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Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 1, No. 48, June 16, 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



The Post-Tokyo Agenda
Guest Writer: Jehan Perera
Media Director, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

The pledging of USD 4.5 billion over the next four years to Sri Lanka at the Tokyo donor conference on June 9-10 came as an unexpected surprise. The absence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from what had been billed as a joint Government-LTTE appeal to the international community had led to reasonable apprehensions that donor interest in the event would diminish. But the total pledged was 50 percent larger than the USD 3 billion that was anticipated as the target figure.

More striking, the quantum of aid pledged was the equivalent of the funds pledged for the post-war reconstruction of Afghanistan. The international support to Sri Lanka was also manifested by the presence in Tokyo of representatives of 51 countries and 22 international organisations, with the Prime Minister of Japan Junichiro Koizumi, and US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in attendance.

Ironically, after the Tokyo donor conference the main challenge for the Government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will not be so much to spend the foreign assistance expeditiously, but to woo the LTTE back into the peace process. Most donors who pledged aid, and notably Japan which pledged USD one billion, said that the disbursement of their funds would be conditional on the satisfactory progress of the peace process. But the peace process remains stalled with the LTTE refusing to meet in face-to-face talks with the Government until it is provided with a satisfactory interim administration to govern the north east of the country.

In the week prior to the Tokyo donor conference, and in its last ditch effort to get the LTTE on board for the donor's meet, the Government came up with a design for an interim apex authority. This was a mechanism based on existing law and administrative practices that could cut through layers of bureaucracy and address the LTTE's complaint that the Government machinery in the north east was not delivering economic results to the people. But by emphasizing only the economic aspects of the LTTE's call for a new and innovative structure, the Government failed to satisfy the political aspiration and self-image of the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil people.

It is interesting to note that, in his opening address to the donor conference, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe utilised the LTTE's own terminology of "a new and innovative structure" to describe the Government's proposed new administrative structure for reconstruction and development in the north east. But his presentation of a more detailed version of this structure did not reveal anything new or innovative that could meet with the LTTE's stated objective of a political-administrative framework.

The new "provisional administrative structure", according to the Prime Minister, would have included "rebuilding the war damaged economy, reconstruction, resettlement and providing effective delivery of essential services so as to uplift the lives of the people." It would also have been "based on four principles specified; namely to be efficient, transparent and accountable; safeguard the interests of all communities in the north east; enable the LTTE to play a significant role, and not be in conflict with the laws of Sri Lanka."

In its first response to the Tokyo conference, the LTTE rejected the Government's proposal made in Tokyo as unacceptable and insufficiently specific. The LTTE also appeared to be unfazed by the magnitude of the international community's generosity to Sri Lanka. Instead, it reiterated its justification for not attending the Tokyo conference, stating, "While our leadership has proposed an interim administrative framework, a politico-administrative structure for the Northeast with wider participation of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan Government has offered a council with a structure and mechanism for the development of the region."

The LTTE also rejected the final declaration of the conference, noting that it was not a party to the deliberations in Tokyo. It said, "The Colombo Government, with the active assistance of the facilitator and its international 'tactical' allies has formulated this strategic paper to superimpose its own agenda on the LTTE. This is unacceptable to us." The LTTE's suspicion that it is being cornered by the Sri Lankan Government, in concert with the international community, is reflected in its assertion that there is a bid to pressurize it into agreeing to unacceptable terms and conditions.

The LTTE appears to be prepared to sit out of the USD 4.5 billion development process indefinitely, just as it was prepared to sit out of the Tokyo donor conference despite all the local and international efforts to persuade it to go to Tokyo. And if history is any guide, the LTTE has reason to be confident that little that is positive can happen in the northeast over its objections. The fact is that all previous efforts by Sri Lankan Governments to solve the ethnic conflict while marginalizing the LTTE failed disastrously.

In responding to the LTTE, and persuading it to re-engage in the peace process, the Sri Lankan Government needs to recognise more explicitly that the ethnic conflict did not arise simply due to economic or bureaucratic infirmities, but due to the deliberate political marginalisation of the Tamil people. The interim authority proposed by the Government in its effort to convince the LTTE to attend the Tokyo conference failed to give adequate consideration to the LTTE's political aspirations. What the LTTE really seems to want is a provisional Government for the northeast that would wield political authority, and not simply be an efficient administrative structure to ensure rapid economic reconstruction.

At this time the Sri Lankan Government is reportedly making yet another effort to bring the LTTE back into the peace process. While its two efforts just prior to the Tokyo conference were rejected by the LTTE as inadequate, the latest offer is reportedly based on the model of an Interim Administration that was proposed by the former People's Alliance Government in August 2000 as a part of its abortive constitutional bill. This proposed structure would include ministerial positions and police powers in the northeast region in addition to effective economic mechanisms.

