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ANC Policy Statement on the Peoples of Arakan show lack of Foresightedness

Sunday, 07 October 2007 11:06 - Last Updated Monday, 08 October 2007 07:54

Dr. Habib Siddiqui

It appears that when the entire world is crying out foul against the repressive SPDC regime and
demanding restoration of democracy, equality, liberty and human rights for all inside Burma,
many of her exiled political parties are making a mockery of all those principles. One such entity
is the Arakan National Council (ANC) that includes exiled groups like the ALD, ALP, DPA,
NUPA, AASYC, AWWA, RWU and some ultra-nationalist Rakhaing academics, advisers and
intellectuals. While the ANC was established in New Delhi, India in 2004, most of its member
parties operate from inside Bangladesh.  ANC’s declared aim was to act as a political leading
body for the people of Arakan state of Burma for self-determination, justice, peace, prosperity,
equality, integrity, tranquility and dignity in emerging its people with civilized modernity and
democracy. But it does not require too much probing to see the ugly, harsh truth behind the
façade of such high sounding rhetoric.

There is no Rohingya representation within the ANC.  They are simply ignored, as if they don’t
exist. Not surprisingly, the so-called Arakan State Constitution, drafted by the ANC (since 2004),
is silent about the Rohingya people. This, in spite of the fact that Rohingyas make up almost
half the population of Arakan [47%; see Dr. Shwe Lu Maung’s The Price of Silence, DewDrop,
USA (2005), p. 252, for population statistics] and had successfully contested the 1990 election,
sweeping all the 4 constituencies in the Muslim majority Mayu province by one of its parties
(NDPHR), and were in a position to make political alliance with Daw Suu Kyi’s party - the NLD –
to form a coalition government in the Arakan state if the military junta had honored the election
results. [The victory of NDPHR angered the military regime and its ultra-nationalist supporters
within the majority Rakhaing community leading to forced expulsion of some 300,000
Rohingyas to Bangladesh in 1991.]   The
reason for such a nonchalant, if not hostile, attitude towards the Rohingya can be explained by
the fact that most of the member parties within the ANC are led and advised by anti-Rohingya,
xenophobic, anti-Muslim, anti-Indian, ultra-nationalist, bigots. Its key advisor is a retired
academic - Dr. Aye Kyaw - who co-authored the infamous 1982 Burma Citizenship Law that is
at the heart of Rohingya Diaspora, leading major mass exodus and ethnic cleansing in the last
three decades. More than a million Rohingyas now live as unwanted refugees in many parts of
our world.

I wanted to believe that the ANC has been able to rise above the fray and correct its untenable
positions, making the entity more inclusive and plural. But I was wrong. Last month I came
across the “Policy Statement of ANC (Arakan National Council) on the Peoples of Arakan”,
dated Sept. 7, 2007. The statement was issued from the ANC Executive Committee. It stated in
a non-flattering way that the Rohingyas are not recognized as indigenous people of Arakan. The

ANC Policy Statement on the Peoples of Arakan show lack of Foresightedness
Sunday, 07 October 2007 11:06 - Last Updated Monday, 08 October 2007 07:54

statement says: “ANC regards the people who lived in Arakan before the British annexation of
Burma in 1824 as indigenous, and those who immigrated after the British occupation of Burma
as non-indigenous. … As the Bengali Muslims and Hindus immigrated and settled in Arakan
after the British occupation they are regarded as non-indigenous. … The name (Rohingya) is
used by descendants of Bengali Muslims who settled in Arakan after the British occupation of

The above policy statement is factually wrong and shows once again that the ANC is living in its
xenophobic, racist, intolerant, feudal past. The smell of big-brotherly chauvinism or
ultra-nationalism is everywhere within the body of the text. The statement goes on to say “It is
not time to be quarrelling and attacking each other... It is time for all people of Arakan to stand
firmly and unitedly on the principles of human rights, democracy, national equality and peaceful
coexistence.” What hypocrisy when the same ANC twists historical facts and denies basic rights
of the Rohingya people calling them outsiders or recent settlers!

As the Tokyo Conference on Problems of Democratic Development in Burma and the Rohingya
People has demonstrated, contrary to ANC's obnoxious and distorted claims, the Rohingya
people are, beyond any shadow of doubt, indigenous people of Arakan. They did not settle
during the British Occupation of Arakan (post-1824). They are the descendants of the
indigenous Kalar, Kala, Kula people of Arakan (similar to darker complexioned Indian/Bengalis
found in neighboring India/Bangladesh, in much contrast to fair skinned, Mongoloid featured -
Rakhaing people that had settled from far-away Tibet) that had intermarried with, absorbed into,
and converted mostly to the Islamic faith with Muslims that moved to the territory in various
periods of Arakan's history, predating the British Occupation period. Like their co-religionists --
the Buddhists of Arakan -- many of these Muslims, who identifies themselves as the Rohingyas,
were forcibly evicted and/or chose to leave Arakan during Burman king Bodawpaya’s atrocious
rule (1784-1819) and settled in and around southern Chittagong. After the Burman regime
(1784-1824) was defeated, the British Occupation force allowed resettlement of the former
exiles and their descendants back to the territory. Any attempt to obscure and distort the exodus
history of hundreds of thousands of Arakanese, Muslims and Buddhists alike, to the British
Bengal during Bodawpaya’s rule is disingenuous and deplorable, to say the least.

