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SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 2, No. 17, November 10, 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

SRI LANKA

On the Brink, Again
Guest Writer: Iqbal Athas
Consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent, The Sunday Times, Colombo

There is a strange if not bizarre paradox in Sri Lanka's peace process.

Twenty months after a fledgling ceasefire, the Tiger rebels made public their much awaited demands to end their near two-decade-long 'armed struggle'. They want autonomous self-rule in the North East, outside Sri Lanka's Constitution and laws.

A failure to heed their demands within five years, they made clear, would lead to elections. That it would lead to a separate state of Eelam is a certainty, even though the rebels have not said so.

One would have expected these demands, a solid foundation for a separate state, to cause a political storm, if not riots; a politically sensitive Sinhala south has been screaming over concessions, including a radio station, already given to rebels. Yet they did not.

Instead, causing increasing uncertainty over the peace process is an entirely different issue - a confrontation between the ruling United National Front (UNF) Government and the main opposition People's Alliance (PA).

It was sparked off by President Chandrika Kumaratunga's decision last Tuesday to sack three Ministers - Tilak Marapana (Defence), John Ameratunga (Interior) and Imtiaz Bakeer Markar (Mass Communications). She took control of the portfolios.

"Do you think the President did this to embarrass you whilst you are my guest," asked US President George W. Bush, from Premier Wickremasinghe during a meeting at the White House. He was in Washington to seek US support for the peace process. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe did much the same in New Delhi during talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee last month. He not only won Indian backing then, but also an assurance for a Defence Co-operation Agreement with Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan Premier was seeking these assurances as part of his 'international safety net.' That these initiatives came twenty long months after the ceasefire was both significant and important. They were not prompted by the tough rebel demands. Even before they were made public, he had appealed to India, and the visit to the US followed shortly thereafter. The reason was mounting security concerns.

The rebels have dominated the northern Wanni since they were ousted from the Jaffna peninsula in 1995. They ran their own administration, which includes courts, police stations, banks and a tax collection machinery. They have now extended this apparatus to the east under the ceasefire. They doubled their strength in the North East, and have recruited new cadres, including children. They have smuggled in state-of-the-art military hardware, including surface-to-surface missiles and surface-to-air missiles, and have begun setting up an air wing using two micro-light aircraft.

In marked contrast, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces find themselves in a quandary. Desertions have been higher during the ceasefire, and there was poor response to repeated recruitment drives.

The UNF has not tried to re-equip the Armed Forces for fear of offending the rebels. Training on a limited scale led to dwindling ammunition stocks. When stocks reached alarming levels, India came to their aid by sending in emergency supplies.

This emerging scenario has led to an increasing change in the military balance. To the uninitiated, President Kumaratunga's move came as a surprise. To any discerning student of politics it was not. There have long been strengthening indications that such action was inevitable. The President had been writing stinging letters to both Premier Wickremasinghe and Defence Minister Marapana over these developments. Some of her concerns have been made public, such as the LTTE build-up in the North Eastern port district of Trincomalee, where a threat has emerged, not only to the strategic port there, but also to Indian investments, including the World War II vintage oil tanks leased out to the state-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC). Other correspondence, however, still remains private.

For the Wickremasinghe Government, the lessons learnt over last week's events arise out of a neglect of the intelligence services and the Armed Forces in the misguided belief that the rebels would be offended if the Government emphasised the perceptions and agendas of these state agencies.

Indeed, just a month after the UNF was voted to power, the Police raided a forward operations cell of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. This unit in a city suburb was the centre from where deep penetration units infiltrated rebel areas in the East and assassinated their leaders. It was mistaken for a hide out from which military officers had purportedly planned to assassinate ruling party leaders. When the Navy sank two rebel cargo vessels, one in March and the other in June, state run media reports publicly chided them for their action. The same fate befell the Army when it was involved in actions against the rebels.

