Continued from “Rohingya: A New Dimension to National Security”
With the deepening Rohingya crisis in South Asia, an estimated five lakh refugees have already fled from Myanmar to the neighbouring countries, mainly Bangladesh. India too is experiencing and sharing a significant burden of the illegal Rohingya immigrants consequent to the violent disturbances in the neighbouring Myanmar. Ironically, India is already a home to the largest number of refugees in South Asia yet it doesn’t have a legal framework to deal with the problem.
The Constitution of India only defined who is a citizen of India and the subsequent laws too didn’t make a clear roadmap to deal with refugees and illegal immigrants. In legal terms, a person living in India can be either a citizen or a foreigner defined under the Foreigners Act, 1946.
According to United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), mass exodus of Rohingya started in 2012 and more than three lakh mostly Muslim refugees fled from Myanmar since August 2017 alone consequent to Myanmar army crackdown. In between came a disturbing report that a large number of Hindu minorities in Rakhine Province have been massacred by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) simultaneously with their attack on police posts in the last August. In two separate mass graves, a total of forty-five decomposed bodies of alleged Hindu families were dug out by the Myanmar army in September with about a thousand people reported missing in the surrounding villages.
Of the estimated fourty thousand Rohingyas in India, a considerably large number of them are staying in Jammu and Ladakh regions of the Jammu & Kashmir. While the refugee crisis irrespective of the religious and ethnic identity of the affected people evokes a humanitarian concern and sympathy, this also simultaneously poses a question as to who is actually responsible and accountable for this commotion and fracas. Is it really a case of genocide or ethnic cleansing as alleged by the UNCHR, human rights activists and some Islamic clerics and organizations or part of a deep conspiracy of some vested interests with a larger design and foresightedness to bring demographic and geographical changes by fomenting trouble in the region?
Already gripped with the problems of terrorism and separatist movement in Jammu & Kashmir and some north-eastern states, the Government of India is keen to identify and deport illegal Rohingya immigrants on a perceived threat to security and integrity of nation due to their alleged links and involvement in terror activities and other crimes in various parts including Jammu region. However, the Supreme Court’s has directed that action to deport them should not be taken until their pending petition is disposed of.
Rohingya Insurgency and Fall Out
The seeds of Rohingya crisis were sown even before the start-up of the Second World War. During the war, the Burmese Buddhists took the side of Japanese while Muslims supported British troops. This led to simmering inter-communal tension and conflict and consequently many Rohingya Muslims from Japanese-controlled and Buddhist majority regions fled to Muslim dominated northern Arakan. In a reverse move, Rohingya Muslims attacked and caused Buddhists to flee from North Arakan to other regions. In return for their support, Rohingya expected that British will grant them an independent state or autonomy in Maungdaw region of Arakan. In 1946, Rohingya leaders even made a demand for the annexation of northern Arakan to the proposed Pakistan which was not conceded by the British.
Reportedly, Rohingya leaders from Arakan met with Muhammad Ali Jinnah too in May 1946 with the request of the annexation of two townships namely Buthidaung and Maungdaw in the Mayu region in the proposed East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) which was, however, turned down by Jinnah. Burma colonized by the British in nineteenth century was granted the status of an administered colony in April 1937 and an independent republic in January 1948. The newly formed Union Government of Burma with the predominantly Buddhist population did not grant citizenship to Rohingya Muslims. Consequently, Rohingya leaders also made a proposal to the newly formed Government of Burma to cede both townships to Pakistan but it was refused by the Burmese Parliament. These denials led to the formation of early mujahedeen groups that started attacks against the government interests including soldier posts stationed in the region.
The Rohingya insurgency activities became so acute by November 1948 that the Burmese (Myanmar) government had to declare martial law in the region as a large part of the northern Arakan (now Rakhine) had already come under the control of Mujahedeen. After several months of fighting, the Burmese army was able to restore government control in the region killing many and pushing the leftover mujahedeen in the forests of Mayu region bordering with the then East Pakistan. Simultaneously, there was a diplomatic dialogue between Burma and Pakistan to stop the alleged material and moral support by the latter to the Mujahedeen involved in violent activities and sabotage.
