SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
J&K: The Wrath of the Lashkar
To most people, the devastation of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) this October was a tragedy that demanded compassion. To the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s founder and spiritual mentor, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, it was a divine order to go to war. Pakistan’s rulers, he said:
Ever since the Great Kashmir Earthquake of October 8, 2005, the Lashkar has been engaged in a mission to avert further displays of divine wrath. Indian intelligence officials believe that well over a hundred Lashkar cadre have crossed the Line of Control (LoC) thereafter, and if these assessments are correct, the renewed Lashkar build-up would mark the highest level of cross-border infiltration since November 2003, when a ceasefire was established along the LoC. Using mountain hideouts along the arc from Bandipora to Kupwara and Handwara as bases, newly-arrived Lashkar cadre have participated in a series of high-profile fidayeen (suicide squad) attacks in recent weeks.
Just what is going on, on the ground? Optimists see no real cause for alarm: the decline in jihadi violence in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which began after the India-Pakistan ‘near-war’ of 2001-2002, continues apace. What is also evident, though, is that the decline seems to be reaching sea level. While the drop in violence, measured by indices such as fatalities in the conflict or numbers of violent incidents, was dramatic in the years after the near-war, it has begun to level off in 2005. In some weeks this winter, violence levels have been higher than in 2004, which seems to negate fond hopes that an end to the jihad is in sight.
Many Lashkar operatives involved in these attacks appear to have infiltrated into J&K in the wake of the earthquake, using the opportunity offered by the disruption of Indian border defences. Ejaz Ahmad Butt, a Pakistani national arrested in the course of a November 28 fidayeen attack at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, said he had crossed the LoC on October 25 along with six other Lashkar cadre, by cutting the fencing along the LoC. Butt said his group had made three abortive infiltration attempts after the earthquake, turning back fearing interdiction by Indian patrols on two occasions, and being ordered to return by Pakistani troops on another.
Other recently arrived Lashkar operatives have used the same route to operate in the Jammu region, to the south. On December 16, the Jammu and Kashmir Police (J&KP) arrested Lashkar operative Samiullah Arain, who had been tasked to execute strikes in the State’s winter capital, Jammu. A resident of the Badshahi Masjid area in Lahore, Arain operated under the code-name ‘Abu Muslim’. Like Butt, Arain had spent time at hideouts in the Rajwar Forests before being despatched on his mission. Lashkar cells, the October 29 serial bombings in New Delhi make clear, have also been switched on outside J&K.
From the testimony of Lashkar organiser Shabbir Bukhari, a Srinagar resident arrested in November 2005 for his role in transporting terrorists into strike positions in the city, it is apparent that the organisation had been working hard to build and maintain new covert cells ever since 2002, to be activated when cadre became available. Investigations into the Arain case also threw up evidence of the activation of new Lashkar cells in the Jammu region. Arain, it transpired, was to be received in Banihal by a long-standing Lashkar operative named Abdul Ghaffar, a resident of the village of Patnala. Ghaffar, who had trained at Lashkar camps in Pakistan since 2001, is also believed to have been despatched across the LoC shortly after the earthquake.
Few civilians in J&K would dispute the proposition that the security situation has deteriorated in the wake of the earthquake. Residents of the mountains above Bandipora, for example, have been reporting an increased terrorist presence for several weeks. In November, Army authorities were forced to temporarily close a military-run school for villagers in the small village of Aragam after Lashkar terrorists threatened the students’ parents. A Government-run Higher Secondary School in the area was also forced to relocate after the Lashkar denounced the practice of co-education as ‘un-Islamic’.
One reason for the growing infiltration might lie in problems with patrolling along the LoC. While senior Army officials insist the heightened infiltration is not a consequence of failures in policing the LoC, Indian defences do seem to have suffered some degradation as a consequence of the earthquake. Several dozen bunkers, essential to positioning troops on the high mountains for counter-infiltration patrols, were destroyed during the tremors, along with considerable stretches of counter-infiltration fencing. Field commanders say troops have been reluctant to reoccupy some bunkers because of aftershocks.
Two supplementary causes for the unusual intensity of violence this winter might lie in Pakistan. General Pervez Musharraf’s legitimacy has been severely eroded by the appalling performance of the Pakistani state in mitigating earthquake-related hardship. Beset by revolts by feudal elites in Balochistan, battling Islamists in the North West Frontier Province, and hard-hit by protest in the Northern Areas, General Musharraf is in no position to act against groups like the Lashkar, which have won enormous public support in PoK because of their well-funded relief efforts.
