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SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 2, No. 11, September 29, 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

AFGHANISTAN
PAKISTAN

The Taliban Rises - Again
Guest Writer: Syed Saleem Shahzad
Correspondent, Asia Times

The Taliban movement has widely regrouped itself in Afghanistan, mostly along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas. The social, geographical and political characteristics of the whole of this tribal belt favor the Taliban fighters, and the Pakistani, US and Afghan authorities just cannot control the Taliban in this specific region.

The guerilla war in Afghanistan has really taken shape since October 2002. Earlier, between October 7, 2001, and December 2001, heavy US precision bombing had coerced the Taliban to leave their controlling positions and disperse to places where they could find a shelter. Mullah Omar's decision of retreat from Kabul and Kandahar forced most of his commanders to hide themselves in Pakistani tribal areas. Ordinary Taliban foot soldiers easily melted into the civilian Afghan population. Several replaced their black turbans from Pakhool and joined the new Afghan administration. Many chose to go back to their tribes and resumed a routine life as ordinary citizens. However, the Taliban took only a few months to prove that US claims of destroying their network were wrong.

By October 2002, the Taliban had widely regrouped. Most of their top commanders including Mullah Akthar Usmani, Mullah Dadullah and Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani restored their links and were subsequently able to contact their followers, restoring the 'struggle'. Their messages, circulated through pamphlets and audio tapes, gave a general call for jehad against the occupying foreign forces. In the succeeding months, the Taliban established a regular relationship with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-I-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), once the largest militant group fighting against the former USSR. Hekmatyar, a former student leader of the Engineering University of Kabul was also nominated an interim Prime Minister in the Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani-led Coalition government in 1993, which was finally booted out by the Taliban. The Taliban had issued a fatwah (religious decree) for the assassination of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the mid-1990s, as they considered him responsible for bloodshed among the Afghans to fulfill his greed for power. As a matter of record, it is useful to note that, despite the current and congenial ties between the Taliban and the HIA and the joint struggle they have launched against the US and her allies, the fatwah was never taken back.

Regular contacts and coordination between the Taliban and the HIA were eventually transformed into an alliance, which was named 'Saiful Muslemeen'. The remnants of the Al Qaeda also became part of this network. According to sources, after the formation of this group, all three constituents have agreed on a single and integrated strategy in which finance and human resources would be shared in future coordinated operations.

At present, the resistance movement has chosen Zabul, Spin Boldak and Hilmand as the areas where they have to re-establish their authority. These districts are situated all along the mountainous terrain, which best serves a guerilla campaign. This terrain leads to safe routes that go across areas demarcated by the Durand Line, which separates Pakistan from Afghanistan, and exists only on the map. Practically, there is no clear demarcation of the border, and there are dozens of villages located on the Line, part in Afghanistan and part in Pakistan. The people on both sides of the notional Durand Line belong to the same tribes (the Noor Zai and the Achakzai) and have traditionally moved freely on both sides of the divide for centuries. These are the circumstances that make it possible for the Taliban to attack their targets on Afghan soil, using the mountainous terrain to strategic advantage, and then melting into the villages in the Pak-Afghan border areas. The Pakistani tribal areas, consequently, provide natural strategic depth to the Taliban fighters.

The people who live all around the Chaman area on the Pakistani side of the divide are extremely religious, and numerous madrassahs (Islamic seminaries, numbering approximately 200) are the ideological centers of the Taliban movement. The location of these seminaries is, again, problematic, since they exist along the line where a clear demarcation of Pakistani and Afghan territory is impossible.

With these key factors complementing their modus operandi, the Taliban have established their writ in Zabul, Hilmand and Spin Boldak. The US Forces in Afghanistan are unwilling to take casualties, and consequently only provide limited aerial support to the Afghan Army in their operations in the area. On occasion, some US soldiers have been sent in to reinforce the Afghan militia's line of defense, but these soldiers rarely participate in the action and generally limit their role to guiding the operations. This has tended to demoralize the Afghan administration and Forces, and they now increasingly accept the presence of the Taliban in these three districts. Although the Taliban is yet to appoint its own administration in these areas, they have established a kind of de facto rule and a strong presence in the mountainous terrain around the area. The local administration is aware that, if they act against the will of the Taliban, the consequences would be extreme.

