SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Troop Withdrawal - Musharraf's Bid to Re-open Terror Routes
During the India-Pakistan dialogue in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in September, Pakistan identified the districts of Baramulla and Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) for immediate troop withdrawal by India as a gesture that, it claimed, would help build the 'impetus for peace'. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who said progress in the peace process could only take place if there was a complete cessation of cross-border infiltration and violence, rightly dismissed the Pakistani demand.
A scrutiny of the trajectory of violence in J&K helps understand why General Pervez Musharraf is insisting on troop withdrawal specifically from these two districts, and indicates that the rationale goes beyond concern for the 'impetus for peace' or for the welfare of the people of Kashmir. Further, it goes well beyond the fact that these districts are close to the Line of Control (LoC). Baramulla and Kupwara have traditionally served as a gateway to terrorism in the Kashmir Valley, and have, for long, been crucial to the Jihad in Kashmir.
The issue of troop reduction has been a central part of Pakistan's long-standing demands on Kashmir and had, in the past, been projected as a pre-condition for talks with India. It is also an indication of the end-game Musharraf proposes to pursue on the Kashmir issue, comprehending a partition of the Valley under which these two districts, both with a Muslim majority of over 90 per cent, would be ceded to Pakistan.
During his recent sojourn in New York, Musharraf is also reported to have impressed upon the U.S Administration the need to influence India into agreeing to a troop reduction. Pakistan's efforts to engage US 'good-offices' are at least partially influenced by the fact that, in 1963, the then US administration did bring some amount of pressure on India to consider ceding the "north-west" part of the Valley to Pakistan. India cast off the idea then and has since been steadfast in rejecting any such thoughts of a further Partition, a point that the Government of India has often reiterated in the current context, with the Prime Minister himself insisting that there can be no redrawing of boundaries along religious and ethnic lines.
Baramulla and Kupwara, with borders that are mountainous and heavily forested, are two neighbouring districts in the north and northwest of the Valley, with their topography clearly demonstrating their strategic importance. Baramulla, spread over 4,588 square kilometers, is bordered by Kupwara in the north, Budgam and Poonch districts in the south, parts of the summer capital, Srinagar, and Ladakh in the east, and Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), in the west. Kupwara, with a geographical area of 2,379 square kilometers, was carved out of Baramulla district in the year 1979. To the east and south of Kupwara is Baramulla, while in the west and north is the LoC, which separates it from Muzaffarabad.
According to those who oversee security in the State, the prevailing situation in the two Districts, does not warrant any re-adjustment of the counter-insurgency grid, and any dilution of Forces is bound to affect the counter-insurgency grid and the security base. Pakistan-backed terrorist groups active in the Districts include the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), which has a northern division for Kupwara-Bandipora-Baramulla; Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Al Umar Mujahideen, Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen and Al Badr. Kupwara and Baramulla witness high levels of infiltration and terrorist activity, and any lowering of guard there would allow the terrorists, who have been under extraordinary pressure lately, to regroup and recover lost ground. It would also mean granting unhindered access to the Valley, especially to Srinagar, which is to the south-east of Baramulla. Being border districts adjacent to the LoC, any withdrawal of troops from Baramulla and Kupwara would undermine the internal security grid and would facilitate infiltration into the Valley. The operational advantage in these districts, vis-à-vis the execution of operations, accruing primarily due to terrain and location, lies with the terrorists. Troop withdrawal would simply cede the entire territory to the terrorists. Furthermore, the flow of actionable intelligence of terrorist movement into other Districts in J&K would also be adversely affected.
It is useful to note that approximately 34 terrorist 'commanders' have been killed in the two districts between January 2003 and September 2005 (10 in Baramulla and 24 in Kupwara). While the number of civilian and SF fatalities is not as high as in some other districts of J&K [Baramulla witnessed 55 civilian and 19 SF deaths; and Kupwara: 13 civilian and 16 SF deaths this year, till September-end], the two districts serve as a gateway to the Valley. As many as 159 terrorists have been killed in Kupwara and 122 in Baramulla in the current year (the highest and second highest numbers in the State), and the two districts continue to be vital for terrorist and subversive activities. Further confirmation of this centrality to the terrorist enterprise comes, for example, from recent seizures of arms and ammunition. On September 19, the Army recovered a large cache of arms, ammunition and sophisticated devices for making bombs from a cave in the Gurez sector of Baramulla District. It included 14 AK rifles, a rocket projectile gun, rocket propelled missiles, 12 under-barrel grenade launchers, six pistols of Chinese and Pakistani origin, 80 sticks of RDX, 69 battery-operated improvised explosive devices and a large number of grenades. Incidentally, it was in the Gurez sector that Indian troops had killed at least 18 infiltrators in July 2005. Consequent to border fencing and advanced detection devices, Army sources indicate that infiltrators are now using difficult and relatively inaccessible terrain as new routes, crossing the LoC through a mountain pass into the rocky and snow-covered region at a height of approximately 16,000 feet. In the past, infiltration through the Gurez sector had been rare, primarily because of the harsh terrain and poor weather conditions.
