Md. Lutfozzaman Babar, a man who has always been uncompromising towards militancy
Md. Lutfozzaman Babar, a man who has always been uncompromising towards militancy

On April 1, 2004, members of Bangladesh Police and Coast Guard intercepted a suspicious consignment, which was being unloaded at the jetty of Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Factory Limited (CUFL), a fertilizer manufacturing plant under the direct control of the Ministry of Industries.

At that time, industries minister was Moulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, one of the most infamous leaders of Jamaat e Islami Bangladesh (JIB). The factory of CUFL is located on the bank of Karnafuli River. Police and Coast Guard members seized 10 truckloads of material: a total of 4,930 different types of sophisticated firearms; 27,020 grenades; 840 rocket launchers, 300 rockets, 2,000 grenade-launching tubes; 6,392 magazines; and 1,140,520 bullets, which were being loaded on 10 trucks from two-engine boats at the jetty of CUFL. The illegal arms were believed to be intended for the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the militant organization working for the independence of Assam from India, with many members based in Bangladesh. It is classified as a terrorist group by India and considered responsible for thousands of deaths since its founding in 1979.

Immediately after this huge recovery, the then state minister for Home Affairs Md. Lutfozzaman Babar left strict instruction to the relevant officials of the police administration to initiate legal actions, investigate the matter and bring all perpetrators of this crime into book.

Ahadur Rahman, then officer-in-charge of Karnaphuli police station, filed a case related to the incident on 3 April 2004. He was appointed as Investigation Officer (IO) of the cases. After 22 days, the cases were transferred to the national CID, where ASP AKM Kabir Uddin was appointed Investigation Officer. He submitted the first charge sheet to the court on 11 June 2004. In 2004, arms smuggling charges were filed against a total of 45 individuals under the Special Powers Act and arms charges against 43 persons under the Arms Act. During this investigation, Mr. Babar regularly inquired on the progress of the case and repeatedly asked the officials concerned not to spare anyone, whoever might be involved behind this arms haul. Md. Lutfozzaman Babar’s over-enthusiasm in ensuring a neutral investigation and identifying the culprits had annoyed Moulana Matiur Rahman Nizami in particular as well as many influential members of JIB and few agents of Pakistani spy agency Inter Service Intelligence in Bangladesh. Such grievance of Jamaat men as well those ISI agents reached such peak that they openly started branding Mr. Babar as an “Indian agent” while some of them had criticized him as an “American agent”.

A leader of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, who is known as an exposed ally of Pakistan and a war criminal went into massive propaganda against Md. Lutfozzaman Babar, thus accusing him of using the members of Bangladesh Police and Coast Guard in intercepting and seizing this huge arms consignment saying Mr. Babar had done this under instruction from his “Indian masters”.

As the BNP government completed its 5-years term in October 2006, immediately after the handing over of power to a caretaker government, Pakistani ISI began frantic bids in pushing ahead of the agenda of anyhow indicting Md. Lutfozzaman Babar in the case while some of the influential military personnel such as Maj Gen Rezzakul Haider, Brig Gen Md. Abdur Rahim and Wing Commander (Retd) Sahabuddin were being mobilized by Pakistani ISI in somehow saving the real perpetrators of this crime and find a scapegoat. Brig Gen Md. Abdur Rahim, who was under the payroll of Pakistani spy agency for many years had jointly conspired with Maj Gen Rezzakul Haider and Wing Commander (Retd) Sahabuddin and started looking for a scapegoat. But things started quickly going out of their hands as on January 11, 2007, all on a sudden General Moeen U Ahmed, the Chief of the Army Staff, with the help of Brig Gen Masud Uddin Ahmed, Brig Gen ATM Amin, and Brig Gen Fazlul Bari Chowdhury seized power from the caretaker government and established an illegitimate pseudo-military rule.

But things went absolutely wrong when Awami League won a landslide victory in the general election on December 2008, and the 10-truck arms haul case turned into a political tool for the ruling party in implicating their political opponents. At this stage, Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Pakistani ISI turned extremely active in somehow burying the case or otherwise, through a fake investigation, get some innocent people indicted in it. Most importantly, Maj Gen Rezzakul Haider, Brig Gen Md. Abdur Rahim and Wing Commander Sahabuddin was well aware of the involvement of ARY Group behind the entire episode.

The ARY Group of companies is a Dubai-based holding company founded by a Pakistani businessman, Abdul Razzak Yaqoob (ARY).

From the horse’s mouth

As reported in the media in Bangladesh, it was learned that Dubai-based business firm ARY Group and Pakistan’s army intelligence service Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was involved with the plan of smuggling the seized arms. They also disclosed the names of two officials of foreign organization involved with the incident.
However, the two former officials of National Security Intelligence (NSI) accused each other of assisting to reach the arms consignment to Indian secessionist organization ULFA.

High officials of Bangladesh’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) think though Rahim and Sahab gave statements accusing each other from their statements the main truth of the plan of smuggling the arms surfaced. From their statement, it came out that ARY Group and Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka financed for bringing the arms consignment and the arms were brought with the assistance of ISI for Ulfa. Many NSI officials including these two knew the matter.

Brigadier Rahim in his statement mentioned Sahab’s direct involvement in maintaining contact with ISI and ARY for reaching the arms consignment to Ulfa.

Sahab in his confessional statement in the court admitted holding several meeting at home and abroad under the directive of his senior officer Brigadier Rahim. However, he tactfully avoided the issue of his involvement in these works.

