Bangladesh confused over Indian stance on Paresh Barua
Two senior Bangladesh intelligence officials attended the Dhaka launch of my book ‘ Agartala Doctrine’ on March 2 and shared their angst with me over confusing signals from India over what to do with rebel leader Paresh Barua. Even the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a trusted friend of India, is sometimes upset with the confusion that Indian flip-flop creates . The Bangladesh intelligence officials told me that their agents have tracked down the two bodyguards-cum-cooks of ULFA’s separatist faction chief Paresh Barua. I managed to extract the details from them about these two youngmen from Karatkhil in Noahkhali – Alamgir Hossain , son of Hassam Ahmed , with a Bangladesh passport number AA8392264 that shows his date of birth as 2nd January 1986 and his cousin Golam Nabi with a Bangladesh passport number AA 1463448 that shows his date of birth as 15-2-86 . Both these young men are originally cadre of Islami Chatra Shibir , the student-youth affiliate of Jamaat-e-Islami, the hated party in Bangladesh because it opposed the country’s independence and sided with Pakistan’s brutal occupation army during the 1971 Liberation War.
Paresh Barua is a wanted man in Bangladesh and the present government is trying to bring him to justice. He has been convicted in the 2004 Chittagong ten-truck arms case and awarded death penalty. Since he has not come over to the country to appeal against the verdict, the order to hang him until death stands and if he is arrested in Bangladesh, he will hanged within 72 hours. Two former ministers Motiur Rahman Nizami and Lutfur Zaman Babbar and two former intelligence chiefs Rezakul Haider Chowdhury and Abdur Rahim have appealed against their death penalty.
Suffice it to say, Paresh Barua cannot enter Bangladesh without jeopardizing his life and limb. But since Bangladesh intelligence is worried over possible revenge attacks on Bibiyana gas fields in Sylhet and other commercial-economic targets, they had mounted an operation to trap his two Bangladesh bodyguards who are believed to come home from Barua’s hideout at Tengchong on Sino-Burmese border during ID festival.
Though this is not hard information but speculation, I have reasons to believe, having closely followed the way Bangladesh intelligence and security agencies operate , that Alamgir and Nabi would be used either to trap Barua or entice him to visit Bangladesh to revive his bases specially the Sherpur base zone, that have been ruthlessly demolished by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion . The seizure of huge quantity of weapons including Stinger anti aircraft missiles last month has rattled Barua who had asked his fighters to cache them in the hope of using them in the event of a change of regime in Dhaka.
But just when such an operation had been put in motion and a high alert sounded to trap Alamgir and Nabi, media reports began to suggest that Sri Sri Ravishanker was trying to mediate between the Indian government and Paresh Barua . Though that effort finally failed and Barua went to town saying terms offered by the Art of Living guru were not acceptable to him , it came at the wrong time because it gave Bangladesh the impression that Delhi was making a major effort to bring the rebel warlord to the table. The agencies involved in attempts to neutralize Barua by trapping his Bangladeshi bodyguards were asked by their political masters to stand down because Dhaka was not keen to play the spoiler . At informal liaison levels, the impression was conveyed that India was keen to generate a consensus in the ULFA leadership as it finalized a political accord with the pro-talks ULFA faction in the rundown to the elections in Assam in April.
Operation Barua was shelved by Dhaka. This came when the BJP got Sri Sri Ravishanker open a line to Barua to ‘manage’ him before the polls, he did show some interest in talking before reasserting his old terms that he talks only if Assam's sovereignity is discussed.
But this bonhomie, though it did not last, was good enough to confuse Dhaka. It would not be easy for Bangladesh agencies to revive OPS BARUA because Alamgir and Nabi’s family members under pressure from local police and RAB could well have alerted their sons in far off Tenchong. A cat has nine lives – Barua may have fifteen or more. The ‘goalkeeper of the Assam revolution’ has lived to fight another day.
( 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)