Wednesday, August 10, 2011

ISI Trained ULFA, Key Lader Lived In Bangladesh

From the jungles of Myanmar, a life in disguise in Bangladesh to the power corridors of Delhi's North Block, it's been an arduous trek for United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) leaders.

For 12 years till his arrest in November 2009, Ulfa foreign secretary Shashadhar Choudhury lived in Bangladesh with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. "I lived in Bangladesh as Rafiqul Islam. My wife Runima, a member of Ulfa's cultural wing, assumed the name Sabina Yasmin," said Choudhury, who lived in a rented house in Dhaka's upscale locality Uttara Sector 3.

Choudhury and Runima got married in Bangladesh in 1997 and set up home there. Their daughter studied in Dhaka's International Turkish Hope School.
"I had Bangladeshi national ID card issued by their army and passports of several countries, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Fiji and South Africa," he said. Individuals in various Bangladeshi agencies helped Ulfa with logistics and support.

Choudhury was not the only one. While Indian security agencies hunted for them, the top Ulfa leadership, including chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, found a safe haven in Bangladesh.
Ulfa leaders, their wives and children assumed Islamic names and lived a life of disguise in Bangladesh till Sheikh Hasina swept to power in 2009. Soon after, top Ulfa leaders were picked up by Bangladesh and handed over to India.

In its more than two decades of terrorist activities, Ulfa has received international help and set up bases in neighbouring countries. "Pakistan's ISI trained Ulfa. In 1991, I was part of the first batch of Ulfa members to go to Pakistan for training in small arms, including main battle rifles," said Choudhury, who joined Ulfa in 1985.

"We were guerrilla fighters and faced Operation Bajrang and Operation Rhino in 1990 and 1991," he said.
In 1992, he was chosen Ulfa foreign secretary by the outfit's general council. "Soon after joining, we had trained with the Nagas of the undivided NSCN. In 1988, we were the second batch of Ulfa who went over to Kachin in Myanmar. We fought along with Kachin Independence Army (KIA) for two years and shared their guns," he said.

Later, as Ulfa's financial resources improved, they began buying weapons. "The Chinese sold Ulfa weapons but indirectly. They are not fools to train insurgents or get directly involved," Choudhury said.
The worst ordeal, Choudhury said, was during Operation Goldenbird in 1995, a joint anti-insurgent military offensive launched by India and Myanmar. "I was the golden bird they were looking for. For nine days, I fought without food or water in the jungles of Myanmar's Chin which was an unknown terrain for us," he claimed.

But, the Indian Army managed to catch him in Mizoram. "But they did not knpw they had caught Shashadhar Choudhury. For two-and-a-half months in Army custody, they only asked me where is Shasha? But I managed to protect myself saying I was Sailen Choudhury," he said. Sailen Choudhury was an Ulfa member who had been killed in that operation.

Later, he was taken away from Army custody, produced in court and sent to jail. He struck a deal with then AGP government in Assam. He offered to build bridges between Ulfa and the government in return for his release. But, soon after he was released, he jumped bail and fled to Bhutan. "It was for survival," he said.
Ulfa received the worst blow during Royal Bhutan Army's Operation All Clear in 2003. A large number of their members were killed or went missing.

"After this, we shifted our headquarters to Bangladesh and then to Myanmar," he said. Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, opposing peace talks, still operates from their base in Myanmar.
"Ulfa did not take up guns out of choice. State terror and India's colonial occupation gave birth to Ulfa," said Choudhury.

No Meeting Point Of Two War Narratives

THERE are two narratives of the end phase of the war that are battling for dominance. The first is that of the Sri Lankan government that emphasises the victory over the LTTE and terrorism and the securing of the country’s unity and sovereignty. It also asserts that the war was conducted according to international law with a policy of minimising civilian casualties. The other is the account of the expert panel appointed by the UN secretary general which is a severe indictment of the Sri Lankan government’s lack of adherence to international norms in the conduct of the war. This report has drawn on the information available within the UN system and also the reports of human rights organisations.

The UN panel report, also known as the Darusman report in deference to its chairman, is over 200 pages in length. It was issued to the public in March this year. Although well written, not many would wish to labour many hours to read it unless especially motivated as students of the Sri Lankan conflict or as advocates of a position. This is not the case with the UK Channel 4 video titled ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ that made its appearance in June this year. It is of one hour’s duration and provides a graphic account of what is presented as the last days of the war. It is readily accessible on the internet to those who wish to see it, if they are prepared to brave its warning that it contains scenes that could be very disturbing.

The Sri Lankan government’s response to the UN expert panel report and to the UK Channel 4 video has, from its inception, taken the form of denials and denunciations. The material in them is described as fabricated, biased and ill motivated by a desire for revenge at the defeat of the LTTE. The sources of information are also accused of being tainted, being either NGOs or Tamil Diaspora. As a result, the notion of an international conspiracy has a wide acceptance within Sri Lanka.

In such a situation of opposing versions of the same event, the solution would seem to be a third report of an in independent group. The government has, however, sidestepped the increasingly vociferous international demand for an independent international investigation into the alleged human rights violations and war crimes by referring to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission it has appointed.

