SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar on December 15, 2005, predicted “a satisfactory end” to the “militancy issue” in two months. Earlier on December 1 speaking in a voice, not too different from her junior colleague, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia blamed the ‘bomb terrorists’ and the opposition Awami League for creating havoc in the country and resolved that the ‘conspiracy against the country’ would be ended. More than 650 Islamist terrorists purportedly belonging to the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HUJI-BD), including a handful of mid-ranking militant cadres have been arrested in the aftermath of the August 17, 2005, country-wide bomb blasts in the country. Newspapers, on a daily basis, do provide details of incidents of security forces raiding militant hideouts and recovering arms and explosives. On the face of it, it would appear that Bangladesh is making a sincere effort at curbing Islamist terrorism. The appearance, however, belies the reality.
The data on terrorism related fatalities is a dead giveaway. A country that is riddled with Islamist extremist activity sees its principal threat – and the primary target of security forces’ activity – in a minuscule Left Wing extremist (LWE) movement concentrated in small pockets of the western Districts of Bangladesh. Bizarre though it is, 177 deaths were reported in 2005 in LWE-related violence, compared to just 35 killed in connection with Islamist militancy. The data assumes an even more sinister dimension on closer scrutiny. As many as 163 of the 177 LWE fatalities (92 per cent) were categorized as ‘outlaws’. 11 civilians and 3 security force (SF) personnel were killed by the LWE-related violence in the whole year. By comparison, just nine Islamist terrorists were killed through 2005. Islamist terrorists were responsible for the death of 26 civilians in 2005, 24 of these during and after the August 17 explosions.
Further details fill out a twisted picture. While the state eliminated 60 LWEs between August and December 2005, only two Islamist terrorists were killed during the same period. Interestingly, the security forces had no role to play in the death of the Islamist terrorists, as both JMB cadres were killed during suicide blasts on November 29 and December 8 in Gazipur and Netrokona Districts. Only three SF personnel were killed by terrorists through the entire year, reflecting a remarkable efficiency of SF operations. The three SF personnel killed by the LWEs on December 28, 2005, were para-military ansars, slain during a single raid on a camp at Bamihal in the Natore district. Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP) cadres reportedly raided the camp while the ansars were offering daily prayers. PBCP cadres killed some of them and decamped with their weapons.
LWE in Bangladesh, consisting of the PBCP, Gono Mukti Fouz (GMF), New Biplobi Communist Party (NBCP), remains in a high state of disarray and their activities have been confined to the limits of the western districts of the country such as Satkhira, Khulna, Jessore, Jhenaidah, Magura, Chuadanga, Meherpur, Kushtia, Pabna and Rajshahi. Once-influential, outfits such as Purba Banglar Communist Party, over the years have split into several factions such as Janajuddha, Marxist-Leninist, Lal Pataka and Communist War, each posing little or negligible threat to state and its populace. Some of these factions are also involved in bitter fratricidal clashes, periodically eliminating their rival cadres. And when not engaged in infighting, the LWEs, popularly referred to as Sarbaharas, are generally engaged in isolated acts of extortion and abduction. Most civilian fatalities inflicted by these groups are more in the nature of routine criminal activities, rather than anything that could fall into the category of ‘terrorism’.
The LWEs have been systematically targeted both by the state and the Islamist militants, and indeed the rise of the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and the notorious Bangla Bhai can be traced directly to a police-supported campaign to target and eliminate LW cadres. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), created in 2004 as a special para-military force under the Home Ministry, has been overwhelmingly targeted and eliminated LWEs and other criminals (mostly referred to as terrorists) in various fake encounters, referred to as ‘cross fires’ over the years. A report by the BBC (December 13, 2005) suggested that 190 people had been killed in such ‘cross fires’ in the last two years by the RAB. Occasional voices have been raised by the human rights activists over such periodic extra-judicial killings, but these have secured no Government response.
A parallel campaign against the Sarbaharas was launched by the Islamist groups like the JMJB, propped up with adequate State sanction to deal with the ‘menace’ of Left Wing extremism. As Islamist militants, through 2003, 2004 and the early part of 2005, went on a rampage in the countryside, hunting down the Sarbaharas and their supporters, Government Forces stood by as a mute spectator and in some cases facilitated such atrocities. In a series of campaigns that took place in 2003 and 2004, mutilated bodies of suspected LWEs were hung from trees and electric poles by the JMJB’s private army.
