Burma: Killing Two Birds With A Stone Or A Win, Win Situation – OpEd


As an ethnic survivor of the 7th July massacre, I was rather sad and confused at the success of hardliners of the quasi civilian government in orchestrating and implementing their policy of “Let the minority fights the minority,” in Western Burma. They have successfully revitalize the importance of military and that in time of crisis only the military is reliable and guarantor of the country and that the pro democracy movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi cannot do anything in times like this, has been driven home. (Editor’s Note: A response to this article by Dr. Habib Siddiqui has been posted here)

Even though she was treated like a rising Hollywood star, the darling of the media, capturing headlines at every turn, charming the world with her quiet wisdom, and motivating people to be of interest in Burma, the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) have try to tarnish her image not only by revealing her lawsuit with her brother but also insisting in their vain attempt to prove, that dictators can change the name of the country and the national flag without the consensus of the people.

The Tatmadaw is still control by the evil genius, Than Shwe via the hard liners, have deliberately fomented violence not only to place Daw Suu in an awkward position but also to lure the Arakanese (Rakhine) to their side by highlighting the theory of some educated Mujahids and Bengali Intellectuals based in Europe to create a new race call “Rohingya” in 1950s. The Tatmadaw has skillfully and successfully exploited this situation, to create a recent frenzy, to undermine everything that the global leaders, the media and everyday citizens of the world to construe that Burma has changed in the blink of an eye.

History of the Bengali Immigrants

When the British occupied Arakan in the 18th century, the area was scarcely populated, while there was a plenty of place for high-yield paddy fields in the fertile Kaladan and Lemro River Valleys.1 So the British policy was to encourage the Bengali inhabitants from the adjacent areas to migrate into these fertile valleys of Arakan as agriculturalists. The British East India Company extended the administration of Bengal to Arakan as, there was no international boundary between the two countries and no restriction was imposed on the emigration.

At first, most of them came as seasonal agricultural laborers and went home after the harvest was done. R. B. Smart estimated the number at about twenty-five thousand during the crop-reaping season alone.2 This is also because the colonial administration of India regarded the Bengalis as amenable subjects, while finding the indigenous Arakanese too defiant, rising in rebellion twice in 1830s. The flow of Chittagonian labor provided the main impetus to the economic development in Arakan and within a few decades along with the opening of regular commercial shipping lines between Chittagong and Akyab became an economic success.

The arable land expanded to four and a half times between 1830 and 1852 and Akyab, became one of the major rice exporting cities in the world. Indeed, during a century of colonial rule, the Chittagonian immigrants became the numerically dominant ethnic group in the Mayu Frontier. That is the origin of the Mujahid or the Bengali Immigrants.

The crucial aspect of these Mujahid is that in the period of the independence movement in Burma in 1920s and 1930s the Muslims from the Mayu Frontier were more concerned with the progress of Muslim League in India. This clearly proved that their mentality is not with the Union of Burma but rather with the Muslims of India and from this thesis alone they did not qualify in the ethnic nationalities of the Union of Burma. But the most important point in their history with Burma is that before the beginning of the Second World War a political party, Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam was founded under the guidance of the Islamic scholars. Islam became the ideological basis of the party. 3

During the early post-war years both Arakanese and Bengali Muslims in the Mayu Frontier looked at each other with distrust. Relations between the Muslim Mujahid and the Arakanese have historically been tense. The ethnic violence between Arakanese Buddhists and those Muslim Chittagonians brought a great deal of bloodshed to Arakan during the World War II and after 1948, in the opening decade of independent Burma.

As the British Labor Government promised independence for Burma, some Muslims were haunted by the specter of their future living under the infidel rule in the place where the baneful Arakanese are also living. In 1946 a delegation was sent by the Jami-atul Ulema-e Islam to Ali Jina in Karachi (founder of Pakistan) to discuss with the leaders of the Muslim League, the possibility of incorporation of Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Ratheedaung townships into the then East Pakistan now Bangladesh.

