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SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 3, No. 32, February 21, 2005

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

The Calculus of Failure
Ajai Sahni
Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management

Nobody appears to have a plan for Nepal, except, perhaps, the Maoists. Three weeks after the King's reckless takeover, the inertial drift, both within the country and in the foreign policies of the major powers that had earlier been supporting Kathmandu in its war against the Maoists, appears to be deepening. India, the US and UK have been making ineffective calls for the 'restoration of democracy', and the flow of military aid has been presently checked - but given the volumes of weaponry already transferred to the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), this is not a source for an immediate crisis. While there had been some speculation of the possibility of an Indian blockade on Nepal - reminiscent of events in 1989, which forced the then King Birendra to accept a Constitutional Democracy - this option has not been exercised. Moreover, the general indefinite shutdown and blockade announced by the Maoists has not been total and, crucially, at least one route for the flow of goods and traffic from India to Kathmandu has been kept open, albeit under massive military protection, and with repeated disruptions as a result of the mining of roads and attacks on escorted convoys. Nevertheless, the supply lifeline to Kathmandu - though somewhat diminished - has been kept open, and no crisis in essential goods appears imminent in the capital city.

  Also Read
The King's Folly -- Ajai Sahni & P.G. Rajamohan
Waiting for Prachanda -- Keshab Poudel

At the same time, there is evidence of some military operations across wide areas of the country. Though information flows are, under the present regime of extreme censorship, at best fitful, reports suggest that military operations of varying intensity have been carried out by the RNA against the Maoists in at least 30 of the country's 75 districts, since the February 1 'Royal coup'. RNA operations appear to have concentrated particularly in the Far West districts of Baitadi, Achham and Dailekh, and in the Eastern Region districts of Sankhuwasabha and Morang. Maoist operations have been registered in at least 14 districts over the same period. Total reported fatalities stood at 117, including 93 'Maoists', 15 security forces personnel and nine civilians (to reiterate, these would probably be partial figures, and several reports suggest fatalities, particularly 'Maoist' fatalities, but do not give any numbers). In at least one case, the RNA is reported to have used helicopter gunships to strafe and bomb 'Maoists' in the Dailekh district.

Though this suggests that neither party in the conflict has been altogether idle over the past three weeks, the intensity of violence is certainly far from earlier peaks, particularly in year 2002 and in the months after the breakdown of the ceasefire in August 2003, when fatalities frequently exceeded 100 to 150 a week (the month of May 2002 saw 1,023 killed). Clearly, the Maoists have not sought to engineer an immediate and massive mobilization against the new order at Kathmandu; indeed, violent Maoist activities have seen a visible dip since February 1. On the other hand, the RNA's strategy remains consistent with activities over the past months, though there has been an evident decline in scale and intensity in their case as well.

This new status quo, however, cannot last. Although decreased concerns on human rights may create a measure of state terror in wide areas, particularly in the unmonitored countryside, Kathmandu's operational capacities have been severely circumscribed as a result of massive military concentration in the Valley, at the expense of the rest of the country. Worse, a significant proportion of troops and officers have been tied down in a wide range of civilian and static duties, including 'editing' Newspapers at Kathmandu, and administering vital installations and services in the district headquarters. Further, the 44,000 strong civil Police provides little comfort within this context. With just 110 of the country's 1,135 police stations still operational, this ill-equipped and demoralized Force is just huddled in district headquarters, divesting Kathmandu of what could have been its most significant source of field intelligence. In such a situation, eventually, the widening vacuum in the countryside will create opportunities for an irreversible Maoist consolidation.

Absent a restoration, indeed, a radical enhancement, in military aid, no technical augmentation of the RNA's and the Armed Police Force's (APF) capabilities is possible. It is useful to recall, in this context, that Kathmandu had, prior to the Royal coup, been pressing India for a significant replenishment and augmentation of arms, ammunition and military equipment, including at least 5,000 machine guns, 1,000 mortars, 40 mine protection vehicles, 800 troop carrying vehicles, bulletproof jackets and headgear, night vision devices, as well as an unspecified number of Light Attack (Lancer) and Advanced Light (Cheetah) Helicopters. Military supplies were also being solicited from the US, UK and some EU countries. If military operations against the Maoists are to be sustained, this weapons wish-list cannot remain in indefinite abeyance.

That puts the ball squarely in the court of the coalition that had, till February 1, been supporting Kathmandu's efforts. India, the US and UK have, till now, exerted qualified pressure on the King, and restoring military aid would be morally and politically indefensible, and would fuel a widespread and increasingly indiscriminate military campaign across the country. Crucially, such support would be largely infructuous, and, given the configuration of military Forces and the political and administrative vacuum in the country, the strategy of military repression is destined to failure.

The current crisis in Nepal, consequently, is progressively transforming itself into a test of India's sagacity and management capacities. It is increasingly evident that both the US and UK have substantially accepted the idea of Indian primacy in resolving the Nepal imbroglio, and India's long-term ambitions for 'great power' status in the region would certainly and substantially be assessed in terms of its immediate capacities to deal effectively with the present crisis.

The dilemma for India (as well as the other external actors who have supported Kathmandu in the past) is the choice between regime stability and state stability in Nepal. The fact is that all the players in the region are currently guilty of the cardinal error of confusing regime stability with state and regional stability. The fact, however, is that regime stability is currently in direct conflict with the long term prospects of state and regional stability, and the King's actions, as well as any international support to the new regime, will only entrench the dynamic that is undermining Kathmandu's capacities to survive the Maoist onslaught. By supporting the King, an apparent stability would no doubt be secured in the short run; but such stability would reinforce the very dynamic that has progressively undermined the political capacities of the state, and that will eventually and necessarily lead to state collapse and the capture of Kathmandu by the Maoists. On the other hand, efforts to secure a more stable future for the state would run up against the King's personal ambitions, the disarray among the Constitutional parties, potential mischief by spoilers (China and Pakistan are India's favourite bogeymen) and the possibility that the pressure that would need to be exerted to secure a breakthrough (essentially, a complete blockade of Kathmandu) may, in fact, create the temporary conditions that could facilitate a Maoist takeover.

The one thing that emerges clearly through all this is that restoring support to the King would condemn Nepal to protracted chaos and an almost certain Maoist takeover. Clear and determined action to install a working democracy - this time around, with the RNA under civilian control -, and to slowly and painstakingly engineer the recovery of widening regions to civil governance, is now the only, albeit uncertain, alternative that could possibly help restore the integrity and stability of the state structure in the country. This would, as many have often and effortlessly argued, be enormously difficult. But 'easy' has not been an option in Nepal for a long time now.


INDIA

J&K: A Journey through Violence
Kanchan Lakshman
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management; Assistant Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution

In what is being perceived as a win-win situation for both India and Pakistan, both the countries agreed on February 16 to commence a bus link from April 7, 2005, between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the respective capitals of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

  Also Read
Grassroots Democracy Rebuffs Terror -- Kanchan Lakshman
A Violent Peace -- Kanchan Lakshman

While much of the hype surrounding the decision is on expected lines, given the current 'honeymoon', as the media would have it, between Delhi and Islamabad, it has been made amply clear that this confidence building measure (CBM) does not, in any manner, change the stated positions of either country on the status of J&K. Indian Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, noted in Islamabad on February 16 that "It is a humanitarian procedure that we have adopted." The bus would bring together sundered families and communities living across the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB).

The proposal for such a service was first floated in July 2001 during the Agra Summit between the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, known in the Kashmir Valley as the Uri road, was closed in 1947 after the formation of Pakistan. Prior to Partition, the approximately 170 kilometre highway was the only road that connected Kashmir with the rest of the world. The road commences from Srinagar and reaches Muzaffarabad, via Baramulla and Uri in India, and Kohla and Kotli in Pakistan.

The route has significant historical importance. While the 16th century Mughal emperor, Akbar, is believed to have once marched into Kashmir through this route, the road was also the main trade link between Kashmir and the rest of the world, linking the Valley with Afghanistan and China.

Humanitarian considerations have been paramount in this decision, and the opening of the bus link will allow many Kashmiri families, on both sides, to visit each other frequently. Over time, it may also help boost the economy of the region. For instance, if there is an agreement to send fruits, a mainstay of the Kashmiri economy, to Muzaffarabad through this route, this could plausibly open several new trade avenues.

Politically, J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has expressed the opinion that, once the people of PoK start coming to India, they would see that people in the Indian side of Kashmir were much better off. Tahir Mohiuddin, editor of the Srinagar-based Urdu weekly, Chattan, notes, "There is a lot of propaganda in PoK that Kashmiris in India are not allowed to pray and are very poor. Once they come here and see, it will be an eye opener for them." The free movement of people, it is believed, would allay misconceptions about each other on the two sides of the Line of Control (LoC). It is useful to note, in this context, that many Pakistan-based Jehadi groups are headquartered in Muzaffarabad or have 'camp offices' in the area.

While this "mother of all CBMs" as one Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official expressed it, has been hailed as the boldest peace move between the two countries, terrorist groups, unsurprisingly, have been vocal in their opposition. The Al-Mansooran - a front organization of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) - claimed that the bus service deal was due to political compulsions. "The agreement reached between the two countries on the bus service will have no bearing on the ongoing struggle in the Valley," said Umer Mukhtar, a spokesman of the outfit. At least three terrorist groups, while declaring their opposition, have threatened to disrupt the bus service. "This will weaken the idea of Kashmir uniting with Pakistan. This is a conspiracy by India to weaken jihad We will see what benefits India wants to get from this bus service... we will certainly try to stop it," Mufti Abdur Rauf, a spokesperson for the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), told The Associated Press in Pakistan on February 17. Echoing a similar line, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) chief, Syed Salahuddin, in a statement issued from Muzaffarabad claimed the bus service was unimportant and "is a failed effort to put ointment on the wounds of Kashmiris." Further, a leader of the LeT, Yahya Mujahid, told AFP: "This cosmetic gesture will not curb the demand of freedom by Kashmiris." Clearly, passenger security will be a key issue when the bus rolls out on April 7.

While the world has sought to focus on the 'peace process' in J&K, it is clear that the extremist intent has not been altered on the ground, though there has been some diminution of extremist capacities. Recent weeks have seen a spate of killings of political activists in the aftermath of the enormous participation in civic body elections (electoral turnouts averaged a satisfactory 45.5 per cent), held after a gap of 27 years. 47 civilians have been killed in January 2005, compared to 32, 26 and 26 in the preceding months of October, November and December 2004. At least three of the newly elected Councilors have been killed thus far. The newly elected member of the National Conference (NC) and the would-be Mayor of Srinagar, Mohammad Maqbool Khaksar, was shot dead in the capital's Jawahar Nagar area on February 9, 2005. His assassination came a day after the killing of the People's Democratic Party's (PDP) elected member and would-be chairman of the Beerwah Municipal Committee in Budgam district, Ghulam Mohiuddin Mir. After Khaksar's death, his party had threatened that all elected Councilors belonging to the NC would resign en masse if adequate security was not provided to them. Due to threats held out by terrorist groups, three newly elected Municipal Councilors resigned on February 17, taking the number of Councilors who have resigned under extremist pressure to six. Strikingly, three of those who resigned have tendered a 'public apology' for taking part in the democratic exercise. In Anantnag town, two Councilors reportedly said during the Friday prayers at a mosque: "We seek your forgiveness in the name of Allah and we dissociate ourselves from the polls. We have quit our seats and resigned from the party. We now have nothing to do with the civic bodies." An unconfirmed report added that ten newly elected members made public announcements of their resignation from the civic bodies on February 11.

These assassinations and resignations underline one of the more disturbing consequences of the ongoing peace process. Increasingly, while the political discourse shapes itself along expected incremental lines, the disturbing fact is that sustained and calibrated levels of terrorist violence appear to be gradually getting deeply intertwined within the larger rubric of the peace process.

