01 Oct 17/Sunday
Pakistan keeps Myanmar’s Rohingya-dominated Rakhine on the boil as the province is an anchor of the Centre’s Act East Policy. DNA tracks how deep-rooted terror links of Rohingyas have emerged as a major internal security threat for India, and examines the situation in key border states
After a three-year cat-and-mouse game, security forces in Kashmir were finally hot on the trail of Adil Pathan, believed to be the brother of Jaish-e-Mohammad’s (JeM) Kashmir operations chief Mufti Ashghar, in 2015. Adil had been tasked by Ashghar and JeM chief Masood Azhar to recruit youngsters and revive the outfit, edged out after its cadres were found involved in the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s assassination bid in 2003. The Army and the J&K police’s counterinsurgency Special Operations Group (SOG) killed Adil and one of his accomplices on October 8, 2015, at Harriparigam village in Awantipora, 30 km south of Srinagar. To their horror, the accomplice turned out to be a Myanmar national, who had taken refuge in Pakistan. After a series of interrogations and intelligence contacts, they could confirm that he was Abdul Rehman -al-Arkani, known as Chhota Burmi among JeM cadres. According to sources, Burmi had infiltrated into Kashmir along with Pathan.
Due to his nickname, intelligence officials in Srinagar believed that a Bada Burmi must also be working with JeM. They identified Maulana Abdul Quddus as Bada Burmi, a confidante of Masood Azhar and a commander of Myanmar’s terror group Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami Arakan (HUJI-A). He had fled to Pakistan in the 1980s and was now operating from Karachi’s Korangi. The group used to work closely with Al Qaeda’s 313 Brigade head Ilyas Kashmiri, sources said. While the Jammu and Kashmir government says that there are no terror cases against Rohingyas who have taken refuge in Jammu, the Central government has cataloged the community’s affinity with Pakistan-based terror groups. Myanmar is a Buddhist majority country where Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic minority, classified as illegal Bengali migrants from Bangladesh. There were about 1 million Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, formerly the Arakan kingdom.
A confidential report, prepared by the Centre, has listed incidents to establish links between the stateless Rohingyas, evicted by the Myanmar Army, and terrorist organizations in Pakistan and other global groups like Al Qaeda. The deep state in Pakistan and other vested interest groups also appear to have an interest in keeping Myanmar’s Rohingya-dominated Rakhine on the boil. The province is an anchor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy. India is engaged in building a Rs 29 billion Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, connecting the deep-sea port in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe to India’s landlocked North East. Many here believe that Sittwe has similar significance for India to reach the Bay of Bengal, as Gwadar in Pakistan’s Balochistan has for China to connect its mainland to the Arabian Sea.
On May 4, 2017, an improvised explosive device blast took place at Rakhine’s Buthidaung Township, in the westernmost part of Myanmar. Investigations revealed that two of the four killed while assembling the device were Pakistani nationals and the remaining two were local Rohingyas. The Pakistani nationals of Rohingya origin were identified as Abdul Rahim and Anarthullah, who had returned to Rakhine after spending 20 years away in the Af-Pak region. “The incident shows how deep Pakistan-based terror groups have taken roots in the region,” an intelligence source here told DNA. There is also a mention of a group, Aqa Mul Mujahideen (AMM), blamed for attacks on Myanmar border outposts last year. The group is said to have links with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Intelligence agencies believe that AMM is actually a breakaway group from HUJI-A. The agencies, who have been tracking Qadoos for years, are understood to have reported his stay at the LeT headquarters in Muridke near Lahore. Information shared by intelligence agencies in Bangladesh and Myanmar also suggests that AMM leader Hafiz Tohar aka Abu Aman Jununi was recruited by Burmi from Kyuak Pyin Siek village in Rakhine’s Maungdaw and was later trained in Pakistan. Both have recruited new cadres among the Rohingya youth in Rakhine and refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar. They believe that the AMM cadre was trained along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Agencies have also noted frequent movements of Maulana Ustad Wazeer aka Noor Kabir and Fareed Faizullah, both Pakistani nationals of Rohingya origin, in Bangladesh’s Chittagong area and Mae Sot in Thailand’s Tak province, where they are engaged in indoctrination and training of recruits. Last year in May, Bangladesh authorities arrested Omar Faruk aka RSO Faruk of the LeT-backed Rohingya Solidarity Organisation from Chittagong for attacking Bangladesh’s ANSAR camp at Cox’s Bazar, looting weapons and killing the troop commander. ANSAR is a paramilitary auxiliary force at par with India’s CRPF, responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The Central government dossier further mentions that LeT had organized Difa-e-Musalman-e-Arakan conference in Pakistan in July 2012 to highlight the Rohingya cause. Subsequently, LeT had sent its senior operatives Shahid Mehmood and Nadeem Awan to Bangladesh to recruit and train Rohingyas along Myanmar borders.
