By Rajeev Sharma
Soon after murder of the architect of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI jumped into the fray to expand its network across Bangladesh. During more than two decades since his murder, when pro-Pak and Islamist forces ruled the country (1975 to 1996), Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka became the nerve center of ISI activities. ISI also utilized this long period to divert its anti-India operations through Bangladesh in order to ward off international outcry over its involvement in Kashmir for encouraging secessionist forces to destabilize India. Since then, with cooperation and help of the ruling pro-Pak and Islamist clique in the country, ISI opened a new anti-India terror front in Bangladesh to destabilize North East India by patronizing and providing logistic support including funds to the North East based Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs). ISI has established a multi-pronged terror network in Bangladesh which includes Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), BNP and IIGs.
Computer hard discs seized from the recently arrested Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) activists revealed that a JEI member Siddiqul Islam Reza who was a cashier in Islami Bank Chittagong branch was the Acting Liaison Officer of ISI in Chittagong zone. It was also revealed that a meeting was held on May 23, 2006 at a Government quarter in Pahartali, Chittagong, that was presided over by Mohammad Jamil Khan, Regional Director of ISI in Chittagong. The meeting reviewed the need to identify new safe routes to smuggle in arms, as on two previous occasions arms consignments were detected and confiscated by the police. It may be mentioned in this connection that large consignment of arms seized in Bogra in 2003 and Chittaging in 2004 were smuggled in by ISI with help from Bangladesh intelligence agencies for the IIGs.
The ISI representative in Sylhet region has been identified as JEI leader Maulana Habibur Rahman who is currently assisting IIGs including ULFA, NLFT and NSCN (IM). Habibur Rahman is also one of the operational commanders of the banned Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HUJI-BD) and had earlier paid a high profile visit to Afghanistan and met Osama bin Laden in 1998. Maulana Izzat Ali, another JEI leader as well as ISI operative, is presently reorganizing HUJI-BD, JMB and other militant Islamic groups under the umbrella of Ahle Hadis Andolan Bangladesh (AHAB) into one cohesive group.
A report in vernacular daily Protham Alo published in 2009 gives an insight into the intricacies of ISI’s modus operandi in Bangladesh. The report reveals that Dubai based ARY group involved in Chittagong arms haul in 2004, was the financier of 10 truckloads of arms, which were smuggled in for the North East India based secessionist group ULFA. ARY group is also known to be an associate of international terrorist organizations including Al Qaeda and Taliban. ARY was also an accused in the bombing of US Mission in Nairobi, Kenya in 1998 as an accomplice of Al Qaeda. The proprietor of this Dubai based ARY group is a Pakistani national Abdur Razzak Yakub. This group is engaged in gold, jewellery and housing business apart from owning eight television channels operated from the UK, Dubai and Pakistan. All these TV channels are known as Pakistani Channels.
According to a report which appeared in Washington Post, (February 17, 2002) ARY group, with collaboration of ISI, smuggled out a large quantity of gold and American dollars from Afghanistan to Dubai before fall of the Taliban regime. A Columbia District Court record reveals that Abdur Razzak Yaqub is Chairman of Dubai based World Memon Organisation (WMO), a charitable organization very close to the Pakistan Government. WMO maintains linkages with other Islamic charitable organizations, Al Qaeda and Assembly of Muslim World. All these organizations were involved in bombing the US Mission in Kenya in 1998. A report in Asia Times online reveals that Abdur Razzak Yakub is close to Iqbal Mirsi who is the right hand of international mafia don Dawood Ibrahim.
Wg Cdr (Retd) Sahabuddin Ahmed, former Director of National Security Intelligence (NSI), prime intelligence organization of Bangladesh, who was arrested in connection with the Chittagong arms haul case, has revealed that two officials of ARY visited Dhaka and held meetings with the then DG NSI Abdur Rahim prior to seizure of ten truck loads of arms in Chittagong in 2004. Sahabuddin Ahmed also revealed that after return of the two ARY officials to Dubai, the then DG NSI Abdur Rahim went to Dubai and held meetings with the ARY group.
Sahabuddin Ahmad disclosed ARY’s links with the Indian insurgent group ULFA in collaboration with ISI. He disclosed that senior ARY official Salman held a meeting with the then DG NSI in Dhaka in 2003. Those who attended the meeting also included ULFA commander Paresh Barua, the then Pakistani High Commissioner Manzar Shafiq and Pakistani Defence Advisor Col Shaheed Mahmud, an ISI officer posted in Dhaka.
The huge quantity of arms and ammunition seized in Chittagong in 2004 was meant to be handed over to ULFA to equip the insurgent group in its fight against the Indian government. Bangladesh’s main intelligence agencies including the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and NSI had started supplying arms to the ULFA from 2001 when the BNP-JEI government came to power. Several ministers and MPs were also involved, as interrogations reveal. Even the ship reportedly used to carry the smuggled arms belonged to BNP leader Salauddin Qader Chowdhury who is close to BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and Pak ISI.
