Bengali-Muslims’ Mujahid Insurgency (1948-1954)
(This is the direct translation of part of the book Civil Insurgency In Burma.)
|Armed Bengalis receiving military training.|
Historically there had been constant warfare between ethnic Yakhines and Burmese going on in the Arrakan since Burmese King Anawrahta’s reign of Pagan in the 11th century. In 1404 Burmese king Min Khaung Yaza invaded Le Mro (Le Myo) and occupied Arrakan for more than two decades.
Le Myo King Min Saw Mon fled to the Gaur in today’s Bangladesh and took refuge at the court of Bengal Sultan Azam Shah. With the help of new Bengal Sultan Jalal Udin Khan he regained Arakan back from the Burmese 24 years later and in 1433 he established the city of Mrauk-U (Myauk-U) as the capital of unified Yakhin kingdom (the last one unfortunately for the proud Yakhines). His successors gave trade and territorial concessions to Portuguese, receiving in return, Portuguese military support.
In 1784 Arrakan fell again into Burmese hands. The famous Mahamuni Buddha statue now in Mandalay was taken away to Burma as a war trophy. The Burmese, after conquering Arrakan, came directly into contact with British already in India and finally Burma itself had fallen into the British hands after three Anglo-Burmese Wars.
Cross-border invasion of Illegal Bengali-Muslims
Since 1824 the year of First Anglo-Burmese War large number of Bengali-Muslims, known as Chittagonians since they came from the Chittagong region in then India, had moved into the North-west Arrakan without any restriction at all. According to the old Burma Gazettes they established many Bengali-Muslim villages in Butheetaung, Maungdaw, Kyauktaw, Minbyar, and Myebone.
That mass settlement had alarmingly increased the total population of Arrakan the British Sittwe District. In 1832 the population in Sittwe District was just over 100,000 but the population increased to over 600,000 in 1931 and by 1941 it was over 750,000. By 1942 the Bengali-Muslims population in the region of Butheetaung and Maungdaw alone was over 300,000.
|Dead on the streets during 1943 Bengal Famine.|
The massive Bengali population starving from frequently occurring famines in India was one of the main reasons for that relentless tide of Bengali Muslims into the Arrakan.
In 1939 the British colonial government established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the rapid increase of Bengali-Muslims in the Arrakan from 30,000 in 1825 to 217,800 in 1930. That Commission reported back that there would be racial strife between the Yakhine-Buddhists and Bengali-Muslims in a very near future if the relentless Muslim tide across the border wasn’t stopped or restricted at least.
And the racial troubles between the Buddhist natives and the Muslim newcomers were simmering and finally blew up as the Second World War had reached Burma and the Arrakan became a dangerous no-man land between the Imperial Japanese army and massive British 14th army facing off on the India-Burma border.
First Bengali-Muslim Riots (1942)
During sudden British withdrawal from Burma in 1942 there were many war weapons and ammunitions left by the withdrawing British forces in the Arrakan. The arms from Burmese and Karen troops of British army were left with the Buddhist Yakhines (Arrakanese) and the Indian soldiers’ into the hands of Bengali-Muslim crowd in the Maungdaw-Butheetaung area.
|A starving child in East-Pakistan (Bangladesh).|
That abundance of war weapons eventually ignited the first Buddhist-Muslim race riots in the Arrakan in mid 1942. The disturbances started from the cases of violent robbery committed by the armed Buddhist Yakhines against the Indian refugees fleeing from the Japanese army in Burma through the Taunggup Pass.
The armed Yakhine Buddhists were also attacking and lootings the neighboring Bengali-Muslim villages and the hostilities broke out into a full scale riots as foreseen by the British Commission of Inquiry as the armed Bengali-Muslims retaliated by attacking and looting the Buddhist Yakhine villages.
Even the Yakhine District administrator ICS (Indian Civil Service) U Kyaw Khine was killed by the Bengalis and countless number of Yakhines had to flee into either the British-controlled Chitagong territory or deep down into the Southern Arrakan as the genocidal Bengali Muslims there cleansed the Yakhines and destroyed all the remaining Buddhist villages in their predominantly-Muslim are of Maungdaw and Butheetaung.
By late 1942 the whole Maungdaw-Butheetauung territory was firmly in the hands of armed Bengali-Muslims.
BIA Attempts to Reclaim Burma's Lost Territory
|Bo Yan Aung (front-left) and BIA officers (1942).|
Two senior BIA officers Bo Yan Naung and Bo Myo Nyunt were killed in Maungdaw by the Bengali-Muslims and BIA attempts for reconciliation between Yakhine-Buddhists and Bengali-Muslims had failed miserably.
