SUBIR BHAUMIK The burning down of 9 crude oil tankers in Upper Assam points to a change in equations between rebel groups in India’s Northeast. Indian intelligence agencies now confirm that this violent action was carried by joint squads of ULFA (Independent) and NSCN (Issak-Muivah) guerrillas. But ULFA(I) is in the rebel coalition UNLFSWEA that was…
Scores of foreign militants — mostly Pakistanis and Bangladeshis — are fighting besides rebels of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) since radical groups across the Islamic world called for ‘a jihad against Burmese colonialism’ in the Arakans (Rakhine).
Indian intelligence officials say they have intercepted communication between some of the Pakistani militants fighting for ARSA when they called their principals and relatives in Pakistan.
On the basis of the intercepts, the number of Pakistani militants fighting in Rakhine has been estimated around 30 to 40, but if such recruitment is a continuous process, these numbers may go up.
Bangladesh intelligence has come upon evidence of some volunteers from Chittagong and other areas of the country joining the battle against Burmese army.
‘These volunteers are from qaumi groups who support the struggle for an Islamic Republic in North Arakans. Some of them belong to Bangladesh terror groups like Jammat-ul-Mujahideen-Bangladesh (JMB) who are evading counter terrorism action against them in Bangladesh and find it convenient to join the ARSA,” said a top Bangladesh counter-terrorism official over phone from Dhaka. He was not willing to be named.
They have intercepted communication between some of the Pakistani militants fighting for ARSA when they called their principals and relatives in Pakistan
“Since there is a upswing of support for the ARSA’s struggle now, it is easy for the likes of JMB to conceal themselves in ARSA cover,” the official said.
80 to 100 Bangladeshis, at the very least, seems to be working with the ARSA in support roles, but some are possibly armed for action.
Journalists who have gone to ARSA hideouts inside Bangladesh say the rebels move around freely in the Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar area and even take media persons inside Myanmar territory.
Besides Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, a small contingent of Uzbeks, Arabs and Afghans have also arrived in south-eastern Bangladesh to join the ‘Arakan jihad’.
Intelligence officials say they are being ‘prepared ‘ for future terror strikes inside elsewhere in Myanmar, not merely in Rakhine. Their numbers are estimated at between 30 to 35.
“This is dangerous. The ISI is creating another jihad theatre because for them, jihad is commerce. India, Myanmar and Bangladesh should firmly ensure Rakhine is not the next Afghanistan,” says former deputy chief of India’s Defense Intelligence Agency Maj-Gen Gaganjit Singh (retd).
Journalists who have gone to ARSA hideouts inside Bangladesh say the rebels move around freely in the Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar area and even take media persons inside Myanmar territory
Myanmar’s leading media group Mizzima had earlier furnished evidence of close links between ARSA and Pakistan’s Lashkar e Tayyaba and the country’s military intelligence agency ISI.
The ISI is said to be controlling through its ‘External Publicity’ division the Rohingya networks which are on a propaganda overdrive to garner global Muslim support for the ‘jihad in Arakans’, like similar efforts in the 1980s for the Afghan jihad.
“Without ignoring the suffering of the local people, evidence is emerging of a more organized, Islamist-inspired militancy in the area — and the army’s ferocious response to it — could have far-reaching consequences. “The authorities are playing with fire,” said a diplomat familiar with the issue told top Myanmar watcher Bertil Lintner.
“There’s widespread sympathy for the militants in the Muslim world.”
Or, as the ICG says, unless properly handled, this could well be the beginning of a new religiously motivated insurgency with outside support.”
Key to the revival of the Rohingya insurgency is Abdus Qadoos Burmi, a Pakistani of Rohingya descent, who first launched his Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami-Arakan (HUJI-A) and then used it as, which may be part of a broader network usually transcribed from the name in Arabic as Harakah al-Yaqin, or “the Faith Movement”. Then he finally merged all these groups into the newly created ARSA which is also headed by a Pakistan-born Rohingya Abdullah Junooni @ Attaullah Abu Ammar Jununi. The ARSA military wing chief Hafiz Tohar is however from a Rakhine village, from where he was recruited by Qadoos Burmi, who developed close links with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and its political wing, Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD).
Both organizations are banned in Pakistan but continue to operate more or less openly. According to a US diplomatic cable dated as early as Aug. 10, 2009, and made public by Wikileaks, LeT and its “alias” JuD are affiliated with the international terrorist network al-Qaida and have raised funds for its activities from so-called charities in Saudi Arabia.
Shortly after the first bout of violence in June 2012, LeT and JuD initiated a movement called the Difa-e-Musalman e-Arakan Conference to highlight the Rohingya issue. In August the same year, two senior JuD operatives, identified by intelligence agencies as Shahid Mahmood and Nadeem Awan, visited Bangladesh to make contact with Rohingya in camps near the Burmese border. Religious and some military-style training is said to have been provided. At the same time, LeT-linked operatives visited the Mae Sot area in Thailand, where training was also provided to potential militants.
Now the LeT and ARSA have managed to create, with ISI guidance and funding a huge social media network to build support for the Arakan jihad.
Lintner, who has investigated this process, says that “while not denying that atrocities have been carried out, veteran human rights observers are appalled by the dissemination of a flood of fake images coming from the area.”
He gives a few examples:
* Most recently, pictures of a Cambodian child being tortured by a Dutch man and two Cambodian men appeared in the British newspaper the Daily Mail claiming that it was a Rohingya toddler being tortured by Burmese soldiers.
* Pictures of victims of the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis and an earthquake in the Chinese province Sichuan, also in May 2008, have been peddled as evidence of violence against the Rohingya as well.
* Pictures of Christians laid in an open field and killed by Islamic militants in Nigeria were said to be dead Rohingya.
* Picture of a Muslim man killed in a traffic accident in Thailand was portrayed as a victim of violence in Arakan State.
finally merged all these groups into the newly created ARSA which is also headed by a Pakistan-born Rohingya Abdullah Junooni. The ARSA military wing chief Hafiz Tohar is however from a Rakhine village, from where he was recruited by Qadoos Burmi, who developed close links with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and its political wing, Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD)
Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has released genuine pictures of villages that have been burned down in Arakan State and other confirmed reports of abuses, has had to be careful to sort fact from fiction.
According to David Mathieson, who has covered human rights abuses for HRW for 15 years, said many photos and videos they had been sent were “crude fakes.”
“By doing so, some Rohingya-support groups are actually undermining the work of internationally-recognized human rights organizations such as HRW, says Lintner.
“One bad set of reporting gives the government ammunition to smear serious rights reporting and discredit professional reports,” said Mathieson.
“It also shows that social media can be misused as a platform for transmitting information of complex human rights issues and users should automatically question every report and image instead of immediately posting anguish and invective. Too often people feed off their emotions during crises, and don’t rely on balanced reporting.”