Militancy with trans-border linkages has been the bane of northeastern India. Bangladesh’s seemingly assertive moves against the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), whose operatives have been using its soil as safe havens and bases for their depredations in Assam, is a welcome step. This may well mark a decisive turn in the fight against the region’s separatists, akin to the military operation that Bhutan carried out in 2003 to flush out militant groups from its territory. Ever since the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government came into being in December 2008, there have been expectations of quick steps to cut the trans-border lifelines of these outfits. Things, however, moved rather slowly. Hopefully, the tough line will be more in evidence at least from now on. Raids over the past few days have resulted in the flushing out of several important leaders of ULFA. Two were arrested from the Tripura border by the Border Security Force — evidently, with some aid from Dhaka. Yet, ULFA’s general secretary Anup Chetia, who was arrested in 1997 in Dhaka and released in 2005, is yet to be handed over to India. The whereabouts of ULFA chairman Arabindo Rajkhowa, “commander-in-chief” Paresh Barua, and his deputy Raju Barua, who were known to be in the country, remain unclear.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi next month has the potential to be a bilateral watershed. There is much to be done. In the absence of an extradition treaty between India and Bangladesh, handing over each other’s wanted criminals has been a challenge. A mutual legal assistance treaty on criminal matters, a legal framework for seeking deportation on a case-by-case basis, and an agreement on transfer of convicts are among the proposals that found favour with the two countries during Foreign Minister Dipu Moni’s visit to New Delhi four months ago. It is to be hoped that these agreements will be concluded soon. Dhaka should also crack down on the bases and leaders of the other militant groups — the NDFB, the NLFT, and the ATTF — who are known to be ensconced in Bangladesh. For India, equally important will be to get Myanmar stop providing sustenance to the several militant groups operating along the 1,630-km eastern border. India and Myanmar agreed in 2007 to launch coordinated operations against militants along the border, but that agreement remains on paper. Back on the Bangladesh border, the ongoing fencing work needs to be completed and the system of border patrolling and security should be stepped up.