The Background:

There has been a long history of Muslim-Buddhist animosity and clashes in the Rakhine region. The province of Rakhine lay between the largely Islamic eastern part of the “suba(province) of Bangal (Bengal)” of the Mughal empire and the Buddhist kingdoms of Myanmar. Indian history buffs may note that Shah Shuja the second son of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan fled to Rakhine after the Mughal war of succession following which  Aurangazeb became the emperor. The Chittagonian Rakhine Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists have traditionally been on opposing sides. It may be noted that during the second world war, when the Japanese forces occupied Myanmar and Rakhine, the Rakhine Muslims were opposed to it having allied with the British, whereas the Buddhists with the Japanese (and therefore with Netaji Subhas’s INA). Following the second world war and the independence of Myanmar, the Chittagonian Rakhine Muslims after having been frustrated in their efforts to have Rakhine merged with East Pakistan, targeted Rakhine Buddhist interests expelling many Rakhine Buddhists from the north. During the early years after Myanmar’s independence, the Myanmar Military was severely embattled having to counter several ethnic insurgencies across Myanmar. However, by 1962 the Military gradually gained ascendancy over the militant factions or rebels amongst the Chittagonian Rakhine Muslims the most formidable of which was the Rakhine Solidarity Organization (RSO), who continued to operate from across the border, from East Pakistan(later Bangladesh). The RSO continued to increase its capabilities throughout 1980s and 2000s through assistance of pan Islamic organizations in places such as Libya and Afghanistan. At the same time the Chittagonian Rakhine Muslims adopted a new identity for themselves called Rohingyas and have tried to demonstrate historic ties with the province of Rakhine; unsuccessfully.

The Government of Myanmar has consistently opposed the self-nominated term of Rohingya because the Chittagonian Rakhine Muslims were primarily sent by the British administration during the period of 1826 to 1948 to further Colonial Britain’s economic interest of growing rice for exports in Rakhine. The official stance of the Government of Myanmar is that the Rohingya are citizens of Bangladesh, as a result of the British partitioning of their Asian possessions. This has placed them in direct conflict with the foreign policy of Britain and other Anglo-Saxon countries including the USA. Britain has refused to recognize the 1982 citizenship law of the Government of Myanmar under the plea that it was notified during the period of Military Dictatorship in Myanmar. Myanmar has however had democratic elections in 2015, when the citizenship law was accepted; in which the present ruling party of National League of Democracy came to power with a stunning super majority of nearly 80%. NLD leader and Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was debarred under Myanmar’s citizenship laws from Presidency as her husband and children were foreign citizens, and she was appointed to the office of State Counsellor of Myanmar. The British have a convenient approach of only accepting only rules suiting their interests rather than democracy per se!  

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in September 2016 invited Kofi Annan to head a commission to find long-term solutions to deep-seated ethnic and religious divisions in Rakhine. At the request of the government, the commission agreed to exclude both the terms Rohingya and Bengali to refer to the Chittagonian Rakhine Muslims and refer to the respective parties as “Rakhine” implying Rakhine Buddhists and “Muslims”. The Kaman Muslims (who came with Shah Shuja) are simply referred to as Kaman.

Even when the Commission was at its work, an emerging terrorist group called the Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY) led by Rohingya emigres in Saudi Arabia launched deadly attacks on Myanmar’s Border Guard Police on 9 October 2016 and 12 November 2016 killing several security forces, senior army officers and civilian population. The Leadership of the Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY), and their Pakistan and Saudi Arabia connections are described in detail in the International Crisis group’s report- Myanmar: A new Muslim Insurgency in Rakhine State, Asia Report No 283 dated 15 December 2016. The emergence of this new Muslim insurgency – Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY) later renamed as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), has been acknowledged to be highly destabilizing by the International Crisis Group and even finds mention in Kofi Annan’s  Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

Given below are extracts from the Commission’s reports that are quite telling about the concerns of the respective groups (Muslims and the Rakhine):

Rakhine also represents a human rights crisis. While all communities have suffered

from violence and abuse, protracted statelessness and profound discrimination

have made the Muslim community particularly vulnerable to human rights violations.

Some ten percent of the world’s stateless people live in Myanmar, and the Muslims

in Rakhine constitute the single biggest stateless community in the world. The

community faces a number of restrictions which affect basic rights and many

aspects of their daily lives. Approximately 120,000 people are still left in camps

for Internally Displaced People (IDPs). The community has been denied political

representation, and is generally excluded from Myanmar’s body politic. Efforts by

the Government to verify citizenship claims have failed to win the confidence of

either Muslim or Rakhine communities.

