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SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 2, No. 43, May 10, 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


 
NEPAL

Political Impasse
Guest Writer: Deepak Thapa
Kathmandu-based Journalist and Editor

When King Gyanendra asked Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa for his resignation on May 7, 2004, a little over 11 months after he had assumed office, it was long overdue. Appointed Prime Minister on June 4, 2003, Thapa had said that his priority would be to put together a political consensus and continue the dialogue with the rebel Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which had been observing a ceasefire with the Government since January earlier that year. Agreement with the political parties proved elusive, while the Maoists called off the truce in August 2003 and resumed their 'people's war'.

His predecessor, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, had called it quits following the heat generated by the movement launched by a group of five political parties on May 7, 2003, even though his Government had already had two rounds of talks with the Maoists. The parties, which represent the majority in the Parliament dissolved in May 2002, have been agitating against the King's assumption of executive authority, the dismissal of the duly elected Prime Minister in October 2002, and the appointment of hand-picked Prime Ministers, namely, Chand and Thapa.

Surya Bahadur Thapa had claimed that the five parties' call for the restitution of representative Government had been fulfilled upon his ascension to prime ministership, a record fifth time. But he found no takers, not even within his own party, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), within which dissent was voiced from the moment he named his Cabinet. As for the Opposition alliance, after months of ineffectual demonstrations, it launched a major protest programme on April 1, 2004, which has gained momentum to embrace various non-political organisations and which has witnessed pitched battles between the police and protestors in downtown Kathmandu for over a month.

In his resignation speech, Thapa said, "I individually made efforts for dialogue, consensus and joint work. But it was all in vain due to the obstinacy of agitating parties." It was not only the political parties that were putting pressure on the Government. International opinion, especially European opinion, has decidedly been very critical of the Government, especially with regard to the legitimacy of the Thapa Government and the grave violation of human rights by its Armed Forces in the ongoing conflict.

The Government has persistently refused to sign the 'Principles of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law' drawn up by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) during the last ceasefire - as, indeed, have the Maoists. But on the eve of the meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in April, the Government did announce a 'Human Rights Commitment'. While that was clearly intended to take the heat off at the meeting, it did not prevent Nepal from being called upon to work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In Geneva, a Swiss-sponsored motion indicting Nepal's human rights record was reportedly scuttled by the US, which, along with India, has been providing military support to the Nepali army. But when donors met in Kathmandu on May 5-6, under the World Bank-sponsored Nepal Development Forum (NDF) 2004, to decide on assistance to the Government's poverty reduction strategy, they had their say. The day before the meeting began, a group consisting of Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, stated that their support was contingent on the reactivation of the democratic process, an immediate ceasefire and resumption of negotiations with the Maoists, and a regard for human rights.

Although the statement also appealed to the CPN-Maoists "to renounce violence" and "to commit to respect the human rights of all people", the thrust of the message was aimed at the Government. Amnesty International also put pressure on the donors to "urge the Nepal Government to sign the proposed Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which provides for technical assistance and capacity building to Nepal's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to enable it to take on an enhanced monitoring and protection role."

The Government responded by approving a 'Human Rights National Workplan' to be implemented by the NHRC from the next fiscal year, but it was not enough to stave off criticism at the donor meeting. Even the normally staid World Bank spoke out with its South Asia Region Vice President, Praful Patel, terming Nepal's political crisis a three-way conflict, in which all sides are "doing things that are inimical to development, such as human rights abuses" He warned that "alarms have been sounded in the international community that Nepal may be heading the way of another 'failed state'."

It had become obvious in the run-up to the NDF that King Gyanendra was getting ready to give Thapa the boot. The King had begun consultations with various personalities, including insignificant politicians, in an attempt to find a way out of the impasse created by the agitations on the streets, and seemed to be waiting for the NDF to end. But the five-party alliance had stood firm on not meeting the King until a 'suitable environment' has been created. They are still wary of the King's intentions even after Thapa's ouster, especially given his insistence on someone with a 'clean image' to head the next Government and lead the country to elections. The parties believe that the King could once again make another appointment that would be unacceptable to them, and have not yet called off their protests.

The political demonstrations that began more than a month ago have been characterised by a high degree of sloganeering against the monarchy and advocacy for the establishment of a republic. The five parties themselves have committed themselves to clipping many royal powers and prerogatives through a reform agenda unveiled last year. That could yet prove to be a stumbling block between any rapprochement between the palace and the parties.

