SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Reframing ‘Strategic Depth’
Ramankutty Maniyappan, a 36-year old from the southern Indian State of Kerala, and an employee of the Indian Border Roads Organisation (BRO), was abducted on November 19, 2005. His beheaded body was found on a road between Zaranj, the capital of the Nimroz province, and an area called Ghor Ghori, four days later. Following his abduction, Taliban spokesperson Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, had claimed that they had given the BRO an ultimatum to leave Afghanistan within 48 hours, failing which they would behead Maniyappan.
Maniyappan was among an estimated 300 Indians working on the strategic 218 kilometre road in southwestern Afghanistan, which will link the main Kandahar-Herat highway to the Iran border. The US$ 84 million project, funded and executed by India, will provide Afghanistan a shorter route to the sea via the Iranian port of Chabahar than is currently available through Pakistan. Iran, India and Afghanistan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in January 2003, to improve Afghanistan's access to the coast. Under this agreement, Iran is building a new transit route to connect Milak in the southeast of the country to Zaranj in Afghanistan, and has already completed an important bridge over the Helmand River. On its part, India is building a new road connecting Zaranj to Delaram, which is on the main Herat-Kandahar road. These projects will shorten the transit distance between Chabahar and Delaram by over 600 kilometres. According to the MoU, Afghan goods will have duty-free access to the Iranian port and will have to pay not more than what is applied to Iranian traders for using its territory for transit purposes. India is to enjoy similar benefits as Afghanistan at Chabahar port and for transit. Furthermore, India and Iran have also agreed to build a railroad from Chabahar to the Iranian Central Railway Station, thus creating a link to the Karachi-Tehran Railway line, which goes further westwards. While Afghanistan gains access to realize its trade potential, India will be able to prevail over hurdles posed by Pakistan in refusing to allow the transit of Indian goods en route to Afghanistan.
The project, consequently, has direct ramifications for three countries, and impacts on Pakistan by default. Afghanistan, the host country that is still a long way away from recovery, continues as a playground for competing foreign policy agendas and a ‘new great game’ is evidently being played out on its soil.
Apart from the BRO-executed project, some 2,000 Indians are involved in a diverse array of reconstruction projects, prominently including the building of a 220 KV double circuit transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri in eastern Afghanistan to Kabul ($111 million); a sub-station at Kabul; the reconstruction of the Salma Dam Power Project in Herat province ($80 million) being executed by the Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Ltd. India is also assisting in the reconstruction of the Habibia School, which boasts alumni like Afghan President Hamid Karzai and former King Zahir Shah. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh inaugurated the school during his visit to Kabul in August 2005. India has altogether pledged $550 million to the reconstruction of Afghanistan in sectors that include basic infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, industry, telecommunication, information and broadcasting.
The Maniyappan incident is not the first of its kind involving the abduction of an Indian in Afghanistan by the Taliban. In 2003, two Indians, Murali and Varada Rao, working for a private construction company, were abducted in Zabul province and subsequently released after 19 days in captivity. The Taliban detests India’s proximity with the Hamid Karzai regime and leaders of the erstwhile Northern Alliance. On November 19, the day Maniyappan was abducted, India had announced that it was awarding the prestigious Indira Gandhi Peace Prize for 2005 to President Karzai, a gesture intended to convey India’s commitment to Afghanistan. Indian firms involved in the reconstruction effort, including the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, C&C Constructions and WAPCOS, have, despite the Maniyappan murder, ruled out any scaling down of activity in Afghanistan.
These projects, however, do not affect Pakistani ambitions to the degree that the building of the Zaranj-Delaram Road would. Although, India’s External Affairs Ministry, in a statement from New Delhi, stated that "The Taliban and its backers bear the responsibility for the consequences of this outrageous act", an unnamed Afghan Government official was more unqualified in his confirmation of the Pakistani role in the killing of the BRO worker: "It was not to Pakistan’s liking that India was helping to construct this road (the Zaranj-Delaram highway). Obviously, they would try to disrupt the project." Subsequently, on November 27, India’s National Security Adviser, M.K. Narayanan also asserted that Pakistan had a role in Maniyappan’s killing, and had conspired with the Taliban to engineer this "ill-motivated act".