However, the prospects for satisfactory progress on this score appear to be remote unless there is a willingness on the part of the LTTE to be more cooperative. The most recent destruction of an LTTE ship on being apprehended by the Sri Lankan navy in the northern seas is likely to add to the difficulties of generating a breakthrough in the peace process, as also would the assassination of a top anti-LTTE Tamil leader, T. Subathiran of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) allegedly by an LTTE sniper in Jaffna on June 14. The fact that the LTTE is continuing to smuggle weapons into the northeast even at this time can only add to the difficulties of the Government in transferring powers of governance over to them.

The second challenge for the Government after the Tokyo conference would be to bring the opposition PA as a partner into the peace process. The PA's contribution to bringing the principle of devolution of powers on federal lines into the mainstream of public debate during its period of governance needs to be appreciated and utilised at this critical juncture. Further, the PA's political support is necessary at the present time for the establishment of an interim administration that would wield sufficient powers to satisfy the LTTE.

Up to the present the PA has been pushed into an oppositional position due to its exclusion from the peace process. Such an environment in which the peace process is politicized is not conducive to achieving its success. The best way out of this impasse is for the Sri Lankan Government to get President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the People's Alliance aboard as active participants, and it is reported that the LTTE has privately indicated its willingness to accept such a role for the Opposition. The LTTE's open support for this move could be a major contribution to the ultimate success of the peace process.



J&K: Reassessing Operation Sarp Vinash
Guest Writer: Praveen Swami
Special Correspondent, Frontline

Two weeks ago, the Army's Operation Sarp Vinash (Snake Destroyer) in the Hil Kaka area of Surankote in the Poonch district had appeared as a shining example of military 'innovation, intelligence and enterprise', and newspapers and television channels have since been saturated with reports of this 'high-profile' counter terrorist operation. One newspaper, whose correspondent had yet to visit the area, spoke of terrorists occupying a 'Karnal-sized area' (Karnal is a mid-sized town in Harayana with a population of over 1.3 million); others spoke of a Kargil-style intrusions, concrete bunkers, training camps and prepared killing fields. The Army's spin was that a major terrorist threat, which could have crippled Indian lines of communication in case of a war, had been interdicted. Bar the usual muttering about intelligence failure, the media has let it be known that a great victory has been won in the face of overwhelming odds, and Union Defence Minister George Fernandes has announced that he will ensure more Sarp Vinash style operations take place in the near future.

Now here's the unhappy truth: the media version of Operation Sarp Vinash is a hoax unprecedented in the annals of the Indian Army.

It is difficult to ascertain just what the Army's authorised version of Operation Sarp Vinash actually is, because officials have put out irreconcilable figures and accounts, much of these from behind a dense veil of anonymity. The Times of India first reported on a major offensive in the Surankote area. On May 17, its defence correspondent, Rajat Pandit, wrote that the Army had killed "60 hard-core militants in the Surankote area proximate to the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir," and had "also seized a huge quantity of assault rifles, mortars, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and under-barrel grenade launchers, among other 'war-like stores.'" The very next day, The Asian Age said that the operation had involved the use of Russian-built MI-17 helicopters, mainly to evacuate casualties. On May 19, The Tribune went one step further, asserting that the Army had killed "180 Pakistani terrorists and foreign mercenaries in the past 45 days when for the first time it launched an operation to free the high mountainous positions in Jammu and Kashmir which had so far been a haven for ultras."

All these early reports had two common features: they cited no on-record sources, and the term Sarp Vinash was nowhere used. It first appeared in the Jammu-based Excelsior on May 21. The operation, the newspaper reported citing anonymous defence sources, had been carried out "from April 21 to May 18 to clear a bulge at Hill [Hil] Kaka where hardcore Pakistani groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar, Al Badr and Hizbul Mujahideen had set up fortifications in a large area of strategic importance to interdict Indian Army supply lines." In the meanwhile, reports of helicopter strikes and terrorist-held fortifications had provoked hysteria among New Delhi-based journalists. Finally, on May 20, Army Chief, General N.C. Vij, tried to calm things down. The next morning's Tribune quoted him as denying "that helicopter gunships had been used to flush out the terrorists" but accepting that "helicopters had been used for logistical purposes", a routine event.