A clear picture of the political situation is yet to emerge, but no matter who heads the Government, the one constant will not change - the nine-year-old Maoist insurgency. The political parties have indicated that they will bring the Maoists into the mainstream through negotiations. But political imperatives have always impelled Governments in a different direction. Surya Bahadur Thapa, in his farewell speech, himself reiterated that "the resolution of Maoist problem should be sought through peaceful means" even though his Government's own policies were quite the opposite. There have been peace overtures from the rebel side but the Government and the Army has viewed these moves with skepticism, and have claimed that the Maoists are talking peace as a ruse to regroup once more for another round of fighting. Meanwhile, there is no break in the violence and the death toll continues to rise beyond the 2,500 already killed since the breakdown of the ceasefire on August 27, 2003.



SRI LANKA

Peace Process: An Opportunistic Resumption
Guest Writer: Jehan Perera
Media Director, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

The invitation issued by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to the Government of Norway to resume its facilitative services and seek to recommence the peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), offers fresh hope of a forward movement in the stalled Sri Lankan peace process. The President's action is a confirmation that the results of the General Election did not constitute a rejection of the peace process that has been stalled for over a year. The election-time rhetoric now appears discarded. During their election campaigns, the President and her allies bitterly criticised the former Government for working along with the Norwegians to 'betray the country' to the LTTE.

The latter half of the former United National Front (UNF) Government's two year period in office was marked by an increasingly aggressive display of Sinhalese nationalism, in which members of the present Government played a prominent role. Nationalist political parties such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Sihala Urumaya took the lead in organising demonstrations and marches against the peace process in general and the Norwegian facilitators in particular. But President Kumaratunga and her party members also stridently criticized the peace process, while some of them even joined in the organised mass protests by the JVP-led nationalist coalition that opposed the peace process.

By the time of the General Election in April 2004, the peace process conducted by the UNF Government had been thoroughly discredited in the eyes of most of the Sinhalese electorate. Emboldened by this popular response, the JVP promised to scrap the Ceasefire Agreement in its entirety or renegotiate it on a basis that was advantageous to the Government. They also pledged to get rid of the Norwegian facilitators, who they said were biased towards the LTTE, and whose effigies they burnt. Mainstream opposition politicians routinely rejected the notion of the LTTE as sole representative of the Tamil people, criticised the absence of separate Muslim representation at the peace talks and rejected the LTTE's proposal for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) as a blueprint for separation.

It is in this context that the turnaround by the JVP, the President and the rest of the new Government is quite astonishing, if viewed in the prism of principled politics. The resurgence of faith in the peace process after the election of the new Government has been unexpected to say the least. The condemnation of the very same peace process reached a crescendo during the election campaign in March 2004. But the irony is that, a mere three months later, the very same politicians who vociferously rejected the peace process and the way it was conducted, are following the footsteps of those they condemned, and whose positions they have now secured. And the opposition United National Party (UNP) is pointing this out to the people.

Today, the anti-peace propagandists of the JVP, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and other parties that form the new United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Government, are extremely quiet at a time when the peace process is moving forward in full swing. The Norwegian facilitators have been flying in on a weekly basis, and at the highest levels, that includes the Norwegian Foreign Minister. The new Government has pledged to uphold the much maligned Ceasefire Agreement, and there is no talk of either scrapping the agreement or renegotiating it.

There are three practical reasons why President Kumaratunga and her Government are backtracking on their election rhetoric and getting down to business with the LTTE, even to the extent of accepting the rebel group as the sole representatives of the Tamil people. The first is that they won the election, and being in power, they need to address the main problem that faces the country if they are to remain in power. They skillfully criticised the former UNP Government's compromises to bring peace to the country and discredited the UNP.

The second reason is the need to tap into the donor resources pledged at the Tokyo donor conference in June 2002. The donor countries, led by Japan, pledged a massive USD 4.5 billion in aid, but its release was made conditional upon the progress in the peace process. Although some of that aid has been sent to Sri Lanka, much of it remains to be disbursed. The new Government, which has ambitious plans for welfare economics, would like to have its resources supplemented by those of the international community. There is no better way to do this than by carrying the peace process forward.

The third reason for the new Government's resumption of the peace process is the arithmetic in Parliament, which became glaringly obvious with the defeat of the Government's candidate for the position of Speaker of Parliament. That defeat sent shock waves through the Government, and it was brought to realise that it was but a minority Government. If it were to pass any legislation, it would need some of the opposition parties to either join it as coalition partners or at least to remain neutral in parliamentary voting. For instance, should the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) remain neutral in Parliament, the Government will retain a majority vote. Success in the peace process, and a satisfied LTTE, could do much to ensure that the TNA will not vote with the Opposition.

According to the Norwegian facilitators, both the new Government and the LTTE are eager for peace talks to resume. But the price that the LTTE will exact is likely to be high. The LTTE has been insisting that the peace talks should be on the basis of their proposals for an ISGA that they presented to the former Government on October 31, 2003. These proposals called for far reaching autonomy. However, a few days after these proposals made their appearance, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, then in the opposition, made a comprehensive critique and said that they laid "the legal foundation for a future, separate, sovereign state."

However, the change of heart that the new Government appears to have undergone on the issues of Norwegian facilitation and the Ceasefire Agreement also seem to have carried over to the LTTE's ISGA proposal. When the Government states that it is prepared to negotiate from where the former Government left off, and when the LTTE states that peace talks must be on the basis of the ISGA, it is evident that the ISGA will be the focus of the forthcoming peace talks. The question is whether the Sri Lankan polity will take this type of fundamental reversals of position without generating a backlash. The people who voted for the parties now constituting the Government on account of their anti-peace process and anti-Norwegian rhetoric, are likely to feel betrayed.

Over the past two years, the JVP and other Sinhalese nationalists demanded the withdrawal of the Norwegians from the peace process. They did not suggest an alternative, other than to imply that they could militarily defeat the LTTE if they were given the chance. Soon after assuming office, the new Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, said that India should play a greater role in Sri Lanka's peace process. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister has also suggested that India could play a greater role in the economic development of the North East. There will, no doubt, be much support from sections of the polity for an enhanced Indian role, to counter-balance the dominance of Norway and other western countries in the peace process.

It is also reasonable to believe that India was not happy with the entry of so many foreign powers into the Sri Lankan peace process in an area that it considers to be its area of geo-political concern. However, it is necessary to realize that India cannot play the role that Norway is playing. India has the heavy baggage of its past to overcome, both in terms of having been clearly partisan to one side or the other, and also in having tried to mediate in Sri Lanka's conflict and having failed.

Moreover, a facilitator or mediator needs to be acceptable to both parties. It cannot be acceptable to one party or one side alone. At the time of the President's invitation to Norway to mediate in the ethnic conflict in 2000, and over the past two years, Norway's good offices were acceptable to both the Sri Lankan Government and to the LTTE. It is apparent from the present invitation to Norway to resume its facilitative role that it continues to be acceptable to the dominant section of the Sri Lankan Government, led by the President, and to the LTTE.

It is, on the other hand, unlikely that India, whatever its merits, will be acceptable to the LTTE as a facilitator at this time. India has banned the LTTE as a terrorist organisation and its courts have a warrant out for the LTTE leader for the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. While India's present attitude towards the LTTE is its own internal issue, it does mean that India cannot be thought of as a facilitator in the present peace process. Certainly, however, India's geo-political concerns need to be given priority by Sri Lanka's Governments. For its part, India is likely to feel more comfortable with the present Government than it was with the last - the UNP was more favorably oriented towards the western countries than towards India.

How the opposition UNP responds to the Government's present endeavours is also crucial. In South Asia, generally, opposition parties have not been prepared to accept their rival's victories for a fixed term in office. Instead, they have done their utmost to engineer a premature fall of the Government. The opposition UNP has already been attempting to corner the new Government on its new policy on the peace process. Instead of supporting the new Government in taking the peace process forward, the UNP is asking the Government to explain the reversal of its position hardly a month after coming to power.

At this critical juncture, it is important that those who wish to see the peace process move forward, should learn from the mistakes of the last Government. A most important lesson would be to bring the opposition into the peace process as a willing and equal partner. This would certainly mean that the new Government would have to give up some of its own plans in deference to the concerns of the opposition. An example would be the President's ambition to ram through constitutional changes without the support of the opposition, in order to ensure her own political future beyond the two term limit of her presidency.

Every textbook approach to conflict resolution calls for inclusivity in the peace process, so that all the main actors in society can become stakeholders in the process. The Sri Lankan peace process, which began in earnest with the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement in February 2002, has had no place in it for the opposition. To make matters worse, under the last regime, the opposition included the country's powerful Executive President. Despite her party's defeat at the general election of December 2001, President Kumaratunga continued to be an integral part of governance. Nevertheless, the Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002 was signed without the knowledge of the President.

The Norwegian facilitators, as much as the leaders of the last Government, need to take responsibility for this major flaw in the peace process. Their concern at that time was President Kumaratunga's unpredictable nature, and they feared she might have jeopardised the fine-tuning of the Ceasefire Agreement. This genuine concern was coupled with the desire of the members of the last Government to monopolise the peace process and leave nothing in it for the opposition.

However, with nothing in it for them, the opposition went on a propaganda spree against the peace process. They mobilised Sinhalese nationalism and Sinhalese fears of a betrayal of the nation that led to the convincing defeat of the previous Government in the Sinhalese-majority parts of the country. The Norwegian facilitators, together with the Government and LTTE, need to ensure that, this time around, there is a greater degree of inclusivity in the peace process.

 

NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 3-9, 2004

 
Civilian
Security Force Personnel
Terrorist
Total

BANGLADESH

3
0
3
6

INDIA

     Assam

1
0
1
2

     Jammu &
     Kashmir

9
3
25
37

     Left-wing
     Extremism

2
2
4
8

     Manipur

1
0
9
10

     Tripura

0
1
2
3

Total (INDIA)

13
6
41
60

NEPAL

18
12
21
51

PAKISTAN

20
0
0
20

SRI LANKA

0
1
0
1
 Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


BANGLADESH

Police supports vigilante Islamist group in the northwest: According to a report in Daily Star, in the northwestern districts of Rajshahi, Naogaon, Natore and Bogra, a vigilante Islamist group called Jagrota Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) was formed in April 2004. The JMJB is alleged to kill people in the name of 'anti-outlaw operations', force women to wear the Hijab (veil) and men to grow beards, reportedly with police collusion. The police are alleged to be supporting the outfit headed by Azizur Rahman alias Bangla Bhai, which has started a drive to 'cleanse' leftist outlaws. It has thus far allegedly killed seven persons and assaulted hundreds of others who oppose them, terming them as Sarbahara (outlaw). However, Rahman while denying the charges has claimed that his group has 300,000 activists across the country. Daily Star, May 7, 2004.


INDIA

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Abdur Rasheed Pir killed in Jammu and Kashmir: The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) 'chief commander of operations', Abdur Rasheed Pir alias Gazi Shahabuddin, was shot dead during an encounter with the Jammu and Kashmir Police in the Maharaj Ganj area of capital Srinagar on May 6, 2004. Pir was the third successive 'chief commander of operations' of the Hizb killed in the last 13 months. In charge of all the operations of Hizb in the State, Pir was allegedly responsible for many terrorist strikes. Meanwhile, the HM has reportedly confirmed the killing and appointed one Gazi Misbah-ud-din as the new head of its operations in the State. State Police Chief Gopal Sharma informed the media in Srinagar that as many as 31 senior 'commanders' of the HM, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) have been killed by the troops in the last 18 months. Daily Excelsior, May 7, 2004.

72 NLFT terrorists surrender in Tripura: On May 6, 2004, seventy-two terrorists of the breakaway Biswamohan Debbarma faction of National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), including 22 female cadres, led by their self-styled general secretary Mantu Koloy surrendered before the Tripura Governor Dinesh Nandan Sahay at a formal ceremony in the capital Agartala. The other top 'commanders' who laid down arms included self-styled vice president Kamini Debbarma, 'finance secretary' Bishnuprasad Jamatia, 'assistant finance secretary' Dhanu Koloy, 'chief of army staff' Benoy Debbarma and 'deputy army chief' Sanjiv Debbarma. In a written statement after the surrender, Mantu Koloy while indicating that they were misguided to take up armed struggle stated, "Now we realize that constitution of India is an ideal framework to live with communal harmony and to ensure development especially of the weaker section". Assam Tribune, May 7, 2004.

Civilian killed and 20 injured amidst 18 grenade attacks on polling day in Kashmir: In the third phase of the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) elections on May 5, 2004, polling was held in the Anantnag-Pulwama constituency amidst a series of terrorist attacks in which one person was killed and at least 20 others sustained injuries. Preliminary reports indicated that there was a 16% turnout of voters in the constituency, in which the ruling People's Democratic Party president and daughter of the Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, is in the fray. In the Chief Minister's hometown of Bijbehara, seven persons, including five police personnel, were wounded when terrorists hurled a hand grenade targeting a polling booth. At Anantnag town, a civilian was killed and three others were injured during a grenade attack in the KP Road area. A grenade attack on a Border Security Force (BSF) vehicle was reported at Arwani in Bijbehara without causing any damage. Further, one BSF personnel was wounded during a grenade attack on a polling station in Kokernag. During a separate grenade attack on a polling station in the Tral area, one police personnel was injured. Three BSF personnel and two more persons were injured in a separate attack on a polling station at Largam in Tral. A girl was injured when two terrorists opened fire at Neelora in Pulwama. State Director General of Police Gopal Sharma said that in addition to the above, eleven grenade attacks took place at different places, but that no one was injured or killed in these. Daily Excelsior, May 6, 2004.