The war on terrorism in Bangladesh, in spite of the formidable growth of radical Islam, remains essentially a prejudiced war on the peripheral Left Wing extremist movement, leaving out of its scope both the Islamists and the large number of Northeast Indian terrorist groups that operate out of Bangladeshi safe havens with manifest state support.
With regard to the Islamist groups, the ‘standard operating procedure’ appears to be a cycle of routine arrest, interrogation and release. Large scale arrests – ordinarily of low level cadres – have ordinarily been a response to growing international concerns (read, demands) rather than any firm commitment to address the problem of rising Islamist extremism and terror. This predilection for Islamist groups is visible in the actions and statements of influential members of the Government. Asadullah Galib, the Chief of the Islamist militant group, the Ahle Hadith Andolon Bangladesh (AHAB), who has been behind bars since February 2005, for instance, was given a ‘clean chit’ by Minister Babar, who participated in a seminar on terrorism in Dhaka along with AHAB activists, on December 4, 2005. Reports indicate that more than 650 militants have been arrested during country-wide raids from different districts. However, due to reasons including official slackness as well as intervention of politicians, most of them were either released, while even the elementary charge sheets have not yet been filed against others. Reports on January 21, 2006, indicated that the Netrokona District police was yet to submit the charge sheets against JMB militants arrested for their involvement in the August 17 explosions.
In spite of the announcement of hefty bounties on their heads, top militant leaders – including those implicated in the August bombings – are yet to be arrested. On January 19, a well publicized SF action involving 1,000 personnel in Poradaho, Khajanagar, Jagati and Koburhat villages of Kushtia District in search of the JMB chief Abdur Rahman and the JMJB ‘operations commander’ Bangla Bhai was called off after two days, without the arrest of a single militant. Amidst police claims that the militants managed to escape after being tipped off, Minister Babar explained away the failure, stating, “Five minutes are enough for escaping.”
It is intriguing that, amidst what is evidently a very reluctant fight against terrorism, a significant section within the Bangladeshi regime believe that India has a role to play in the rise of terrorism in that country. These allegations are not only confined to the opinions of traditionally anti-India forces like the Jamaat-e-Islami, but have percolated to other sections of the polity and administration. Theories abound, claiming that the Research and Analysis Wing has propped up the Islamist outfits and is providing them with arms and explosives. A report on January 24 indicated that the Bangladeshi authorities were compiling a report linking an ‘Indian arms ring’ with the supply of explosives like power gel, ammonium nitrate, detonators and some other chemicals to the JMB. This, despite the well documented seizures of large consignments of illicit arms in circumstances that clearly demonstrated the complicity of Bangladeshi authorities in different parts of the country.
Bangladesh’s false war on terror has enormously strengthened Islamist extremist forces in the country, and while many speak of the tremendous damage these forces will eventually do to the country, it is apparent that the current concerns of the political leadership, particularly the parties in power, appear to be based on a calculus that focuses on the significant and immediate partisan gains that they believe to be accruing to them, rather than the greater and eventual damage to the national interest. There is little within the political dynamic in the country that could reverse current trends, at least before the elections of 2007.
Red Revolution’s Economy
On December 14, 2005, at a press conference organised at an undisclosed village along the India-Nepal border in Bihar, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) ‘central committee’ spokesperson, Azad, and ‘member’, Praveen, issued a threat that the outfit would “step up activities” against “big companies”, including Multi-National Corporations (MNCs), which, they claimed, were being set up after “forcibly displacing people”. Plans were outlined to target companies in the mineral rich belts of Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, all States that are varyingly affected by Left Wing extremism.
The industries’ reaction to these threats has been negligible, with a few groups, including the Houston-based International Facility Managers’ Association (which helps managers develop strategies to manage human, facility and real estate resources) advising their Hyderabad-based subsidiaries to watch their back. Executives have been cautioned against frequent travel in ‘lawless terrain’, and Bihar has been placed entirely out of bounds.
