January 2003 News

Twin advantage
Bangladesh and Pakistan join hands to spread terror in the northeast

5 January 2003
The Week
Tapash Ganguly

Dhaka/Kolkata:With the jihad in Kashmir increasingly coming under he scrutiny of the international community, Pakistan has opened yet another front to fight India. The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence's presence in Bangladesh is an open secret and it has found an ally in Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, herself a hardliner. They form a deadly combination, which can very well turn the northeast, and some border districts of West Bengal, into another Kashmir. India realises the threat potential. Deputy Prime MInister L.K. Advani recently asked Bangladesh to dismantle camps of Indian terrorist outfits in that country and stop the Pakistan High Commission from turning into an ISI base. Bangladesh Foreign Minister Morshed Khan has since denied the existence of terrorist camps but Indian intelligence agencies say there are at least 99 such camps, all funded by the ISI.

Terrorists started setting up bases in Bangladesh during the reign of Gen. H. M. Ershad, and their activities increased manifold when Khaleda was first elected premier in 1991. Sheikh Hasina, who replaced Khaleda in 1996, took stringent action against the ultras. Most of the camps were closed down and the ultras were asked to move out of Bangladesh. Those who ignored the warning were jailed, following trials. However, ever since Khaleda and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party returned to power in 2001, anti-India activities have been on the rise. Khaleda heads a four-party coalition government, of which the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami is a significant constituent. The Jamaat has just two ministers, but has significant influence on policymaking. "They want to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state," said a political observer based in Dhaka. "They are being supported by the ISI."

The Khaleda government will find it hard to deny that nearly 3,000 Quomi madrasas, which are funded by non-government agencies and some Arab countries, have become recruiting centres of the so-called Bangladeshi Taliban. The services of the recruits are being used in Kashmir. The ISI-sponsored terrorists have also been active in West Bengal, but former chief minister Jyoti Basu had swept the issue under the carpet for reasons best known to him. "Perhaps, Basu did not want to disturb the minority votebank," said an Intelligence Bureau officer. In 1999, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, home minister in the then Basu cabinet, had admitted that madrasas in the state had links with the Bangladeshi Quomi madrasas. At present, Bangladesh has 10,500 madrasas, of which 7,500 are funded by the government. On the other hand, West Bengal has 1,350 madrasas, of which only 507 have registered with the government. The rest have mostly come up on Bengal's border districts. Even in Kolkata, the number of unregistered madrasas (110) is much more that the number of registered madrasas (10).

The Dhaka-based Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami-BD has been training mujahideen in six camps ion the hilly areas of Chittagong district in Bangladesh for the last few years. "The recruits are mainly from the Quomi madrasa," said an Indian intelligence report. "Harkat activists regularly cross over to India and maintain contacts with terrorists in the northeast. In June 2001, a 25-member Taliban team from Afghanistan had camped in Bangladesh to train the mujahideen. According to an intelligence report, the Harkat is funded by some Bangladesh-based non-government organisations including Adarsa Kutir, Al Faruk Islamic Foundation and Hataddin, apart from some Gulf countries. It also has links with foreign Islamic organisations. Indian intelligence agencies said that the Harkat had recruited 5,000 volunteers from Bangladesh to wage jihad in Kashmir. "The Harkat has links with the ISI, " said an intelligence officer of the West Bengal police. "Aftab Ansari, prime accused in the American Center attack in Kolkata, was associated with the Jash-e-Mohammed and ISI. He was entrusted with the task of providing logistical support to terrorist operations from Bangladesh." The Harkat is now active in the border districts of West Bengal. "Its main aim is to raise an army of Indian Taliban from the unregistered madrasas in the state," said an intelligence officer.

The ISI's influence in the northeast is all pervasive. The Narcotics Control Bureau suspects that the organisation is also patronising drugs smugglers in the region. It used them to smuggle in arms and ammunition into India. Mumbai don Ashwin Naik, who was arrested from the Indo-Bangladesh border in August 1999, had confessed that the ISI had used him to send drugs and weapons to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. Many of the ISI operatives who were arrested from other parts of the country had entered India through the porous Bangladesh border.

In the mid-1990s, the Military Intelligence had unearthed an ISI plot to push Bangladeshi Muslims into the border districts of West Bengal. It is widely believed that the ISI is still continuing the exercise. In Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur, the minority population is growing at a fast pace. While in Murshidabad Muslims constitute 60 per cent of the population, in Malda the figure is 42 per cent and in North Dinajpur, 48 per cent. The growth in population in Nadia in the last decade was just 1 per cent but the Muslim population grew by 21 per cent. Ditto the case in districts like South 24 Parganas, Burdwan and Birbhum. ISI activities have been on the rise in Siliguri as well, where there are key military installations. In January 2002, Mohammed Dilshad, a Pakistani who crossed over to India from Bangladesh, was arrested from Siliguri with some Army-related documents. He was apparently keeping a tab on the Army's activities in north Bengal. In the past also, ISI agents had been arrested from West Bengal with sensitive documents.

"The entire international border of Bangladesh is dotted with madrasas manned by fundamentalists," said opposition leader Dr. S.A. Malek of the Awami League. "ISI is spreading its tentacles not only through Indian terrorist organisations but also through our fundamentalist forces who want to avenge the defeat of Pakistan in the 1971 war." According to former finance minister Abdul Mal Abdul Mohit, the problem is too serious to be ignored. "An Indo-Bangladesh summit should be convened at the earliest," he said. Leading academician Prof. Anisuzzaman was sad at the turn of events. "We want India to be lenient in its attitude towards us," he said. "But there is a limit. How long can India be lenient towards us?" That is a question Khaleda should be asking herself.


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