On May 23, the General Officer-Commanding of the Rajouri-based Romeo Force, Major-General Hardev Lidder, spoke to journalists flown in from New Delhi and Jammu. Lidder proceeded to rubbish Vij's claims before the press, asserting that helicopters "were used to destroy a bunker used by the ultras in the Hill [Hil] Kaka area." The Excelsior reported him as saying that the "hideouts busted were almost like military fortifications, where militants had stored large cache of arms, war like stores and 7,000 tonnes of rations." "The fortifications", the newspaper reported, "were designed on the pattern of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda hideouts in mountains near Jalalabad and some of them located as high as 3989 metres had to be targeted by helicopter fired air-to-ground 'frog' high fragmentation missiles." At the press conference, Lidder said 65 terrorists had been killed in the operation, ten across the Pir Panjal by troops of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps.

Two days later, Lidder provided more detail on the actual operation. In January, he said, helipads, roads and mule track were built to facilitate access to Hil Kaka. Army helicopters, he said, provided the crucial breakthrough, locating footprints in the snow leading to hideouts. Operations in Hil Kaka began on April 21. The Indian Express reported him as saying, "Our first contact with the terrorists began in the morning of April 22 when our jawans, using the shock-and-awe tactic, killed 13 terrorists around Pt [Point] 3689 [metres]." India's former Military Attaché in Washington also clearly understood the value of a little rhetoric. He claimed troops had found Inmarsat sets from where terrorists had called "Aligarh Muslim University, Malappuram in Kerala, Chinapalli in Tamil Nadu, Ahmedabad and even to Kuwait among other places."

Broadly, then, the Army made three major claims for Operation Sarp Vinash. It had killed between 40 and 60 terrorists in and around Hil Kaka, depending on who one believed. Many more had perished elsewhere. It had found a large hoard of war-like stores and weaponry. And, finally, it had destroyed some 90 major fortified hideouts, using air power and massive infantry resources.

Here's the truth about Sarp Vinash: it has actually killed less terrorists in and around Hil Kaka during the course of the much-hyped operation than in past years. It found no war-like stores, fortifications, or training camps.

By the end of May last year, 36 terrorists had been eliminated in the fighting around Hil Kaka. This year, by the Army's own claims in various documents accessed during this writer's investigations, the number is just 27. In 2001, 103 terrorists were killed around Hil Kaka, a figure that fell to 47 in 2002 because counter-insurgency formations had been withdrawn for India's war-that-wasn't with Pakistan. It is profoundly unlikely that the killings figures in Sarp Vinash will match those of 2001, despite all the bluff and bluster. And that isn't all. In the summer of 2001 and 2002, when terrorists were supposedly roaming around Poonch with impunity, the Jammu and Kashmir Police's records show considerably larger numbers of them were eliminated across the district than this time around.

What then of Operation Sarp Vinash's supposed success? The lie is nailed by the Army's own documents, filed in the wake of the seven major encounters that took place on Hil Kaka between April 22 and May 27. After each encounter, the Army files documents with the local police, stating how many terrorists it has killed and what weapons it has recovered. The seven documents filed by the Army in the course of the Hil Kaka operations collectively claim the elimination of just 27 terrorists by four separate units of the Indian Army.

Even this figure is open to dispute. Photographic evidence of all 27 killed, a necessity for a police First Information Report (FIR) to accept the claim made, is not available. More important, the claims of terrorists killed and weapons recovered are wildly inconsistent. The seven Army documents declare the recovery of 4 Pika-type machine guns, 9 assault rifles, a sniper rifle, and one 60-milimetre mortar. Even assuming that those who manned the Pika guns did not also have Kalashnikovs for their own proximate defence, an improbable eventuality, that only adds up to 14 major weapons. Thirteen terrorists, the documents would have us believe, were armed only with five pistols and a twelve-bore hunting shotgun. Troops of the 9 Para-Commando Regiment killed fourteen terrorists, and identified five - Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) district commander Jannat Gul, Abu Farz, Abu Usman, Abu Bakr, and Abu Hamza. They also recovered only five automatic weapons; the rest of those killed seem unarmed. In some cases, the Army's claims border on the farcical. The 15 Garhwal Rifles' report of May 12, for example, insists that the "weapon of the second militant washed away in the flow of water in the Nallah [mountain stream] and could not be recovered." How the unit's officers knew the missing weapon washed away in the stream is not clear, since Kalashnikovs are not known to bob up and down in running water.

