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How Bangladesh helped Assam

  • Published at 05:00 pm March 2nd, 2020
Militancy bigstock
Photo: Bigstock

By clamping down on the country’s terror outfits

Early this year, New Delhi decided to withdraw the Indian Army from Assam, the neighbouring state in the northeast of India. The conducting of a conflict assessment in the wake of a reduction in militancy in the region was the primary reason for the withdrawal of troops from Assam.

The top brasses in Indian defense were in the view that as the situation was improving in Assam, the state police should deal with it with the help of the Central Paramilitary Forces, according to The Assam Tribune. Nearly two decades ago, the Indian army was deployed for counter-insurgency operations in Assam, in November 1990.

The dreaded militant groups National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), and other separatist armed groups were at the behest of Pakistan spy agency ISI, with their cohorts in Dhaka.

Bangladeshi territory was used by the militant leaders of ULFA, NDFB, and other insurgent groups in Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur for their separatist movement.

The second-generation separatist leaders got renewed impetus in their illegal activities during the regime of Begum Khaleda Zia from 1991-1996 and again in 2001-2006. Pakistan was literally fighting a proxy war in the northeast through ISI covert operations in Dhaka.

The so-called headquarters of ULFA, NDFB, and others were dismantled, the leaders were pushed back from Bangladesh, months after Sheikh Hasina took oath in 2009. Since then, the entire gamut of militancy was physically immobilized in Bangladesh.

Thus, the cross-border terror came to a halt. The militant outfit’s bank accounts and other businesses were frozen by Bangladesh authorities. Several rogue elements in the Bangladesh government who were involved with aiding and abetting the militancy were punished and others reprimanded.

Recently, the NDFB(S) signed suspension of operations -- the ULFA remains the only major militant outfit active and the situation does not warrant deployment of the army all over the state -- the defense brass concludes.

On November 29, the Global Terrorism Index 2019 noted that Bangladesh had been the most successful South Asian country in countering terrorism. S Binodkumar Singh, Research Associate of Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi wrote: “Bangladesh had the largest improvement of any country in South Asia.”

Most of the militant leaders pushed back are presently active in negotiation for sustainable peace in the region. After being evicted from Bangladesh, the camps of the separatists moved to Myanmar. Myanmar military caused havoc on their camps recently.

The casualty from two decades of conflicts in northeast India has significantly reduced after Bangladesh had been able to neutralize the militancy and keep cross-border terror in check.

According to data from the Institute for Conflict Management, in 2000 the civilian casualty was 267, security forces 37, and extremists killed 223; while in 2019 civilian deaths dropped to one, security forces casualty to zero, and only two militants were killed.

The total deaths in 20 years comes to: 2,208 civilians, 340 security forces, and the number of separatists killed was 2,331 in 2,562 incidents of conflicts. The tripartite agreement was signed between NDFB President B Saoraigwra, the Assam government’s Ashutosh Agnihotri, and Union Home Joint Secretary (northeast) Satyendra Garg in New Delhi on January 17.

Bangladesh security forces were on high alert, and last June a team from the Bangladesh army and RAB, in a joint operation, recovered 12,000 weapons, including rocket launchers and machine guns, from the Satchari National Park.

Earlier in the year 2004, in a sensational recovery, 10 truckloads of arms and ammunition -- apparently smuggled in by ULFA’s military commander Paresh Barua from China -- were seized by the Bangladesh Army near Chittagong port.

The fugitive Paresh Barua, once a popular Assamese soccer player, was handed the death sentence by a Bangladesh court after he stood convicted in the 10-truck arms smuggling case.

Last November, a three-member pro-talk ULFA delegation -- Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, General Secretary Anup Chetia, and Foreign Secretary Sasadhar Choudhury -- attended a formal discussion with interlocutor AB Mathur, a former special secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) at an undisclosed location in New Delhi.

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and is a recipient of the Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be followed on Twitter @saleemsamad.

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