Rohingya Issue: How we got here
 
 
ARNO logo
 
By Nurul Islam
Chairman of Arkan Rohingya National Organisation 
June 23, 2017
 
 
The Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim community, a people developed from the interactions of various ethnicities over the period of many centuries, have inhabited Arakan with a long history. In terms of their origin and culture, as well as their present geographical location, they have more in common with people from India rather than the other Burmese races. This has encouraged vested quarters backed by the military to unleash a successful propaganda campaign against this Muslim race to a point their very existence is not tolerated by people from other races in the country, despite the unceasing imploration of the minority community for peaceful co-existence. 
The Rohingya problem is a longstanding issue of ethnic, religious and political persecution to rid Arakan of the Muslim population. “… with increasing frequency over time, … 1942, 1977, 1991, 2012 and 2014, waves of Muslim minority Rohingya fled Rakhine (Arakan) due to extreme forms of repression from the authorities dominated by the majority Buddhist and Burmese people.”[1] The horrific Muslim massacre of 1942 where about a hundred thousand were slaughtered by a Rakhine dominated militia is now a forgotten chapter in the pages of history lost amidst the gory backdrop of the Second World War. 
With the 1962 military takeover, the determination of the military regime to expel the Rohingya entered a new phase, quickly assuming the nature of ethnic cleansing and genocide that by now mankind has made regrettably conventional in many other corners of the world. Since then, for decades, the defenseless Rohingya have been stripped of their citizenship rendering them stateless in their own homeland of Arakan/Burma and refugees beyond its borders. Violently rejected in Burma and unwanted in neighbouring Bangladesh and elsewhere, the poor Rohingya are even in a realm hardened by terror and genocide, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, a race without a country, adrift on the sea of sorrow. 
Sensing a bleak future amidst a hostile militant Buddhist environment, the 1942 pogrom motivated many Rohingya youths to embark on an armed revolution, on the eve of Burma’s independence in 1948, under the honorific nomenclature of Mujahid Party/Movement in order to safeguard the rights and freedom of their people. The Mujahids enjoyed widespread community support so long as they remained disciplined and steadfast. 
Unlike Buddhist Rakhine groups -- whether communist or nationalist movements -- the mainstream Mujahid and all succeeding Rohingya freedom movements never demanded separatism, although Burmese regime(s) and vested interests have engaged in a calculated and pernicious propaganda to tarnish the image of Rohingya emancipation movement as separatist, extremist, terrorist and having links with international terrorist organisations. However, Rohingya people did not show up in struggles outside their country and remained committed only as a community within Arakan. After the Mujahids ceased activities in 1961 in return for concessions promised by the regime, no significant Rohingya armed revolutionary groups have emerged only because the vast majority continued to believe in the path of peaceful political settlements, despite the continuous setbacks that followed. All armed remnants, including the much publicised Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) has become defunct for a long time. Nevertheless, there was no change of attitude by the government or representatives from the majority Buddhist communities towards the Rohingya people. They soon became invariably subjected to horrific crimes against humanity which amounts to ethnic cleansing and genocide. Giving little or no attention to the predicament and current terrible situation besetting the Rohingya people, those who practice unethical journalism have over the years shifted the Rohingya issue to that of illegal immigration and extremism rather than what it really is - - a case of the ethnic cleansing of a defenseless minority. 