President Kumaratunga, interestingly enough, is acting under a Constitution whose chief architect is Premier Wickremasinghe's mentor, the late President J.R. Jayewardene. Under that, she is the Head of State, Head of the Executive, Head of the Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Force.

Premier Wickremasinghe's Government, which took office in December, 2001, set up an Interior Ministry for the first time and placed the Police within its fold. It was previously under the Ministry of Defence.

With the takeover of the state media, a major propaganda effort is being made to explain President Kumaratunga's actions. Premier Wickremasinghe, returning to Colombo to a crowded reception, declared that he had the support of the US and the international community. He vowed to continue his campaign for peace. He has rejected a public appeal made by President Kumaratunga for a 'National Government', and added that the President, who has taken over defence, should also conduct the peace process. Otherwise he wants both matters to be placed in his hands.

President Kumaratunga is yet to respond. The Norwegian facilitators arrived this week for talks to carry the peace process forward. The choices left to the President are severely limited. If she does not yield to Premier Wickremasinghe's demands, she would have to talk to the rebels. They may not agree.

Time is limited. When Parliament meets after prorogation ends on November 19, 2003, in theory, if the UNF hands in a motion to impeach President Kumaratunga, it would debar a dissolution and polls thereafter. If Parliament continues to sit, with a majority in his favour, Wickremasinghe could block funds for the running of the Presidency.

Sri Lanka is again on the threshold of a major political crisis.

 

ASSESSMENT

BHUTAN

The Refugee Conundrum: Getting there?
Guest Writer: Kinley Dorji
Editor, Kuensel, Thimpu

The bilateral effort by Bhutan and Nepal to find a durable solution to the problem of 100,000 people in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-run refugee camps in eastern Nepal has been like a journey through an extremely long tunnel; but there is now, at least, a small light at its end.

The problem began after the Government in Bhutan conducted a nation-wide Census in 1988. By the early 1990s, thousands of ethnic Nepalis, largely believed to be illegal immigrants, and some Lhotshampa (Bhutanese of ethnic Nepalese origin) supporters, were violently protesting the results of the Census that found a large 'non national' population living in Bhutan.

The first half of the 1990s saw a campaign of violence against Government institutions, including schools and hospitals, public and private property, as well as villages. For Bhutan, it was an unprecedented spate of attacks on human and institutional targets. At the same time, families from the southern districts left for Nepal, with a majority eventually ending up in the camps.

As the emerging political leaders threatened to repeat the 'Gorkha' success in India, when Darjeeling wrested autonomy from the West Bengal Government at Calcutta, it stirred in the Bhutanese a sense of vulnerability that stems from the country's geopolitical situation as a tiny state in a populous region. The Kingdom became sharply aware of the demographic implications, as the Nepalese population moved eastwards across the Himalayan foothills. The 720-kilometre porous border that had, in the past, symbolized the relaxed relations with the neighbours, suddenly assumed ominous dimensions.

Immigration became a thorny issue and the Bhutanese Government took a firm stand on its citizenship laws, upsetting not only the illegal immigrants, but Lhotshampa supporters who had inter-married across the border. An ethnic rift became palpable, with local politicians entrenched across the Duars (Literally: gates or doors; referring to the 18 points of access into Bhutan from the Indian plain) encouraging both illegal immigrants and Lhotshampas to leave the country so that the ethnic Nepalese population could come back as a political force.

In 1993 the two Governments settled down to bilateral talks when the then two Home Ministers, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Lyonpo Dago Tshering, held their first meeting in Thimphu and signed a formal agreement in Kathmandu in 1994 during the first Ministerial Joint Committee (MJC). With Bhutan maintaining that the people were not all refugees, the two Governments decided to divide the people into four categories: Bhutanese who had been evicted; Bhutanese who had emigrated; non Bhutanese; and Bhutanese who had committed criminal acts.

