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Islam and Politics ( 28 Dec 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Rohingya Muslim Refugees Could Exacerbate the Kashmir Problem

By Tufail Ahmad, New Age Islam

28 December 2016

In recent months, the issue of Rohingya Muslims refugees coming from Myanmar and settling in Jammu& Kashmirand other regions of India has attracted attention. About 36,000 Rohingya refugees are believed to be living in different parts of India, including Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir. It is a human instinct to offer food and shelter to any person in difficulty. So, democratic nations like India must give shelter to Rohingya Muslim refugees but abig question is this: Why is the Indian government settling these refugees in Jammu & Kashmir, where a conflict involving Islam and Pakistan is refusing to die?

In October 2015, the then chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir Mufti Muhammad Sayeed said that there were 1,219 Rohingya families comprising 5,107 members in Jammu. Out of them, 4,912 members were given refugee status by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In June this year, chief minister Mufti Mehbooba told the legislative assembly of Jammu & Kashmir that about 13,400 refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh were living in different camps in the state.So, a situation has emerged in which Hindu Pandits cannot return to their own homes in Kashmir, while Muslim refugees all the way from Myanmar find shelterin the state.

Rohingya Muslim refugees are the inhabitants of Rakhine, the northern state of Burma, now known as Myanmar.Rohingya Muslims are in a minority while the Buddhists are in a majority in Burma. While conflicts have occurred between the two communities in the past, the current wave of attacks began following the 2012 riots which resulted in the killing of more than 100 people and displacement of about 140,000 – mostly Rohingya Muslims. Rohingya refugees have fled to many countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, and others. Human rights groups have accused the Burmese military of rapes, murders and tortures of Rohingya Muslims.

In April 2013, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch released a 153-page report in which it accused the Burmese authorities and the local armed groups of committing "crimes against humanity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims" since June 2012.On December 8 this year, Vijay Nambiar, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on Myanmar, urgedAung San Suu Kyi –  the Nobel peace prize winner and head of the Burmese government – "to listen to her inner voice and speak directly to the people of Myanmar, asking them to rise above their ethnic, religious and other differences."

On its part, the government of Myanmar has said that jihadists are involved in the conflict between Rohingyas and Buddhists. On October 9 this year, armed militants carried out attacks on Myanmar's border police, killing nine cops. According to a Reuters report of December 16, a militant group calling itself Harakah al-Yakin claimed responsibility for the attacks in video statements. The Harakah al-Yakin, or Faith Movement, was formed after the 2012 riots between Rohingya Muslims and the majority Buddhists in Rakhine state.The group's leader is identified as Ata Ullah, who was born in Karachito a Rohingya migrant father before moving as a child to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.Harakah al-Yakin operates from its base in Mecca.

The Burmese security forces have launched counter-terrorism operations in the affected areas.In a statement issued on October 15, the ministry of information of Myanmar pointed out the involvement of a jihadi group known as Aqa Mul Mujahidinin the October 9 attack. The group is led by Havistoohar, an Islamic extremist aged 45 who previously attended a six-month training course by the Taliban in Pakistan. He came in contact with several militants at refugee camps in Bangladesh where he met Pakistani national Kalis and three others named Ibrahim, Aza, and Ayatullah. Kalis later came to Myanmar to give "armed training classes to local extremist youths recruited and mobilised by Havistoohar" – as per the information ministry's statement.

There is definitely a Pakistan connection.In a statement dated September 30, 2013, Al-Qaeda militant Ustad Farooq (now dead) raised the issue of Muslim minorities in Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. Defining what can be called Al-Qaeda's look-east policy, Farooq also stated: "I warn the Indian government that after Kashmir, Gujarat... you may add Assam to the long list of your evil deeds."Even now, there are continuing concerns regarding radicalisation of Assamese Muslims. In September 2015, Assam police chief Khagen Sarma said that the Islamic Sate (ISIS) is attracting Assamese Muslims. UstadFarooq was perhaps the first Pakistani national to be appointed to a leadership position in Al-Qaeda, which has traditionally been led by Arab fighters.

But not many people realise that Al-Qaeda is in effect a Pakistani organisation. It was formed in Peshawar on the watch of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistani military in 1988, a year when the ISI had emerged victorious in Afghanistan and birthed a plan for jihad in Kashmir.Jamaatud Dawa – the new name of Lashkar-e-Taiba whose founder is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed – has been active in the refugee camps of Rohingya Muslims in Indonesia as well as among Muslims in Gaza. Jamaatud Dawa, led by Hafiz Saeed, poses as a humanitarian organisation, offering blankets, food and make-shift shelters to Rohingya refugees in different parts of the world.

In 2014, Jamaatud Dawa published photographs of its cadres working in the refugee camps of Rohingya Muslims in Indonesia. Given the fact that Hafiz Saeed is backed by the Pakistani military intelligence, it is very likely that sooner or later this group will make efforts to recruit some youths from among the Rohingya refugees who have found shelter in Jammu & Kashmir. India must give shelter to Rohingya Muslim refugees, but it is clear that the government of India is clueless about where to shelter them. India is a large country, but Jammu & Kashmir, given the jihadi nature of the conflict there, cannot be one of the places where the Rohingya refugees should be housed.

Former BBC journalist Tufail Ahmad is executive director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi. He tweets @tufailelif.


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