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SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 2, No. 42, May 3, 2004

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



ASSESSMENT


 
INDIA
BANGLADESH

Uneasy Dialogue
Wasbir Hussain
Associate Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi; Consulting Editor, The Sentinel, Guwahati.

Yet another round of border talks between India and Bangladesh ended in Dhaka on May 3, 2004, amid charges and counter-charges by both sides that share a blow-hot-blow-cold relationship. The five-day Director General (DG)-level talks, beginning April 29, 2004 between the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), were held less than a month after the Bangladesh Coast Guard seized as much as 10 truckloads of sophisticated military hardware from the Chittagong Port, estimated at a value of more than Rs 10 billion, that was apparently heading for India's insurgency-wracked Northeast.

BSF Director General Ajay Raj Sharma, heading the 15-member Indian delegation, and his BDR counterpart Major General Jahangir Alam Chowdhury, leading the 19-member home team, discussed the usual border irritants between the two highly populous neighbours. BDR officials bombarded the media in Dhaka with charges that included killing of 15 'innocent' Bangladeshi nationals by the BSF and Indian civilians between January and March 2004, push-in attempt of 'Bengali speaking Indian nationals' by the BSF, setting up of 'illegal structures' by India within 150-yard of the zero point in violation of international rules and regulations, and trafficking of women and children. Besides, the BDR officials, according to Bangladeshi media reports, also raised the issue of drug and illegal arms smuggling from India.

The Indian side, on its part, sought the strengthening of BDR-BSF coordination to prevent border crimes, ensuring border security, and environmental conservation. The Indian delegation also sought details regarding the latest position on the implementation of the 1974 Indira-Mujib Accord between the two countries.

New Delhi and Dhaka have, at fairly regular intervals, been discussing issues that are actually 'borderless' in the sense that terrorism and crime recognize no national borders. However, evidences, again coming up at regular intervals, suggest that sections within the Bangladeshi power structure could well be aiding and abetting separatist insurgencies in India's Northeast, by way of providing shelter to top militant leaders and cadres, besides extending transit facilities for illegal weapons shipments to India's troubled Northeastern frontier. When these facts are taken into account, the stark reality of a border that exists, and which needs to be demarcated and protected, becomes impossible to ignore.

Take, for instance, the April 2, 2004, arms seizure near the Chittagong Port in southern Bangladesh. Well placed Indian intelligence sources disclose that the cache comprised 1,790 rifles, that included Uzi sub-machine guns and those of the AK series, 150 rocket launchers, 840 rockets, 2,700 grenades and more than one million rounds of ammunition. These weapons were being put onto ten trucks after being unloaded in the eastern bank of the Karnafully river from two trawlers that originated in Malaysia. According to local media reports in Guwahati, capital of Northeastern India's Assam state, the trawlers are owned by the brother of a ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader. The ships he owns often use the Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Limited (CUFL) jetty, near Chittagong, to unload consignments. It was at this jetty that Bangladeshi paramilitary troopers carried out the raid that was to lead to the biggest ever illegal arms haul in the country's history. The local police would have let the trucks roll - and there are reports that they were actually overseeing the unloading operation - but for the arrival of Bangladesh Coast Guard personnel who seized the cache and informed the higher authorities.

When this issue was raised at the just-concluded border talks at Dhaka, Bangladesh had already assured India that it would share the findings of the probe into the huge arms haul with New Delhi. The seized weapons are currently in the custody of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a new security outfit created to tackle law and order in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's ruling BNP and the opposition Awami League headed by former Premier Sheikh Hasina are accusing each other of complicity in the arms shipment. However, the probe team, according to reports from Dhaka, has apparently already 'ruled out' any political links in the murky affair.

The seizure of such a large consignment of illegal arms is itself a highly disturbing development, and when such a huge quantity of lethal military hardware is destined for a foreign location, the issue becomes all the more serious. Reports indicate that at least 16 Indian insurgents have been arrested by the Bangladesh security forces in this connection. Dhaka has refused to confirm these arrests, as that would go against its stated position that no Indian insurgents were operating from the country's territory. Those arrested belong to outlawed rebel groups such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), People's Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur, the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), also from Manipur, and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF).

Former Bangladesh Army generals and security analysts were as shocked as security watchers in India over the weapons haul. Some former Bangladesh Army generals observed that the weapons recovered and the quantity involved are normally used in conventional warfare against a regular army. One former Army top gun in Dhaka went to the extent of commenting that the weapons seized were almost equivalent to those possessed by the Comilla Division of the Bangladesh Army. They felt that 'well-organized syndicates' in Bangladesh could have used the country only as a transit route and that the arms may have been heading for the Maoist rebels in Nepal or the separatists in India's northeast. An English daily from Dhaka, The Daily Star, quoted 'intelligence agents' as stating that the weapons could have been headed for Assam. Indian authorities insist that the topmost military commander of the outlawed ULFA was operating his anti-India insurgency from his base in Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising to find the BSF chief justifying India's move to erect a fence along the entire 4,500 kilometer-long border with Bangladesh. Dhaka, however, has sought to impose a condition on the issue. "Bangladesh is not against fencing. But, it wants that it should be erected 150 yards away from the border," BDR Director General Chowdhury was quoted as saying.