In Khost, Paktia, Paktika and Gazni, the Taliban seek to inflict terror on the US Forces. They do not control any significant areas in these provinces, but gather in the Northern and Southern Waziristan area of Pakistan as well as in the Kurram Agency to execute strikes across the border and then retreat to the relative safety of Pakistani territory. Once again, they hide out in the mountains in areas where the nebulous Durand Line separates Pakistan from Afghanistan.

There is a long-standing tradition, within this specific area, of the local Waziri tribes who live on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, to move across the divide for trade. They move as a Lashkar (group) and always carry guns and ammunition with them. For centuries, they have never been prevented from free movement in the area, and no one has ever asked them for travel documents. The result is that neither the Afghan security guards nor the Pakistanis can make out the difference between these tribal groups and the movement of the Taliban.

US Forces have tried to chase the Taliban operating in this area on several occasions. In rare cases, US Forces successfully track them crossing into Pakistani areas. By and large, however, they generally hide in the mountainous terrains and, when the dust settles, cross over into the Pakistani tribal belt as a tribal Lashkar to live a routine life for a few weeks, while they plan another mission in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, HIA and Al-Qaeda have, so far, been using the Kunar Valley as their strategic reserve where they have protected their manpower, but where they do not engage in any violent activities. The local administration is dominated by Jehadi commanders who are loyal to the HIA and the Taliban, and these groups choose not to bother them with their guerilla attacks. A similar, though not identical, situation prevails in Jalalabad, where the HIA has reportedly established camps, and a kind of truce exists between the local administration and the guerillas. They cooperate with each other and there is an agreement that, if the resistance takes shape in eastern Afghanistan, the present administration would surrender to the emerging Force in accordance with the Afghan custom, and would not engage the emerging Force in a fight.

Within this context, the recent Pakistan Army operation in Bannu near North Waziristan was conducted because the US intelligence apparatus had secured information about the presence of an important Al-Qaeda operative of Iraqi origin (Abdul Hadi Al-Iraqi), along with several other Arab Afghans and Pakistani militants. However, the intense reaction of the tribals caused the troops to halt abruptly, and they were sent back to their old positions. According to sources, the Al Qaeda operatives never dwell in Wana or Miran Shah, the headquarters of South and North Waziristan, respectively, but always stay in the no man's land near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, with supporters in Pakistan sending them medical and food supplies, as well as requirements of daily life. In effect, in this area, their presence is yet to be significantly challenged.

 

ASSESSMENT

INDIA

Meghalaya: Shutting Down the Industry of Terror
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Acting Director, Institute for Conflict Management Database & Documentation Centre, Guwahati

Police in the West Garo Hills district of Meghalaya could not have hoped for a better performance on a single day.

  • On September 26, during a routine checking near the commercial town of Garobadha an auto rickshaw refused to stop at a police check post and, as a police party followed it, one of the occupants, an Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) militant jumped out and started firing. He was killed in retaliatory fire and three other occupants (all ANVC cadres) were arrested.
  • Interrogations of the arrested militants lead the police to the Tura Orchid Lodge at Dakpgre area. Another nine cadres of the same group, including four women, were arrested.
  • Three of the arrested cadres led the police party to another hideout near Boldorenggre area, on the outskirts of Tura. In the ensuing exchange of fire, seven militants were killed, including the three who had brought the police to the hideout.

At the end of the day, eight ANVC militants were dead and another nine in police custody.

