Tuesday 4 April 2023


Source DVB, 31 Mar

Guest contributor, Dr. Maung Zarni

For my fellow democrats from Myanmar, wherever they are, I have bad news. It is this: the United States (that is, the U.S. government) is not our friend in our uphill struggle for our basic human rights and democratic freedoms. As someone who was educated in the U.S., cut my political teeth as a grassroots activist and lived and worked there for 17 years, I have known this ugly fact for several decades. Washington talks the talk of democracy, human rights and freedom, but it typically fails to walk the talk. 

This absence of genuine support and solidarity for our pro-democracy Burmese opposition on the part of U.S. policymakers – not simply the hypocrisy of their government as a whole  – was one of the principal reasons I ended my exile in the U.S. after 17 years (the other is its illegal and immoral second invasion of Iraq, accompanied by numerous war crimes during the U.S. occupation of that devastated society, on the bogus twin-pretext of Saddam's non-existent WMD and advancing "freedom and democracy" for Iraqi people).

Completely enamoured with the rhetoric of the U.S. as "the land of the free," I went to there as a young student in my twenties, one month before the '8888 Uprising'.  But by the second invasion of Iraq, my youthful illusions of "democracy in America" (and by extension) its support for global democratic movement were irreversibly shattered. As a matter of fact, I was cautioned against my rose-tinted view of the U.S. as a bastion of global democracy by my close friend's father the late Dr. Tin Maung Aye. In his capacity as the Superintendent of Rangoon General Hospital, he buried the fourth year Engineering student Ko Phone Maw, the first casualty of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. 

"You need to get rid of your jaundiced view of the USA and the West", were his perceptive words he uttered when I paid him a goodbye visit to his official residence in Rangoon a few days before I flew out to San Francisco. During my years as a grassroots organizer, first as a student activist and later as a start-up academic, I was intimately involved in and interacted with so many different American institutions and individuals who led or staffed them, from city councils, state legislatures, churches and student organizations all across the vast sub-continental country to the White House, U.S. State Department, Congress, U.S. government funding agencies (such as the U.S. Institute for Peace and the National Endowment for Democracy), and numerous think tanks of all ideological stripes and colours. There were so many wonderful Americans who cared, and who wanted to do the right thing – support democratic movements around the world. 

My old Free Burma Coalition colleague Naw May Oo, another American-educated refugee who now advises the Karen National Union (KNU) and I were fortunate enough to have met some of the straight-talking Americans who were part of Washington's Burma policy circles. They gave us an equivalent of a shock therapy when they told us very bluntly, out of appreciation for our committed activism. A few individuals deserve a mention for their honesty. Right after the infamous 2003 Depayin massacre during which the NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her deputy U Tin Oo escaped the botched assassination, we met at a Senate office with the two key aides to the Chair and Ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senators Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) and John Kerry (Democrat, Massachusetts) to see if there could be stronger support for the flagship NLD opposition in the heartlands and the ethnic armed organizations in the conflict zones.    

Their response? One said to us, "If Aung San Suu Kyi were assassinated by the junta [Burmese democrats] would get a statement of condemnation from the United States government."  Another chimed in, "You might also get a memorial service at the National Cathedral."   [Given Aung San Suu Kyi's moral standing in the world today – because of her ignominious defence of the indefensible (the Rohingya genocide) at the International Court of Justice, even a memorial service in honour of the 77-year old Lady in captivity seems inconceivable.] Matthew P. Daley, a former Korean War vet who was then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the East Asia Bureau within the State Department was far more specific and blunt. In our one-on-one conversation, he said, "I can't conscience my government's empty pro-democracy rhetoric. But in reality, we let pro-democracy dissidents mowed down by authoritarian regimes." 

He gave an example of the crushed Hungarian uprisings against the Soviet-backed regime in Budapest during the Eisenhower presidency in 1956. Over 20,000 Hungarian democratic activists were slaughtered, and Washington's support, which was never intended to be real, well, never came. He recounted in his meetings with the Chinese counterparts in Beijing, how he dropped the official script of Washington's pro-democracy concerns for Burma, in hopes that the Chinese Communist Party leadership may get the message that the giant neighbour had nothing to fear of U.S. backing for the Burmese democratic opposition. For there was no such thing! Since the Hungarian uprisings, there have been too many cases of pro-democratic and pro-Western movements and governments, that Washington has abandoned. Among them were Burma's neighbours, namely South Vietnam and Cambodia. The latest was Afghanistan falling back under the Taliban. Abandoned by their American allies in power, pro-American democrats in Saigon in the 1970's and Kabul in 2020, desperately trying to get on the last U.S. transport aircrafts, has now become a gut-wrenching iconic image in 'socio' media and on TV screens.

