Indian and Bangladesh intelligence officials say that they have intercepted three long duration calls between Hafiz Tohar, military wing chief of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 23rd and 24th August that hold the key to why the militant group unleashed the pre-dawn offensive against Myanmar security forces.
Hafiz Tohar set up the Aqa Mul Mujahideen (AMM) and was trained in Pakistan by the dreaded Lashkar e Tayyaba (LET) after he was recruited by Abdul Qadoos Burmi, the chief of Harkat ul Jihad al Islami -Arakan (HUJI-A) from Kyauk Pyin Siek village of Maungdaw in 2014.
He merged his group into the ARSA after it was formed in the summer of 2016 and is widely believed to be behind the deadly attacks on Myanmar security forces from October 9-10 last year and on Aug 25 this year.
Following the training of a few initial recruits of the AMM in Pakistan, new cadres were recruited from among Rohingya youth in Rakhine State and refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar.
They were then trained in camps set up on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, specially one at Naikhongcherri in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.
One "Major Salamat" of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, deputed for under cover operations with the LET,was responsible for these training during April-May 2016.
63 JMB activists from Bangladesh responsible for the suicide bombings in that country and 88 ARSA activists were trained in the Naikhongcherri base in April-May 2016, according to information revealed by two top JMB activists when interrogated by Bangladesh intelligence.
This base was recently raided by the Bangladesh army, and six JMB rebels were captured. During interrogation, they confirmed information about this base and the joint JMB-ARSA training stint conducted by ISI that Bangladesh intelligence had garnered from top JMB leader Abul Kashem.
Kashem's information led to the raid on this hideout three months ago.
They found contact numbers of one "Brigadier Ashfaq' and of 'Major Salamat' of ISI and one ISIS recruiter in Iraq.
Bangladesh intelligence put these numbers on surveillance and also passed their numbers to Indian R&AW external intelligence agency which has superb Signals Intelligence capabilities with a regional reach.
Ashfaq is said to be the office in charge of ISI's eastern operations, and he had recently met BNP leader and former PM Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique in London.
Bangladesh media, quoting their intelligence sources, had reported that the ISI officer and Begum Zia discussed ways to bring down the Hasina government in Dhaka and boost the Rohingya insurgency in Rakhine, for which support of the BNP-Jamaat e Islami was needed because ruling Awami League is not sympathetic to Rohingyas.
On 23 August at 11.32am Bangladesh time, there was a call from Ashfaq's number to a Bangladesh Grameenphone mobile used by Hafiz Tohar. The call lasted 37 minutes, and Ashfaq told hafiz that ARSA has to hit multiple targets within the next 48 hours. Tohar said though his squads were in a position to strike, suggesting long planning and mobilisation, it would not be possible to strike the multiple targets before midnight of 24th August.
Indian intelligence also intercepted this call and could fully break the coded language that Bangladesh intelligence had not been able to decipher fully.
"Kala Admi report detehi hamla ho," said Ashfaq and Zohar replied :" Ji Janaab , jo hukum , par 24 rat se pahle nahi hoga."
"Kala Admi" or " Black Man" is surely Kofi Annan and the ISI officer was asking for the attacks to be launched immediately after Annan submitted his report.
Tohar agreed but said it would not be possible before midnight of 24th Aug. Tohar speaks clear Urdu due to his long stay in Pakistan.
The second call came on 24th Aug at 2.13pm Bangladesh time and lasted for 28 minutes.
Ashfaq asked when 'Kala Admi" (Annan) is making his report public. Tohar said 3pm , just a few minutes from now.
Ashfaq pleaded for launching the attacks as quickly as possible, soon after dark.
Tohar said ' runners' have been sent to all the ARSA squads with instructions to launch the attacks at midnight.
"Der kyon kar rahe ho," (why so late) asked an agitated Ashfaq.
"Message paunchaneme time lagta hai Sir", (Takes time to reach the message ), Tohar insisted.
Obviously, ARSA was sending the message through physical runners in person, maintaining a total radio silence for fear of detection.
At 6.02 pm came a call from an Iraq number with someone introducing himself as "Al-Amin of Daesh" on the line to Tohar.
The call was shorter than the Ashfaq-Tohar calls, lasting under 14 minutes.
The ISIS wished ARSA the best in its jihad against the Burmese colonialists, Buddhist and Hindu fanatics.
These three calls simultaneously intercepted by Bangladesh and Indian intelligence makes it clear ARSA and their backers (ISIS and ISI) were determined to cause problems for the Aung San Suu Kyi government which had committed to set up an inter-ministerial committee to implement the recommendations made by Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Commission.
It is nor clear whether Bangladesh or India raised a red flag with Myanmar to warn them of an impending attack.
Perhaps the absence of an intelligence sharing mechanism did not enable the transfer.
" After ISIS's huge failures in the Middle East in the face of Russian and US-led Western military action, there is a clear attempt to create a new theatre of jihad where the narrative of torture and human rights violations reinforced by heavy handed Burmese action can unsettle the Sheikh Hasina regime and destabilise India's east," said a top Indian intelligence official in Yangon before PM Modi's visit to review security arrangements.
"That will divert Indian military attention from Kashmir and Bangladesh from its battle against JMB and other jihadis. This is a clear Pakistani ploy."
That would explain why India and Bangladesh, mindful of their own security threats, have not bought into the narrative of 'genocide' as some in the West and many in the Islamic World have.
"The ARSA is determined to thwart Daw Suu Kyi's good intentions to implement the Kofi Annan report. They want to brutalise the discourse in Rakhine and help re-militarise the area so that the narrative of torture and extra-judicial killings help them boost the level of jihad and find recruits," said a top Bangladesh intelligence official.
But both he and the Indian intelligence official wished to remain anonymous.