Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Adding To Terror Network

Hordes from Bangladesh
Bibhu Prasad Routray Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi

The Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Ministry of Home Affairs, in its recent report, has asked the Government to monitor the country's eastern border, saying large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh is threatening the country's security and economy. The report said that a large presence of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants posed a grave threat to India's security and economy as many border-crossers come with sophisticated weapons and ammunition to fuel terrorism. They also carry a large amount of fake Indian currency to weaken the economy, the report added.The Annual Report of the Ministry of Home Affairs, 2007-08, too, has expressed similar apprehensions. It reads, "The hand of Pakistan-based terrorist organisations -- LeT and JeM -- and, increasingly of the Bangladesh-based HuJI, known to have close links with ISI, has been observed in most of" the terrorist activities in the country.

While for the last couple of years, the Pakistani terror network originating in Bangladesh has received some attention, the critical role played by the illegal Bangladeshi migrants in India in such operations appears to have been lost sight of. Even the hullabaloo over the ever-growing number of migrants from Bangladesh, mostly described as demographic invasion of a serious kind, by mainstream political parties has hardly taken note of the subversive potential of the rather innocuous population flow from our eastern neighbour. And the political parties, for whom these migrants have become lucrative vote-banks, have taken great care to push any debate linking them with terror elements under the carpet. There is, consequently, very little open source information linking the illegal migrants with the terror attacks in the country.

Benefiting from such premeditated ambivalence, concentrations of the Bangladeshi migrants in big metropolises like New Delhi and Mumbai and also the smaller built up areas, have provided the terrorists crossing over from across the border a safe parking space. Among the large swathe of largely economic migrants, the terror elements have found anonymity, easy mingling space and also potential recruits.The first successful attack carried out by the Bangladesh-based HuJI using the facilities provided by the illegal migrants was the January 22, 2002, attack at the American Centre in Kolkata. An early morning attack by a group of HuJI cadre left five policemen dead on the spot, responsibility for which was claimed by two organisations, the HuJI and the Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF). In fact, the ARCF was an adjunct of the HuJI, formed and manned largely by Bangladeshi migrants in India and some experienced HUJI-B cadre in India who were trained at ISI-backed training camps in Pakistan. It was formed at a village, 15 km from Habibpur town, populated by illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Malda district of West Bengal. Footprints of Bangladeshi nationals, often illegal residents in this country, have been unambiguous in the number of terror strikes in Indian urban centres that have taken place in the last couple of years.

Bangladesh has been a common thread running through the attacks carried out in New Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi, Hyderabad and Nasik. Two Bangladeshi nationals, Masuluddin and Hussain, absconding suspects in the twin blasts in Hyderabad in August 2007 are known to have been staying in the Hyderabad city illegally for two years. In April 2008, a Bangladeshi HuJI militant was arrested from Agartala where he had been staying for a couple of months, at the behest of a Minister in the State Cabinet.The official response to the threat remains clueless and strangely dependant on non-existent Bangladeshi co-operation. On April 23, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Parliament, "Illegal migration is a genuine problem, but Bangladesh refuses to recognise it. How this could be solved when Bangladesh does not want to accept it?"

On the other hand, the Government's predicament is understandable. Border fencing, a critical component of the country's border management policy, continues to lie in doldrums. In nearly two decades of fencing projects, over two phases, 61 per cent of the 4,096-km long international border with Bangladesh have been fenced. According to the Government's own admission, most of the 854-km long fence erected during the Phase-I of the process have already been damaged and does not serve the purpose it was constructed for.

This means that the country's security will continue to be vulnerable in the foreseeable future.


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