A comparatively low number of civilian and SF fatalities in Baramulla and Kupwara also means that the sustained terrorist pressure has not led to any measure of abatement of counter-terrorism operations by the SFs. Even the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, despite the initial attempts to target it, continues to roll out on schedule every fortnight. Indeed, continuous terrorist efforts and the rationale of area domination make a strong case for the maintenance of existing troop presence, so that the zone does not lapse into greater terror, and serve as a gateway of subversion into the rest of the State - objectives that the jihadis seek to achieve.
The Army currently holds commanding positions on the Shamshabari mountain range, north of Kupwara and above Uri in Baramulla. It is here that the Indian positions commence, on an approach from the PoK side, and these are crucial for any counter-infiltration plan. For instance, after the snow began to melt in the higher reaches sometime in July 2005, terrorists crossed the LoC from Chakwali to Kaobal Gali and the Kanzalwan area, in the Gurez sector. While the Security Forces (SFs) have, to a large extent over the past few years, been able to block ingress sites across Kishan Ganga River, which flows through the Gurez Valley in the Baramulla District, and also physically dominate the area up to Shamshabari range, the fact that heavy snowfall and avalanches earlier in the year destroyed a portion of the LoC fencing has made the task of the Army a wee bit difficult. Diluting presence on these positions would lead to unbridled infiltration, affecting the security grid right up to the plains of Srinagar. Although current information on ingress routes is not available, at least 20 of these have been identified in Kupwara and seven in Baramulla in the recent past. Sources indicated, moreover, that, as of January 2005, there were at least 36 jehadi training camps in PoK, housing approximately 3,660 cadres ready to cross the LoC, with a majority of these located in the Muzaffarabad and Kotli districts.
Troop reduction is also a demand that has been articulated by the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), Islamabad's currently favoured proxy in the Valley. While Islamabad pursues the objective at the bilateral level, as well as at all available international and bilateral forums, including the United States, the same issues are articulated within the Valley by the Mirwaiz-led APHC.
General Musharraf has argued that India needs to reduce troops in Kashmir to reciprocate Pakistan's 'peace overtures', failing which confidence building measures would lose their impact. He has thus clearly linked further progress in the peace talks to troop reduction and indications suggest that Pakistan would, in the immediate future, attempt to raise the stakes and subsequently portray India as being obstructive. The contours of this gameplan were already visible in President Musharraf's comments on the 'Dialogue for Peace' programme on CNN, when he said that Pakistan and India could only move towards peace by 'providing relief to the Kashmiri people'. This, he claimed, further, could only be accomplished through the withdrawal of Indian forces from some areas of Kashmir.
Evidently, what has not been achieved on the ground in Baramulla and Kupwara through terrorism, is being sought on the negotiating table. And in this effort, Musharraf has, at least in part, been encouraged by the prevailing international ambiance and ambivalence towards certain patterns of terrorism and their state sponsors, and which still allows for much politicking, especially by external actors.
Old Script, New Lessons
Twelve soldiers of the Gorkha Rifles lay dead following an ambush by the outlawed Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) on September 19, 2005, in the upper Ngaryan Hills range in Tamenglong district. Militants positioned on a hill top sprayed bullets on the security patrol, giving little time for the soldiers to react. It was the most serious attack targeting the Security Forces (SFs) over the past six years. Way back on February 15, 1999, nine SF personnel had been killed in an ambush by the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in Churachandpur district. In addition, the Tamenglong attack was one of the rare events where a Valley-based Meitei militant outfit had executed a successful strike in a territory that is largely controlled by Naga militant groups.
In a second incident on the same day, the UNLF killed an army soldier near Jiribam, in Manipur's Imphal East district. Two days later, on September 21, 2005, two Border Security Force (BSF) personnel lost their lives in an ambush by the PLA at Kumbi Khodrak road under Kumbi police station in the Bishnupur district.
