Indian Army has had a tough time for the last twenty five years
dealing with the politics and insurgencies of the North East and now
we hear that the Director General Border Security Force is to visit
Bangladesh this week to meet the General of the Bangladesh Rifles
–– an Army man. From time to time it has been was Bangladesh which fuelled
the area. Herein lies the sad tale of lack of coordination between the Army
and BSF and to compound the issues we have just read that the Home
Ministry wants full control of the Assam Rifles, an Army unit!
it devolves on the Home Ministry to tackle issues and solve problems
in the North East, not the Army? Sadly this dual control is likely
to continue and if the illicit supply of arms and training to the
insurgents increases then
the challenges will increase. The North East had been the MEA baby
in earlier years, then the Army’s and now it is mixed up (messed
up?) with the Home Ministry/BSF also stepping in. There is also no
doubt that in this confused situation our Intelligence in the area
has been weak.
RAW and IB officers charged with looking after the area hold
accommodation in New Delhi and we wonder if they get a real feel
of the area. In fact the recent exercises with US Stryker troops in
India's school for Insurgency also brought home the lesson that
without good intelligence no insurgency can be tackled either in the
political or military realm.
a recent trip to Myanmar our colleague gleaned some first hand but sketchy information that the Myanmar Army has done its bit in the last 12
years to ensure no insurgent groups were assisted or operated from
Myanmar, though some NSCN leaders do live in Myanmar. The Government
has just signed a further ceasefire with the Khaplang group of NSCN
and extended it with Muviah.
Colonel Anil Bhat, a regular columnist who knows and follows
happenings in the
area, brought to our notice the arms transfers that take place in the
Eastern neighbourhood of India, and we also know that the present
Government in Bangladesh is not well disposed towards India.
India’s Foreign Secretary Shashank went there recently and the
Border Roads officials met their counterparts the Bangladesh Rifles,
who flatly denied that there are any camps on their soil, or any arms
transfers take place.
the past we had commented upon the illicit trade between India and
Bangladesh. Indian goods like cement, tiles, garments and
consumer goods go across to Bangladesh and migrant labour trudges
across to India. The BSF and Home Ministry have not favoured the
idea to have Identity cards for the border people and it is well known in the area that
some 1.8 million cattle are sent across the border in illegal trade
every year. Big money changes hands.
has not been able to demarcate the land boundary in patches along
the border with Bangladesh because
of some enclaves, and the sea boundary also has the Talpatti (Moore)
Island in dispute. If India succumbs to the Bangladesh solution then
we could lose a lot of our EEZ in this area. The irritants are many
and now Bangladesh supports the Islamic movement. There is also very
little gratitude in Bangladesh in the present Government for
India’s role that got them Independence, which only opposition
leader Begum Hasina appreciates.
It is to be hoped that the new
Indian government which gets elected will have the Home and Defence
Ministers coordinate this issue, something which has been lacking no
doubt because of many vested interests.
Bhat also commented on OP Leach Two, which took place in the
Andamans on Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat’s orders in consultation with
the then Army Chief Gen. V P Malik. It turned out to be a fiasco and
that was a sad chapter when some Indian leaders were reportedly
supporting the inflow of arms into the North East possibly for
transfer to Myanmar. Some leaders in New Delhi have had a soft spot
for the Students movement in Myanmar and the National Convention
there is due on 17th May.
OP Leach the Army, the Navy and Intelligence agencies all fell foul
of the MoD and it was one of the reasons that contributed to the
sacking of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat –– as he writes in his book.
We highlight this issue as the Eastern neighbours especially Myanmar
(with reserves of 5.2 bill cu m of gas) can provide gas for India’s
energy security, which too should be the next Government’s
priority. (See ‘Pipelines’ Map).
Eastern Neighbour Fuels Insurgencies?
Features & Media
the end of the 1980s, almost all small arms acquired by Indian
insurgent groups (IIG) of the North-East (NE) were old ones of
Chinese make. Sanctuaries and training camps of the Naga, Mizo and
Meitei groups were in Myanmar (Burma), while the ideological support
and arms came from China, which a number of insurgent leaders
visited. By the beginning of the 1990s, there were two major
developments. One was that relations between India and Myanmar
improved to the extent that the latter began denying sanctuary and
support to IIGs and the other was the escape of the top leaders of
United Liberation Front for Assam (ULFA) to Bangladesh, where
Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) took charge of them
and thereby made its entry into India’s NE region and got
introduced to other IIGs there. It was a major development, one of
the main fallouts of which was that these IIGs began to get
sophisticated weapons and equipment arranged by the ISI. Places like
Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, became staging points
for these weapons transported by sea to be dumped and collected by
or sent by land to IIGs, of which ULFA became the kingpins.
March 1998, a concerted operation involving Indian Navy, Coast
Guard, Army and intelligence agencies, resulted in two trawlers
being intercepted in the waters just off Andaman and Nicobar islands
–– OP Leach). With a multinational crew of about 150, their
cargo included two hundred fire-arms and ammunition, meant for IIGs
of India’s NE. While this was the first of major sea-based arms
hauls by India, there was also one attempt of foreign aircraft
succeeding to penetrate Indian air space for drop-delivery of arms,
near Purulia, West Bengal which got detected. Neither matched the
recent haul of most sophisticated assorted weaponry at Chittagong,
as stated in a recent feature by the South Asia Intelligence Report.