The next 12 years saw this process move forward, watched by a largely skeptical audience. What many people overlook today is that there was visible progress in the talks. The decision to categorize the people was followed by the establishment of a Joint Verification Team (JVT) of five officials from each Government to examine the case for all the people in the camps, and then by the actual process of verification from the Damak-based JVT office.

The progress was slow and painful. The media, the involvement of numerous NGOs, concerns of the international community, and internal politics maintained pressure on both governments. Nepal, with its volatile domestic politics, saw a number of changes in Government during this period, and the Bhutanese National Assembly Members kept up relentless pressure on their Government not to compromise. A total of 11 Home and Foreign Ministers held the succession of MJC meetings that alternated between the two capitals.

The often-protracted bilateral process saw many hitches, not to anyone's surprise given the complexity of the problem. The initial lack of progress was widely believed to be a result of the directly opposing views widely reported in both countries. Nepalese lobbyists initially wanted to send all 100,000 people to Bhutan. Bhutanese Assembly Members did not want even one person. Bhutan insisted that the people should first be placed in the four categories to take a systematic approach, while Nepal wanted the categories reduced to just two: Bhutanese and non Bhutanese.

But, step by painful step, the two Governments made notable progress, most of it in the past year. It was eventually political concurrence and a broader perspective at the bilateral level that drove the technical process along. Nepal's Ambassador at Large described it as the establishment of "a new chord of determination to move ahead, based on a sense of goodwill and determinationů"

The JVT had categorized the 12,183 people in the first camp, Khudunabari, in 2001 and, during the 12th MJC meeting in March, 2003, the two Governments 'harmonized' their views on the four categories. Bhutan would repatriate people in Category 1, those in Category 2 would be given the option to apply for Bhutanese or Nepalese citizenship, the people in Catetory 3 should return to their own countries, and suspected criminals in Category IV would be governed by the laws of the two countries.

The 15th MJC in October agreed on a time-schedule to start the process of repatriation, settlement, and resettlement of the refugees. The delegates said they hoped it could start by February and then verification could start in the second camp, Sanischare.

The two Governments may have expressed their full commitment to solve the problem but it is critical at this stage that the politicians around the camps, as well as NGOs and the international community, now encourage the process. As much as a majority of the regional and the international community wants a solution, there are some who do not, for political reasons. Meanwhile, the politics in the two countries will continue to affect the process - not always for the better. Nepal's political turbulence looks set to continue and the political reformation in Bhutan will strengthen the stand of those opposing the Government.

The international audience has an important role to play at this stage. Largely dominated by the views of NGOs, particularly human rights groups, both genuine and those with hidden agendas, many observers have been condemning the bilateral process and, consequently, obstructing rather than analyzing the issue or facilitating progress. In a situation where small countries can easily be pressured into hasty decisions, misguided pressure could easily derail the process.

For Bhutan there is very little room for compromise. "We are talking about the country's survival," one Assembly member said in July. "We cannot succumb to any pressure when our sovereignty is at stake."

The October MJC came as a relief to most observers. The Ministers reportedly applied political pressure to overcome a bureaucratic stalemate over forms and figures. Nepal's Foreign Secretary said, after the meeting in Thimphu on October 23, 2003: "We are sometimes inching forward, sometimes leaping forward, but we are moving forward."

And it is expected that, with the JVTs experience in the first camp, the process will be faster in the six others, although nobody expects the process to move without hitches. Bhutan, more than anyone else, has always wanted to move forward in the process because it has also been dealing with the serious threat posed by Indian militants who are camped in its south eastern districts.

As the JVT heads back to Jhapa in the last week of November, concerned observers have reason to be optimistic. The approach of the two Governments has proved to be increasingly realistic, thus raising hopes for a solution. They have also insisted on the bilateral process. Former Nepalese Foreign Minister, Narendra Bikram Shah, said that it was in the power of the two countries to find a solution to the problem. In response to calls for the problem to be 'internationalised', Nepal's Ambassador at Large, Dr. Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, pointed out to journalists in October that it was already internationalised. The entire world knew about the problem and was following it. The two Foreign Ministers pointed out at their meeting in Thimphu in October that it was more important to maintain the momentum in the bilateral process.