From 1942 till the British recapture of Burma in 1945 Bengali-Muslims had completely controlled the Maungdaw-Butheetaung region and the illegal mass immigration continued unabated.
Beginning of the Mujahidin Insurgency (1947)
During the British Military Administration period after the British re-occupation of Burma the Yakhine refugees from both Chitagong area and other parts of Arrakan were resettled back into their old villages with the help of British army.
But the Bengali-Muslims now occupying the old Yakhine villages had refused to accept the original native Yakhins and by violent means created a hostile environment for the returnees as they now believed in their make-believe dream of creating a strict Muslim enclave ruled by the Sharia Law in the Maungdaw-Butheetaung region as a part of the newly-established East-Pakistan (Now Bangladesh).
An Islamic militant party Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam led by the Chairman Omra Meah was formed. And with the material support of Ulnar Mohammad Muzahid Khan and Molnar Ibrahim from Pakistan the Mujahidin insurgency was initiated to invade Arrakan and absorb the land into the East-Pakistan.
The Mujahid armed insurgents began their subversive activities in the Maungdaw-North area and later expanded into the Maungdaw-South region. A long-term criminal and major rice-smuggler named Abdul Kasim was the leader of Mujahid in Maungdaw-South.
Bengali-Muslims’ Bloody Jihad on Burma
(Following is excerpt from Dr. Aye Chan’s Paper “On the Mujahid Rebellion in Arrakan” read in the International Conference of Southeast Asian Studies at Pusan University of Foreign Studies, Republic of Korea on June 2 -3, 2011.)
|Dr. Aye Chan of Kanda University in Japan.|
The Mujahids of Chittagonian Muslims from North Arakan declared jihad on Burma after the central government refused to grant a separate Muslim state in the two townships, Buthidaung and Maungdaw that lie along the East Pakistani (present-day Bangladeshi) border.
The Mujahid movement launched before Burma gained independence and hassled the resettlement program for the refugees in the Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships. During the war, the Arakanese inhabitants of Buthidaung and Maungdaw were forced to leave their homes.
The people of Buthidaung fled to Kyauktaw and Minbya where the Arakanese were the majority. The Arakanese from Maungdaw were evacuated to Dinajpur in East Bengal by the British officials. Even though the British administration was reestablished after the war, the Arakanese were unable to return to their homes.
Following excerpt is from the Report of the Commissioner’s Office of Arakan, dated the 18th April, 1947 (The National Archives, London, FO 643/74.
“For want of funds only 277 out of about 2400 indigenous Arakanese, who were displaced from Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships after the British evacuation in 1942, could be resettled on the sites of their original homes. There are also two thousand Arakanese Buddhist refuges brought for fear of Muslims’ threatening and frightening them by firing machine guns near the villages at night. While our hands are full with internally displaced refugees we cannot take the responsibility for repatriation of the Muslim refugees from the Sabirnagar camp which the government of India is pressing.”
The Muslim refugees from the camp at Subirnagar were also unable to resettle in the interior part of Akyab District at Alegyun, Apaukwa and Gobedaung. All 3,000 of them were first sent to Akyab Island. Two Muslim Relief Committees were formed in Akyab and Buthidaung in order to give assistance possible to refugees. The proposal to send about 1,500 refugees in small batches to the Muslim villages in Buthidaung Township for the time being was accepted. The District Welfare Officer was instructed to work out the expense for transport and supporting building materials.
In August 1947, the Sub-Divisional Officer of Maungdaw, U Tun Oo, was brutally murdered by the Muslims. The Commissioner of Arakan reports:
“I have no doubt that this is a result of a long fostered communal feeling by the Muslims. The assassins who committed the murder were suspected to be employed by the Muslim Police Officers and have been organizing strong Muslim feelings and dominating the whole areas. This is a direct affront and open challenge to the lawful authority of the Burma Government by the Muslim Community of Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships whose economic invasion of this country was fostered during the British regime. Unless this most dastardly flouting of the government is firmly and severely dealt with, this alien community will try to annex this territory or instigate Pakistan to annex it.”