Jammu and Kashmir Police Headquarters, based on the FIRs filed in the Surankote police station, has therefore been conservative in its assessment of the numbers of terrorists killed in Sarp Vinash. At the end of the first week of June, its figure for bodies actually found stood at 25. How, then, did the Army top brass claim to have killed upwards of 60 terrorists? With creative jugglery - and a little bit of imagination. In Poonch, for example, the Army claimed that five terrorists killed in the jurisdictions of the Mandi and Mendhar police stations were trophies for Sarp Vinash. A minute with the map shows this could not be the case, since the escape routes from Hil Kala lie northeast into the Pir Panjal, not back across the mountains towards the Line of Control. The Army also added terrorists killed in ambushes across the Pir Panjal towards Shopian to their total. Official records show seven terrorists were killed on the Chor Gali [pass] above Shopian on May 13, one each on May 23 and May 27, and another group of eight near Zainpora on June 7. Yet, even if one accepts the 27-dead figure claimed by the Army in Hil Kaka, along with the five claimed killed in Mendhar and Mandi, this still adds up to 46 - well below the Army's claimed numbers. It should also be noted that the Zainpora encounter took place several days after claims made by Vij and Lidder - which would bring the total at that time to 36.

Far larger killings of terrorists have taken place in individual encounters in the past, unaided by the high-tech gadgetry the Army claims was key to its current success. An operation at Khari Dhok, part of the Hil Kaka bowl, claimed the lives of 20 terrorists on July 15, 2001. Another 21 terrorists were eliminated at Mukhri on November 1 that year. These two encounters alone claimed the lives of more terrorists than the entire tally of Sarp Vinash. Its just that television wasn't around to manufacture a 'great triumph' at that time.

Evidence from arrested members of the groups on Hil Kaka also give a fair idea of just what was happening in the mountains - and none of it bears out the Army's steroid-fuelled stories. Mohammad Younis, from Harmain village in Shopian, was arrested by the Army in the course of its operations in Hil Kaka. According to the military account of his activities, which has led to his incarceration, Younis was taken from his village by a Lashkar-e-Taiba unit in November last year. There were, he said, five major hideouts around Hil Kaka, which housed some 75 Lashkar cadre. Forty of these, he said, were armed terrorists, the rest mainly children press-ganged from villages in Poonch and southern Kashmir. Most of the children never saw a gun, and were used mainly to clean dishes, haul firewood, and cook food. When fighting broke out on Hil Kaka, the children were left to cope as best they could.

Army records themselves demolish claims that war-like stores and fortifications were found on Hil Kaka. Its recoveries of anything resembling area weapons amounted to only a single mortar, a weapon that has been recovered in the dozens from across Jammu and Kashmir over the past several years. The total food ration shown recovered is not 7000 tonnes, as Lidder had publicly asserted, but a paltry 355 kilograms, and just 30-odd cooking utensils, 27 boxes, and 57 mat-sheets were shown as being found. Assuming that stores were maintained at static levels each month, a reasonable supposition given the weather, and that at least half a kilogram of grain was needed to sustain one terrorist for a day, would be that this store could cater for a high estimate of 22 terrorists.

Little evidence has emerged of major built-up fortifications in the area. The first encounter, carried out on April 22, found an eight-bed hospital facility built into a Gujjar dhoke (the summer stone-and-wood shelters built by the region's migrant shepherds). Many of the larger dhokes have semi-underground facilities, to shelter cattle and sheep in case the weather turns bad. It is safe to assume that any built up fortification would be defended at the very least by a machine gun, the numbers recovered probably give an accurate idea of how many defended positions there actually were.

In May last year, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee took the unprecedented step of chairing a meeting of the Unified Headquarters at Srinagar. Midway through the meeting, its minutes record, Research and Analysis Wing Commissioner C.K. Sinha pointed to the heavy presence of terrorists on the Poonch heights, and said some areas were being described as 'liberated zones.' 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General V.G. Patankar responded angrily, arguing that the Army was operating in these areas with considerable success. Describing Sinha's allegations as a slur, he asserted there were no 'liberated zones' anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir.

Less than a year on, we have the Army - although not, to his credit, Patankar - claiming that it had no information about the terrorist build-up. In fact, information about the activities of terrorists in and around Hil Kaka poured into the headquarters of the Romeo Force in Rajouri, Lidder's current office, on an almost daily basis, and the present writer has obtained copies of twelve key warnings emanating from the State police's intelligence operatives and from the Intelligence Bureau's field station. As early as November 2000, for example, the Poonch Police issued warnings to all organisations in the area that "militants have intensified their activities in Chak Maloti and Sangla areas." It noted that "huge quantities of arms/ammunition has been stored at Machipar adjacent to the houses of [five local residents]." Another report, originated in November 2002, recorded that "militants are regularly dumping the ration [sic] at Hil Kaka top." The next month, a fresh warning was issued about the construction of "four underground concealed hide-out[s]."