Afghanistan, increasingly the ‘forgotten frontier’ of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), has witnessed a substantial increase in violence during 2005, claiming at least 1,500 lives, including 84 American troops, the highest toll since 2001. Last year, the death toll was about 850. Aid workers are an obvious target in Afghanistan. According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Organisation, 30 people involved in aid projects have died in 2005, as compared to 24 in the previous year. Worse, three suicide attacks in November 2005 indicated a shift towards ‘Iraq-style tactics’ by the Taliban. Close to nine such attacks have taken place nationwide since September 28, when a uniformed man on a motorcycle detonated a bomb outside an Afghan Army Training Centre, killing nine persons. Taliban spokesperson Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, confirmed such a shift in strategy: "it is true that we have started a series of suicide attacks mainly against foreign troops who have invaded Afghanistan." Expressing surprise at the turn of events, a senior UN official said, "We never imagined we would still be talking about a Taliban insurgency four years on."
The U.S., which has conferred ‘frontline state’ eminence on Islamabad, has a strange take on the Pakistani strategy. The Report on the Status of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations, published by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, unequivocally stated:
The Report noted further:
At the other end, there are reports that Americans are attempting, assisted, not surprisingly, by Pakistan, to accommodate the Taliban leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar within the power structure in Afghanistan. Islamabad, on its part, is interested in ensuring the Taliban's representation in the future governance of Afghanistan in order to reframe its quest for ‘strategic depth’.
Afghanistan has consistently been expressing concern over Islamabad’s continuing attempts to interfere in and regain control over events in the country. The head of Afghanistan’s reconciliation commission, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, told reporters in Kabul on November 12, 2005,
Back in Pakistan, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, a stalwart of the Islamist movement and one of the most prominent patrons of the Taliban, confirmed in an interview to Adnkronos International on November 24, that it was "a fact that the Taliban are Afghan Nationals and they are still studying in Pakistani madrassas." And for the seminaries which spawn the Taliban it is ‘business as usual’ . President Musharraf's campaign to get madrassas registered by December 2005 has, by all accounts, fizzled out due to a ‘lack of co-operation’ from the apex bodies of religious schools. The Wafaq-ul-Madaris, Pakistan’s main confederacy of seminaries that runs approximately 8,200 institutions, has refused to follow the Madaris Registration Ordinance 2005, along with two other bodies – the Tanzeemat-e-Madaris Deeniya and the Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Ahle Sunnat – saying the process was intended to curb the "independence and sovereignty" of the madrassas.
There have been a series of high-profile arrests and incidents that indicate that the Taliban continues to maintain a vibrant presence in Pakistani territory, especially in the provinces of Balochistan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Pakistani authorities have fitfully and selectively acted against some Taliban elements from time to time, though there are continuous reports of very substantial freedom of movement and activity granted to the main body of the force and its leadership. Mullah Abdul Mannan Hanafi and Mullah Mohammad Akbar, former Taliban provincial governors and military commanders, for instance, were shot dead by ‘unidentified assailants’ in Peshawar on November 8, 2005. Incidentally, Hanafi was the ‘military commander’ in Bamiyan when the Taliban demolished the two Buddha statues there. After the Taliban defeat, Hanafi was arrested in Balochistan by Pakistani authorities and detained for a few months, but was eventually set free due to ‘lack of evidence’ of his involvement in terrorist activity. Earlier, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, informed the media on October 4, 2005, in Quetta, capital of Balochistan, that they had arrested Abdul Latif Hakimi, Taliban’s chief spokesperson, and five others, from the province. Hakimi was in regular contact with the media, speaking by satellite telephone from ‘undisclosed locations’ and often made claims of inflicting huge casualties on US and Afghan troops. In June 2005, when an MH-47 helicopter was shot down in the Kunar province bordering Pakistan, killing all 16 U.S. troops on board, Hakimi claimed the incident even before U.S. or Afghan officials acknowledged it. While some of his claims have been fanciful, there was no doubt that Hakimi was aware of several Taliban operations, and was based in Pakistan – more often than not, in Balochistan.