The succession of encounters and raids appears somewhat surprising within the context of the official position in the State of Meghalaya. Only recently, the State government had extended an offer of peace to both the militant groups active in the State, the ANVC and the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC). [Significantly, the 'commander-in-chief' (western command) of the HNLC, Delphinus Myrthong alias Khraw, was killed in an encounter near Nongstoin in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya on September 27, 2003. On September 5, 2003, Chief Minister D.D. Lapang had handed over a letter to the President of the Garo Baptist Convention (GBC), Grover C.R. Marak, authorizing him to negotiate with the ANVC.] The political bigwig in the State, former speaker of the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of India's Parliament) and the National Congress Party (NCP) leader, Purno Sangma, also claimed to be acting as the 'Centre's mediator' in bringing the ANVC to the negotiation table. The Mizoram Chief Minister, Zoramthanga, had also claimed, on many occasions, to be negotiating with half-a-dozen insurgent outfits active in India's Northeast, including the ANVC.

In turn, the ANVC appeared to be responding to the offer of talks. In April this year, its General Secretary, Wanding K. Marak, at a secret gathering of select journalists at an unspecified location in the Garo Hills, had disclosed the beginning of the organization's negotiation with the Mizoram Chief Minister and Intelligence Bureau Director K.P. Singh in Bangkok in January 2003. He, however, maintained that the Union Government had not bothered to follow up on this round of talks. Towards the later part of April, the group dissolved its 'area command headquarters' in the Garo Hills area and brought them under the single command of 'commander-in-chief' Jerome Momin in a possible bid to establish a single organisational authority for future negotiations.

The ANVC's 'positive gesture' was apparent and appeared to be acknowledged by the State Government's authorisation of the GBC as the official mediator. The ANVC, in turn, on September 12, 2003, published its e-mail IDs in the media in order to open a channel of communication. The ANVC, however, continued to maintain that talks would have to centre on the issue of the creation of a separate Garoland (land for the Garo tribes), and maintained categorically that 'Talks will have no meaning if the issue of greater Garoland is pushed aside.' The Government had responded through a statement by the Chief Minister on September 14, who asserted: 'Talks will be straightforward, militants will be safeguarded and there would be not any room for doubt on the government's part.'

Any successful end to the ANVC's insurgency would have been immensely beneficial for the State of Meghalaya, whose Police Force is yet to secure a decisive advantage over the outfit. Since its inception, on December 20, 1995, the group has grown from strength to strength and had survived the deaths of 22 cadres between 2000 and 2002. It has come to acquire sophisticated weapons, on occasions far superior to those in possession of the State Police Force. The group has even established three camps in the Tangail, Mymensingh and Sherpur districts of Bangladesh, a list of which was submitted to the Bangladesh Government by the Union Home Ministry in November 2002.

The ANVC had been established with the backing of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) following a successful jailbreak by a group of Naga and Garo militants from the Shillong District jail in August 1995, and still maintains operational linkages with the Naga insurgent group. On September 20, 2003, the Meghalaya Chief Minister had urged his Nagaland counterpart to rein in the NSCN-IM insurgents and prevent them from trespassing into Meghalaya's territory. On September 15, 2003, the Meghalaya police had arrested two NSCN-IM cadres from Sonatala village near Ranikota. The ANVC also maintains an active nexus with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and facilitates the movement of cadres from both these organisations through Meghalaya, on their way to and from Bangladesh.

The ANVC has established an 'extortion empire' of sorts in the Garo Hills and parts of the West Khasi Hills. Two prominent cases in September itself illustrate the character of the group's operations:

  • On September 2, 2003, the manager of the State Bank of India's Bajengdoba branch in the West Garo Hills was abducted by ANVC militants, who later demanded Rs. 1.5 million for his release. The Bank Manager was released on September 10, 2003, probably after the required amount of money changed hands.
  • On September 11, 2003, an 11-member ANVC team swooped down on the Ampati Secondary School in West Garo Hills in broad daylight and abducted the newly appointed headmaster, Mohammad Saharia. The outfit demanded an amount of Rs. 1.6 million in multiple instalments of Rs. 16,000, to free the headmaster. On being refused, the bullet-ridden body of the abducted headmaster was recovered on September 19, 2003, from Bolsalgiri, four kilometres from Ampati.

