Debating India

ASSAM

Meanwhile, In The East

Wednesday 20 April 2005, by DATTA*Saikat

Bangladesh conducts mock exercises...a new flank?

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S. Mahanta

On April 24, Assam Governor Lt General Ajai Singh wrote to the PMO about a fresh wave of reports emanating out of Bangladesh indicating a security threat to India’s Northeast region. In his letter, Ajai Singh noted that "there is cause for concern" and that it needed to be looked at closely and action taken at the earliest. In fact, he was reiterating concerns expressed by his predecessor Lieutenant General S.K. Sinha (retd) before he moved to Jammu and Kashmir.

Singh also pointed at fresh reports indicating that new fundamentalist groups were emerging which could pose a serious threat to the Northeast, particularly the sensitive Siliguri corridor which links the region to mainland India.

In fact, Singh’s letter corroborates inputs provided by security agencies and an army assessment. It is not as if Bangladesh is preparing to wage war with India. But the army has it that Bangladesh army is preparing for low-intensity conflicts in which it would lend a covert hand to insurgent groups in the region.

What has caused concern among Indian security agencies is a document showing the Bangladesh army (BA) conducting an exercise called Ex-Destranor-17, a mock unconventional warfare "behind enemy lines" supported by conventional logistic support. Conducted under the 66 Infantry Division of the BA, it happened "2.5 km inside enemy territory with conventional logistic support" and with "support from local population assuming that not all of them are friendly". The exercise was conducted from April 15 to 23 last year and troops were drawn from the 16th, 72nd and 222nd infantry brigades. The lessons from it have now been factored in.

South Block sources say the army top brass has also expressed concerns about the BA’s move to improve its offensive capabilities. Reports have been received that the BA has raised seven new armoured regiments to be used in a purely offensive role. In fact, worried about the vulnerability of the Siliguri corridor, the army recently moved some of its formations deployed in Jammu and Kashmir during Operation Parakram to the region.

An Indian army assessment has also pointed to the renewed activities of several fundamentalist organisations in Bangladesh and their impact on the region’s overall security. Among others, the report names Jamaat-e-Islami and Islamic Chhatra Shibir, organisations which have maintained an anti-India stance. However, the emergence of new organisations like Jagrata Muslim Janata BD, the assessment says, is cause for worry. While the Jamaat-e-Islami is a part of the four-party alliance in Bangladesh, other bodies like the Harkat-ul-Jihadi-al-Islami have also made Indian intelligence agencies see red. The assessment notes that its activities in areas bordering West Bengal and Assam are cause for worry. According to the report, the organisation has now changed its name to Islamic Samaj Kalyan Parishad with a youth wing called the Jamat-ul-Mujahideen.

While India is watching the ongoing developments within Bangladesh, analysts say the continuing illegal immigration can no longer be ignored. "There are reports that all long-term perspective plans drawn up by the Bangladesh Army look at India as their area of concern which is worrying," says a senior army official.

The Border Security Force has also raised the issue of illegal immigration with its counterpart, the Bangladesh Rifles, in several meetings. While Bangladesh has maintained that there is no illegal immigration, the bsf has pointed out that several terrorist groups operating against India are based in Bangladesh.

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