Investigations disclose that many of these warnings were coming from a shadowy covert operations unit called Special Group 3, made up of Gujjar residents of the high mountains. This blows apart claims that photo-reconnaissance by its newly-acquired Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, backed by aviation corps helicopters and equipment like thermal imagers were the key to whatever success Operation Sarp Vinash achieved. All seven of the Army's reports on the Hil Kaka operation either credit Special Group 3, managed by the Jammu and Kashmir Police, or its smaller sister organisation, Special Group 2. The information was at first ignored, and then taken seriously only after the organisation's leader spoke to a welter of top political and military figures in Rajouri, Jammu and New Delhi. Based on their inputs, the 9 Para-Commando Regiment, a crack unit that earned a formidable reputation for counter-terrorist operations during its earlier tenure in Kupwara, made a first attempt on Hil Kaka in early January. That effort, and another timed for January 26, was beaten back by heavy snow.

Through the winter, Romeo Force worked on putting together helipads that would be able to supply a permanent presence of troops on Hil Kaka. This was a marked departure from conventional practice, which held that committing troops there would only encourage terrorists to move base, and that swift, in-and-out operations were more productive. No road, contrary to Army claims, was built. Work has only now commenced on the construction of an 18-kilometre route from Bufliaz to Hil Kaka. Lidder also ordered that 155 mm artillery be moved into positions below Hil Kaka, along with Cheetah helicopters fitted with under-slung machine guns. In the first week of April, Gujjar families in Bufliaz were told they would not be allowed up the mountain. Two weeks later, Operation Sarp Vinash commenced with artillery pounding the forests around the Hil Kaka bowl, and helicopters attacking terrorist positions. It was a fruitless move: the assault killed no one, and a substantial proportion of terrorists on Hil Kala simply left for safer pastures.

On April 22, the 9 Para-Commando and the 3 Special Group made their way up Hil Kaka, and began the first assault of the operation. One group used shoulder-fired rockets to eliminate a stone post on Chham Dera, which had been turned into a machine-gun bunker dominating the entire Hil Kaka ridge. Simultaneously, the group interdicted the main terrorist base at Ban Jabran, half-way down the ridge. The terrorists had stashed their supplies a little lower, at Banota. No subsequent operation had anywhere near similar success, for most terrorists had simply fled. Notably, none of the seven Army reports speaks of fragmentation missiles being used to attack any of the positions. As operations continued, however, helicopters were used to fly in supplies, including a truck and a bulldozer to build a road between the new Army positions in the Hil Kaka bowl.

As things now stand, the Army intends to physically occupy Hil Kaka until the winter sets in. That will, of course, ensure that no terrorists dominate the area again - but will do nothing to plug other heights on the Pir Panjal. As the Army has long known, there simply aren't enough troops to be present everywhere all the time. If the Army moves troops east to try Sarp Vinash-style operations in Doda or Udhampur, it will have to thin out deployment somewhere else. The troops on Hil Kaka will serve no useful offensive purpose, because terrorists will simply stop using the area. That is precisely why Lieutenant General J.B.S. Yadava, who commanded the 16 Corps during its highly successful Hil Kaka operations in 2001, never committed troops to a permanent presence there. As things stand, Operation Sarp Vinash has sucked in four entire divisions into operations in the high mountains - and yet, killings of terrorists in both Rajouri and Poonch are at lower levels than in 2001 and 2002.

It doesn't take genius to work out what has gone wrong. In this case, large groups of terrorists have simply moved down the mountains into the lower reaches of Thana Mandi, and built up a significance presence in the Kandi area of Rajouri. Killings of civilians, particularly Muslims suspected to be against the Islamist terrorist agenda, have escalated. On May 24, while the Generals were talking about Sarp Vinash, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists killed five members of a Gujjar family at Keri Khwas in Rajouri. A week earlier, terrorists entered the home of Mehboob Hussain, near Kot Dhara in Rajouri. Inside, they beheaded all four women present, as well as two children, aged four and two. Troops in the Kheri Khwas area had been moved up into the mountains.

None of this should be a surprise: they are predictable consequences of military tactics discredited over the years. Helicopter-borne operations were attempted in Wadwan, another supposedly-liberated area on the Doda-Anantnag border, during the winter of 2000. The massive and expensive exercise, unsupported by field intelligence, succeeded in finding precisely one empty Kalashnikov magazine. By contrast, operations by the Rashtriya Rifles and Jammu and Kashmir Police Special Operations Group the next year, which relied on speed, surprise and silence, killed record numbers of terrorists. In 1999, the entire 8 Mountain Division was pumped into Kupwara's Rajwar forests. Again lacking intelligence support and planning, the grandiose operation, code-named Operation Kaziranga, showed a grand total of one dead body recovered at the end of its first week. Nor has setting up company-strength posts in remote mountain areas been productive. In the summer of 2000, pickets were put up in Wadwan, and on the Margan pass into Kishtwar. The mainly defensive positions killed not a single terrorist, and were burned down when troops withdrew at the onset of winter - sending a clear message to local residents about who was boss.

