Samuel Baid

Rohingya Muslims are losing international sympathies as a persecuted religious minority in Rakhine State in the North of Myanmar, thanks to their militant Jihadi supporters including the United Nations (UN)-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed. They have already taken to militancy.  Having their military wing headquartered in Mecca, the wing is known as Harakah al-Yaqin (Faith Movement – HaY) and headed by a Karachi-born Rohingya Ataullah.

On October 9th last year, the international media shocked the world by reports of mass rape of Rohingya women and burning of houses by the Myanmarese soldiers in the Muslim majority state of Rakhine. It was reported that 130 Rohingyas were killed and 30,000 fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

But later in-depth research on this crucial development, which perturbs not only South and South East Asia, but the global community as well, presented an opposite picture. E.g. the Brussels–based reputed think tank, International Crisis Group (ICG) in its report: “Myanmar: A New Muslim Insurgency in Rakhine State”, says: “In the early hours of 9 October, several hundred local Muslim men, armed mostly with knives and slingshots and about 30 firearms, launched simultaneous attacks on three BGP (Border Guard Police of Myanmar) posts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships near the north-western border with Bangladesh. According to the authorities, nine police were killed; and the attackers, eight of whom were killed and two captured, made off with 62 firearms and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition.”

The Myanmarese government estimated the attackers numbered 400. It also claimed that they themselves burnt the houses of Rohingya Muslims to mislead the world into sympathising with them. On October 12, a video clip was leaked on YouTube disclosing the existence of HaY and its Pakistan-born commander Ataullah. The HaY was established in Saudi Arabia where a committee of about 20 senior Rohingya leaders oversee these activities. According to the ICG, these leaders are well-connected in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

In Bangladesh, the government does not want the influx of Rohingyas into the country where fundamentalists and Jihadis have been already posing a serious challenge to democracy and communal peace. Fundamentalists in Bangladesh do not want the government to obstruct the Rohingya influx.  Those fundamentalists and Jihadis maintain fraternal ties with their ISI-supported Pakistani counterparts.

On the other hand, liberal and secular intellectuals in Bangladesh could well understand that obstructing the influx of Rohingyas in this crucial juncture would dent the image of Bangladesh internationally. But they also apprehend if the refugees are permitted to enter and settle in Bangladesh, Jihadi elements, in the guise of refugees, would also sneak in and pose security threat in the long-run.

The Mecca-based HaY leadership contacts with Pak-based terrorists may also lead to the formation of a new terrorist outfit in India’s East. Some of the Rohingyas have already gained experience from terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rohingya militants can get the best training in terror and subversive acts in Pakistan. A globally recognised cradle of terrorism, Pakistan is a hub of veteran terrorists and terrorist organisations with official support. This support may not be to help Rohingya gain autonomy in Myanmar but to use them for cross-border terrorism against India and Bangladesh as is happening against Afghanistan and India through separate sets of terrorists.

Of late, it has been found that Pakistan’s Islamist and terrorist organisations are supporting Rohingyas. At a recent public meeting of Difa-e-Pakistan Council in Quetta, these organisations supported Rohingyas.  Terrorist organisations including Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD)/Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and Jamaat-ul-Mujahidin pledged support to Rohingyas. Besides, Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), promised to train Rohingya militants in his faction’s centres and provide expertise and personnel to them. He said protests and marches are not as effective as terror. Observers of the terror scenario in Af-Pak region have already acknowledged that Jamaat-ul-Aharar is the most vicious and ruthless terrorist faction of TTP.

In Pakistan, Rohingya militants would certainly be rubbing shoulders with global terrorists like the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda. Many Pakistanis are part of these organisations and some terror groups share their ideology and tactics.  It is quite possible that the IS might already be working in Bangladesh through Rohingya militants, although Dhaka keeps denying the existence of IS in the country.

The possibility of HaY emerging as a formidable terrorist entity cannot be ruled out.  This organisation is getting funds from Saudi Arabia and some other Middle East countries and is also getting training and moral support in Pakistan. Besides, it is getting promises of manpower from Indonesia. There is also a report of a thousand Indonesian Muslim youths ready to go to Myanmar to defend Rohingyas. According to the Jakarta Post, in 2013 two Rohingya leaders went to Indonesia to meet hardliners there and supposedly procure combatants, military hardware and terror technology. Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq of a Singapore-based think tank, RSIS, warned in a recent research paper: ‘Online extremists in Indonesia have expressed their desire to mount “jihad” on behalf of the Rohingya, with some supporters hoping that the ‘mujahidin’ will be able to smuggle into Myanmar.’

Perhaps influenced by the founder of Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s “Two-Nation theory”, Rohingya Muslims want to show themselves as separate from Buddhist majority of Myanmar. During the Second World War, the majority in Myanmar supported the British. After the Independence, the Rohingyas wanted the Muslim majority northern Rakhine state to be separated from Myanmar and join the Muslim-majority East Bengal, then part of Pakistan.  But Pakistan burdened with refugee problem rejected this move.

Then the Rohingyas demanded a Muslim autonomous area in the north of Myanmar. In the state of Rakhine, the word Rohingya has been used to emphasise a separate Muslim ethnicity – a reflection of Jinnah’s India. But a majority of Muslims rejected it so in Myanmar. Muslims living outside Rakhine state do not also identify themselves with Rohingyas.  Also, in the eyes of common Myanmarese, Rohingyas belong to Bangladesh. In the meantime, influenced by other global developments, Jihadi activities against Buddhist minority in Rakhine state also started. Here the Buddhist minority still lives in the fear of Rohingyas.

At present, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar is helpless. She is under tremendous pressure from the anti-Rohingya Buddhist majority while on the other hand, Rohingya militants are doing everything to malign and alienate the Myanmarese government globally. It is quite apparent that various terrorist outfits would definitely attempt to exploit the situation in the state of Rakhine, as the current situation is extremely volatile. But one thing is certain that Rohingyas, as a minority, would definitely lose international sympathy should they rub shoulders with terror outfits like JuD.