This also clearly proved that the Mujahid/Rohingya have no inclination to be in the Union of Burma and is not one of the ethnic tribes of the Union. When Burma became independent in 1948, the Mujahid engaged in armed attacks in an unsuccessful effort to have the northern part of the state join East Pakistan. 4 But the British ignored their proposal to detach the frontier area to award it to Pakistan.

The failure of their attempts ended in an armed revolt, with some Muslims, declaring a holy war Jihard on the young new Republic of the Union of Burma. A guerrilla army of 2700 fighters was organized. 5 But in the long run they could not match the Arakanese and the Burmese army and in 1950s Prime Minister U Nu declares that if his party win he would grants them a concession and recognize them as an indigenous group so that the Immigrants voted for him but soon they lost their political and constitutional identity when the military coup came in 1962. The first Military government of General Ne Win promulgated the Citizenship Act of Burma in 1982. This effectively denied the Mujahid recognition of their status as an ethnic minority group. As a sign of peaceful disobedience these Mujahids deliberately refuse to speak any Burmese or Arakanese language. The conclusion is that both the ethno-democratic forces composed of other ethnic nationalities and the Junta forces refuse to recognize them.6 The word “Rohingya” came into use in the 1950s by the educated Bengali residents who were the second or third generations of the Bengali immigrants from the Chittagong District in modern Bangladesh; this is to differentiate them from the existing Muslim communities inside Arakan, who are living peacefully with their Arakanese Buddhist brethren even before the state was absorbed into British India. Most of the poor uneducated Mujahid farmers, who faced the brunt of the ethnic cleansing policy of the Junta scarcely even knows that he was called a Rohingya.

In the past three decades, there have been significant migrations, forced and voluntary, of Mujahid to neighboring Bangladesh. In 1977, in response to the military government’s attempt to identify illegal immigrants, some 200,000 group members sought refuge in Bangladesh. While most of them subsequently returned, in 1981-82 there was another exodus as Rangoon implemented a new citizenship law that required residents to prove that they have lived in the country since 1824. In the mid to late 1990s, further migrations to Bangladesh occurred, many of which were reportedly due to forcible expulsions by the Junta. From a high of 250,000 Mujahids in Bangladeshi refugee camps in the early 1990s, there were some 20,000 left by the end of 2000 after the rest had returned to Burma. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has financially supported the camps.

The Mujahid faced many demographic stresses such as deteriorating public health conditions, declining caloric intake, dispossession from their land, and internal resettlement as a result of government policies. During the 1998-2000 periods, thousands of villagers were evicted in order to transform their rice fields into poppy plantations. Further, some of the land that belonged to Mujahidin Bangladeshi refugee camps was turned over to the local Arakanese.

At the time of this writing, about one million Mujahid live in the north western parts of Burma, near the Bangladesh border. Hundreds of thousands of Mujahid are currently living in neighbouring Bangladesh, where they are unwanted refugees. Mujahid women like any other ethnic race in Burma are frequently subject to sexual abuse and rape by Tatmadaw soldiers. Reportedly, Burma’s military continues to commit atrocities against the civilian population. As such, desperate Mujahids pour across the borders into Bangladesh every year.

As far as Bangladesh is concerned is that after providing shelter to the Mujahid for nearly three decades, it is now concerned about the annual increase in their numbers. Apart from being an economic burden, the Mujahid involvement in insurgent activities along the Burma-Bangladesh border is feared by the government. Hence to reduce the influx, the government has declared that it will no more consider any asylum seeker as refugee. Anti- Mujahid communities in Bangladesh have also pressurized the government to repatriate the Mujahid. “Bangladesh never signed any kind of international act, convention or law for allowing and giving shelter to refugees, That’s why we are not bound to provide shelter to the Rohingyas.” was said by its Foreign Minister Dipu Moni. 7 .