Notwithstanding these developments, during the 1950s and till about early 1960s, splinters Rohingya mujahedeen groups kept fighting against the Burmese government and forces with the call for the autonomy of Rakhine state (then northern Arakan) or secede to join East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The Burmese government too dealt with them severely to crush their opposition. The constant army operation over the years successfully reduced the mujahedeen’s influence and support in the region and the mujahedeen movement gradually lost its support and momentum. The number of attacks considerably reduced and their activities remained at very low ebb during most of the 1960s.
In early 1970s, an erstwhile mujahedeen leader Zaffar Kawal formed the Rohingya Liberation Party (RLP) and started mobilising former mujahedeen factions. Based in the forests of Buthidaung, and armed with largely smuggled weapons from Bangladesh, their strength gradually reached to approximately five hundred fighters enabling them to indulge in guerrilla warfare against the state. In July 1974, a massive operation was again undertaken by the Myanmar army against the RLP, as a result of which many militants were killed and the remaining fled to Bangladesh. Another leader of RLP, Jafar Habib launched a new Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1974 and continued the war against Burmese government till the Myanmar army carried out yet another massive military operation (King Dragon) killing several militants and thousands of Rohingyas fleeing to take refuse in Bangladesh.
This was, however, not the end of insurgency, as the more radicalised elements among Rohingya Muslims came together to constitute Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) in 1982 led by one Muhammad Yunus. This was the time when Pakistan army and ISI too started active moral and material support in terms of recruitment, training and equipping various terrorist outfits in Jammu & Kashmir and Afghanistan. The RSO reportedly made a common cause with several other Islamic militant groups on common religious ground and `mustered support from many of them based in South and East Asia.
This group became the most influential and deadly militant organisation against the Myanmar government and things further deteriorated when the Burmese Citizenship Law was introduced in October 1982 denying citizenship to the most of the Muslim minorities. The RSO operatives, by the beginning of nineties, were well equipped with deadly weapons like light machine-guns, AK-47 Assault Rifles, rocket launchers, hand grenades, claymore mines and explosives in their fight against the Myanmar government. Towards the end of 1991, the Myanmar Armed Forces carried out another major offensive operation against the insurgents in the northern Rakhine along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. While several militants were killed or crossed the border, this operation also forced mass exodus of civilians, mostly Rohingya Muslims in the neighbouring countries - particularly Bangladesh. The events in the following decades witnessed Rohingya insurgents grouping and regrouping under various outfit names to carry on insurgency and terror attacks against the Myanmar government.
Thus there is a long history of Rohingya insurgency against the Government and Myanmar security forces’ reprisal and crackdown to avenge sabotage and violence caused by the former. However, the current crisis dates back to October 2016 when armed Rohingya insurgent attacked many Rakhine state police posts leading to the death of nine police personnel and organised loot of weapons and ammunition. The responsibility of the strike was taken by a previously unknown insurgent group namely Harkat-ul-Yaqin. Then on 25 August 2017, Rohingya Arakan Salvation Army (RASA) (rechristened Harkat-ul-Yakin) comprising of several hundred armed militants allegedly attacked several Myanmar security posts and other minorities in villages in Rakhine state killing a large number of security and civilian personnel.
Consequently, a retaliatory crackdown by the Myanmar army was undertaken on insurgents and their sympathisers in the Rohingya concentration areas of the Rakhine state. In the initial operation, dozens of insugents were killed and a large number of suspects were detained. As the operation continued, the number of causalities increased as also the allegations against the Myanmar army of the instances of arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, brutalities on civilians and looting of property leading to the mass exodus of refugees and worldwide attention of the international community. Simultaneously with the military – insurgents’ clashes, civilian tragedies including brutalities caused on the hundreds of Hindu minorities have also come to the light.
