By Habib Siddiqui
I was shocked to read Kanbawza Win’s latest posting in the Asian Tribune. Once again, he reveals his appalling bias and prejudice against the Rohingyas of Myanmar, who remain the most persecuted people in our time. As a hardcore racist that he is, his latest rant doesn’t surprise me at all, and should not surprise his readers either who have seen in the past such samples of his degenerated and delusional mind that cannot separate facts from fiction.
K. Win has been in the business of denying the legitimate human rights of the Rohingya people for many years. To guys like him, the Rohingyas simply don’t and shouldn’t exist in his native country. This is rather bizarre of an ethnic Shan minority like him who had settled in the West. Truly, as a diaspora Shan his chauvinism is simply mind-boggling! [But having seen the likes of Rakhine fascists like Aye Chan and (late) Aye Kyaw, both naturalized citizens of the USA, nothing surprises me any longer!]
In an earlier article, Win had called the Rohingyas ‘unwanted guests’ living in his native land who should be dispersed away from their ancestral land in Arakan, much like what the Nazi-fascists had done in the past century with the so-called ‘undesirables’ in Europe. His argument is so immoral and criminal that one can perhaps take pity on an old haggard who refuses to seek the truth and/or alter his flawed course for making our world a more inclusive one.
As I have noted in the past, calling the indigenous people of Arakan — who identify themselves as the Rohingyas in Myanmar — “unwanted guests” is like calling the Native Americans unwanted refugees who had settled in America after the influx of the Europeans. As much as no massacre of yesteryears and ghettoization of the Native Americans today in designated American Indian Reservations has been able to obliterate their genuine right, place, history and identity to America, no Myanmar government and local Rakhine sponsored pogroms, and surely not an intellectual fraud through his deplorable, half-baked or distorted theory, can erase the rightful identity of the Rohingya people of Burma. History and justice is one their side.
Win likes to demean the legitimate struggle of the Rohingya people to live as equals by distorting facts to suit his menacing motives. His latest article is packed with such half and full lies, displaying once again his selective amnesia.
He likes metaphors and uses such rather callously, often unaware that such may backfire on his face. Like his fictitious ‘camel and tent’ story before, he now asks his American readers how would they feel if Sarah Palin were to declare that Alaska had joined Russia after the latter had defeated the USA in a war? Seemingly, he is unaware that Sarah Palin is no longer the governor of the state of Alaska, and it is Bill Walker.
I strongly doubt if Win ever read the Constitution of Alaska whose Inherent Rights (Section 1) begin with the statement: “This constitution is dedicated to the principles that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the rewards of their own industry; that all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law; and that all persons have corresponding obligations to the people and to the State.”
Win may not know that Alaska was part of Russia before it was sold to the USA in 1867 for $7.2 million, and that it’s separated from mainland USA. Section 10 of the constitution also states that “There is no Alaska statute making treason a crime.”
Arakan, on the other hand, sandwiched between Muslim Bengal and Buddhist Burma, was an independent kingdom most of its known history (at least since 1434 CE) until the territory was annexed violently by a racist Buddhist, Burmese king Bodaw Paya in 1784. Then it became part of an expanding British Raj that also ruled vast territories of India until independence was granted. When Panglong conference was held in February 1947, neither Jinnah’s Pakistan nor Gandhi/Nehru’s India, let alone Burma, had earned independence. As such, all the people living in India and Burma back then served the same Raj, and it was no treason for anyone to express a desire to join a future political entity. As such, Win’s accusation against a particular Arakanese Muslim leadership showing its desire to join a future Pakistan is hogwash; it is not treasonous. (Jinnah also advised the Arakanese Muslims to tie up their fate with other residents of Burma.)
More problematic, however, is Win’s nonchalance about the gross violations of inalienable rights of the Muslims of Arakan who, unlike the Alaskans, are denied the “right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the rewards of their own industry; that all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law.” Rather than coming to their aid, and working towards restoring such inherent rights, Win likes to see them eliminated! Enough with Win’s metaphors that only reveal his inanity.
