Was ULFA helped by Bangladesh officials in Chittagong?
The India-Bangladesh relationship can take another twist very soon if the truth is uncovered from the Chittagong Arms haul case. On April 2nd, 2004 Bangladesh Joint Forces seized 10 truckloads of submachine-guns, AK-47 assault rifles, other firearms and bullets on tip-off in the largest ever arms haul in an early morning swoop on the Karnaphuli coast in Chittagong. The description says -
“The cache included 690 7.62 mm T-56-I sub-machine guns (SMGs); 600 7.62 mm T-56-2 SMGs; 150 40 mm T-69 rocket launchers; 840 40 mm rockets; 400 9 mm semi-automatic spot rifles; 100 `Tommy Guns’; 150 rocket launchers; 2,000 launching grenades; 25,020 hand grenades; 6,392 magazines of SMG and other arms; 700,000 rounds of SMG cartridges; 739,680 rounds of 7.62 mm calibre; and 400,000 cartridges of other weapons. Most of the arms and ammunition were reportedly of Korean, Italian, Chinese and American make. “
To compare it with the recent Mumbai attacks, I can say that at least ten to twenty similar attacks could be launched using these arms and ammunition. To put it in another way, it can actually arm a small troop of a few thousand people.
There were a lot of opinions and comments floated throughout the country at that time. One editorial in the Daily Star captures some of these. The investigation started almost immediately but there were little progress. The initial report suggested -
“After checking circumstantial evidences, the committee came to the conclusion that three men — Din Mohammed, a labour contractor, Haji Sobhan, proprietor of a trawler, and Hafizuddin, owner of a car found near the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Limited (CUFL) jetty — were involved in the arms smuggling.”
But, the first twist came when Assam CM Tarun Gogoi claimed to BBC that the arms was heading for ULFA (Asom based organization fighting for separate country for Asomiya people). It was at that time rejected by many Bangladeshis as a routine allegation. However, the issue complicated when -
“Chittagong City Mayor and Awami League leader A.B.M. Mohiuddin Chowdhury alleged that Indian insurgent groups ran “at least 50 to 60 camps” in Bangladesh to train militants.”
And it was never the same again. A year later, one leading Intelligence Agency confirmed the allegation. Not only that, they also mentioned how the logistics were sent there and how it was heading towards NSCN (Nagaland based organization fighting for separate country for Naga people) and ULFA camps. It also reported that both NSCN and ULFA chief were present when the truck was getting unloaded.
Even after all these, Bangladesh Govt were not interested to take it up seriously. After the regime changed and the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League govt came to power in Bangladesh with an overwhelming win, the case was reopened. A month ago an Indian TV Channel CNN-IBN revealed that they got access to confession document that was supressed by BNP led Govt. The main accused was drawn to court once more a couple of days back.
Hafizuddin, the prime accused, confessed that the Arms passage were made in presence of (and with the help of) Govt officials – including coast guard, NSI and DGFI officials. Hafiz said (translated from Bengali) -
“The trawlers carrying Arms were attacked by pirates just before it entered the channel (entry of the port). Coast guards rescued it. It was difficult to embark at night. Coast guards helped in getting it to the dock.”
And about his involvement with Paresh Baruah, the ULFA chief (translated from Bengali) -
“On 29th March, Paresh Baruah told me to unload a trawler full of machinary at St Martins Island. He also claimed that he had talked to DGFI and NSI chiefs about it and there is no reason to be afraid of anyone. … He paid me a sum of 50-60lakh taka (USD 90,000) to get it done. … At the jetty, after a few trucks were unloaded, a couple of civil-dressed Policeman came up. They wanted to see the papers. I called Paresh Baruah. Jewel, the other ULFA cadre present at the spot, challenged them to open up a box and see what’s inside. Once it was opened, I was afraid and called Paresh once more. He assured me that he has links in influential circle and he would rescue him. Later, Paresh Baruah told me that everyone has betrayed him.”
Neither of these officials acknowledged their involvement. As expected, they denied and said that the accused is making false statements. However, if all these are false, then why was the confessions kept secret so far? The case could have proceeded and the truth would have revealed by now. Why did it require the case to reopen after almost 5 years?
India has long been accusing that Bangladesh has been used for anti-Indian activities, especially with ULFA. Bangladesh has so far denied all these. However, if this confession statement is true, the allegations would be difficult to deny. Sheikh Hasina has promised the countrymen that they will free Bangladesh from any traces of terror. If she is sincere to her promise, ULFA is going to face tough time ahead. As we can see, the ball-game has already changed.
The Daily Star has published the detailed review on the incident. The Headline says - “4-party bigwigs were in plot, accused say“. One interesting quote -
“In the 10-page confessional statement one of the principal accused Hafizur Rahman claimed to have given the same statement on different occasions divulging the truth behind the case, since his surrender on October 25, 2005.
But, the confession was never recorded, instead the officials concerned warned him against making such statements in the future, threatening him with death as well, sources said quoting from Hafiz’s statement. “
Another similar incident in Bagura tracked down to Tripura based Indian organizations.
Prothom Alo reported (Bengali) the interrogation of the Police Officials who actually caught the truck load of arms. They are thrown out of their job and were threatened to be killed in “Crossfire”. The alleged people who issued the threats was Chief of RAB (Rapid Action Batalion) – 7, i.e. a Bangladesh Govt official.
The Daily Star reports the involvement of ARY group of Dubai and ISI. Top two NSI officials admit their link with Pakistan HC and son of ex Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. The finance was via ARY group with the help of ISI and the arms were purchased from China.
All’s well that ends well. Hopefully, this issue will end soon.
This article was referred by Christian Science Monitor.