Strengthen Sheikh Hasina’s hands: Crackdown on Kolkata-protected criminals
by Ramtanu Maitra on 19 Mar 2010 3 Comments

The appointment of former National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan as Governor of West Bengal is a welcome relief. Whether or not the March 3 arrest of senior Maoist leader Venkateshwar Reddy was triggered by actions initiated from Kolkata’s Raj Bhavan, it is more necessary than ever to dismantle the terror and drug networks set up in West Bengal during the more than 30-year-long corrupt CPI (M) rule.


It is necessary because the newly re-elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed has taken on the foreign-funded and externally-organized Islamic terrorist groups. She has met with some success so far; but her success, and her physical survival, depends not only on eliminating the Bangladeshi jihadis, but also on India’s efforts to clean up West Bengal, where the Islamic terrorists of Bangladesh have set up strong bases, together with the Indian terrorists of northeast India and the Maoists. These terrorist are now in league with drug and gun traffickers who move their wares from Myanmar through Kolkata, their transit point.


An NDTV news item on March 3 pointed out that the arrest of Reddy, reportedly close to top Maoist-terrorist “Kishenji,” has set off alarm bells within the intelligence and security establishments. What this confirms is that the Maoists have fully infiltrated West Bengal’s main city, Kolkata. There is little doubt that the Maoists have set up hideouts, or have access to hideouts set up by other terrorists, there. Law and order officials hope that they will be able to uncover the location of these hideouts with Reddy’s help, NDTV noted. Although these Maoist-terrorists have long spread a reign of terror in the state of West Bengal, particularly in the districts of Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore, until this arrest was made, CPI (M) officials were eager to convey to the hapless citizens that Kolkata was free of terrorists.


Mumbai Attack, LeT, ISI Links to Kolkata


Following the November 2008 terrorist attack on two Mumbai hotels, the railroad station and a Jewish community center, it came to light that Kolkata Police had arrested at least one local in connection with the purchase of SIM cards for the cell phones allegedly used by the Mumbai terrorists, with fake documents. At least 37 SIM cards were procured in Kolkata and adjacent areas and sent to Pakistan prior to the attack. Security agencies believe some of them were used during the Mumbai terrorist attacks. The cards were purchased mainly from the Park Street area in Kolkata, Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district and Santoshpur in South 24 Parganas district, one news report said.


It would be altogether misleading to assume that the drug-and-terror networks were set up in Kolkata and parts of West Bengal, recently. In reality, taking advantage of the secular CPI-M’s policy of keeping hands-off all Muslim affairs, drug traffickers transiting opium/heroin as well as amphetamines from Myanmar through Bangladesh had set up Kolkata as their major distribution center years ago. As honey attracts bees, the drug money brought Islamic terrorists, Maoists and even Tamil Tigers to set up operational bases in and around Kolkata.


Because of its close links with such terrorist groups as Harkatul Jihadi Islami (HuJI) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Pakistani ISI also took the opportunity to establish operational cells in Kolkata. The SIM card purchase from Park Street is only the latest incident in a string of evidence pointing to the illegal operations, but the CPI (M) administration did little to ensure security. It will never be known how much evidence has been suppressed by CPI (M) officials during the last three decades of their reign.


Why would the CPI (M) suppress evidence that would expose foreign terrorist activities on India’s soil? The ostensible reason, of course, is the votebank. In West Bengal, Muslims number close to 24 percent of the total population. All political parties seek support of this “Muslim votebank.” As everywhere else in India, political groups in West Bengal eschew efforts to integrate the population in favour of playing compartmentalized votebank politics. The result is that the terrorists - Islamic terrorists working in league with the Pakistani ISI and international Islamic terrorist groups such as the LeT, HuJI et al as well as the Maoists and the LTTE - have an open field to set up their networks. For instance, in Kerala, another state where the CPI (M) is politically powerful, Saudi-financed Islamic terrorists have become a threat, and have spread their networks beyond Kerala into Karnataka, and even Tamil Nadu.


In addition to the Muslim votes, the CPI (M) derives some financial “benefits” by protecting these terrorists by looking the other way. In return for protection, the terrorists “help” party officials financially with the cash they generate through the sale of narcotics and illegal arms. Moreover, it is almost a certainty that unless this hornet’s nest is dismantled, any other political party that comes to power in West Bengal in the future would keep the mutually beneficial arrangements intact.


How Deep rooted is it?


In January 2002, after terrorists attacked the American consulate in Kolkata, bits and pieces of reports emerged showing that the terrorists involved belonged to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the international terrorist outfit with a base in Pakistan, Britain and Central Asia. At the time, Sudhir Sinha, Inspector General of Police for West Bengal, told a reporter that an interrogation in a kidnapping case gave him an insight into the network set up by LeT in Kolkata. He was focusing on a gang led by one Asif Razakhan and Aftab Ahmad Ansari.


IGP Sinha said: “The impression we gathered from these criminals was that the Kolkata police are considered soft by Pakistani criminals. Terrorists consider the Mumbai police tough; they feel that Delhi has too many mobile vans keeping vigil on the roads; and Gujarat is too far away. They believe that for political reasons, the Kolkata police do not enter the Muslim areas of the city and that is helpful [to terrorists]. Asif told us that most of the criminal members in Ansari’s gang belonged to Kolkata.”