One should not forget that Burma (and today’s Myanmar) remains an artificial geographic entity that comprises peoples of many nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions that has been kept together by strong arms tactics of feudal kings, the British Raj and the military governments that ruled. ‘Divide and rule’ and fear-mongering against a perceived foe became prudent methods to administer this diverse country. There was never any serious attempt to develop or grow genuine nationhood in which all the parties could feel a sense of belonging. This much-needed task for forging national unity was taken up by visionaries like Aung San (Bamar who represented the Interim Burmese government), Sao Shwe Thaik (Shan leader) and others (including U Razak of AFPFL, a Muslim) in the late 1940s. That was the background for the Panglong Conference, which was held in Southern Shan state on February 1947.
Win does not mention that the spirit of Panglong Agreement that was reached between Aung San (Suu Kyi’s father) and other ethnic and community leaders, in an attempt to unite everyone – irrespective of race, ethnicity and religion, Buddhists and non-Buddhists – for a common goal of independence was dead following Aung San’s assassination (in which U Razak who was Education and National Planning in Aung San’s cabinet, and six other cabinet ministers died) on July 19, 1947, nearly half a year before Union of Burma was to emerge as an independent state in the global arena. It should be noted that the Agreement, amongst other provisions, accepted full autonomy in internal administration for the “Frontier Areas” (bordering British India, Thailand, Laos, China) in principle and envisioned the creation of a Kachin State by the Constituent Assembly.
The founding fathers of Burma were very serious to foster unity in their future state. Thus, in 1946 General Aung San assured full rights and privileges to Rohingya/Arakanese Muslims as an indigenous people, saying: “I give (offer) you a blank cheque. We will live together and die together. Demand what you want. I will do my best to fulfill them. If native people are divided, it will be difficult to achieve independence for Burma.”
The First President, Sao Shwe Thaik, who was the last Saopha of Yawnghwe, famously said, “If the Rohingyas are not indigenous, nor am I.”
However, after Myanmar gained independence on January 4, 1948, communists and ethnic/national/religious minorities in the country began a series of insurgencies displaying their grave discontent towards the newly formed post-independence government as they believed that the Panglong Agreement was not honored and that they were being unfairly excluded from governing the country. Their overwhelming perception was that the new government was a state for, by and of the majority Bamar and Buddhists only, and not for other minorities.
Sao Shwe Thaik who had led and organized the Panglong conference became the first president of the Union of Burma. His public speech on 4 January 1949 at a mass rally held outside City Hall to mark the first anniversary of Independence Day captures the troubled mood of the state: “Cooperation and understanding cannot come about so long as the element of violence or threat of violence exists, for violence has no counterpart in freedom, and liberty ends where violence begins.”
There were also widespread practice of discrimination against anyone who was not Buddhist. For example, it was noted that many Christian Karen and Muslim and Sikh military officials, who were originally appointed by the British, were replaced with Buddhist Bamars by the new parliament. The situation was much worse for Muslims everywhere – from Arakan to Rangoon. As a result of serious discrimination, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs lost their jobs in every government sector – civilian, police and military. Many lost their businesses, too, and were looked down upon as either British-era migrants or their children thereof. Loss for them was craved as a net gain for the majority Buddhist. Steadily, intolerance of the minority became the law of the land.
The occupation of Burma by Japan during the early years of the World War II in which Rakhine Buddhists had allied themselves with the occupying fascist Japanese forces while the Arakanese Muslims collaborated with the British Raj to defeat Japan, had already poisoned the relationship between these two dominant groups in Arakan. After Burma earned its independence, many Rakhine Buddhists took advantage of the emerging situation to ethnically cleanse Muslims from many parts of Arakan, esp. the southern part of the state. This led to the ghettoization of Muslims in towns and villages bordering today’s Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan).
It is not difficult to understand why almost every racial/religious entity, including the so-called Mujahedeen (made up of Arakanese/Rohingya Muslims), outside the majority Bamar/Buddhist race/religion rebelled in the early years. Being betrayed by the British Raj, in spite of their valuable services rendered during and after the WWII, it was no brainer that some Arakanese Muslims had felt that they had to protect themselves against marauding Buddhist incursions into their northern Mayu Frontier Territories. Muslim rebellion against the central government ultimately stopped when promises for their wider acceptance were made by government officials. Even then the persecution of the Rohingya and other Muslims continued.