Alas, such warmth, honesty and solidarity don't extend beyond individual officials. You may be friends with U.S. officials. But their government is not a friend of your struggle. That is, unless supporting your resistance advances America's core interests, ala Ukraine. This was a rude awakening for me personally, which in turn compelled me to seek an alternative of finding ways to reconcile with the oppressive military leadership. In the absence of real support from the U.S. in particular and the liberal West in general, I sought to explore ways to help end the country's vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence, repression and resistance. My efforts came to nothing. Now I feel I am back to where I started some 20 years ago when I split with Aung San Suu Kyi-led flagship opposition movement and advocated the stance, "we must talk to the generals".

I knew that Washington would sell us, democrats, down the river. Then President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hilary Clinton went to Aung San Suu Kyi's fabled colonial mansion in Rangoon, with global publicity and fanfare, but they removed her only leverage, namely financial sanctions against her military captors. According to Obama's National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, in her meeting with the U.S. President at the Oval Office in 2013, the Burmese opposition leader did ask Obama to retain financial sanctions. She wanted to use them as bargaining chips in her dealings with the generals. But beholden to the interests of American corporations, Obama offered Suu Kyi an all-or-nothing option. U.S. businesses could not wait to enter Burma as the virgin economy where the Chinese, Singaporean, Thais, Malaysians, South Koreans and Taiwanese had already built toeholds during the years of sanctions.

To labour the obvious, the world's most powerful government would do anything to pursue its core interests – not values.  Since its founding as a white settler colony, the U.S. has, according to the Congressional Research Services studies, waged over 300 wars and invasions, declared and undeclared wars, "legal" (that is, UN Security Council-authorized) and illegal invasions, covert and overt, sanctions or lifting them, at their convenience. There just isn't significant enough U.S. interests insofar as Myanmar for Washington to really support the Burmese democratic resistance – most violent, widespread and unprecedented in history – which sprang up organically in virtually all ethnic communities and in different social classes.  

Two years since the universally opposed military coup of February 2021, the U.S. has only offered the nationwide democratic resistance, made up of Generation Z fighters and several major ethnic resistance organizations (for instance, the Karen National Union, Chin National Front, and Karenni Progressive People's Party) "notional" support, to use former U.S. Ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel's adjective. In the face of 3,000 deaths and 20,000 arrests of Burmese resisters since the violent crackdown of nationwide peaceful protests began, all that the U.S., both Congress and the Biden Administration could do is the provision of "non-lethal assistance" and humanitarian assistance, in addition to a mix of empty statements of condemnation of this or that misdeed by the junta, and dribble of economic sanctions against a handful of Burmese businessmen and entities tied to the junta. 

Typically, U.S. officials such as Derek Cholet holds up photo ops with the leaders of the National Unity Government (NUG) and well-timed and well-publicized visits to its "Information Office" in Washington as Exhibit A of the American support. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the reactive "unity of the West" in support of Ukrainian people's defence for their democratic rights have stripped bare Washington's pro-democracy rhetoric. The day NUG "Foreign Minister" Zin Mar Aung had a photo-op with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly at the British Foreign Ministry in London, Washington's proxy-in-chief Zalensky addressed the British Parliament and openly demanded  – I repeat demanded, not requested – fighter jets and more weapons.

Some 25 years ago, I met James Woosley, former CIA director and a staunch proponent of the regime change in Bagdad, at a close American friend's book launch party in Washington, DC. I asked the spook for his advice on the subject of removing the Burmese dictatorship "back home."  He exclaimed, "you need a lot of money!".  And the man knew what he was talking about. No resistance or regime change could be undertaken on empty stomach or with poor arms. Within seven days of Myanmar coup two years ago, President Joe Biden was seen on live TV news, talking tough against the Burmese coup regime while proceeding to announce his executive decision to freeze US$1 billion that belongs to Myanmar state (that is, people) as a first step towards supporting Myanmar's pro-democracy movement. Like Woosley, Biden, who routinely voted funding Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. military assistance, for 30 years and supported the invasions of Iraq by the two Bush presidencies, too knows very well how costly war and resistance financing is. 

