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     Volume 8 Issue 70 | May 22, 2009 |

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Special Feature

Selling their Souls to the Devil

For the last few years some people bestowed with the sacred responsibility of safeguarding our national security have been flouting it in the dastardliest manner. Recent arrests made by the police suggest that the former bosses of the country's top spy agency have sold themselves to a foreign organisation, putting Bangladesh's national security in jeopardy.

Ahmede Hussain

April 1, 2004; 11:45 at night. A crane truck appeared at 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.

Kazi Abu Tayeeb, the Ansar commander at the CUFF told the press immediately after the recovery of the arms that the police were actively helping the smugglers to offload the crates of guns and grenades. "Karnaphuli Police Station's Officer-in-Charge (OC) Ahadur Rahman, Sergeant Alauddin, Havilder Golam Rasul and Constable Mohiuddin were present at the scene," he said.

Even though the Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) credited the recovery to a foreign intelligence agency, Tayeeb told the press that the discovery was accidental. "The crane truck rammed into the vehicle of an Ansar member Minazur Rahman, and there were heated altercations. By this time a trawler moored to the jetty, two young men appeared, constantly talking on their cell phones," he said, "Minazur got suspicious."

Lutfozzaman Babar the then Home Minister inspects the sensational arms recovery.

After getting Minazur's call Tayeeb rushed to the jetty and telephoned his boss Mobin Hossain Khan, assistant security officer of the CUFF. Mobin immediately sought help from the top officials at the CMP. Meanwhile at the jetty Mobin 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 tea-stall. A contingent of police led by the CMP Deputy Commissioner Abdullahil Baki eventually arrived before the early dawn of April 2.

The recovery 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. Brigadier General (retd) Shahidul Anam Khan, a national security expert, thinks that the weapons hauled are generally used in classical wars against a regular army. “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,” he says, "But rockets or AK-47 rifles or Uzi submachine guns have never been used in any sort of terrorist activities here."

Truckloads of ammunition.

The Four-Party-Alliance government, which was in the helm at that time promised to unearth the masterminds of the biggest arms haul in the country's history. The then State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar flew off to Chittagong by a helicopter to inspect the recovery himself. "We believe these modern firearms were intended to run subversive activities in Bangladesh, as the consignment landed here," he said, " "Such a slew of sophisticated arms smuggled into Bangladesh threatens national security, but we are on alert. We will pull out all the stops to identify and punish the guilty. All including the owners and crew of the vessels that carried the consignment will be quizzed to track down the racket." Babar tasked "several teams" to investigate into the incident, and whatever the investigators had found was never made public.

Babar's contribution to the Chittagong arms haul ends there. But the last BNP government's role in handling the investigation has raised many questions. The OC of the Karnaphuli Police Station Ahadur Rahman, who, according to Tayeeb was overseeing the smuggling, was made the plaintiff and investigative officer of the case. In the next three years of its power the Bangladesh Nationalist Party government did everything it could to erase the incident from public memory.

The NSI bosses implicated in the case.

A significant breakthrough in the case, however, took place on October 26, 2005, more than a year after the ammo haul. Md Hafizur Rahman, one of the gunrunners, turned himself in before the judge. The police arrested him from the court premises and later he confessed to his involvement in the incident. His confessional statement has never been made public; a copy of the leaked statement obtained by the Star reveals grisly information. "I used to travel to Dhaka for my business. There I met Obhi, who gave me some business proposal; at the beginning of 2002, he introduced me to a person who wanted to do business with me. The man called himself Zaman, a few days later he revealed his real identity. He said that he was a member of the Ulfa (United Liberation Front of Asom, a banned North-east Indian insurgent outfit). I eventually found out that Zaman was actually Ulfa's Commander Paresh Barua. He told me that they (the Ulfa) were going to import some machinery and needed my help to unload them from the ship," Hafizur said in his confessional statement.

He also said that on the March 29, 2004, he, along with Asif and two more men (presumably Ulfa operatives), went to Koilar Depot (in Chittagong), where they rode a sampan to go to a trawler. They moved with the two trawlers towards the Saint Martin's Island, where at the outer anchorage they found the ship loaded with arms. "The ship was a little tall in frame. I could not see its name. There was no flag on it. So I cannot tell what country's ship it was," he said. After loading the trawlers, the gang steered them towards Chittagong. The rest is history.

