SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Balochistan: The Province of Fear
For the past months, there has been a continuous stream of reports of massive troop movement and ‘anti-terrorist’ operations in Balochistan, and a parallel flow of denials by Government authorities. On November 17, 2005, Federal Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao declared that the "Federal Government has no plans for another military operation in Balochistan." The claim was reiterated by Balochistan Chief Secretary, K.B. Rind, on December 5, 2005, when he asserted that no Army operation was being conducted anywhere in the province. The same message has been communicated by officials of the Frontier Corps (FC), but assertions to the contrary remain as insistent.
Political commentators in Pakistan clarify that, "When the Pakistani Government says that there is no military operation in Balochistan, it only means that the regular Army is not involved."
Nawab Akbar Bugti, chief of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), and Sardar Attaullah Mengal, chief of the National Party, the most prominent of the sardars (feudal chieftains) who are leading the campaign for radical Constitutional amendments, including ‘equal representation to the four Provinces’ and a resolution to Balochistan’s long-standing grievances, insist that there has been a major build-up of Forces in the Province, and that ‘limited operations’ were already being executed in Turbat, Nushki and Kalat. They cited specific operations in Nushki, Kharan, Mustung and Mungochar as links in this chain. Bugti, in an interview on December 12, 2005, claimed that 15,000 FC personnel had been deployed for these operations. FC officials counter that the presence of the Force in Nushki and Kalat was ‘not for military purposes’, but for ‘security surveys’. On November 23, Interior Minister Sherpao had promised an ‘additional 2,000 troops’ to the FC, and had earlier, on November 17, indicated that a new Force, the Balochistan Constabulary was shortly to be established, with an initial strength of 6,000 men.
There is a blackout on reports on operations – both Governmental and anti-Governmental – in Balochistan, but news trickles through. Among the most significant were unconfirmed reports regarding an unprecedented operation involving more than 200 armed insurgents who overran the Bolan Mining Enterprise, jointly owned by the Balochistan Government and Pakistan Petroleum Limited, in November. The armed group was reported to be part of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), and is said to have taken over the mining area, held workers and technicians hostage, and destroyed office and mining equipment. The operation is said to have resulted in disruption of steel production in Karachi as a result of a break in supplies from the mines, and is unique in the insurgency that has been revived in the Province over the past two years. It is significant that Mustung is among the areas in which Baloch leaders insist military operations are currently under way.
There has also been a continuous series of bomb and rocket attacks on gas pipelines, railway tracks, power transmission lines, bridges, and communications infrastructure, as well as on military establishments and governmental structures and enterprises. Official data indicated that there had been 261 bomb blasts and 167 rocket firings in the province in year 2005, till November 30. According to open source information monitored by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, at least 111 civilians and 23 security force personnel have been killed in the Province this year (till December 15).
The top police and military leadership has also come under sustained attack, and in the most recent incident, on December 16, a helicopter carrying the FC Inspector General, Major General Shujaat Zameer Dar, was attacked at Kohlu, injuring Dar and his Deputy Inspector General, Brigadier Salim Nawaz, while the officials were en route to Quetta. Just a day earlier, a paramilitary camp at Kohlu had been targeted with at least eight rockets during a visit by President General Pervez Musharraf, while he was addressing tribal elders.
In the meanwhile, the Government has disclosed that it has detected the existence of ‘five to six terrorist camps’ in Balochistan, where cadres were being trained to carry out ‘terrorist activities’. The presence of these camps, known as ‘Ferari camps’, was discussed at an inter-provincial conference on law and order during an examination of the situation in Balochistan. Sources indicate that delegates to the conference were informed that the camps were operating ‘under the supervision’ of some tribal chiefs, and that terrorists were being generously paid to carry out ‘assignments’.
In the same vein, the authorities have sought to implicate Sardar Barhamad Khan, the grandson of Nawab Akbar Bugti, in the November 15, 2005, car bombing in Karachi, in which four persons were killed and 17 injured. Two persons, Aziz Khan and Mangla Khan, have reportedly been arrested in this case, and Barhamad Khan and another man, Abdul Majeed, have been declared ‘fugitives’. Earlier, an anonymous caller had claimed that the BLA had engineered the attack; a subsequent call denied all BLA involvement. Police claimed that the arrested persons were BLA activists, and that their confessional statements confirmed that they were operating under instructions from Barhamad Khan.
It is useful to recall, in this context, that the authorities had sought to implicate Sardar Akhtar Mengal and his brother in an earlier case, which came to judgement on November 29, 2005. An anti-terrorist court sentenced five tribal militants to death for an attack on a military vehicle near Khuzdar, in which six persons, including five soldiers, were killed. The First Information Report had named Akhtar Mengal and his brother, but their names were subsequently withdrawn for lack of evidence.