The proximity and seriousness of the Maoist threat to domestic industries and MNCs can be assessed, in some measure, by mapping of the Maoist ‘economy’ across the country. It is useful to note, however, that, to date, the only direct act of violence against an MNC was recorded at Atmakaru in the Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh on October 21, 2001, when cadres of the erstwhile People’s War Group (PWG) blasted a bottling unit of Coca Cola, causing damages estimated at Rupees 10 million, but no injuries or loss of life. The attack, however, had no apparent local undertones; the PWG cadres left behind a note stating that the attack was in protest against the ‘imperialistic actions’ of the United States in Afghanistan. While the Maoist threat is factored into their feasibility studies, there has been little real apprehension among MNCs in India.
By contrast, however, domestic industry has been variously affected by Maoist activities. Threats have largely been at the level of extortion and ‘levy’ charges which, in some cases of non-compliance, have translated into attacks. On October 1, 2005, for instance, Maoists burnt six dumpers and injured more than ten employees at the Phakhar bauxite mines of the Birla Group-owned Hindustan Aluminum Company (Hindalco) at the Baghbana plot in the Lohardaga District of Jharkhand. According to police sources, the Maoists were demanding a ‘levy’ for the ore extraction. Another Hindalco unit at Saridih in Chhattisgarh was attacked on May 9, 2005, with Maoists razing several buildings in the complex, using Hindalco’s own bulldozers.
The Maoists have also targeted the state-owned industries like the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). Armed guards are now deployed to provide security to ONGC officials involved in the exploration of coal-bed methane in the North Karnapura coal fields of Jharia and East Bokaro in Jharkhand. In January 2006, the Union Home Ministry instructed law-enforcement agencies to strengthen security for the Eastern Coal Fields Ltd (Sitalpur, West Bengal), Central Coal Fields Ltd. (Kargali, Jharkhand), Singareni Collieries Ltd. (Andhra Pradesh), and Neyveli Lignite Corporation (Chennai), in the wake of intelligence inputs indicating possible Maoist attacks. Intelligence officials add that the targeting of coalfields serves two specific purposes: the looting of explosives used for mining and the extraction of ‘levies’ from officials working on mining projects.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh drew attention to the scope and impact of Maoist extortion when, in December 2004, he wrote to Kannabiran, one of the mediators in the failed peace talks in Andhra Pradesh, that “Extortion demands, in particular, are causing a great deal of unease and the State Government has been compelled to take steps to allay fears of a virtual collapse of law and order.”
A deeper scrutiny of the spread of Maoist influence demonstrates that it overlaps with areas that are rich in forest and mineral resources. Further, a comparison of the Maoist-affected districts (estimated to be 165 in 14 States in November 2005) and the Forest Survey of India-2003 map indicates that dense forest areas, particularly in the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, provide a natural base for the Maoists. One study in 2005 indicated that, “Different Naxal groups now control 19 per cent of India’s forests.”
Not surprisingly, some of the districts worst affected by Maoist violence in different States are those that account for a high percentage of forest cover, mineral wealth and, crucially, a substantial tribal population:
^ Forest Survey of India-2003, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India
# Census of India report, 2001
Across the spectrum, the forestry and mining industries have been the most affected by the Maoist threat, primarily due to their location. However, the degree of Maoist threat to industries varies in different States, depending mostly on the nature of industry and its location.
In Jharkhand, for example, an elaborate machinery for ‘levy and tax’ collection has been created. A levy is imposed on Government contractors and industrialists, who are required to pay at monthly intervals, while those earning from forest products and mines are charged an unofficial ‘tax’ ranging between two and 20 per cent. Documents seized during special operations in the Garhwa-Palamau areas of what was then Bihar (now in Jharkhand) in January 2000, provided evidence of enormous and organised financial operations in which targets and ‘block budgets’ were defined for each ‘squad’ of the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). One such squad had raised Rs. Seven million in a single year and, for the year 1999, had informed its command that its target was Rs. Ten million. In addition, Local Guerilla Squads (LGS) exercised a monopolistic control over forest produce and Government contracts in their areas of dominance, and also received a substantial share of all development funding flowing into these areas.
In a recent revelation, a senior leader of the CPI-Maoist arrested by Jharkhand police from Hazaribagh on December 27, 2005, Tilak Ganju, told his interrogators that about Rs. 30 million had been collected by the Maoists from contractors, traders and industrialists of Bihar and Jharkhand in 2005 alone. A diversity in the extortion mechanism is, thus, visible across the country: areas that have low forest cover, for instance in Bihar, rely heavily on ‘tax’ and ‘levy’ charges on local industrialists and contractors.