Operation Sarp Vinash was intended to kill the 'snakes' that threaten India's integrity. So far, its principal victim has been the truth.



Partners in Terror: NGOs in the Northeast
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Acting Director, Institute for Conflict Management Database & Documentation Centre, Guwahati

Reports of the identification of 824 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in India's Northeast (excluding Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh) for suspected links with the insurgent groups have persistently hit the headlines in the regional media over the past fortnight. As luck would have it, several incidents in just the last few days also have demonstrated the truth of these reports, and of what is generally well known, though usually played down by various power centres in the region. Whether the Union Government takes concrete steps to rein in these organisations masquerading as service-providers in different sectors by restricting the flow of funds to them - a preponderance of such funding comes from the Government and its various agencies - is still to be seen, and there is some sign of backtracking by the Union Government. Nevertheless, it is high time that the dynamics and functioning of these organisations are brought into a sharp and critical focus.

Media reports suggest that the number of NGOs recently identified as having links with insurgent groups in the region were: Assam - 151, Meghalaya - 323, Manipur - 197; Nagaland - 82; Tripura - 69; and Sikkim - 2. The existence of this nexus between purported organs of civil society, on the one hand, and various insurgent groups, on the other, raises crucial questions of security and governance:. Specifically,

  1. It highlights the complexities of trying to understand (let alone solve) the problem of the multiple insurgencies in the region.
  2. It provides some hope that the Government is gradually coming to terms with the ground realities that flushing the region with enormous amount of money will only enforce the forces of terror.

The extent of NGO activity in India's Northeast can be ascertained from the example of Meghalaya, a State with an area of 22,429 square kilometres and a population of 2.3 million. A study conducted by the Kolkata-based Society for Socio-Economic Studies and Services (SSESS) found that there were 8,757 registered NGOs (in September 2001) in the State. This very large number - an NGO for every 263 persons in the State - would suggest a thriving civil society and vast developmental efforts concentrated in the non-Governmental sector. The reality on the ground, unfortunately, makes this number laughable, and there is little evidence of non-Governmental developmental activity, or of a substantive civil discourse on the challenges confronting the State.

The problem goes well beyond the perversion of the NGO culture in terms of organizational linkages with the forces of terror. The near-complete renunciation of the basic objectives associated with the NGO movement is compounded by the enormous amounts of money that are flowing into and through these organizations in the name of development. Comprehensive data on the total flow of funds is not available, but an assessment of the magnitude is possible even on the basis of the fragmentary information that can be accessed. Thus, the Department of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER) alone disbursed Rs. 5.5 billion from the non-lapsable pool of central resources in the financial year 2002-03. Even though no estimation exists regarding non-Governmental funding, including flows from foreign sources, an indication is provided by the SSESS study. The NGOs in Meghalaya alone received an amount of Rs. 1.3 billion from various funding agencies during the financial year 1999-2000.

It is commonplace that, rampant extortion apart, leakages from developmental funds find their way into the coffers of various insurgent groups. Conversations with a number of officials and junior level employees in Manipur, for instance, reveal the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and the insurgents, which has resulted in the near-complete abandonment of developmental activities and the diversion of funds into various illegal sectors and private pockets. A statement by the Minister in charge of the DONER, C.P. Thakur, in Guwahati, put the leakage of developmental funds to the insurgents alone at 10 per cent of the total allocations to the region. Officials and sources within the region, however, assert that this is, at best, a modest estimate.

Collusion between the NGOs and insurgents has long been an open secret. Such links include NGOs acting as publicity managers for specific underground groups, as fundraisers, as overground facilitators of terrorist activities, as media handlers, as intelligence sources, and as conduits to and contacts with various political and administrative agencies. More interesting is the uncritical support that such entirely compromised entities have received from international 'human rights watchdogs' such as Amnesty International. Nor, indeed, has such support been entirely innocent. While documentation is difficult, there is at least one case in which an international 'human rights' group - the London-based Liberation - falsified its own documents to provide deliberate cover and multiple identities to members of a terrorist group against whom red corner notices for murder had been issued by Interpol, to appear before the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights at Geneva. (See Arundhati Ghose -- Terrorists, Human Rights & the United Nations.)