And yet Biden refuses to release that $1 billion to be used for the resistance. The lame excuse from the Americans was that they were safekeeping the money for rebuilding Burma as a federal democracy. But without removing the dictatorship no possibility exists for any reconstruction of Burma. Biden's silence and omission of the Burmese resistance speaks volumes. In Biden's remarks at the Summit for Democracy Virtual Plenary on Democracy Delivering on Global Challenges" delivered in Washington on March 29, Biden singled out "the unprecedented unity we've seen from democracies condemning Russia's brutal war of aggression against Ukraine and standing in solidarity with the brave Ukrainian people as they defend their democracy". And yet the man who froze $1 billion USD and, only two years ago, promised more in action to support the Burmese people who too defend their democracy, however flawed, chose not to even make an obligatory mention.

For revolutionary movements to succeed they need friends, particularly "frontline states", that is, neighbours adjacent to the theatres of resistance. To gain support and solidarity from neighbours is of paramount importance, particularly in light of the complete absence of real support from "democracies of the world". Admittedly, none of Burma's neighbours has shown any interest in or will to partner with or recognize the NUG, or support the broader resistance of ethnic resistance organizations and democratic resisters. As democrats we are in-between rock and the hard place. Beijing considers the Burmese resistance – in particular the NUG – as nothing but a semi-proxy propped up by Washington. As democrats and resisters against six decades of a mass-murderous military, we must bang our heads together and rethink the leadership, their orientation, capacities and achievements, against hard, cold odds. 

Maung Zarni is the co-author of Essays on Myanmar's Genocide of Rohingyas (2012-18). He is a UK-based Burmese exile with over 30-years of first-hand involvement and scholarship in Burma affairs. 

The Anatomy of the Political Economy of Slow Genocide, and Organising of Racial Capitalism– A Tale of the Making of De Facto Stateless Rohingya

Source Foresea, 30 March

The paper discusses the political economy of genocide by exploring the organising of genocide against the world's largest de facto stateless community – the Rohingya community of Myanmar – over the past forty years.

Amartya Sen categorises Rohingyas' experience of genocide as a slow genocide. His categorisation is borne out in our experience. To situate our understandings, we draw from Sanayal's arguments on the developmental state and the organisation of postcolonial capitalism. We argue that the core understanding of the political economy of slow genocide calls for the characterisation of genocide in relation to the capitalist formation of a developmental state and of particular social relations; this was conducted by organising the hierarchies of both civil and political societies as dominant and dominated factions within the project of the nation-state and nation-building. Examining the management of de facto stateless people reveals how substitutability evolves as a management strategy by the militarised form of the nation-state project. This strategy also characterises the politics of institutionalising and legitimising violence in the forms of expulsion, displacement, and death. Hence, we argue that the substitutability strategy is underpinned by the logic of extinction; thereby, this strategy institutionalises and legitimises violence in the forms of genocide. Thus, racial capitalism is organised and reconfigures the lives of minority communities in the context of the developmental states. Finally, we extend our debate by asking what role business academics should undertake in an increasingly corporatised academy in contemporary global capitalism.

Keywords: slow genocide, Rohingya, stateless people, Myanmar, substitution, racial capitalism

Read/download the full paper below.

Author information:

Habiburahman ("Habib") is Rohingya. Born in 1979 in Burma, he escaped torture, persecution, and detention by fleeing to neighbouring countries, where he faced further discrimination and violence. In 2009 he came to Australia by boat, spending 32 months in various detention centres. Now in Melbourne, he remains passportless and stateless. He is the founder and secretary of the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organization (ABRO).

Fahreen Alamgir received her Master's in Management from the University of Dhaka and her PhD from the School of Management of RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. Her research focuses on inequity, inequality, and violence, focusing on precariat migrant workers, the feminised workforce, refugees, and the stateless people.

Posted by Habiburahman, & Fahreen Alamgir

How India Betrayed the Rakhine People – And Why It Matters Today

Source TheDiplomat, 10 Feb 2023

Twenty-five years ago this week, India's government betrayed the people of Rakhine State in western Myanmar, when its armed forces smashed a nascent Rakhine revolutionary group in a remote part of the Andaman Islands. In the years since, the Indian government has never referred publicly to the incident, but it continues to resonate among the Rakhine people, who remember it as Gen. Khaing Raza's Day, or Betrayal of India over Rakhine Revolution Day. In a 2009 book, the prominent Indian human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar described the incident as "infamous."

On the morning of February 11, 1998, the Indian military launched a brutal operation codenamed Leech, in which it raided Landfall Island in the Andaman Sea, arresting at least 73 people, and killing at least six rebels. These included the Arakan Army commander Gen. Khiang Raza and Maj. Soe Tun and two leaders of the Karen National Union.

