Shamshun Nahar Khan, Naikhongcherri (Bangladesh)
They swear by Allah and promise to avenge the ‘genocide’ of fellow Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine province.
Fighters of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) line up in battle fatigues and start their assault drills.
The air is thick with anticipation of actual combat, as the fighters seem to be doing it for reals.
This is Dosori near Naikhyongcherri in south-eastern Bangladesh, quite far from the biggest Bangladesh military base in the area, Alikadam . Smaller camps do exist between Alikadam and Naikhyongcherri but patrols hardly stray out of their camps.
The Bangladesh army has really won its spurs in UN peace keeping and is probably a fine force when it fights in the riverine plans.
But while amphibian warfare is their forte (remember the naval commando operations of 1971 immortalised in Commander Sawant’s Operation X) , mountain warfare is not.
So even after fighting the rebels of the Shanti Bahini for 21 years, in the first phase of which the Bangladesh army took heavy casualties in encounters and ambushes, the Bengali troops are yet to come to terms with rigorous patrolling, area domination , combing operations and swift hunter-killer operations that the Indian army has perfected after fighting insurgents in the Northeast .
So the Bangladesh military leave large gaps in terms of area domination , through the ARSA rebels move around effortlessly, their confidence soaring to the extent that they now run training facility in Dosori.
Naikhongcherri’s location in the very south of the Chittagong Hill Tracts with Myanmar on one side and the coastal plains of Cox’s Bazar on the other is strategic for any insurgent group seeking to bring in weapons by sea (because bringing it overland through either Myanmar, Bangladesh or India is almost impossible) .
Since the Rohingya Muslim dominated ARSA is better placed to position itself on the coastal plains of Bangladesh , the Arakan Army has reached out to it .
U Ba Tin adds from Yangon : In end-February, Indian and Bangladesh intelligence received reports that the ARSA and AA leaders have met and arrived at a tactical understanding to fight the Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) together.
The ARSA has also asked the AA to get it included into the coordinating body of ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar, United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and its associated platforms that negotiate with the Myanmar Union government. This indicates that it is no longer willing to pursue a separatist agenda for a North Arakan Islamic State but would like to seek a future in Myanmar along with other battling ethnicities.
This is a throwback on the alliance that the Rakhine dominated National Unity Party of Arakans (NUPA), the precursor of Arakan Army, had with the Arakan Rohingya Nationalist Organisation (ARNO) in the 1980-90s until both groups petered out. The ARSA , armed and trained by Pakistan, seems strongly anchored on the Islamist jihadi mode unlike ARNO , but it is increasingly searching for allies and seem to have struck an understanding with Arakan Army , which is so far more tactical in nature.
The ARSA needs AA to protect its Rohingyas left behind and also if the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh return, while AA needs ARSA to operate the armsdrop on the Bangladesh coast and strike at Tatmadaw through suicide attacks or terror strikes to ease the growing counter-insurgency pressure on AA that has possibly led to some recent losses both in fighter casualties and territorial positions in the Myandia and Paletwa regions.