Tatmadaw, ARSA, Arakan army, Yaba economy

(The Mog Nation Wiki, an archive)

Afsan Chowdhury | Published: 00:00, Sep 22,2022

BANGLADESH is in a spot as far as Myanmar is concerned. Not that Myanmar is doing much better having to fight just about every ethnic group in the country. Given the truncated reality of its cartography, Myanmar probably does not qualify as a state, certainly not as a single unit or even a federation. A half of the map is under rebel control. It has not been able to do much about these rebels as they are well supported including by China which makes no secret of that.

The puzzle is that the Tatmadaw is also supported by China too. So, when a government fights forces which are funded and armed by its best friend, things can get complicated. Myanmar is learning the hard way that coming to power after dislodging an elected government is fun but not as much fun as one thought before.

The recent border problems show that Myanmar will not disappear from Bangladesh’s side as a thorn. Bangladesh has not resolved the Rohingya problem, but it is, however, not tearing it apart. The suffering of the refugees is great, but they are safe; and, Bangladesh has been cast in a role of an unwilling sanctuary giver. It is up to Bangladesh now to figure out how to leverage that role for gains.

Given the racist structure of the Myanmar state and society, the dark complexioned Rohingyas will never get accepted in that land; so, no return is possible. In the name of ethnic nationalism, exclusion is freely practised as elsewhere.

Given Myanmar’s primitive concept of a state, it is an imposed ‘modern’ concept of citizenship that cannot function. So, the fallouts such as ethno-racism are just as predictable. Myanmar will never be one and the conflicts may rise and fall, but sustainable peace is possibly impossible. Already, a half is not part of the full ‘state’.

Enter the dragon

OF THE rebels, only one group is different from the rest — ARSA — of the Rohingyas, the least powerful and most vulnerable population of the lot. Tons of research exists to show that the Rohingyas originate from Chittagong and have always faced discrimination and hatred in Myanmar. Not only are they poor, they do not have the physical attributes of the rest. After several hundred years, they are still not Myanmar because of that.

In a land of Mongoloids, they are not so much as outsiders that they must be thrown out. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, beloved of the west as the icon of democracy, used the Rohingyas as a bait to get votes in the last election. She won, but it was not enough to preserve her power.

It is generally held that her anti-China stance was enough to prompt the dragon power to lend support to the army takeover. While the army is happily in power with China’s support, it cannot influence its long-term regional strategy to become more powerful. This means support to the rebels who also challenge the Tatmadaw. China did not support the Rohingyas — non-Mongoloid — which is why it was safe to drive them out but not the rest of the Rakhine people or the Arakanese. Their insurgency is headed by the Arakan army who are causing all the border problems as per Tatmadaw and conveyed to Bangladesh. And it is one of the well-resourced ones with access to very advanced weaponry.

Yaba factor

IT IS some of the ‘misfired’ shells and bullets that landed in Bangladesh. Although Bangladesh is making a ‘big deal’ of it, it is not a secret that Myanmar has no intent or need to have a war with Bangladesh. Nor does it plan to take back the refugees; so, it gains little by making noises on the border. And after five years, Bangladesh has failed to move much of international public opinions in its favour. Plus Tatmadaw and a section of the Bangladesh elite gain much from Bangladesh in the form of the Yaba trade.

Much of the Yaba is produced in the Wa state which is an ethnic group at war but is now supposed to have signed a treaty with the Tatmadaw. Interestingly, the current Wa leadership were members of the Communist Party of Burma — pro-Beijing — after whose collapse the ethnic Wa army grew. Its main ally in producing and marketing Yaba is the Tatmadaw itself and this is where a part of the Bangladesh-Myamar relationship comes in.

One of the growing areas of the Myanmar-Bangladesh informal relationship is the Yaba trade, possibly the most profitable business sector of both countries. Bangladesh is possibly now the biggest consumer of Yaba with a national-level marketing network. Of those involved, politically influential or with connection to the law and order regime are well represented. So, why will Tatmadaw risk more than a half of its profit by causing border troubles? The Myanmar explanation probably makes sense that it is the Arakan army’s doing and not Myanmar.

Bangladesh-Myanmar relations are complex and now profitable, too, for many. It is not just limited to refugees and armed groups sheltering but has taken an economic dimension that has produced an inter-dependence that is not about to go away. Given that, peace is probably inevitable.

Afsan Chowdhury is a researcher and journalist.

The Mog Nation Wiki
Kyaw Zaw Oo

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