SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Election and Changing Political Configurations
During the first fortnight of September 2005, Mahinda Rajapakse, the present Prime Minister (PM) and the candidate of the People's Alliance/Sri Lanka Freedom Party (PA/SLFP) for the presidential election scheduled for November 17, 2005, entered into formal electoral agreements with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP/ lit. 'People's Liberation Front'), the main Left party in Parliament, and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU/ lit. 'National Sinhalese Heritage') the parliamentary representation of which consists entirely of Buddhist monks.
These agreements marked the culmination of intense negotiation. Their main elements, in essence, are: (a) an emphatic commitment to safeguard the unitary nature of the Sri Lankan state; (b) a refutation of the claim of an 'exclusive Tamil homeland' comprising the Northern and Eastern provinces; (c) a rejection of both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE's) controversial demand for an Interim Self-Government Authority (ISGA) for the 'north-east', as well as the Post-Tsunami Operations Management Structure (P-TOMS, one of President Kumaratunga's pet proposals, fiercely controversial because its implementation would have bestowed official recognition and formal powers of government on the LTTE); (d) a pledge to revise the Government-LTTE ceasefire agreement of February 2002; (e) a commitment to abandon/reverse certain processes associated with economic liberalization such as privatisation of state-owned enterprises and curtailment of Government sponsorship of social welfare; and (f) a declaration of intent to reorient Sri Lanka's foreign policy (implicitly, reduce the subservience to western donors of aid).
Up to the time the agreements were signed, there was hardly any difference between the leaders of Sri Lanka's two main political parties - PA's Chandrika Kumaratunga, the outgoing President, and Ranil Wickremasinghe of the United National Front (UNF) - in their policy stances on both the 'National Question' (ethnic conflict cum secessionist insurrection) as well as the basic challenges of development. On the former, both leaders, with seemingly unqualified backing of their respective parties, were committed to pursue a negotiated settlement, offering the LTTE the compromise of extensive power-sharing within a federal framework in lieu of its secessionist demand. In economic affairs, the two parties tended to adhere closely to principles of 'liberalisation'. Moreover, there was no discernible superiority of one or the other of the two parties in their past records in office either in the fulfilment of electoral pledges or in any other ideal of democratic governance. It is against this backdrop that Rajapakse's agreements signify, not only a deviation from the existing PA commitments and a refutation of what its leader had stood for in respect of key national issues, but also, potentially, the initiation of a process of major realignment of the country's political configurations involving, among other things, a sharp polarisation of the entire electorate around two mutually estranged camps.
President Kumaratunga's response to the Rajapakse-JVP agreement has been one of outrage and fury. In a letter she addressed to Rajapakse (and leaked to the Press) soon after the signing of the agreement on September 8, she charged him of personal disloyalty, violation of party discipline, creating rifts within the PA ranks and thus endangering the survival of the party, and jeopardising the ceasefire and the peace process. She has given vent to her indignation by attempting to drum up opposition to Rajapakse among her party stalwarts, and to weaken his election campaign through other diverse and devious means. At the time of writing this assessment (October 1), though the Kumaratunga-Rajapakse conflagration had lost its heat somewhat, it certainly had not been extinguished, and could still destroy the Rajapakse campaign.
The presidential wrath is understandable (though not entirely justifiable) on several counts. It does contain traces of lame-duck frustration - expectable in the context of the failure to prolong incumbency until the end of 2006, the impending redundancy, and the defection of erstwhile loyalists to the PM's camp. It is also an exemplification of the personal rivalry between her and Rajapakse that has persisted since their early political associations - she, in the yuppie fringe of the SLFP, and Rajapakse, well within the traditional Sinhalese-Buddhist core of the party. It is no secret that the PM was not her preference for the presidential stakes - it was brother Anura she wanted as her successor - but Rajapakse had to be nominated because he is the only member of the party who could pose a serious challenge to the UNF candidate Wickremasinghe.
There is, on the other hand, strong justification for the Prime Minister's alliance with the JVP and the JHU. Its main impulse was the stark reality that his party, the SLFP, has never won a national election without the support of the Left parties, and that it is the JVP, rather than the tiny but vociferous remnants of the 'old Left', that now constitutes the Left that matters. Equally clear is the fact that, in order to compensate for the overwhelming majority of the Tamil vote (a part of it unavoidably delivered by the LTTE) and a large share of the Muslim vote outside the Eastern Province which Wickremasinghe is likely to receive, Rajapakse will need to mobilise the support of a clear majority in the Sinhalese segment of the electorate (which accounts for 75 per cent of the overall total) if he is to reach the constitutionally stipulated '50 per cent of the valid vote' to be elected President. The absence of an electoral alliance with the JVP and the JHU could have resulted in these parties fielding their own contestants, and thus eroding Rajapakse's support base. Apart from these realities of electoral arithmetic, a further rationalisation for the Rajapakse-JVP-JHU alliance stems from the possibility of converting the seething discontent among the Sinhalese about the na´ve capitulation in the face of terrorism hitherto represented by the so-called 'peace efforts' of the Governments led, in turn, by both Kumaratunga and Wickremasinghe.
The President-PM rift has, of course, been a matter of great joy for the UNF in which there exists a surrealistic vision of a Kumaratunga cross-over to the Wickremasinghe camp. It was in this euphoric context that the UNF manifesto was released on September 28. It is of interest that, though Wickremasinghe has all along been one of the most ardent exponents of a 'federal solution' to the Sri Lankan conflict, the manifesto refrains from even a mention of the term 'federal', but confines itself to stating (in a brief section titled 'Defeat to Separatism'): "We will bring about a permanent solution to the ethnic problem through a political solution based on a United (sic) Sri Lanka". Its guarantee of "Muslim representation in (future) peace talks" is a novelty that might annoy the LTTE. Publicising the manifesto in a blaze of media coverage, a spokesman for the party repeated for the umpteenth time the myth of "an agreement (on a federal solution) signed at Oslo", knowing fully well that no such agreement exists. Well over 90 per cent of the manifesto relates to economic and social issues; and, though it commences with a thematic commitment to curb inflation, it proceeds to offer the electorate a host of subsidies, doles, price controls, wage increases etc. (more or less identical to what Rajapakse's platform offers), all of which would be absurdly inflationary in impact.
Both candidates are striving hard to attract the 'minority vote' which, as generally known, is as fragmented as that of the 'majority'. On the anticipated leanings of the Sri Lankan Tamils, while those residing outside the 'north-east' (mostly Greater Colombo) are likely to vote for Wickremasinghe almost en bloc, almost the whole of the Tamil vote of the 'north' is also likely to be delivered by the Tigers to the UNF candidate (at the parliamentary elections of April 2002, rampant rigging by the LTTE enabled its proxy candidates to secure 90.6 per cent of the Jaffna District vote). Among the Eastern Province Tamils, where the challenge to the Tiger leadership from the renegade Karuna has gained in strength, the LTTE will not have a monopoly over electoral malpractices. This, however, is unlikely to significantly benefit Rajapakse's presidential bid.
The simmering LTTE-Muslim hostility in the East might mean that Wickremasinghe's inclination towards concessions to the Tigers will not find favour with the majority of Muslims in that part of the country (about 3 per cent of the total of voters), and is thus open to significant inroads by the Rajapakse campaign. The Muslims elsewhere in the country (about 4 per cent of the total electorate) are likely to be divided in their alignments (the respective shares depending mainly on the 'deals' their spokesmen would make with the two contestants), but be attracted more towards Wickremasinghe's stance on economic issues. A similar generalisation is probably valid on the probable leanings of the plantation Tamils (about 6 per cent of the electorate) [The plantation Tamils are decendants of Indian labourers brought to the tea, rubber and coffee plantations under the British colonial administration, and are generally looked down upon by the 'Sri Lankan Tamils', who claim to have inhabited the Island since the 'beginning of recorded history'. Ed.] Given the differences in respect of the nature of Sinhalese backing for the two candidates, Wickremasinghe will be able to offer the mainstream leaders of the Tamil and Muslim communities more attractive deals than would Rajapakse.
Finally, though the forthcoming contest is likely to be marked by intense inter-party rivalry, it should be less violent than some of the previous presidential elections because, with the incumbent President out of the fray, the Police and the bureaucracy will be less inclined to partisanship in the performance of their duties. Nevertheless, the increasing criminalisation of Sri Lankan politics will be in evidence both in the campaign as well as at the poll, especially in localities over which political bosses and their underworld musclemen hold sway. The far more ominous spectre is, of course, the ever-present danger of assassination by the LTTE to which, in the prevailing political contours, Rajapakse would remain vulnerable.