NEPAL

Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa resigns: The 11-month-old Surya Bahadur Thapa led-Government collapsed on May 7, 2004, after the Prime Minister resigned. During an address to the nation, Prime Minister Thapa said, "....I have decided to resign from today." Citing reasons for his resignation, Thapa said he "did not want the current political impasse in the country to continue." While indicating that "It was not in the interest of the country, citizens and democracy to allow such a situation to carry on," the Prime Minister added that he resigned "to give a national outlet" to the current political standoff. Nepal News, May 8, 2004.

Nepal Development Forum meeting concludes in Kathmandu: Nepal's donor agencies have said that without peace there can be no meaningful development in the country. Speaking on behalf of the donor agencies at a meeting of Nepal Development Forum (NDF) on May 5, 2004, in Kathmandu, Praful Patel, Vice President of the World Bank for South Asia, stated that "development has become a hostage to political crisis due to the 'triangular conflict' in Nepal." He added that things will not change unless the monarchy, parliamentary parties and Maoists come to a compromise. The NDF meeting concluded on May 6 with a "tentative commitment" from the international donors to provide US $ 560 million to Nepal for the next year. "We have received an 'indicative' commitment of 560 million dollars," Finance Minister Prakash Chandra Lohani told a press meet in Kathmandu after the NDF meeting. Nepal News, May 7, 2004.


PAKISTAN

16 persons killed and 200 wounded in bomb blast at Karachi mosque: At least 15 Shia worshippers and a suspected suicide bomber were killed and over 200 persons sustained injuries when a powerful bomb exploded at Hyderi Mosque, situated within the premises of the seminary Sindh Madrasa-tul-Islam, in the Mithadar area of Karachi on May 7, 2004. The explosion, which occurred during the Friday prayers, is reported to have subsequently triggered unrest in the city, as hundreds of youths set ablaze cars, a petrol pump and a Government office. A senior police official, Manzoor Mughal, was quoted as saying that "As no crater was found in the mosque, it means it was a suicide blast." However, no group or individual has claimed responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, the Federal Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Sunni militants might be behind the bombing. Jang; Daily Times, May 8, 2004.

Car bomb attack kills three Chinese engineers in Gwadar: Three Chinese engineers working on a sea-port project were killed and eleven persons, including nine Chinese nationals, sustained injuries in a car bomb attack near Gwadar, about 500 kilometers west of Karachi, near the border with Iran on May 3, 2004. The attack reportedly occurred early in the morning as a bus carrying at least 12 Chinese workers was proceeding to the Gwadar port. According to Sattar Lasi, the chief of police in Gwadar, "A car was parked near the port and it exploded as the bus reached the port.'' Police suspect that it could either be the work of Islamist terrorists or hard-line Baluchi nationalists, who are against the Gwadar project. The engineers were working on a sea-port project in Gwadar which is partly aided by China. This is the first major attack on foreign workers since a suicide bomber killed 11 French engineers outside the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi on May 8, 2002. Dawn, May 4, 2004.

Suspected terrorists detained in Turkey were trained in Pakistan: A group of suspected terrorists arrested in Turkey on suspicion of planning an attack on a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting were trained in Pakistan and were planning to carry out a suicide mission against US President George W. Bush. Turkish press reports said on May 4, 2004, that the suspects were allegedly in possession of Turkish-subtitled video cassettes attributed to Osama bin Laden calling for a Jehad against America. They were allegedly planning to bomb the NATO Summit scheduled for June 28 and 29 in Istanbul where Bush and other world leaders will attend, according to police sources quoted by the papers. The suspects were arrested during raids by Turkish police in the northwestern city of Bursa, though no dates were disclosed. The Hurriyet and Vatan newspapers said that several suspects underwent physical and psychological training in Pakistan to prepare them to carry out a suicide attack. Dawn, May 5, 2004.


SRI LANKA

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ready to resume peace talks: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said on May 3, 2004, that they were ready to resume peace talks with the Government of Sri Lanka. "The Liberation Tigers are fully prepared to resume the negotiations on the same principles and atmosphere as it did with the previous government in Colombo," the Tamilnet Website quoted the Head of LTTE Political Wing, S.P. Thamilselvam, as informing journalists in Kilinochchi. Responding to a question on how soon the negotiations would resume, he said that talks can begin when the Government says it is ready. Daily News, May 4, 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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