Sinha also said that Kolkata police avoid picking up Muslim criminals, thanks to political pressure. Investigation of the kidnapping incident revealed that Ansari had flown to Dubai, the base from which the ISI-protected Dawood Ibrahim, who also has a base in Karachi, carries out criminal activities inside India. Sinha noted that at the time Ansari had been carrying out his criminal activities from Karachi and was married to a Pakistani woman who lived in Pakistan’s garrison-city Rawalpindi. Ansari was an active member of the HuJI.


Kolkata has been identified earlier as a target and base of the HuJI. In 2007, the UP Police claimed that with the help of the local police they arrested three HuJI activists from West Bengal, recovered explosives they had hidden, and then booked them under the Explosives Act and the Unlawful Activities Act.


Last month, Abdul Khwaja, who is believed to have become a key operative of HuJI in recent days, was apprehended in Hyderabad in connection with a fake currency racket busted in Kolkata a few months ago. Police said Khwaja was arrested in Hyderabad in January through a joint raid by the Kolkata Special Task Force (STF) and Hyderabad Police. Officers said Khwaja was also associated with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and was reportedly trained in Pakistan by LeT. 


In June 2006, Kolkata-based Bengali news magazine Desh put together a comprehensive picture of the Kolkata-based terrorist networks’ linkages with Dawood Ibrahim, ISI and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Begum Khaleda Zia. While Dawood is merely an underground criminal, handling drugs and guns and being controlled by foreign intelligence agencies operating out of Dubai and elsewhere, ISI and the BNP were working on a grand design to wipe out any Bangladeshi leader who would develop friendly relations with India. For this reason, a number of assassinations have been plotted and attempted over the years against present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed. Sheikh Hasina opposes extremist Islamic rule in Bangladesh and wants her country to become integrated with neighbours, such as India, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan. None of these regional nations have any love lost for Islamic jihadis.


The Desh report reveals how vulnerable West Bengal has become under the CPI (M) Raj to international terrorists bent upon hurting India. The report points to a 1999 plot to assassinate Sheikh Hasina that was hatched in Kolkata. Indian intelligence, working in league with their Bangladeshi counterparts foiled the plan. These sleuths had followed the track and froze the bank transfer of cash, which, had it gone through, would have triggered LTTE suicide bombers into action to kill Sheikh Hasina.


Desh said there was a meeting on June 6, 1999, at St. James Court Hotel in London, where the group hatched the final plan. A decision was taken to pay LTTE, who had an easy access into India, $10 million for their suicide bombers. The quid-pro-quo for LTTE was that if Khaleda Zia came to power following the assassination, or even later, the LTTE would get use of some of the islands off Bangladesh coast for transit points for the drug-and-guns haul from Southeast Asia into Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka.


They had used two islands (Qutubdia and Sonadia) as their drug-and-gun warehouses and safe houses earlier. LTTE’s objective was to store their arms on these two islands for planned assaults in Sri Lanka, as well as to transfer them to other terror groups in India. This meeting was attended, among others, by a well-known London-based radio broadcaster of Bangladeshi origin who had taken part in the 1975 coup that killed Sheikh Mujib and most of his family; an Army officer; a former Pakistani Army officer and a front man for the ISI, Col. R.M. Ahsan, who owns Ahsan TradEx, a Karachi-based export-import firm; Lt. Col. Khondakar Abdur Rashid; and Lt. Col. S.H.M.B. Noor Chowdhury, Desh reported.


Drug inflow into Kolkata


Although New Delhi makes some effort to regulate, monitor, and curb its licit opium production and distribution process, a lot more needs to be done. At the same time, huge amounts of illicit opium and heroin flow into India from Pakistan through Rajasthan and Punjab. Some opium/heroin enters India through Jammu & Kashmir as well. Most of these high-value narcotics transit through India and travel westward, bringing oodles of cash to the underground that works hand-in-glove with the terrorists. Some of these terrorist groups, like LeT, HuJI, LTTE, among others, are closely tied to the ISI and British intelligence, in particular.


In addition to some illicit opium poppy production in certain parts of West Bengal and Uttaranchal along the India-China Border, lots of heroin and opium are coming into India through the Bangladesh, Nepal and India-China borders. A vast majority of these narco-products are grown in Myanmar, but the products are handled subsequently by underground criminal networks, which include the Islamic jihadis, such as the HuJi, LeT, the London-based Hizbut Tahrir Bangladesh, the Maoists of Nepal-Bihar-West Bengal-Andhra Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh, and other terrorist groups operating inside Bangladesh and in northeast India.


Apart from the vastness of the drug and terrorist network established inside West Bengal and the financial inter-linkages that have developed between the CPI (M) and the underground, West Bengal’s border security is simply inadequate. According to one security analyst, the Sunderbans, a maze of mangrove forests, river channels and river islands, remains highly vulnerable to terrorist infiltration. In fact, from the Bangladeshi side of the Sunderbans, a speed boat at 40 knots can reach the heart of Kolkata within two and a half hours.


India shares 70 kms of riverine border with Bangladesh in this region, which runs through the middle of the Ichhamati River. With Bangladesh and India separated by a river, the Border Security Forces (BSF) speedboat patrols and vigil maintained on BSF posts on the Indian side of the river bank are the only deterrence for the terrorists. Except for the presence of the BSF, coastal security in the Sundarbans is virtually non-existent. The West Bengal police have not set up coastal police stations and have not recruited, trained or equipped the coastal police to prevent these drugs and gun runners moving into India with their wares. Although officially the West Bengal government has sanctioned five coastal police stations in the Sunderbans region, these police stations have left a vast area open for infiltrators from the sea.


The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review News Services Inc.

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