An Analysis of the Current Situation

(1) The Tatmadaw controlled by the hard liners under the master brain came out as a clear winner, as it can kill two or more birds with a stone. First it was able to win the entire Arakanese population (both inside Burma and in Diaspora) to support the Tatmadaw as it is the lesser of the two evils, if compared to an alien occupiers, threatening their way of life, values and religion. Second, it can discredit Daw Aung San Suu Kyi internationally and nationally pacing her in a very awkward position. Third it prove once and for all that the people of Burma is still unfit for democracy and that a strong arm tactics is still a necessity, as passions always get the better of their reasoning not to mention the free press or free speech as none of them act responsibly. Fourth and most importantly is that it shattered the Burmese ethnic solidarity by forcing them to choose sides.

(2) A few dedicated Mujahid intellectuals based in the West especially in Europe backed by the Bengali Professors in US came out with flying colours as they have successfully lobbied not only to the countries of their residence but also to the UN and most of the INGOs who all shared their perspective and could rally, not only the Mujahid but most of the Burmese Muslims both inside and outside the country. They were also able to organise the so call activist ethnic leaders who are cock eye to business inside Burma and got the support of some Islamic funds from the Middle East. But most importantly they could manage to coin the word, “Rohingya” .internationally as the most persecuted people of the world and count on the world sympathy. In other words they have beaten the Burmese in general, and Arakanese in particular in forcing to use the word Rohingya. Now the next step is that they are appealing to the conscious of the Islamic world, trying to draw them into the conflict and is endeavouring their level best to make Rohigya a global problem. Even now Turkey is seeking to bring the plight of Rohingya onto the international agenda by calling on the global community to end its silence on the situation. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday that Turkey was concerned over the treatment of the Rohingya. “We expect more sensibility from the international community for the Rohingya Muslims, who left their homes, belongings and land,” 8 “Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya:” book written by photographer Greg Constantine became a hit topic at the London School of Economics discussion and no doubt the world sympathy is with the Mujahids as Al Jazeera often highlighted their situation.9 The strength and strategy of the Rohingya could not be taken lightly, if we do not solve this problem in time.

(3) It also reveals the ideological bankruptcy of the quasi civilian government of Thein Sein, when he foolishly proposed to the UNHCR to let them go to the Third country as refugees, when it was the Military governments of Burma that has been creating refugees all these half a century and sending them to all parts of the world? What, is the civilized world will compel to accept another millions of Mujahids?

(4) It badly tarnished the image of the Burmese in Diaspora especially the pro democracy activists. They themselves have been refugees and have seek asylum in West where they are warmly welcome and now some of them sided with the Burmese military against the Mujahid who are also homo sapiens like them. Burma Campaign UK, put it, “ Is it right that we should receive threats and abuse just for having a different opinion than them? That is the approach and mind set of the dictatorship. It shouldn’t be the way things are done in a democracy. People do need to ask themselves why they are so ready to believe these lies. It casts a long shadow over Burma. Violence and intolerance took hold. Is this the kind of Burma people want to see in the future?   Isn’t one of the main reasons for having a democracy that disagreements can be debated and settled politically, not through violence and threats? Burma’s democracy movement is an anti-dictatorship movement, but it must also be a movement for human rights, for tolerance and for equality.”

(5) It also paints the picture that ethnic nationalities leaders are somewhat racist and cannot get along with each other having their own individual agendas and obsessions, the prove of it is that they can never stand together all these half a century even the military can took one by one easily. This will go on for sometimes to come until one day they all will be categorise in the history books as the vanishing tribes and all become Myanmarnese. That is one of the reasons of why the regime is so intent to calling the country Myanmar.

(6) It also highlight that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi needs more intelligentsia who can relate to the past, the present and the future. The baby boomers of Burma are already septuagenarian or octogenarian even though very few of them are active, the X and the Y generations are all brought up in a close Burmese Way to Socialism and are closed with little or no outside knowledge or experience internationally. It is a must to lure the Diaspora community where the Burmese best brains are used by foreign countries. It should appeal to the Diaspora Intelligentsia with nostalgia (numbering 3 to 5 million) to lure back to the country giving them incentives to share their wisdom to the next generations especially the N Generations who will implement the schemes.

