Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) on Monday recovered a huge cache of ammunition from Sherpur’s Jhenaigati Upazila – 22000 rounds of sub-machine-gun ammunition, 17000 rounds of light machine gun ammunition and, most importantly, 2000 anti-aircraft missiles. Other equipment seized included wireless sets, walkie-talkies and rifle cleaning machines.
The seizures at Bakakura Gucchagram were not the first of their kind in Sherpur, a border region which was used by the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) as its main base in Bangladesh until 2009.
Earlier in 2010, 13,000 rifles were recovered from Bakakura Gucchagram. At least 50,000 bullets, rockets, landmines and different varieties of weapons were found at Jhenaigati between 2007 and 2011. More bullets and AK-47 rifles were recovered from a village at Nalitabarhi in 2012.
- Sherpur Arms Haul: Weapons possibly meant to aid the ULFA, Indian and Nepali Maoists, and other Northeastern insurgent groups.
- Seizure of 2000 anti-aircraft missiles indicates that these groups are preparing to intensify their armed campaigns against India.
- Ever since it came to power, Hasina’s government has deployed the rather efficient Rapid Action Battalion to demolish insurgent infrastructure in its territory.
- With Bangladesh’s assistance, it is incumbent upon India to reciprocate by striking favourable deals with its neighbour.
A Weapon Consignment
There can be no doubt that the ULFA was using Sherpur not only to house its fighters, but also for piling up arms that could be transported into Northeast for use and sale to other groups. The stock of weapons is clearly far in excess to the group’s overall strength – the ULFA did not have more than 2000 regular fighters during its heydays in the 80s.
Much of the stock at Sherpur was possibly meant for various customers of ULFA. These include Indian and Nepali Maoists and other Northeastern insurgent groups. Buyers could also include some Bangladeshi Islamists who neither had direct contact with Chinese defence firm Norinco, nor were pally with south-east Asian gunrunners like Thailand’s Wily now standing trial along with NSCN’s Anthony Shimray.
Armed Campaign Against India
Now at Sherpur, 2000 anti-aircraft missiles have been found. This indicates that the ULFA was not only a regular and reliable source of foreign, mostly Chinese weapons, but also indicates that they were clearly importing weapons never previously used in the East and Northeast by either the Maoists or the northeastern insurgent groups.
That would mean these groups were preparing to intensify their armed campaigns against India.
Crushing the Rebels
Sheikh Hasina’s government after coming to power in 2008 unleashed a fierce crackdown against all the Northeastern rebels and Islamist radicals and handed over scores of their leaders and activists to India. The government sent the rather efficient (Rapid Action Battalion) RAB to demolish the rebel infrastructure in Bangladesh’s territory.
Some like ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa arrived in Indian custody with the promise of continuing the rebellion but changed course within a week by agreeing to begin talks with Delhi. Others like UNLF’s Meghen did not budge and have been sent to Indian prisons.
Only Paresh Barua managed to evade the net but a Chittagong court awarding him death sentence over the ten-truck weapons haul in 2004 has ensured the rebel chief cannot come anywhere near Bangladesh.
Decimation of the Separatists
Would it be too much of an exaggeration to say what Hasina did for India in one bold stroke is something our generals and police officials have failed to achieve for four decades in the Northeast – a complete decimation of the separatist infrastructure!
Perhaps not. Bhutan delivered it in 2003 with ‘Operation All Clear’ but they weeded out the middle rung of ULFA and NDFB, which were no less dangerous than those operating in Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura.
Monday’s Sherpur operations indicates Bangladesh is not sitting idle after what it achieved in 2010. Its commitment to destroy the infrastructure of armed rebellion in Northeast India is a serious commitment and an ongoing one. And so it is incumbent we return the favour to Hasina with favourable deals on river waters, trade balance and industrial investments.
(Subir Bhaumik is a veteran BBC journalist and author of three well acclaimed books on India’s Northeast, including the “Agartala Doctrine” that has just been published.)