SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Turf War in a Time of Truce
22 persons, mostly Karbis, were hacked to death after being dragged out of a Diphu-bound bus at village Zirikindang in the Northeastern State of Assam in the morning of October 17, 2005, bringing to 60 the total fatalities in a three-week long orgy of violence in the Karbi Anglong District in southern Assam..
On October 10, 2005, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had already removed all doubts surrounding the identity of the marauding groups of armed and unarmed men who were raiding Karbi and Dimasa tribal villages in Karbi Anglong District. Gogoi, after a visit to the District, blamed two rebels groups, the United People's Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) and the Dima Halim Daogah (DHD), of 'violating ceasefire ground rules'. The Chief Minister went to the extent of saying that 'stern action' would be taken against the rebel groups, directly implicating them in the latest spate of violence in which civilians were targeted.
A definite pattern is evident in the recent violence. Though they seem unconnected on first sight, the origin of the latest troubles can be traced to a grenade explosion on September 24, 2005, at Parokhowa, near the adjoining central Assam District town of Nagaon, in which eight persons were injured. It was a random attack near a market, and not directed at a particular community. But two days later, on September 26, bodies of three auto-rickshaw drivers, all of them belonging to the Dimasa tribe, were found near the town of Manza. This was the turning point. On October 3, armed men attacked Hemari Terang village, inhabited by Karbi tribes-people, and killed five members belonging to a single family. Another three Karbis were hacked to death with machetes near the village of Dilli, on the road to Dimapur, the commercial hub of the adjacent Nagaland State.
A cycle of revenge attacks continued till October 10. Before dawn that day, hours before the Chief Minister's visit to Karbi Anglong, armed Karbis descended on the Dimasa village of Kheroni, just about 12 kilometers from the District headquarter town of Diphu, and shot five people dead. On this occasion, an estimated 200 Karbis were said to have swooped on the village to carry out the raid. Besides the killings, more than 60 houses were torched. Earlier, on October 8 and 9, at least 16 Karbis had been killed in separate incidents, the worst being the murder of six Karbis at village Bagmari. After days of lull, on October 15, armed Karbis set ablaze more than 100 houses in two abandoned Dimasa villages in the Lungrat area, about 26 kilometer from Diphu. Tribal leaders told this writer that the pattern was more or less the same in attacks on both Karbi and Dimasa villages - 15 to 20 armed men carrying AK-47 and other weapons would lead large groups of other community members and raid villages inhabited by the 'rival' community.
Developments in far-flung districts often go unnoticed, but the situation in Karbi Anglong has long been highly volatile. At least four rebel groups operate in the District, of which the UPDS and a faction of the DHD led by Dilip Nunisa have entered into a ceasefire with the authorities. The UPDS ceasefire deal with the Government dates back to May 23, 2002, while the DHD truce came about on January 1, 2003. Another Karbi group that still remains opposed to talks is the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), a breakaway faction of the UPDS. Finally, a DHD faction that has not joined the peace process is headed by the group's founder, Jewel Garlosa. According to Assam Police sources, the DHD faction that signed a truce had 450 listed cadres, while the UPDS has around 150 listed members. Police officials admit that KLNLF has a larger number of rebel cadres and is 'quite strong'. The Garlosa faction of the DHD is said to have only 'a few' members.
In the case of small rag-tag rebel groups in the Northeast, it is often noticed that they do not take much time to close ranks if the issue in question happens to be a turf war against a rival ethnic group. The KLNLF is on record calling on the UPDS to snap the truce and unite with it so that they could jointly fight the Indian authorities and achieve 'self-determination and self-rule' for the Karbis. Within this context, it would be incorrect to conclude that only the UPDS has been involved in the attacks on the Dimasas. Similarly, it is likely that both the DHD factions may have lent their support in the raids on Karbi villages.