The bus agreement sets the tone for the further deepening of people-to-people links, as well as other critical linkages. Indian Foreign Minister, Natwar Singh, in his statement at Islamabad, said both sides have agreed to look at the oil pipeline from Iran through Pakistan, subject to the satisfaction of India's concerns relating to security and assured supplies. "We also agreed to start a bus service between Amritsar and Lahore and to religious places such as Nankana Sahib and instructed our officials to tie up technical details," added Singh. While the procedure of bringing an oil pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan is to be decided tri-laterally, prospects for such a venture, currently, remain grim in view of the continuing attacks on gas pipelines and other vital installations in the insurgency-wracked Balochistan province, on the Pakistan-Iran border.

While there has been a secular decline of violence in J&K since 2001, an end to the bloodshed in the State seems as unlikely as it was at any given point since the dramatic escalation of the militancy in 1989. Even as measures like the bus link may go a long way in removing some of the chronic mistrust between the two countries, they will do little to alter the fundamentals of the basic conflict in and over Kashmir.

 

NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
February 14-20, 2005

 
Civilian
Security Force Personnel
Terrorist
Total

BANGLADESH

0
0
1
1

INDIA

     Jammu &
     Kashmir

5
1
9
15

     Left-wing
     Extremism

3
0
2
5

     Manipur

1
5
5
11

     Tripura

0
0
3
3

Total (INDIA)

9
6
19
34

NEPAL

4
3
32
39

PAKISTAN

4
0
5
9

SRI LANKA

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


BANGLADESH

50,000 Islamist militants of 40 groups present in the country, says former Minister: On February 18, 2005, the Dhaka police confiscated some copies of two newly published books, allegedly containing seditious content, written by the Awami League leader and former minister, Professor Abu Sayeed, from his residence. One of the books titled Aghoshito Juddher Blueprint (Blueprint of an Undeclared War) in Bangla explains the rise of communalism and Islamist militants in Bangladesh. The second book, Brutal Crime Documents, in English portrays the alleged brutalities suffered by opposition parties since the 2001 elections. The books reportedly claim that approximately 50,000 militants belonging to more than 40 groups are currently controlling a vast area of Bangladesh, with help from ruling coalition partner, Jamaat-e-Islami, and a section of the Bangladesh National Party. Earlier, at a Press Conference, Sayeed said, over 50 camps are now in operation across the country, where Islamist zealots are getting military training. The Daily Star, February 19, 2005.


INDIA

ULFA seeks formal reply from Union Government on peace talks: The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has reportedly sought a formal reply to its 'chairman' Arabinda Rajkhowa's letter to the Government of India. This was communicated by the outfit to noted Assamese litterateur, Dr. Mamoni Raisom Goswami. ULFA's first formal communication addressed to the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was handed over on February 14, 2005, to the National Security Adviser (NSA), M.K. Narayanan, by Dr. Goswami. Rajkhowa, in his two-page letter, reportedly talked about the outfit's long-drawn struggle calling for 'restoration of Assam's sovereignty' and insisted that sovereignty was its primary demand. The NSA, in response, has conveyed that the Government of India was not in a position to exclusively hold dialogue on the issue of sovereignty, though it was open to discussing the grievances of the outfit, including what it termed as the core issue. Assam Tribune, February 15, 2005.


PAKISTAN

Islamists to gain power if President Musharraf is removed, says US intelligence official: Director of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, reportedly told the Senate Intelligence Committee at a hearing in Washington on February 16, 2005, that "Extremist Islamic politicians would gain greater influence" in Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf was assassinated or replaced. "If Musharraf was assassinated or otherwise replaced, Pakistan's new leader would be less pro-US," claimed Jacoby. While observing "We are concerned that extremist Islamic politicians would gain greater influence", he added that a majority of population in Pakistan holds a "favourable" view of Osama bin Laden. Stating that was the same assessment he gave last year, Admiral Jacoby said: "Our assessment remains unchanged from last year." Nation, February 18, 2005.

India and Pakistan sign agreement on Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus link: Pakistan and India on February 16, 2005, agreed to start a bus service between Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir from April 7, 2005, with people from Kashmir, Pakistan and India to travel across the Line of Control (LoC) by an entry permit system. Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri announced this in Islamabad in a joint statement with his Indian counterpart Natwar Singh after talks between the two. "The bus service will start without prejudice to the stated positions of both the countries on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir," Indian Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, said at a separate press conference. Dawn, February 17, 2005.



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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