Although this has been adequately documented in global reportage, it merits repetition here that the Taliban have regrouped rather well, although it may still be incapable of launching an Iraq-type insurgency. This is particularly the case in the Afghan countryside, particularly in provinces dominated by the Pashtuns along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Pakistani and Taliban stratagem is favoured further by the unfortunate fact that the Karzai regime has little control over southern and eastern Afghanistan. Sources indicate that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Hizb-e-Islami operatives, functioning from sanctuaries in and around Balochistan, have amplified their activities since March 2005.
has evidently allowed the Taliban to regroup within its
territory and to launch attacks across the border. Despite
selective arrests, there is no indication that Pakistan
is about to cut the Taliban’s lifeline on its soil. The
essential objective is to prevent the Karzai regime from
stabilizing without a pre-dominant Pakistani role. In many
ways, this is an existential strategy as far as Pakistan
is concerned: a strong and stable regime in Kabul would
immediately put the Durand Line into question, and further
destabilize North Balochistan and the NWFP. Pakistan, consequently,
will continue its efforts to recover ‘strategic depth’ in
Afghanistan, using the Taliban as a proxy, but will do so
within limits that do not invite US ire and reprisals. Maintaining
a threshold level of violence and subversion is integral
to this strategy in Afghanistan – even as it is to Pakistan’s
strategy in Indian Jammu and Kashmir.
War on Terror
On November 14, two Assistant Judges of the Jhalakathi District, Jagannath Pandey and Sohel Ahmed, on the way to their Courts, were bombed to death by a katel (killer) squad member of the Jama’at-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). The assassin, Mamun Ali, was caught by the locals and handed over to the police. The incident, the first of its kind in the country, is yet another stage in a progressive unravelling, and dramatically undermines the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led coalition’s efforts to inveigle the world into believing that, by proscribing a few terrorist groups and the arrest of a few hundred alleged ‘militants’, the country has established a firm grip over its slide into chaos.
The August 17, 2005, bombings, the high point of terrorist mobilisation across the country, led to an ostensibly frantic search for the JMB Chief Abdur Rahman and the Jagrata Janata Muslim Bangladesh (JMJB) commander Bangla Bhai, backed by a Government reward of US $152,000 for information leading to their arrests. Both the leaders have been able to elude the ‘long’ arm of the law, though some 300 non-descript Islamist militants have been arrested from various districts across the country. Reports indicated that Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) personnel came close to arresting Abdur Rahman in Dhaka’s Banashree area on November 19 after receiving a ‘vital input’, but he escaped following what is believed to have been a tip-off from an official source.
In the meantime, reports indicate that the JMB has raised a 2,000 strong suicide cadre, even as the katel group compiles dossiers on potential targets, including members of the RAB. These developments have evidently sent tremors through Dhaka – despite the Government’s long record of cover-ups and denial. State Minister for Home Affairs, Lutfozzaman Babar, who denied the existence of the JMB and the JMJB in January 2005, finally acknowledged the problem in a statement on November 17, declaring, "This has made the Government worried (sic)".
Despite the spike in terrorist activities in Bangladesh over the past months, it is evident that the death squads remain grossly underutilized, and the August 17 incidents are a pointer to the spread and capacity that the terrorists have consolidated across the country. Over the past three months, there have been a significant number of threats issued against government offices, newspaper houses, law-enforcers, the judiciary and political activists. The militants have mixed into the general population, posing as hawkers and petty traders, or simply working as rickshaw-pullers, making them an invisible and ubiquitous enemy even as they prepare for the next wave of terrorist strikes.
Mamun Ali’s interrogation has revealed interesting facets of the dynamics of terrorist mobilisation in Bangladesh. His confessional statement, recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, discloses that some of the suicide and death squad members have been trained in Afghanistan. Mamun himself had joined the outfit in year 2000 and was soon co-opted into its death squad. Many of the katel members are reported to have been recruited from the families of militant cadres killed in separate encounters by the RAB, exploiting their inherent desire for vengeance against the enforcement agencies. Compact discs seized from the JMB hideout in the Banashree area of Dhaka on November 22 contained details of several ‘encounters’ across the country, as also personal information of many RAB personnel, indicating that the JMB has plans to strike at the RAB. The family of each suicide bomber has been promised Taka 50,000 to 100,000 or more as compensation for their ‘sacrifice’. With generous funding continuing to flow in from foreign sources, securing the loyalty of the katel squad members has been rather easy for the JMB.