Since both the UPDS and the DHD are engaged in peace talks with the Government, the leaders of the two groups could be hoping for a solution sooner rather than later. It is likely, consequently, that they have embarked on a strategy to dominate their respective areas of influence, even attempting a sort of ethnic cleansing to drive out members of the other community from the areas of their 'control' - tactics characteristic of other groups in the past, which had entered into a settlement with the Government. Moreover, with the State Assembly polls due in April-May 2006, the two groups could be involved in a show of strength to ensure the victory of as many candidates as possible from their respective communities.
Fratricidal violence among ethnic groups has been common in Karbi Anglong district, spread over a 10,434 square kilometer area, half of which is covered by thick jungles. There have been clashes between Karbis and Khasis, Karbis and Kukis, and other ethnic confrontations in recent years. But, the Karbi-Dimasa animosity, which has led to the present and bloody clashes, has grown in intensity since mid-2004, when tension emerged in the Missibailam area in the District, dominated by Dimasas. The area is close to Nagaland and the tension was over reports that parts of the area was under illegal occupation by Nagas. A magistrate from Assam was killed on July 1, 2004, while leading a team, accompanied by policemen, to evict the Nagas. It was said that Naga rebels, settled in the vicinity in adjoining Nagaland territory, had fired at the Assam team. The impression then was that some Dimasa tribal leaders had permitted the Nagas to settle down, a charge the Dimasas denied. Thereafter, Karbi hardliners started viewing a section of the Dimasa leaders with suspicion, blaming them of compromising their territory.
Unofficial reports indicate that the inaccessible hill-top hamlets in Karbi Anglong, located close to Nagaland's Dimapur area, have become a safe haven for a number of small armed gangs, many of which function on a purely mercenary basis. These armed men are apparently used by Naga, Meitei and Karbi rebel groups, including 'influential people' in the State. Established rebel groups are believed to use them for their extortion operations, while others possibly use them to settle scores. The District also has a sizeable Kuki population. Unsurprisingly, the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), a rebel group fighting for maximum autonomy for the Kukis, who are spread over Assam and Manipur, is also active in the District. On September 13, 2005, suspected KRA rebels shot eight Karbis dead at village Kangburatisso, 18 kilometers from Diphu. Earlier, in March 2004, KRA rebels had killed 29 Karbi tribes-people in a string of attacks on a single day.
There can be little hope for a permanent peace in the area unless these many groups are disarmed and disbanded. Currently, an effective mechanism even to monitor violations of the laid down ceasefire ground rules by the UPDS and the DHD is lacking. According to the terms of the ceasefire, cadres of rebel groups who have entered into a truce with the Government are supposed to stay put at the designated camps and cannot carry weapons while going out of such camps. The latest incidents in Karbi Anglong indicate that militants have not only moved out of such designated camps but had also carried and used their weapons. The judicial probe instituted by the Chief Minister has the potential to throw some light on the prevailing situation and the reasons behind the latest mayhem.
The notion that all is not well in the Pakistan Army has been reinforced with the unprecedented execution on August 20, 2005, of Abdul Islam Siddiqui, a member of the Armed Forces, on charges of plotting to assassinate President General Pervez Musharraf in collaboration with the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
The Military Court documents identify the executed soldier as Abdul Islam Siddiqui (Army No. 8831068) of the Defence Services Guard Company attached to the Punjab Regiment, who was found involved in a conspiracy to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf by blowing up the Jhanda Chichi Bridge near the 10-Corps Headquarters in Rawalpindi with the help of C-4 explosives on December 14, 2003. Musharraf, however, survived the attempt, apparently due to the signal jamming device that prevented the remote control triggers from blowing up the dynamited bridge when his motorcade passed over it. The bridge blew up less than a minute after the presidential motorcade had gone by, and Musharraf had a new lease of life.