The newly independent republic had to cope with the insurgency of Karen ethnic group and the communists in the country after gaining independence in 1948. Major cities were captured by the Communists and Karen rebels. Two battalions of its regular army went underground to join the communists. The Capital City, Rangoon, was surrounded by the Karen rebels. The Union government was scrawled in the international newspapers with the epithet of “Rangoon Government.” In such a situation only a few hundreds troops from the Battalion (5) were sent to the western front to fight the Mujahids. About the objective and strength of the Mujahids, the British Embassy in Rangoon reports to the Foreign Office in London on February 12, 1949.
“It is hard to say whether the ultimate object of the Muslims is that their separate state should remain within the Union or not, but it seems likely that even an autonomous state within the Union would necessarily be drawn towards Pakistan. The Mujahids seem also to have taken arms in about October last, although this does not exclude the possibility that some have not gone underground and are still trying to obtain their objective by agitation only. There are perhaps 500 Muslims under arms, although the total number of supporters of the movement is greater.”
Buthidaung and Maungdaw were under the control of the government forces but the countryside around the town was out of control.
One report gives a detailed account of the visit of Prime Minister U Nu and the Supreme Commander of the Burmese Army, Lieutenant General Smith Dun to Akyab in October of 1948.
It says that the local officials in East Pakistan provided information and aid to the insurgents from across the border. The Sub-Divisional Officer and the Township Officer from Cox’s Bazaar were reported to have supplied the Muslim guerrillas with arms and ammunition. The wounded rebels were apparently able to obtain treatment from the hospital in Cox’s Bazaar.
According to the report of the Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong Hill Tracts, both the commissioner and the Burmese officials were informed that the two Mujahid leaders, Jaffar Meah and Omra Meah, were hiding in Balukhali village in East Pakistan, near to the Burmese border.
The British Embassy in Rangoon sent a confidential letter to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in Pakistan on February 28, 1949; this letter dealt with the probability of provocation and interference from local Pakistani officials on the other side of the border. It reads:
“In spite of the correct attitude of the Pakistan Central Government there have been fairly reliable reports that their local officials in, for instance, Cox’s Bazaar have actively helped Muslim guerrillas. You yourselves are well aware of the pro-guerrilla attitude in this affair of the Pakistan district officers. The Pakistan Government must also be aware of it, and we feel that if they do not curb these officials they may run the risks of provoking Anti-Muslim riots in Akyab district as bad as those which occurred during the war.”
The main financial source of the Mujahid Party was the smuggling of rice from Arakan to East Pakistan. Their actions were all part of an overall strategy to prevent the government forces from enforcing the prohibition rice export. It has been reported that even the Muslim leaders, Sultan Ahmed and Omra Meah were involved in this illegal border trade.
To solve the problem of this rice shortage in the Chittagong District of East Pakistan, regional officials seem to have sought cooperation with the Mujahid leaders. For many years the Mujahid Party leaders monopolized the smuggling of rice across the border.
The main objective of the Mujahid rebellion was to absorb the western frontier of Burma into East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh).
|Burma's Yakhine State (Arrakan).|
The newspaper, On May 18, 1949, The Hindustan Standard newspaper, reported about the following about the Mujahids.
“A dangerous aspect of this fighting is its international aspect: the Moslem insurgents have been carrying the Pakistani flag, and many of them clamor for the incorporation of this end of Arakan with Pakistan. It was suspected that they drew arms from across the border; the Government, however, is now satisfied that their rifles and ammunition are old stocks, left behind by the Japanese and British…. The great majority of Arakan Moslems are said to be really Pakistanis from Chittagong, even if they have been settled here for a generation. Out of the 130,000 here, 80,000 are still Pakistani citizens.”
When India, Pakistan and Burma gained independence, the immigrants from British India were granted the choice of citizenship in either India or Pakistan. They could also choose Burmese citizenship if they were so inclined. The Pakistani Government was very anxious that the Burmese Government would use brutal tactics to suppress the rebellion.
Pakistan feared that the atrocities in the Burmese border regions would lead to anti-Burma demonstrations in Pakistan, which might in turn instigate Anti-Pakistan riots in Burma. Such situation would be very dangerous for the Pakistani residing in Burma. It was reported that 6,000 to 7,000 refugees had arrived in East Pakistan. The authorities in Karachi were also concerned about the communists infiltrating into Pakistan with the refugees.
In the Akyab District of Arakan it was reported that only the town and island of Akyab were firmly in the hands of the Burmese government. Conditions had deteriorated following the withdrawal of the only Burmese Army battalion (Burma Rifle 5). The CPB (Communist Party of Burma) went underground in March 1948, and its followers in Arakan reached an agreement with the Mujahid Party to fight the government forces jointly.
