Friday, May 1, 2009

Bangladesh Presses ULFA To Start Talks With Delhi

By Subir Bhaumik

The ULFA is under huge pressure from Bangladesh to start a "positive dialogue" with the Indian government after the parliament elections are over and a new government takes charge in Delhi. Regardless of who comes to power in Delhi, the Awami League government wants the ULFA to open political negotiations and leave the country. Through clandestine channels, possibly its own intelligence which has nurtured the ULFA for more than a decade, the League government has made it clear to the Assamese rebel leadership that Dhaka cannot accept a strain in its relationship with Delhi for the sake of ULFA or any other northeast Indian rebel groups based in Bangladesh.
"Get out of Bangladesh at the earliest and in as decent a way as possible, or else we will be compelled to strike very hard " seems to be the message given to the ULFA by the new government in Dhaka. Obviously, the new government wants to avoid the embarassment of having to hound the ULFA out from its country because that will support India's long-drawn allegations of Bangladesh supporting the ULFA. Now that's a legacy of the Ershad and Begum Zia years that Hasina will have to put up with, but under the given circumstances, her best option is to get the ULFA involved in a dialogue with India that will slowly help the rebels to get out of Bangladesh without causing any major embarassment to Dhaka.

In a way, Hasina is trying to do India a long overdue return favour.
In 1997, India forced the Parbottya Chattogram Jansanghati Samity (PCJSS) and its armed wing, Shanti Bahini to sign a political settlement with the Hasina government that ended the two decade old bloody guerrilla insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. I know for a fact that the PCJSS leadership was not willing to sign the deal so quickly - but they were forced to by Indian intelligence, who had helped them over the years. This was a favour done to the Hasina government - alongside the Ganges waters treaty - by the United Front government on which the Left had huge influence. I have reasons to believe that Jyoti Basu played a major role in Delhi's decisions to do Bangladesh the twin favours.
But except for the arrest of ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia, Dhaka did very little in return. So it's about time. As the pressure mounts on the ULFA - and the Chittagong arms haul case will only keep the pressure up because Paresh Barua has been named as the ultimate recipient of the huge quantity of arms - one can see some tell-tale signs of the new dynamics.

Just before the parliament elections in Assam, senior BJP leaders received calls from Paresh Barua personally offering resumption of the peace dialogue that was opened and discontinued by the Congress government in 2006. The calls followed some behind the scene parleys involving civil society personalities close to ULFA and BJP leaders in Assam. The ULFA commander in chief was trying to open a line with the BJP - after having attacked the organisation all these years as a communal group perpetuating Indian hegemony in northeast - in case the next government in Delhi is formed by the NDA. Barua is also in touch with some Congress leaders and senior intelligence officials in Delhi - in case he needs them to open the dialogue with a government headed by the Congress. He is dismayed, though, by Indian home minister P Chidambaram's refusal to start any dialogue with the ULFA because of its involvement in the 30 October, 2008 bombings.
That explains why the ULFA did not go in for any of the fireworks it usually starts off during elections. It also avoided attacking any BJP and AGP worker or leader during the poll campaign, as it has done so often in the past. The AGP may be useful for him because as an Assamese regional party, it would want the peace process to start in the state and its alliance with the BJP would help if an NDA government is formed in Delhi.

(Subir Bhaumik is the BBC's East India Correspondent and a known Northeast India specialist)
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