The other charges against Siddiqui include abetting mutiny against Musharraf and attempting to persuade a person in the military to rebel against the Government. Siddiqui was also charged with receiving terrorism training at Bhimber in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) during August 2002 at a Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp. He further defied military orders to fight in South Waziristan against fellow tribal citizens. The prosecution alleged that the soldier improperly remained associated with the Shuhada Foundation, an organization of the Pakistan Armed Forces (PAF), several of whose officer-bearers wanted to kill Musharraf. The Foundation was actually created by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to support bereaved families of those from the Pakistan Army who fight the Indian troops in J&K. Siddiqui was finally handed down a death sentence in mid-May 2005. He made a mercy petition to President Musharraf, which was turned down in June 2005, and the soldier was finally hanged in August.
Besides indicating the growing influence of several militant groups in the Army, the execution demonstrated that the Islamists from within were not exactly in step with Musharraf, and that something may be brewing in this most-disciplined Force, which might not be the sort of beverage Pakistan's first commando President would care for. The chasm has deepened continuously in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks because of Musharraf's half-hearted attempts to give the Army a liberal outlook, acceptable to the United States. A serious problem has, indeed, been simmering, and Musharraf had himself admitted, after the two failed attempts on his life in December 2003 in Rawalpindi, that Army officials were involved in the conspiracy.
Evidence of trouble within the Forces has been trickling out in the form of several judicial decisions. In January 2005, after court martial proceedings, a military court headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Sultan Noor Ali Khan of 96 Medium Air Defence Regiment, sentenced three officers of Pakistan Air Force to terms ranging from two to nine years for alleged links with the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Nauman Khattak, 18, and Saeed Alam, 19, were sentenced to two years in prison, while the third airman, Munir Ahmed, was awarded a nine-year sentence.
Three months later, in March 2005, the trial court handed down a death sentence [in absentia] to another accused in the conspiracy to assassinate General Musharraf, Naik Arshad Mahmood of the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Army and others, including Havaldar Mohammad Younis of the 98 Air Defence Regiment of the Army, who was awarded 10 years hard labour, and Lance Naik Zafar Iqbal Dogar of the SSG, who abandoned the mission halfway and became a key state witness at the Attock trial.
Six months later, on September 18, 2005, another military court comprising Major General Ahmad Nawaz and Brigadier Mumtaz Iqbal, sentenced Major Adil Qudoos to 10 years in prison, Colonel Abdul Ghaffar to three years and Colonel Khalid Abbasi to six months. Major Attaullah, Major Faraz and Captain Zafar were dismissed from service. These sentences were handed down a couple of weeks after the execution of Abdul Islam Siddiqui, who was executed after being tried in a closed-door Field General Court Martial, headed by a Major General of the Army.
Again, on October 4, 2005, another military trial court awarded a death sentence to four junior employees of the Pakistan Air Force allegedly involved in a failed assassination attempt on Musharraf at the Jhanda Chichi Bridge on December 14, 2003.
As things stand, the silent tug of war between Islamists and Reformists appears to have reached a boiling point. Despite Musharraf's much-trumpeted efforts in recent years to purge the military of jehadis and Islamists, many renegades have worked their way to the top echelons of the Armed Forces. Many of these deeply resent Musharraf's siding with the United States in its war on terror and Pakistan's subsequent strategic losses in Afghanistan. Many of them criticise their ambitious chief - albeit, in private - for wearing the two hats that he currently dons: military (Army Chief) and civilian (President). For the first time in the country's history, the intra-Army ideological and individual differences are being made public by the anti-Musharraf elements.