Rohingya Terror Links
In an affidavit, the Government of India has informed the Supreme Court on 19 September 2017 that many of the illegal Rohingya immigrants are a serious threat to the national security with close links to terror organizations, such as the Islamic State and other terrorist modules in Pakistan and other countries. “…Many of the Rohingya figure in the suspected sinister designs of ISI/ISIS and other extremist groups who want to achieve their ulterior motives in India, including that of flaring up communal and sectarian violence in sensitive areas,” the affidavit said. Such statements before the highest court cannot be without reliable intelligence inputs and need to be taken with all seriousness. Such Rohingya immigrants, with militant background, are reportedly active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mewat in the country.
Several incriminating documents and videotapes are also taking rounds and some of them reportedly obtained by CNN from Al Qaeda's archives in Afghanistan showed fighters from Myanmar being trained in Afghanistan. There are reports that many young Rohingya Muslims, mostly poor and uneducated, were lured in the past too to Pakistan to get training and perform attacks including suicidal ones in Afghanistan, and for this a handsome amount was offered to them as enlistment reward, monthly salary and compensation to families in the event of being killed in action. The Islamic terrorist organisations like Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami and Harkat-ul-Ansar reportedly have branches in Myanmar.
In fact, Rohingya insurgents involved in terror activities had come on the radar of the terrorist organizations in other countries of the region beyond Myanmar in early 1980s itself when Pakistan army and ISI started active moral and material support in terms of recruitment, training and equipment to the terrorist outfits in Jammu & Kashmir and Afghanistan. The RSO in Myanmar made a common cause with other Islamic militant groups on religious ground and mustered support from many of them based in South and East Asia such as Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh and Pakistan, Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen in Jammu and Kashmir (India), Hizb-e-Islami in Afghanistan, Angkatan Belia Islam sa-Malaysia and the Islamic Youth Organisation of Malaysia in Malaysia.
Money and weapons are channelled through the groups of Rohingya expatriates living in the Persian Gulf and Bangladesh to train and equip local fighters in Myanmar. The ARSA has considerable sympathisers and following among the Rohingya population in Myanmar; its attacks on the government establishment and consequent crackdown by the latter too inspire many more Rohingya Muslims to join the militants. Therefore, Myanmar army while dealing with insurgents also targets their followers and sympathisers in the Rohingya civil population leading to the alleged atrocities and human rights violations.
All this raises a for more serious question whether the ARSA, and for that matter Islamic organizations supporting it in other countries, are actually helping or damaging the Rohingya cause by resorting to violent and disruptive means. Insurgency started in erstwhile northern Arakan led by Rohingya leaders with an objective to achieve autonomy or independence for Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar but the ARSA leadership is now in the hands of Pakistan born Ata Ullah driven more by jehadi sentiments. The recent arson, loot and massacre of Hindu minorities in Myanmar by the alleged ARSA militants too indicate that insurgency is aiming at jehad going far beyond the objective of seeking autonomy or secession.
Pakistan’s Rohingya Hypocrisy
What treatment minorities of other faiths get in Pakistan is no more a secret. Books have been written on discrimination and atrocities committed on minorities particularly Hindu populace in Pakistan and Bangladesh (earlier East Pakistan) since independence. Only recently in September 2017, a teenage boy from a Christian family was beaten to death by the Muslim classmates at the MC Model Boys Government High School in Pakistan, allegedly for drawing water from the same water-cooler used by the majority Muslims. Sharoon Masih, an incredibly bright student from an impoverished Christian family, was reportedly targeted from his very first day at the school. In the first few days itself he was repeatedly abused, slapped, asked to convert and refused to use the common facilities. On fourth day he met his nemesis through a fatal beating by his classmates on taking water from the same cooler. And all this happened in the presence of a teacher who reportedly turned a blind eye while Sharoon was pummelled to death.