(7) The successive military administrations have proven beyond doubt that there is no rule of law. The late General Saw Maung has remarked that “State Law and Order Restoration Council means that Law is in our hands and we can do anything we like.”This was also remarked by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Can we remedy it with this quasi military regime?

(8) It had proves beyond doubt that successive military administrations cannot defend the country’s sovereignty, except by brute force. They were so bent on retaining their power at any cost and using the divide and rule policy among the ethnic nationalities that they are unaware of the encroaching Chinese and Bengalis tigers. Here the Burmese proverb of Nwa Kwe’ Kya Kaik meaning that if the buffaloes do not stand together the tiger will finish them off one by one. The Tatmadaw could not comprehend the internationally complicated and advanced methods used by other countries. Even now they do not have the will or the inkling to tackle it.

(9) It also drives home to every Muslim to respect other beliefs and religions especially in their adopted countries to respect the local laws and belief and that the theory of the Koran or the sword cannot be applied.

(10) But most importantly of all, is that it has a very bad and negative impression on Buddhism especially the Theravada Buddhism, when Buddhism is considered to be the most compassionate religions of the world. How are the followers of Lord Buddha, Burmese Buddhist in general, and Rakhine Buddhist in particular, practice their compassion to the other human being not similar to them, when in face. Lord Buddha has showed several ways to curb their own passion and desires.

Win Win Situation

As I use to hum the tune, “It takes all sorts to make a world as there are so many jobs to do, but the best of the lot is the one that I recommend to you.” we must remember that Burma is under populated of less than 60 million while all our immediate neighbours Thailand in the East and Bangladesh in the West have far more population, even though their land area is much more smaller than Burma. This does not count our giant neighbours of India and China. Naturally all our neighbours want to dump their excess population into Burma with rich natural resources.

The immediate problem where both legal and illegal immigration is concerned is the Chinese in the east and not so much Bengalis in the West. A rough estimate put that there are more than 4 million Chinese immigrants in Burma so much so that Mandalay, the second capital of Burma is called 2nd Beijing as most of the business area and the city has been taken over by the Chinese while the locals have moved to the suburbs. This does not included the illegal Chinese coming across the border areas posing as ethnic nationalities. So why did the Tatmadaw did create this Mujahid problem when it tried its level best to placate the local outburst against the Chinese? The Burmese saying of (ukvm; r Edkif&cdkif rJ) not being able to conquer Kalar beat up the Rakhine was skillfully turned into (w&kwfrEdkifukvm;rJ ) being unable to tackle the Chinese turned on to Kalar.

Will the Thein Sein Administration ever challenge the illegal Chinese as many of them have become local quarters and township chairman? The Burmese army is too afraid to tackle on the Chinese, as it has to depend on them not only arms and ammunition but also the diplomatic support without which all of them would now be standing trial in Hague. The Generals security came first then the security of Burma. But at the same time they know the real situation and to tackle this Chinese problem it must get the Western support and this is the main reason of letting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to come back to the political field. Naturally, the resource hungry West falls into this trap.

So the only hope is that if the Lady wins the election in 2015 with a wide margin other than the army generals then she would be in a position to solve this problem once and for all with a Win Win situation

The country is heading for democracy, equality, free trade and probably federal type with the 2nd Panglong Conference and all its citizens can chose to reside anywhere else in the country provided they respect the local laws and authority. Full Stop. But not the aliens. Since there is much influx of Chinese, the government can confine them to Western Burma where now the majority of the Mujahid resides, this is feasible as China is constructing a fast railroad with the gas pipe line schedule to complete in 2013-14. Confined these China-men to that area of the Rohingya. Then send all these so call Mujahid/Rohingyas to the eastern part of Burma where there are lots of land with a favourable weather and they can eke out their lives there.(as a matter of fact China’s top legislature passed a new exit and entry law on June 30 which stipulates harsher punishments for illegal entry, stay or employment of foreigners).

