Bangladeshi safe havens for the rebels in India’s troubled Northeast have long been critical in the persistence of a number of violent and separatist movements in the region. However, Bangladesh has once again demonstrated that it can help arrest terror if it wants to.
On Friday, April 30, 2010, officials of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), the country’s para-military border force, handed over 50-year-old Ranjan Daimary alias D. R. Nabla, ‘chairman’ of the separatist National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), to India’s Border Security Force (BSF) authorities, at Dawki in Meghalaya, right on the border between the two countries. The dreaded terror mastermind was then taken into custody by the Assam Police, who drove him in to Guwahati, the state capital. It is now clear that Daimary was actually held by authorities in Bangladesh several weeks ago, and it took some brisk diplomatic manoeuvres by New Delhi to finally convince Dhaka to hand him over to India.
Daimary — directly named by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for involvement in the October 30, 2008, serial bombings in Guwahati and elsewhere, which killed 88 people and injured 540 — is the second chief of a frontline insurgent group in Assam to have been captured and handed over to India by Bangladesh. On December 4, 2009, the exiled ‘chairman’ of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), and the outfit’s ‘deputy commander-in-chief’ Raju Baruah, were handed over to Indian authorities at Dawki by the BDR in a similar manner. Earlier, in November 2009, another two top ULFA leaders, ‘foreign secretary’ Sasadhar Choudhury, and ‘finance secretary’ Chitraban Hazarika, had been turned in to Indian authorities at the Gokul Nagar post of the BSF, before they were brought to Guwahati by an Assam Police team.
Dhaka’s decision to cooperate with India is another story, but Daimary landing in the custody of the Assam Police is being seen as a big blow, not just to the anti-peace talk faction of the NDFB, but to insurgency as a whole in Northeast India’s largest state. Daimary, who holds a masters degree in Political Science, founded the NDFB on October 3, 1986, originally as the Boro Security Force, but re-christened NDFB on November 25, 1994. In pursuit of his dream to achieve an independent Bodo homeland, comprising parts of western and northern Assam, Daimary let loose a reign of terror across the State, ordering his men to kill, extort and intimidate politicians, businessmen, cadres of rival Bodo groups, and the general population.
On October 8, 2004, the NDFB called a unilateral ceasefire in the wake of a sustained counter-insurgency operation. The group’s unilateral truce was initially not reciprocated by the government. By that time, however, a faction headed by Govinda Basumatary was already drifting away from Daimary. Eventually, a ceasefire agreement was reached on May 25, 2005, after the authorities released Basumatary, who was then in prison. Daimary refused to abide by the ceasefire and continued with his belligerent posturing. The split in the NDFB between a pro-talk faction headed by Basumatary and the anti-talk faction headed by Daimary, was completed with Basumatary group holding a ‘general assembly’ at their designated truce-time camp on December 15, 2008.
The trigger for this formal split was the October 30, 2008, serial explosions in Guwahati, Barpeta Road, Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon, later officially stated to have been orchestrated by Daimary himself. The NDFB pro-talks faction, gauging the public outrage at the mayhem, formalized the split, further isolating Daimary. The CBI charge-sheet in this case, filed in the third week of May 2009 at the court of the Special Judicial Magistrate in Guwahati, named 19 people, of which five were in detention and the rest absconding. One of those absconders was Daimary. Confessions by some of those arrested indicted Daimary as the kingpin of the entire plot, which was hatched in July 2008 itself, when the would-be bombers had begun to procure the cars used in the attacks. Daimary had been booked on charges that included murder, attempted murder, causing grievous injury, criminal conspiracy, waging war against the state, extortion, possession of illegal arms, among others.
Before Daimary’s capture, many believed that a permanent peace was unlikely to come to Assam’s Bodo heartland, unless the anti-talk NDFB leader was roped into the dialogue process which had started with the pro-talks faction. With Daimary now in custody, things are not going to be easy for the government, both in the State and at the Centre. A facile ‘forgive and forget’, as has been the case with so many other militant leaders, may not be possible in this case, with the people baying for Daimary’s blood, in view of his role in the October 30, 2008, serial blasts. 53 of the 88 deaths in those attacks took place in Guwahati, and 20 in Kokrajhar, the Bodo hub, and the anger against its perpetrators is widespread.
The government is also aware that there is hardly any political space available in the Bodo heartland to accommodate the various insurgent leaders. The Bodo People’s Front (BPF), the political party formed by the erstwhile Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT) rebels following the Bodo Accord of 2003, has once again convincingly won elections on April 9, 2010, to the 40-member Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), capturing 32 seats. The BPF, led by former rebel leaders who were arch-rivals of the NDFB, is now in power in the Bodo Council. Moreover, the NDFB pro-talks faction has a clear head-start in the political process, as against the anti-talks group that continued to hold out. Any attempt to inject Daimary into the ‘peace process’ at this stage would face strong resistance from the pro-talks faction, and would hardly be welcomed by the BPF. By all available indications, neither of these groups would want to share any space whatsoever with Daimary, at least for now.
There can now be little doubt about Dhaka’s sincerity or capability in tackling terror, particularly in cracking down on insurgents working against India’s interests from that country. A transformation has clearly come about following the regime change in Bangladesh after the December 2008 elections, when the Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina assumed power. Talking to this writer in April 2010, Bangladesh’s High Commissioner in India, Tariq Ahmed Karim, declared, "The world has seen our resolve to fight terrorism and India has acknowledged it at the highest level. We shall not allow any terrorist act against India to be carried out from our territory." Contrary to Dhaka’s initial reluctance to admit having picked up insurgent leaders like ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and others and then handing them over to India, High Commissioner Karim now openly admits Bangladesh’s cooperation in this regard.
With ULFA chairman Rajkhowa and NDFB leader Daimary having landed in Indian custody, the only insurgent chieftain of standing from Assam still on the run is Paresh Baruah, ULFA’s military chief. Paresh Baruah is now widely believed to be based in China’s Yunnan province, on the border with Myanmar. According to indications, the government has decided to actually go ahead with the peace talks with the ULFA even without Paresh Baruah. With foreign sanctuaries for Northeast Indian insurgents shrinking, it is only a matter of time before the government decides to seriously engage only with those factions which come forward to resolve their issues through dialogue. Insurgents in the region are certainly on the back-foot now.
Wasbir Hussain is Associate Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi; Director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies, Guwahati. Courtesy: the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal