Syria returned battle-hardened Rohingya warriors, makes China extremely nervous. Beijing considers their presence in Rakhine a threat to its investment.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have also contributed handsomely to its creation in pursuance of their own agenda. “While the Pakistani objective is purely political, the Saudi objective is religious — to bring the peripheral Muslim groups, like the Rohingyas, under its wahibi sway. Pakistanis, who have always patronised the Rohingyas, especially the extremist kind, have relentlessly incited them to take up arms for liberating Rakhine. The Pakistanis consciously pursued this line knowing well that this would unleash a violent backlash from the junta, forcing lakhs to seek refuge in Bangladesh. The Pakistanis had for long been working for the large-scale displacement of Rohingyas from their roots and their eventual exodus to Bangladesh so as to enlarge their committed political constituency in that country.”

The Pakistanis had hoped that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s known misgivings for the Rohingyas, because of a large section getting radicalised with Pakistani help, coupled with her battling against Pakistan-backed Islamic militants, would induce her to shut Bangladesh’s door to the Rohingya influx.

But Hasina agreed to provide refuge and relief to the Rohingyas. This has however, presented Hasina with a massive economic and political challenge. What is worrying many in the Government is that there are Opposition leaders who openly profess, “We must help the Rohingyas to fight to get an independent Rakhine nation.” Some are for Bangladesh, waging a war against Myanmar.

The persecution of the Rohingyas is also “the result of Buddhist clergy spearheading a vicious anti-Rohingya movement against their separatist and terror activities. This brought about a convergence of Chinese and Myanmarese interests to rid Rakhine of the Rohingyas and the military junta readily obliged the Chinese by taking the specious plea that Rohingyas being Bengalis had no right to stay in Myanmar.”

Ghosh recalls that in 1992, the Bangladesh Government signed an agreement with Yangon, which wholly favoured the junta. For instance, one clause of the agreement said only those refugees would be sent back who could produce their nationality and property documents. The other unfavourable clause was that in case of any disagreement, Myanmar’s say will be final. Both these two clauses have been retained on Myanmar’s strong insistence in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Bangladesh with NayPyi Daw last month. These two clauses are major stumbling blocks to wholesale return of Rohingyas to Myanmar.

The bigger problem is that with no sources of livelihood to sustain them, Rohingyas have become ready recruits for banned home-grown terror groups like the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, Ansarullah Bangla Team and also international terror groups like the Taliban, the Islamic State and the Al Qaeda. According to experts, the worry is that the future generation of Rohingyas will not be as tolerant as the present one. And if the world opinion does not force Myanmar to take back all the refugees, the whole Indian sub-continent will have a serious security problem at hand. The Rohingyas will act as freewheeling mercenaries, spilling death and destruction. That’s why India too has to play a meaningful role in the resolution of this crisis.