The financial resources at the disposal of the militants are enormous. Intelligence sources suggest that JMB spends roughly Taka six million a year for maintaining its full-time leaders and cadres, and Taka ten to fifty million for buying explosives and firearms, and operational costs. Little has been done by the Government to disrupt the uninterrupted flow of such funds from organisations like the Kuwait-based Revival of Islamic Heritage Society. More than two months after the August 17 blasts, JMB leaders continue to transact through several of their Bank accounts throughout the country. Chequebooks recovered from the JMB’s Rangpur hideout on November 23 revealed that the outfit has recently withdrawn Taka 9,00,000 from three accounts with two banks – Al Arafa Islami Bank, Dhaka, and the Bogra Bazar Branch of Sonali Bank in the Bogra District.
The official response to the growing tentacles of Islamist radicalism has been rather unique. Following the November 14 judges’ killings, the Government circulated a compilation of four verses from the Holy Quran and the Hadith to the media offices. The Arabic verses followed by translations in Bengali – advocating moderation and condemning violence in general, and particularly violence against fellow-Muslims, as well as fitna or anarchy – appeared to be a principal component of the official counter-campaign against the violent religious fanaticism. But the Government’s proclivity to fall back on Islamic verses runs the danger of reinforcing radical Islamist mobilisation, rather than devising a response to it.
The enormity of the problem and the corresponding lack of capabilities among law enforcers to deal with them is, however, not the most significant component of the regime’s failure. The BNP’s stubborn resistance to take its coalition partner, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), to task was evident in its November 24 decision to strip party law-maker Abu Hena, the MP from Bagmara in Rajshahi district, of party membership for speaking against the Jamaat. Hena had linked the rise of the extremists with that of the Jamaat.
With only 17 seats out of the 300 in the Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly) and two ministers in the Union Cabinet, the Jamaat has engineered a slow but steady rise in national politics. Speaking on April 30, 2005, the JeI Chief, Matiur Rahman Nizami, said that his party had achieved its ‘short-term goal’ of coming into mainstream politics and asked his party colleagues to now work to achieve the ‘long-term programme’ to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic State. The Islami Chhatra Shibir (the student wing of the JeI) has wrested control of the students’ union of the Rajshahi University, the second largest university in the country, replacing the BNP’s student wing. Soon after the election in April, Shahdat-al-Hiqma, the militant group that was proscribed in February 2002, pasted 5,000 posters on the walls of the University’s buildings, asking students to "take up arms to eradicate injustice". Considerable Islamist mobilisation has also been reported from Khulna University in November 2005. The Jamaat is making inroads into the bureaucracy as well. Among others, Sarfaraj Hossain, the Home Secretary, is reported to have Jamaat connections. Many of the arrested cadres of the JMB have told their interrogators that their activities went unnoticed because they enjoyed the blessings of local officers who, in turn, were influenced by Jamaat leaders.
The Jamaat is umbilically linked with the Islamist extremists in Bangladesh, and this nexus is very well documented. It not a matter of coincidence that many JMB cadres, including the arrested death squad cadre, Mamun, share a Jamaat or a Shibir past. Intelligence officials, in the last week of October 2005, spoke of the existence of a decade-long Islamist militant strategy, adopted in 1998, to prepare an atmosphere compatible with an Islamic revolution in Bangladesh. Jamaat’s ‘long-term programme’, by all indications, bears an uncanny resemblance with this ‘decade-long plan’. The irony is that the extremists are able to piggy-back on one of the mainstream political parties, the BNP, whose long term-existence they directly threaten.
With significant and continuous official patronage, Islamist extremism is assuming monstrous proportions in Bangladesh, and the state remains grossly inept in its efforts to contain this growth. A mere and belated acknowledgement of the existence of the problem will no more make it go away than years of denial did. Bangladesh will have to go well beyond its current ‘thus far and no further’ approach, and its strategies based on the publication of scriptural texts, to rein in the forces of terror. Regrettably, official initiatives suggest that the Government is yet to decide on such a course of action.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
November 21-27, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Taliban kills abducted Indian in Afghanistan: A body found by Afghan authorities near Zaranj in the Nimroz province of Afghanistan on November 23, 2005, was identified as that of Ramankutty Maniyappan, a Border Roads Organisation (BRO) driver abducted by the Taliban on November 19. On November 22, Taliban spokesperson Qari Mohammad Yusuf had telephoned Reuters to claim that Maniyappan was executed as the BRO did not agree to pull out of Afghanistan. Maniyappan is the first Indian to be executed by the Taliban. The Hindu, November 24, 2005.