A look as some of the 'leading human rights organisations' in the region is illuminating. In Assam, the Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS) has a long history of collusion with the terrorist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). ·

  • As recently as on June 8, 2003, a female ULFA cadre, Kalyani Neog, who functioned as a librarian in the banned outfit's council headquarters in Bhutan, was arrested along with two MASS activists from the house of a MASS central committee member, Minati Bora. Bora is currently absconding.
  • In the last week of May 2003, Police recovered a large collection of ULFA documents from the Ghoguwa hills of Morigaon district, which incidentally included a letter from MASS requesting ULFA to sponsor a trip for MASS members to New Delhi.
  • The confessional statement of a surrendered ULFA militant, Kushal Mech, who gave himself up on May 27, 2003, elaborates on MASS' role, disclosing that it not only acted as ULFA's mouthpiece, but doubled up as its recruitment agency. Mech stated that "he had joined ULFA in 2002 with the help of two MASS activists whom he identified as Pratul Saikia and Amrendra Sharma." These two MASS activists have already been arrested. Amnesty International has 'condemned' these arrests.
  • In a letter recovered after his death on May 26, 2000, ULFA's Assistant Publicity Secretary, Swadhinata Phukan wrote: "In certain places we are not able to distinguish between a member of the ULFA and MASS." To underline the camaraderie, MASS condemned the death of Phukan by saying that "he was a member of the civil wing of ULFA, and was thus a non-combatant. His death has highlighted the systematic use of extra judicial executions as a standard method of counter-insurgency practice by the security forces."
  • In August 1997, MASS Chairman, Ajit Bhuyan, along with two other office bearers of the organisation, was arrested under the National Security Act (NSA). They were charged with maintaining links with the ULFA and publishing statements issued by the underground group. Amnesty International in its Annual Report India, 1998, once again bemoaned these arrests, ignoring open source information, such as the Guwahati-based The Sentinel's report on September 5, 1997, of documentary evidence proving that Bhuyan had advised ULFA to start a campaign against social activist Sanjoy Ghose, who was later kidnapped and murdered by the terrorist group.

The fraternity of 'Human Rights organisations' extends over most of the theatres of conflict in the region. The Naga People's Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) and the Naga Students' Fedration (NSF) have been named by the Union Government for their nexus with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), though this is no longer a proscribed organisation following its five-year engagement with the Government. Groups like the Committee on Human Rights (COHR) and Human Rights Alert in Manipur are outfits in the forefront of a campaign for 'human rights' to protect 'the people' from abuses by security force personnel, but who maintain a stoic silence when it comes to speaking of mounting excesses by the insurgents. In Tripura, where as many as 69 NGOs are said to have been put on the black list, organisations such as the Agartala-based Borok Human Rights Forum operate with a clear pro-insurgent mandate.

The Amnesty International Report, 2003, on India makes a sweeping claim that, in the year 2002, "human rights defenders were frequently harassed by State and private actors, and their activities labelled as 'anti-national." It is not clear whether Amnesty has any credible procedure of assessing the credentials of the various local 'human rights organisations' who provide it with its inputs, but it is abundantly clear that, if such procedures exist, there are far from transparent. There is sufficient evidence that a substantial proportion of Amnesty's inputs are generated from motivated reports by fraudulent organisations that are linked to violent political and extremist groups, or are front organisations of such groups, and these inputs appear to be amalgamated into Amnesty's reports without a visible credibility check. The result is that it is the cause of terrorism and political extremism that is actually promoted under a camouflage of genuine concern for human rights, and organisations like Amnesty provide terrorist fronts a much-needed international platform. In a situation where NGOs constantly demand greater 'transparency' and 'accountability' from the Government and its various agencies, it would be useful to bring a measure of transparency and accountability into the activities of the NGOs themselves.

Of course, the work environment for NGOs in the Northeast remains far from healthy. Over the years, insurgent groups have targeted legitimate NGO activists if they are seen to affect the standing or legitimacy of the extremist cause. In the most infamous case of the region, Sanjay Ghose, associated with AVARD-NE, was abducted and killed by ULFA terrorists in 1997. Following his disappearance, ULFA chief Paresh Baruah issued a diktat from his hideout in Bangladesh, declaring that, "no NGO can work in Assam without the permission of ULFA." According to Intelligence Bureau sources, following this directive, 25 NGOs actually applied for approval from ULFA to either start or continue their activities in the State.