Today there is general agreement that, in seeking a solution, it is important for the societies involved not to be disrupted. In a region that has proved to be potentially unpredictable, stability is critical in the common interest. It is not a secret that Bhutan, the smallest player in this difficult game, is concerned about its stability. It is the basis of the country's primary goal, survival.

It is also important, at this crucial stage, to allow the refugees themselves to make their choices without pressures, without raising false hopes or fears, as is being done every time individuals or organisations or Governments visit the camps and make pronouncements they cannot deliver.

 

ASSESSMENT

INDIA

 

A Prime Minister in Wonderland: The Peace Process and Its Perils
Guest Writer: Praveen Swami
Special Correspondent, Frontline

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's peace initiative on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has passed through the mirror between the real world and into that strange place Lewis Carroll called Wonderland.

In Wonderland, as literary critics have taught us, all participants must submit to a tyranny of meaninglessness. At once, they are overcome by a compulsive urge to decode the babble that passes for dialogue, and to search for sense in even the most trivial and insignificant text. Six months ago Vajpayee announced in Srinagar that "spring will return to the beautiful Valley soon, the flowers will bloom again and the nightingales will return, chirping." So far, the only chirping to be heard is that of the Kalashnikov - but heard from within Wonderland, it would seem, the ugly staccato rattle of gunfire contains within it the muted strains of birdsong.

Little is known about just what transpired in Wonderland - in this case, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) - on October 22, when the Union Government announced Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani would negotiate with the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). The CCS, sources say, discussed the peace initiative for a little over half an hour; no voices of dissent were raised. Union External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha was charged with offering Pakistan the now-famous twelve-step peace proposals.

Advani's appointment as negotiator with the APHC, a source present at the meeting said, was presented as a fiat, and was not the outcome of discussion. Again, however, consultations on negotiations with the APHC began at least a fortnight before the CCS meeting. Former J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, for one, was consulted on his reactions to such a move shortly after his return from a vacation in London in early October. Soon afterwards, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed went public with his belief that the Prime Minister ought to negotiate directly with the APHC - an idea he had pressed home to Vajpayee over the past several months.

No one has yet offered a wholly plausible explanation of the volte face in Indian policy this unexpected revival of the peace process represents. On September 25, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Vajpayee had made perhaps the most blunt official assertion that no dialogue was possible unless Pakistan-backed terrorism ended. "When cross-border terrorism stops", the Indian Prime Minister had said, "or when we eradicate it, we can have a dialogue with Pakistan on the other issues between us." He seemed equally pessimistic on the prospects of a dialogue with the APHC, saying it wanted "a special invitation, which I cannot understand." The Union Government had already extended, he pointed out, "a general invitation to all."

Evidently, understanding dawned on the Prime Minister sometime in the two weeks after his New York visit, and the time Farooq Abdullah was consulted on possible dialogue with the APHC. Several explanations have been offered for this sudden turn-around. Some observers believe there was intense US pressure to give their Afghan war ally, General Pervez Musharraf, some legitimacy-inducing concession on J&K. This school of thought points to a dramatic reduction in fatalities in J&K in October, which fell to a record low compared to the same month in 2001 and 2002 - and, indeed, to a level not seen since March this year. This can be interpreted to be a partial fulfilment by Musharraf of India's 'no-terrorism' precondition.

Advocates of the US-pressure thesis point to several other pieces of evidence. On October 29, deposing before a House Sub-Committee on International Relations, US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca singled out Musharraf for effusive praise. "Despite sceptical public opinion and bitter criticism from a coalition of opposition parties," she said, "President Musharraf has maintained Pakistan's policy of supporting US operations, with practical results."