According to the Pakistan Times (August 26, 1959), some 10,000 refugees had by then taken shelter in East Pakistan. In 1959, Burma agreed with East Pakistan governor Zakir Hossain to take back Rohingya refugees who had taken shelter in Chittagong in 1958. When questioned ‘why refugees were pouring into Pakistan from Burma, the governor replied that the government of Burma had nothing to do with it. Actually the Moghs [ie, Buddhist Rakhines] of Arakan were creating the trouble.’ (Pakistan Times, August 27, 1959) Governor Zakir Hossain’s reply once again underscored the deep hostility of the racist Rakhines against the minority Rohingyas. On October 27, 1960, the Daily Guardian, Rangoon, reported that Burmese ‘Supreme Court quashes expulsion orders against Arakanese Muslims,’ which once again shows that the Arakanese [Rohingya] Muslims faced much problems in their reintegration.
Armed resistance by various ethnic and religious minorities and communists became the new norms and not the exceptions, which continued for more than a decade until the military was able to crush such through its savage scorched-earth tactics. Even then armed struggle is a reality in many parts of Myanmar to this very day.
The two largest insurgent factions in Myanmar were the communists, led by the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), and ethnic Karen insurgents, led by the Karen National Union (KNU). The KNU favored an independent state, forged out of Karen State (Kayin State) and Karenni State (Kayah State), in Outer Myanmar (Lower Burma), administered solely by the Karen people.
Even the Rakhine Buddhists were not behind in such insurgency movements, nor were the Chins. Rakhine insurgent groups, such as the Arakan Army and Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) continue to have hostilities towards the government, though major violence has been rare since political reforms and peace talks. The Arakan Army (AA), founded in 2009, is currently the largest insurgent group in Rakhine State, with an estimated 1,500–2,500 fighters active in the region. Its goal is an independent Rakhine state. The military, known as the Tatmadaw, admits to have clashed 15 times with Buddhist Arakan Army rebels since 28 December, 2015, in which several soldiers got killed. [As expected, such attacks by Buddhist rebels don’t infuriate Win though; only the ones committed reportedly by Rohingyas do. What a selective amnesia!]
In the early 1960s, the Burmese government refused to adopt a federal system, to the dismay of insurgent groups such as the CPB, who proposed adopting the system during peace talks. By the early 1980s, politically motivated armed insurgencies (like the communist) had largely disappeared, while ethnic-based insurgencies continued.
The Panglong Agreement of 1947 offered the Shan the option to split from Myanmar a decade after independence if they were unsatisfied with the central government. This was, however, not honored following Aung San’s assassination. Instead, what they got are – severe mistreatment, torture, robbery, rape, unlawful arrest, and massacre. As a result, an armed resistance movement, led by Sao Noi and Saw Yanna, was launched in May of 1958 in the Shan State. One of the largest Shan insurgent groups in Myanmar is the Shan State Army – South (SSA-S), which has some 6,000 to 8,000 soldiers, with its bases along the Myanmar-Thailand border.
In October 2012, the ongoing conflicts in Myanmar included the Kachin conflict, between the Christian Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the government; a series of genocidal pogroms directed against the Rohingya Muslims that were participated by Rakhine Buddhists, and aided by the government and non-government groups in Rakhine State, including the Buddhist clergy; and a conflict between the Shan, Lahu, and Karen minority groups, and the government in the eastern half of the country. Armed conflict between ethnic Chinese rebels and the Myanmar Armed Forces have resulted in the Kokang offensive in February 2015. The conflict had forced 40,000 to 50,000 civilians to flee their homes and seek shelter on the Chinese side of the border.
In 2012 alone, fighting between the KIA and the government resulted in around 2,500 casualties (both civilian and military); 211 of whom were government soldiers. The violence resulted in the displacement of nearly 100,000 civilians, and the complete or partial abandonment of 364 villages.
Several insurgent groups have negotiated ceasefires and peace agreements with successive governments, which until political reforms that begun in 2011 and ended in 2015, had largely fallen apart.
As can be seen from the brief review above, civil/genocidal wars have been a constant feature of Myanmar’s socio-political landscape since her independence as Union of Burma in 1948. These wars are predominantly struggles for ethnic and sub-national autonomy, with the areas surrounding the ethnically Bamar central districts of the country serving as the primary geographical setting of conflict.
