In 2017, as Myanmar military began a crackdown on the Rohingya ethnic minority group, over one million fled the Rakhine state and took refuge in Bangladesh. In today’s world, Rohingya refugee is the highest size of refugees. A developing nation like Bangladesh has to bear the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars each year towards food, housing, medical and other basic needs of these unfortunate people. Ever since the emergence of this crisis, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have been relentlessly trying to mobilize global communities in putting pressure on Myanmar in immediately resolving the crisis. Unfortunately, until now, none of the mighty nations in the world, including the United States, China, Russia, and India, in particular, are showing real interest in this issue, except for some mere lip-service, while China and India in particular, as well as Russia, are silently siding towards Myanmar.
Why world powers are silent on Myanmar issue
According to Myanmar’s own Department of Geological Survey and Mineral Exploration (DGSE), there is a huge stock of mineral resources such as gold, copper, tin, and zinc, within the Rakhine state, which are yet to be explored. In addition to this, there are potential gas and oil reserves. It may be mentioned here that, several nations are already competing – either openly or discreetly in deepening relations with Myanmar with the hope of getting a stake in the huge stock of mineral resources within the Rakhine state as well as other parts of the country. For this particular reason, many of the nations, particularly China and India even are shy in uttering the word ‘Rohingya’ thinking it may hurt their Burmese counterpart.
Every nation is actually eyeing on Myanmar’s natural resources and that is one of the key reasons that stop them from speaking out loud enough on the Rohingya issue. In this case, China and India already have greatly succeeded in deepening relations with Myanmar, and most definitely, for this reason, both the nations are unwilling to annoy Myanmar by helping Bangladesh in a real sense in resolving the crisis.
Rohingya a crisis is not a lone burden for Bangladesh and Myanmar
Until now, everyone in the world may think, Rohingya refugee the issue is a lone burden on Bangladesh and Myanmar and it is the responsibility of Dhaka and Naypyitaw to resolve the matter through “mutual dialogues”. What some of the countries do not realize is, for Myanmar, it is actually a priority in keeping the Rohingyas out of the land for the sake of ensuring a favorable atmosphere in the Rakhine state, which would enable Naypyitaw in having foreign investors in larger number for investing billions of dollars in the exploration of mineral resources.
Why Myanmar wants Rohingyas out of the land
The 1.5 million Muslim population in the Rakhine state in Myanmar actually is considered as a liability than human resources by the policymakers in Naypyitaw. The main reason behind such perception is –the majority of these Rohingyas are uneducated, unskilled and to some extent radicalized Muslims. Rohingyas have tried in 1947 and again in 1971 for making Rakhine state a part of the then East Pakistan and then Bangladesh. It means they are not loyal to Naypyitaw. The reason behind such sentiment is decade-old persecution and hostilities these Rohingyas have been enduring mostly from the Buddhist majority populace as well as Myanmar’s military junta. Myanmar’s military and the Buddhists see Islam as a threat to country’s peace, stability, and even integrity because the next-door neighbors of Myanmar are Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country and India, a country with over 180 million Muslim population. Myanmar does not want the Rohingyas to attain legitimacy as a citizen of the country and ultimate form any type of nexus under the garb of solidarity of the Muslim ummah.
The ultimate price of driving out the Rohingyas
Neither Myanmar nor China and India are realizing the potential risk posed by the Rohingya refugee crisis, which would definitely jeopardize regional and even global security within the next few years unless it is resolved immediately without wasting further time.
We are aware of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a terrorist outfit that came into existence since 2013 under the leadership of Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi, born in Karachi, Pakistan and grown and educated in the Islamic school in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He is of Myanmar origin. In his later years in Saudi Arabia, Ataullah served as an imam, (similarly as Islamic State (ISIS) kingpin Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi) and served as an imam to the Rohingya diaspora community of around 150,000.
A report from the International Crisis Group (ICG) released in December 2016 stated that Ataullah left Saudi Arabia in 2012, shortly after religiously motivated violence erupted in Rakhine State. A Myanmar government press release claims Ataullah spent six months of training in modern guerrilla warfare under the Taliban in Pakistan. The ICG report stated that though not confirmed, there are indications he went to Pakistan, and possibly elsewhere and that he received practical training in modern guerrilla warfare. Several members of the group also stated to ICG that he may have received additional training in Libya.
Ataullah has been an active supporter of Islamic State ever since its emergence in 2014 and according to several documents, he maintains deeper connections with Pakistani spy agency Inter Service Intelligence.
Since 2012, Ataullah began recruiting members under the banner of Harakah al-Yaqin after the 2012 riots in Myanmar. HaY, which would become ARSA in 2017, was comprised of seething, angry young men whose lives had been destroyed by the Myanmar armed forces.
The most important point to note here is – Ataullah Abu Ammar Jununi promotes Caliphate, which is a prototype of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s concept of Islamic State. Each of his directives is issued after cross-checking with the Quran and Hadith, meaning we can for granted take ARSA as the next ISIS – if not even much dangerous and mighty.
Ataullah’s confidants in ARSA, his devoted followers among the Rohingya, and his acquaintances from Saudi Arabia all unanimously describe him as one of the politest and softest-spoken people they have ever known. He even is described of his mesmeric personality, who calls upon his fellowmen to die or kill the “enemies”.
The next ISIS
Let us remember, the size of the “armies” of ARSA would be millions, as there are 1.5 million Rohingyas only now in Bangladesh [over one million Rohingya refugees] and Myanmar, while there are thousands of Rohingyas in Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, in addition to an unknown number of Rohingyas in the western nations. There is a sharp possibility of ARSA joining hands with ISIS and may even expand up to those Islamists in Chechens and Uyghurs. There are over 110 million Uyghurs in China and thousands in Turkey, Russia, and Canada. And let us not forget those hundreds of thousands of Chechens, who are spread within Chechnya, Russia, Turkey, Middle East, United States, Canada, and the European nations. Can we realize the ultimate consequence if there is a nexus of jihadists formed in between ISIS, ARSA and beyond? Can we really afford to keep the Rohingya refugee crisis alive and open the door to the formation of a gigantic jihadist force under the theme of Caliphate?
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter @Salah_Shoaib