Pakistan, Rocca proceeded, was doing what it could on Jammu and Kashmir. "We look to Pakistan to do everything in its power to prevent extremist groups operating from its soil from crossing the Line of Control," she said. She then broke with past US protestations, notably by Richard Armitage just months ago, that Musharraf was not doing enough to end cross-border terror "The Government of Pakistan has taken many steps to curb infiltration [emphasis added], but we are asking it to redouble its efforts." Rocca proceeded to call for "dialogue and peaceful solutions to disagreements in the region," including with "militants in Kashmir." Rocca's use of the terms "militants" and not "terrorists" is instructive, particularly since several of these figure on the US Government's own list of foreign terrorist organisations.

The US pressure thesis, however, has little hard evidence to support it.

Neither, sadly, does the other leading contender - Prime Minister Vajpayee, this latter school of thought runs, is deeply concerned with his place in history - or, cynics contend, a Nobel Peace Prize - and genuinely wishes to push ahead with a negotiated settlement. His policy thrust became evident in the winter of 2000, just a year after India's military triumph in the Kargil war. Hoping to strengthen pro-dialogue elements within the Hizb-ul-Mujaheddin (HM) led by dissident 'commander' Abdul Majid Dar, Vajpayee initiated the five-month Ramzan Ceasefire. The ceasefire eventually collapsed, but Planning Commission Chairman K.C. Pant was appointed as the Union Government's first official interlocutor to continue the dialogue process.

Pant formally invited the APHC to join the dialogue soon after his appointment in April, 2001. It never responded to the letter. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, then part of the APHC, demanded that it be allowed to visit Pakistan as a precondition to dialogue. Others, like Abdul Gani Lone, were more sympathetic to the Pant mission, but could not carry the organisation with them. Shabbir Shah, a secessionist leader outside the APHC umbrella, also received a letter, and responded by asking for several clarifications.

A desultory dialogue followed. N.N. Vohra replaced Pant this year, and issued a press release inviting all interested parties to dialogue. Maulana Abbas Ansari, soon after his appointment as Chairman of the APHC, dismissed the invitation out of hand, described Vohra as a "clerk" and demanded direct dialogue with the Prime Minister. Vohra is known to have met both Advani and Vajpayee in the days before the CCS meeting, at which he was also present. Sources say the hard-nosed bureaucrat made it clear that his mission had reached a dead-end, and that any further progress would require the Government to make larger concessions to the APHC centrists.

Despite Vohra's frustrations, however, the Government and APHC had in fact remained in contact. Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Brajesh Mishra, and Officer on Special Duty A.S. Dulat, are believed to have held a series of covert meetings with top APHC figures. Former Union Minister Ram Jethmalani, in turn, conducted a parallel dialogue process through his own Kashmir Committee, which functioned as a sounding-board for new ideas. When Vajpayee visited Srinagar this April, his renewed calls for dialogue added impetus to this quiet peace process.

The next month, Ansari revived the idea of visiting Pakistan, much to the ire of the Islamists around Geelani, who felt they would be kept out of such an initiative. Meanwhile, the APHC itself split down the middle, and the Prime Minister's Office came to believe it needed to make fresh concessions in order to strengthen the centrists. During a meeting of the Inter-States Council in August, Advani offered the APHC an "informal dialogue" that bypassed Vohra. If the APHC "desired to come to Delhi", Advani said, "the Centre would have no objection to keep the door open for talks informally." From here to the CCS offer was just a small step.

Despite the magical illusion of a 'dramatic breakthrough', however, there appears to be no clear plan for transforming dialogue with the APHC into a material reality. There is still no agreement over the text of a formal official invitation to the APHC, for one; the secessionists want some formulation that acknowledges their demand for an independent Kashmir, which New Delhi will be hard-pressed to provide. Neither is there consensus within the Government, too, on the demands by the mainstream APHC to visit Pakistan to hold a dialogue with secessionist and terrorist groups based there.