The ANVC's increasing foray into matters political was in evidence in its press release on September 5, 2003, which spoke openly against non-Garos contesting various elections in the Garo Hills districts. It stated that 'it will not permit a single non-Garo to contest any elections in future from any constituency in the Garo Hills.' The release added further: 'Garo Hills belong to the Garos who will not be governed by a non-Garo.' In significant measure, the militants' dominance over the Garo Hills and parts of West Khasi Hills goes unquestioned.

A loss of eight cadres, and the arrest of another nine within 24 hours could be a substantial loss for an organisation, whose cadre strength is estimated at barely a hundred and fifty. Preliminary evidence suggests that a majority of those killed belonged to the 'mobile finance wing' of the group, which means that the ANVC's extortion activities could suffer for some time.

On the negotiation front, the encounters might work as a dampener, forcing the outfit to shut all doors for talks, at least temporarily. This would not, however, alter the ground situation significantly, since, despite the Government's public postures and 'letters of authorisation' the Church body for negotiations, there is little evidence of serious intent to bring the ANVC to the negotiating table. During an informal conversation in Shillong recently, a top police official of the State termed the ANVC's peace overtures a 'smokescreen', and indicated that 'the police force is continuing its efforts to neutralise the outfit' and 'the gesture of the outfit is hardly a matter to be taken seriously'. The Police appear to be making a point, and there is little possibility that the point is being made without the tacit approval of its political bosses.

There is a certain feeling that the Meghalaya Government is shedding its ambiguity in dealing with terror in the Hill State. The manner in which the Government ensured a huge participation in this year's Independence Day celebrations, on August 15, 2003, despite a blanket ban issued by the HNLC, is a measure of its determination. Again, on September 5, 2003, Chief Minister Lapang, addressing the meeting of the Directors General of Police of the Northeast States in Shillong, asserting: "Militant outfits operating in the State have no political or genuine issues to justify their demand for independence. The only objective is to develop their cottage industry of extortion." The incidents of September 26 appear to suggest that the state is now determined to shut down this 'cottage industry'.

 

NEWS BRIEFS


Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
September 22-28, 2003

 
Civilian
Security Force Personnel
Terrorist
Total

BANGLADESH

0
0
1
1

INDIA

     Assam

1
0
6
7

     Jammu &
     Kashmir

14
3
52
69

     Left-wing
     Extremism

2
0
0
2

     Manipur

3
0
0
3

     Meghalaya

0
0
9
9

     Tripura

1
3
1
5

Total (INDIA)

21
6
68
95

NEPAL

9
9
74
92
*   Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.



BANGLADESH


Top Jemaah Islamiyyah leader could be hiding in Bangladesh: According to a media report, due to the ongoing crackdown on the Islamist terrorist groups in Southeast Asia, the Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI) and others have started moving to South Asia. They have identified Bangladesh as a safe haven and also plan to set up sleeper cells of future leaders in Pakistan, the report indicated. Quoting intelligence sources, the report says that the senior leader of JI, Hambali, was about to relocate to Bangladesh when he was arrested in Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok. It is also believed that one of JI's most wanted men, Malaysian accountant Zulkifli Marzuki, could already be in hiding in Bangladesh. Australian News, September 27, 2003.


INDIA


HNLC 'commander' and eight ANVC terrorists killed in Meghalaya: The 'commander-in-chief' (western command) of the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), Delphinus Myrthong alias Khraw, was killed in an encounter near Nongstoin in the West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya on September 27, 2003. However, four of his associates and a bodyguard managed to escape. Separately, eight terrorists of the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) were killed in two separate encounters in the West Garo Hills district on September 26, 2003. Shillong Times, September 28, 2003.

