Wednesday, December 23, 2009

G.M. Quader

RECENTLY, there have been reports of arrest of some important United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) leaders. There seems to be considerable speculation in the Indian and Bangladeshi media whether some leaders of the above-mentioned organisation were “handed over” to India or whether they were “picked up” by the Indian security agencies when they crossed over to India, or whether they “surrendered” in India.
This speculation has continued despite the clarification issued by Home Minister, Sahara Khatun, that the Ulfa leaders in question were not arrested in
Bangladesh and the statement of her Indian counterpart, P. Chidambaram, in the Indian Parliament, is that, the arrests took place in the Indian state of Meghalaya.
Since coming to power, the government headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has shown commendable determination and courage by taking firm action against all terrorist organisations, irrespective of whether they belong to Bangladesh or other countries of the region, operating from Bangladeshi soil. These organisations include Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (Huji), Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Ulfa and Kamtapuri Liberation Organisation (KLO).
By adopting this course of action, the present government is not only doing a great service to the people of Bangladesh, but is also demonstrating that this country is a responsible member of the comity of nations and is committed to fulfilling its international obligations.
Bangladesh is a signatory to several international conventions against terrorism. It has a solemn responsibility to take action against all terrorist organisations operating from its soil in accordance with various resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council. Besides, Bangladesh is also a signatory to the Saarc Convention on Suppression of Terrorism.
Bangladesh is also a strong voice for effective regional action to eradicate the menace of terrorism. Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni, expressed this sentiment by stating in very clear terms that Bangladesh will not allow any terrorist organisation to operate from its soil.
Bangladesh is well within its sovereign right to take such action as it deems fit, in such manner as it deems appropriate, against all elements and organisations that seek to exploit its territory for nefarious purposes. As such, it does not really matter even if the recent arrests of some important Ulfa leaders were made even in Bangladesh. And, if that was the case Bangladesh does not seem to have reason to deny the same.
Some concern has also been expressed recently in certain quarters about a threat from the arrested leaders of Ulfa, who have alleged that they have been “betrayed” by Bangladesh. The question of betrayal comes in case there is understanding of any sort or any obligation from the part of Bangladesh to that organisation.
Why should Bangladesh have any understanding with Ulfa, and in what way do the people of Bangladesh have any obligations to support or provide protection to them? Why then, should Ulfa and other terrorist organisations, take it as a right to exploit Bangladeshi soil for their activities, and feel betrayed if not allowed to do so? Threats are sometimes used for intimidation against the weak. Does Bangladesh look weak enough to be cowed down by such threats?
At times it is seen that people try to justify terrorist activities as part of a liberation war. It is also observed that the terrorist organisations, especially from the countries of this region, sometimes claim that they are fighting “liberation wars” similar to that fought by Bangladesh against Pakistan. The freedom fighters of Bangladesh, known as Mukti Bahini, fought against the Pakistani army during our War of Liberation, with the active support and cooperation of almost the entire population. There is not a single incident of indiscriminate attacks against children, women and other unarmed, defenseless civilians.
It is, therefore, an insult to our War of Independence to compare it with the wanton attacks perpetrated by many of the terrorist groups of our region when innocent people, even women and children, fall prey.
On August 15, 2004, twenty persons, including seven innocent schoolchildren participating in a cultural function to mark India’s Independence Day, were brutally massacred in an explosion in Dhemaji, Assam. On October 30, 2008, scores of civilians were killed in a series of blasts in Guwahati and Kokrajhar. On November 10, 2009, the hapless family members of a group of erstwhile outlaws who had decided to lay down their weapons were gunned down in a cowardly midnight raid in Pushparampara village in Kanchanpur sub-division of northern Tripura near the Bangladesh-India border.
These are but a few examples of the cold-blooded terrorist attacks perpetrated over the years by organisations such as Ulfa, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT).
Today, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina prepares to undertake a historic visit to New Delhi, there is a growing desire in Bangladesh to take advantage of India’s strengths and its rising prosperity.
Bangladeshi businessmen want greater access to Indian markets and attract more Indian investment in our country. We want to take advantage of India’s education system, particularly its renowned institutions of higher learning, its world-class medical facilities and so on. Can we do so by remaining insensitive to, and pointedly disregarding, India’s security concerns?
We need to decide once and for all what is more beneficial for Bangladesh: succumbing to the machinations of terrorist organisations such as LeT and Ulfa, which have spilled the blood of many innocent civilians, or living up to the expectations of a friendly neighbouring country and the larger international community.
A year ago, this very month, the patriotic and peace-loving people of Bangladesh voted overwhelmingly in favour of democracy, peace and development, the very ideals that are anathema to the forces of anarchy and terrorism. The message from Bangladesh to Ulfa and other terrorist organisations of its ilk is, therefore, loud and clear. There are no safe havens for them in Bangladesh anymore.

G. M. Quader, MP, is Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism.