Homeland Security

The Dubious Deal with ULFA
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 07 Jan , 2011

The Assam government, fully backed by New Delhi, has cleared the passage for release of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) leaders from jail. On the New Year’s Day, the so-called chairman of the organisation, Arabinda Rajkhowa, became the sixth top leader to have been released on bail over the last one year. The essential strategy, chalked out by the former Intelligence Bureau head P C Haldar, seems to be that the released leaders will follow the path of the former Mizo rebels in the neighbouring Mizoram by ending their violent means and joining the national mainstream through peaceful political participation.

It so happened that on the day of Rajkhowa’s release, this writer was in the Assam capital. I asked the ordinary people about the significance of the government’s decision. The unanimous response was that the ageing Rajkhowa, like all his senior comrades, had done extremely well for himself(in material terms) and would like some peace with honour before deciding his future course of his action now that the ULFA’s morale was at an all-time low, particularly after Sheikh Hasina came to the power in the neighboring Bangladesh, the country where the top ULFA leadership was getting all types of help from not only the previous regimes in Dhaka but also from the Pakistani and Chinese intelligence agencies. In fact, but for Sheikh Hasina, Rajkhowa would not have been in jail. He was arrested by Indian security agencies after being handed over by the Bangladesh authorities in November 2009 at the Meghalaya border where he was picked up.

The ISI has provided ULFA cadres with arms training, safe havens, funds, arms and ammunition.

The Assam government has been extremely kind to Rajkhowa. Though ULFA continues technically as a banned organisation, the government has given up for all practical purposes the restrictions on the outfit, even to the extent of allowing the hoisting of ULFA flags in cars and venues used by its cadres, something unthinkable a year ago. The government no more insists on surrender of arms and a formal letter form the ULFA leaders as preconditions for dialogue. In fact, the state government has offered free passage to the ULFA cadres of all ranks still in their hideouts to facilitate their joining the forthcoming Bihu celebrations with their respective families and friends. Above all, Raqjkhowa has now been provided status and security cover by the government comparable to a VVIP

The ULFA was formed on April 7, 1979 by Bhimakanta Buragohain, Rajiv Rajkonwar alias Arabinda Rajkhowa, Golap Baruah alias Anup Chetia, Samiran Gogoi alias Pradip Gogoi, Bhadreshwar Gohain and Paresh Baruah at the Rang Ghar in Sibsagar to establish a “sovereign socialist Assam” through an armed struggle under the spurious belief that Assam was never a part of India. As things stand today, Anup Chetia, the general secretary of the ULFA, is in the custody of the Bangladesh government. Praesh Baruah, arguably the most important leader, who also happens to be the outfit’s Commander-in Chief, is still elusive and believed to be somewhere in Myanmar with ISI and Chinese connivance.

Over the years, the organisation has had developed close links with similar secessionist organisations such as the then unified National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) of Myanmar. Subsequently, it established ties with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan Mujahideen. The ISI has provided ULFA cadres with arms training, safe havens, funds, arms and ammunition. Paresh Baruah has reportedly met Osama bin Laden in 1996 during a visit to Karachi. The ULFA leader was reportedly taken to a camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where he not only received assurance of military help in the form of arms and ammunition, but also assurances of co-operation and logistical support of all international organisations owing allegiance to Osama, apart from the Al Qaeda.

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Pakistan has facilitated the visits of Paresh Baruah and other ULFA leaders to Singapore, Thailand and other countries, and a channel for the transfer of funds and arms has been created. Several Madrassas (seminaries) and mosques sponsored by the ISI in the Sylhet and Cox’s Bazaar areas are being used to hoard and transfer arms procured by the ULFA from Thailand and Myanmar. The ISI largesse enabled ULFA to buy arms in Cambodia, paying for these in hard currency routed through Nepal. The ISI also ‘introduced’ ULFA to LTTE transporters who, for a fee, undertook to transport arms from Southeast Asia into Myanmar.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Prakash Nanda

is a journalist and editorial consultant for Indian Defence Review. He is also the author of “Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy.”

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