Dhaka's attempts at deflecting attention from concerns among major western powers about Bangladesh turning into the latest hub of terror, both Islamist and other, have failed on more occasions than one. Recent developments have only further exposed the goings-on in that country. Even during the latest round of the BSF-BDR talks in Dhaka, the Bangladesh side sought to pin down the Indian officials by furnishing a list of 39 camps of anti-Bangladesh insurgent groups allegedly operating from India. The Indian side had flatly rejected these suggestions. Dhaka's claim can be dismissed rather easily because, after the recent arms seizure in Chittagong, security analysts in Bangladesh, including several former Bangladesh Army generals, have openly stated that the weapons seized could not have been used by local militants who were not sufficiently trained to use such sophisticated military hardware. Bangladesh can hardly be serious in trying to suggest that militants capable of using only homemade weapons are operating from India!

During the talks, India had once again made a case for joint patrolling of the border by the border guards of the two countries, a proposal Dhaka has rejected. On the face of it, the joint patrolling proposal makes excellent sense. An estimated 6,000 people from Bangladesh cross over into India every day in search of work, many of them with the intention of settling permanently in the country. The border areas are also notorious for human trafficking in women and children, trans-border terrorism, and smuggling. India has repeatedly provided lists of terrorist camps in Bangladesh; Bangladesh has now reacted by giving its own list of alleged terrorist camps in India. Both countries have, individually, an insufficient force to effectively patrol the border, and joint patrolling would help end abuses on both side. This was conceded during the March 2002 meeting between the Directors General of the BSF and the BDR, when India had submitted the joint patrolling proposal in a list of six 'confidence building measures', and the then DG BDR had said that the proposals could secure some dividends, and had directed them to his Government for clearance. The issue came up again during the BSF-BDR meeting in March 2003, following which it was agreed that joint patrolling would be implemented from July 1, 2003. However, instead of responding to the BSF's draft on modalities for joint patrolling, Bangladesh rejected the proposal on August 1, 2003, with Foreign Minister Morshed Khan stating that the proposal was 'not feasible'. Indian Foreign Secretary, Shashank, also raised the issue during his visit to Bangladesh on March 10, 2004. This time the proposal was shot down by Bangladesh Home Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury on the grounds that, since India had made specific allegations about the existence of terrorist camps in his country's territory, there was 'no need for joint patrol.'

The BSF-BDR talks are intended as an exercise at smoothening out existing irritants and ensuring the security of both nations, rather than sessions aimed at leveling charges and counter-charges. A higher degree of transparency on Dhaka's part will be necessary before this annual exercise can serve its intended purpose. Absence of such transparency within the structure of bilateral relations, future options can only include international scrutiny and investigations into developments such as the latest arms haul and Bangladesh's support to terrorist and extremist groups - options that Premier Khaleda Zia would certainly prefer to exclude.



PAKISTAN

The Politics of a Retreat
Kanchan Lakshman
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management; Assistant Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution

Ever since President Musharraf announced a turn-around on his country's support to the Taliban and Al Qaeda on September 19, 2001, Pakistan has been treading a thin line between placating the domestic Islamist extremist constituency and maintaining the alliance with the United States. Since the volte face, Pakistan has arrested more than 500 Al Qaeda/Taliban operatives, handing a majority of them over to US custody. Last week, however, saw the military regime adopt a strategy of amnesty, not an uncommon approach across many theatres of anti-state violence in South Asia.

Five tribesmen accused of sheltering Al Qaeda terrorists surrendered to the Pakistan army at a Jirga (tribal council) on April 24, 2004. The five men, led by Nek Mohammed, from the Zalikhel tribe turned themselves in before the Jirga and reportedly pledged loyalty to Pakistan in return for clemency. "We give amnesty to these people in return for their pledge of brotherhood and loyalty," said Peshawar Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain after the wanted men joined him in the ceremony that occurred at a Madrassa at Shakai, South Waziristan, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region.

The military regime has reportedly agreed to halt its operations against Nek Mohammed's tribal combatants, set free most of the 163 suspected Al Qaeda supporters who were captured during the March 2004 operations, and provide a grant of Rupees 90.1 million for development in Waziristan. In return, Nek Mohammed and his clique promised to refrain from attacks on Pakistani forces and the U.S. troops in adjacent Afghanistan. Among others, the unwritten agreement also specifies that: local tribesmen will not provide protection to 'foreign terrorists' (Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks among others) in the FATA; the tribesmen will surrender their heavy arms to local authorities; tribesmen are to ensure registration of all foreigners who would then be given amnesty and residence by the state.

