Arms are They Anyway?
the country's law and order has been deteriorating sharply,
a huge cache of arms has been seized in Chittagong. According
to Shubid Ali Bhuiyan, a retired Major General of Army, the
retrieved arms and ammunition are almost equivalent to the ones
of Comilla Division of the Bangladesh Army. "A regular
battle can be fought with such amount of armoury," he says.
While the government and its intelligence remain as indifferent
as ever, the recovery of weapons like assault rifles and rocket-launchers
sends a chilling message to those who still believe in a happy
and stable Bangladesh.
Rumours have been raging across the country as to the identity
of the owners and the destinations of the weapons. Shocked and
confused, the citizens have been asking themselves the fateful
question, whose arms are they anyway?
story began on April 1, at around 11:45, when a crane truck
appeared on the jetty of the Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Factory
(CUFF). The night of an otherwise silent state-owned jetty became
noisy with sounds of around 150 porters offloading wooden boxes
from two ships, MV Khawja and FT Amanat in a synchronised precision.
Though the Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) have claimed
to have recovered the cache, largely credited to a tip-off from
a foreign intelligence, Kazi Abu Tayeeb, the Ansar commander
at the CUFF, has a different story to narrate.
to Tayeeb, smugglers were offloading the largest ever arms cache
recovered in the country with active "help from local police".
Tayeeb alleged 10 truckloads of arms were being offloaded in
the presence of Karnaphuli Police Station's Officer-in-Charge
(OC) Ahadur Rahman, Sergeant Alauddin, Havilder Golam Rasul
and Constable Mohiuddin. The crane truck, Tayeeb said to the
national dailies, rammed into the vehicle of an Ansar member
Minazur Rahman; heated altercations followed; and by this time
a trawler moored to the jetty, two young men appeared, too,
constantly talking on their cell phones. Minazur became suspicious.
rushed to the jetty after receiving a phone call from Minazur,"
Tayeeb said. He in turn, according to newspaper reports, informed
the incident to his boss, Mobin Hossain Khan, assistant security
officer of CUFF. Mobin immediately sought help from the top
officials at the CMP. In the meantime, Mobin went to the crime
scene and demanded an explanation from OC Ahadur for what was
going on in his presence. Ahadur in a show of indifference,
asked Mobin if he would like to have some tea from the nearest
Minazur and Mobin's hard work, however, did not go in vain.
A huge contingent of police led by the CMP Deputy Commissioner,
Abdullahil Baki arrived before the early dawn of April 2. Interestingly,
porters, along with two young men, were allowed to melt away
in front of police reinforcement.
was huge--1, 290 SMGs, 100 Tommy guns, 400 semi-automatic spot
Rifles, 150 rocket launchers with 40-mm barrels, 2000 grenade
launchers, 840 rockets (40mm), 25,020 hand grenades, 6, 392
magazines of SMGs and 18,40 lakh bullets.
colossal nature of the arms retrieved has shocked many. "The
weapons hauled are generally used in classical wars against
a regular army," said Brigadier General (retd) Shahidul
Anam Khan, a national security expert. "Bombs were exploded
in some of the recent deadly incidents in the country such as
the ones in at the Udichi's cultural programme in Jessore and
Bangla New Year's celebration in Ramna Green in Dhaka,"
Shahidul said. But, he continued, rockets or AK-47 rifles or
Uzi submachine guns have never been used in any sort of terrorist
activities here, he continued.
Shubid Ali Bhuiyan agrees. He supports a long-standing allegation,
which claims that huge caches of arms have regularly been smuggled
to different South Asian insurgent groups through Bangladesh.
"There is no big underground party in Bangladesh, which
could possibly bring such a huge consignment of arms,"
on April 3, the police lodged two cases with the Karnaphulli
Police Station (KPS) in connection with the arms haul. Interestingly,
Ahadur Rahman, alleged to have linked with the gunrunners, has
been made the plaintiff; if that is not all, the beleaguered
OC of the KPS has been assigned as the investigative officer.
are, in fact, no strangers to arms smuggling. A series of arms
hauls in the last 10-years have made Bangladesh one of the safest
places for arms smugglers in South Asia.
subsequent governments have remained suspiciously indifferent
in the face of an onslaught of allegations. In fact, last year,
the General Manager (Admin) of the CUFF, ABM Nowsher, had asked
the higher police authorities to take action against illegal
berthing. "Apart from posing a serious threat to the security
and safety of the port city, illegal berthing was also harming
the jetty and the movement of vessels by blocking the river
channel," Nowsher wrote in a letter. Nothing has done to
improve the situation; even after the general manager quite
openly described it grave and a threat to national security.
It is a
long list though. In June last year, the paramilitary Bangladesh
Rifles (BDR) hauled a huge cache of arms, ammunition and high-frequency
communications devices from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT),
which has a 172km porous border with neighbouring India.
along with the army, later, seized another huge cache of arms
and explosives in 10 hauls in the three districts of CHT. This
time the armoury included antiaircraft machineguns, rocket launchers,
grenade launchers, Chinese and US made AK-47, M-79, M-16 rifles
latest recovery in Chittagong dwarfed even the arms haul in
Bogra; then dubbed as the biggest ever arms haul in independent
Bangladesh. June 27 last year, the police retrieved over 1-lakh
bullets and about 200kgs of explosives from an abandoned truck
in a remote village. The truck-owner, Jogesh Dev Burman--allegedly
closely associated with the Tripura Co-operative Association--was
later arrested in a forest in Habiganj.
of arms recovery, however, continued. November 30 last year,
four AK-47 rifles, two revolvers, 20 hand grenades, four time
bombs, 1,000 AK-47 bullets, 2kg plastic explosives and sophisticated
walkie-talkies were recovered after a gunfight with a criminal
outfit in Dhaka, near the US Embassy Building.
several police reports indicate that illegal arms are regularly
being smuggled in through the Chittagong port. At least 37 illegal
arms-smuggling syndicates are active in the region, a police
rebel, known by the pseudonym Selim, was arrested in Chittagong
in mid-2000. In his confessional statement Selim admitted his
involvement in gunrunning; "Arms from Thai and Burmese
insurgents are smuggled into Bangladesh through Chittagong and
the CHT. These are then sold out in the underground market,"
(retired) Ibrahim, a security expert, has more to add. "The
sources and destinations of the smugglers are not clear. But
this is an old story that Bangladesh is being used as a transit
point for its geographical location," the former army-man
tells the United News of Bangladesh. "Because of the political
instability over the years; and the government's failure to
give enough attention to the issue, the arms smugglers have
gained enough courage," Ibrahim says. For us the statement
spells a national security nightmare.