The continuation of communal tension and radicalisation of Rohingya refugees has the potential to spiral into grave security complexities for India, writes Obja Borah Hazarika for South Asia Monitor
By Obja Borah Hazarika
The Rohingya crisis which has communal and security overtones in Myanmar has immense strategic implications for India.
The Rohingyas are not recognised as citizens in Myanmar under its 1982 Citizenship Act and are thus outside the ambit of legal protection in the country. Clashes between Rohingyas and non-Rohingyas have become a recurrent feature of Myanmar and the crisis has not abated despite the country's transition from the military junta to a democratically elected government. The world at large has also not been very forthcoming in lending support to the plight of the Rohingyas.
India, which prides itself in being a democracy has also not been very pro-active in lending its voice and wherewithal in solving the Rohingya crisis brewing in its eastern neighbourhood. India’s response to the Rohingya issue has been explained by analysts as a result of its apprehension about China’s reaction to such an involvement in Myanmar.
Despite New Delhi’s apparent reluctance to engage Nay Pyi Taw with regard to its lack of determination in solving the Rohingya issue, India has become one of the favoured destinations of the Rohingyas who have become refugees due to the communal crisis in Myanmar.
India now houses around 14,000 Rohingya refugees, according to the UNHCR. They are spread over Jammu, Nuh in Haryana’s Mewat district, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Chennai. The UNHCR has given Refugee Status certificates to approximately 11,000 Rohingyas in India and the remaining 3,000 are “asylum seekers”. The Indian government has also given Long Term Visas to 500 Rohingyas.
However, lately India has become more careful about permitting Rohingyas and they are now either turned away or sent to jail for illegal entry.
The quick resolution of the Rohingya issue in Myanmar is pertinent for India as the influx of Rohingyas into India is leading to the possibility of a politicisation of the issue as groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Hindu nationalist organisation of the Sangh Parivar, has called the Rohingyas a security threat in Jammu and have been demanding their eviction. The National Conference of Jammu and Kashmir has retorted by saying that the VHP opposes the Rohingyas only on grounds of their being Muslims.
The VHP’s opposition to Rohingyas is being read as communally motivated as the BJP governments’ proposal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, does not mention any rights to be extended to Muslim migrants but it does state that migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians entering India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will not be considered as “illegal immigrants”.
The ongoing crisis is also problematic for India as there are reports of radicalisation of the Rohingya population which can become a security risk for Northeast India in particular and rest of India in general.
Consumption of the drug ‘ya ba’ -- Thai for "crazy medicine" -- is booming in Bangladesh. Seizures alone jumped more than 2,500 per cent to 29.4 million pills last year compared with 2011 and the business is worth an estimated $3 billion annually.
Bangladesh consumes an average of 2 million such pills a day, estimated two officials at the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) in Dhaka. Each pill retails for around 300 taka ($3.75). The same pill can be bought for around 60 taka in Cox's Bazar. Rohingya drug-runners or "mules" can earn 10,000 taka for transporting 5,000 pills to Dhaka and other urban centres. However, Rohingya mules are only a small cog in the ‘ya ba’ supply chain.
From negligible sales a few years ago, Bangladesh has become a big market for traffickers who source the drug (ya ba) from factories in lawless north-eastern Myanmar. Bangladesh says the influx of Rohingyas fleeing Buddhist-majority Myanmar is partly to blame for soaring methamphetamine use in its cities. But many Rohingyas say their young people are being pushed into crime because they cannot legally work or, in many cases, access aid.
On the other hand, Bangladesh authorities have cited a growing drug problem as one reason for pushing ahead with a controversial scheme to move thousands of refugees from their border camps to an undeveloped island in the Bay of Bengal.
Susceptibility to Terrorism
The extreme persecution faced by the Rohingyas makes them vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist groups. The Harakah-al-Yaqin (Arabic for "Faith Movement") is said to be operating in Rakhine State and is said to be recruiting Rohingyas to its ranks. This group is said to have members from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, according to a report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG). The emergence of Harakah-al-Yaqin (HaY), the first Rohingya Muslim insurgent group to organise in Myanmar in decades, signals a dangerous new phase in a crisis that is increasingly attracting the attention of extremists in Pakistan and the Middle East.
It is speculated that the HaY may have been born as a result of the competition for power between the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) and Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent. The HaY could also have links with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, based in Pakistan which was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is traced to Jammu and Kashmir.
On Oct 9, 2016, HaY launched three coordinated attacks on separate police border posts in Myanmar, killing nine officers. The group claimed responsibility for the attacks in videos posted online. The recruitment of Rohingyas into this group, which has links with terrorist organisations elsewhere, can become one of the major challenges for India.
Since the Rohingya crisis has become a refugee issue, it is no longer only an internal matter of Myanmar. India being a country which has had many years of dealing with refugees of all kinds can aid Myanmar in mitigating this crisis. Solving the Rohingya crisis is especially important for India as it shares a border with Myanmar.
The continuation of communal tension and radicalisation of this group of people has the potential to spiral into grave security complexities for India.
New Delhi would do well to rehabilitate the Rohingya refugees already in India and should also seek a diplomatic solution to the humanitarian crisis by pursuing the issue with Myanmar, as well as by seeking its resolution at the regional forums and international arena.
(The author is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Dibrugarh University, Assam. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)