In April 2005, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen's (HM's) Beerwah-area 'district commander' Yusuf Sheikh had mailed a letter to police officials in Srinagar. It contained a photograph of the severed head of Farooq Ahmad, an agent infiltrated into the organisation six months earlier; the head itself was tossed in the dirt near a city bus station soon after. In Sheikh's own case, the defiant gesture proved misguided - he was targeted for attention and shot dead inside of six weeks - but the action did reflect the rise of a certain arrogant Úlan in the HM: a sign that it had begun to recover from the decimation of its senior field command in 2003-2004.
Now, as details emerge on the operation that led to the September 29, 2005, elimination of Ibrahim Dar, the HM's Srinagar-area 'district commander', something of a picture is starting to emerge of just what is going on inside the numerically largest terrorist group operating in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
While Dar occupied a relatively low administrative role, his visibility in recent months had far exceeded that of his organisational superiors. The architect of an alliance between HM and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) cadre in Srinagar, Dar had organised a series of high-profile car bombings and suicide-squad (fidayeen) attacks in recent months. Starting with a March 23 explosion in the Sanat Nagar suburb, intended to demonstrate the HM's possession of capabilities for derailing the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, Dar's terrorist cell went on to execute attacks on the city's Passport Office, Deputy Commissioner's Office and a military convoy passing by the well-known Burnhall School. Most of these attacks, departing from traditional HM practice, used bombs manufactured from commercially-available chemicals, rather than military-grade explosives like RDX.
Investigators were intrigued by this change in course, since Dar's earlier terror enterprises had focussed on assassinations, not bombings. Having joined the HM in the early 1990s, after abandoning his efforts to obtain a Bachelor of Sciences degree, Dar was arrested for a 1996 murder. While in prison, he acquired for a mentor the senior HM 'commander', Hashim Javed Iqbal. Both obtained bail after six years. Under Iqbal's tutelage, Dar then allied with Srinagar-based elements of the LeT and al-Umar to form the Save Kashmir Movement (SKM). An assassination-focussed organisation, the SKM killed several National Conference cadre involved in the 2002 elections to the State Assembly. Soon after, in March 2003, it eliminated the dissident HM 'commander', Abdul Majid Dar, who had initiated talks with the Government of India. The SKM carried out further attacks in 2004, including the assassinations of Deputy Inspector-General of Police Mohammad Amin Bhat and Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmad, the uncle of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Dar also targeted politicians who fought the February 2005 elections to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation.
In parallel with these precision killings, Dar tasked allied organisations with executing larger actions of symbolic value, using fidayeen groups. Loose affiliations seem to have first been forged with the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) for this purpose, although they tapered off because of the JeM's internal crisis, ending finally with the 2003 elimination of its field amir, or 'supreme commander', Shahbaz Khan. By that year, however, the alliance with the LeT was well entrenched. It survived the arrest that year of three of Dar's closest allies in that organisation, Feroze Ahmad Sheikh, Altaf Mir and Shamimullah Khan. One reason for this was that Dar himself escaped. With not a little ingenuity and effort, he succeeded in protecting his Srinagar networks both from local attrition and the elimination of successive overall chiefs of the HM. Indeed, by 2004, the Lashkar-Hizb combine was considering a large scale operation targeting the Bombay Stock Exchange, which, however, was comprised by its penetration by Indian communications intelligence. Twenty three members of Dar's network, including his mentor Iqbal, were arrested.
For much of 2004, terrorist groups in Srinagar appeared to be in retreat: bar fidayeen actions, rich in symbolic value but of little practical effect, they appeared to be able to do nothing. Indeed, after the May 2004, elimination of the HM's 'supreme commander' for the Kashmir Valley, Abdul Rashid Pir, the organisation even seemed unable to find a successor to take his job. In the midst of this chaos, however, Dar managed to keep going. His recent activities had, for obvious reasons, given the security establishment in Srinagar substantial cause for concern, especially since considerable care was being taken to avoid communications intelligence penetration of the kind which had led to the destruction of the Bombay Stock Exchange cell. Aware, for example, that Indian intelligence had penetrated their cellphone networks, members of the cell had generally taken to communicating through couriers. Where talking was necessary, they frequently changed instruments and SIM cards, turned on their phones only for brief periods at pre-decided times and used codes to make their conversations seem innocuous.