The Defence Minister, visiting the State along with Army Chief J.J. Singh, on September 21 and 22, admitted that these attacks were, indeed, a message sent by the militant groups to him. Evidently, the message, if it was intended to be one, has been delivered, loud and clear.
The Army vowed to respond by stepping up and broadening the sweep of its counter-insurgency operations in the State. Operations, the Army spokesman said, would now include areas along the international border as well as the Hill Districts. On October 3, the Army launched 'Operation Stinger' targeting the militants in the Karang Island and the nearby Loktak lake in the Bishnupur District. The operation, which concluded on October 6, resulted in the elimination of six militants and the Army spokesman claimed that the area had been cleared of the militants' presence. However, going by the achievements in past area-domination operations (two such operations were launched in April and October, 2004), both of which were much larger in terms of personnel involved and days spent, such initiatives are not expected to have much of an impact on the level of militancy in the State.
A major SF concern on the thriving militancy in the State has been the porous 332 kilometre long border with Myanmar, which the militants have used to carry out attacks and then retreat to their bases in that country. In 2003, a proposal was mooted by the Manipur Government to fence the entire border length to prevent the movement of militants, drug peddlers and other unauthorised persons. However, a previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government sponsored-survey in some border areas had to be called off as hilly and inaccessible terrain made the entire exercise an 'impossible' proposition.
The 'open' border, however, was not a factor in the recent attacks on the SFs. In fact none of the three districts in which the incidents occurred - Tamenglong, Bishnupur and Imphal East - share any border with Myanmar. These incidents, in fact, demonstrate that after nearly two decades of a massive security build up in the State, the militants still manage to retain their presence within the State, carve out their 'liberated zones' and carry out operations at will.
The other concern is of course, the recently demonstrated ability of the militants to expand their areas of activity well beyond their own traditional strongholds and deep inside the 'Naga Districts'. The KYKL's areas of domination are districts such as Imphal East and West, Bishnupur and Thoubal. No activity by this group had previously been reported in the Tamenglong District, which is a Naga-dominated territory, which has been the scene of some internecine clashes between the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM and NSCN-K). There had been little by way of counter-insurgency operations in the Naga-inhabited districts of the State, courtesy the tenuous peace talks with the NSCN-IM and the yet-to-start negotiations with the NSCN-K. That seems to have provided the opportunity for the Valley-based groups to plan their operations against the SFs, who were not expecting and not prepared for attacks in these areas.
On June 24, 2005, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, speaking in the State Legislative Assembly, had talked about emerging linkages between the Naga and Manipuri (Valley) militants. He had also indicated that the Government had a detailed report of important leaders of militant groups operating in Manipur taking refuge in neighbouring Nagaland's Dimapur town. He had further alleged that leaders of these militant groups, who had repeatedly declined offers for negotiations, have moved into camps of the NSCN-IM. It is, of course, not clear why, in spite of such reports, the SFs were taken by surprise by the KYKL attack in Tamenglong.
The Government appears to have ignored the basic necessity of not letting down its guard in areas of apparent or relative peace surrounding or abutting zones of conflict. The militants have consequently been allowed to exploit these as safe havens, and eventually to consolidate their presence there. Worse, the areas adjacent to Manipur - beyond the reach of the State's counter-insurgency strategy - are themselves problematic, with little by way of counter-insurgency operations or vigilance along the inter-State borders. There is relative normalcy in Assam's Cachar area, which shares a border with Manipur. This is also the case with the Aizawl and Champhai Districts of Mizoram and districts like Phek and Kohima in Nagaland. There is little coordination, in spite of the several proposals and brain-storming sessions to this effect, between the security set-up in Manipur and that of neighbouring Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram.
Even as most of the States in the troubled northeast have shown different measures of progress towards normalcy, exploiting a medley of 'political' and 'military' approaches, Manipur's little wars appear to have become the more intractable, without a hint of a solution in sight. Out of the 472 insurgency related fatalities in the Northeast in 2005 (upto October 3), as many as 250- well over half - have taken place in Manipur, which accounts for just 0.23 per cent of the region's population, and 0.68 per cent of its total geographical area. All the four Valley districts of Manipur continue to be affected by militancy and Government control over the remaining five Hills Districts is, at best, tenuous, given the unending schism between the Meiteis and the Nagas.
