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US agency on Ulfa-Dhaka fund trail

New Delhi, Feb. 25: Cash-rich Ulfa is bankrolling political parties in poll-bound Bangladesh with over $6 million of extorted money, according to a report by US think tank Strategic Foresight Inc (Stratfor).

Describing Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua as “an enormously wealthy racketeer worth approximately $110 million”, the report says at least 15 election candidates belonging to both the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League have been beneficiaries of the militant group’s largesse.

Stratfor, which specialises in global intelligence, analysis and forecasting, claims that Ulfa is “hedging its bets in order to protect its militant and business operations in Bangladesh, should either party win”.

The Ulfa chief, the report says, has business operations throughout India, Bangladesh and the Persian Gulf, “including hotels, consulting firms, driving schools, tanneries, department stores, textile factories, travel agencies, investment companies, shrimp trawlers and soft drink factories”.

Ulfa is more than willing to spare money for political parties of Bangladesh to ensure that it continues to be “under the protection of its political allies in Dhaka”.

The militant group’s core leadership is believed to be living in luxury in that country for 15 years now.

“As long as Ulfa can continue funding the appropriate candidates, it can ensure that the Bangladesh government will resist caving in to Indian demands to crack down on the militant group,” the Stratfor report states.

Although it observes that $ 6 million is a “handsome contribution, coming from an Indian militant”, the report goes on to add that Ulfa is “no ordinary organisation” and its commander-in-chief continues to enjoy political patronage despite Delhi’s constant reminder to Dhaka that harbouring militants is a sign of aggression.

“Barua’s businesses in Bangladesh are handled allegedly by a senior government official in Dhaka,” the report states.

On the source of Ulfa funds, the American agency says the outfit has been funded its militant activities through “a sophisticated extortion network”.

Tea companies in Assam regular face “pay or die” threats but prefer to stay quiet out of fear and in the interest of business, it adds.

Stratfor believes Ulfa has “become more concerned with its financial interests” of late.

On the recent attacks on migrant Hindi-speaking workers in Assam, the report says Ulfa is aware that Delhi will not give in to its demands and is engineering its militant operations to bleed security forces and strengthen its negotiating position.

The report confirms that armed Bangladeshi groups and Pakistan’s ISI are the other players in the theatre of militancy that the Northeast has become. “As long as India’s militant-rich, porous borders remain, Pakistan can continue to hamper Indian ambitions to step beyond its backyard and become a truly global power.”

The army has been at Ulfa’s throat in Assam ever since the outfit started its hate campaign against Hindi-speaking people, but certain organisations continue to press for a halt to the offensive and the start of a dialogue for peace.

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