Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Dr. Khin Maung, NUPA

Today in Arkan, some Arakanese are trying to understand the apparent political partition between the North, South and Center of the State. This was reflected in the 1990 elections; all 11 Arakan League for Democracy seats came in the centre of the state, while the National League for Democracy captured 7 out of its 9 seats in the south and the predominantly Muslim National Democratic Party for Human Rights of Arakan captured 4 seats in the north. However, these parties were united in the belief that democracy would have to replace dictatorship in Burma as well as in Arakan.

The apparent division also between the central ALD-controlled area and the southern NLD "appear" to have been twofold; tactical voting for NLD and poor organizing capacity by ALD.

This divide between the north and the rest of Arakan is also reflected in the border based Arakan opposition. The newly formed Arakan National Council is a coalition of ethnic Rakhiang- based parties mainly representing the south and centre of the state. The ANC is now beginning steps towards drafting a constitution for the whole of Arakan. Similarly, there are now Rohingya-based parties representing the north of Arakan who are also planning to draft a constitution. There is not yet any linkage between these two processes.

Many Rakhaings world blame this apparent partition of Arakan on the divide and rule policies of the Burmese Junta. Until 2000, however, few Rakhaing border based groups, even though they are not living under control of the Junta, had any contact whatsoever with organizations representing the north of Arakan, either militarily, politically or within civil society.

When asked about the subject of Rohingya, many Rakhaings will say the name does not exist or that this group of people, are illegal Bengali immigrants and therefore there is no need for recognition or relations with Rohingya-based groups.

Those Rakhaings who are able to travel around the world are often shocked to see that not only is there international recognition of the name Rohingya mainly on human rights basic, especially within the United Nations Organizations, but in recent times it sometimes seems the name Rohingya is even more internationally known than Rakhiang.

Sensing this trend, some Rakhaing organizations have tried to undermine the origin of the name Rohingya as well as the concept of a separate people in Northern Arakan by writing selective historical studies of Arakan state which are intended to prove that there is no Rohingya ethnic group among Arakan's 12 heterogeneous tribes and for a few of the Rohingya based organizations, the more they see their status in Arakan undermined, the more they attempt to justify their existence by further selective historical studies. This has now created a vicious circle with one-side ideologies from both communities, more sentimental than realistic of today's Arakan politics, dominating the debate around the past and future of Arakan.

Tragically, this never-ending debate continues to obscure the real issues. The debate about the term Rohingya is really a debate about human and political rights and the. The Rakhiang fear that if given an ethnic name and status, the Rohingya would gain legitimacy of territorial possession to setup a new state and divide Arakan as was already debated in the 1950s. They also fear that such recognition would result in uncontrolled migration from Bangladesh and the Rakhiang would end up as minority in their homeland.

For the Rohingya, the emphasis on their name appears to be based on their fear of being a continually repressed minority and second-class citizens not fully accepted in Arakan nor welcomed in neighboring Bangladesh. Feeling they are stateless, they seem to have decided to fight for the ethnic rights instead of fighting for political rights as equal citizens of Arakan in order to assure their continued existence. It has been the ongoing strategy of North Arakan politics since 1946.

Due to our groundbreaking agreement on the basic of human rights and Arakanese national unity building policy a Rakhiang-Rohingya alliance (Arakan Independence Alliance) was established by the National United Party of Arakan and the Arakan Rohingya National Organization in November 2000. This alliance is committed to restoring and indivisible Arakan with complete rights of self-determination, giving full citizenship rights to all people living in Arakan. This alliance remains the only visible Rekhaing-Rohingya alliance amongst the Arkanese. And it can also bring the initial step of reconciliation between the two brethren people to eliminate any destructive motive against future united Arakan.

Unfortunately, since this alliance was formed, the debate about the Rohingya issue has become even more destructive, with extremists from both sides now putting forward Rekhaing chauvinist or Islamic expansionist concepts as possible solutions. Meanwhile, most non-Arakanese appears to be so disturbed with this destructive conflict that they are content to leave the Arakanese in isolation.

It may surprise some that there are indeed moderates in Arakan. However, most of these moderates have remained quiet, justifying their silence by staling that this issue will be decided later in a democratic state of Arakan. This idea is really unwise as this conflict could render the Arakanese struggle for the rights to self-determination hindered, tangled or futile.

The reality is that if Burma were to become democratic today, there is no Arakan party able to represent the majority of the state, irrespective of race or religion. In fact, religious or community conflict may even prevent Arakan from achieving state status as it may become too unstable to rule itself and this could be used to justify direct rule from Rangoon. The political lessons from the 1950s separatist motivation of North Arakan must be reviewed to prevent this situation from happening again. Yet this scenario is now even more likely because of the large natural gas deposits in the state. Even a democratic government of Burma would not want the ongoing conflict in Arakan to disrupt vital energy supplies.

The irony is that while some Rakhaing continue to promote their history and ideology based on dogmatic tendencies and others simply wait for someone else to bring them democracy, the de-facto partition of Arakan state being further cemented day by day by extremists from both sides with their "exclusion policy"

If Rakhaing people really want to preserve the internal integrity of Arakan, control migration from Bangladesh and ensure their fair share of Arakan will offer them rights as equal Arakanese citizens and this will serve them better than going it alone or depending on others for protection.

To do this, moderates need to come forward from both sides and take dialogue as one of their prime political objectives. Building a united and prosperous Arakan can only be done within a family spirit and basing it on reality and justice for the peaceful coexistence between Arakan's two fraternal peoples.

This paper was submitted at  First Rohingya Consultation: Working together to find a solution, on 2-3 August 2006, Sigha Dum Conference Room, Faculty of Political science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, Organized by Centre for Social Development, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, In cooperation with the National Reconciliation Programme  (NRP)