On September 22, the Defence Minister claimed that as many as eight insurgent groups in Manipur had entered into an informal 'ceasefire' with the Government. A Ministry of Defence Press Release, on October 7, listed eight Kuki and one Zomi militant group, with whom 'cessation of operations' agreements had been concluded, with effect from August 1, 2005. In a State that has been held hostage for years by an estimated 10,000 cadres of about 15 active insurgent groups, the 'engagement' with more than half of these makes impressive reading, at least on paper. On the ground, however, it does not appear to have made much of a difference to the levels of insurgency-related incidents and casualties, as the most prominent and lethal of the lot, the UNLF, the PLA, the PREPAK and the KYKL, remain steadfastly opposed to negotiations for peace.
The State's security apparatus involves a 14,000-strong police force (both armed and civil) - the third largest in the region behind Assam and Nagaland - four India Reserve Battalions, as well as very strong contingents of the Army and para-military forces. And yet, the impact on Manipur's militancy appears negligible. With a fractious and paralysed political leadership looking constantly to the Centre for a 'solution', and the Centre's 'initiatives' revolving around a failed cycle of negotiations and area domination exercises by the SFs, there is little evidence of probability of any significant containment of the violence in Manipur, or any visible advance towards a resolution of the protracted conflict that has made life impossible for its people.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
October 3-9, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
At least 26 persons killed during ethnic clashes in Assam in the last fortnight: On October 9, six persons from the Bura Fanchu and Longsing Engti villages were killed and hundreds of houses were set ablaze by unidentified terrorists in separate incidents under Diphu and Bokajan Police Stations in the Karbi Anglong District. N.N. Goswami, Additional Superintendent of Police, disclosed that the killings were due to a clash of interests between the United People's Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) and Dima Halim Daogah (DHD). The total number of killings in the ethnic clashes has now reached 26 since September 26, 2005. The clashes reportedly commenced with the murder of three youths from the Dimasa tribe, allegedly by the UPDS, a Karbi outfit. The DHD has subsequently retaliated by carrying out attacks on Karbi villages. Assam Tribune, The Telegraph, October 10, 2005.
security force personnel
killed in Jharkhand:
13 security force (SF) personnel
were killed in a bomb blast
triggered by the Communist
Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)
near Baniadih village in
the Chatra District of Jharkhand
on October 8, 2005. The
blast occurred when a police
patrol attempted to open
a box, which they had been
told contained documents
about Maoist activities,
in Chatra district, approximately
200 km northwest of capital
Ranchi. "Police had gone
there after a tip-off. They
found this box, which was
actually a bomb. It now
looks like a trap," said
Superintendent of Police,
Sashinath Jha. Expressindia,
October 8, 2005.
Britain suspends sale of lethal equipment to Nepal: Britain said on October 5, 2005, that it had suspended the sale of any lethal equipment to Nepal. "We have suspended the sale of any lethal equipment to Nepal. The suspension stands", British Defence Secretary John Reid said at a conference in the Indian capital New Delhi. Maintaining that the situation in Nepal has not changed, he said "should we feel that there is a need for resumption (of arm supplies), we will continue our engagements with the Government of India." Outlook, October 5, 2005.
Eight persons killed in attack on Ahmadiyya place of worship in Punjab province: Eight persons were killed and 19 others sustained injuries when unidentified assailants opened fire inside an Ahmadiyya place of worship at Mong village in the Punjab province on October 7, 2005. Area police chief, Ziaullah Niazi, stated that "Two masked men entered the worship place and calmly sprayed bullets at people standing in two rows for morning prayers." Gujranwala Deputy Inspector General of Police Zafar Abbas Luk added that 20 activists of sectarian groups had been detained for questioning. Dawn, October 8, 2005.
Four Pakistan Air Force employees sentenced to death in Musharraf assassination attempt case: Four of the six junior employees of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) involved in the assassination attempt on President Pervez Musharraf on December 14, 2003, and tried by a Court Martial of the PAF during the last six months, have been awarded death sentences, while two others have been awarded life imprisonment, a PAF press release said on October 4, 2005. The proceedings of the court martial concluded on October 3 and the convicts have the right to appeal as per provisions of the PAF Act. Another person involved in the same assassination attempt, a civilian identified as Mushtaq, had already been tried and sentenced to death. Jang, October 5, 2005.
Taliban spokesperson Mufti Latifullah Hakimi arrested in Balochistan: The Taliban spokesperson, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, was arrested on October 4, 2005, in the Balochistan province. Federal Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao confirmed the arrest but did not provide details as to how and where Hakimi was detained. Hakimi, hailing from the south-western Kandahar province, remained the Taliban spokesperson for more than two years. He served as head of the information department in the western Herat province during the Taliban rule. Jang, October 5, 2005.
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