As a result, the tribal combatants, designated as 'most wanted' only a month ago, were seen embracing the military regime's representatives after a deal reportedly brokered by leaders of the Islamist grouping, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Startled by the bonhomie expressed at the surrender ceremony, a Western diplomat in Islamabad said, "How can you go and fight these people last month and embrace them this month?"

The 30-something Nek Mohammed, who was a 'commander' at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, and his tribal combatants had, in March, led a fierce resistance to an army-led offensive on their hideouts in the remote South Waziristan area, where senior Al Qaeda leaders are thought to have taken refuge. At least 145 people, including 46 troops, were killed during these operations. Some Western diplomats have claimed that Nek not only harboured, but also supplied arms and men to Central Asian Al Qaeda-linked terrorists for cross-border attacks on aid workers, troops and Government targets in Afghanistan over the past 12 to 18 months. "He is, indirectly or directly, responsible for the deaths of up to 400 people in Afghanistan," an unnamed Western diplomat based in Pakistan told AFP.

Since the March operations, the state had been threatening military action against the tribal fighters and had also postponed deadlines for threatened military action on two occasions. That Nek Mohammed, reportedly a popular figure in South Waziristan, was a crucial actor is evident from the fact that a wide spectrum of powers within the Pakistani state was involved in the negotiations. According to Pakistani analyst Nasim Zehra, tribal elders, two elected parliamentarians, the Frontier Constabulary, Army regulars, Special Forces, the Governor, tribal agents, FATA officials and the President were variously involved at different stages.

After the March debacle, the military regime has been attempting to isolate the five 'most wanted' in order to neutralize the estimated 400-odd foreign fighters believed to be holed up in the region. The objective is to either neutralize them within Pakistani territory or flush them out into Afghanistan, where the US troops are stationed, but this has evidently not worked. While a fair amount of ambivalence still dominates the military regime's end game, the state has evidently conceded its limited coercive power in the FATA.

The military regime is currently caught in the dilemma of protecting the surviving remnants of its own creation, the Taliban, and the need to project the image of a responsible state internationally. The 'do more' exhortations from Washington only add to the complexity by creating a necessity of having to deny a 'retreat' on the state's part in the FATA deal. The continued reversal of the long pursued 'strategic depth theory' is, however, becoming increasingly awkward. While the March 2004 operations in FATA led to heavy casualties for the Pakistani troops and failed to neutralize the Al Qaeda in the region, the aftermath brings to light the perils of the apparent demobilization of the jehadis through conciliatory deals. However, while officially indicating that "There has been reconciliationů achieved through mutual consultation and negotiation", the military regime has had to reiterate at the highest levels, as in the past, that there is no dilution in Pakistan's commitment to eliminate terrorism from its soil.

Though the Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives would try and secure themselves from any future offensive in the region, the demonstration effect of a 'reconciliation' is expected to be high in the immediate future. "The world knows who has really surrendered," Nek Mohammed is reported to have declared at the ceremony before thousands of tribesmen.

While enforcing specificities of any unwritten agreement is troublesome, the chances of the tribesmen abiding by such a deal are very low in a region historically known to defy the writ of the state. More significantly, the real character of relations between the Pakistan Army and the 'rebellious' tribesmen remains murky. It is useful to recall Nek Mohammed's observation at the 'reconciliation' ceremony: "We are loyal to Pakistan and are ready to fight in Kashmir or anywhere else if asked by the Government. It's a propaganda that we were terrorists."

 

NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
April 26-May 2, 2004

 
Civilian
Security Force Personnel
Terrorist
Total

BANGLADESH

3
0
3
6

INDIA

     Assam

5
0
3
8

     Bihar

0
0
2
2

     Delhi

0
0
2
2

     Jammu &
     Kashmir

7
4
10
21

     Left-wing
     Extremism

4
4
3
11

     Manipur

2
1
1
4

     Tripura

0
0
2
2

Total (INDIA)

18
9
23
50

NEPAL

2
0
10
12

PAKISTAN

1
0
0
1

SRI LANKA

0
0
7
7
 Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


BANGLADESH

Dhaka rejects Indian proposal for joint patrol of common land border: Bangladesh has rejected India's offer of joint patrolling of the over 4,000 kilometer-long-land border during the biennial conference of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) held in Dhaka between April 29-May 3, 2004. While BSF Director General Ajai Raj Sharma led India's 15-member delegation at the talks, a 19-member team of the host country was headed by BDR Director General Muhammad Jahanghir Alam Chowdhury. During the talks, the Indian side also reportedly reiterated its intention to go ahead with the plan of constructing barbed fences along the border, a move that has been opposed by the BDR. The BSF delegation also renewed claims that terrorists' active in India's Northeast maintained camps within Bangladesh. Sentinel Assam, May 1, 2004; Independent Bangladesh, April 30, 2004.

