October 26, 2020
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New Routes Through Bangladesh

The massive seizure of ammunition and explosives from an Indian insurgent group on Bangladeshi soil go further to strengthen India's claim that insurgency in its Northeast depends on alien support.

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New Routes Through Bangladesh

The search for ammunition and explosives is yet to end in the Bogra district of Bangladesh even as the police disclose that they have already seized what is being termed as the 'biggest ever haul' not only in the district, but in the entire country. 

The seizure in Jogarpara village and its vicinity has yielded, as of July 6, 2003, a total of 95,282 rounds of ammunition and 175 kilograms of high-powered explosives in the Kahalu upazila (subdivision) area in five separate raids, including the 62,100 bullets and 115 kilograms of explosives first seized on June 27 alone. Investigations into the incident have still not established conclusively the place of origin of the contraband and the identities of those involved in the incident., though it has been determined that the seized bullets are of Chinese rifles. 

The police have also arrested, among others, an alleged cadre of the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), a tribal insurgent group operating in the Northeastern Indian State of Tripura. Tripura shares an 856-kilometer border with Bangladesh. Claims by the Bangladesh police that the ammunition and explosives were smuggled into the country to destabilize the domestic situation notwithstanding, the incident, rather, highlights India's security concerns, since the group responsible executes its violent activities and agenda on Indian soil. 

Most of the prominent insurgent groups operating in India's Northeast receive financial and logistics support, including arms and ammunition through the Bangladesh-China-Myanmar border, and many of them have been provided safe haven in Bangladesh.

The insinuation that the seized ammunition and explosives were intended for 'internal destabilization' of Bangladesh is further undermined by the fact that Bogra, situated on the Karatoya river, a tributary of the Jamuna is located approximately 229 kilometres north west of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, and approximately 492 kilometers away from Chittagong, which lies near the Indian border. 

If reports from Bangladesh and in the Indian media are any indication, the ATTF, headquartered at Satcherri, in the Habiganj district of Bangladesh, is one of the key players in the incident. This would suggest that the transfer of arms and ammunition to Indian insurgent groups in the Indian Northeast occurring through a route different from the traditional Cambodia-Thailand-Andaman Sea-Cox's bazaar circuit that has long been established. 

Alternatively, there is some speculation that the ammunition and explosives were to be smuggled into Nepal for the Maoist insurgents, with the ATTF acting as a mere conduit. This would strengthen reports pointing to the networking between ideologically disparate Northeast Indian insurgent groups with extremist forces outside, creating a bigger security concern for the whole region.

Several possibilities exist given the Bogra location and the kind of ammunition recovered. Bogra is closer to the Bangladesh border with the Indian State of Meghalaya, West Bengal or Assam, than Satcherri from where the Bangladesh police claim the contraband started, after being smuggled in from China through Myanmar. 

In these conditions, a statement by the Awami League (AL) General Secretary Abdul Jalil that "No ordinary criminal could dare transport such a big consignment of explosives and ammunition to Bogra without the help of the highest quarter in government" is noteworthy. 

On July 5, 2003, media sources in Bangladesh also quoted the AL leader, Sheikh Hasina, as saying that the ammunition and explosive recovered in Bogra were produced in the Bangladesh Ordnance Factory (BOF). Sources suggest that it was only after local miscreants including arms dealers and other local people first started looting the pineapples under which the contraband was hidden, and then the bags containing the ammunition and explosives that the police acted.

The possibility of the Nepali Maoists as the eventual recipients of the consignments cannot be entirely ruled out as the insurgents do adopt a strategy of consolidation and regrouping whenever peace talks are on. The Maoists are not known to be using weapons of Chinese make on a large scale, the tedious route from China through Myanmar and Bangladesh, and that too, through the ATTF, does not appear to be a credible option, since Nepal shares an extended border with China to its North. Conditions in India's Northeast suggest that this was the most probable destination of the contraband with a large number of insurgent groups operating in the region using variants of the AK series of rifles.

At least three viable routes existed for the transport of the ammunition and explosives to insurgents in India's Northeast. One, the river route through the Jamuna to the Brahamputra, since Bogra is situated on one of the Jamuna's tributaries, the Karatoya, with the consignment eventually reaching Assam. 

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which has direct operational linkages with the ATTF, is known to have used this river route for its movement in the past. Second, the consignment could have reached West Bengal through the vulnerable 22-kilometer land stretch of the Silliguri corridor in the North of the State, and then passed to the ULFA through another 'ally', the Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO). Finally, the consignment could also have been taken to Meghalaya and from there, again to the ULFA through the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC).

The pressure to move away from the traditional routes has been increasing, since such routes are now commonly known, and movement on these is relatively easily detected by the increased surveillance along India's international borders with Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

The massive seizure of ammunition and explosives from an Indian insurgent group on Bangladeshi soil go further to strengthen India's claim that insurgency in its Northeast depends on alien support. India has been consistently asking for cooperative regional efforts to check subversive activities, as the international networking of insurgents cannot be tackled in isolation. Regrettably, the response from Bangladesh has been obtuse and obstructive.

Praveen Kumar is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. This article appears courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

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