Deviating from his previous position, a renowned Swedish Journalist Bertil Lintner recently wrote in his article titled “Militancy in Arakan State” dated 15 December 2016 that Muslims of Arakan who now call themselves “Rohingya” are unlikely to have anything to do with the Rooinga- as recorded by East India Company’s Scottish ethno-linguist Buchanan in 1789. He continued that it was not until the late 1950s that the name Rohingya came into use and the government recognised the designation. U Nu, who had resigned as prime minister in 1958 to give way to a military caretaker government headed by Gen Ne Win, wanted to get the Muslim vote when he sought re-election in 1960 – and the creation of the Mayu Frontier Administration as well as the recognition of the name of Rohingya was part of the campaign, according to Lintner. It is devoid of meaning as there was no such statement or record. The acceptance of ‘Rohingya’ as an ethnic name was also accepted by Prime Minister U Nu’s socialist rival U Ba Swe. On top of that no credible Rakhine political Party at that time did ever raise any citable objections to the recognition of Rohingya as one of the ethnic nationalities of the Union of Burma. In fact, “the plan to set up Mayu Frontier Administration (MFA) for the predominantly Rohingya was made by the Ministry of Defence Border Affairs Division as the Rohingya leaders from North Arakan townships were bitterly opposed to granting Rakhine an autonomous statehood as promised by U Nu –and even long before that.”[2] At that time Gen Ne Win was Chief of Staff and Brigadier Aung Gyi was Deputy Chief of Staff. It may be pointed that the concept of MFA was based on “Muslim Area of North Arakan” that the British Military Command declared vide its announcement No. 110-CC/42 dated 31 December 1942.
As atrocities continued and attitudes hardened, the community slid towards desolation leading to desperation, especially among the young generation. It was in the midst of this already volatile situation that in 2012, the anti-Muslim riots took place, virtually obliterating the social fabric of the Rohingya community. It was an event where almost everybody from Maungdaw to Kyauktaw lost someone dear to them. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had long been the last beacon of hope for the Rohingya Muslims, but instead she attempted to shield the military rulers and the perpetrators of this gruesome violence. Gradually her stance moved more towards the anti-Muslim bloc till a time came when she started to pin the blame on the victims. It was a great shock for the Rohingyas, a community whose members had almost unanimously prayed for the day she would rule Burma. The so-called democratic transition made the Rohingya even more disenfranchised subsequently excluding them from the 2014 census. By then, many from the Rohingya young generation whether in their homeland or in their places of refuge were ready to listen to anyone who offered them a message of violent retaliation. 
Even then, it was four years after the public declaration of the Tatmadaw and their nationalist allies to annihilate the Rohingyas that the attacks on the Border Guard Police headquarters and its two outposts in Maungdaw district took place, on 9 October 2016. The attackers belonged to a hitherto unknown Rohingya group, apparently in hundreds, under the name of Harakat al-Yakeen (the Faith Movement or the Movement of Hope). It is, however, worth mentioning that the Border Guard Police (BGP), formerly NaSaKa, has been established by the former infamous Gen Khin Nyunt to steadily annihilate the Rohingya community from their ancestral homeland. The members of the BGP and security forces are unofficially licensed to indulge in extra-judicial killing, arbitrary arrest, rape, arson, destruction, looting, extortion, and other inhuman acts against the Rohingya community. 
The military under the pretext of cleansing operation or counter insurgency retaliated with excessive force indulging in summary executions including that of infant children, mass rapes and destruction of the properties of innocent Rohingya civilians, while aid organisations, foreign journalists and international observers were denied access. The government announced that the group was well trained and well-funded and backed by Middle Eastern patrons, ringing alarm bells across foreign capitals. In reality, the evidence and videos released suggest that the attackers while belonging to the country’s long oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority are ill quipped, and a significant majority of them are children under 12, armed with few assorted obsolete arms, swords, spears, sticks and even farm tools, devoid of proper uniforms or shoes; the attacks were confined to the Rohingya area of Northern Maungdaw; and their tactics and behaviours did not seem sophisticated. As a researcher with the Burma Human Rights Network points out in an article analysing the new insurgent group, “The feeling quickly sinks in that these children are being marched to their deaths for something they are not even old enough to understand. Frankly, it is horrifying.”[3]
It is impossible to comprehend how a force like the Tatmadaw, fighting guerilla movements for more than six decades missed the textbook conditions that were brewing up leading to the present armed insurgency in Arakan. The Armed Forces, well versed in ‘counter insurgency’ knew very well what was going to hit them. Whatever the objectives of the ill equipped attackers, they had played right into the hands of the shrewd Tatmadaw officials who have long been waiting for an opportunity to execute another bout of ethnic cleansing similar to 2012, but one that could be continued over time with more brutal efficiency. Intentions of such a violent confrontation with ill equipped Rohingya villagers would be to (i) frustrate regional and international efforts for communal reconciliation and to address the human rights situation in Arakan, (ii) keep the Rohingya majority area of northern Arakan under military control raising false security alarm from the angle of so-called terrorism thereby to create an “exclusive military administration within the government” and slowly but surely weaken the NLD-led government (iii) diminish the existing sympathy and support of the international community for oppressed and persecuted Rohingya by portraying them as having connections with militant Islam (iv) produce IDPs in Maungdaw district as in Akyab/Sittwe with the intention to ultimately destroy the whole community; (vi) push the Rohingyas into Bangladesh (vii) permanently divide the two sister communities of Rohingya and Rakhine on ethnic and religious lines; and (viii) divert the attention of the people away from the ongoing wars in Kachin and Shan states.
A report by the Brussels based International Crisis Group (ICG) published under an unfavourable title, “A new Muslim insurgency in Rakhine State”, perhaps unwittingly gave the Myanmar regime invaluable support. It does not help that Rohingyas are Muslims. In all fairness, the ICG report calls for addressing the root causes of the Rohingya insurgency. It condemns atrocities against the Muslim population and identifies the failure of the government as the reasons this insurgency was born. One of the authors of the ICG report said, it is at heart motivated by local grievances rather than trans-national Jihad like IS or al-Qaeda. Yet the practical truth is the ICG report did not lead the international media to carry headlines such as “Crimes Against Humanity or Genocide or Ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas creating new Muslim insurgency”. Rather the headlines read more like ‘Myanmar’s Rohingya insurgency has links to Saudi, Pakistan’, giving impetus to the government claim it was fighting well funded terrorists at a time when Rohingya villagers, including women and children were being slaughtered indiscriminately in what was a colossal assault on defenseless civilians and not a counter-insurgency operation. Through no fault of their own, the Muslim community was placed on the wrong side of the war on terror, with the situation playing into the hands of one of the world’s most brutal security forces. As for the group’s funds, by now it is well known they were indeed being financed by another ragtag band of refugees based only in Saudi Arabia, and not by conventional governments or oil barons. At a time when their friends and relatives were being slaughtered, with children being thrown into the fire, the bewildered Rohingya had to bear with allegations of supporting militant outfits whose very names sounded strange to their ears. 
It is shocking that the writer Bertil Lintner was callous to writes, “it is also not known whether today’s militants, as suggested, want to establish an Islamic state in northwestern Arakan State, or are only looking for operations in the region, including perhaps even India”. He intentionally avoids highlighting the clear statement of the Harakat al-Yakeen that rejected the trans-national terrorist label, called for the restoration of rights and freedom, demanded to resolve the Rohingya problem and redress the grievances of the beleaguered community, and expressed a feeling of abandonment by the international community, while calling on the Myanmar government to end the decades-old civil war with the ethnic nationalities in the country. Despite the fact that Rakhine youths are ganging up with the security forces in unleashing violence against Rohingya villagers, no Rakhine miscreants have been targeted by the members of the Harakat al-Yakeen. Their demands are minimum and legitimate. When all other remedies are completely exhausted, self-defense will accrue from all standpoints. 
[1] “Sanction Myanmar And Give The Rohingya A State Of Their Own”, an article by Anders Corr Contributor, Forbes, 28 December 2016 
[2] Bertiil Linter makes facts up about Rohingya while playing to popular and policy-Islamophobia, an article by Dr. Maung Zar Ni, 17 December 2016. 
[3] Taking the Rohingya Insurgency at Face Value”, an article by Richard Potter in Diplomat dated October 30, 2016
The article was first published in the Rohingya Blogger