71 persons killed and 4,013 abducted during unilateral ceasefire period, says RNA: On November 25, 2005 Colonel Umesh Bhattarai, acting spokesperson at the Royal Nepalese Army's (RNA) Directorate of Public Relations, stated that, "Maoist terrorists abducted 4,013 people and murdered 19 others after their so-called unilateral ceasefire. This proves that the ceasefire is intended only to re-strengthen and re-organise themselves." He also said the Maoists were involved in "rampant firing" in 14 incidents and other "terrorist activities" in 33 incidents. Six RNA soldiers also died, while 46 Maoists were killed during the period.The Himalayan Times, November 26, 2005.
Maoists and seven parties’ alliance reaches agreement: The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) on November 22, 2005 announced that it has entered into an agreement with the seven agitating political parties to "abolish the autocratic monarchy" and offered to accept ‘total democracy’, as demanded by the parties, and keep its armed forces under the supervision of the United Nations or any other reliable international institution ‘during an election to the Constituent Assembly’. "The country is in need of positive solution to the armed conflict and permanent peace. We [Maoists] are fully committed to bring the armed conflict to an end and establish permanent peace after ending the autocratic monarchy and hold election to the Constituent Assembly as a process of establishing total democracy. In this regard, agreement has been reached [with the parties] to keep the Maoist armed forces and the Royal Army under the supervision of the United Nations’ or any other reliable international institution during the process of election to the Constituent Assembly to be conducted after the end of autocratic monarchy," said Maoist chairman Prachanda. Nepalnews, November 23, 2005.
Commonwealth asks President Musharraf to resolve uniform issue by 2007: Leaders of the 53-nation Commonwealth on November 27, 2005, warned President Pervez Musharraf that retaining his role as leader of the Army "is incompatible with the basic principles of democracy". And they said that until he gives up his military role, Pakistan remained in danger of sliding into repression, despite its recent progress. In a statement at the end of a three-day summit in Valletta, capital of Malta, they welcomed Pakistan’s progress in restoring democracy since its reinstatement to the Commonwealth in 2004, and gave it two years to resolve the issue of Musharraf’s dual role. Commonwealth leaders "reiterated that until the two offices are separated, the process of democratisation in Pakistan will not be irreversible", the statement said. Jang, November 28, 2005.
LTTE serves ultimatum to Government: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on November 27, 2005, issued an ultimatum to the new Government to come up with a ‘reasonable' political settlement by December 31 or risk the setting up of a separate Tamil state. LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, in his annual ‘Martyr's Day’ address, said that their patience was wearing thin and he was making a final appeal for a political settlement that would answer their call for a separate state for the Tamils. "This is our urgent and final appeal… If the new government rejects our urgent appeal, we will, next year... establish self-government in our homeland," he said. In his speech from an undisclosed venue in Kilinochchi, Prabhakaran said: "Since President Rajapakse is considered to be a realist committed to pragmatic politics we wish to find out, first of all, how he is going to handle the peace process and whether he will offer justice to our people. Therefore we have decided to wait and observe, for some time, his political manoeuvres and actions." He is also reported to have said that "We were compelled to engage in the negotiating process by the intervention of the Indian regional superpower at a particular historical period and by the pressure of the international community at a later period." Daily News, The Times of India, November 28, 2005.
Current ceasefire agreement to be revised, says President Rajapakse: In his Statement of Government Policy at the opening of the new Parliamentary session in Colombo on November 25, 2005, President Mahinda Rajapakse set out the broad parameters of his Government's new and inclusive approach for 'peace with dignity' to end the ethnic conflict. "Our method is discussion instead of war. We are aware that such discussions are not simple and easy. Yet, it is the only way to peace," he said. Rajapakse added that the current Ceasefire Agreement would be revised to ensure the protection of human rights, prevent recruitment of children for war, safeguard national security, and prevent terrorist acts. The Hindu, November 26, 2005.
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