A surge in clashes between Islamist terrorists and the government of Burma (Myanmar) is at the root of a refugee crisis in Southeast Asia that has caused the United Nations and international media to focus attention on the Rohingyas in the northern Rakhine, an isolated province in the west of the Buddhist-majority country.
In late August 2017, a terrorist group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched a series of coordinated attacks on Burmese security forces in northern Rakhine. When the Burmese Army announced that it had responded by killing 370 assailants, Rohingya activists claimed that many of the dead were innocent people who had not been involved in the attacks. They also accused the authorities of demolishing Rohingya villages -- devastation that was shown in satellite images released by Human Rights Watch -- but the Burmese government said that it was carried out by ARSA, which had committed similar attacks on Burmese police in October 2016.
Since those events, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas -- Muslims who settled in Burma prior to its independence in 1948 -- have been fleeing for the last two years, primarily to neighboring India and Bangladesh, in an attempt to escape violence and poverty. Fearing for its national security, on the grounds that among the refugees are ARSA terrorists and sympathizers with ties to ISIS and other Islamist organizations, India issued a deportation order for the Rohingyas who had crossed the border illegally. This move, however, was met with resistance by the Indian Supreme Court. Bangladesh has addressed the problem by severely restricting the movement of the Rohingya refugees.
The outcry on behalf of the innocent men, women and children who are caught in the crossfire of the radicals -- who claim to represent their interests -- is completely justified. No humanitarian solution to their plight can be found or implemented, nevertheless, without understanding the conflict -- and the true culprits behind it.
The current crisis is being depicted -- wrongly -- as the "ethnic cleansing" of an innocent Muslim minority by Burma's security forces, and the "apathy" to the plight of the Rohingyas by Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's foreign minister and its de facto head of state. As PJ Media reported, many critics in the media and among human rights groups are calling for Kyi to be stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991 for her campaign on behalf of democratization and against the country's military junta rulers.
Rohingya refugees from Burma arrive in Bangladesh, on September 17, 2017. The current crisis is being depicted -- wrongly -- as the "ethnic cleansing" of an innocent Muslim minority, but the true culprits are radical Islamists among the Rohingyas themselves, who with guns, machetes and bombs are killing their own people, in addition to Buddhists, Hindus, and others that get in their way. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Yet, as the report pointed out, Priscilla Clapp, who served as U.S. chief of mission in Burma from 1999 to 2002, strongly disputes the current "narrative" about Kyi and the response of her government to the terrorist attacks in Rakhine last October and August. In a September 7 interview with France 24 (a partial transcript of which was provided by PJ Media), Clapp argued that the attacks were "perpetrated by people in the Rohingya diaspora living in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia coming in through Bangladesh," with the more recent one
"timed to follow the...presentation of the recommendations of the Kofi Annan international commission on Rakhine, which Aung Sun Suu Kyi has accepted and agreed to implement [and which] call for a long-term solution there....Their tactics are terrorism. There's no question about it. [Kyi is] not calling the entire Rohingya population terrorists, she is referring to a group of people who are going around with guns, machetes, and IEDs and killing their own people in addition to Buddhists, Hindus, and others that get in their way. They have killed a lot of security forces, and they are wreaking havoc in the region. The people who are running and fleeing out to Bangladesh are not only fleeing the response of the security forces, they are fleeing their own radical groups because they've been attacking Rohingya, and in particular the leadership who were trying to work with the government on the citizenship process and other humanitarian efforts that were underway there... [T]he international community has to sort out the facts before making accusations."
Clapp's assertions are backed up by an extensive analysis in 2005, written by Dr. Aye Chan, Professor of Southeast Asian History at Kanda International University in Japan, and discussed recently in a piece by author Andrew Bostom. According to Bostom, Chan's article, "The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar)," on the origins of the Bengali Muslim jihad in Western Myanmar in the late 19th century through the World War II era, illustrates that it is "rooted in Islam's same timeless institution of expansionist jihad which eliminated Buddhist civilization in northern India."
Bostom also referred to an open letter, penned by Chan in 2014 to then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, demonstrating the transparent if "strenuous efforts" of Bengali Muslim migrants to Northwestern Myanmar "to take away Rakhine's [Arakan's] own [Buddhist] ethnic identity from the Rakhine people."
To grasp the intent of the jihadists in Rakhine, it is important to look into the workings of ARSA -- formerly Harakah Al-Yaqin ("Faith Movement" in Arabic) -- which was created after the June 2012 Rohingya riots against a Buddhist community.
The group's main leader, Attaullah Abu Ammar Junnani (known familiarly as Ata Ullah), was born in Karachi, Pakistan to a migrant Rohingya father and grew up in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he attended a religious Islamic school and developed ties with Saudi clerics. According to the Burmese government, Ata Ullah, at some point, also received training in guerilla warfare under the Taliban in Pakistan. Although he claims to be fighting "on behalf of Myanmar's long-oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority," his methods are those of all Islamist terrorists. The danger to Burma -- and the reason that India and Bangladesh fear that the refugees pose a security problem -- is that Ata Ullah will manage to radicalize a growing number of Rohingyas, both inside and out of the country.
Rather than placing all blame on the Burmese government for this critical situation, the concerned international community and human rights groups must recognize the real threat. Only then can Kyi begin to implement the recommendations spelled out in the plan for a "peaceful, fair and prosperous future for the people of Rakhine" -- which she herself commissioned.
Mohshin Habib, a Bangladeshi author, columnist and journalist, is Executive Editor of The Daily Asian Age.