image: 
Thumbnail images: 

Perceptions of anti-state mechanism—as they address themselves to the myriad forms of armed conflict—have seldom been restricted to the cellular confines of fine distinction. Most anti-state actors attempt to base their characters on theoretical elegance. Therefore, when an anti-state organisation essays its birth, it will invariably take into account the sartorial nature of its exterior. Indeed, most such organisations—at least in the Indian sub-continent—have sought to decorate their cloaks with embellishments, which might have nothing to do with their inherent character. And, to that end, most such mechanisms—whether they possess the cut and thrust of a revolutionary organisation or not—introduce themselves to their audience with a period of demonstration. Such periods are invariably followed up with phases of confrontation, retribution and consolidation.

 

But showcasing apart, every anti-state actor distinguishes itself by the methodology it adopts. Even its goal orientation may be so geared that ends (however ideologically suited) justify the means. It is only during the phase, which follows the period of consolidation, that the true character of a campaign can achieve proper registration.

 

Most anti-state groups in the North East came to the fore with avowed objectives that were revolutionary in character. Indeed, even the motivations—in most cases—had a modicum of validity. Therefore, whether it is ULFA in 1979 or MULFA in 1994, the inspiration that drove such groups had legitimacy in the eyes of their respective parishes. While ULFA steamrolled into Assam’s firmament with the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh as one of its main aims, MULFA sought to catch the imagination of the Muslim population of Assam’s Morigaon and Nagaon districts demanding among other aspects, 30 per cent reservation for Muslims in government services and educational institutions.

 

However, as aforesaid, the period following consolidation (especially when anti-state groups come into contact with outside forces) more often than not results in the disappearance of the revolutionary character. The anti-state groups careen out of control with the leadership taking on the roles of warlords.

 

John Mackinlay, author of Defining Warlords defines ‘warlord’ as a “leader of an armed band who can act financially and politically in the international system without interference from the state in which he is based…He confronts national governments, plunders their resources, moves and exterminates uncooperative population, interdicts international relief and development, and derails peace processes. With only a few exceptions, the modern warlord lives successfully beyond the reach and jurisdiction of civil society. His ability to seek refuge in the crisis zone and the lack of international commitment to take effective action together ensure his survival.” The definition aptly describes a number of anti-state organisation leaders of the North East.

 

The continued belligerence of Paresh Baruah and his role in the present international system makes him, for instance, a claimant of the warlord character, a position from which it would be very difficult for him to return – which his strong links with the ISI and the Chinese intelligence have ascertained. Indeed, it is reported that he alone controls the finances of ULFA. It is little wonder, therefore, that recent reports not only connect him to Chinese ordnance factories such as Norinco, but influential business conglomerates of Bangladesh. It is interesting that ULFA’s Bangladesh connection seems to be in play despite the fact that a friendly dispensation has actively aided the apprehension of important North East Indian insurgent leaders. The case of Paresh Baruah is curious and deserves special examination.

 

The involvement of the ULFA chief of staff in the Chittagong arms haul case is now well known. Indeed, a Bangladeshi court had framed formal charges against 52 suspects, including Baruah and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) leaders. On 4 May 2011, a former minister and leader of JeI, Motiur Rahman Nizami was arrested on allegations of smuggling arms for ULFA. Nizami and 13 co-conspirators were sentenced to death by hanging after being found guilty of smuggling arms on 30 January 2004. Nizami was hanged in the Dhaka Central Jail on 11 May 2016. The complicity of former officials of Bangladesh’s National Security Intelligence (NSI) (its director general, Rezaqul Haider Chowdhury) and senior officials of the Bangladesh army and Directorate General of Forces Intelligence have also come to the fore. The probe is reported to have extended to China’s Norinco, where the 2 April 2004 arms consignment is said to have originated. But the disclosure about Paresh Baruah’s properties in Bangladesh had cast a spell over what was expected to be a fair trial of the enigmatic ULFA leader. In any event he had fled Bangladesh after Sheikh Hasina came to power. Questions continue to be asked about the degree of influence that Baruah wielded in the erstwhile East Pakistan, especially among influential members of the former Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) regime and even among certain sections of the intelligence community.

 

But to be fair to Sheikh Hasina’s dispensation, forces loyal to her in Dhaka (primarily from the Detective Branch of the Bangladesh Police) began an investigation into what turned out to be a major controversy. However, a news report of the time had stated that the NSI has issued a statement denying the alleged business involvement of Paresh Baruah, stating that “when National Security Intelligence is continuing to uphold the national interest of Bangladesh by strengthening the professional skills within the organisation, publishing a report by the local newspapers and news sites, quoting an unknown foreign news source, without verification, goes against the national interest and is a heinous attempt. The report is totally imaginary and is created to serve interest of any vested interest group. Publication of such report, quoting an important intelligence agency of the country, without verifying the content of the news catered by an unknown foreign news source is part of international conspiracy, which can create instability in Bangladesh.”

 

The ULFA, too, denied the reports, which linked Baruah to two large business conglomerates of Bangladesh that have reportedly received money from ULFA. The two business houses, Bashundhara Group and Jamuna Group in question are huge business conglomerates of Bangladesh, but are reported to be business rivals. While only unbiased investigation could unravel the veracity of the allegation, one aspect that security observers in Assam are unanimous about is Paresh Baruah’s almost decade long investments in Bangladesh. After all, where were the huge sums of monies that were extorted from Assam and business houses that have interest in Assam kept? It seems to be a well-known fact that Baruah—in the alias of Kamruddin Zaman Khan—had important stakes in shipping, shrimp farming and garment industry in Bangladesh, returns from which he subscribed to the international gun-running industry. The fact that he has been named as a conspirator and primary recipient of the 2 April 2004 Chittagong arms consignment—alongside important Bangladeshi officials—is reason enough to question the source of his funds and the sort of nexus he had with both Bangladesh officialdom and the business community.

 

Another disturbing report about illegal finance transaction and trade that had surfaced during the period in question is the news that more than 70 terror actors from Bangladesh have invested huge sums of money in Indian stock markets and real estate business, especially in Kolkata and Mumbai. Names of criminals like Rafiqul Islam Kajol, terror suspect Mollah Masud and Prakash Biswas had surfaced in this regard. These were serious allegations, especially in light of the realignment of Islamist terror regime in the sub-continent. The Indian connection with the dual epicentre of terror that continues to constitute Islamists in Bangladesh and Pakistan’s ISI-led terror network must be probed in its entirety, as should be the extent to which ULFA had businesses in Bangladesh. This is despite the fact that Sheikh Hasina has most honourably cracked down on all Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) billeted in the erstwhile East Pakistan. Indeed, recently the Director General of the Indian Border Security Forces has stated that camps belonging to IIGs are “almost zero”, and the ones that continue to function in Sherpur and Moulvibazar are at best temporary, especially as ULFA’s now defunct 109 Battalion commandant, Drishti Rajkhowa invariably operate out of the Garo Hills alongside the Garo National Liberation Front.

 

Both India and Bangladesh—especially with the new resolve to jointly fight terror—cannot afford to hide behind denials and diplomacy. Prudence lies in unravelling the truth before it becomes too unwieldy to handle. This must be taken up, even if it leads to temporary embarrassment in what must turn out to be a permanent alliance.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of Manipal Advanced Research Group.