Bangladesh and India have signed a series of treaties on extradition and cross-border security that formalise the improved relationship enjoyed between the two since prime minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in late 2008. The past year has seen her Awami-led government crack down on militants which use Bangladesh as a base to attack targets in India, particularly insurgents in the northeast of the country, such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).
The turn-around has been profound – Bangladesh has been a vital sanctuary for militants for much of the past two decades, but throughout 2008, the government snatched and handed over several key militants, including Arabinda Rajkhowa, Sasha Chaudhary and Chitraban Hazarika, three of ULFA’s top leaders. Undaunted by the fact he’s the only ULFA leader still at large, army commander Paresh Barua told reporters last week that the organisation would continue to fight against “illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.” For all their talk about ethnic sovereignty, what these separatists really hate is immigrants. Of course, Bangladeshis aren’t so bad when they are allowing you to use their country as a sanctuary, but I suppose that’s somehow different.
All the arrests had to be quite cloak-and-dagger, with both governments putting out misinformation to the press, basically because they had no basis in law. That’s now changed, with the treaties covering “mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, transfer of sentenced persons, combating terrorism” as well as cooperation on crime and drugs, and some nice cultural stuff as the icing. A big motivator for this new spirit of friendship must be the view Bangladesh is getting of Pakistan, where harbouring militants seems to carry a few troublesome consequences.
There’s also the case of two former Bangladeshi spy chiefs from its National Security Intelligence agency who were arrested in May 2009 for their part in the Chittagong arms haul. The record-breaking bust came in April 2004 quite by accident when policeman happened across 10 trucks being loaded with arms and ammunition at a fertiliser jetty. It has long been believed that the arms were intended for ULFA and that figures within the Bangladeshi establishment – and also within the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency – were involved. Details remain uncertain thanks to a constantly delayed investigation.