ULFA leaders including their chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa seem to be caught both in retrospection and introspection for their 33 years of senseless violence, claiming 13,000 innocent lives. The realisation ultimately dawned on them that “it has been nothing but a wild goose chase for them to fight for a sovereign independent Assam”. It is a positive development that their 12 point charter of demands submitted to the Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram, on August 7 in New Delhi no longer harps on ‘secession’ from India but presses for ‘a sovereign state’, which awaits clarification, however.
Arabinda Rajkhowa and foreign secretary Shashadhar Chowdhury after meeting the Union Home Minister were candid enough to admit before the media that their “outfit has been receiving arms and ammunitions from the Pakistan Government and ISI”. Shashadhar Chowdhury went on record to say that ISI had imparted arms training to several ULFA leaders while some agencies in Bangladesh extended support.
ULFA’s Pakistan-ISI-Bangladesh connect, in fact, was nothing new but within the full knowledge of the intelligence agencies of the country. Top leaders and cadres took shelter in Bangladesh where the outfit among all the north-east militant groups had the highest number of training and transit camps. BSF intelligence counted them to 27, spread across different districts including Chittagong Hill Tract and Cox’s Bazar.
With the return of Sheikh Hasina Government to power, curtain was going to be dropped, though not completely, on the violent phase of ULFA with the arrest of all the top ten leaders including chairman Arbinda Rajkhowa. Apart from being tragic, it was also sad to hear him say that ULFA leaders had to assume Islamic names for safe refuge in Bangladesh. Shashadhar Chowdhury lived as Rafiqul Islam, his wife assumed the name of Sabina Yasmin. Another top leader Anup Chetia who was arrested in Dhaka in 1997 on various charges including illegally entering the country and put on trial has already served his sentence, but continues to be in detention in Dhaka since 2003. For the safe stay of his family members, the latter had to disguise himself under Islamic name and even his son assumed the name of Sagar Islam and daughter as Banya Akhtar.
Shashadhar Chowdhury’s confessional statement before the media had also thrown light on yet another fact that with the help of Pakistan and Bangladesh army and civil authorities, all the top leaders had procured ID cards and passports of several countries by faking their names. Worst thing to happen for them was to act under the tutelage of the notorious ISI of Pakistan, a fact repeatedly brought out by the civil and military intelligence agencies of the country. That nexus helped ULFA to garner international help and set up bases in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar, said Shashadhar Chowdhury.
He did admit, “Pakistan’s ISI trained ULFA. In 1991, I was part of the first batch of ULFA members to go to Pakistan for training in arms including main battle rifles.” This fact was revealed by the then Home Minister of Assam Rockybul Hussain in the State Assembly on November 6, 2000. To a question on ISI activities in Assam, Rockybul Hussain made a detailed statement which said that Assam police was in possession of plenty of evidences to show that the top ULFA leadership was in close touch with certain officials of the Pakistani High Commission in Dacca. The ULFA leaders had also been travelling to Pakistan regularly. Pakistani agencies had already imparted arms training to hundreds of ULFA cadres.
According to the confessional statements of a good number of ULFA leaders including their self-styled vice chairman Pradip Gogoi, the Pakistani officials in their High Commission arranged for their passports in various Muslim names and send them to Karachi. From Karachi Airport, they were whisked away in unmarked vehicles to the training centres. ISI had procured different passports for Paresh Barua, the self-styled commander in chief in different names. Assam police had been able to procure a copy of one passport issued to Paresh Barua in the name of Kamaruddin Zaman Khan. Documentary evidence suggests that this Bangladeshi passport had been obtained by fraudulent means with the help of an official of the Pakistani High Commission. The passport shows his profession as business and place of birth at Sunamganj. The passport was issued on November 5, 1999.
During the Kargil war, ULFA issued a statement condemning Indian Government’s role in Kashmir. The language of the above statement was exactly the same as that issued by the Harkut-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistan based terrorist outfit controlled by the ISI.
It was during this heyday of ULFA-ISI nexus that helped the latter to be actively involved in fomenting violence and terrorism in the State. The State Home Ministry’s report then stated how ISI promoted indiscriminate violence in Assam by providing active support to the local militant outfits, created new extremist groups along ethnic and communal lines, supplied explosives and sophisticated arms to various terrorist bodies, caused sabotage of oil pipelines and other installations, communication lines, railways and roads, besides encouraging fundamentalism and militancy among local Muslim youths by indoctrinating them in the name of ‘jehad’.