Rohingya Jihad: Long war for Myanmar partition - I
by R K Ohri on 15 Oct 2017 7 Comments

The Rohingya are Muslims of Bengali origin who have been living for centuries in Myanmar’s Arakan region, presently named Rakhine province. They have been waging a war against Buddhists for the creation of an Islamic State by partitioning that country Burma since 1946. The war for partitioning Myanmar (then Burma) was started almost at the same time when the Muslim League mounted a virulent campaign for the partition of India. There is a long history of hostility between Rohingya Muslims and the Buddhists of Myanmar, which dates back to the Second World War when Japanese were defeated by the British troops in Burma.


The Rohingya crisis is a manifestation of a civilisational war between the Buddhists and the Muslims. During the last seven decades, there have been persistent attempts by Rohingya militant groups to carve out a separate state or region for themselves in Arakan by breaking away from Myanmar.  


In 1980, a radical group of mujahids was formed by Muslims of Rakhine State under the stewardship of Muhammad Yunus, a fundamentalist medical practitioner, and named Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO). In tandem with the rising tempo of global jihad lately, the Rohingya insurgency has gathered fast paced momentum. There have been regular clashes between the Rohingyas and Buddhists of Rakhine province. Most clashes have occurred in Maungdaw and Buthidaung districts, bordering Bangladesh. Both districts have an overwhelming Muslim population.


During World War II, the Burmese Muslims had sided with the British. Many of them had migrated from Japanese-controlled and Buddhist-majority regions to the Muslim-dominated north-western Burma. Consequently, a “reverse ethnic cleansing” was carried out by Muslims in Arakan region, forcing the Buddhists to flee from there.


With the consolidation of their position across northern Arakan, the Rohingyas retaliated against the Buddhists who had collaborated with the Japanese. It is claimed that Andrew Irwin, British commander of the V Force, had unofficially promised the Rohingya rebels a “Muslim National Area” in Maungdaw region of Rakhine. But the promise was never fulfilled. Consequently, in 1946, immediately before the partition of India, the Rohingya leaders made a request to Pakistan for annexation of the Arakan region by the government of East Pakistan.  


After gaining independence from the British colonialists in 1948, the newly formed Buddhist-dominated government refused to grant citizenship to the Rohingyas, which further widened the divide between the two communities. For nearly 13 years (1948 to 1961), the Rohingya mujahideen kept on fighting against the Burmese security forces. There were sporadic battles between Rohingya militant groups and the Burmese army in the Mayu peninsula region of northern Arakan which had a large Muslim population. Ultimately the Rohingya mujahideen lost and most of them were forced to surrender to the government. 


But the Rohingyas did not give up and continued to collect arms from various sources by utilizing funds provided by a number of Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Supported by the Muslim ummah, especially the radical groups nestling in East Pakistan, Rohingyas re-mobilized the mujahideen in the 1970s and renewed the jihad. The Burmese government responded by launching a massive military operation code-named Operation King Dragon in 1978 and crushed the jihadis. 


Again in the 1990s, the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation launched a number of attacks on the Buddhists of Arakan and the Burmese security forces.


Meanwhile, another militant group, Harakah al Yakin, was formed by Rohingya militants based in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Soon Al Yakin morphed into a more aggressive outfit called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), led by Ataullah Abu Ammar Junooni, a Pakistan-born Rohingya, now operating from Saudi Arabia. 


According to the Brussels-based think tank, International Crisis Group (ICG), many leaders of ARSA have been trained abroad, presumably by a host of Islamic outfits. According to reliable sources, a group of 20 hardcore Muslim multi-millionaires based in Saudi Arabia have been supporting the Rohingya militancy. In October 2016, the soldiers of Al Yakin and ARSA launched multiple attacks in the region bordering Bangladesh, in which nearly 40 persons and some civilians were killed. This was followed by another attack in November 2016, in which another 134 persons were killed. 


Rohingya Diaspora


The total population of Rohingyas is around 30 to 40 lakhs. Myanmar has nearly 10-15 lakh Rohingyas, while Bangladesh has six to eight lakh Rohingyas. There are nearly 4 lakh Rohingyas in Saudi Arabia and another two lakh are ensconced in Pakistan. India has nearly 40,000 Rohingyas and a few thousand have migrated to Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.


Buddhist leaders allege that the population growth of Rohingyas of Rakhine has been rising fast due to their refusal to accept the small family norm. Two storm-centres of militancy, Buthidaung and Maungdaw towns, have 95% Muslims. In a bid to stem the rapid growth of Rohingyas in May 2013, the Myanmar government had introduced a two-child limit across Rakhine province [1], which was opposed by Rohingyas.


Alliance with Al Qaeda & jihadi groups


During the last ten years, the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation and Harakah al Yakin have developed close ties with several radical groups like Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh and Pakistan, Jaish-e Muhammad, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami in Afghanistan and Syed Salahuddin’s Hizb-ul-Mujahideen of Jammu & Kashmir. They are also being supported by Zakir Musa, a well-known Kashmiri militant.


In recent years, the RSO and ARSA have managed to procure a large variety of weapons including AK-47 assault rifles, Light Machine Guns, RPG-2 rocket launchers, Claymore mines and lots of ammunition. The weapons have been smuggled from China, Islamic nations and several private arms dealers operating in the Thai town of Aranyaprathet.


Rohingyas are a sea-faring tribe and are good boat-riders. This has enabled them to collect modern weapons from far and wide, just as Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) once did. A training camp was also set up at Ukhia near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

In the early hours of 25 August 2017, a detachment of 160 heavily armed insurgents launched a number of coordinated attacks on 24 police posts and the base of the 552nd Light Infantry Battalion of the Myanmar army in Rakhine State, leaving 71 combatants dead, among whom were several policemen and two army officers. It is alleged that AK-47 rifles and Light Machine Guns were used by the Rohingya militants during the 25 August attacks. The strength of the militant Rohingyas is estimated to be between 10,000 to 20,000 trained soldiers.


(To be concluded…)




1)      The news item ‘Myanmar State sets 2-child norm limit for Muslims,, May 28, 2013.  

2)    Sumit Kumar Singh, ‘Delhi Cops Bust ISIS Terror Recruitment Racket, New Indian Express, New Delhi, January 16, 2016.

3)     Ibid. 


Based on a presentation made at a seminar on “Refugees & Infiltrators: India’s Policy towards them. An Historical Perspective and Some Thoughts on the Current Scenario” at the Indian Council for Historical Research, New Delhi, on 11 October 2017

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