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SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 1, No. 35, March 17, 2003

Data and assessments from SAIR can be freely published in any form with credit to the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal



ASSESSMENT

INDIA

The Deepening Imprint of Terror
K.P.S. Gill
President, Institute for Conflict Management

If any doubts existed regarding the direction and future intensity of the Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist assault in India, incidents over the past week will put these to rest. With Iraq consuming the preponderance of the world's attention and interest, and with the extraordinary licence enjoyed by the Musharraf regime in Pakistan as a result of its 'special status' in America's 'global war against terror', the space for terrorism in South Asia has suddenly and considerably been enlarged.

In Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), summer is the season of terror, as the snows melt, opening up passes from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), and providing easier access to armed infiltrators, most of whom hibernate in Pakistani camps through winter. This year, however, the killings are beginning to escalate much before the snows begin to melt.

Portents of a bloody summer came late in the night of March 15-16, when an extraordinarily large group (at least 50 men, on preliminary estimates) of heavily armed terrorists attacked a remote police post in Ind village in district Udhampur in the Jammu region. 11 persons, including at least nine policemen, were killed in the attack, the armoury was looted and destroyed, and several houses and a hospital torched. In another departure from recent trends, as many as four terrorist groupings - the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen (HM) the Jamait-ul-Mujahiddeen (JuM), the Tehreek-ul-Mujahiddeen and the Harkat-ul-Jehad-i-Islami (HuJI) - have, according to initial reports, been quick to claim credit for this 'joint operation'. After 9/11, by and large, most terrorist organisations have been eager to avoid open association with incidents of extremist violence for fear of attracting international attention and sanctions against their parent organisations and their state sponsors. These inhibitions, however, now appear to be substantially diminished in view of the greater 'tolerance of terror' reflected in Western - and particularly American - perspectives towards South Asia.

This was the worst of a succession of attacks in J&K over just the past one week. Earlier on March 15, an entire village in the Rajouri-Poonch belt was set on fire, though there were no casualties. On March 14, two Security Forces' (SF) personnel - including a Deputy Superintendent of Police - and three civilians were killed in a fidayeen (suicide terrorist) attack in Poonch. The fidayeen, affiliated to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was killed in the subsequent SF operation. The original target of the attack is believed to have been Shias participating in a muharram procession nearby, but the terrorist is believed to have panicked and opened fire when confronted by the SF personnel. On March 13, two persons, including a six-year old child, were killed, and another 33 injured in a powerful explosion in a passenger bus in Rajouri. Another three persons were killed and eight others injured on March 11, in an explosion inside a shop at City Chowk, Rajouri.

J&K did not, however, exhaust the ambit of escalating Islamist terrorism in India. On March 13, a powerful bomb exploded in a crowded local train at the suburban Mulund Railway Station in Mumbai - India's 'financial capital' - killing 12 persons and injuring another 71. India's Home Minister, L.K. Advani, has identified the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and the proscribed Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) as being responsible for this attack. This was the second major terrorist operation in Mumbai this year, the first being a powerful explosion on January 27, in the up-market Vile Parle area, in which a woman was killed, and another 25 persons injured. A second explosive with a timer device was detected and defused a few hours later. December last year had also seen two major explosions in Mumbai: on December 6, 2002, 25 persons were injured in an explosion at a fast-food outlet at Mumbai Central Railway Station; and on December 2, 2002, three persons were killed and another 32 injured in a powerful blast in a public bus outside the Ghatkopar local station in Mumbai.

On March 14, 2002, the Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh Police killed a terrorist of the JeM in an encounter at NOIDA, one of the satellite townships of the National Capital Region. Police sources indicated that Manzoor Dar @ Sirajuddin Khan, was a JeM 'Area Commander' from Baramulla in J&K. Dar had been pursued and engaged on the basis of information secured after the arrest of three Kashmiri students and members of the Jaish - Mehraj Hasan, Ejaz Hasan Jan and Sajjad Hasan Jan - from the Choudhury Charan Singh University in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. Their interrogation indicated that Dar had been charged to plan and execute attacks on a number of targets, including the Indian Parliament, India Gate, Red Fort, the Qutab Minar Complex, railway stations, stock exchanges and other crowed areas in Delhi.