Worse still, the response of the political classes has remained ambivalent. For instance, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who has been crying himself hoarse over the Centre's failure to act against Bangladeshi authorities for providing shelter to insurgent groups operating in the Northeast, continues to express ignorance about the linkages between such groups and various NGOs in his State, and has failed to act against the latter. In other instances, sections of the political leadership of various States actively collude with insurgent groups, or with their NGO fronts. Under the circumstances, in the absence of any statutory accountability or transparency of operation, it remains improbable that the corrosive nexus between NGOs and the extremists can be broken in the foreseeable future.



Weekly Fatalities: Major conflicts in South Asia
June 9-15, 2003

Security Force Personnel






     Jammu &








Total (INDIA)





*   Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


Islamist extremists attempting to make 'dirty' bomb, indicates report: According to a report in Time, Islamist extremists in Bangladesh may be attempting to make a radioactive 'dirty' (nuclear) bomb. The report said that police had arrested four suspected members of an Islamist group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JuM), on May 30, 2003, from a house in the northern village of Puiya. It recovered from them a football-size package, which was later found to be uranium manufactured in Kazakhstan besides 23 pages of documents describing how to manufacture bombs. However, Government officials are still not sure who was behind the smuggling of uranium. The village of Puiya is reportedly known for being sympathetic to the Al Qaeda and recently, 17 suspected Islamist terrorists were arrested from there for distributing posters and tapes featuring Osama bin Laden. Time, June 16, 2003.


10 Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists killed in Poonch district, Jammu and Kashmir: Security forces (SFs) killed 10 hardcore Pakistani terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) outfit during an encounter at Hari Safeda in the Surankote area of Poonch district on June 14, 2003. A police constable and a civilian were also killed in the incident. Official sources said that the encounter ensued after SFs launched a search operation in Hari Safeda forests after securing information regarding movement of a large group of terrorists. Eight AK rifles, one Pika gun, a large quantity of AK and Pika ammunition, three wireless sets, 22 hand grenades, one Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL), eight UBGL grenades and some eatables and ration items were recovered from the encounter site. Daily Exceslior, June 15, 2003.

Documents related to terrorism handed over to US during Deputy Premier's Washington visit: India has handed over to the United States certain documents relating to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism during the talks between visiting Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani and US Attorney General John Ashcroft in Washington on June 10, 2003. According to the Deputy Premier, "certain papers that we had which we felt could be shared with America, we handed over to Ashcroft." Meanwhile, Pakistan-sponsored cross border terrorism and India's recent peace initiative came up for discussions during an unscheduled meeting on the same day between Advani and US President George W. Bush. Describing Pakistan as the epicentre of international terrorism, Advani said on June 12 that India and the US should work together to defeat the menace, which is a "threat not only to the security of the two countries but to peace and tranquility around the world." "The epicentre of international terrorism lies in India's immediate neighbourhood... It gives me no joy in pointing fingers but the involvement of Pakistan can no longer be ignored," Advani said after giving an address on 'Indo-US relations in a strategic perspective' organised by the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles. Times of India, June 13, 2003; Hindustan Times, June 11, 2003.


12 'sea tigers' feared killed as LTTE vessel is sunk off the Mullaitivu coast: A suspected arms smuggling vessel of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was allegedly blown up by the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) in international waters, 266 nautical miles off the coast of Mullaitivu, on June 14. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) monitors have reportedly said that 12 'sea tigers' are feared killed in the incident. Meanwhile, a press release issued by the Political Head Quarters of LTTE in Kilinochchi said that it had informed the SLMM of the sinking of its 'merchant vessel'. The statement added that the incident is "a gross violation of the ceasefire agreement and if any harm were to befall the crew of the LTTE vessel then the sole responsibility for the events lay with the SLN and that this incident would have very grave consequences." Daily News, June 15, 2003.

EPRLF leader Subathiran assassinated: Subathiran, a front ranking leader of a faction of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) opposed to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was assassinated in the heart of northern Jaffna town on June 14, 2003, by an unidentified sniper', allegedly an LTTE sharpshooter. The LTTE has neither claimed nor denied involvement in the killing. The Hindu, June 15, 2003.

Premier offers LTTE more authority in rebuilding and administering North East: While speaking at the donors conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka in Tokyo on June 9, 2003, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reportedly offered to meet the key demand of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for an interim administration in the North-East Province. He also said that his Government would consider calling a referendum to endorse changes to the country's Constitution that could be part of a final solution of the conflict. The donors have reportedly pledged US dollars 4 billion aid over the next four years to rebuild the country. Meanwhile, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who attended the meeting, urged the LTTE to return to the negotiating table. However, he also indicated that it was not possible to remove the LTTE from the list of banned terrorist outfits immediately. Daily News, June 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]

K. P. S. Gill

Dr. Ajai Sahni

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