Home Insider Talking about the Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Talking about the Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Myanmar is a country closely linked with Buddhism. Religious demographics show that 75 % per cent of the population identify themselves as Buddhist. Eight per cent are Christians and four per cent are Muslims. The so-called Rohingya population, all of whom are Muslims, originated in what is today Bangladesh. Rohingyas are illegal immigrants who came from Bangladesh. They are ethnic Bengali speaking Muslims residing in Rakhine (Arakan), one of the second poorest states in Myanmar with a population of 3.3 million. An estimated 800,000 of them live illegally in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State. According to history, they migrated from Bangladesh to work as agricultural laborers after the Anglo-Burmese war of 1826, after which the British had annexed the Arakan state. They are not an indigenous ethnic group of Myanmar. There has never been such an ethnic group throughout the history of Burma and also Rakhine state (Arakan).

The people called Bengalis are direct decedents of immigrants from the Chittagong District of East Bengal (present day Bangladesh). The British colonial officials called them Chittagonians in their administrative records. These self-proclaimed Rohingyas are not of Arakan (Rakhine State) origin and also cannot be called as Arakanese (Rakhine people). They migrated into Arakan after the state was ceded to British India under the terms of Treaty of Yandabo concluded at the end of the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1826. Most of them settled down in the Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships of Arakan State, the frontier areas near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh. Their migration in the past usually happened during the agricultural season when Arakan faced the problem of the shortage of agricultural labourers. These Muslims were not culturally integrated and played a part in history of many domestic conflicts in Myanmar after 1947. They then claimed an identity of their own and organized themselves in the so-called R o h i n g y a movements. It is obvious that the term the educated Chittagonian coined “ R o h i n g y a ” in 1950s, represents descendants from Mayu Frontier area (present day Buthidaung and Maungdaw T o w n s h i p s ) . Nobody heard the word Rohingyas before 1950 in the region and also did not find any historical evidence in any language till then. Some historians said that Rohingya name was created by some of the Bengladeshi muslim extremists with the aim to occupy Arakan and the whole country. Bengalis and Rohingyas squatters (people who come to Rakhine to claim it as theirs) are attempting to occupy Rakhine. According to the historical evidences, the Arakan kingdom was annexed on December 31, 1784 by the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty. In 1826, Arakan was ceded to the British as war reparation after the first Anglo-Burmese War. It became part of the State of Burma of British India in 1886, after the annexation of Burma by the British.

Feelings of Rakhine Ethnic

People “Rakhine people do not like illegal immigrants’ bad behavior and terrorism.They do not want them to stay in Rakhine state because they are trying to riot and destroy a peaceful environment by using well-planed strategies. Rakhine people have a kind heart to allow them to stay in the past. Currently within Myanmar the side of the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, 95% of the populations are Bengalis and 5% are Myanmar. Now Bengalis want to drive away Rakhine people from there. Openly we say they are stealing not just our land; they are stealing our fatherland, our forests and all of our other resources. They are also stealing our honour, dignity, and sense of being one Rakhine State. And also their aim is to destroy our nation and religion with unlimited birth rate, after that they will try to form as an Islamic State in our own land. Now Rakhine people are living frighteningly”, said an ethnic Rakhine.

“Aggressive Aliens”

The word “Rohingya” is utterly hostile to our nation, our people, and our ethnicity, especially to Arakan (Rakhine) people, who live peacefully under the Buddha’s teachings. The usage of this hostile word is agitating the communal conflicts to become bigger. Both sides of innocent people were suffering from the huge conflicts by this aggressive word “Rohingya”. It creates more hatred and tension between the two communities. Rakhine people know the meaning of so-called “Rohingya” is invader. On the other hand, Mujahid terrorists who killed Rakhine and other native ethnic people of Rakhine State in Buthidaung and Maungdaw areas coined so-called “Rohingya” word. So Rakhine people have never accepted this hostile name “Rohingya” and continued usage of this word would always create communal conflicts. But we can accept the true name “Bengali”, because the word “Bengali” is a real word. One cannot create a fake ethnic race. Bengalis can get citizenship according to the prevailing law. Most of the Chittagonians cannot speak a native Myanmar language. They have to learn native language, literature and the basic need to get citizenship in a country. We always agree with their citizenship right according to the law. They can be good citizens of Myanmar. If they gave up using the so-called “Rohingya” word and respect Myanmar culture and life style, we can start discussing with them for a sustainable peace and social harmony.