Almost simultaneously came the news of the renowned Pakistani televangelist Amir Liaquat Hussain along with Waqar Zaka, another Pakistani television celebrity, making headlines after being detained at Yangon airport in Myanmar on a mission to show solidarity and support to Rohingya Muslims. Among other objectives, Liyaqat was reportedly also aiming to rescue a particular Rohingya family whom they wanted to bring back to Pakistan. These instances are stark illustrations of Pakistan’s excetionalism and paradox while dealing with the people of different faiths. This obviously doesn’t harmonise well with the predicament of minorities in Pakistan who constantly face severe discrimination and persecution worn in the national fabric but seldom acknowledged.
Incidentally, Karachi in Pakistan is the abode of the thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims living in the city with an uncertain future because Pakistan does not recognize them as refugees. Reportedly, there are about three lakh Rohingya Muslims living in Karachi, the majority of them cannot move freely in the city and so often face harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies. They came in Karachi in large numbers during the reign of President Ayub Khan, who had served in Burma and, reportedly, had soft corner for them. Barring a small number of them, the majority do not have national identity cards that severely restrict their movement even in the city. The fishing remains their only viable source of livelihood and that too is not without serious impediments and constraints. This is the plight of Rohingya in Pakistan while it pretends to be the champion of the Muslims’ cause, including Rohingya, world.
Until recently, the most of Pakistanis knew little or nothing about the Rohingya Muslims and their problems in Myanmar while they are generally rich on facts, myths and disinformation on the condition of Muslims in Indian Kashmir, Palestinian and the Arab world. But now in cities and towns across Pakistan, there is a sudden upsurge among people organizing demonstrations to protest the Rohingyas’ cause and this involve people from various walks like clerics, lawyers, civic groups, tradesmen, journalists, tribal leaders and students. Ironically this hue and cry is in the name of common religion while in the same country, the Rohingyas immigrants are still without citizenship, and the majority without an identity card, depriving them access to public schools, opening bank accounts, government run healthcare and such everyday basic needs of life. The collateral damage of this is visible in the slummy neighbourhoods of Karachi where the Rohingya are living in insalubrious state deprived of the basic living facilities apart from the routine harassment from police for their lack of valid documents.
Pakistan is a country where the minorities are persecuted and discriminated in every walk of life. So what right Pakistan has to ask or expect from Myanmar for their Rohingya minorities when it doesn’t apply similar yardsticks on minorities in Pakistan! The vast majority of Pakistanis have been groomed to an entrenched and self-perpetuating narrative that reflects the same ethos and principles which Myanmar applies to justify their action against the Rohingya population. As a self-proclaimed bastion of Islam, Pakistan is in a dire need to realize that the extremism bred from its own soil as a by-product of religious fanaticism is equally paradoxical and detrimental to the rights and cause of the oppressed people elsewhere.
Hindu Ethnic Cleansing
While the exodus of the Rohingya refugees from the violence ridden areas of Myanmar continued, disturbing news of an attempted ethnic cleansing came in light from the violence affected Hindu minority villages of Rakhine. The Myanmar army organized the trip and transported members of the electronic/print media from Yangon to an area near Yebaw-kyar village in the Kamaung-seik town in the Maungdaw District. In two mass graves found on 24 and 25 September 2017, a total of fourty-five decomposed bodies were dug out by army recovering twenty-eight bodies from one and eighteen bodies from the second site. The bodies were identified as those of Hindu victims including woman and children who were killed by the militants of ARSA on 25 August 2017. According to the Myanmar authorities, the victims had been blindfolded with their hands tied before their throats were slit. Besides, after reported attacks almost a thousand Hindus are reported missing from a village with no one having clue of their whereabouts and fate.