The stepping up of military activity in Balochistan appears to herald the collapse of processes initiated to push for a ‘political solution’, including the implementation of the recommendation of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Balochistan, headed by Mushahid Hussain, which had completed its work in May 2005, and had made sweeping proposals for the enhancement of gas royalties to the Province and clearance of arrears, amendments to the Concurrent List, changes in the National Finance Commission award, provincial autonomy, and the development of gas-rich areas. A second Committee, headed by Senator Wasim Sajjad and intended to address Constitutional issues with regard to the administration of the Province, has apparently failed to carry out its task, and no report has been forthcoming.
Even as rights activists complain about "an unspecified number of students" having "disappeared from Balochistan" and reports of widespread arrests and detentions continue to filter in, there are indications of a continuous augmentation of Forces in the Province, of a massing of Punjab Rangers and the FC troops outside the province, in readiness for deployment there, and of sustained low profile military operations across wide areas. A simmering war has been ongoing in Balochistan for the past two years and, with no signs of resolution, recourse to the ‘military option’ is beginning to look increasingly likely.
This is the fourth rebellion in Balochistan since the creation of Pakistan, and time has historically favoured the state in earlier confrontations. This time around, however, Pakistani observers increasingly warn that Balochistan could turn into an unaffordable quagmire, bringing humiliation on the Army. The truth is, a powershift has occurred in Pakistan, and the state now appears far more fragile and vulnerable to the array of threats currently confronting it.
New Blood in a War without End
Within days of coming to power, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar lamented that "the police and administrative structure of the state is in a State of collapse" and compared the prevailing circumstances to conditions of "war". Prior to his taking charge, the Jehanabad incident of November 13, 2005 had already provided evidence of this war, and the fact that any administration keen on addressing the plight of the state would have to confront this challenge. And there is no single element that more clearly illustrates the character of this war than the conflict between the Left Wing extremists (alternatively known as Naxalites or Maoists) and the landlord’s ‘army’, the Ranvir Sena.
The Ranvir Sena has suffered several reverses over the past years, and had come to be regarded by many as a spent force in Bihar. It has, nevertheless, remained continuously active, and there are now reasons to believe that it could secure the political patronage that it needs to stage a comeback in the State’s murderous politics.
In its early years, the Ranvir Sena located its support base among upper caste politicians, as well as among allies in the local bureaucracy and the police, in addition to its committed supporters among the landed classes. It was the politician-bureaucrat-police nexus that had aided its initial consolidation, and this was confirmed with the arrest of the Sena’s chief, Brahmeshwar Singh Mukhiya, when a diary was recovered from his possession, containing the names and contacts of many upper caste politicians, journalists and police officers. It was this convergence of traditional elites and state structure that sustained groups like the Ranvir Sena, and that have now sparked expectations of its revitalisation.
With 55 out of the 243 Assembly seats in the State, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a coalition partner in the present State Government, commands decisive influence. The BJP shares its traditional support base among the upper caste landlords with that of the Ranvir Sena.
With the ascent of elements drawn from this traditional elite in the new Government, analysts like Shaibal Gupta of the Bihar-based Asian Development Research Institute, fear that "the Ranvir Sena would now be encouraged to re-mobilise and operate in a more overt manner." A national news television channel pointed out, in a report on December 11, 2005, that, at a recent public meeting at Kurtha in Arwal District, Ranvir Sena men were spotted sharing a dais with an upper caste Minister in the State Government. A vernacular daily reported on November 22 that, during a raid within Patna’s Beur prison, a mobile phone was recovered from the custody of imprisoned Sena chief, Brahmeshwar Singh Mukhiya, raising concerns that he was directing the Sena’s activities from the prison premises.
Founded in September 1994 in the Belaur Village of the Udwantnagar Block in Bhojpur District, the Ranvir Sena came into existence primarily to counter the influence of various Naxalite groups in central Bihar. From Bhojpur, over a period of time, the Ranvir Sena spread to Jehanabad, Patna, Rohtas, Aurangabad, Gaya, Arwal and Buxar Districts. It mobilised the landed gentry, especially from the Bhumihar caste in the Hindu caste hierarchy, against the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), the Communist Party of India – Marxist Leninist (Party Unity) [or CPI-ML (Party Unity)] and the CPI-ML (Liberation). The Sena’s ‘protection’ became necessary for upper caste landlords when the CPI-ML (Liberation), Party Unity and the MCC, began taking up class and caste issues, challenging the landlords and reclaiming their surplus land to redistribute it among the landless scheduled castes and backward castes.