Rohingyas were vulnerable to fall into the trap of Sunni radical elements, thereby having direct repercussions on India’s maritime security in the Bay of Bengal and internal security in the North-East region. “Escalation of militant activities in this region shall pose a direct threat to international shipping lanes of communication passing through the Malacca Straits,” the Central government dossier said. It also reminds that groups like Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda’s Yemen Branch, LeT and JeM have openly called for attacks on Myanmar authorities in support of Rohingyas.
India houses around 40,000 Rohingyas who have arrived in the country through porous borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh in separate batches since 2012-13. Even though India has no refugee policy, the government has remained lenient with refugees fleeing their countries in the times of crisis. More than 1,20,000 Tibetan refugees live in India. There is a Tibetan government-in-exile operated from McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala. Karnataka also allotted land for Tibetan refugees. Around 60,000 Afghan refugees came to India after the Russian invasion. The government allowed the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to continue its programme. There are about 10,000 Sri Lankan refugees in India. There are 107 camps in Tamil Nadu and one in Odisha for Sri Lankan refugees.
Nearly 7,000 Rohingyas are living in 23 settlements across Jammu. They have moved the Supreme Court, saying that they were not involved in any terrorist act. “All 7,000 Rohingyas have nothing to do with terrorism,” the community, represented by counsel Colin Gonsalves, said. “Not a single one of them has ever engaged in any terrorist activity,” he said. “The local police have for over a year conducted interrogation of all Rohingyas and have taken full details of each family. The local police have inspected the settlements several times every month. All Rohingyas cooperate with the police and give them all the required information,” he said.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal insists that they are not refugees, as they didn’t come to India from Myanmar. “Most of the 40,000 Rohingyas came to India from Bangladesh. There are no atrocities being committed against them there. Their life and limb are not threatened. They are not persecuted there… So when they entered India they have not come as refugees. They have come as illegal migrants,” he said. He pointed out that the Rohingyas in India have no intention to seek refugee status, and this is proven by the fact that many of them have taken PAN cards and ration cards in India. “They want to merge. They want to present themselves as Indian citizens. So they are illegal migrants.” He, however, cautioned that the 40,000 Rohingyas are not all terrorists. The issue is, they can potentially provide a pool for some ideologically motivated people who are then trained by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, JeM or LeT’s Hafiz Saeed.
Outside Myanmar and Bangladesh, Pakistan is home to the highest concentration of Rohingyas in the world, from previous exoduses in the 1970s and ’80s. According to an estimate, there are 500,000 Rohingyas in Pakistan. While Pakistan was most strident in condemning the Myanmar government for its offensive, Pakistani newspapers have been reporting complaints of police harassment of Rohingyas. Many spoke grimly of “Burma Cell,” a special police division responsible for cracking down on Rohingya migrants. Pakistani journalist Mehreen Zahra Malik quoted Khalid Saifullah, 70, who migrated from Myanmar four decades ago, as saying, “They won’t let me be a citizen because then they have to give me rights. They won’t call me a refugee because then they have to give me aid.” He showed the high school diploma he had received from a school in Karachi. “I am not a citizen or a refugee. I am an illegal alien. I am nothing.”
While there is criticism that the government was vacillating its stand between sending humanitarian aid for Rohingiyas and also calling them a security threat, it is believed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to work quietly with Myanmar and Bangladesh to ensure the return of refugees into Rakhine. MEA officials had communicated concerns to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) over the flip-flop, costing India its image globally. The MEA has been pushing Myanmar to adopt recommendations of a panel headed by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan on giving Rohingyas citizenship and other rights. While Modi during his recent visit to Myanmar praised its leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s handling of the crisis, the MEA issued a statement asking Myanmar to show “restraint and maturity” and prepare to launch relief assistance.
Myanmar is a Buddhist majority country where Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic minority, classified as illegal Bengali migrants from Bangladesh.
There were about 1 million Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, formerly the Arakan kingdom.
India houses around 40,000 Rohingyas who have arrived in the country through porous borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh in separate batches since 2012-13.
Nearly 7,000 Rohingyas are living in 23 settlements across Jammu.
There are 230 Rohingya Muslims in Bengal kept in various prisons on grounds of illegal immigration