1200 left-wing extremists 'surrender' to Islamic organisation: At Least 1,200 activists of the outlawed left-wing Purbo Banglar Communist Party (PBCP) in the Raninagar and Atrai areas of Naogaon district reportedly 'surrendered' along with an unspecified quantity of arms to Jagrato Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMB) on April 25, 2004. JMB, an Islamic organisation, had asked for the 'surrender' with a threat of setting ablaze houses of all suspected extremists. Police official Fazlur Rahman was quoted as saying that the JMB has no legal authority to conduct any such surrender and that the law will take its own course against the terrorists. Independent Bangladesh, April 27, 2004.


INDIA

USA adds People's War Group and Maoist Communist Centre to its global terror list: The United States has added the left-wing extremist (also called Naxalite) People's War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in its Terrorist Exclusion List, according to the annual report - Patterns of Global Terrorism, 2003 - released by the US State Department on April 29, 2004. Welcoming the inclusion of the PWG on the US terror list, Andhra Pradesh Home Minister T. Devender Goud said on April 30 that, "We have been maintaining right from the beginning that the Naxals have been indulging in violence and destruction. The inclusion of the PWG in the terror list only vindicates our stand." The Director General of Police S.R. Sukumara, however, said "I don't see how this development is going to change anything. I am not even sure of the implications." Deccan, April 30, 2004.


NEPAL

US State Department adds Maoist Insurgents to Terrorist Exclusion List: The US State Department on April 29, 2004, added the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to its Terrorist Exclusion List aiming to restrict the Maoist insurgents' entry and movement in the USA. According to a statement, this designation will facilitate U.S. fulfillment of its obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 to prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups by effective border controls. The State Department in its Patterns of Global Terrorism, 2003, report also warned that Nepal has become a convenient "logistic and transit point" for some outside militants and international terrorists due to its limited government finances, weak border controls and poor security infrastructure. The report further said that Nepal also has many relatively "soft targets" that make it a "potentially attractive site" for terrorist operations. Nepal News, May 2, 2004; April 30, 2004.

Maoists free 41 police personnel in Sankhuwasabha district: The Maoist insurgents on April 29, 2004, released 41 police personnel captured during an attack at Pashupatinagar in the Ilam district on April 9. The hostages were freed at Nundhaki in the Sankhuwasabha district amidst representatives of the International Committee of Red Cross, human rights activists and media personnel. A Maoist statement claimed that the abductees were treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The Himalayan Times, April 30, 2004.


PAKISTAN

Terrorists responsible for March 2004 attacks came from Pakistan, says President Karimov: Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov said in Tashkent on April 29, 2004, that terrorists responsible for the coordinated series of attacks during March 2004 that killed at least 47 people were based in Pakistan along that country's border with Afghanistan. "The main base where the terrorists found refuge is South Waziristan," Karimov told a press conference during a parliamentary session. Suspects detained after a series of suicide bombings, explosions and assaults in the capital Tashkent and the central region of Bukhara had confessed that they had been in South Waziristan and that they had links to people operating there, said the President. Daily Times, April 30, 2004.

Jihad to continue in Jammu and Kashmir, says Lashkar-e-Toiba chief: Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the renamed Lashkar-e-Toiba [LeT]), on April 29, 2004, criticized President Pervez Musharraf's "policy of friendship" with India and indicated that Jihad in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir would not be stopped. "Jihad will never be stopped in the held territory. On this issue, there is complete unity and solidarity in the ranks of the Mujahideen," he said at a public meeting in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Among others who spoke at the gathering were Muslim Conference president Sardar Attique Ahmed, People's Party information secretary Khawaja Farooq Ahmed and former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Abdur Rashid Turabi. Dawn, April 30, 2004.


SRI LANKA

Seven cadres shot dead by Karuna faction, alleges LTTE: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has alleged that seven of its cadres were killed on April 25, 2004, in Batticaloa district by cadres loyal to the renegade faction headed by Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias 'Colonel' Karuna'. According to the LTTE, its cadres were shot dead inside an area under their control, four kilometers northwest of Batticaloa town. The LTTE has told the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that cadres loyal to Karuna entered from an Army checkpoint in Vavunithivu, about one kilometer from the scene of the incident. "The LTTE's political wing leader, S.P. Tamilchelvan, informed us that seven LTTE members were killed by cadres loyal to Karuna last night. Our monitors have started an inquiry. We do not have an independent confirmation,'' said SLMM spokesperson Agnes Bragadottir. The Hindu, April 26, 2004.

 

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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