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Complicity of State Actors in Chittagong Arms Haul Case Revealed

Sreeradha Datta is Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • March 09, 2009

    India’s position stands vindicated. It had for long maintained that not only have insurgents from the north east found safe havens in Bangladeshi soil but that they have enjoyed the backing of the Bangladeshi state as well. These allegations have now been proven with the confessional statement of Md. Hafizur Rahman and Din Mohammad, the two accused in the Chittagong arms haul case. This was the largest arms haul in Bangladesh, which had taken place on April 2, 2004 in the Chittagong area. Certainly not the first incident of this nature, over the past few years the hill tract region had become the principal conduit for trafficking small arms into Bangladesh, with several arms hauls taking place in Bogra (northwestern Bangladesh) as well as in Dhaka during that period. But the Chittagong arms haul of 2004 was the largest ever. It was bulky enough to equip an army brigade. Estimated at US $4.5-5.7 million, the seizure in the ten trucks included: rocket launchers (150), rockets (840), over a million rounds of ammunition, grenade launchers (2000), grenades (25,000), and over 1700 assorted assault weapons.

    The sheer scale of this cache had generated high interest in both the media and among the public. The Bangladeshi media had drawn attention to the complicity of the BNP coalition government’s involvement in this incident. There were allegations of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, BNP leader as well as labour leader and linked to Jamaat-e-Islami, being largely responsible for overseeing the transfer at the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Limited jetty from two fishing trawlers. In its investigative story the defence journal Jane’s Intelligence Review had squarely held Ulfa leader Paresh Barua and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland chief procurement officer Anthony Shimray responsible for this arms trafficking incident. In the light of the recent confessions it is now public knowledge that the huge cache of weapons was being smuggled under the direct supervision of Ulfa leader Paresh Barua who is based in Dhaka.

    For long India has been raising concerns over Bangladeshi support to Indian insurgents in Bangladeshi soil. Indian insurgents were not only given space to function from Bangladeshi soil but were also supported with funds and supply of arms and ammunition. All of this fell on deaf ears. In recent years, however, there been a perceptible shift in the Bangladeshi position. It is now acknowledged that Indian insurgents are indeed based in Bangladeshi territory, though there is still understandable reluctance to accept official complicity for this.

    Indeed, to recall briefly, during the BNP-led coalition government’s tenure (2001-5) the Bangladeshi position was one of complete denial towards not only any of the security concerns that India had raised, but also with regards to the worrying domestic situation within Bangladesh, especially the sharp rise in extremism there. With the Jama'at-i-Islami in parliament for the first time, the question of Taliban-Al-Qaeda presence in Bangladesh kept cropping up ever so often. This period also coincided with the growth of several Islamic terror groups including that led by ‘Bangla Bhai’ or Maulana Abdur Rahman of the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh extremist group.

    India bore the brunt of extremist attacks during this period. Beginning with the blast at the New Jalpaiguri railway station in June 1999, there were several incidents including the unprecedented haul of high power explosives from the Sealdah station and two other places in West Bengal. All evidence pointed to linkages with Bangladesh. India’s request to ascertain the origin and destination of the arms discovered at Chittagong also went unheeded. Apart from India, international investigating agencies like Scotland Yard and Interpol, while investigating other terror attacks during this period in Bangladesh, had insisted upon proper examination of the Chittagong arms haul incident.

    Although the Khaleda Zia-led coalition government had appointed a five-member high-power inquiry committee headed by Home Secretary Omar Farooque to probe the incident, it did not make public any of its findings. It was only in February 2008 that the session court of Chittagong had initiated fresh investigation into the case. While 37 of the 39 accused had been released earlier, Hafizur Rahman and Din Mohammad, in their confessional statement to the court on March 4, 2009 have clearly referred to the role of the chiefs of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and National Security Intelligence in the shipment and handling of the arms cache.

    India’s allegations of Bangladeshi role in fostering and escalating the insurgency movements in India had never found favour with Bangladesh. The denials from the Bangladeshi side and demands for ‘credible evidence’ had invariably led to naught. In the post 2006 period, however, Indo-Bangladesh relations have visibly improved. With an Awami league government in power, India’s security concerns will at least find willing ears if not solutions. At the same time it is widely believed that so far as Bangladesh’s policy towards India are concerned the security establishment exerts a great deal of influence. In the light of the facts that have come out in the Chittagong arms haul case, Bangladesh can no longer deny outright the involvement of elements within its establishment in fostering anti-India activities. This could well pave the way for greater bilateral cooperation on security issues between the two countries.

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