Assam based ULFA, Nagaland based NSCN (I/M) and some other North East India based IIGs were given a free run in Bangladesh at the behest of ISI. ULFA’s chief commander Paresh Barua set up his command headquarters in Dhaka and ran a flourishing business under the protection of Bangladeshi intelligence agencies as well as ISI. Due to ISI’s insistence, Barua and NSCN leaders including Muivah have been provided with Bangladeshi passports with which they frequently travel to Pakistan and China for procurement of arms and communication equipment.
In his confessional statement, Shahabuddin Ahmed has given details of ISI operations in Bangladesh including his meeting with DG ISI in Dubai and London, various meetings with the international mafia don Dawood Ibrahim, ISI officers posted in Bangladesh and abroad and the ARY which acted on behalf of the ISI for procurement of arms for the ULFA. He also disclosed names of two ISI officers posted in Dhaka, Brig Mogisuddin and Col. Shaheed Mahmud and added that the then Pak high commissioner in Dhaka, Manzar Shafiq was closely associated with the ISI operations including meetings with Paresh Barua.
Recently the news about arrest of Abdur Rouf @ Daud Merchant, a close associate of the international mafia don Dawood Ibrahim, hit the headlines of Bangladesh media. Daud Merchant, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for killing the Indian music Mogul Gulshan Kumar in 1995, disappeared from jail in Aurangabad, Maharashtra and surfaced in Bangladesh. His associate, Zahid Sheikh was also arrested along with him. Both Merchant and Zahid were sent to Bangladesh by Dawood Ibrahim’s second in command Chhota Shakeel with the mission of establishing links with local underworld and integrate it with ‘D’ Company network and ISI.
‘D’Company terror network was established in Bangladesh with the help of ISI in 1995 during the first BNP regime of Khaleda Zia. This network started widening and gaining in strength during the subsequent BNP-JEI rule (2001-06) , thanks to patronage by a powerful lobby within the administration. ‘D’ Company has been noticed to make efforts for strengthening its base in Bangladesh in order to carry out its underworld activities and use Bangladesh territory to promote ISI’s as well as its own interests.
‘D’ Company has already formed bases at places such as Banani and Nawabpur Road in Dhaka. Chhota Shakeel asked his associates in Dhaka to hire more accommodation for their associates based in Bangladesh. Arrangements were also being made to legalize their stay in Bangladesh by delivering them legal documents. Media reports confirm that Khaleda Zia’s son and BNP leader Tareque Rahman held meetings with the underworld don in Dubai in 2004. Even the then State Home Minister Lutfozzaman Babar was present in those meetings. These meetings with the mafia don assume significance as D Company activists are also known as mercenary killers.
Merchant, while admitting his involvement in killing of the Mumbai music baron, said that Mumbai would soon witness repeat of ‘Nov 2008.’ He also said that many of Dawood Ibrahim’s accomplices were hiding in India and Bangladesh to strengthen the ‘D’ Company network. Merchant had regular contact with both Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Shakeel. Merchant obtained a Bangladeshi passport (No 01917000) in the name of Sk Abdur Rahman. He visited India by using this passport several times. He confessed that he was under instructions to kill a number of Indian leaders and VIPs including the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and some Mumbai based Shiv Sena leaders. He also revealed that he was sent to Bangladesh to kill Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Even though ISI has now shown willingness to do business with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to protect its elaborate support structures in Bangladesh, Awami League and Sheikh Hasina are viewed as an anathema and also as enemies of Two Nation theory propounded by Pakistan. Pakistan has not been able to reconcile with the break-up of Pakistan and emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 and continues to blame India for this. This was evident from the former Pak President Musharraf’s statement at the recent India Today conclave in New Delhi.
Based on Merchant’s disclosures the police arrested a notorious Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) leader Mufti Obaidullah, a LeT activist who has been hiding in Bangladesh since 1995. Obaidullah has admitted that LeT has been active in Bangladesh for 14 years and that LeT is also linked to the terror network of Dawood Ibrahim and ISI. Obaidullah took active part in Afghan war. He disclosed having collaborated with Islamist militants of Kashmir, Varanasi, Delhi and Hyderabad. He also said that he was well trained in operating a wide range of light and heavy weapons like machine gun, anti aircraft gun, rocket launcher and mortar.
Merchant’s disclosures also led to arrest of another LeT leader Maulana Mohd. Mansur Ali who was an organizer of Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF), the terrorist outfit responsible for the attack on American Center in Kolkata on Jan 22, 2002. ARCF was also responsible for kidnapping a Kolkata based businessman who was subsequently released on payment of a huge ransom a portion of which found its way to Omar Sheikh, a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) activist responsible for killing of the American journalist Daniel Pearl. Remaining portion of this fund was sent to Md Atta who carried out attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.
LeT has long been providing logistic and financial support to HUJI-BD. LeT had supplied the grenades to HUJI-BD for carrying out the attacks on Awami League rally on August 21, 2004 in which Sheikh Hasina had a narrow escape with permanent damage in one ear.. The main attacker on the Awami League rally in 2004 Mufti Hannan was enjoying protection from the BNP-JEI government. The Chittagong arms seizure, the August 21, 2004 grenade attacks on AL rally, arrest of the Dawood gang members and LeT activists – all these are not incidents that stand in isolation. These are all inter-linked and bear testimony to the intricate anti-India terror structures created by Pakistan in Bangladesh.