Akbar Jan Marwat
FORMER UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had warned some time ago: “If ethnic tensions are not addressed in Myanmar, there is a real risk of radicalisation”. Kofi Annan’s words have proved prophetic. The persistent and brutal persecution of the Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s govt and its Buddhist majority has led to the radicalisation and militarisation of certain groups of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingyas minority.
The current genocide of the Rohingya is said to be triggered by recent attacks of armed Rohingya militants on Myanmar’s Security Forces and check-posts. These attacks led to the death of about a dozen security personnel and some Buddhist civilians. The current cycle of violence against Rohingya seems to be the worst. According to UN more than one hundred thousand Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh after violence broke out in Myanmar recently. The response, to Rohingya militant’s attacks on certain government posts, has been particularly brutal both from army and Buddhist Mobs. Many Rohingya villages have been torched after its inhabitants were brutally massacred. Hundred of Rohingya lost their lives by drowning in sea, while trying to escape to Bangladesh. UN has described the Rohingya as the most persecuted minority. Rohingya have led a miserable existence in Myanmar, were they are not recognized as citizens, and declared as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. A renewed wave of Buddhist nationalisms has further helped fuel violent attacks against them.
The shameful silence that Noble prize-winner Aung sung sun suki has maintained at the killings of innocent Rohingya is indeed very painful. It only shows her pragmatic opportunism to stay on the right side of the Burmese army and electorally important Buddhist majority. Now coming back to the nascent Rohingya insurgency, a militant group was formed last year by Rohingya exiles living in Saudi Arabia. The militant groups was named ‘Araken Rohingya Salvations Army (Arsa). Attaullah Abu Amar Januni, a Pakistani born Rohingya, who grew up in Saudi Arabia was appointed as leader of Arsa. According to the international crises group (ICG) Januni and others received military training in Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan also. Arsa is said to receive funding from Rohingya diaspora as well as donors in Saudi Arabia and other parts of Middle East. Analysts believe that Myanmar’s government created conditions that led to the group’s creation. Successive governments in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar have denied basic rights to the Rohingya, deeming them to be foreign invaders from Bangladesh, in spite of the fact that they have lived in Myanmar for generations. Incidentally even Bangladesh rejects them as citizens. The lack of political solution to their sorry plight after the anti-Rohingya violence in 2012 displaced more than 120,000 Rohingya, which helped sow the Seeds for armed rebellion. The denial of vote to the Rohingya in the 2015 election, and a regional crackdown on human trafficking that cut off an escape route by sea, also left the Rohingya of Myanmar feeling boxed in.
Arsa’s first known operation took place on Oct 9, 2016. Hundreds of Rohingya militants attacked three separate Police Posts in Rakhine state, killing nine officers. The Army responded with brutal counter offensive. In a months long sweep, entire villages were burned to the ground, killing most of its inhabitants. The UN accused the security forces of gang-raping women and carrying out extrajudicial killings of children even babies. The scale of the present violence seems to be for greater. Arsa attacked at least two dozen posts. The coordinated attacks proved the insurgent’s abilities have grown significantly. Arsa may have adopted new tactics of attacking civilians also. The killing of civilians may lead to the escalating of violence dramatically, according to ICG.
Analysts say the group does not appear to have jihadist motivations, and Arsa has stated that it does not associate with terrorist organizations. The group announced aims is to protect the oppressed Rohingya and wage a defensive war against the brutal Burmese regime. It is still unclear how many fighters the group has. The violence has already hardened both sides and depend communal hatred. Myanmar’s consistent refusal to take conciliatory steps, suggest that stateless Rohingya can like other uprooted Muslim communities create a radicalized militant threat that is bound to destabilise not only Myanmar but the region as well. Considering the mistrust on both sides, it may be worthwhile for the UN to step in and devise a solution for peace, based on its experience in similar conflicts in other parts of the world.
—The writer is author, senior journalist and entrepreneur based in Islamabad.
Akbar Jan Marwat