If the descendants of resettled Rakhaings from Bangladesh during the British Occupation period
(pre-1948) could pass the Litmus test of Burmese citizenship, ANC's selective criteria to
exclude the Rohingyas demonstrate its biasness against the minority and depict their naked
double-standard. More over, they are at variance with the statements of founding fathers of
Burma (see Aung San government's 1947 Panglong statement regarding citizenship criteria), let
alone being at odds with the charters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

ANC Policy Statement on the Peoples of Arakan show lack of Foresightedness
Sunday, 07 October 2007 11:06 - Last Updated Monday, 08 October 2007 07:54

The Rohingyas are not demanding a separate state of their own inside Burma. If, however, their
legitimate rights to citizenship and nationality are ignored and trampled upon by the Burmese
government and its backers within the ANC, comprising the majority Rakhaing ultra-nationalists,
like any human beings in our planet, they have every right to self-determination, as has been
enshrined in the scores of International laws. 

Regrettably, it is ANC's ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, racism and sectarianism that are the
greatest roadblocks to a united, more inclusive, democratic Arakan and Burma. Through its
endorsement of the 1982 Citizenship Law, it is the ANC that is dividing the Arakan into
skeptical, if not hostile, camps. Its policy plays directly into the divide-and-rule policy of the
SPDC. Obviously, the ANC has not learned to evolve into a pluralistic, democratic organization
that respects minority rights, that values their opinions, and is mindful of their legitimate
aspirations and concerns. The statement from the group is a hypocritical attempt to distort the
fundamental issue that is at the root of dehumanization of millions of people within Arakan.

If the ANC cares about democracy and human rights in Burma, and Arakan, in particular, it
must not only reconsider its chauvinistic criteria for citizenship and nationality that are
hypocritical and discriminatory, and aimed at dispossessing and marginalizing almost half of the
people of Arakan, i.e., the Rohingyas of Arakan state of Burma, owing to their distinct culture
and religion, it must also denounce the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law. It has to come out of the
closet taking bold measures that are progressive, humane, moral, ethical and conducive to a
lasting peace in the region. It cannot behave like Fascistic organizations, ignoring the fact that
Arakan is a multi-racial, multi-religious state where almost half the population is non-Buddhist.

The ANC cannot endorse and promote xenophobia, while it calls for equality, democracy,
peaceful coexistence and human rights. Its Policy Statement is too hypocritical and too
one-sided to garner necessary respect and trust from affected communities. The
ANC must show foresightedness by integrating minority voices within its leadership, rank and
file. Let its actions speak loud about its seriousness to the goal of genuine integration
and pluralism rather than mere statements that are too hollow and only show the ugly, dirty
xenophobic self. It must allow Rohingya representation at equal footing, not as a second or
third-class entity, but as equals with similar rights. It must, therefore, open the door for Rohingya
representation both within the ANC and the ENC (Ethnic Nationalities Council).

Time is running fast. There is too much suspicion and animosity between various races and
ethnicities within Burma, including Arakan. Burma needs integration, trust-building, equity and
justice for all, and not failed assimilation attempts that disrobe, dispossess, and dehumanize
minorities at the altar of the majority. As to Arakan, the ANC has a significant role to play in

ANC Policy Statement on the Peoples of Arakan show lack of Foresightedness
Sunday, 07 October 2007 11:06 - Last Updated Monday, 08 October 2007 07:54

trust-building measures. It must develop genuine leadership that is foresighted, pragmatic,

sincere and respected by all segments within the state. It can ill-afford to be looked upon as a
representation of the Buddhist Arakanese only.  It must understand the importance of
initiating honest and open dialogue to ironing out its differences and uneasiness with the
Rohingya community. That process can get a jumpstart with a sincere condemnation of the
1982 Burma Citizenship Law. Why not start this much desired reconciliation process right now?
Why try to forge unity when its very intent and sincerity are in question?

Ignoring the root causes of ethnic tensions and de-prioritizing vital trust-building measures
would be suicidal and stupid for the ANC.

About the author: Dr. Siddiqui is Director of Arakan-Burma Research Institute, USA