Current Rakhine State

Rakhine State (Arakan) is one of the least developed areas of Myanmar with many controversial conflicts. Rakhine people are struggling for their livelihoods. They do not have wellpaid jobs and stable incomes. Mostly they live from hand to mouth. Even in the monsoon season a natural disaster does not favour Rakhine people. Rakhine State is ranked as the country’s second poorest state in the 2016-2017 with an estimated 43.5% of the Rakhine population livings below the poverty line, compared to the national average of 25.6% according to Integrated Household Living Condition Survey (IHLC). Inter-communal violence breaking out in Rakhine State in June and October 2012 resulted in the displacement of at least 138,800 people and affected another 36,000 people in isolated, remote villages. Restrictions on movements imposed after the 2012 violence have significantly limited access to markets, livelihoods and basic  services such as education and health care. Ongoing tensions and the absence of a meaningful reconciliation process are contributing to ongoing high levels of tensions in the region.

Previous Muslim Insurgencies in Rakhine State

During the Second World War, Rakhine was the front line between the Japanese invaders and allied forces. Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists were on opposing sides; most of the former remained pro-British, while the latter supported the Japanese until a last-minute switch enabled the eventual allied reoccupation of Rakhine. Both communities formed armed units and attacked the other, with accounts of massacres on both sides in 1942-1943. Muslims fled to the north, where they were the majority, and Rakhine Buddhists moved south. A Mujahidin rebellion (Guerrilla fighters in Islamic countries, especially those who are fighting against non-Muslim forces) erupted in April 1948, a few months after independence. The rebels initially explored the possibility of annexing northern Rakhine State to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), but Pakistan rejected this. They then sought the right of the population to live as full citizens in an autonomous Muslim area in the north of the state and an end to what they saw as discrimination by the Rakhine Buddhist officials who replaced the colonial administrators. The immigration authorities placed restrictions on the movement of Muslims from northern Rakhine to Sittwe, the state capital. Some 13,000 Muslims who fled during the war and were living in refugee camps in India and East Pakistan were not permitted to return; those who did were considered illegal immigrants.

The rebels targeted Rakhine Buddhist interests as well as the government, quickly seizing control of large parts of the north and expelling many Buddhist villagers. Law and order almost completely broke down, with two communist insurgencies (Red Flag and White Flag) in addition to the Mujahidin, as well as Rakhine nationalist groups, including the (Marxist) Arakan People’s Liberation Party, faught in the south of the state. An embattled Burmese army, facing ethnic armed forces across the country, controlled little of Rakhine other than Sittwe. In the violence and chaos, relations between Buddhist and Muslim communities deteriorated further. Many moderate Bengali leaders rejected the Mujahidin insurgency, even vainly asking the government for arms to fight back.

It was not until 1954 that the army launched a massive offensive, Operation Monsoon that captured most of the Mujahidin mountain strongholds on the East Pakistan border. The rebellion was eventually ended through ceasefires in 1961 and defeat of remaining groups, leaving only small-scale armed resistance and banditry. Partly in response to Mujahidin demands, partly for electoral reasons, in 1961 the government established a Mayu Frontier Administration in northern Rakhine, administered by army officers rather than Rakhine officials. But the 1962 military coup led to a more hardline stance toward minorities, and the Mayu Frontier Administration was dissolved. This prompted attempts to re-form the Mujahidin movement that failed to gain significant local support. In 1974, inspired by the rise of pan-Islamist movements in the world, the Rohingya Patriotic Front armed group was formed from remnants of earlier failures. It split into several factions, one of the more radical of which became the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) armed group in 1982. The RSO split in 1986, giving rise to the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) splinter; in 1998, the two groups formed a loose alliance, the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the RSO had small bases in remote parts of Bangladesh near the Myanmar border but was not thought to have any inside Myanmar. In its highest-profile attack, in April 1994, several dozen fighters entered Maungdaw from Bangladesh, including a group landed by boat in Myin Hlut village-tract, south Maungdaw. On April 28, bombs they planted in Maungdaw Township caused damage and several civilian injuries, and fighters followed up with attacks on the town’s outskirts. The group did not receive strong local support, and security forces, alerted by informants, quickly defeated them.

