Authorities in Assam would be probing a jihadi-poacher nexus that is reportedly robbing protected areas in the northeast of wildlife wealth.
The northeast wildlife reserves — the 430 sq km Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park in Assam and Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh to be precise — have been the haunts of international gangs of poachers catering to grey markets in China, Southeast Asia, Europe and North America. This became evident when two poachers, a Myanmarese and a Chinese, were killed at Namsai five years ago.
Besides extortion and ‘revolutionary tax’, myriad militant outfits across the region have since the early 1980s targeted forests and wildlife to fund their secessionism against the Indian union. The devastation of Manas — the Unesco was forced to downgrade it to a World Heritage Site in Danger — through the 1990s and killing of sangai or brow-antlered deer in Manipur are cases in point.
Now, reports suggest that jihadi groups such as the al-Qaeda and its Bangladesh-based allies Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) have taken the cue from northeast militants. These Islamic groups are now using Bangladeshi settlers in Assam to hunt down rhinos, elephants, tigers, bears and monkeys for the horns, tusks, pelts and teeth, bile and brains that fetch an average US $30,000.
Bangladesh shares a 2,500 km border with India, which the All Assam Students Union (Aasu) claim is porous enabling hundreds of illegal migrants to sneak in. The BSF claims a growing number of madrassas along the border have been fanning Islamic fundamentalism, and jihadis were using Bangladeshi settlers for their agenda.
Even outfits like the outfit Ulfa, believed to be run by the Pakistani ISI and the Bangladeshi DGFI, is known to use these settlers as couriers or bomb planters.
"We have had no evidence of jihadi connection to poaching in Kaziranga," Assam chief wildlife warden Mohan Chandra Malakar told HT while admitting an international racket armed with sophisticated weapons and tranquilizer guns were on the prowl. "But we are weighing the possibility of suspected Bangladeshis being involved in poaching."
A senior Intelligence officer said the al-Qaeda-poacher link appeared far-fetched "since the stakes in poacher are low in the greater jihadi context". Forest officers, however, agreed that land constraint was forcing a large number of settlers to either encroach upon forests or occupy sand bars on rivers such as the Brahmaputra, which kisses Kaziranga.
"There have been six additions to Kaziranga over the years, and the fifth and sixth in particular are encroached by Bangladeshis," said Aasu advisor Samujjwal Bhattacharyya, adding that the students organization had made a CD to prove its point. According to an Aasu leader, that these Bangladeshis would take to poaching was only a matter of time.
The Aasu has been demanding revision of the National Register of Citizens and expulsion of all Bangladeshis who migrated to India after March 25, 1971. It has also been wielding census reports—six Assam districts became Muslim majority in the last 30 years—to paint a bleak future for indigenous peoples.