Finally, Rakhine is also a security crisis. As witnessed by the Commission during its

many consultations across Rakhine State, all communities harbour deep-seated

fears, with the legacy of the violence of 2012 fresh in many minds. While Muslims

resent continued exclusion, the Rakhine(Buddhist) community worry about becoming a minority in the state in the future. Segregation has worsened the prospects for

mutual understanding. The Government has to step up its efforts to ensure that

all communities feel safe and in doing so, restore inter-communal cohesion. Time

alone will not heal Rakhine.

The Kofi Annan panel had recommended a number of policy considerations for Myanmar Government including a fresh review of the nature of Myanmar’s Citizenship Act, but evidently its recommendations did not suit the intent of the Rohingyas. A day after the panel issued its report on 24 August 2017, Rohingya insurgents led by the Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY) or the ARSA launched coordinated attacks on security forces at over 30 Myanmar Police Posts and an Army Base all across Northern Rakhine State including the townships of  Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. On the same day, the Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY) also attacked Hindu villages in a cluster known as Kha Maung Seik in the northern Maungdaw District and massacred 99 Bengali Hindu villagers.

It is worth pausing for a moment, to try to understand the intent of this massacre of a community who were also Rohingyas and of the same stock as the Chittagonian Bengalis but just did not happen to be Muslims!

The International Crisis Group notes the following:

ARSA are well aware that their latest attacks are likely to provoke a strong military response and political backlash, as they did in 2016, which will greatly harm Rohingya villagers. That almost certainly is its aim. Despite its claim that it is “protecting” the Rohingya, it knows that it is provoking the security forces into a heavy-handed military response, hoping that this will further alienate Rohingya communities, drive support for ARSA, and place the spotlight of the world back on military abuses in northern Rakhine state. A disproportionate military response without any overarching political strategy once again will play directly into ARSA’s hands.

Expectedly the counter offensive launched by the Myanmar Army on the Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY) triggered mass exodus of close to a million Rohingyas northwards across the river Naf into the Chittagong Hill tracts of Bangladesh.

The bias and one sided nature of reporting in favour of the Rohingyas and against the Myanmar Government and Military by the Western News Media is quite revealing, prompting Daw Aung san Suu Kyi to label them as a “huge iceberg of misinformation”. UNHCR’s Zaid Raad Al Hussain on the other hand has referred to the military action as “A text book example of Ethnic Cleansing”. Matters inevitably came up in the Security Council where condemnation of Myanmar had to be blocked by Russia and China (veto wielding members!). At this 8133rd meeting of the UN Security Council on 12 December 2017, the representative of the Russian Federation, Vassily Nebenzia, observed the following during the course of the discussion on ‘The Situation in Myanmar’:

In our view, what is needed most of all in order to agree on a settlement of the situation of mass movements of people across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border is goodwill on the part of both States. Unfortunately, it will be impossible to re- solve matters if the two of them cannot come to a rapprochement on this age-old problem, whose foundation was laid in the previous century by a colonial administration, with its arbitrary drawing of borders and shifting of populations from one part of its colonial dominions to another. The role of the international community, including the United Nations, should be to assist bilateral efforts to surmount this crisis and its consequences.

Clearly these facts are not of the liking of either the Anglo Saxon media or Britain whose main effort continues to be to isolate Myanmar.

Nevertheless , in 2018 the Myanmar Government formed an Independent Commission of Enquiry, in response to international calls for accountability to probe the circumstances leading to exodus of the Rohingyas, under the Chair Person-ship of former Deputy Foreign Minister of Phillipines, Hon. Rosario Manalo, and its report came out on 20 January 2020. The report stated as follows:

“There is insufficient evidence to argue, much less conclude, that the crimes committed were undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, or with any other requisite mental state for the international crime of genocide”

The release of the long-awaited report came just two days shy of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on 23 January 2020, whether to approve The Gambia’s request that provisional measures be taken against Myanmar. The small Central African nation had filed a lawsuit with the court accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya (following approval)  at the behest of 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Countries. One is only led to wonder as to why neither Bangladesh nor Malaysia, the two Islamic neighbours of Myanmar and surely aware of ground realities, have the guts to file the suit at ICJ.

