With indications increasingly suggesting the possibility of a regime change in Dhaka in early 2014, the intelligence establishment here is worried that anti-India forces could once again get a free run to useBangladesh as a staging post for terrorism and other subversive activities.
The term of the Sheikh Hasina government, which reined in terror outfits operating from its soil, ends in January 2014. Revolving-door politics being much the norm in Bangladesh, it is likely to be the turn of Begum Khaleda Zia, Hasina's arch rival who is not known to be friendly towards India. In fact, as she rises in the charts capitalizing on Hasina's incumbency, Khaleda has also been busy painting the prime minister an Indian stooge.
The security agencies fear that Bangladesh-based subversive elements, like those aligned with fundamentalist outfit and BNP partner Jamaat-e-Islami, could resume their policy of sponsoring and sheltering insurgent groups active in northeast India which use the neighbouring country as a safe haven besides providing an infiltration route to Pakistan-sponsored terror outfits.
The communal divide between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims in parts of Assam has the potential to be exploited by Bangladeshi fundamentalists to radicalize the Muslim youth there and add muscle to home-grown terror in India.
New Delhi has got unprecedented cooperation from the Hasina regime in busting the havens of Indian insurgent groups in her country as well as in the investigation of terror incidents with Bangladeshi linkages. However, as the popularity of the Awami League regime under Hasina dips, ceding ground to rival BNP, the agencies fear that the gains of the last few years may be reversed if Khaleda regains power.
It is no secret that Pakistan's ISI has been using Bangladesh to carry out anti-India operations. Bangladeshi terror outfit HuJI enjoys close links with Pakistani tanzeems. Many of the ISI-sponsored perpetrators of terror attacks in India had either infiltrated through Bangladesh or escaped to the neighbouring country after the strikes. There are many other instances of ISI links with Bangladesh: ISI footing the election bill of Khaleda in 1991, a revelation made by none other than former ISI chief Assad Durani; NSCN cadres travelling to Pakistan from Dhaka in March 1996 for training in guerrilla warfare; an ISI-sponsored technical expert training Ulfa in operation and installation of communication equipment at a Nagaland camp; detaining of NSCN(I-M) chief T Muivah at Bangkok airport in January 2000 while returning from Karachiafter allegedly inspecting an arms consignment; and the revelation of arrested All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) cadres that ISI had extended $20,000 assistance to Tk 58 lakh to the outfit, besides imparting arms training to eight ATTF cadres in 1997 at Kandahar, Afghanistan.
With ISI and Bangladeshi group Jamaat-e-Islami allegedly funding Assam-based Muslim fundamentalist groups like Multa, Mulfa, Simi and Indian Mujahideen, it is feared that the latter may be used to exploit the tension between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims in Kokrajhar to stoke communal fires and instigate local Muslims to take to home-grown terror.
Obviously, the Indian security establishment is keen to arrest the slide in Awami League's popularity. Though there is little it can do to reverse the incumbency disadvantage, a positive development on the Teesta water-sharing pact, financial assistance for the Padma Bridge project and exchange of enclaves may go a long way in correcting the negative perception in Bangladesh that Hasina has not managed any major concessions from India. However, these will be possible only after UPA's troublesome ally, the Trinamool Congress, is convinced to drop its reservations on Teesta and the enclaves.
Even as efforts will intensify over the next year to recover lost ground for Hasina, senior intelligence officials here claimed that Khaleda's BNP alliance, saddled by corruption cases and expected conviction of its leaders by war crimes tribunals, could see a reversal in its growing popular perception closer to the polls, expected sometime in February 2014.
First published in Times of India, TNN, August 29, 2012