Of course these Chinese and Mujahids must be issued with a special ID card and compel them to respect the local Burmese laws and customs. If anyone refused to go along with this order then he must be persecuted according to law and finally deported to the country of its origin. In this way it will stop the illegal immigrants entering the country by fair or foul means. Just by looking at the features of the person one can pin point that he is an illegal immigrant from China if found in the Mujahid area or Bangali in Chinese dominated area. We will have to take drastic action once caught. This will solve the problem at least for half a century until their children got married to each other or the local population.

Then what will be the cost of these mass exodus? The Burmese government did not need to spend a single pyar (Burmese currency of cents). The 31 INGOs, who do not have the slightest idea of Burmese nation building, not to mention the Burmese psyche or rationale, but requested the Burmese government to repel the 1982 citizenship law will gladly fund. Of course they will be joined by 58 civil societies, since these NGOs and civil societies can view from the humanitarian perspective only, it will be far cheaper and methodical to fund the mass exodus with the cooperation of the Burmese government then resettling them in third countries as persecuted refugees.

It will also paint the picture that Burma accepted all these aliens both Bengalis and Chinese, mercifully and magnanimously in as much the Burmese refugees are accepted in the West in all these 50 years. It will earn credit in taking her rightful place in the family of nations. Even vast countries like Canada, Australia, Germany etc have not accepted these refugees (economic and political) in millions, Burma has accepted them will be categorized as the only nation, to show to the entire world that it had accepted such massive numbers. But it also has to make it clear that it has the limits because she cannot accept any more economic refugees. Obviously, it will be a great challenge to any Burmese administration as it will have to copy and adopt a Thai policy of making anyone who chose to remain in Thailand must speak Thai. Eventually as the years go by all these aliens must become Burmese even though they can maintain their customs, language and values dedicated to the Genuine union of Burma (not only to the big Bamar/Myanmar race)

Obviously the timid and coward quasi military administration of Thein Sein will not dared to implement this scheme as it had harbour many corrupt personals but I am quite positive that once Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in 2015 she will have the guts to implement for the sake of the country and people of Burma. Unlike the military administrations of 50 years Burma no longer send out the refugees but have accepted the massive economic refugees from Bangladesh and China.

It is far better for the Burmese to have more visions than more emotions. This is my humble idea of solving this chronic problem and anyone who has a much better idea will let us know so that we can back him up. But for speaking the truth and by endeavouring to solve this national problem I will draw flak with anger from the followings:

(1) Mujahid /Rohingya and pro Mujahid/Rohingya groups since I draw the carpet out of their feet and there is no way for them to create a new country of Arakanistan.

(2) The Chinese Companies and people residing in Burma will be very upset and put them on the defensive as categorising them as somewhat similar to Mujahid and they will find it be very hard to implement their peaceful colonization of Burma, somewhat like Tibet when their long term goal is that Burma to be 6th autonomous regions of China.10 Indeed their old map indicates that China owns all the territories East of the Salween river.

(3) The Rakhine Buddhist since they will face a new race which is more numerous and industrious and more business minded than the existing Mujahids.

(4) From the 31 INGOs, who had petitioned the Burmese government to repel the citizenship law as well as some other philanthropic organizations involved in Burmese humanitarian works, since it place the ball into their courts and have no excuse but to help the exodus if they are genuinely humanitarian.

(5) From the Human Rights organizations of the world for the mass exodus from one place to another. But the Wa have moved their whole tribe to areas dominated by the Shan and will be no problem to transfer these less than one million Mujahids and two plus million Chinese.

(6) From the Burmese Diaspora both the anti and pro Rohingay groups since it was a baby boomer and a septuagenarian that got this idea because they are living history and exposed to an open well rounded education.

