Defence news: In the early hours of August 25, around 150 men armed with machetes, bombs and other weapons launched coordinated attacks on 24 police camps and an army base in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The night left 71 dead. It also announced to the world the coming of age of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a terror outfit led by Ata Ullah, a Rohingya man born in Karachi and brought up in Mecca.
But that is not the insurgency’s only Pakistan connection. Burmese, Bangladeshi and Indian intelligence agencies have found Pakistan’s terror groups hiring Rohingyas from Bangladesh’s refugee camps, training and arming them. Groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba are already out shopping.
In this backdrop, it is not just wise but urgent for India to deport 40,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees whom it has identified as illegal immigrants. There is a clear and present social, economic and security danger. And if India does not set down the rules of the game right now, it will be difficult to argue against and stop influx later.
The Rohingya conflict is undeniably a massive humanitarian disaster. But such disasters are best addressed locally — putting international pressure, working with the government there, sending shiploads of aid. But you do not solve a crisis by importing it. Ask Europe.
India is among nations worst affected by Islamic terrorism. It has its serious demographic challenges. Thousands of Rohingya refugees, most of them settled in Jammu and Kashmir where already Islamist separatism is raging, are a people ripe for terror hiring and indoctrination.
Rohingya groups have been engaged in armed militancy since the 1940s with the aim of seceding from Myanmar and creating an Islamist state.
In her, The Diplomat piece ‘The Truth About Myanmar’s Rohingya Issue’, Jasmine Chia argues: “In even a cursory survey of Rohingya history, it is clear that the Rohingya are not an ethnic, but rather a political construction. There is evidence that Muslims have been living in Rakhine state (at the time under the Arakan kingdom) since the 9th century, but a significant number of Muslims from across the Bay of Bengal (at the time a part of India, now Bangladesh) immigrated to British Burma with the colonialists in the 20th century.”
They are, she argues, Muslims of Bengali ethnic origin. “The group referred to as “Rohingya” by contemporary Rohingya scholars (and most of the international community) today actually display huge diversity of ethnic origins and social backgrounds, and… existence of a ‘single identity’ is difficult to pinpoint.”
Chia quotes Rakhine history expert Jacques P Leider from Rohingya: The Name, The Movement, The Quest for Identity. “By narrowing the debate on the Rohingyas to the legal and humanitarian aspects, editorialists around the world have taken an easy approach towards a complicated issue… where issues like ethnicity, history, and cultural identity are key ingredients of legitimacy.”
Nuances of the ethnicity debate apart, India’s more immediate concern is an outpour of sympathy among mostly Left-leaning intellectuals and a section of Muslims towards Rohingya refugees and a legal challenge by lawyer-politician Prashant Bhushan to its decision to deport them.
Bhushan has argued that Rohingya refugees are Constitutionally protected. Right to equality (Article 14), life and personal liberty (Article 21) is available to everybody who “lives in India” irrespective of his being a citizen or non-citizen or refugees.
Those challenging deportation also argue that India may not have signed UN Refugee Convention, but the agreement has become a customary international law and all countries have to follow it. Under it, there is a principle of “Non-Refoulement” which prohibits the deportation of refugees to a country where they face threat to their life or persecution. Also, that UNHCR has recognised Rohingyas and given them refugee status and so they cannot be deported.
However, India can lean on the “Foreigners Act”, which vests absolute and unfettered discretion in the Union government to expel foreigners, especially those residing illegally without valid papers. Legal experts who support deportation argue that the Supreme Court in “Hans Muller of Nuremburg vs Superintendent, Presidency” gave “absolute and unfettered” power to the government to throw out foreigners. It was again upheld by the SC in “Mr Louis De Raedt & Ors vs Union of India”.