Unlike the other ‘private armies’ or ‘senas’, such as the Brahmarshi Sena, Kuer Sena, Kisan Morcha and Ganga Sena, the Ranvir Sena was militarily far better organised and its cadres much better paid. Official sources indicated that, in year 2000, each member of the Sena was paid between Rupees 1,100 and Rupees 1,200 per month, as landowners financed the Sena through generous subscriptions. Further, the life of each cadre was insured for INR 100,000. The outfit, however, met with a setback when its chief, Brahmeshwar Singh Mukhiya, was arrested in Patna on August 29, 2002, and another of its senior leaders, Bhuar Thakur, was arrested on December 24, 2002.
Prior to 2002, the Sena had, according to data available, committed eight massacres, where the victims numbered more than 10, and another 19, where the fatalities numbered less than 10 in each case. The most prominent of these were the Bathanitola massacre in Bhojpur District on July 11, 1996, which left 22 Scheduled Caste agricultural labourers dead; the Lakshmanpur-Bathe massacre in Jehanabad District on December 1, 1997, in which 58 scheduled castes were killed; and the Mianpur massacre in Aurangabad District on June 16, 2000, which accounted for 35 victims. Since the arrest of its head in August 2002, the Ranvir Sena has not executed any massacres, and appeared to have been considerably weakened. But the persistence of the dynamics that prompted its formation, and the continuing ground realities that accentuate caste conflict, undermine the possibilities of peace in the State.
While, the reportage on the Ranvir Sena-Maoist conflict is extensive, the activities of the Sena at the district and local level have largely gone unreported. Though the levels of Ranvir Sena violence have been whittled down, the organisation remains active. Some incidents in the post-2002 demonstrate the Sena’s continued penchant for violence:
After Ranvir Sena leaders Bade Sharma and Vishveshkar Roy were killed by Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres during the Jehanabad attack on November 13, a spokesperson for the Sena declared, "the Maoist acts will force Sena activists to retaliate… we have to a give reply in their language by killing Maoist supporters and sympathizers." On November 20, Home Secretary, Hemchand Sirohi, in a letter sent to all District Magistrates and Superintendents of Police, warned that the Ranvir Sena may target railway property in the State to avenge the killing and abduction of its members by Maoists in Jehanabad and asked them to tighten security. Further, the Special Inspector-General (Jehanabad), S.K, Bhardwaj, indicated that the Police had identified the villages of Ganiyari, Pariyari, Majidpur, Aiyara, Parhar, Puran, Gadopur and Khajuri in Arwal District and Sukalchak, Bistol, Mandebigha, Kakariya, Balabigha, Kinarpur, Salalpur, Khiderpur, Mokar, Pandaul, Panditpur, Sawan Bigha and Salempur in Jehanabad District as being vulnerable to a Ranvir Sena backlash.
The Sena’s decline was directly engineered by the increasing clout and unity of Left Wing extremist groups in the State. As these Maoist groups steadily strengthened their independent bases, they found it expedient to consolidate power by mergers and deals between warring factions. Thus, on August 11, 1998, the erstwhile Peoples War Group (PWG) merged with the CPI-ML (Party Unity), in an apparent effort to secure a foothold in the Districts of Bhojpur, Arwal and Jehanabad, where the latter was strong. Six years later, after an extended period of negotiation, on September 21, 2004, the PWG – which had its strongest base in Andhra Pradesh – united with the Bihar-based MCC to form the CPI-Maoist. This was followed by the declaration of a unilateral cease-fire by the CPI-Maoist, at the beginning of 2005, against the CPI-ML (Liberation), in order to "stop the loss being suffered by the allies and concentrate on the larger objective of the Naxal movement and to fight the class enemies."
It was this larger objective that was furthered through the Jehanabad attack. Azad, the All-India spokesperson of the CPI-Maoist Central Committee (Provisional), thus declared, "This biggest-ever operation in Bihar’s history was a complete success and the CPI-Maoist was able to achieve its three objectives. Firstly, it was able to secure the release of its leaders, activists and ordinary prisoners who have been languishing in the jail for many years; secondly, it carried out the people’s verdict against the reactionary state-sponsored Ranvir Sena by annihilating its leaders and capturing several of its activists; and, thirdly, it seized hundreds of rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition."
The new Chief Minister has recognized that the core issue of conflict in the State has been the failure to draft and implement effective land reform schemes in Bihar, and to implement existing land ceiling laws, such as the Bihar Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling Area and Acquisition of Surplus Land) Act, 1961. As a result, he has announced the decision to introduce a "government at your doorstep" programme, which would ensure ‘on-the-spot solutions’ to the people’s problems relating to land and other disputes. The task, however, will not be as easy as the announcement of the programme may suggest: according to the State’s Department of Revenue and Land Reform data for year 1999, there were close to 1,472 cases involving 136,821.17 acres of land pending in various courts, some for more than forty years.