Book launch
THE Sri Lankan government has presented the LLRC as a legitimate and viable mechanism that precludes the need for an international investigation at this time, and even in the future. This is on the basis that international remedies are only necessary when national ones have failed. The LLRC has already issued an interim report and its final report is expected in November this year. The US government has given importance to the LLRC by officially informing the Sri Lankan government through a diplomatic note that it expects the LLRC’s final report to be presented for discussion next year at the UN’s Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.
However, with the LLRC’s final report yet to be published, the government has taken additional action to counter the UN expert panel report and the UK Channel 4 video at the international level. Last week’s government launch of a book titled ‘Humanitarian Operation—A Factual Analysis’ and a video titled ‘Lies Agreed Upon’ was the government’s reply to the UN expert panel report and the UK Channel 4 video. They were both launched at a large gathering in which high ranking members of the Sri Lankan security forces were present in large numbers.

In addition, a sizeable number of foreign diplomats and media were also present. There were also a few NGOs present who had previously been excluded from government events that had anything to do with national security and counterterrorism. Their presence could be taken as evidence of a greater willingness on the part of the government to positively engage with other perspectives in a more accommodative spirit.
The government’s report and video provide an opposite perspective to that found in the UN expert panel report and the Channel 4 video. They focus on the LTTE and on its brutal methods. The government narrative goes back in time to cover the period in which the LTTE first engaged in acts of terrorism. It does not start where the international narrative starts from, which is the last phase of the war. As a result the government narrative provides a context in which the ferocity of the war in its last phase can be better understood from the nature of the LTTE which held a population of over 300,000 hostage during that period. It is worth noting that the government’s willingness to concede that civilian deaths were unavoidable and did occur during the last phase of the war has come along with the release of this report and video.

Locally dominant
THERE is no doubt that the government narrative will be the one that dominates and prevails within Sri Lanka. It will prevail regardless of the content and quality of the government report and video. This is because most people within the country experienced at first hand the fear of the LTTE’s brutal terrorism even if they did not suffer directly at its hands. The government report and video will further strengthen the feeling of people within the country that the international community is biased and anti-Sri Lanka in its targeting of the government. This will lead to a further hardening of anti-Western sentiment as it is generally perceived that the West that is seeking to punish the government for ridding the country of the LTTE.
On the other hand, that section of the international community that is urging an independent international mechanism to investigate the last phase of Sri Lanka’s war is not likely to change its position either. The government report focuses on the LTTE, its methods and actions over the years. There is no mention at all of the excesses of the government’s counterterrorism strategy of which there were so many, and also of the impunity, elements of which continue to the present time. The politically partisan nature of the government report can also be seen by its failure to even mention the break up of the LTTE by the defection of its eastern commander during the period of the much-maligned Ceasefire Agreement which was signed by the present Leader of the opposition and was brokered by the Norwegian government.

So what remains are two narratives, one that dominates internationally and the other that is dominant within the country. These two narratives are at loggerheads with each other and appear to have no meeting place. Neither of these narratives is going to be a vehicle for reconciliation in the future, as each will be fiercely resisted and debunked by the other. Therefore, it is unlikely that there will be peace-building and reconciliation by going down the road of trying to prove whether or not war crimes took place.
In this context of polarisation, the healthiest option is peace-building and reconciliation through a political solution in which Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others of smaller ethnic and religious communities, such as the Burghers, Malays and Borahs decide together what to do about the past and what the country’s shared future should be. This is what the government, together with the opposition political parties, ought to be working hard at achieving.

Bangladesh Indigenous Goups Demand Constitutional Recognition

The ethnic leaders burst into protest, after the government recently said Bangladesh "does not have any indigenous people."

Amidst angry debate, the indigenous communities in Bangladesh are demanding constitutional recognition of the 45 different ethnic communities that have been living on the land for centuries.
The ethnic leaders burst into protest, after the government recently said Bangladesh "does not have any indigenous people." Instead, government officials argued that the Bangla-speaking majoritarian, mostly Sunni Muslims are indigenous people.

The observance of the international day of Indigenous People on Tuesday turned into anger and frustration. Ethnic leaders were joined by scores of civil society and rights groups at a rally at the language martyrs square in the capital Dhaka. Despite rain, hundreds in distinctive traditional attires with musical instruments joined the rally.

The 300,000 indigenous people were compelled to adopt “Bangalee” national identity and dubbed as small national minorities, when amendments to the constitution was made last month, explained ethnic leader Barrister Devashis Roy.

Jotindra Bodipriyo Larma also spoke at the rally, after leading a 20 year bush-war against the authority for political and cultural autonomy. Guerillas under his command surrendered after signing a treaty in 1997.
Larma warned the government to rethink of their decision to delete their identity or else they will have to adopt a path of confrontation. The 70-year-old leader fears that the denial of the existence as ethnic minorities will eventually erupt into racial tension, as it happened in many countries.
After 14 years, Larma lamented that the peace accord has not been implemented, which would jeopardize the peace resolution.

