BURWAN AND RISING ISLAMIST THREATS: INDIA, BANGLADESH NEED TO MARCH IN STEP
India and Bangladesh have stepped up cooperation on security and counter-terrorism following the accidental blast in Burdwan, West Bengal. Jamaat-ul-Mujahidin Bangladesh’s (JMB) sinister designs to undermine democracy, political stability, security and peace in the sub-continent have been gradually unfolding since the National Investigation Agency (NIA) started probing the case.
The political leaders of both the nations felt the urgency to intensify bilateral engagement in wake of the sudden spurt in cross-border terrorism, realignment of Bangladesh-based Islamic terrorist groups and their concerted efforts to spread tentacles across South Asia.
According to information available with the government, the JMB had been planning to create “serious unrest” in Bangladesh by using Indian territory as base for its terror operations. It has been clearly pointed out that targeting top leaders belonging to both the ruling Awami League (AL) and major opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was part of their nefarious schemes in Bangladesh. Earlier, the Rapid Action Battalion — Bangladesh’s elite security force, informed the Indian intelligence agencies that terror strikes against the AL and BNP leaders, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, was planned before the parliamentary elections in December 2008. A few JMB leaders had trained some cadres from Bengal and sent them to execute the missions.
The intelligence inputs indicate that the JMB militants also planned to carry out a coup to dislodge the AL government. It is suspected that a section of retired Bangladeshi army officers subscribing to jihadi ideology are aiding the JMB militants in their bid to subvert the democratic process restored in 1991 after long spells of military rule. Senior security officials claim that the conspiracy was hatched on Indian soil. The junior home minister of Bangladesh, Asaduzzaman Khan, said Dhaka was “unofficially” informed about a possible militant plot.
It may be recalled that such elements within the army tried to stage a coup in December 2011. The radical Islamic outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir was allegedly involved in the abortive coup. Timely alert by the Indian government helped the Hasina government to avert a crisis.
New Delhi expected greater cooperation on security and other issues after formation of the new AL government in January 2014. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina underscored the need of forming a regional task force — both on bilateral and multilateral fronts — to tackle the steady rise of terrorism in her talks with Indian diplomats following her assumption of office for the third time.
Both sides reiterated their commitment to fight cross-border terrorism and various transnational crimes through greater interaction between the security agencies of the two countries and sharing of each other’s intelligence inputs during Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Bangladesh in June, and the last home secretary-level talks held in Dhaka on Sep 2-4.
The regrouping of Bangladeshi jihadi outfits affiliated to international terror networks has emerged as another major potent threat to the region. The security establishment is concerned over the reported formation of a common platform by the Bangladeshi Islamic terrorist groups to expand their terror networks within as well as outside the neighbouring country. Recent reports suggest that outfits like JMB, HuJI, Allahar Dal and Hizb ut-Tahrir floated a common platform —Bangladeshi Jihadi Group.
The Sheikh Hasina government’s resolve to contain Islamic terrorism and continuous crackdown on jihadi elements had somewhat compelled them to set up a common platform for coordination and expansion of their networks beyond the India-Bangladesh borders. The Bangladeshi jihadi groups’ bids to establish sleeper cells in bordering Indian states like West Bengal and Assam are to be seen in the light of these developments.
The security experts maintain that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is the real “mastermind” behind all reprehensible designs. The notorious spy agency has persistently been engaged in de-stabilising the friendly relations between India and Bangladesh by subverting the hard-owned democracy in the neighbouring country. The ISI’s larger aim is to convert Bangladesh into an Islamic state run by religious fanatics who would create disturbance in India.
Meanwhile, north eastern militant outfit United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) (ULFA-I) has recently been found involved in gun running for Bangladeshi opposition parties. An Indian security agency in its latest report said two representatives of the Paresh Baruah-led faction held a secret meeting in Bangladesh’s Sherpur district to finalise an arms deal with the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami on Oct 15. The party reportedly paid Taka 20 lakh (US$25,887) to procure small arms and ammunition from the separatist ULFA (I). According to the report, some BNP leaders were also present at the meeting.
The rightist, reactionary and anti-liberation elements that have crowded several political parties, including BNP and Jamaat, are not at ease with Bangladesh’s growing ties with India and they often forge surreptitious links with the secessionist groups of the north east to subvert the bilateral relations. Paresh Baruah, who was given death penalty along with some disgruntled opposition leaders for their direct involvement in the 2004 arms haul case, has not severed ties with BNP and Jamaat.
In view of the prevailing nexus between militants and Bangladeshi politicians, and revelations relating to JMB’s terror plans, the security and intelligence agencies of the two countries are jointly working to foil the designs of terrorist outfits.
Such bilateral cooperation has resulted in the arrests of some key leaders of JMB’s Burdwan module. NIA chief Sharad Kumar visited Dhaka in November and sought details about JMB’s networks in Bangladesh. Gowher Rizvi, Bangladesh prime minister’s Foreign Policy Advisor, traveled to India thrice to discuss diplomatic cooperation for facilitating the blast investigation and assured New Delhi about sharing all information regarding JMB.
Bangladeshi leaders are satisfied with the investigation of NIA and they rely on India’s crucial support to uproot terrorism from the country’s soil. Hasina in fact lauded NIA’s efforts during talks with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Kathmandu.
For better coordination and management of the long and porous India-Bangladesh border, the demarcation and erection of fencing are immediately required. Realising this, the Modi government has decided to ratify the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) inked between the two countries in 2011. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs placed its report on the Constitutional (119th Amendment Bill) on Dec 1.
Bangladesh has long been demanding ratification of the LBA by the Indian parliament, a formality that the Jatiya Sangsad completed much earlier. Once implemented, some of the lingering problems faced by both nations like cross-border terrorism and transnational crimes would be addressed.
Rupak Bhattacharjee has worked as Senior Research Fellow at Kolkata’s Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies and New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management.
DECEMBER 10, 2014