A Hindu villager who assisted Myanmar authorities to locate graves reportedly learned about the burial site from eight Hindu women who were threatened to death unless they convert to Islam and later taken away by Rohingya people to the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. While the Myanmar army blamed the ARSA for the massacre and mass burial of the minority Hindu victims, the ARSA categorically denied on Twitter of its member ever been involved in “perpetrated murder, sexual violence, or forcible recruitment.” Initial reports from some sources citing a group of Hindu women said that the attacks were carried out by the Rakhine Buddhists. However, the same women in refugee camp in Bangladesh later divulged that the attackers were Rohingya Muslims who brought them along and they were under duress to blame it on Buddhists.
With the permission of the Myanmar authorities, correspondents of some Indian news channels, notably Zee News, and news magazine India Today made extensive coverage post event in the affected areas. Hindu villagers were found to bitterly blame Rohingya Muslims for the attacks and forcing them to flee their homes. In particular, Rohingya Hindu refugees from the neighbourhood of Fakirabazar in Maungdaw described how masked men clad in black had stabbed and shot people and dumped their bodies in pits in the ground. The Hindu survivors having lost their homes in violence and living in a camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar openly blamed ‘Rohingya militants’ for attacks and how some women were spared only on the condition of conversion to Islam. Some of these women were later forcibly brought to Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh referred to above by fleeing group of Rohingya men.
The Hindu refugees sheltered in a chicken farm and makeshift houses in Ukhiya narrated the gruesome experience how they fled their homes to escape death in the hands of a group of people clad in black calling them as ‘Kala Party’ (Black Party) believed to be Rohingya Muslim militants. The question arises why Muslim militants have so violently turned against the minority Hindus. Perhaps the answer is not one and straight, instead, there seems to be many reasons behind this change. A young woman whose husband was killed by the masked men on 25 August stated that many Muslims are resenting Hindus who have citizenship in Myanmar. The green card citizenship makes the Hindus more privileged than the Muslims as the former can study in colleges and universities, seek jobs and medical treatment in government hospitals, and can move freely. Reportedly, Myanmar has three tiers of citizenship and green card is for the ‘naturalised citizens’ essentially issued to immigrants. Unlike Hindus, the Rohingya Muslims are not contented with the offer of the second class green citizenship card and they demand the first class red citizenship cards i.e. full-fledged citizenship, recognition as Rohingya, and many other demands that are unlikely to be fulfilled.
Some survivors reportedly told that the attackers had objected to official identity cards given to Hindus but not Muslims and insisted that Hindus should not have them. The other major shift in the recent years have been increased exposure and interaction of Rohingya militants with the hardcore terrorist organizations in other Islamic countries which are spreading religious hatred and violence in the name of jehad. There are reliable intelligence reports that Pakistan’s terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba are out to hire Rohingyas Muslims to train and arm them to carry out jehad. This is a significant development and alarm for the Indian Government too for timely intervention and addressal of the illegal Rohingya immigrants issue in the country.
Changing Demography of Jammu & Kashmir
Of late the issue of the illegal Rohingya immigrants has caught nationwide attention in India too, more particularly in the context of such settlers in Jammu and Ladakh regions of Jammu & Kashmir. Many people have rightly raised concern and question about the Article 370 now that Rohingya and Bangladeshis are being illegally settled in Jammu and Ladakh. In the past, people in Jammu and Ladakh regions had often been found complaining against the discriminatory policies of the successive Kashmir Valley-centric governments in the state since independence, but now it is the Rohingyas settlers from Myanmar which are causing anxiety and concern in the strategically important Jammu and Ladakh with implications on the national security.
According to the available information from the state, there were about five thousand Rohingya Muslims living in and around Jammu in 2010 and the count reached to over thirteen thousand by 2016 in various camps. The break-up wise Rohingyas settled in the state by the end of December 2016 is as follows: Jammu District – 5,086, Jammu’s Samba district – 634 and Ladakh – 7,664; the total number is 13, 384. In the past, the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and many civil society groups have raised serious concerns and urged the authorities to deport the illegally settled Rohingyas and Bangladeshi from the state.