The government of Pakistan was informed that the Communist Party of East Bengal had instructed its members to establish contacts with the Muslim communists in Arakan and persuade them to infiltrate the Cox’s Bazaar subdivision to organize Muslim cultivators for a revolt against the government of Burma had fallen to the communists, as evidenced by the following record (of communications between British Embassies in Rangoon and Karachi):
“This is borne out by a conversation which the Commissioner of Chittagong Division recently with one of the Mujahid leaders who said that the early agreement with the communists was that when the Burmese Government was overthrown, the Communists will leave Mujahid territory to become an independent state.”
|Northern Arrakan by the Bangladeshi border.|
A climate of mistrust and fear between the Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Chittagonians was growing, despite a peace mission sent by the Union government to North Arakan. Muslim leaders, carrying a credential from Premier Nu, were in contact with the insurgent Muslims and persuaded them to lay down their arms and drop their demand for autonomy.
The mission was not successful because it was more of a communal violence than a rebellion. The prestigious newspaper of India, The Hindustan Standard, on May 18, 1949 reported:
“These guerrilla operations are less a Muslim insurrection against the government than “communal action” against the Arakanese – a prolongation of the Muslim-Buddhist riots of 1942.The Moslems, natives of Chittagong in what is now part of Pakistan – fear oppression by the Arakanese. The Arakanese, the intensely clannish community less than a million strong, hate their Buddhist Kith and kin, and are afraid of losing their identity in the growing Chittagongese population. Neither trusts the either.”
The cooperation between the two countries improved the situation at the border after the instructions from Karachi were strictly enforced. In order to advance their joint operation and communications an agreement was reached for the establishment of a Pakistani Consulate in Akyab and a Burmese Consulate in Chittagong. Mohamed Ali, Pakistan’s High Commissioner designated to Canada, after relinquishing his post as ambassador to Burma, sent a statement to the press. He said that the impact of communist infiltration into Pakistan was being weakened by the joint operation of the two countries.
At the same time the Pakistani government was persuading the refugees from Arakan to lay down their arms and to arrange for their repatriation when the conditions in Burma became more settled. Reuters reported that the governments of Burma and Pakistan were cooperating to restore peace in Arakan. Their cooperation was further displayed with units of East Pakistan Rifles being stationed along the border to cooperate with their Burmese counterparts.
However, since the middle of 1949, the Burmese Army’s offensive warfare was successful. As a result all the towns and major cities under the control of the rebels were recaptured. Sadar Aurengzeb Khan, Pakistani ambassador to Burma, who visited the East Bengal (East Pakistan), expressed confidence that the position of the Burmese Government was improving and that the power of the insurgents was on the decline.
The rebellion lasted one more decade until the Mujahid Party surrendered in 1960.
Military Operations against Bengali-Muslims’ Mujahid
|Fifth Burma Rifles Battalion in Arrakan.|
Once the Mujadi rebellion started the armed Bengali-Muslims killed most of the Yakhine Buddhists and destroyed all the Yakhin villages in the Maungdaw-North region. Martial Law was declared in 1948 November as the rebellion greatly intensified and the rebels even surrounded the towns of Butheetaung and Baw-li-bazar.
Only when the Fifth Battalion Burma Rifles was sent into the region and the Fifth’s devastating campaign against the rebels the Mujahid insurgency collapsed and the Muslim insurgents fled to the jungles of northern Yakhine.
But the Burmese civil war had started in Proper-Burma and the Fifth Burma was brought back to fight the Karens digging in at Insein in Rangoon. Once the regular Burmese army was absent in the Arrakan the Mujahids came back in and the insurgency flared up again as the irregular Sitwundan armed-police battalions were unable to fight them.
The Second Chin Rifles was formed as an emergency measure to fight the Muslim Mujahid and again the Mujahid had collapsed and disappeared back into the East Pakistan and the northern jungles as the valiant Chins chased them all over Arrakan.
End of the Mujahid Insurgency
Burmese army had launched three major military operations against the Mujahid in Northern Arrakan. First operation was in March 1950, the second was the May-yu Operation in October 1952, and the last one was Moat-thone Operation in October 1954.
After the total collapse the Mujahids ended up on the borderline as rice smugglers and dacoits still terrorizing the Yakhine Buddhist population for many years to come till they reinvented themselves as the Rohingyas and started the internation-media and political and so-called human rights campaigns to re-establish their Bengali-Muslim enclave again in Burma.