Regional security analysts viewed the RSO as essentially defunct as an armed group by the end of the 1990s, though it kept an organisational structure in Bangladesh and did training and occasional small attacks on Myanmar security forces into the early 2000s. A Myanmar military intelligence report, cited in a U.S. diplomatic cable in 2002, made the “generally plausible” claim that 90 RSO/ARIF members attended a guerrilla war course, and thirteen also participated in explosives and heavy weapons courses in Libya and Afghanistan in August 2001. Also in the early 2000s, the RSO had an active weapons and explosives training exchange with the militant group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh.

Danger of Insurgency

In 2016, several hundred Muslim men gathered in northern Rakhine State to wage attacks on police posts near the border with Bangladesh. Armed with crude weapons and about 30 aging firearms, they raided three posts and made off with about 62 guns and considerable ammunition. Nine policemen were killed and two were captured. The deadly attacks on Border Guard Police (BGP) bases in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State on October 9, 2016 and the days following, and a serious escalation on November 12 when a senior army officer was killed, signify the emergence of a new Muslim insurgency there. The current violence is qualitatively different from anything in recent decades, seriously threatening the prospects of stability and development in the state with serious implications for Myanmar as a whole. The government faces a huge challenge in calibrating and integrating its political, policy and security responses to ensure that violence does not escalate and inter-communal tensions are kept under control. It requires also taking due account of the grievances and fears of Rakhine Buddhists. The army has claimed that Muslim terrorists have been responsible for burning down homes in an attempt to frame the army for human rights abuses and to gain international assistance. While Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the UN and the government-appointed commissions explore possible solutions, the international community should extend all possible help to the Myanmar government to help address the problem. International community, including the United Nations, the OIC, the Association of South-East Asian Nations and the government of Bangladesh, could help provide a solution.

The Role of the Military

Ultimate responsibility, however, lies with the Myanmar military, civil society groups, and the general public. The Myanmar Constitution, ratified in 2008, gives significant power to the military. Not only did it reserve 25% of the seats in the national and state legislatures for the military, but it also gave the armed forces control of three important ministries-home, defense, and border affairs. The Constitution also grants the military overwhelming security power by giving it a major role in the eleven-member National Defense and Security Council. The NDSC serves as the highest authority in Myanmar and the majority of its members are from the military or its appointees. Since the military and the ministries in which it is in charge are directly dealing with the violence in the Rohingya areas, the views of the military commander-in-chief prevail over the NLDled civilian government. Moreover, because of the hybrid power-sharing structure between the military and the civilian government, it is tremendously challenging for Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw to prevail over the military establishment. Beyond Suu Kyi’s reiteration of the importance of the rule of law and the formation of a state advisory council to investigate the Rohingya issue, it will be difficult for Suu Kyi to put an end the violence without the approval or cooperation of the military. Citizenship Rights Aung San Suu Kyi has gradually transformed herself from being an activist and democratic icon to a pragmatic politician who must consider the concerns of the overall electorate. Suu Kyi, who is a Burmese, is making diligent efforts not to upset her party colleagues and the ethnic Burmese population, which makes up roughly 60% of the country’s population. While an independent commission led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is exploring recommendations for a peaceful solution, the NLD government is likely to continue a citizenship verification process in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Law. According to the 1982 Citizenship Law, there are three categories of citizenship: full citizen, associate citizen, and naturalized citizen. Full citizens are descendants of residents who lived in Burma prior to 1823 or were born to parents who were both citizens. Associate citizens are those who acquired citizenship through the 1948 Union Citizenship Act. Naturalized citizens are people who lived in Burma before January 4, 1948 and applied for citizenship after 1982. The Myanmar government has set up an advisory panel headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to find lasting solutions and examine the role of the Myanmar Army to the conflict in Rakhine State. Maybe the Annan commission will contribute towards a new way to discuss Rakhine conflicts but there will not be any quick and easy solutions.