It is also possible to argue that the escalation in violence suits General Musharraf’s larger objectives. India has not yielded the kinds of dramatic concessions on J&K he may have wished for. New Delhi has responded with ill-concealed disdain to General Musharraf’s successive ‘formulae’ for forward movement on the ‘Kashmir issue’, including his so-far-unexplained proposals for ‘self-governance’. Given that the absence of forward movement makes General Musharraf increasingly open to criticism from both Islamists and military hawks in Pakistan, the rise in jihadi violence may be intended to signal to New Delhi that it cannot take the post-2002 de-escalation for granted.
All these possibilities, however, need to be read against factors intrinsic to the jihad: the fact that the world the Lashkar operates in is a fiction authored by fanaticism. What else does one make of an organisation which proclaims, as the December issue of the Lashkar house organ Voice of Islam does, that the European Union’s "ex-foreign secretary" believes the continent will soon "be Islamised"? That Prince Charles has secretly embraced Islam? Or that the death of western materialism being imminent, it is "Islam only which has all the basic ingredients to form the most harmonious and peaceful society that ever came into being in human history"?
Put simply, the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s headquarters at Muridke is not just a short drive from Lahore, but also at some distance from the real world. Pragmatic motives do indeed inform its recent actions, but the events which have begun to unfold after the Great Earthquake cannot be understood as a response to opportunity alone. For organizations like the Lashkar, the decline in violence after 2001-2002 was no more than a tactical retreat, forced on Pakistan by the vagaries of history. Resuming the jihad in J&K is more than just an opportunity to capitalise on changed circumstances: it is mandated, as Saeed insisted, by God himself.
For decades, the United States of America and Europe have allowed Pakistan’s military establishment to indulge its Islamists. Some cause or the other – defeating the Soviet Union, the Iranian revolution, the war on terror – has always made it expedient to defer compelling Pakistan to confront the jihadi armies, which threaten not just regional stability, but the country’s own future as a modern state. More than once, the West has been stung by the tail of the jihadi scorpion; each time, it has bellowed its wrath, but stopped short of stamping out the reptile. Events after the great earthquake make it imperative for policy-makers in Washington DC and European capitals to contemplate whether this course of action is either useful or wise.
On September 21, 2001 emerging from negotiations in Amsterdam, the Government of India’s Chief Interlocutor K. Padmanabhaiah and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) General Secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah declared a two-year time frame for the ‘solution’ of the Naga imbroglio. Very few actually believed such an assertion, although it raised some hopes in Nagaland and outside, of an end to the long-standing conflict.
Four years and three months after that declaration, and after numerous rounds of subsequent parleys between both the sides in India and abroad, Nagaland still stands at the crossroads, waiting for peace. And recent statements by the NSCN-IM suggest that both sides are still far away from anything that resembles a settlement.
Difficulties became apparent on July 31, 2005, with the NSCN-IM’s demand that the ceasefire extension be limited to six months, rather than the usual one-year period. Then, on November 5, IM leader R.H. Raising declared: "There is no point in operating a cease-fire and holding talks without any solution in sight." This statement came less than a month after the October 11, 2005, negotiations in Bangkok, where Muivah had stated, "We are very happy to have the talks with the Indian representatives because both sides are now more serious about all the issues." On November 7, other sympathetic organizations, including the Naga Hoho, the Naga Mothers Association and the Naga Students’ Federation put their weight behind the NSCN-IM’s position that the talks served no purpose unless they were seen to be leading up to a peaceful solution, creating some consternation in the concerned circles. Finally, on December 19, Muivah issued a veiled threat of the resumption of a bush war in case a tangible solution was not found by January 31, 2006, the day the current ceasefire comes to an end.
The eight year-old ceasefire, beginning August 1997, has led to a significant reduction in insurgency-related fatalities in Nagaland. Between 1992 and 1997, 1,338 persons had been killed in the conflict, averaging 223 per year. Between 1998 and 2004, a further 595 persons have been killed, bringing the average down to 85 per year, still a disturbing number in view of the ‘cease fire’ that is now in place. During the current year, 40 fatalities (data till December 25) have been reported from the State. The fatalities in the post cease fire period have overwhelming been the result of turf wars between the NSCN-IM and its arch rival, the Khaplang faction (NSCN-K). However, the reduced fatalities fail to reflect the ground-level violence which persists across the State, and which affects the widest possible spectrum of the population. A review of some incidents in November 2005 alone gives an indication of the nature and extent of this impact.
