Myanmar: Arakan Army’s Attack on Jan 4th: Its Implications
On 4th Jan that happens to be the Independence Day of Myanmar, Armed Arakan Army Insurgents numbering over three hundred attacked four Border Posts at Buthidaung in the Northern Rakhine State killing over 13 Policemen and injuring many more.
Though there have been sporadic attacks in the past by the AA, this is the first time that the Arakan Army has inflicted a major blow to the security forces in its home ground-the Rakhine State.
The attack by itself has many serious implications.
- The Arakan Army which in the past had its base near Laiza and trained in the Kachin area, this is the first time, they have infiltrated to the Rakhine area the place they belong to and have thus opened a new front.
- This attack has implications for India too as the main base is said to be the hill area around Paletwa in the Chin State that is close to the Indian border of Mizoram. India has high stakes in the area as its main flagship project- the Kaladan Multi Modal project runs from Sittwe to Paletwa and then on to the border at Zorinpui of Mizoram. The safety and security of the area is of great importance to India and the development of the region on both sides of the border.
- For the first time, a new front has been opened in the West by an Armed Ethnic Organisation of Myanmar whose activities were till now confined to the north and east near the Chinese border. In the past, the Myanmar side of the Indian border was mainly used by Indian insurgents- the Nagas and Kukis- for the first time India will be faced with Myanmar Insurgents operating close to the Indian border on the other side. The possibility of the insurgents using the Indian side for shelter cannot be ruled out. In due course Myanmar authorities should also be approaching the Indian side for cooperation!
- In the past while the main base of the Arakan Army was in the East, it was more of a nuisance value to the Burmese Army who had systematically neutralized them in their attempt to move in their ‘home land’ in the Rakhine State, this time it is said that the bulk of the 7000 well-armed Arakan Army Insurgents have already moved and settled in thick forested area around Paletwa in the Chin State that is not far from either Bangladesh or India.
- The strengthened presence of Arakan Army will necessarily get involved with the Rohingya issue. The Myanmar authorities claim that the ARSA- a terrorist outfit is now associated with the AA. It is claimed that across in Bangladesh, the ARSA has three bases occupying one side of the Mayu mountain while the Arakan Army occupies the other side with two bases.
- If the ARSA is to strengthen itself by cooperating with the AA, there are other implications as the ARSA is connected tothe LET and the Jamaat-u-Mujahideen of Bangladesh and India. China has claimed that it is also connected with the Uighur rebels.
- The AA though located on the western border (eastern border of India), it will still be dependent on the Kachins for supply of arms and training. It is also a part of the Northern Alliance and thus a part of the USWA led seven party alliance of FPNCC under the control of China.
- Significantly, China did not push for inclusion of AA for the cease fire offered by Myanmar Army ( Tatmadaw) to the Northern Alliance members of whom the AA was an integral part. The vague reason given was that the conflict area of AA comes under the western command which is not part of the cease fire deal offered by the Tatmadaw.
- The real reason appears to be that the intense operations against the Arakan Army are under way and in the four months pause, the Army has could be utilized to divert the troops to the Western Command area. It is said that for the first time, the Government has taken the initiative to direct the Army to deal with the AA though in the past the Army never sought nor got any instructions on the operations against the Ethnic Armed Organisations. Media reports indicate that the NGOs , local and international have been banned from entering the conflict ridden areas in Rakhine area. These include the townships of Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Rathdaung and Ponnagyun of the State.
The Rakhine State though rich in resources is the least developed State in Myanmar. It has 70 percent Buddhists and 30 percent Muslims with the latter more concentrated as one goes towards North- Bangladesh.
The Rakhines formerly Arakanese) have a proud history with an unbroken independent Kingdom for over 350 years from 1433 to 1785 until it was captured by the Burmese King. It was later ceded to the British after the First Anglo Burmese War and has remained inaccessible from outside.
The Arakan Army has now consolidated itself with 7000 men and has been gaining momentum.
The Arakan Army is led by a popular General Twan Hrat Naing and is admired by poor rural youths, educated people and the politicians. Subduing them in one major operation as the Army is trying to do now may not work. The movement of ‘Arakan Dream 2020’ is gaining momentum and cannot be subdued by military operations alone.
The NLD refused to share executive power at state level after the Arakan National party won a majority votes in Rakhine State In the 2015 election and the NLD has not been giving due respect to the proposals mooted in the parliament by Arakan parties. This is another grouse of the Arakan People.
The problem is that Myanmar Army does not want to recognize that there is a very heavy presence of the Arakan Army in the Rakhine State. This has to change. The AA does not seek independence. All it wants is a ’Confederate Status’ as declared by Gen. Naing. The Government of Myanmar and the Army should call for cease fire and initiate a dialogue with them as they intend to do with the other three members of the Northern Alliance. Accepting them as equals as other Ethnic Armed Organisations would help. To deny its existence just because it happened to be formed after the promulgation of the Myanmar Constitution is to deny the ground reality.
Needless to say that India should establish a communication channel to the AA also so that the conflict does not spill into Indian territory. It has to be in touch with the Bangladesh security authorities too as it is generally accepted that the ARSA is now well entrenched in the Rohingya refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazaar area.