A reminder of the enormity of the task involved was demonstrated on December 12, 2005, when five persons, all from a minority community, were killed in Chilraon Village of East Champaran District, by suspected assailants from the Bhumihar and Yadav communities. The feud was over a land dispute that was under litigation. The claimants, from the Bhumihar and Yadav communities, had reportedly gone to take occupation of the land, when the incident occurred.
Although, the Ranvir Sena will not be able to match the operational capabilities of the CPI-Maoist, there is much to suggest that a new chapter in the ongoing ‘war’ has now been opened with the Jehanabad attack and the subsequent abduction and killing of Ranvir Sena cadres. This, in combination with the emerging political alignments, would suggest a revival of the caste army, though a return to pre-2002 levels of violence by the Ranvir Sena is not within the realm of proximate possibility. Nevertheless, a renewal of sustained and targeted violence would appear to be very much on the cards.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
December 12-18, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
King Wangchuk to step down in 2008 after elections: Bhutan’s king is to hand over power to his son and stage the Himalayan kingdom’s first democratic elections in 2008, the state-run Kuensel newspaper reported on December 18, 2005. In March 2005, Bhutan had published a draft constitution that aimed to set up a two-party democracy after nearly a century of absolute monarchy put in place with British support in 1907. "I would like our people to know that the first national election to elect a government under a system of parliamentary democracy will take place in 2008," the newspaper quoted King Jigme Singye Wangchuck as telling a public rally in the town of Trashi Yangtse. Wangchuck said his son, Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, would take over from him in 2008. "It is my wish and prayer that during the reign of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Palden Drukpa (Bhutan) will remain strong and glorious ... and the hopes and aspirations of our people will be fulfilled," Wangchuck was quoted as saying. Kuensel Online, December 18, 2005.
JMB 'operations commander' arrested in Dhaka: On December 13, 2005, Rapid Action Battalion personnel arrested two militants, including the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) 'operations commander' Ataur Rahman alias Sunny, from the Tejgaon area of capital Dhaka. Sunny is the younger brother of JMB chief Shaikh Abdur Rahman and also one of the seven members of the highest policymaking body of the outfit. The Daily Star, December 14, 2005.
CPI-Maoist rules out talks with State Governments: The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has ruled out any kind of negotiation with any State Government saying it would "pursue the path of violent retaliation with more vigour." The announcement came at a press conference on December 14, 2005 at a village in Bihar along the India-Nepal border by the outfit’s 'central committee' spokesperson Azad and member Praveen. Further, sounding a warning against Multinational Companies that have signed Memoranda of Understanding with the Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra Governments, Azad said their outfit would act strongly against them. "MNCs are eyeing to plunder the rich mineral resource of the state. Local people have the right over jal, jungle, zamin (water, forest, land) and we will go to any extent to stop its loot by these companies," Azad said, adding the "war" would now be taken to a "higher stage." Commenting on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka, he said the outfit has not maintained any link, but the Tigers had initially imparted training to its cadre. On the Nepalese Maoists, however, he said "We help each other in all ways." Indian Express, December 15, 2005.
Crackdown on insurgents launched in Balochistan: Security agencies launched action against those involved in rocket-firing incidents in the Kohlu district of Balochistan province on December 18, 2005. Hundreds of troops and helicopters "carried out a successful raid in Kohlu after receiving information that miscreants are hiding there," Army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said. However, he would not say whether there were any casualties among the insurgents and informed it was too early to provide information about the offensive. Associated Press has reported that soldiers backed by helicopter gunship attacked a suspected insurgent hideout on the outskirts of Kohlu on December 18, but it was not immediately clear whether there were casualties.Jang, December 19, 2005.
Presence of US jails in Pakistan ruled out, says President Musharraf: President Pervez Musharraf has denied the presence of US soldiers or secret jails in Pakistan, saying that no accord has been made to establish such jails in the country in collaboration with the US. "There is no presence of US soldiers or secret jails on our soil. No agreement has been signed to set up secret jails in the country in collaboration with the US," he said in an interview with Saudi newspaper Al-Watan on December 16, 2005. He also denied that the operation in the tribal area was being conducted at the behest of the US. Dawn, December 17, 2005.
US concerned over earthquake relief work by banned groups, says Ambassador Crocker: It should be a matter of concern for the Pakistan Government that banned groups like the Jamaat-ud-Daawa are involved in earthquake relief work, said US Ambassador to Pakistan on December 12, 2005. Ryan C. Crocker told journalists he was concerned that allowing such groups, which were on the watch list, to operate freely in the affected areas would increase their purchase in the country. "This is not a good thing," he said. Crocker felt it was a downer for the country that groups associated with violence were openly involved in relief activities. He said he had not heard these groups renounce violence, adding he would find it hard to believe the work these groups were doing could not be done by the government and recognised NGOs.Jang, December 13, 2005.
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