Dr. Mizanur Rahman, chief of National Human Rights Commission at a seminar day before said it is a self contradiction of the ruling party. He argued that if the ethnic minorities are believed to have taken refuge for persecution and economic migrants, then the peace treaty signed with the indigenous armed militants who have pledged allegiance to the state constitution would be disillusioned.

Revisiting August 47

It is that time of year when you remember a summer of madness running riot across India, destroying lives, razing homes and putting heritage to flight. The partition of India, for all the association you bring to it of freedom, of a tryst with destiny (in Nehru's oft-quoted phrase) remains a metaphor for horror brought about through sheer fratricide.

In August 1947, as Jawaharlal Nehru took charge of a free India and Mohammad Ali Jinnah assumed power in Pakistan, as many as a million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs died in a frenzy they had no hand in the making of. No fewer than fourteen and a half million people left their ancient homes, on both sides of the border decreed by Cyril Radcliffe, to find refuge and a future in unfamiliar new homelands. Radcliffe did the job in a bare thirty six days.

Too many things went wrong in that terrible summer -- and before it. Here was Radcliffe, with precious little understanding of Indian history, carving up the land in line with murderous specifications. A living room went to Pakistan, the kitchen found space in India. The Chakmas in Chittagong hoisted the Indian flag on August 14, little knowing that they had been thrown into Pakistan's lap. They were soon put down. But not so easily put down were the riots which kept Calcutta in their grip for four days in August 1946, killing anywhere between five thousand and ten thousand Hindus and Muslims. It was a disaster that ought not to have happened. To this day, you wonder why the Muslim League needed to call a Direct Action Day on August 16, why the administration, headed by a Muslim League leader, so zealously declared the day a holiday in Bengal. It ended in carnage. Who do you hold guilty? And can you forgive the men who caused it all?

Guilt and forgiveness are ideas you raise when you go back to a reappraisal of the politics Jawaharlal Nehru pursued in the aftermath of the Cabinet Mission Plan of July 1946. Jinnah, for all his doubts, had gone along with the plan, which fundamentally meant to keep India intact. Yet Jinnah had also come under fire for what was perceived to be his deviation from the Lahore Resolution of 1940. Nehru gave him the perfect opportunity to wriggle out of his predicament. Observe Nehru at his news conference of July 10, 1946:

"The first thing is we have agreed to go into the Constituent Assembly and we have agreed to nothing else …What we do there, we are entirely and absolutely free to determine. We have committed ourselves on no single matter to anybody."

Did Nehru deliberately torpedo the Cabinet Mission Plan? What he most certainly did was give Jinnah a good excuse to repudiate his earlier acceptance of the plan and revert to the Pakistan question. That happened on July 27. Barely a month later, the Calcutta killings commenced. Historians, hordes of them, will tell you that after those killings, the vivisection of India turned into a fait accompli. And supposing those killings had not happened? The expatriate Indian historian Neeti Nair gives you new food for thought in her new work, Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India. She speaks of the Punjabi Hindu leader Gokul Chand Narang, who tells an audience twenty years after partition: "I was chairman of a public meeting. I said I would agree to Pakistan, but never to parity." A large chunk of Punjabi Hindus, notes Nair, preferred partition to having Hindus and Muslims share equal space and opportunities in a united India.

Which sends you into paroxysms of regret. Would Deshbandhu C.R. Das and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose be able to lead a united India into freedom? The answers are lost in the maze which sometimes comes into a reconfiguring of history. Das died young at age fifty one in 1925; and Bose disappeared a full two years before the bloodletting of August 1947. Gandhi, the remaining man of stature, shrank into irrelevance as freedom came closer, resigned to the barbaric workings of destiny. Jinnah, having started off on the false premise that religious communities were actually nations, had little idea of what Pakistan meant. His whimsicality made a mockery of the Lahore Resolution, when he suddenly remembered that it spoke of not two states but one in the Muslim-majority regions of the country. As for Nehru, he did not appear to mind Pakistan taking shape as long as it left an India for the Congress to govern.

There is the quixotic you recall as you revisit August 1947. In the earlier part of the year, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy came forth with his plan for a sovereign, undivided Bengal. You ask: having been with the Muslim League, having had a hand in the making of the Calcutta riots in 1946, did he really expect people to take him seriously? On a more elevated scale, Sarat Chandra Bose called for a sovereign socialist republic of Bengal. That fell through, though. The current of history had by then overtaken both Suhrawardy and Bose.

And history, again, was what Mountbatten thought he was forging anew when essentially he was driving a gleaming knife through it. He came up with the June 3 Plan and put it into macabre implementation, imagining all the while that he could be governor-general of both India and Pakistan. Jinnah's brusque dismissal of the idea put paid to part of his pretence.

In the end, partition left Bengal and the Punjab wounded beyond measure. Sixty four years after that summer of madness, descendants of the partition generation remember lost ancestral homes in the Punjab, in Bengal, indeed in other parts of the old India. The wounds, transferred generationally, have not quite healed.
That summer of madness, noted the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, was a "night-bitten" morning, a "pockmarked" dawn.