As the India-based news outlet Quint reported in 2019, 35 of the 73 people arrested were fishermen and were released after a year of detention on the island; two were Thai boatmen who were also released; two more reportedly tried to escape and went missing. The remaining 34 people were Rakhine and Karen rebels from Myanmar. Their trial took place in secret, and they were held in jail for 13 years, six-and-a-half of those years without charge. The 34 men were only released in 2011, when they were granted refugee status by the United Nations refugee agency and resettled in the Netherlands.

The violent incident brought to a premature end the first serious attempt to form a Rakhine nationalist resistance against Myanmar's military junta. The Arakan Army (AA) was initially formed in February 1991 by a group of patriotic Rakhines including Gen. Khaing Raza, with support from the Karen National Union (KNU), on the Myanmar-Thailand border. Shortly after its formation, at least 60 AA rebels attempted to travel from southeast Myanmar to Rakhine State on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in early May 1991. The group confronted clashes for a month with the Myanmar military, and only 40 of them arrived at the border safely. In 1992, and 1993, the group sent a couple more consignments of troops and weapons from the Myanmar-Thailand border to the Bangladesh border area.




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In January 1994, at least four Rakhine revolutionary groups made the historic decision to merge into a single organization: the National United Party of Arakan (NUPA), with an armed wing, also known as the Arakan Army (AA). The group's goal was home rule for the Rakhine. The AA was at this point re-formed under the leadership of seven commanders, including Gen. Khaing Raza and Maj. Saw Tun. By 1997, the strength of the army had grown to 500 troops armed with some 200 rifles, and it had established a small naval force.

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India's Betrayal

After the Arakan Army (AA)'s formation in 1991, Khaing Raza established a good relationship with officers from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's foreign intelligence agency, with whom he regularly shared information. Three years after the Rakhine revolutionary groups merged in 1994, these relations improved further and RAW officers eventually introduced Khaing Raza to a number of Indian military commanders and intelligence officers. Chief among these was the military intelligence officer Lt.-Col. Biswajit Singh Grewal, who notably had been born in Myanmar and studied at the University of Mandalay, and was fluent in the Burmese language. (He even had a Burmese name, Nay Win). In January 1995, Lt.-Gen. Pradeep Chandran Nair, commander in chief of the Assam Rifles, visited the NUPA/AA base along the India-Myanmar border, and met with Khaing Raza.

Former Rakhine marine leaders (from left): Maj. Kyan Sein Maung, Maj. Khine Kyaw Khine, Gen. Khaing Raza, and Capt. Mra Aung. (Photo courtesy of Maj. Khine Kyaw Khine)


In early 1997, the NUPA/AA and KNU top leaders decided to establish a base in the Andaman Sea, to provide them access to the Ayeyarwady River delta in southern Myanmar. Maj. Saw Tun spoke to Lt. Col. Grewal, who initially allowed the NUPA/AA to set up a base first on Narcondam island, and then on Landfall Island, in the north of the Andaman Islands chain, around 300 kilometers from Myanmar's coast.

A month later, Saw Tun was taken to Landfall Island on an Indian Army flight, alongside Grewal. In May of that year, the NUPA/AA marine commander, Maj. Khaing Kyaw Khaing, and his group had attempted to reach the island by sea, but they gave up due to a heavy storm in the area. Next month, Grewal flew to Bangkok to meet with KNU and NUPA/AA leaders, and agreed that they could relocate to the island on February 11, 1998.

On February 8, 1998, a group of 40 men – 27 from the NUPA/AA and 13 from the KNU – led by Khaing Raza and Saw Tun departed for Landfall Island in two ships from the coast of Tanintharyi Region in southern Myanmar. They arrived on the evening of February 10 and slept one night there.

Then, early the next morning, Indian military officers, including Grewal, launched Operation Leech, executing at least four leaders from the NUPA/AA including Khaing Raza and Saw Tun, two KNU leaders, and two other Myanmar rebels. As mentioned above, the remaining 34 were taken into custody.

The Indian military informed New Delhi that Operation Leech had smashed a group of "gunrunners" who had been aiding anti-Indian separatists in the country's northeast. However, former Khaing Kyaw Khaing, formerly one of seven founding commanders of the AA, told this author recently that the leaders aimed to fight the military regime in Myanmar, and went to Landfall Island trusting India's promise that it would allow them a safe haven there. He said that the Indian military completely destroyed the embryonic Rakhine revolutionary force, describing it as an unforgettable betrayal of "all of our Arakanese."

Lt. Gen. Pradeep Chandran Nair, commander in chief of the Assam Rifles (center, in blue shirt), during a visit to the NUPA/AA base along the India-Myanmar border, January 23, 1995. (Photo courtesy Maj. Khine Kyaw Khine).

