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Dhaka-Delhi Confusion Over Paresh Barua Gives ULFA Leader Breather

Lack of a united stand on Ulfa chief Paresh Barua may cast a shadow on Delhi-Dhaka relations, writes Subir Bhaumik.

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Two Bangladesh security agencies, the National Security Intelligence (NSI) and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), have expressed angst over confusing signals the Indian establishment has given on what Dhaka should do with United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) Commander-in-Chief Paresh Barua.

While Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, considered a trusted “friend” of India, is said to often get upset with the confusion over security issues that the Indian flip-flop creates, her country’s intelligence agencies recently tracked down two bodyguards-cum-cooks of Barua, whose separatist outfit split a few years ago on the question of entering into a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government.

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Lack of a united stand on  Ulfa chief Paresh Barua may cast a shadow on Delhi-Dhaka relations, writes Subir Bhaumik.
ULFA cadres surrender before Indian authorities at Thakurbani in Assam on 24 July 1998. (Photo: Reuters)
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Arrest of Barua’s Aides

Bangladesh intelligence sources recently disclosed details of an operation which involved tracking down Barua’s two aides – Alamgir Hossain, who holds a Bangladeshi passport (number AA8392264), and his cousin Golam Nabi (passport number AA1463448).

Hossain (born 2 January 1986) and Nabi (born 15 February 1986) were originally cadres of the Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student-and-youth wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, some of whose leaders were recently hanged for taking part in the massacres unleashed by the Pakistan army in the course of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.

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Snapshot

Lack of Consensus

  • Bangladesh intelligence officials have expressed angst over confusing signals given out by Delhi regarding ULFA Commander-in-Chief Paresh Barua.
  • Bangladesh intelligence sources recently disclosed information about an operation which involved tracking down Barua’s two aides.
  • While Dhaka is trying hard to nab Barua, media reports suggested that Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is trying to mediate between the Indian government and ULFA Chief.
  • Lack of consensus comes to fore with a section of BJP’s political managers believing that the Barua card may ensure its victory in Assam.
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Lack of a united stand on  Ulfa chief Paresh Barua may cast a shadow on Delhi-Dhaka relations, writes Subir Bhaumik.
Arabinda Rajkhowa (with spectacles), chief of the banned United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), is taken to a court in Guwahati, 5 December 2009. (Photo: Reuters)
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Wanted in Bangladesh

Paresh Barua is a wanted man in Bangladesh and the Hasina government is trying to bring him to justice. He has been convicted in the 2004 Chittagong arms case and awarded death penalty. Since he has not appealed against the verdict, the order to hang stands. If arrested in Bangladesh, Barua faces death within 72 hours.

Interestingly, two former ministers Motiur Rahman Nizami and Lutfur Zaman Babar, besides two former Bangladesh intelligence chiefs Rezakul Haider Chowdhury and Abdur Rahim have appealed against the death penalty awarded to them and Barua.

While Barua cannot enter Bangladesh, the country’s intelligence agencies planned an operation to nab Hossain and Nabi who are suspected to have emerged from the ULFA leader’s hideout in Tengchong on the China-Myanmar border during Eid festivities. The agencies are worried over possible revenge attacks by armed militants of the rump outfit on the Bibiyana gas fields in Sylhet and other commercial targets.
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Luring In the ULFA Chief

It was being speculated that Bangladesh intelligence might use Hossain and Nabi to lure Barua into that country where he had taken refuge years ago. Last month’s seizure of a huge quantity of weapons, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, is said to have rattled Barua who had instructed his fighters to cache them in the hope of using them in the event of a regime change in Dhaka.

But just when the operation to nab Hossain and Nabi was underway, media reports suggested that Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar tried mediating between the Indian government and Barua. Though the effort failed and Barua claimed that the terms offered by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar were not acceptable, the bid to negotiate with the fugitive ULFA ‘C-in-C’ took place at an inopportune time as it gave Bangladesh the impression that Delhi was making a major effort to push the rebel leader to the negotiating table.

What caused the confusion in Bangladesh’s security establishment was that while on one hand Indian intelligence agencies wanted a “hit” on Barua, on the other, efforts were afoot to open a dialogue channel with the Ulfa leader via Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

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Lack of a united stand on  Ulfa chief Paresh Barua may cast a shadow on Delhi-Dhaka relations, writes Subir Bhaumik.
An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard on the banks of Brahmaputra river on the outskirts of Guwahati, 12 August 2002. (Photo: Reuters)
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Political Accord With Pro-Talks ULFA Faction

The Bangladeshi agencies involved in neutralising Barua were instructed by their political masters to stand down because Dhaka was not keen to play the spoiler. At informal liaison levels, an impression was conveyed that India was in favour of a consensus within the ULFA leadership as it finalised a political accord with the pro-talks faction in the run-up to the Assam assembly election.

Operation Barua was shelved by Dhaka. This came amid much confusion among the Indian leadership. While one group within the Narendra Modi administration favoured a ‘hit’ on Barua, a section of the BJP’s political managers sought to win him over in the belief that he could ensure a win for the BJP-AGP alliance in Assam.

Former Congress legislator Himanta Biswa Sarma, who joined the BJP a few months ago, has a relative who has a link with Barua. While the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar route to reach Barua flopped, it was enough to confuse Dhaka. A cat has nine lives – Barua appears to have many more. The “goalkeeper of the Assam revolution” has lived to fight another day.

(The writer, a veteran BBC correspondent, is author of two highly acclaimed books on Northeast India – “Insurgent Crossfire” and “Troubled Periphery”.)

Also read:
Thai Gunrunner, Held by NIA, Reveals Naga Rebels’ China Arms Deal
Sherpur Operation: India’s Turn to Reciprocate Hasina’s Efforts

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