Much of the intelligence generated during the J&K Police's operation targeting Dar has affirmed long-standing speculation about serious internal problems within the HM. Its recent emphasis on car-bomb attacks seems to have been the consequence of a shortage of weapons and cadre, the result of declining support from Pakistan and improved anti-infiltration measures. As a result of these pressures, some field cadre of the HM were eager to open lines of communication with New Delhi. Equal numbers, however, believed that a dialogue would principally benefit politicians of the APHC rather than the armed group and its cadre. Interestingly, the Muzaffarabad-based central organisation of the HM seems afraid of the consequences of freewheeling negotiation - one reason it has not appointed an overall commander for the Kashmir Valley since the elimination of Pir. HM commanders within Kashmir have, for some time, been stopped from communicating with the media, that task being solely handled by its Pakistan-based supreme leadership, reflecting an increasing paucity of trust and fears that field commanders may be increasingly inclined to seek a dialogue with New Delhi.
What does the elimination of Dar mean for the future of the HM's bombing offensive? While it will undoubtedly hurt the organisation, it is unlikely that Dar's killing will in itself bring an end to this campaign. For one, Dar's superior - the Srinagar 'division commander', so far known only by the alias 'Jehangir' - remains alive. Dar's resourceful and tough south Kashmir counterpart, Sohail Faisal, also continues to operate. More worrying, from the point of view of Forces operating in J&K, is the fact that Srinagar's urban terror cells seem to be increasingly sensitive to the capabilities and limitations of Indian communications intelligence. India will, most likely, have to upgrade its communications intelligence infrastructure significantly in years to come, notably the ability of forces operating in J&K to monitor encrypted internet traffic and hand-held satellite phone conversations. Most important, though, the abiding lesson of the hunt for Dar ought to be that the carefully-built human intelligence networks that have worked with great success in J&K ought not to be allowed to wither away in the fond hope that peace is just around the corner.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
September 26-October 2, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
New Interpol notice to be issued against Dawood Ibrahim: The Interpol has decided to issue a new notice against Mumbai serial blasts accused Dawood Ibrahim, which would be effective in 186 member countries, including Pakistan. The new notice would be separate from the "red corner notice" issued by India through the Interpol a few years ago, National Central Bureau (Indian Interpol) sources said in New Delhi. During Interpol's 74th General Assembly, which concluded at Geneva on September 24, 2005, it was decided to issue the new notice to support the United Nations Security Council in the fight against terrorism. Dawood reportedly figures in the list of 186 dreaded terrorists circulated by the Security Council among its members recently. The Hindu, September 26, 2005.
40 terrorists and 11 soldiers killed in North Waziristan: At least 40 terrorists and 11 soldiers were reportedly killed in clashes between security forces (SFs) and the former in the Khatey Kali area of North Waziristan on September 29-30. The clashes erupted after troops laid a siege to houses in the area after receiving information about the presence of foreign terrorists in the area. Helicopter gun-ships fired rockets on suspected terrorist hideouts following the clashes and a large number of families had reportedly moved to safer locations. Daily Times, September 30, 2005.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Asif Choto arrested in Rawalpindi: Security forces are reported to have arrested Asif Choto, chief of the banned Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), near Islamabad on September 24, 2005. Choto, a 'most wanted terrorist', carried a head money of Rupees 25 million. Choto was arrested from Motorway near Islamabad while three more LeJ terrorists were arrested from a house in Rawalpindi. Choto was on the list of 21 'most wanted' terrorists given to President Pervez Musharraf on July 3, 2004, when he visited Karachi to review the security arrangements following an attack on the Karachi Corps commander. Authorities regard 29-year-old Asif Choto as the man who introduced suicide bombing in Pakistan. Dawn, Daily Jang, September 29, 2005.
LTTE cadres barred from visiting EU states: The European Union (EU) on September 27, 2005 barred Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres from visiting its member-states and said it was considering listing the group as a terrorist organisation. "The European Union is actively considering the formal listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation," the EU said in a statement issued by Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It also stated that "In the meantime, the European Union has agreed that with immediate effect, delegations from the LTTE will no longer be received in any of the EU member states until further notice." Reuters , September 29, 2005.
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