Mystery Deepens Over Bangladesh Opposition Leader’s Reappearance in India

By Shahriar Sharif
150522-BD-ahmed-620 Salahuddin Ahmed, a former minister for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), sits on a bed at Shillong Civil Hospital in northeastern India, May 12, 2015

Sixty-two days after he vanished from a hideout in a Dhaka suburb, a senior Bangladeshi opposition figure resurfaced last week in Shillong, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya.

But how Salahuddin Ahmed went missing and ended up on May 13 in Shillong – some 400km (248.5 miles) away – remains a mystery, although he claims he was brought there after being blindfolded and bound.

For now, the joint secretary-general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) appears stuck in a legal limbo, awaiting a decision on whether Indian authorities will charge him under the Foreigners Act for illegal entry or hand him over to Bangladesh.

He is wanted in his home country in a number of cases of subversion and other anti-state activities stemming from a three-month economic blockade that the BNP organized earlier this year. The opposition party’s anti-governmental action and series of work stoppages turned violent, resulting in the deaths of 120 people nationwide.

“We are waiting for the decision of the Indian authorities and we’ve not yet been informed whether he would be handed over to us,” Bangladeshi State Minister for Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters in Dhaka on Wednesday.

“Ahmed will be arrested as soon as he is handed over to us as he’s wanted in a number of criminal cases.”

But that decision may take days, if not weeks, as the former BNP minister is undergoing treatment for a heart and kidney condition in the intensive care unit of the North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health and Medical Sciences in Shillong.

On Thursday, local police petitioned hospital officials to allow officers to question Ahmed there so Indian authorities could begin the legal process against him.

His wife, Hasina, told reporters in Shillong that she wanted to take him to Singapore, where he had received treatment for heart and kidney ailments for the past 20 years.

“His condition is very bad as he cannot stand even for two minutes,” she said after seeing her husband in Shillong, adding she planned to appoint a lawyer in order to speed up the legal proceedings.

Suspicion falls on security services

Indian authorities, meanwhile, are still investigating how Ahmed was able to enter the country without a passport.

He reportedly vanished from the Dhaka suburb of Uttar on March 10, when the BNP-led blockade was still on. A few days earlier, from a clandestine location, he had started feeding the Bangladeshi media statements supporting the blockade.

His wife claimed that law enforcement personnel from Uttara picked him up. Over the next two months, she went to the authorities, demanding that they release her husband.

Hasina Ahmed even petitioned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to intervene personally in the case.

According to Bangladeshi media interviews with the caretaker of the Uttara house, men in plainclothes, believed to belong to the intelligence agencies, took him away early in the morning on March 10.

As for the government, officials consistently have denied any involvement in Ahmed’s disappearance, suggesting that he must have gone into hiding to evade arrest.

As the days and weeks passed, concerns grew about whether Ahmed was alive or whether he had met the same fate as Ilyas Ali, a former BNP lawmaker who vanished in 2013 and still is missing. Many suspect that Ali was killed.

‘They thought I was a mental patient’

On the morning of May 13, Ahmed finally reappeared near a golf course in Shillong.

“All I can remember is that it was a long journey, perhaps 12-14 hours. I was blindfolded and my hands were tied. They dumped me here; I saw some people and requested them to call police,” Ahmed told reporters as he was being moved from a local police station to Shillong General Hospital on May 15.

“When I told police that I was a former minister of Bangladesh, they thought I was a mental patient and took me to a mental hospital,” he added.

After the doctors there determined he was mentally sound, Ahmed was transferred to the other hospital for heart and kidney treatment.

Questions also linger about how a former minister could cross the Indo-Bangladeshi frontier by evading the Indian Border Security Force (BSF).

So far, the BSF and Indian authorities have shared no details about how Ahmed wound up in Shillong.

Ahmed will be produced before a local court after his release from hospital, the Shillong Times quoted Meghalaya Police Chief Rajib Mehta as saying.


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