Non-conformity to these Maoist demands is often met with attacks and destruction of equipment. Prominent instances of such retaliation include:
A 21-page report, prepared for discussion during the meeting of Chief Ministers of the Maoist-affected States in New Delhi on September 19, 2005, had mentioned that the Maoists have benefited through the illegal trade in Khair trees (Jharkhand), Tendu leaves (Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) and sandalwood (MM Hills-Sathyamangalam forests in Karnataka).
In August, 2000, the Commissioner (Land Records) and Chief Conservator of Forests (Land Management) of the then undivided Madhya Pradesh had admitted that the Naxalites had forcibly occupied 20,000 hectares of forest area in Bastar Division (now in Chhattisgarh) and appointed their own ‘rangers’ and ‘deputy rangers’. Similarly, Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh, despite having among the richest deposits of Manganese and Molybdenum, has very few industries. Police officials cite the presence of three or four Maoist Dalams (squads) in the district as one of the primary reasons. Towards the Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh border, police officials in Gadchiroli say they have evidence that the District had been coughing up nearly Rs. 140 million every year from the trade in tendu leaves and bamboo produce. Way back in December 2000, Maharashtra’s Principal Secretary (Home) M.R. Patil, while deposing before the Estimates Committee of the State Legislature, had warned that forest contractors, tendu leaf traders and local businessmen in the Naxalite-affected areas of Maharashtra were being forced to fund Naxalites in the State out of fear.
In Andhra Pradesh, Intelligence sources, in the year 2000, had indicated that roughly Rs 400-500 million was extorted by the erstwhile People's War Group (PWG) alone, each year. The Advocates’ Committee on Naxalite Terrorism in Andhra Pradesh (appointed by the High Court of Andhra Pradesh by its order dated April 4, 1997) had noted, “the extremist groups are collecting crores (tens of millions) of rupees from all types of traders, contractors or any other persons engaged in any economic activity. They are also imposing levy on the farmers. Collection of money is so easy that many unemployed local rowdies are finding it an easy way of making money.” The Maoists have continued with extortion as one of their chief means of sustenance, even during times of ‘peace’. Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, on May 21, 2005 stated, “A rough estimate made by the Department was, in the first five or six months we gave them an opportunity to talk and police action was suspended, a rough estimate is that about Rs. 50-60 crore (Rs.500-600 million) has been collected by them and they did produce good weapons.”
Further, displacement of populace, especially tribals, due to setting up of new industries, has been viewed by the Maoists as an ideal issue to bolster their ranks. In their December 14, 2005, statement, spokesman Azad mentions that MoUs have been signed by different State Governments with the Jindals, Tatas, Posco, Essar-Ruia and Reliance in the past one year, ‘forcibly displacing people’. “We aim to turn this fear into a Red tornado by converting lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of sympathizers into action-oriented squads of the Peoples Liberation Guerrilla Army. The MNC incursion has already brought thousands into our ranks,” he added. Although, this pronouncement may sound vainglorious, it contains elements of a real threat and reflects the Maoists’ broad strategic orientation.
The mobilization of tribals around a range of grievances, both real and invented, is central to the Maoists’ strategy. A case in point is the January 2, 2006, death of 11 tribals in Orissa’s industrial hub, Kalinganagar in Jajpur district. The tribals, who were complaining of inadequate compensation packages, were protesting against Tata Steel’s proposed plant in the area, when the police fired at them. Even as reports point towards growing Maoist presence in the area, Union Home Secretary V.K. Duggal warned that “the Naxalite leaders would try to exploit the situation by trying to propagate that the state was ruthless and not worried about their welfare and we are worried about it.” In response to the incident, the CPI-Maoist Central Committee appealed “to people of all walks of life to condemn the ongoing repression on the tribals of Kalinganagar and support all struggles of the adivasis.” It added that “the committee would extend support to the struggles in Andhra Pradesh among various other regions.”