Indeed, DB Nandi, a former Indian intelligence officer and RAW deputy chief who worked in Myanmar, told The Guardian in 2007 that the Indian military operation was explicitly intended to destroy the Rakhine revolutionary movement. In 2019, Grewal, now retired, told local news outlets that the operation was not carried out on the army's own initiative, and that it had approval from New Delhi.

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After the events on Landfall Island in 1998, few people in western Myanmar believed that a Rakhine rebellion against the Myanmar military could succeed, given India's evident hostility to the cause and the group's inability to establish a base along the Myanmar-India border. It was only since the rebirth of the Arakan Army in 2009 that these dreams of Rakhine home rule have stirred back to life.

The New Arakan Army and Its Relations with New Delhi

Fifteen years after the Indian army smashed the NUPA/AA on Landfall Island, another version of the Arakan Army was formed by Maj. Gen. Twan Mrat Naing and 25 comrades in April 2009 in Laiza, on the Chinese border in Kachin State, with support from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).


In the years since, the AA has grown considerably. It now has 30,000 troops under arms, mainly in Rakhine State, though at least 6,000 troops are stationed in areas controlled by the AA's allies in the north and northeast of the country. Recently, the group's political wing, the United League of Arakan (ULA), claimed that it enjoyed de facto control over two-thirds of Rakhine. During 2018-2020, analysts described fighting between the AA and the Myanmar military as the fiercest Myanmar had seen in decades.

Relations between the New Delhi government and the ULA/AA during the armed conflict of 2018-2020 have been curious. Although India is the world's largest democracy, its government has traditionally maintained good relations with Myanmar's military. From February 17 to March 2, 2019, amid fighting between the AA and Myanmar military in Rakhine State, the Indian military took part in the joint Operation Sunrise with the Myanmar military against the AA in the India-Myanmar border area. Its operation was intended to eliminate the AA from the border region, where India is hoping to implement the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project connecting Mizoram to Kolkata via Rakhine State's capital Sittwe.

The Indian government seemingly believed that the armed movement of the ULA/AA was just a temporary uprising and that the Myanmar military would eventually be able to eradicate the insurgents. However, the armed conflict of 2018-2020 ended with AA still in control of its main strongholds in Rakhine, which seems to have shifted opinion within Indian decision-making circles about the need to negotiate with the ULA/AA. On August 11 of last year, for instance, the ULA/AA spokesperson said in an online press conference that the group had taken part in negotiations with New Delhi on the implementation of the Kaladan project.

However, the Indian government still hasn't openly engaged with the ULA/AA, and in order to maintain good relations with the Myanmar military, has remained mostly silent about the atrocities committed by the military since its coup on February 1, 2021, despite the junta arresting over 17,000 and killing nearly 2,900 of its own citizens, including children. Instead, the Indian government is trying to finalize and implement the Kaladan transport project. On January 9, India's Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said the project was "ready to operate."

NULA/AA officials Khaing Mra Wa, Gen. Khaing Raza, and Maj. Khine Kyaw Khine after meeting with officers from the Indian intelligence agency RAW, at the Vara Va camp in the India-Bangladesh-Myanmar border area, December, 22, 1995. (Photo courtesy Maj. Khine Kyaw Khine)

Overall, India's current approach toward Myanmar is puzzling. The local security apparatus in India's eastern provinces has frequently arrested not just the members of the anti-junta resistance but also refugees who have fled across the Myanmar-India border due to Myanmar military attacks. Another critical issue is the fact that the Myanmar junta forces have used Indian rebel forces to stage attacks against the resistance in the upper Sagaing Region, close to India's border.

However, the growing strength of the Rakhine movement for home rule, led by the ULA/AA, demonstrates that New Delhi's strategy toward the current junta is serving neither its national interest nor the interests of the Myanmar people. When it comes to the Kaladan project in northern Rakhine State, a priority for New Delhi, the government's current approach is mostly counterproductive, given the ULA/AA's influence over the Rakhine State.

Now is the time for New Delhi to remedy the mistakes in its policy toward the Rakhine conflict and the country's anti-junta resistance movement more broadly. A good place to start would be to acknowledge India's betrayal of the Rakhine revolution in 1998 and atone for its past mistakes by forging a new cooperative path with the Rakhine people.

Kyaw Hsan Hlaing

Kyaw Hsan Hlaing

Kyaw Hsan Hlaing is an independent journalist and regular contributor to The Diplomat.