Among the secessionist themselves, there is similar disarray. Yasin Malik's faction of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) opposed a two-way dialogue with India just this August, while the breakaway parallel APHC formation, led by Islamist hardliner Geelani, seems hostile to any repast commencing on a table to which it has not been invited. Advani, for his part, seems keen to circumscribe the limits of the dialogue agenda. On October 24, he insisted that "the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country cannot be compromised," an obvious reference to the APHC's demands that the secessionist agenda be brought to the table. Instead, he suggested a federal decentralisation of powers, as part of an all-India process. On May 8, Vajpayee had suggested the prospect of an "alternate arrangement" on Jammu and Kashmir, a term that some read to imply a measure of dilution in India's current structure of sovereignty.

As New Delhi steps ahead, then, it would do well to search carefully for hidden mines. First, it is not negotiating with the principals in the conflict. The APHC centrists have little to give New Delhi in return for a deal - the keepers of the jihad in J&K, after all, all reside in Pakistan. The assassination of a senior APHC centrist; a major terrorist attack; even an intemperate speech could well sweep aside any gains of Delhi's recent initiatives. The collapse of the peace process, with general elections on the horizon, will strengthen those arguing for a limited military response to any major terrorist aggression. Each step towards peace, then, could actually end up bringing India and Pakistan closer to war: we are, after all, inhabitants of Wonderland.

 

NEWS BRIEFS


Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
November 3-9, 2003

 
Civilian
Security Force Personnel
Terrorist
Total

BANGLADESH

1
0
3
4

INDIA

     Assam

6
0
6
12

     Jammu &
     Kashmir

9
1
27
37

     Left-wing
     Extremism

1
0
1
2

     Manipur

0
2
0
2

     Nagaland

0
0
1
1

     Tripura

0
0
2
2

Total (INDIA)

16
3
37
56

NEPAL

4
3
75
82

PAKISTAN

0
0
2
2
*   Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.



BANGLADESH


Most-wanted terrorist Abdul Karim Tunda killed in gang-warfare near Dhaka: One of India's most wanted terrorist, Abdul Karim Tunda, was reportedly killed in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on November 4, 2003. Tunda, who was a native of Pilakhua on the outskirts of Delhi, was reportedly shot dead along with two other fugitives in an incident of 'gang warfare' at Sherpur near Dhaka. Tunda is known to have trained many cadres of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) network in India and has been on the most-wanted fugitive list of India since 1994 in connection with low-intensity blasts in different parts of the country. Hindustan Times, November 6, 2003.


PAKISTAN

Australia designates Lashkar-e-Toiba as a terrorist group: The Australian Parliament passed a bill on November 7, 2003, to outlaw the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). According to reports, the move to designate LeT as a terrorist outfit came after allegations that a French terror suspect deported to Paris in October 2003 had trained with the group. All major parties in the Parliament supported the bill and it was reportedly passed without the need for a formal vote count. Jang, November 8, 2003.


SRI LANKA

President Kumaratunga removes three Ministers and prorogues Parliament: President Chandrika Kumaratunga on November 4, 2003, removed the portfolios of Defence, Interior and Mass Communication from Ministers Tilak Marapana, John Amaratunga and Imthiaz Bakeer Markar and also prorogued Parliament until November 19. A statement from the Presidential Secretariat said that she had taken the decision as per the powers vested in her under the Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka. The press release said "this step has been taken after careful consideration, in order to prevent further deterioration of the security situation in the country". Claiming that the decision was not politically motivated, she pledged to restore security of the country and also continue negotiations aimed at a peaceful settlement to the ethnic problem. The President on November 5 also declared a state of 'short-term' emergency in the country and withdrew the same on November 7. Government Chief Printer Neville Nanayakkara said the President had ordered him not to release the gazetted notification imposing the emergency. Daily News, November 8, 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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