Any whiff of the involvement of the Ulfa would have been good enough to spell a national security nightmare. The BNP-led government did not do anything with Hafizur's information. In fact, the recent arrest of former National Security Intelligence (NSI) director Wing Commander (retired) Shahbuddin Ahmed explains the BNP government's reluctance to probe into the Chittagong ammo haul. After his arrest, Shahab implicated his former NSI bosses Major General (retired) Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury and Brig Gen (retired) M Abdur Rahim in the arms smuggling case. According to the Daily Prothom Alo, Shahbuddin has told his interrogators that Dubai-based the ARY Group (Abdul Razzaq Yaqoob Group), owned by Abdul Razzaq Yaqoob, has funded the consignment. Some NSI operatives were given the responsibility of the safe passage of the arms inside the country to the Haluaghat area of Mymensingh.

Click on the image to enlarge

Shahab has also said that as the Director General of the NSI, Brig Gen (retired) M Abdur Rahim has visited Dubai once to have a meeting with the chief of a country's spy agency. In 2003, Salman Yousuf Rahman, the managing director of ARY Group, along with a friend, came to Dhaka to meet the DG of NSI. He was provided with a car by the NSI and all the expenses of his visit were borne by the NSI, which runs on the taxpayers' money. Yousuf had a meeting with the DG at a 'safe house' in the city where Paresh Barua, a country's High Commissioner and Defence Adviser were present.

Shahab has also said that in Brig Gen (rtd) Rahim's 2003 meeting with the ARY Group, Tarique Rahman, then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's son, was present. In fact, this is not for the first time Tarique's Dubai connection has come to the press-- the daily Anandabazar Patrika, a Kolkata-based newspaper in a report it ran in March 2007 said that Tarique had close links with runaway Indian fugitive Daud Ibrahim as well as the al-Qaeda. The report titled "Khaleda's son contacted Daud to buy arms" also claimed that Tarique and the then NSI DG Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury travelled to Dubai in March 2006 to secure a series of deals at a Dubai hotel to buy arms and ammunition in the lead up to the cancelled January 22 parliamentary elections.

Rezzaqul, who, along with Rahim, has been arrested and is facing interrogation by a task force was given a promotion and made major general on December 24, 2005, a year after the Chittagong ammo haul, in which, according to Shahab's statement, he was involved.

What makes the BNP government's investigation into the haul farcical is that one of the persons appointed to probe into the incident was none other than Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury. Brig Gen (rtd) Anam says that it is becoming more evident as the questioning progresses that the matter was in the know of high-ups of more than one state agency. He says, "What needs to be determined is whether any

policymaker was in the knowledge of it and whether the operation had his acquiescence, or was it like the Iran-contra affair where the low level operatives were involved in illegal arms transfer without the knowledge of the country's executive head?"

He adds that it hardly needs to be emphasised that such operations will have serious consequences for the country's security--"What we cannot accept is that our national interest be put at stake by officers working in agencies tasked to ensure state security. For the sake of national security it is essential to pinpoint the agencies involved, the level of involvement, the personalities involved and the source of the weapons."

Shahab has told the interrogators that to avoid getting drawn into the arms haul he feigned illness and admitted himself to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH, which is inside the Cantonment) where he was visited by Ulfa's Paresh Barua. The ARY Group's Abdul Razzak Yaqoob has been linked with the Pakistani establishment. He has offered the Pakistan government cash to bail it out. Pakistan, on the other hand, has strategic interests in funding the Ulfa and other such Indian insurgent groups, as the country wants to wage a proxy war against its archrival India. Every country can have its own idea of safeguarding itself; Pakistan may have its own too. But making Bangladesh a battleground for its dummy war against India can never be justified.

Caches of the deadly equipment.

Those who have sold the country's national interest for a few thousand pounds must be tried. Having said that, the government must also handle the matter in the most transparent manner. There must be an independent investigation to find out how such foreign elements or their agents have infiltrated into the ranks of such a sensitive national organisation. At the same time, the government must not punish individuals for their political belief. The culprits must be punished; we have opened a can of worms; these worms are deadly and dangerous; before they do more harm to us, they have to be purged. The sooner the better.

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