Millions of starving and brutally persecuted people from Myanmar are flooding Bangladesh. Reports are coming in that a genocide is taking place in the next country. Our resources are overwhelmed and we cannot continue to take care of so many people forever. The local population are worried and so are the media. What do you do in this situation? This was the situation in India in 1971, when millions of refuges, fleeing a genocidal Pakistan Army, entered that country from East Pakistan. India made the choice; they not only provided the refugees with food and shelter but also provided them with weapons and training. They helped the Mukti Bahini liberate Bangladesh.
India was able to send back the estimated 10 million refuges to Bangladesh after the end of the Liberation War. Today Bangladesh finds herself in the same position. Now, my question, is it enough to provide Rohingya refugees with shelter? Should we not be arming and training them?
The Rohingyas have been described as the most prosecuted people in the world and for good reason. These Muslims lived in the Rakhine state of Myanmar for hundreds of years. There are written accounts of their existence in British records of the 19th century. Yet they find themselves denied citizenship by the constitution of Myanmar. They are denied the right to vote. In the 20th century there were Rohingya members of parliament in Myanmar but that’s no longer the case. They have been systematically disenfranchised. They are discriminated not only for having a different faith but also for their racial identity. The dark skinned Indo-Dravidian Rohingyas are viewed with deep prejudice by the East Asian Burmese. In 2009, a Burmese diplomat in Hong Kong described the Rohingyas as “Ugly as Ogres”. The Rohingyas are not the only ethnic minorities in conflict with the Burmese state. The Christian majority ethnic Karen are one of many others. In Rambo 4, Rambo goes to Burma to rescue Christian missionaries and fight alongside the Karen rebels against the Myanmar military.
The Rohingyas are a neglected minority group that has been denied public facilities like healthcare and education. Their lack of education makes them particularly vulnerable to Jihadist ideology and groups. The Bangladesh army and Intelligence branch can help establish a secular rebel group including both Hindu and Muslim Rohingyas that will fight for the rights of the Rohingya people. The recent attack on Hindu Rohingyas by Rohingya rebels would not have happened if the insurgency had been influenced by secular nationalist ideals rather than Islamic ones.
The latest Burmese offensive began on 25 August, after Rohingyas allegedly attacked Burmese police camps. If we examine the news reports on the attack, it becomes clear how weak the insurgency is. The rebels were mostly armed with bamboo sticks and homemade spears. These were probably suicidal attacks. The leader of this particular Rohingya group is a Pakistani born, Saudi educated Islamist.
Since the 1990s, Rohingyas had crossed over to Bangladesh in waves, taxing already scare local resources. Today there are about a million of them in Bangladesh. The government of Myanmar has shown very little initiative in taking them back. The financing of rebels would serve Bangladesh as an important bargaining tool in returning those refugees to Myanmar.
Bangladesh manufactures its own light weapons, which can be used to arm the rebels. The rebels can be trained in warfare and ideology in Bangladesh. They can also be used to prevent Islamists from setting up bases in the region by taking advantage of the situation. In the past, Bangladeshi terrorist organisations like JMB were able to set up bases in the region. A strong secular rebel group will help bring the Myanmar military to the negotiation table and revive talks.
At Present the Myanmar government believes that their actions will have no repercussions and unless Bangladesh acts they will be proven correct.
Arming the refugees to create a rebel force will be in our national interest. This would be similar to how the United States aided the Syrian moderates in the fight against ISIL. Bangladesh can help Rohingya population get back their natural birth rights from the Myanmar military.
The writer is a graduate student of Baruch College, USA