Refugees as Threat: Northeast in the middle
By Dr. I .YAIPHAREMBA | April 12, 2018
Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-kilometer long international border, including 262 km in Assam, 856 km in Tripura, 180 km in Mizoram, 443 km in Meghalaya, and 2,217 km in Bengal. Likewise, India shared a 1643 km long border with Myanmar in four north-eastern states namely, Arunachal (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km) and Mizoram (510 km) with Myanmar’s Sagaing Region and Chin State. Even though, Indo-Bangladesh is fence and protected by Border Security Force still illegal infiltration takes place in many areas, then, condition at the Indo-Myanmar porous hilly border is a cause for concerned for the Government of India, Myanmar being a hotspot of Northeast insurgencies training point.
Terrorist links of their own
In Myanmar, the continuing political, religious and socioeconomic repression of the Rohingya in the Arakan region contiguous to Bangladesh has generated support for the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), which has a presence on Bangladeshi soil and seeks to set up an Islamic Republic in Arakan. The RSO insurgency has been regarded by Bangladeshi military intelligence as “an extremely militant model of Islamic revolution”. In this regard it should be recognised that some JI militants, through the Rohingya conduit, have used Bangladesh to regroup. The anger of many Rohingya Muslims at their government not only strengthens the RSO. The pan-regional JI, whose modus operandi has involved fishing in troubled regional waters seeking opportunities for exploitation, has leveraged on Rohingya grievances to promote its ideological vision, thereby gaining strategic benefits and politicl space. External forces intervention has been on the rise in Bangladesh due to Afghan veterans, spill over effects from Burma’s insurgencies, and the presence of Al Qaeda affiliated organisations, particularly in the Southeast, where the state is not in full control. There is substantial evidence of terrorist activity in the Bangladesh, particularly among the Rohingya refugees. Al Qaeda has recruited Burmese Rohingyas as mine sweepers and porters in Afghanistan.
The Rohingya militant movement also claims to be the sole protector of the Muslim Arakanese/Rohingyas. One of the leading groups, the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), had links with various terrorist networks. The ARNO wasoperating from Chittagong in Bangladesh and allegedly had contacts with groups on the Thai-Burma border. The document noted that the government of Bangladesh instructed the ARNO in May 2002 to move its bases from the south-eastern Bangladesh, following which 195 Arakan Army members turned themselves in to the Burmese.
Over the last decade, the ARNO has significantly weakened in numbers and leaned towards moderate politics, unlike some of the other splinter groups that attracted the more radical/extremist factions. For example, the RSO that broke away from the Rohingya Patrotic Front in the 1980s and primarily operated across the border in Bangladesh attracted a number of radical and miltant Rohingya activists. The RSO’s links with extremists groups in Bangladesh and associations with international terrorist networks have been reported in the media, which has fuelled prejudice against all the Rohingyas. According to reports, the Bangladeshi Army in a few major operations almost disbanded the RSO as early as 2005. There are also a few major small operations almost such as the Central Rohingya Jammatul Ulama, the Ittehadul Mujahiddial, the Rohingya Islamic Liberation Organisation and the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front. These groups joined the Democratic Alliance of Burma in May 1992.
The Myanmar and Bangladeshi authorities take advantage of the global climate of fear and anxiety that has securitized the discourse of Muslim refugees. The ‘refugees as threat’ perception really matters when it comes to the Rohingyas because discourse actually drives policies and public supports for specific policies. Those who remained in camps in Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable, since the barbed wire camps have their unique violent everyday narratives and, on top of that, the host communities from outside perceive the camp as breeding grounds for militancy. Such information created Rohingya militancy a massive security threat in other part of South and South East Asia. Due to the hardship faced, the rohingya refugees became easy victims of ideological brainwash and instrument for terror by global terror groups.
At the Gate
Government of India did take a proactive precaution on the issue of letting the Rohingya refugee in India after the 2015 and recent 2017 Myanmar military operations that flush out the most of them to Bangladesh. By far and large, the inputs of Rohingya’s recruitment by terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda or ISIS sympathiser is a serious threat to the internal security structure of the country.
The country itself is facing a grave crisis of terror related violent event in past and letting the exodus to enter India will not only bring traditional but also non traditional threats. That is the very reason, Ministry of Home Affairs, GOI, share intelligence information with the Supreme Court of India showing Rohingya links with Pakistan-based armed groups, in a bid to get legal clearance for plans to deport 40,000 Rohingya.
One example of terror connection is after the 2014 Burdwan blast in West Bengal, a Myanmar national, Khaleed alias Mohammed Khalid, from Hyderabad who is Rohingya was arrested. Khalid confessed to having been trained by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and had ties to Bangladeshi terror organizations such as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen. Since then, there has been increased scrutiny of Rohingya camps in the country. There have also been concerns about links between Rohingya and Pakistan-based terror groups that target India. For instance, Ataullah Abu Ammar, the leader of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), grew up in Karachi and returned in 2012, offering groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba millions in cash for arms, personnel, and tactical support.
India, fears a jihadi nexus. Intelligence services have reported close links between the ARSA, Bangladesh’s Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) and the Indian Mujahideen, backed by Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba. Handling a large number of refugees in itself is a problem; the possible presence of terrorists among them increases the risk. At least two Pakistan-based terror groups are reported to be working among Rohingya Muslims. A militant outfit, Aqa Mul Mujahideen, formed by a group of Rohingya Muslims is trained by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists. There is high risk of these militants linking up with the extremist group of Northeast.
Northeast India, due to geographical proximity with both Myanmar and Bangladesh is the first point of contact with the Rohingya refugees, and establishing any terror outfit with external support in this already conflict zone will be big problem for the Government of India. Such probable points to sneak in to India are through Moreh in Manipur and Indo-Bangladesh borders in Tripura.
The anticipation of refugee turning to terror instrument might be unrealistic from humanitarian angle but considering the ISIS phenomenon in Syria and Philippines, it could not be totally ignored. Better be prepared and secure the vulnerable Northeast India from overwhelming causes of violent internal disturbances.
ABOUT THE WRITER: The above article is a research article by Dr. I .Yaipharemba who hails from Imphal West, Manipur. Many of his papers and research works have been published in various journals worldwide. He has also conducted several workshops on a wide range of topics.
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