Ironically, this is precisely the time when India's Opposition parties have chosen to launch a broadside against the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), 2002, the only operative law that India has against terrorism. The Party spokesman for the Congress, the largest Opposition Party at the Centre, declared that this 'draconian law' should be scrapped in its entirety because of its 'potential for abuse'. Criticism of POTA was revived in the wake of the Union Government's decision to set up a Commission to inquire into cases of its misuse by political parties in power against their opponents. This debate is expected to heat up considerably as speculation about an early General Election rises, and various political parties seek to seduce their 'vote banks' by striking populist postures on emotive issues. At roughly the same time, a vigorous foreign-funded campaign has been initiated to secure amnesty for a Punjab terrorist - Devender Pal Singh Bhullar - condemned to death for the 1993 bombing that targeted a Youth Congress leader, and that actually ended up killing nine bystanders and injuring another 29. This campaign has also secured limited support from a number of Indian 'human rights' groups and activists that have remained wedded to a range of issues closely connected with obstructing legal action against terrorist groups.

There are grave dangers here. The approach to an impending election is inevitably a time of mass political lunacy, but the national interest - and what is, today, widely acknowledged as a collective international objective - in containing and neutralizing terrorism is one that must not be lost sight of in the heat of the electoral competition. The present and escalating terror in an ever-widening sphere comes as a warning that democracies must learn to protect themselves against a lawless, opportunistic and utterly merciless and unrelenting enemy, lest they succumb to the machinations of the rising international and state sponsored terrorism that targets their vulnerabilities. There are, certainly, abuses of the anti-terrorism law, and these must be swiftly identified and punished - POTA contains clearly defined and harsh penalties for its abuse and for malicious prosecution under the Act. The setting up of a Commission to identify cases of politically motivated abuse of such laws is, to this extent, a step in the right direction. Allegations of such abuse must not, however, be allowed to undermine the efficacy and legitimacy of legal action against terrorism.

An urgency must, moreover, attend the task of assessing the recent spate of terrorist incidents at various locations across the country to determine the origin, cause and motive for this sudden escalation, and also to review the state's strategies of response. It is clear that the states and agencies who have, over the past two decades, engineered an international campaign of terrorism - despite their own current difficulties - have far from abandoned this method as a strategy and a tactic to pursue their geopolitical ambitions. The neutralization of this abundant source of terror must lie at the core of India's strategies of response if a permanent solution to this enduring affliction is to be found.

ASSESSMENT

INDIA

Assam: 'Defeated' ULFA Demonstrates its Power
Wasbir Hussain
Associate Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi; Consulting Editor, The Sentinel, Guwahati

Security agencies engaged in anti-insurgency operations in Assam were rattled last fortnight after receiving hard intelligence inputs that the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) might try and abduct a group of Russian oil experts from the Moscow-based company, LARGE, engaged in a state-of-the-art hydrocarbons survey near Duliajan in the State. And even as they reacted to throw an additional security ring around the 15 Russian experts hired by the state-run Oil India Limited (OIL), the Army was putting 'Operation Shamsheer' into place, to flush out insurgent cadres belonging to an assortment of groups, including the ULFA, from the Assam-Meghalaya-Bangladesh tri-junction. The Operation, in collaboration with the Assam and Meghalaya Police, was a pincer attack that began in the first week of this month in the East and West Garo Hills districts of Meghalaya, overlooking the Bangladesh plains. The area is a known resting place for the insurgents, and considered a strategic location.

Nothing significant has yet been achieved by this new operation, except that the rebels may have dispersed or crossed over into Bangladesh. The Army has said that the group of rebels they were actually targeting were operating from safe houses in Guwahati, the capital of Assam, until recently. Just about two pistols, some grenades and stocked rations were seized by the troops from around Atiabari, the main focus of the operation.

This offensive as well as the reports of a possible ULFA attempt to abduct the Russians came ahead of the rebel group's 'Sainik Divas' or 'Army Day' on March 16. Not much was heard about the ULFA observing 'Sainik Divas' in any big way in the past, although the rebel group has always sought to step up its offensive around its foundation day on April 7 each year, as well as around important Indian national days such as Independence Day (August 15) and Republic Day (January 26). This time round though, intelligence reports that the ULFA might resort to a string of attacks to coincide with its 'Sainik Divas' have proved to be true.

