ULFA tried to blow up Bibiyana pipeline. What next?

During the last BNP-Jamaat coalition government, separatist groups of India including anti-talk faction of United Liberation Front of Asom, otherwise known as ULFA, were patronised by Bangladeshi state agencies. In point of fact, from 2002 to 2006, most ULFA leaders of both pro-talks faction and anti-talks faction operated from unspecified locations in Bangladesh. In a number of occasions, Pakistani ISI officers secretly came to Bangladesh to meet ULFA leaders. With blessings from BNP-Jamaat’s twisted policies, ULFA used Chittagong Port as a transit point for receipt and shipment of weapons. After Awami League government came to power in 2008, situation drastically changed and all Indian separatist groups including ULFA, based in the border areas of Bangladesh, were flashed out by the Bangladesh Army. By end 2010, following a series of raids, there were no ULFA bases in Bangladeshi soil.

ULFA knew what might come their way if BNP-Jamaat coalition does not win the 2008 election. According to the U.S based Strategic Foresight Inc., ULFA spent US$6m to make sure candidates from BNP-Jamaat coalition win the election. It did not happen and ULFA had to search alternatives.

Leader of the anti-talk faction of ULFA, Paresh Barua, is a Bangladesh hater and has been planning to strike at key installations since 2010. The strike may be is nearer than what security agencies of Bangladesh anticipated. On 12 April, 2016, a seeped out report from an Indian intelligence agency exposed that the anti-talk faction of ULFA planned to blow up transmission line of the Bibiyana gas field in Habiganj. The 119 kilometre-long Bibiyana pipeline, operated by Chevron, is Bangladesh's largest gas transmission line. Bibiyana gas field currently produces 2,700 million cubic feet of gas per day which is 46% of the country's total gas output.

The exposed intelligence report mentioned that ULFA top leader Paresh Barua had instructed one of his commanders during a telephone conversation to blow up the pipeline. Paresh Barua has reasons to revulsion Bangladesh as in 2014 a court in Chittagong handed down death penalty to him in absentia trial for his involvement in a weapon trafficking case (popularly termed as 10-truck arms haul case); and ULFA as an outfit has reasons to revulsion Bangladesh because the government extradited ULFA leader Anup Chetia to India in November 2015 before he spend 18 years in Bangladeshi jails on intrusion charges.

Paresh Barua is on a run at the moment and supposedly hiding near the China-Myanmar border; possibly in Tengchong. Paresh is not like a ‘typical’ militant leader. He is a rich person with more than US$110 million of wealth to his name, according to strategic consultancy company Stratfor. He has various business operations running in several states in India, Bangladesh and in the Persian Gulf.

Paresh Barua is known for his vindictive nature and would strike at Bangladesh and Awami League for withdrawing support on him and his group. According to Bangladeshi intelligence agencies, Paresh Barua still maintains links with the extremist groups in Khagrachhari. It is likely that he would attempt to enter Bangladesh through hill tracks or send his strike force to carry out attacks on key installments of the country.

Though ULFA has lost a lot of its operational and striking capacity and capabilities over the last few years, the Bangladesh government should not treat the intelligence report lightly and it seems they have not taken it lightly.  Following the intelligence report, Bangladesh home ministry held meeting with Chevron officials and Petrobangla on 13 April. Petrobangla and its subsidiary company GTCL own all of the country's gas carrying pipelines. Following the meetings, home ministry ordered law enforcing agencies to enhance security measures and to ensure effective patrols over all key gas carrying pipelines across the country as it may be the likely targets for ULFA. Energy and mineral resources ministry already started speaking with foreign security consultants to ensure security of key installments including gas and oil pipelines, power plants.

ULFA guerrillas are fighting for a separate Assamese homeland since 1979. From the early days, the group maintained a political wing and a military wing. From the very beginning Paresh Barua headed the military wing as the 'commander-in-chief' and Arabinda Rajkhowa, the other influential leader headed the political wing. The pro-talks faction of ULFA led by Arabinda Rajkhowa in 2011 agreed to hold peace talks with the Indian government. Anti-talk faction led by Paresh Barua opposed the peace talks and formed a new alliance named United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia. The alliance is headquartered in Myanmar.

ULFA is no more a strong separatist group though it is still backed by Pakistani ISI. Security forces of Bangladesh, India and Myanmar should go on a coordinated ‘all-out attack’ to root out ULFA from the soils of the region. If that is the case than end is nearer for Paresh Barua and his separatist movement.


Anonymous said…
Can you write a comparative article over the military strength of Bangladesh and Myanmar?
I wrote few articles close to that topic. You will find those in this blog. Give it a search.

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