Pakistan using terrorism as a tool of blackmail, says Prime Minister Vajpayee: Addressing the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York on September 25, 2003, the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said that Pakistan was using terrorism as "a tool of blackmail" and that, just as the world had refused to negotiate with the Al Qaeda or the Taliban, India too would not negotiate with terrorism. The Premier also said that India would not have any dialogue with Islamabad as long as Pakistan continued to sponsor terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Commenting on President Musharraf's UN speech on the previous day, Vajpayee pointed out that "Yesterday, the President of Pakistan chose this August assembly to make a public admission for the first time that Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. After claiming that there is an indigenous struggle in Kashmir, he has offered to encourage a general cessation of violence within Kashmir, in return for reciprocal obligations and restraints.'' A dialogue between India and Pakistan could take place, according to Vajpayee, only when cross-border terrorism stopped or was eradicated by India. The Hindu, September 26, 2003.


NEPAL

Maoist leader announces nine-day unilateral cease-fire from October 2: In a statement released on September 26, 2003, the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal announced a unilateral cease-fire for nine days, starting on October 2. "We have decided to adjourn all our aggressive activities for nine-days of Dashain and Tihar festival period (October 2 to 10) in response to repeated calls for truce from Nepal people, civic societies (sic), political parties and human rights organizations", said Dahal. Further he added that "we will be instantly ready for permanent ceasefire if the old regime respects the sovereignty of people in true sense." Nepal News, September 27, 2003.


PAKISTAN

President Musharraf offers talks with India to solve Kashmir issue: Addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2003, President Pervez Musharraf invited India to observe a complete cease-fire along the Line of Control (LoC). "Once again, from this august rostrum, I invite India to join Pakistan in a sustained dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute. I am convinced that, with goodwill, we can find a just solution which is acceptable to India, to Pakistan and, above all, to Kashmiri people", he said. He also said, "Pakistan would also be prepared to encourage a general cessation of violence within Kashmir, involving reciprocal obligation and restraints on Indian forces and the Kashmir freedom movement." While claiming that Jammu and Kashmir had been rightly described as the most 'dangerous dispute' in the world, Musharraf added that a just solution to the Kashmir issue was the key to peace and security in South Asia. Jang, September 25, 2003.

Brother of Jemaah Islamiyyah's chief Hambali arrested in Karachi: Gun Gun Rusman Gunawan, younger brother of Hambali, chief of the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyyah, was reportedly arrested from the Gulshan-e-Iqbal area in Karachi a month back. Yaqoob Tahir, registrar of the seminary Jamia Abi Bakar situated in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal area, said that, about a month ago Karachi Police summoned one of their Indonesian students, namely Abdul Hadi, whose name was written on his passport as Gun Gun Rusman Gunawan, for questioning. After questioning he was later taken to an undisclosed location. "Since then we have no information regarding his whereabouts," the official said adding "We have informed his government but so far we did not receive any response." Unnamed official sources were quoted as saying that Gunawan had been handed over to the US authorities. Meanwhile, an Indonesian student arrested from a seminary in Karachi on September 20, 2003, on suspicion of links to the Jemaah Islamiyyah is a brother of Hambali, an official said on September 22. "I believe it is so," Interior Ministry spokesperson Iftikhar Ahmed told AFP. "I don't have it in writing in front of me but that is what I've heard." Security agencies arrested 16 foreigners on September 20 after raiding two seminaries in Karachi. Hambali, in US custody since his arrest in Thailand on August 11, 2003, is alleged to be closely linked to the Al Qaeda. Separately, Gunawan is reported to have admitted that in the recent months he sent approximately $US50, 000 in cash to Hambali along with some compact discs. "Someone named Toha from Saudi Arabia met me many times when I was in Thailand. He asked me to send money to Indonesia from Pakistan," Gunawan was quoted as saying. Reuters, September 26, 2003; Jang, September 23, 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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