Though Wing Commander Sahabuddin in his interrogation at the TFI cell in Dhaka gave an elaborate description of the plan of smuggling the arms in the confessional statement in the court he avoided many of the facts. In the statement given to the court instead of mentioning names of ISI or any of its officials, he mentioned meeting with foreigners. He also did not mention the involvement of any country with the arms smuggling. However, during the interrogation at the TFI cell, he mentioned the names of the foreigners and for which intelligence agency they work.

However, Brigadier Rahim in his statement mentioned the names of ARY and ISI and clearly mentioned when, where and with which official he met. Even in his confessional statement at the court and during interrogation at the TFI cell he mentioned the name of the ISI Director General and admitted that he met with him in London. But he did not give any indication that plans to smuggle arms was made in these meetings. Rather he indicated that the issue of arms smuggling was finalized during Sahab’s meeting with the ISI officials.

A CID official involved with inquiry and investigation process told reporters, “From the statements of these two former NSI officials we have been able to be confirmed of many unsettled truths”.

In his confessional statement given in the court Brig Gen Md. Abdur Rahim said when “he (Wing Commander Sahabuddin) was appointed deputy director (security) he appealed to me and enticed me to make him my PS (Personal Secretary). As he was the director (security) and PS simultaneously he carefully used his power to meet with the detective officers of foreign embassy and exchange information. He developed good relations with ISI official brigadier Mogisuddin and Col Shahed Mahmud working in Pakistan High Commission. I came to know this from his frequent meeting with them.”

In the interrogation at the TFI cell he also informed, Sahab embezzled large amount of foreign exchange in the name of checking Money Exchange booth at Dhaka’s commercial area named Motijheel.

On the Dubai-based business firm ARY Group chief’s Dhaka visit in 2004 Rahim told TFI cell, the Group MD Salman Iqbal came to Dhaka accompanied by an engineer. Sahab received them at the airport. Wing commander Sahabuddin arranged everything for them. He also gave his car for their use.

On the other hand, Sahab in his confessional statement said, Director General Abdur Rahim directed him to take care of the ARY Group officials. On his (Rahim’s) instruction, he gave his car for their use. Bill of their lodging and food was also met from the NSI fund.

Admitting his going to London and meeting the ISI officials the former NSI chief said, he went to London to discuss the payment of the money after Taka 25 million mobile phone bugging devices were bought using the money received from ISI. There he had a discussion with the ISI director general. During the discussion it was informed that these devices are gift on behalf of Pakistan. During the discussion Col Abdus Salam (a relative of Rahim), minister consul at London High Commission was present.
However, on the meeting at London Rahim informed the TFI cell, when he went to London he took British Pound worth Taka 25 million with him. He mentioned that the money was from NSI’s government fund. He also admitted that he changed the money to Pound through Sahab and Liakat. He took the money for paying the price of telephone bugging devices.
However, earlier in an interrogation on the same issue, Sahab informed the amount was given to the ARY Group Director General as gift. Later he changed the money to Pound.

On contact with Dubai-based ARY Group as financier of the consignment of 10 truck arms and ammunition, Brigadier Rahim in his confessional statement said, “About me, Shahed Mohammad and brigadier Mogisuddin contacted with ARY and my PS Sahab Uddin coordinated. I used to frequently view ARY and QTV at my office. Observing my attraction to those TV channels Sahabuddin proposed me to become the local agent of QTV.

Later he discussed the matter with the ISI officers. He made a guideline of the matter on which Bangladesh’s NSI and Pakistan’s ISI could cooperate.”
However, Rahim told the TFI cell, ARY Group is a business firm, which enjoys blessings of ISI. And the officials of Pakistan High Commission are main patrons of ULFA. During interrogation, Sahab said he came to know the matter of Pakistan High Commission’s request to help ULFA from the Director General.

Regarding ULFA Brigadier Rahim said, Sahab Uddin tried to talk with him about Anup Chetia in March 2004. He said, “As I was not interested, he dropped the issue and said we should help ULFA.

“I got infuriated at his proposal and said, Shall we give Bangladesh to ULFA?” Then he (Sahab) got a pale face and left the place.

However, Sahab in his confessional statements in the court and in the TFI cell said, after the ARY Group officials came to Dhaka, the Director General held meeting with them at his personal Safe House. A meeting was also held at his residence. In that meeting ULFA military chief Paresh Barua, two officials of ARY Group and officials of Pakistan High Commission were present.

On smuggling of arms and its seizure, Brig Gen Md. Abdur Rahim in his confessional statement said, “On April 2, 2004 when I reached Daudkandi Bridge on my way to my village the then state minister for home [Md. Lutfozzaman Babar] asked me over the phone whether I know anything about the seizure of arms at Chittagong. I told him that I know nothing. He told me “I suppose some people from NSI are involved. Though I got upset I recalled Sahabuddin’s uttering about helping ULFA. I told the state minister, there is a black sheep in my office. His name is Sahab Uddin. He might be involved”.

Despite such very specific statements of the prime accused, where it was evidently proved that Md. Lutfozzaman Babar had no hands behind the 10-truckload arms haul, he became one of the accused in the case.

There is a public perception that the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI was extremely unhappy on Md. Lutfozzaman Babar for his exposed bias towards India and the United States. On the other hand, Islamist militancy groups and their patrons were extremely annoyed at Md. Lutfozzaman Babar for his key role in combating various militancy groups including Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB).

From these specific evidence, it is clearly proved that Md. Lutfozzaman Babar had no hands behind the 10-truck haul. He clearly is a victim of a conspiracy of the Pakistani spy agency, its agents and cohorts of Islamist militancy.

US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi need to immediately look into the case of Md. Lutfozzaman Babar and in case of necessity exert their influence on the Bangladesh authorities in immediately releasing this anti-militancy individual from prison.

Antonijo Kovačić is a former diplomat

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