West Bengal is sitting on a terror tinderbox. The signs of it have long been evident but successive governments have chosen to live in denial and allowed the problem to fester. A latest report on the terror heatmap in southeast Asia paints a very worrying picture for India.
The Bangladesh government report which has been sent to the Union home ministry confirms that Bengal, along with Assam and Tripura, form part of an intricate terror network where Bangladesh-based modules have found safe havens due to the porosity of Indo-Bangladesh border.
West Bengal shares 2200 km of it, and has turned out to be one of the most suitable route for terror operatives from Harkat-ul-Jihadi al-Islami (HuJI) and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) to sneak through.
Bengal’s demography and conveniently located cities offer them relocation and cover. As the Sheikh Hasina government turns up the heat on home-grown terrorists (some with Al-Qaeda and Islamic State links), many of these operatives are infiltrating into the state along with arms and ammunition and spreading in various parts of India using the connectivity that Kolkata provides.
A grim situation has turned even more grim for India owing to the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s resolve to fight militancy with an iron hand. Wounded by Bangladesh’s global notoriety due to a spate of fatal attacks on secular bloggers and determined to put an end to Khaleda Zia’s policy of stoking fundamentalism to further political prowess, Hasina had ordered stern action against Islamists. The process, which started in right earnest last year, has continued with the Bangladesh PM showing steely resolve.
More than 3000 history-sheeters and 37 hard core terrorists were arrested in June alone last year in a nationwide crackdown. Hasina, according to PTI, told a meeting of her ruling Awami League that terrorists won’t have anywhere to hide. “Where will they hide in Bangladesh.. No one will get away. Bangladesh is a small country. It’s not a tough task to find them. They will be brought to justice.”
Except that they did escape. And found an easy avenue through Bengal on the other side of international border.
The report on JMB and HuJI’s terror activities, carried by Times of India, details that there was a three-fold increase in terror infiltration in 2016 compared to the year before. While nearly 2,010 HuJI and JMB operatives entered through the three states, the newspaper report says approximately 720 entered through Bengal border alone. It says Bengal government officials are “skeptical” about the report, “but even if just a close estimate, the number is disturbing as intelligence reports pegged the number of infiltrators in 2014 and 2015 at 800 and 659, respectively.”
The NIA, incidentally, had found direct link between the October 2014 blast in Bengal’s Burdwan district where two JMB operatives were killed and a third injured. Cops had recovered improvised explosive devices, RDX, wrist watches and SIM cards from the site.
This isn’t a report prepared by India’s homeland security agencies that Trinamool Congress may find some political motives. This is advice forwarded by a friendly neighbourhood nation that is grappling with Islamism and its tools of coercion and wants India to at least stop being a safe house, if not aid in flushing out the operatives.
Unfortunately, Bengal still remains in a mode of denial. Instead of tightening its security apparatus, it is trying reportedly to ascertain the “veracity” of the advice. As TOI points out, Assam appears to be more receptive. The state police has already arrested 54 JMB operatives and “formed a high-powered committee of top police officers and MLAs to check infiltration.”
The Mamata Banerjee government needs to be reminded that one of the terror masterminds of the infamous Dhaka Gulshan Café blast stayed in a hotel in Bengal. The attack, which has later been established as Islamic State handiwork, was planned and executed by a group of terrorists led by Tamim Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi-Canadian Islamic State operative who was finally shot dead by Bangladesh police last year in Dhaka.
It is believed that Tamim and JMB leader Mohammed Suleiman, both of whom were the key players in the Gulshan Café attack that killed 29 people including foreigners, travelled to India shortly before the attack and met Indian national Abu Musa in Malda, a border district in Bengal. According to a report in Deccan Chronicle, Suleiman and his companion (believed to be Tamim) also stayed at a hotel in Bengal.
If more evidence of the intricacy of this terror web is required, Kolkata police in March arrested another suspect of the Gulshan Café attack. Idris Ali, according to a report in India Today, was arrested from the city’s Burrabazar area by a special task force which acted on a tip-off from Delhi’s special cell.
The problem with illegal immigrants in Bengal is as much a security issue as it is a political one. The RSS has already made it one of their chief planks and sees enough political leverage to spread its base in the state. It recently passed a resolution at the end of its three-day national council meet in Coimbatore.
Unfortunately, the state government too sees the issue from a political filter, entirely ignoring the security-related repercussions. The Bangladesh report should come as a timely wake-up call for Mamata Banerjee. She needs to rise above partisan politics in national interest.