Shortly before midnight on March 7, the ULFA fired two mortars at a petrol storage depot of the Indian Oil Corporation's (IOC) Digboi Refinery in eastern Assam. The explosions shook the area and one of the 13 tanks in the storage facility, less than a kilometer away from the refinery - Asia's oldest - went up in flames. Nearly five million litres of motor spirit were to burn away during the next 40 hours, putting the loss at an estimated Rs. 200 million, inclusive of damage to the infrastructure and other heads. The same night, ULFA cadres blew up a gas pipeline of Oil India Limited near the company's eastern region headquarters in Duliajan. Before dawn on March 8, the ULFA fired a mortar at the Police Reserve lines in the western district of Bongaigaon, damaging a house. The Police armoury was supposed to have been the actual target, but the mortar fell way off the mark. In another incident in this series of attacks, three Hindi-speaking people were shot dead by ULFA cadres at a village in Goalpara, another western district. Then, on March 16 - ULFA's 'Army day' - ULFA cadres detonated an IED planted on National Highway 37 at Bamunkhopa near the Goalpara town and blew up a bus, killing six persons. The target is supposed to have been a bus transporting Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, but a packed private bus caught the main impact of the blast.

ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua had called up newspaper offices in Guwahati on March 8 to claim responsibility for the attacks on the oil installations, saying the raids were carried out by his men in protest against the 'exploitation' of Assam's natural resources by the Indian government. He warned, moreover, that such attacks would continue in the future. As if to prove his point, the ULFA carried out a grenade attack at the police station in Bongaigaon, 230 kilometers west of Guwahati, on March 12, injuring four policemen and three civilians.

Significantly, the attack on the refinery, built by the British in 1901 and a showpiece of India's industrial heritage, came less than 36-hours after an unprecedented statement by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in the State legislature. Gogoi told the House on March 6 that, should the Union Government and the ULFA leadership agree, he was prepared to travel to either Bhutan or Bangladesh to meet with the rebel leaders and initiate a peace process. The series of attacks commencing just a day later may suggest the ULFA's rejection of the idea.

What could the ULFA actually be trying to prove? Security officials, both from the Army and the police, seem happy with a simple explanation - the ULFA is 'cornered', and is, consequently, engaging in 'desperate acts.' Chief Minister Gogoi, on his part, reiterates that unless the ULFA cadres are denied sanctuary in Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, insurgency in Assam was bound to continue, with the rebels carrying out their strikes in the State and then returning to their bases in these countries.

In reality, the ULFA may not be in as bad a shape as one might be tempted to believe. The spate of recent attacks indicates that the rebel group has a good stockpile of weapons. These have also demonstrated that its cadres are mobile and can strike at places far away from their bases in Bhutan or Bangladesh. Digboi and Duliajan, where the two attacks took place last fortnight, are located 600 kilometres away from the Assam-Bhutan border. Does this mean that the ULFA is still quite active around Lakhipathar, the dense jungles near Digboi, where its general headquarters was once located, until the Army's Operation Bajrang in 1990? The answer could well be yes. Moreover, the General Officer Commanding of the Army's IV Corps, Lt. Gen. Mohinder Singh, who heads the Unified Command in Assam, said on March 13 that the ULFA rebels who carried out the Digboi Refinery attack may have come from their bases in Myanmar, which is closer to the area. Besides, the use of mortars, fired from a distance of anywhere between 400 metres to 1.5 kilometres, looks like a new strategy adopted by the ULFA to avoid incurring casualties in view of the fact that it has lost a sizeable number of its cadres in recent months. According to General Singh, as many as 12,000 ULFA cadres have been 'apprehended' since 1997, and another 1,540 ULFA men have been 'eliminated.' In view of these statistics, dismissing the latest strikes by the ULFA as nothing but 'acts of desperation' would be much too simplistic an assessment. If the ULFA has indeed lost nearly 14,000 cadres in the past six years and is still capable of striking at will deep inside the State, this confirms reports that the group has been engaged in a continuous recruitment drive. It appears increasingly likely, moreover, that the insurgent organization is now regrouping its forces for a renewed offensive.

The fallout of the recent attacks is a series of fresh fire-fighting measures by the authorities, with the Assam Government asking New Delhi to rush 30 additional paramilitary companies, comprising some 3,000 men, for exclusive deployment at oil installations. It is, however, a re-assessment of the actual success of the counter-insurgency operations in Assam under the Unified Command structure of the Army, police and the paramilitary, that is needed now. Gaps in past operations, which without doubt would be many, must be bridged if insurgency is to be contained in the State.

 

NEWS BRIEFS


Weekly Fatalities: Major conflicts in South Asia
March 10-16, 2003

 
Civilian
Security Force Personnel
Terrorist
Total

BANGLADESH

2
2
0
4

INDIA

46
15
40
101

Assam

6
0
3
9

Bihar

4
0
0
4

Jammu & Kashmir

21
12
26
59

Left-wing Extremism

3
0
1
4

Uttar Pradesh

0
0
1
1

Maharashtra

10
2
0
12

Manipur

0
1
6
7

Nagaland

0
0
2
2

Tripura

2
0
1
3

SRI LANKA

0
0
11
11
*   Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.



BANGLADESH


Two policemen killed in serial blasts in Khulna: Two police personnel were killed and two more injured in a series of bomb blasts in the Sheikhpara area of Khulna on March 11, 2003. During raids following the blasts, police recovered two shotguns, a rifle and some bullets from the area. The Independent, March 12, 2003.


INDIA


Nine police personnel and two civilians killed in J&K: Nine Special Police Officers (SPO) and two civilians were killed and nine other persons injured in a terrorist attack on a remote police post in the Gool area of Udhampur district of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on March 16, 2003. The terrorists also abducted four police personnel and three civilians and looted all the arms and ammunition before destroying the police post. Daily Excelsior, March 17, 2003.

12 persons killed in bomb explosion onboard local train in Mumbai: 12 persons, including two women constables, were killed and 70 more injured in a bomb explosion on March 13, 2003, inside a compartment of the Karjat-bound local train at Mulund Railway station in Mumbai, Maharashtra. The Hindu, March 14, 2003

Four terrorists and an SF personnel killed in Manipur: Four Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) terrorists and a personnel of the Assam Rifles were killed during an encounter at Oksu village in the Imphal East district of Manipur on March 11, 2003. An AK-47 rifle, two other rifles and an unspecified number of Self-Loading Rifles (SLR), besides some ammunition, were recovered from the incident site. Kangla Online, March 11, 2003.

JeM 'area commander' killed in encounter in Uttar Pradesh: The Special Task Force (STF) of Uttar Pradesh Police killed a Kashmir-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) 'area commander' identified as Manzoor Dar alias Sirajudin Khan in an encounter at Sector 34 of Noida, Uttar Pradesh, on March 12, 2003. An AK-47 rifle, some ammunition and explosives were recovered from the incident-site. Times of India, March 13, 2003


NEPAL

Government, Maoist insurgents sign 'code of conduct': Government chief negotiator Narayan Singh Pun and the Maoist insurgents parallel government head Baburam Bhattarai signed a 22-point code of conduct on March 12, 2003. The code has come into force immediately and will govern the conduct of the peace talks. The two sides had announced a cease-fire on January 29, 2003. Pun later said the code would be fully implemented within three weeks. However, there is no news yet on the dates, venue and agenda of the proposed peace talks. Nepal News, March 13, 2003


PAKISTAN

Top Al Qaeda terrorist Yasir al-Jaziri arrested in Lahore: Pakistani authorities arrested a leading Al Qaeda terrorist, Moroccan national Yasir al-Jaziri, in Lahore on March 15, 2003. Reportedly, the arrest was based on information given by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the suspected mastermind of 9/11 attacks, who was arrested from Rawalpindi on March 1. "He (al-Jaziri) is less important than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed but he is quite an important person," Secretary of the Interior Ministry Tasneem Noorani was quoted as saying. Dawn, March 16, 2003.


SRI LANKA

LTTE vessel sunk off Mullaithivu, 11 cadres killed: The Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) sunk a vessel of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) killing 11 cadres on March 10, 2003, in the sea off Mullaithivu. Although the LTTE said it was a merchant vessel, the Defence Ministry said that the Navy had "credible informationů that an LTTE vessel carrying warlike material was approaching the Mullaithivu coast with the aim of unloading weapons at mid sea into small boats". The Navy attacked the LTTE vessel "for the purpose of protecting vital interests involving the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity", after LTTE cadres fired at the naval vessel and damaged its control room. The LTTE termed the attack as "a grave violation of the cease-fire agreement" and warned that it "will have far reaching implications for the peace process". LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham alleged on March 12 that the Navy was 'determined' to derail the peace process. However, on March 14, Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Vidar Helgesen said the LTTE had conveyed to him that it would participate in the sixth round of peace talks from March 18, in Hakone, Japan. Daily News, March 11, 2003, March 15, 2003; Tamil News, March 10, 2003

 

The South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) is a weekly service that brings you regular data, assessments and news briefs on terrorism, insurgencies and sub-conventional warfare, on counter-terrorism responses and policies, as well as on related economic, political, and social issues, in the South Asian region.

SAIR is a project of the Institute for Conflict Management and the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

 

South Asia Intelligence Review [SAIR]

Publisher
K. P. S. Gill

Editor
Dr. Ajai Sahni



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