Following the unseemly controversy sparked off by army chief Bipin Rawat’s comments in Northeast, several former soldiers and saffronites got into their favourite past time — Bangladesh bashing. It was not only uncalled for because Sheikh Hasina’s government is India’s safest and surest ally in South Asia at the moment but also because all such periodic Bangladesh bashing comes at some cost to the Indian national interests in the East .
Can one imagine any success for India’s Look East policy unless Bangladesh plays ball and continues with its policy of allowing transit! Can you expect any peace in Northeast if Bangladesh reverts back to being the safest sanctuary for Northeastern rebels! Can you imagine any strategic depth for Indian forces in the event of a conflict with China if Bangladesh does not play ball in allowing transhipment of Indian military personnel and hardware through its territory ( which China suspects Hasina has already agreed to , which is why Beijing is not releasing the funds promised by Xi Jinping last year) !
Ask the big moustachioed Indian generals who shout their way into Indian television these hard questions and they don’t have an answer !
Finally ask them a quick question — does the Indian army troops gets ambushed in Northeast by guerrillas led by Badruddin Ajmal or by those led by Paresh Barua and Bharat Chaoren ( both indigenous Hindus supposed by holy cows for the saffronties ) !
Ajmal runs a legitimate political party, there is no evidence he has received terror money as Kashmiri separatists like Ali Shah Geelani, he runs a legitimate perfume business and does not earn his money through bribes like scores of “indigenous politicians” who have changed parties like footballers change jerseys.
The growth of AIUDF may upset General Rawat but he and other Indian officers who make up the shouting brigade in television must know what happened in 1971. If they don’t know their own glorious military history of victory over Pakistan, I advise them to read a brilliant compilation on the 1971 war by an Indian officer Maj Gen Katoch and a Bangladesh officer Colonel Sajjad Zaheer.
The Bangladeshis fought side by side with our soldiers to defeat Pakistan’s criminalised, brutalised army in an eight month saga of heroism, blood and tears. I have known freedom fighters from Bangladesh like my good friend Haroon Habib seek out Indian soldiers who fought with them after some effort. Hasina’s government has rewarded them with Liberation War medals (and many civilians too).
The Bengali Muslim is the only Muslim in the world who broke up an Islamic Jahan (state). My late friend who joined the Afghan Jihad and later rose to become one of the top leaders of HUJI-B would tell me how badly they were insulted and scorned at by Pakistanis, Afghans and Arabs during the Afghan jihad as “second class Muslims”.
Even Osama Bin Laden who advised these Bangladeshi jihadis to form a jihadi force expressed angst at Bengali Muslim girls putting bindis and getting married in a Gaye Holud (haldi) ceremony which he saw as Hindu practices.
Since the 1980s, it is the ULFA and the NSCN, the PLA and the NLFT, the NDFB and the ATTF, the HNLC and the GNLA who have attacked and killed Indian soldiers and policemen in dozens.
No Muslim of Bengali origin has done to Indian state what Paresh has done — blast oil and gas pipelines endangering India’s energy security.
Yet the likes of Shri Shri Ravishankar will negotiate with him when , for all you know, he is resting his shrewd head on the lap of the Chinese foreign intelligence officer Lian Dai in a luxurious Tenchong apartment and speaking to the Guruji who is known to be close to PM Narendra Modi.
The late B B Nandi of RAW told me once he had lined up his assets in Thai police but the proposed operations was vetoed by then RAW chief A K Verma. Now Verma was an aggresive intelligence boss who unleased the MQM on Pakistani forces and late B Raman feels that forced Islamabad to lay off in Punjab. So why should he veto a hit on Paresh Barua! Unless Barua has some Godfathers in Delhi!
I have known scores of Bangladeshi soldiers and policemen who cooperate wholeheartedly on counter terrorism with India. And imagine what happens to their morale when the likes of Maj Gen G D Baskhi blame Bangladesh agencies for pushing illegal migrants into strategic locations. I challenge these people to furnish evidence for what they say — or else just shut up and stop giving out cock and bull nonsense.
Paresh Barua is a wanted man in Bangladesh and the present government is trying to bring him to justice. He has been convicted in the 2004 Chittagong ten-truck arms case and awarded death penalty. Since he has not come over to the country to appeal against the verdict, the order to hang him until death stands and if he is arrested in Bangladesh, he will be hanged within 72 hours.
Two former ministers Motiur Rahman Nizami and Lutfur Zaman Babbar and two former intelligence chiefs Rezakul Haider Chowdhury and Abdur Rahim have appealed against their death penalty.
Paresh Barua cannot enter Bangladesh without jeopardizing his life and limb. But since Bangladesh intelligence is worried over possible revenge attacks on Bibiyana gas fields in Sylhet and other commercial-economic targets, they had mounted an operation to trap his two Bangladesh bodyguards who are believed to come home from Barua’s hideout at Tengchong on Sino-Burmese border during Eid festival.
Two senior Bangladesh intelligence officials told me recently that their agents have tracked down the two bodyguards-cum-cooks of ULFA’s separatist faction chief Paresh Barua. I managed to extract the details from them about these two young men from Karatkhil in Noahkhali – Alamgir Hossain, son of Hassam Ahmed, with a Bangladesh passport number AA8392264 that shows his date of birth as 2nd January 1986 and his cousin Golam Nabi with a Bangladesh passport number AA 1463448 that shows his date of birth as 15-2-86.
Both these young men are originally cadre of Islami Chatra Shibir, the student-youth affiliate of Jamaat-e-Islami, the hated party in Bangladesh because it opposed the country’s independence and sided with Pakistan’s brutal occupation army during the 1971 Liberation War.