These fissures, though, rarely spilled out in the open through whispers in the corridors of power or hints in newspaper articles. All this changed in August 2003 following the arrest of a group of officers from the Pakistan Army for their alleged links to al-Qaeda and other extremist militant groups. These arrests were followed by the release of a letter in October 2003, allegedly by renegades within the Force, written on a GHQ letterhead and sporting the monogram of the Pakistan Army. The letter, which launched a scathing attack against Musharraf for his pro-American policies, literally brought to the fore the raging ideological conflict and internecine rivalry within the Pakistani Army. Addressed to the "national leadership", the letter described Musharraf and his cabal as national criminals who helped the Americans, Jews and Christians to kill Afghans: "Pervez Musharraf has turned Pakistan - the fort of Islam - into a slaughterhouse of the Muslims". It stated further,
The creeping coup of conservatism in the Army is a legacy of the country's third military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, under whose command the state policies were centered on Islam; religious sermons by fanatic mullahs in military units were encouraged and even Tableeghi Jamaat members were allowed to preach in the garrisons at will. Zia was the first Army Chief to attend the annual congregation of the Tableeghi Jamaat at Raiwind. Encouraged, many of the officers began to openly associate with the Tableeghi Jamaat, and to demonstrate their religiosity through act and visible symbol, something Army personnel had avoided in the past. That this freedom could be exploited by militant mullahs was not a consideration with the then military leadership, which had US blessings for waging the so-called Afghan jehad.
Even after Zia's death on August 17, 1988, people remained careful to pay at least lip service to his legacy. Musharraf himself, now a vocal proponent of enlightened moderation, praised Zia, and on the latter's death anniversary in August 2004 declared: "He was a patriot and a very God-fearing person". He proved his affection for Zia further by inducting the latter's elder son [Ejazul Haq] in the Federal Cabinet in 2004 as Minister for Religious Affairs. Even after Zia's death, the Army, largely as part of its strategic vision for the region, actively supported and promoted the Taliban in its formation and ultimate seizure of power in Afghanistan in 1996. The external factor contributing to this trend was Pakistan's active involvement with the Afghan resistance against Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan and the subsequent activism of the Afghan mujahideen.
The struggle against Soviet troops in Afghanistan enabled conservative Islamic groups to obtain acceptability as well as material and military resources. The ISI's active role in supporting the Afghan resistance brought Pakistan Army personnel and officers in contact with conservative Islamic groups who were engaged in the Afghan jehad. The decade-long ISI-sponsored Islamic militancy was bound to have implications for the Army, whose personnel were directly exposed to propaganda by Islamist groups and their demand for a 'genuinely Islamic order' for Pakistan. All this eventually led to a visible shift towards conservatism within the Pakistan Army.
This drift within the Army was first and dramatically revealed during Benazir Bhutto's second tenure as Prime Minister in 1995, when a group of senior Army officers headed by a Major General was caught planning to topple the Government and to eliminate the existing Army leadership. The arrest of dozens of commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the Army and the Air Force in connection with the December 2003 suicide attacks on Musharraf in Rawalpindi did not, consequently, come as a great surprise to many. And it probably did not surprise the military leadership that militants had penetrated the Army and Air Force units to preach their brand of jehad and recruit personnel to assassinate none other than their own Chief of Army Staff.
Interestingly, the evidence presented against the arrested Army officers during the Field General Court Martial at Attock Fort revealed that the jehadis involved in planning the suicide attacks on Musharraf used at least two locations within the garrison limits to preach their message. The first of these, where they apparently made their first known contact, was the Army Stadium, Rawalpindi, where a number of martial arts' Army instructors were preparing themselves for a competition. More significant was the visit by Rashid Qureshi, one of the principal accused in the failed assassination attempts, to an otherwise prohibited SSG camp in Abottabad in 2003.
With the help of a co-accused Arshad Mahmood, an SSG commando, Rashid Qureshi lectured a group of soldiers, first preaching religion, then jehad, and later trying to convince them that a Saudi mufti had issued a fatwa for Musharraf's killing. Some of the participants of that gathering, in their testimonies at the trial, have reportedly said they got furious on hearing such things against their Army Chief and asked the cleric to leave. One even said that he wanted to throw Qureshi out. But these claims may not be entirely true, since Qureshi was allowed to stay overnight at the SSG camp. More importantly, no one from the group of soldiers who were subjected to this incitement to rebel against the Army Chief deemed it necessary to report the matter to their superiors.