Bangladesh police and coastguard stumbled across what could be the
largest-ever consignment of sophisticated illegal arms and
ammunition, when they raided the Government-controlled Chittagong
Urea Fertilizer Limited (CUFL) jetty on April 2, 2004. The weapons
and explosives were being unloaded from two fishing trawlers, MV
Khawja and FT Amanat, on the east bank of the river
Karnafully by about 150 labourers when the police arrived. The
seizure list of the Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) states that
the arms and ammunition recovered include 690 7.62 mm T-56-I
Sub-Machine Guns (SMGs); 600 7.62 mm T-56-2 SMGs; 150 40mm T-69
Rocket launchers; 840 40mm rockets; 400 9mm semi-automatic spot
rifles; 100 'Tommy Guns'; 150 rocket launchers; 2000 launching
grenades; 25,020 hand grenades; 6,392 magazines of SMG and other
arms; 700,000 rounds of SMG bullets; and 739,680 rounds of 7.62 mm
calibre; and 400,000 bullets of other weapons. Most of the arms and
ammunition were reportedly of Korean, Italian, Chinese and American
staggering quantity of weapons was enough to arm an infantry brigade
of three battalions strength. Documents of the vessels were
reportedly in the name of Salahuddin Qader Chaudhary, adviser on
parliamentary affairs to Prime Minister of Bangladesh. This, of
course has been denied. The likely consignees were IIGs of India’s
NE region, terrorist groups in Jammu & Kashmir and maybe, even
this is the largest, it is by no means the only significant arms
seizure in the country, and the last year alone saw several
substantial caches of arms recovered from Chittagong and its three
hill districts; Bogra in north western Bangladesh (this was the
largest earlier seizure); and even from the capital, Dhaka. But the
latest seizure in Chittagong is the biggest in the history of
Bangladesh and marks the emergence of the country as a major transit
point for arms smuggling in South Asia.
kind of arms and ammunition recovered, however, suggest strong
linkages with the growing force of radical Islamists in the country.
Ordinary criminals in Bangladesh do not have a significant history
of the use of such weapons, and partisan political violence in the
past has not graduated to the level of sophistication reflected in
the present arms cache. Over the past decade, however, a number of
extremist Islamist groups have become active in Bangladesh, with at
least some of these linked to the international terrorist network.
Al Qaeda-allied group, the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI), has a
strong base in Chittagong. With a committed cadre estimated at about
15,000 men, most of their training camps are located in the
Chittagong area. The Harkat maintains six such camps in the hilly
areas of Chittagong, and another six training camps near Cox's Bazar.
They are also reported to be using camps vacated by the Rohingya
refugees, and a number of Rohingyas are known to be involved in the
smuggling of arms and ammunition in Bangladesh. Some other prominent
Islamist groups that have been active recently include the Jama'atul
Mujahidin, Shahadat-e-Al-Hikma, Hizbut Touheed and Islami
Shashontantra Andolan. Of these, the Jama'atul Mujahidin has created
training camps in 57 districts.
parties in Bangladesh believe that arms are being smuggled into the
country by the radical Islamists to subvert democracy. General
Secretary of Awami League, Abdul Jalil, is quoted by the local media
as having stated that, "The cache suggests a conspiracy to
undermine the country's democratic process.” He also alleged that,
"Arms were smuggled into the country many times earlier in the
same way, with visible patronisation (sic) of the
Government." Suspecting the involvement of the Islamists, the
Communist Party of Bangladesh General Secretary, Mujahidul Islam
Selim, demanded, "Those who want to establish a Taliban-like
rule in Bangladesh and return to a Pakistani state should be
investigated immediately. The origins of such conspiracies against
sovereignty should be tracked down and crushed immediately."
Worker's Party President Rashed Khan Menon similarly stated that,
"Parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, which is using force to
establish a certain type of government should be investigated and we
have to make sure that probe findings are not suppressed
to the Daily Star of 12th April, 2004, the Mayor of
Chittagong, Mohiuddin Chowdhury said that training camps of
terrorists active in India's NE exist in Bangladesh. According to
Chowdhury, Indian secessionists were running at least 50 to 60
training camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and weapons were
brought in to arm them under a sinister conspiracy to create unrest
in the subcontinent. "I've information that members of some
Indian rebel groups are being trained in those camps on Bangladesh
territory and (this is) known very well by our government,
too," Mohiuddin told a news conference at his office on April
10, 2004. He also said that the large cache of arms and ammunition
seized on the night of April 1 were "shipped from the USA and
Pakistan to arm Indian rebels camped in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT)."
The mayor said, "The arms cache seized at the Chittagong Urea
Fertiliser Limited (CUFL) jetty was smuggled in for handing them
over to the secessionist groups of NE Indian states including Assam,
Nagaland and Mizoram," adding that the government was now
frantically trying to cover up the facts. However, the Inter
Services Public Relations (ISPR) denied the claims of the Chittagong
mayor. The Bangladesh foreign ministry and the US Embassy in Dhaka
also reportedly refuted a Mohiuddin's allegations as baseless.
Daily Times of 9th April, 2004 quoting AFP, reported that
Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), a part of Bangladesh's ruling coalition,
denied that it was running "11 secret arms training camps"
across the country, to counter a statement to the media by leader of
Bangladesh's main opposition Awami League party, Sheikh Hasina Wajed.
"We don't know why they have these camps, but we are very
concerned," Abdul Jalil, the Awami League's general secretary
said on April 8. "Whether it is for gaining power or for an
Islamic revolution is the big question," he told AFP. However,
Social Welfare Minister and JeI Secretary General, Ali Ahsan Mujahid,
denied these accusations.
denials are absolutely meaningless in the light of the exposure
which, coupled with the reported presence, or relocation of jihadis
from Pakistan, POK and Afghanistan, including Al Qaeda, makes
Bangladesh yet another liability for much more than just the South