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Paper 987                                                       29.04.2004

by Dr. Subhash Kapila   

Introductory Observations: India has constantly complained to Bangladesh about the anti-Indian activities that continue to be launched from its territory in the form of gun-running for India’s North East insurgents groups and insurgents havens provided to them in parts of Bangladesh. Bangladesh at the official level has constantly denied these claims. 

India’s charges now stand substantiated by the massive arms haul seizure at Chittagong Port on April 2, 2004. This gun-running on such a massive scale would not have come to light but for an unforeseen tiff between the policemen on duty and drivers of the contraband laden trucks over payment of hush-money. 

While anti-Indian activities in Bangladesh is a constant feature, it is curious that their intensity and ruling party patronage becomes pronounced whenever the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies are in power. 

Bangladesh as a weak neighbour of India must recognize the potentially serious implications of such anti-Indian activities. But first a look at the April 2, 2004 arms haul at Chittagong which sets the stage for the discussion in the paper. 

Chittagong Arms Haul (April 2, 2004)- The Major Deductions: India and even some at the international levels have been  alarmed at the scale of the arms discoveries at Chittagong on April 2, 2004. It included: Rocket launchers-150; rocket 840; ammunition rounds –over a million; grenade launchers-2000; grenades-25,000 and over 1700 assorted assault rifles. 

 This seizure and the circumstances attendant in the form of its unloading at the Government-owned Chittangong Urea Fertilizer Ltd special jelly on the Karnafuli River throws up the following deductions: 

* The size of the arms consignment indicates that it was not some small scale gun-runners who were involved but an external country or its intelligence agency. Some editorials in the Bangladesh media clearly point the finger at Pakistan and its notorious intelligence agency, the ISI.

* The unloading of this over-sized arms consignment at a Bangladesh government owned jetty indicates that the Bangladesh Government, its intelligence agencies and administrative machinery would be in the know of it. If the Bangladesh Government disclaims knowledge then seemingly it has no control over its Governmental apparatus.

* The arms consignment loaded on dozen trucks or so was headed for Maulvi Bazar in proximity to the Indian border and where Bangladesh permissively tolerates the anti-Indian insurgents safe havens and training camps.

* The size of the arms consignments could easily equip two infantry battalions equivalent of the Indian Army. It was that large.

* The type of weapons like rocket launchers and grenade launchers and hundreds of rockets and thousands of grenades indicate that they were intended for anti-Indian insurgents being hosted in Bangladesh and equip them to launch devastating fire-power attacks on Indian Army regular forces posts, camps etc. 

Ruling Party’s (BNP) Involvement in This Arms Haul: Bangladesh’s ruling party (BNP) involvement stands out in sharp detail as per reports figuring in the Bangladesh media, which are as follows:

* Salauddin Qader Chowdhury figures as the biggest name not only in the present seizure but also in his involvement in the past in such activities.

* Chowdhury is a Special Adviser to the Bangladesh Prime Minister and a leading BNP MP from Chittagong.

* Chowdhury owns a shipping line and the shipping vessel that brought the arms consignment to the Chittagong outer anchorage is either owned by him or facilitated by him.

* The two trawlers which off-loaded the arms consignment from the outer anchorage and brought to the Fertilizer factory jetty are reported to be owned by Haji Abdul Sobhan, a local BNP leader with proximate links to Chowdhury.

* Local BNP leaders and party functionaries along with the local police were present at the Chittagong Port to oversee and facilitate the transfer of this large consignment of illicit arms consignment and its onward movement. 

In a country where police and intelligence surveillance are as intense as that of the ISI in Pakistan, it is inconceivable that the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia would be unaware of the involvement of ruling party MPs in such anti-Indian activities. More so, when the king-pin happens to be her political Special Advisor. 

Bangladesh Opposition Party’s Charges: Begum Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the opposition Awami League (AL) who has given an ultimatum to the Prime Minister to quit by April 30 on grounds of misgovernance, has made the following observations at a speech on April 12, 2004;

* The ruling party (BNP) was patronising terrorists.

* BNP always allows arms syndicates in gun-running whenever it comes to power. The Chittagong case is the latest example.

* Many anti-Indian extremist camps have been created in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

* Prime Minister’s Special Advisor Salauddin Chowdhury’s role in this episode needs to be probed.

* With such activities, BNP and its Islamist allies are bringing Bangladesh to the brink of ruin.

Earlier, on April 10, the Mayor of Chittagong, Mohiuddin Ahmad Chowdhury (AL) made the following observations:

* Arms shipment was sent by USA and Pakistan. It was intended for anti-Indian insurgent groups operating from Bangladesh.

* About 50-60 Indian insurgent camps existed in CHT area.

* Bangladesh Army and Bangladesh Rifles personnel seem to be providing training to Indian insurgents in their havens in Bangladesh. 

The naming of the United States by the Mayor of Chittagong is rather curious.  

Bangladesh Media Calls for International Investigation:  Some in the Bangladesh electronic media have called for an international investigation in this major gun-running that took place in April 2, 2004. They claim that any Bangladesh Government investigation process is bound to be fruitless and ruling party (BNP) MPs and political functionaries were involved including the Special Adviser to the Prime Minister. 

However, it is unlikely that the Bangladesh Government would accede to such a demand. 

Implications for India of Bangladesh Gun-Running and Hosting of Anti-Indian Insurgents Havens: The implications for India of such anti-Indian activities are serious and need urgent focus and attention. India needs to recognize the following implications:

* Insurgent activity in India’s North East States could intensify.

* Gun-running and safe-havens in Bangladesh would facilitate the above.

* The Indian border with Bangladesh needs closer and stricter border management by the centre.

* While law and order may be a state subject, the center needs to take over the control at least in a 30 km belt along the border with the Bangladesh.

* India’s intelligence machinery needs to be honed and fine tuned to focus on anti-Indian activities in Bangladesh and at the sources in other countries from where gun-running originates. 

Concluding Observations: Bangladesh today is involved in a domestic tussle between the “pro-liberation forces” and  “the anti-liberation forces”. The Awami League and its allies constitute the “pro-liberation forces”, that is those in Bangladesh who wanted Bangladesh to be a sovereign independent nation. The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamic fundamental allies are termed as “anti-liberation forces”. They did not desire Bangladeshi liberation from Pakistan and are now said to be advocating intense Islamic links with Pakistan. Therefore, it would be natural for the BNP to adopt permissive attitudes towards anti-India gunrunning and insurgents havens in Bangladesh. 

While India does not expect Bangladesh to be an Indian satellite, but what needs to be recognised by all political hues of Bangladesh is that India cannot be expected to endlessly endure Bangladesh’s tolerance of anti-Indian gunrunning and insurgents havens. 

Bangladesh’s future lies in active economic co-operation and economic integration with Indian's growing economic success and in the process move away from a “dysfunctional state” status as a recent Times magazine issue described it.    


(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email drsubhashkapila