Violent area-domination attempts by both factions (Khaplang and Isak-Muivah) continue and during just the second half of 2005, both factions clashed at least five times [Kohima (August 1), Peren (September 10 and December 5), Tuensang (September 26), and Mon (October 5)]. The most recent clash was reported from the Makhom Part-I village in Tamenglong district in neighbouring Manipur on December 19.
The ‘threat’ to withdraw from the peace process needs to be seen in the context of the failure of the NSCN-IM leadership to make any sort of progress towards its final goal, the integration of the Naga inhabited areas (NIA). On December 15, Muivah, in fact summed up his frustration in the following words. "We Nagas have extended our hand of friendship and India is putting conditions before accepting it. Is this wise? Can we keep coming back again and again, demanding friendship from India? Do Nagas have no honour?" Muivah claimed further that there has been no progress ‘from the Indian side’ over the last six months of the ceasefire. Five days after, on December 20, the NSCN-IM Deputy Kilonser (Minister) of the Ministry of Information and Publicity (MIP), Kraibo Chawang indicated that unilateral abrogation of the ceasefire by the outfit is still a possibility and will rest on the outcome of the next meeting between the two sides.
There is a pattern to these threats, issued periodically by the NSCN-IM since 1997. These have been used either to keep its bete noire, the Khaplang faction, out of the negotiation process in spite of several demands to broad-base the process; or to wriggle out of difficult positions after the Government has indicated the possibility of a solution short of the IM demand of an integrated Naga territory. Threats have also been used to keep its support base intact, to ensure that the Nagas do not come to view the group as a weak organization, susceptible to the Government’s pressure.
The fact remains that, in spite of Muivah’s six-month stay in India between January and July 2005 and the three rounds of dialogue [July 29-30, October 10-11 and December 16-17] that followed, very little has been achieved beyond the usual rhetorical assertions. States like Manipur and Assam remain opposed to any dismemberment of their territory to please the NSCN-IM. Minister and mediator Oscar Fernandes’ October 18 assertion that the NSCN-IM was ready for an interim solution was rebuffed by the outfit. Even the show of camaraderie, evident in Minister Fernandes’ playing the mouth organ to the tune of Muivah’s favourite ‘We shall overcome’, is fast disappearing as the NSCN-IM resorts to tough talk in the hope that this may prod the Government to take some action.
In a lateral effort to force some progress in the process, reports are now being vigorously circulated that a Dutch non-governmental organization is being ‘formally involved’ in the peace process as a third party facilitator. The NSCN-IM had, for some time, been hard-selling the idea of involving Kreddha (the organization takes its name from an Indo-European word meaning ‘to place trust’) as a facilitator in the process. Consisting of ‘experts in conflict resolution’, led by the former Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) General Secretary Michael C. Van Walt Praag, Kreddha, is reported to have ‘briefed’ the Indian negotiators on their proposals for taking the Naga peace process forward, on December 17, the second day of the two-day round of negotiations in Bangkok. Media reports suggest further that the Indian Government has ‘accepted the proposal’ and that Kreddha and its team of ‘experts’ would consequently be involved in the next round of negotiations – an eventuality that borders on the ludicrous.
Kreddha’s links with the NSCN-IM and its support for the Naga right to ‘self-determination’ is well-known. Van Praag has been one of the international promoters of the cause of ‘Naga independence’ and was instrumental in securing some international exposure for the NSCN-IM by its inclusion in the UNPO in 1993. It was during his tenure (1991-98) as the General Secretary, that the UNPO passed a resolution, in January 1995, condemning the Indian and Myanmar Governments for their military action against the group and for what was described as their "forceful invasion and continual occupation of Naga territory and their rampant violations of human rights".
Official sources reject the idea of third party intervention in the talks with the NSCN-IM, or even of the supposed December 17 'briefing' by Van Praag, and it is apparent that current media reports regarding Kreddha’s involvement in the ‘dialogue process’ are part of the insurgents’ continued efforts to internationalize the issue, and possibly to lift the IM leadership’s sagging spirits. The involvement of a third party would militate directly against the established Indian policy of rejecting international mediation in internal conflicts, and its impact would reverberate well beyond Nagaland. It is a decision, consequently, that is not likely to be taken lightly.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
December 12-18, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Seminaries do not have to register
At least 70 people killed in military operations
Member of Parliament shot dead
LTTE kills 15 Navy personnel
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