Why anti-corruption drive in Saudi Arabia spells bad news for Bangladesh's Khaleda Zia

The previous BNP government encouraged religious extremist forces against India.

 |  5-minute read |   06-12-2017
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The recent sensational disclosures by Saudi authorities about BNP chairperson and former Bangladesh PM Khaleda Zia's possible complicity in money-laundering, corruption and bribery are definitely going to cast a shadow on her political prospects in the near future. 

According to the Saudi authorities, Khaleda Zia and her sons had an investment of around $12 billion in malls and other infrastructural projects in Saudi Arabia with the money amassed through bribery and extortion. Besides Khaleda, there are 19 others names. Prominent among them are Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Yet, from the Indian point of view, it's the charges against Khaleda Zia that merit a special examination because of the direct political implications for India. 

As investigations are underway, more facts have surfaced about huge investments by the BNP chief's late son Arafat alias Koko, who died in January 2015. Koko allegedly made enormous investments in Saudi Arabia - all from ill-gotten wealth. He was also wanted in Bangladesh for multiple charges of corruption. Similarly, his brother Tareq Rahman, now in hiding in England, invested several millions of dollars in many foreign destinations with a large chunk of sum in Saudi Arabia and other West Asian countries.

Earlier, there were allegations, many supported by evidence, that Tareq had nefarious dealings, including money-laundering and large investments, with the underworld dons, detrimental to Indian security interests.  

khaledazia_reuters_120617044928.jpgImage: Reuters photo

These underworld mafia are wanted in India, but Tareq, inspired by Pakistani machinations, developed a nexus with them to pinprick India to remain politically active apparently by destabilising Indian security interests. 

This was particularly conspicuous during the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) rule dominating the Bangladesh polity from 2001-2006.

The BNP and Jamaat partnership was aimed at hitting India below the belt and JeI inroads into Saudi Arabia was a hard reality which not only saw a spiralling growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh, but also witnessed abetment of terror and patronage to numerous terror and religious extremist forces making Bangladesh a country on way to becoming fanatic and anti-India.

In other words, investments into Saudi Arabia and the UAE by the Khaleda Zia regime was essentially designed to foment terror inside India and by implication, terror groups in India got a boost, both psychological and financial. 

It's worth recalling that it's the BNP-JeI regime which facilitated Indian insurgent groups finding refuge on the Bangladeshi soil. First, from 1991 to 1996 during its first stint and subsequently again in the second from 2001 to 2006.

Indian insurgent groups, the ULFA, NSCN (I-M), PLA and other Manipuri outfits found a safe haven in Bangladesh, thanks to the state-sponsored backing as the government and the ruling coalition were following a Pakistani-Saudi diktat of needling India and keeping it on toes.

Significantly, ULFA strongman Paresh Baruah was living in Dhaka under different aliases with the uninhibited backing of the then Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI).

On numerous occasions, Indian intelligence officers confronted their Bangladeshi counterparts with photos and other incriminating evidence showing existence of the Indian insurgents' training camps and pin-pointed whereabouts of Paresh Baruah. However, each time Bangladesh was on a denial mode.

Tareq Rahman, according to experts, was part of this blueprint in order to cause problems for India. These investments in Saudi Arabia, possibly yielded returns to fund terror and extremism in India, including money-laundering. 

Now, that crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is on an aggressive tirade to root out corruption from Saudi Arabia by already arresting 11 princes and several erstwhile ministers, his fresh move to investigate through banks, financial institutions and other channels to reach at the bottom of money-laundering, is a welcome move. 

In light of the above, it is incumbent upon the Indian authorities, especially the intelligence agencies, to fish out from their archives all the inputs available linked to investments of Khaleda and Tareq in underworld activities in West Asia and share them appropriately with the Saudi authorities. Such a gesture will show India in good light collaborating with Saudis to fight corruption, winning enormous goodwill. 

Any Indian move in this direction will also strengthen Sheikh Hasina in her ongoing measures to delve into details of Khaleda and Tareq investments on all offshore assets.

On September 13, Hasina disclosed about her plans to unearth such money-laundering ventures. Also, any Indian professional aid will help nail Khaleda Zia and her prospects of making a political comeback. It will also help Hasina, thus  forging more closer and warmer ties with India.  

The international media, on the other hand, has gone on an offensive propaganda blitz exposing Khaleda Zia and her sons' involvement in these nefarious deals. Most recently, Arab-based TV channel Global Intelligence Network (GIN) along with a Canadian channel went overboard in naming Khaleda Zia and others for their involvement in these scams.  

It's time, therefore, for Hasina to strike operationally as it will then "neutralise" Khaleda as the former's principal adversary. As far as India is concerned, Khaleda Zia will have no or very little chances of political survival and without her, India can hope to breathe easy without having to worry much about security.

With media and public opinion against Khaleda Zia, India can turn the current crisis in BNP to its advantage.

Also read: Why Khaleda Zia sharpening the election knife against Sheikh Hasina should worry India


Shantanu Mukharji Shantanu Mukharji @shantanu2818

The author is a retired IPS officer who has held key positions in the Government of India handling sensitive security issues within and outside India.

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