The officials hinted that Alamgir and Nabi would be used either to murder Barua or entice him to visit Bangladesh to revive his bases specially the Sherpur base zone, that have been ruthlessly demolished by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion . The seizure of huge quantity of weapons including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles last month has rattled Barua who had asked his fighters to cache them in the hope of using them in the event of a change of regime in Dhaka.
Bangladesh agencies are ruthless enough to even take Alamgir’s and Nabi’s family hostage in order to force them to go after Barua – either direct murder or poisoning since both cook for him.
But just when such an operation had been put in motion and a high alert sounded to trap Alamgir and Nabi, media reports began to suggest that Sri Sri Ravishanker was trying to mediate between the Indian government and Paresh Barua.
Though that effort finally failed and Barua went to town saying terms offered by the Art of Living guru were not acceptable to him, it came at the wrong time because it gave Bangladesh the impression that Delhi was making a major effort to bring the rebel warlord to the table.
The agencies involved in attempts to neutralize Barua by trapping his Bangladeshi bodyguards were asked by their political masters to stand down because Dhaka was not keen to play the spoiler. At informal liaison levels, the impression was conveyed that India was keen to generate a consensus in the ULFA leadership as it finalized a political accord with the pro-talks ULFA faction in the rundown to the elections in Assam in April 2016.
Operation Barua was shelved by Dhaka. This came amid much confusion in the Indian leadership with a hard-line nationalist faction in the Modi administration that includes National Security Advisor Ajit Doval interested in a ‘hit’ on Barua while his political managers running the poll campaign in Assam tried to win over Paresh Barua because the rebel leader can swing a few seats by his threat-and-action campaign.
BJP has the big bucks to ensure a win in Assam and Barua is never averse to such a windfall for ‘limited services’, especially when his gunrunning trade and Assam-based extortion is at a low.
Sarbananda Sonowal may be the popular Chief Minister face of the BJP in Assam, revelling in his ‘jatiyo bir’ (national hero) image after his successful legal battle to scrap the IMDT act. But BJP now has a first rate election manager in former Congress minister Himanta Biswa Sarma , who has a cousin in his extended family to link up to Paresh Barua because he is close to the rebel leader.
Suffice it to say, the BJP got Sri Sri Ravishanker open a line to Barua to ‘manage’ him before the polls if not get him to come to the table to join the Rajkhowa-Chetia brigade for talks with Delhi. The only people Barua has given interviews in person are close to Sarma — one his cousin and the other lady working for a Tv channel run by his wife.
But this bonhomie, though it did not last, was good enough to confuse Dhaka. It would not be easy for Bangladesh agencies to revive OPS BARUA because Alamgir and Nabi’s family members under pressure from local police and RAB could well have alerted their sons in far off Tenchong. A cat has nine lives – Barua may have fifteen or more. The ‘goalkeeper of the Assam revolution’ has lived to fight another day.
I warned the Assam police about the impending serial explosions in 2008 — Operation Saraighat. My friend Major Shamsul Arefin of Pakistan and then Bangladesh army told me about a section of pro-Pakistan officers in DGFI planning to use ULFA and NDFB to set off explosions to derail the proposed joint exercise of Indian and Bangladesh Special Forces at Jorhat. The Assam police special branch bosses were complacent – ‘nohobo neki’ (perhaps won’t happen) was the refrain I got from their top boss.
My emails to one senior academic who works closely with the Special Branch are still preserved by me in which I had detailed the Moximhat conspiracy — Moximhat being the place where the NDFB/ULFA cadres were trained by a former BD army sapper in car bombing. And when the serial bombings happened, these same officers were willing to blame jihadis and several TV stars close to them were involved in a verbal duel with me.
“Amar lorai etu kora nai” (our boys have not done it) was what they insisted. To which I reminded that it is always your ‘loras’ who have done it — beginning with the blasts on the last day of 1980 which were blamed on the Assam Liberation Army. But those who bombed Upper Assam commissioner Parthasarthi became legislators and those who backed them became ministers.
There is a growth of radicalisation among Bengali Muslims in Bangladesh and Indian states like Assam. But the government and police in Assam exaggerate this to the sky , perhaps to get additional budgets which are well spent on ‘assets’ that sustain officers after retirement. Some as far as Mumbai. And now in the saffronised atmosphere this flawed narrative is legitimised by the khaki shorts and saffron flags who won’t send a volunteer if one were to raise a suicide squad to take out Hafeez Saaed inside Pakistan.
For tens of thousands of Bengali Muslims in Bangladesh and India, the idea of India appealed much more than the theocracy of Pakistan. When cornered to the wall, he would still fight for his rights using legal means. It is not an Ajmal or a Hafeez Rashid Ahmed Chowdhury who threatens the Indian state in Assam. If anyone does that, it is Paresh Barua who now issues statements against Dalai Lama’s Arunachal visit as he had supported Kargil jihad in the last century.
But the Bengali Muslim and lower caste Hindu is the toughest peasants of this sub-continent. Don’t push them too far. They liberated a country with Indian support but after sacrificing 2.5 million men and women while half a million Bengali women suffered unbearable indignity.
Compare that to the number of people who died in India’s entire freedom struggle and you know what I am talking about. Hundreds of Bengali boys suffered the worst of British torture in Andaman’s Cellular Jail but not one of them tendered a written apology to secure release like Hindutva guru Veer Savarkar did.
The sacrifice of these young men and women (remember Pritilata Waddedar of Chittagong, the first suicide attacker of this sub-continent) gave India its freedom but turned Bengal into a divided province and its people into refugees. They still remain loyal to the Indian state and in Bangladesh; they still see India as a role model. One small advice: don’t push these people too far.
Subir Bhaumik is a veteran journalist based in Kolkata and author of several books on Northeast. He can be reached at [email protected]