Far from Win’s assertions, the Rohingya and other Muslims inside Myanmar had been in the receiving end of annihilation. They have faced dozens of extermination campaigns since 1942. [Interested readers may like to read author’s article: Lies about the Rohingya (New Age, July 14, 2015) to learn the facts about the 1942 pogroms against the Rohingya and other Arakanese Muslims.]
Denied each of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, truly, the Rohingyas of Myanmar remain the most persecuted people in our planet. And yet, until this latest episode of attacks in which some security forces were ambushed, an event reportedly perpetrated by some disgruntled Rohingya youths, affiliated with the mythic RSO, for daily dehumanization that their family members face, they have been the most unarmed, passive and peaceful of all the communities that make up the fractured mosaic of Myanmar. This, in spite of the fact, more than 1 in 2 Rohingyas now live a life of a refugee outside Myanmar.
In the last few years alone, they have seen only death and destruction of their folks, hopes have evaporated feeding only desperation, and many have fled the country, while some 150,000 remain internally displaced with no shelters except concentration camps within the Arakan state. Suu Kyi has come to power, and yet, they continue to be denied the basic means of livelihood; their women continue to be raped by Tatmadaw as weapons of war to bring collective shame upon them and force them out of their ancestral homeland. As I write, many Rohingya women (ten of which alone are from Anauk Kwin hamlet of U Shin Gya village tract) have been gang raped by the Tatmadaw.
Under the pretext of capturing the Rohingya attackers, dozens of villages (with more than thousand homes) have also been burnt to ashes in Suu Kyi’s Myanmar, while the world simply watches. More than 133 Rohingyas (mostly children and women) have been killed by government security forces.
Human Rights Watch on Friday said government security operations have cut off assistance to tens of thousands of Rohingya people and forced many to flee their homes. It has urged the Burmese (Myanmar) government to lift its blockade on humanitarian aid for ethnic Rohingyas in the northern Rakhine State.
What is going on inside the Rohingya populated territories of northern Arakan state is nothing short of war crimes!
So, when K. Win brings the old story of rebellious Mujahedeen ignoring the never-ending war crimes of the Burmese government – old and new – and their civilian Rakhine partners and bigot monks, one cannot but question his sincerity or the lack thereof. Funny that he had the audacity to post a photo-op with Dr. Maung Zarni in the Asian Tribune! Just as a shit-eating crow can never be mistaken for a peacock, his photo-op with Dr Zarni cannot hide his hideous character.
K. Win also tries to hide the fact that under the First Schedule to the Burma Independence Act 1947, the Rohingya and all other Muslims who were British subjects – who were born in Burma or whose father or paternal grandfather was born in Burma – were considered citizens of the Union of Burma. Under Annex A of the Aung San-Attlee Agreement, 27 January, 1947, they were citizens of the Union of Burma: “A Burma National is defined for the purposes of eligibility to vote and to stand as a candidate of the forthcoming elections as a British subject or the subject of an Indian State who was born in Burma and resided there for a total period of not less than eight years in the ten years immediately preceding either 1st January, 1942 or 1st January, 1947.”
The Nu-Attlee Agreement (1947), signed between Prime Minister U Nu (Burma) and Prime Minister Clement Attlee (Great Britain) on Oct. 17, 1947 on transferring power to Burma was very important as to the determination of the citizenship status of the peoples and races in Burma. Article 3 of the Agreement states: “Any person who at the date of the coming into force of the present Treaty is, by virtue of the Constitution of the Union of Burma, a citizen thereof and who is, or by virtue of a subsequent election is deemed to be, also a British subject, may make a declaration of alienage in the manner prescribed by the law of the Union, and thereupon shall cease to be a citizen of the Union.” [For a full discussion on the subject, interested readers may like to read the author’s article, The Rohingya Problem: Why?]
In spite of all such Acts and Agreements, the Rohingyas have been robbed of their citizenship. They remain stateless inside Myanmar and are treated as outsiders.
The above brief analysis disproves unproven assertions and claims made by K Win. His views reflect his deep-seated hostility and racism against the persecuted Rohingya people whom he wants to see totally eliminated.
It is high time that the UN declare the Mayu Frontier Territories (in northern Arakan) a ‘safe’ territory for the Rohingyas of Myanmar so that they could live there with honor, dignity, safety and security. Failing which, I am afraid, that the Rohingyas may disappear from the world in our time.