Although the Maoist spectre is largely concentrated in the rural areas, their presence and operational activity has been noticed in the mofussil towns and other semi-urban concentrations. This is clearly in line with the strategy of a protracted ‘People’s War’ and the principle of ‘surrounding cities from the countryside’. As the ‘People’s War’ spreads from forested areas towards the urban expanse, the structure of ‘revolutionary taxation’ and reprisals for non-compliance can be expected to follow. Despite periodic declarations on moving their war into urban areas, however, this eventuality is still a somewhat distant prospect, and one that can still be averted by effective state action – which, unfortunately, still remains substantially lacking.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 23-29, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Maoists indulge in violence across the country on Republic Day: Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2006 were marred by Maoist violence that affected the States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Orissa. Trains were brought to a standstill in Bihar. Over 50 Maoists used dynamites to blow up the railway track in Gaya district, disrupting the main railway line between Howrah (Kolkata) and New Delhi. Maoists also blew up railway tracks near Ranchi and Bokaro in Jharkhand and engaged security forces in fierce gun-battles at various places in that State. Besides blowing up railway tracks and bridges and setting a railway station building on fire, the Maoists also looted arms and ammunition. A bridge on the national highway connecting Hazaribagh in Jharkhand to Patna in Bihar was blown up. The outfit had issued a nationwide bandh (shut down strike) call to protest the imprisonment of its cadres.
In Maharashtra, the Maoists set ablaze the furniture of a Public Works Department (PWD) rest-house at Deovardha village in Gadchiroli district, early on January 26-morning.
Maoist cadres burnt an iron ore-laden truck and set up road blocks in some places in western and southern Orissa. Reports from Sambalpur said a group of 15 Maoists blocked a bridge from both ends near Rengali Badmal, about 25 from the District headquarters. The blockade affected traffic on National Highway 42, which links Cuttack with Sambalpur. The Maoists also blockaded roads at some places in the Malkangiri district. Further, a girl was killed in firing by Maoists, who set ablaze approximately 15 vehicles in an attempt to enforce a bandh in the Sarguja region of Chhattisgarh. International News Alliance, January 27, 2006.
United States and Al Qaeda violate Pakistan's sovereignty, says President Musharraf: President Pervez Musharraf has said in an interview with CNN that besides the United States, Al Qaeda also violates Pakistan’s sovereignty as it operates from within Pakistani territory. "While we are angry at the violation of (our) sovereignty by the US, I am also angry at the violation of (our) sovereignty by Al Qaeda," Gen. Musharraf told CNN’s Richard Quest at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said he believed around five or six Al Qaeda operatives were killed in the Bajaur air strike on January 13. But, he added that the US attack was an unjustified violation of an agreement that Pakistani forces should handle operations against Al Qaeda inside their territory. "We were disappointed… Intelligence is coordinated between our two countries, and there is cooperation on both sides at a strategic and tactical level. So it’s a disappointment and we hope this is not repeated," added Musharraf. Dawn, January 27, 2006.
using chemical weapons in Balochistan, says former Chief Minister: Former
Chief Minister of Balochistan, Sardar Attaullah Mengal, has claimed that Pakistani
security forces are using chemical weapons in the province. Mengal, who addressed
the media at the Karachi Press Club, supported his claim by showing pictures of
Baloch civilians who he said had been hit by chemical weapons. Further backing
his claim of use of chemical weapons, Mengal pointed to the pictures and said
that "you will note the blood coming out of people's mouth without any injury
to their bodies... what does this show... it shows that poisonous gases have been
used in the military operation." "Chemical weapons are being used (to resolve
the crisis), and a large number of women and children have died as a result,"
Mengal claimed in an interaction with the media. Demanding the presence of international
mediators to ensure a fair resolution of the dispute between the tribal-dominated
province and Islamabad, Mengal, who is presently the President of the Balochistan
National Party, said that the Balochis are not ready to negotiate with either
President Pervez Musharraf or his hand-picked Government. Hindustan
Times, January 24, 2006.
Government and LTTE agree on Swiss venue for talks: The Government of Sri Lanka and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will meet in Switzerland for talks on implementing their strained 2002 truce, Norway said on January 25, 2006. “Both sides agreed there is a need to come together to decide how the ceasefire can be implemented in a better manner… I expect Geneva to be the venue,” Solheim told reporters in Kilinochchi. Solheim said Norway had suggested Switzerland as a compromise venue, and that talks would probably be in February 2006. Daily Times, January 26, 2006.
Bangladesh: Extremism Related Fatalities, 2005
Source: Compiled from English language media sources
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