As things stand, several in-camera military trials are underway at the sixteenth-century Attock Fort, a part of which has been converted into a "maximum security detention centre". Several military courts are trying prisoners accused of planning and attempting to assassinate General Musharraf. The trials were ordered after an investigating team of the Army put together a body of evidence collated from a number of sources, seeking to demonstrate that the twin attacks on Musharraf were the handiwork of 'some misguided Islamic warriors' and 'a bunch of low ranking Army and Air Force personnel'. Over 40 Army and Air Force officers are currently locked behind the iron curtain of the Attock Fort, while 20 others are facing court martial proceedings at Kharian and Pannu Aqil Army Cantonments. In addition, a number of civilians, including members of several militant groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al Islami (HuJI), have also been charged with aiding, assisting and collaborating with the accused officers, to carry out the attacks.
While the August 20, 2005, execution of Sepoy Abdul Islam Siddiqui demonstrates General Musharraf's keen desire to send a clear message to extremist elements within the Armed Forces that the days of the jehadis are over and that all those who have sympathies with jehadi groups would be booted out, his critics warn that such extreme measures could backfire and inflame further resentment against him within the Forces.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
October 10-16, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Earthquake has severely affected Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba: The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), two terrorist groups operating from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), have suffered major losses in the October 8-earthquake, the Army's Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), Lt. Gen. Madan Gopal, informed the media in New Delhi on October 16, 2005. He declined to estimate the exact fatalities due to the quake, saying it would take time to get complete information. However, messages intercepted indicate that the HM seemed to have lost more cadres than the LeT and this could affect their operations in Jammu and Kashmir.The Hindu, October 16, 2005.
King Gyanendra directs Election Commission to hold parliamentary polls by April 2007: In a message to the nation on October 12, 2005, King Gyanendra directed the Election Commission to hold parliamentary elections to the House of Representatives by mid-April 2007. He also appealed to the international community for its active cooperation to conduct the parliamentary polls in a free and fair manner and added that the 'misguided lot' (Maoists) were free to join the political mainstream by ending violence. However, leaders of the mainstream political parties have reportedly opposed the plans for elections saying that it would not resolve the present political and constitutional crisis in the country. The Communist Party of Nepal (UML) General Secretary, Madhav Kumar Nepal, said, "Elections for the House of Representatives is not our demand, as it is not an alternative to the elections for the Constituent Assembly, the only way out of the present crisis." The Nepali Congress General Secretary, Ram Chandra Paudel, said the latest move is intended to legitimise the unconstitutional takeover by the King. The Himalayan Times, October 14, 2005; Nepalnews, October 13, 2005.
15 persons killed in sectarian violence in Gilgit: At least 15 people are reported to have died in separate incidents of sectarian violence on October 11-13, 2005 in the Gilgit town of Northern Areas of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Twelve persons, including four personnel of the Rangers and three women, were killed on October 13 when violence erupted after some Shia schoolboys held a demonstration demanding release of a student detained by Rangers in connection with an earlier incident of disturbance. Further, unidentified gunmen are reported to have killed one person and injured seven others by ambushing a vehicle on October 11-morning in the Baseen neighbourhood of Gilgit town. Separately, another civilian, Mohammad Khan, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at Naurote. Dawn, October 15 & 12, 2005.
Army and LTTE locked in a subversive war, says Norwegian envoy: The Sri Lanka Army and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are locked in a subversive war despite the truce since year 2002, said Major General Trond Furuhovde, former head of the team of Norwegian monitors who oversee the truce. "This is subversive war," Furuhovde, visiting Sri Lanka as a special representative of the Norwegian Government, told Sri Lanka's Foreign Correspondents' Association in Colombo on October 14, 2005. "Both parties are involved in this… It is alarming. All war is alarming. This is dangerous for the ceasefire and for the country," he added. Reuters, October 15, 2005.
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