Death Penalty May Not Deter The ULFA Chief


A Bangladesh court has awarded the death sentence to United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) chief of staff Paresh Baruah in the sensational Chittagong arms haul case. The fallout of this judgment would have to be assessed in terms of the existing scenario in the region and recent indications of the plans firmed up by the outfit for the separatist campaign in the Northeast.

In 1992, weeks after Operation Rhino was launched in Assam to check the outfit’s activities, the ULFA commander-in-chief escaped to Bangladesh. He left Bangladesh after the Awami League-led government was swept to power towards the fag end of 2008. Over the years, unlike his colleagues who were apprehended and handed over to India, Baruah has successfully evaded arrest. In due course, he landed in Eastern Nagaland and began reorganising the outfit.

In the past two decades or so, the outfit had been able to carve out a massive network in Bangladesh, involving politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, evidenced from the high-profile personalities convicted in the case. The base in the neighbouring country helped the chief to invest funds, strike arms deals and also campaign for Assam’s independence at the international fora. In addition, he was able to interact closely with a section of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) of Bangladesh, who were entrusted to assist the outfit.

These activities will not grind to a halt even if Baruah doesn’t turn up in Bangladesh. For one, the returns from the investments and their transfer to other destinations do not require Baruah’s presence in the country. Like some Manipuri groups, the ULFA still has several hideouts and cadres stationed in that country. And it must be borne in mind that the Awami League-led government is more keen to settle scores with its political rivals than wiping out Northeast militants from its soil. It wouldn’t go hunting for militants beyond a certain point since some of its demands have not yet been accepted by India.

Back in India, ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia’s extradition, which was expected to give a boost to the ongoing peace process (between the Centre and pro-talks ULFA), seems to have got stuck and nobody knows the precise reason why he is still in jail in Dhaka.

Weapons can still be purchased in Bangladesh, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to transship large quantities across the border. The setting up of a fence and the BSF being equipped with sophisticated surveillance gadgets have complicated matters.

When the BNP-led regime was in power, arms-laden ships came all the way from Thailand (and other destinations) to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar. Consignments were then taken through circuitous routes into the Northeast, which were sometimes seized by security forces.