(7) The so called existing business men together with their retinue of Burmese activists now trying to find a place in the sun as they love the status quo.

(8) Last, but not the least is from the Tatmadaw and the hard liners who after the successful implementation of “Let the minority fight the minority” and is tormenting such communal riots between the Shan and WA, between Karen and Mon will realise that they have no leverage to play a centrifugal role as the saviour, indispensible to the country and that a theory of a strong army is needed to keep the country together was shattered once and for all.

This is by my humble attempt to solve the chronic problem and perhaps if I am not construe as a trouble shooter could be label, as a trouble maker but this is the cheap price which I am willing to pay for my beloved country of the Union of Burma in my dotage stage.

1. See Charney 1999: 279.
2. Smart 1957: 99
3. Khin Gyi ;Pyaw Records of the Arakanese Ppeople 1960: 99
4. See REB45X = 4
5. Khin Gyi ;Pyaw 1960: 99; TheNation Daily 1953: April16
6. This is the only respect where both the Junta and the opposition forces agreed on. The Ethnic forces have asked the Rohingyas to work with the Arakanese opposition forces in order to recognize their identity and the latter refused.
7. Siddiqui, Dr Habib; The Rohingya Block in The letter from America. News and Article Covering Rohingya and Burma
8. Turkey to Raise Awareness of Rohingya Issue. Irrawaddy Magazine 17-7-2012
9. Inky; Mark, Rohingya Plight Highlighted in London in Irrawaddy 18-7-2012

Kanbawza Win

Kanbawza Win is a political scientist based in Canada

2 thoughts on “Burma: Killing Two Birds With A Stone Or A Win, Win Situation – OpEd

  • July 25, 2012 at 1:02 am

    Dear Saya,
    I completely agree with you. My idea, views, and policy is the same what you write in this article. I already discussed with an NGO in June 2012 about this plan to resolve long time conflict.
    I would like to remind you one thing; those who were brutally killed within last month in Sittway, and eastern part of Rakhine are mostly Rakhine-Muslims and Caman Muslims.
    Before we go on implementation of such plan, do we need to implement 1982 citizenship law that can categorize the Muslims of Rakhine in to indigenous, citizen, and temporary citizen?
    There is no implementation yet about it, except discrimination or implementation of discriminatory laws in Rakhine.
    You can see easily there is no permission for those who settled before AD 1824 to apply indigenous and citizenship yet. But the government and Rakhine ethnic nationalists are just coding Bengali if they see anyone who believes in Islam. This is not the solution but unwanted result.
    Therefore, my suggestion to the policy makers is that it must be necessary to categorize the Muslims into indigenous, citizens, and temporary citizens according to 1982 citizenship law. This is the only way to resolve this long time conflict.
    There is no way than this I am sure.

  • July 31, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    In my opinion , Ko Kanbawza Win’s solution, although bold, is impractical:one cannot, and should not, move masses of people around like that, logistically or morally.
    If there is a logic to distinguishing between those whose ancestors arrived in Myanmar before or after 1824, I wonder how difficult it would be to establish compliance. Are there land records? If not, proof is time consuming. I understand that where it can be shown that a person arrived(was not born in) illegally in Myanmar during their lifetime, they should be deported to their country of birth and that country must take them back. Otherwise the simplest practical solution may be to set up reasonable citizenship tests(qualifications) for the others and if they pass within a reasonable time, make them citizens. Otherwise, Myanmar will have to find a country to take them or will be compelled to keep them as aliens(as painful as that is). Then, and this is also costly, you have to police the border with Bangladesh and India to prevent illegal immigration.
    Finally, with this program, there must be re-education of all citizens and aliens to stop the discrimination and ill-will (over time) and work and live together. This will not be easy or quick but it just might work. With all deference, the international community just will not countenance camps for those( or their ancestors) entered Myanmar after 1824.


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