The ICJ directive on January 23, 2020, to the Myanmar Government as reported in the “Myanmar Times” is reproduced below:

The court ordered Myanmar to follow four provisional measures –

  1. to prevent the commission of all acts in the Genocide Convention against the Muslim group;
  2. ensure that the military and any of its directed or supported organisations do not commit genocidal actions;
  3. take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence of genocide crimes,
  4. and provide a report on its action to the Court within four months and then every six months until the case closes.

The court’s president, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the ICJ is of the opinion that the Muslim minority in northern Rakhine “remain extremely vulnerable.”

Lessons for India:

The crisis in the Rakhine region of Myanmar has important lessons for India. Not only is the region in the doorstep of India’s North East, but as is well known in India the continuous flow of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants may turn into the more dangerous flood of Rohingyas a group of which the Harakah al-Yaqin(HaY) or ARSA is known to have  participated in mass murder of Hindus in Kha Maung Seik.

  1. Western Anglo Saxon Media in particular has a vested interest to perpetuate the deceit of the western democracies being anchored in liberal values, but when it comes to unrestrained immigration in their own countries, the clinching poster from the Brexit referendum proves otherwise:
  • Unfortunately, the experience of the Rohingyas demonstrating allegiance to far away Pakistan across generations from 1948 has a familiar echo in India. Both the Central and State Government organizations and media will do well not to hide this fact given that it has been widely reported by even the biased western media.
  • As Law and Order is a state subject in India, if certain state governments turn a blind eye to illegal immigration, it exposes India itself to a dangerous turn of events as happened in Rakhine when the two century old problem of settlement Bengalis by colonial Britain finally erupted into tragedy. It is the duty of every citizen and community to prevent corrupt politicians from undermining India by appeasement and exploitation for vote bank politics.
  • There is a great deal of parallel within India with Rakhine, from the erstwhile state and now Union Territory of J&K in how a radicalised Islamic population baits the governments agencies and even civilian population it considers adversarial. In the 1990s the Hindu population of Kashmiri Pandits were evicted out of the vale of Kashmiri following threats and unrestrained bloodbath. In the last decade displays of Daesh (ISIS) flags after Friday Sermons, organized abuse and stone throwing at the Indian Security Forces had become the norm. The World Media literally gloats on these incidents and their strident condemnation is only reserved for the government and security forces when they carry out any action that falls against the pseudo moral benchmarks they have crafted for non-western nations. Media condemnation is quickly followed in an escalating scale from the usual suspect quarters of UNHCR, UN Security Council, ICJ all which have lost any ethical moorings that had been envisaged at the time of their foundation. This lyrical waxing expectedly goes silent from about worst genocides happening in world such as in Yemen or against the Yazidis or Kurdish population. It is the case of “Might is right”. The Indian government needs to carefully consider this pattern of double standards and train India’s Security Forces accordingly and only deploy them as a last resort and even then with non-high impact weaponry for sure there is always an army vested interests waiting to malign even the best intended actions.
  • The parallel with J&K also extends to the state of West Bengal which is beset with changing demographics in villages due to unrestrained illegal immigration from Bangladesh. The tactics of these illegals are the same as in Northern Rakhine where Buddhist villagers were steadily pushed to the south with the intent of creating an un- governed space or to merge the territory with East Pakistan. Luckily for Myanmar, the present government of Bangladesh has not shown any appetite for falling prey to the machinations of the Rohingyas who had supported West Pakistan. Britain’s strident condemnation of Myanmar’s Citizenship Law and the Western Anglo-Saxon media’s comparison of same with India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizenship (NRC), has lessons of grave import for our nation. There is a great deal of unease amongst the erstwhile colonial powers primarily Britain about its adverse legacy and footprint in India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Palestine. While the powers of Britain and these western nations are greatly diminished, they cannot be dismissed altogether due to the clout wielded in the UN Security Council and their damage potential in being able to adversely influence the USA with regards to its foreign policy. Therefore while the Indian Government needs to play the parliamentary democracy rule book consummately it needs to demonstrate iron fisted will and determination in handling re-calcitrant state governments who unknowingly or willingly put India’s security at risk. Such state governments should be dismissed for jeopardizing the safety and security of India the moment they cross the Rubicon of disobeying Parliamentary laws on CAA and NRC.
  • Lastly India’s defence lies best in the hands of its citizens and their will to strive for the unity of this great free-spirited nation, who are neither beholden to colonial Britain nor a band of grouping (religious or political) who only have an agenda to fulfil.

Read Part 1


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