It is natural and makes sense if the immigrants or refugees from a disturbed country are found in the neighbouring areas of the bordering states of the other country but it is indeed intriguing how these illegal Rohingya immigrants have reached thousands kilometres away to settle in sensitive regions of Jammu and Ladakh, and which persons are agencies are working behind this plan. The Article 370 restricts certain rights of people of the other Indian states including acquisition of land or property in Jammu & Kashmir, and even a dialogue on this Article evokes severe response from a section of people, politicians and self-styled secularists and liberals in the country. Ironically, the same set of people are now found strongly pleading for the Rohingya cause in the Supreme Court and outside but none of them have shown any concern on the fears of people in Jammu and Ladakh.
There are reports that certain Islamic organisations, for example, Sakhawat Centre and Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu & Kashmir are taking a lead role in supporting the Rohingya Muslims to settle in Jammu and also that some terrorist organizations are inducing Rohingyas to enlist for the jehadi activities. Reacting on the far reaching implications of the illegal Rohingya settlers, the JCCI during December 2016 made a statement, “Deliberate and successful attempt has been made by certain ‘unforeseen forces’ for changing the demography of Jammu and its suburbs. These unseen forces (in this case elements in the establishment) had made ‘open mockery’ of Article 370 in Jammu through permanent settlement of thousands of non-state subjects and foreign nationals, who pose a great threat to ‘security and secularism’ of the region. The Jammu and Kashmir government should either implement in toto or abolish Article 370. These settlements are a grave threat to the internal security as these people provide all possible support and shelter to the anti-nationals to carry out not only attacks on security forces, but also are involved in the menace of drugs, thefts and all sorts of crimes without being traced” (published in The Tribune, 15 December 2016).
Some people may dismiss the objections of the JCCI and the VHP as motivated, far-fetched and figment of imagination but the contention that the Rohingyas are being settled in Jammu and Ladakh by certain forces with ulterior motives cannot be ignored so lightly as silly and preposterous. The obvious question that one should ask is how come the sympathisers of Rohingya have brought them from the border states to far away Jammu and Ladakh yet not chosen Kashmir Valley for their temporary camps/settlement which logically should be more receptive for such settlers. The fact is that certain elements in the establishment and some Islamic organisations are indeed encouraging and helping the settlement of illegal Rohingyas and Bangladeshis in Jammu and Ladakh. The obvious corollary to this situation is that a Machiavellian influence is indeed at work to alter the demography of the Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh in the sensitive and disturbed northern state of Jammu & Kashmir in a passage of time.
Need of Hour
While there is no issue in rendering humanitarian assistance to Rohingya people, and for that matter any refugees, in Bangladesh and elsewhere, it is unfair and unbecoming on the part of the political parties, organizations and self-styled secularists and liberals to have undue interference in the matters of the national security to derive mileage for own vested interests. However humanitarian may be the cause of displaced people, the fact remains that the estimated fourty thousand Rohingyas in India are illegal immigrants that need to be deported/repatriated. Many people in these settlements are a grave threat to the internal security as they have terror links, provide support and shelter to the anti-national elements besides being involved in the menace of drugs, thefts and other crimes.
The State Government of Jammu & Kashmir must show their strength and willingness to address the concerns of the people of Jammu and Ladakh as well as the Indian Army and other security establishments in the state already reeling under the secessionist and communal violence. The stand taken by the Government of India on Rohingya issue is valid and legally tenable as the threat to the internal security, sovereignty and integrity of India is good and sufficient ground for the deportation of illegal immigrants. It is once again reiterated that providing aid and assistance to Rohingyas is a humanitarian cause but allowing them to settle in strategically sensitive areas of Jammu and Ladakh is like inviting insurgency at home when our western neighbour is more than eager to jump and play in the troubled waters.