SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
President Pervez Musharraf said after talks with his visiting Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai in Islamabad on February 15, 2006, that terrorism was a common enemy and the two countries had to combat it together. And while Afghanistan, under intense pressure from spiraling terrorist violence, accused Pakistan of failing to stop the Taliban from launching cross-border attacks and suicide bombings, General Musharraf only responded by calling on "all the progressive political elements in Pakistan" to suppress those who ‘may be abetting the Taliban’.
A few days before the Karzai visit, a large Pashtun convention in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan, had called for the erasure of the British-created ‘imaginary’ Durand Line, which functions as the technical border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Speaking at the rally after an unanimous resolution called for the removal of the 2,640-kilometer-long Durand Line, Asfayandar Wali Khan, Chief of the Awami National Party (ANP), said that it was imperative to do away with the illusory line which, the Pashtun supremo declared, had artificially separated the Pashtu-speaking people for over a century.
The Durand Line designates the shoddily marked 2,640-kilometer-long border between the two countries. After being defeated in two wars against the Afghans, the British, in line with their famed ‘divide-and-rule’ policy, succeeded in 1893 in imposing the Durand Line between what was then British India (now the NWFP and Balochistan of Pakistan) and a truncated Afghanistan. Named after Sir Mortimer Durand, the then Foreign Secretary of the British Indian Government, the border, arguably, was erected to divide the Pashtun tribes whom the colonial empire considered formidable adversaries. The treaty, strongly opposed by the then Afghan Amir (chief) Abdur Rahman Shah, was to be in force for a 100-year period.
Citing the example of the Berlin Wall, Asfayandar Wali Khan now advocates a separate state for the Pashtuns, obliterating the Durand Line. “It's a line whose time has ended”, Asfayandar who is the grandson of Khan Abdul Gafar Khan, revered as the ‘Frontier Gandhi’ in this part of the world, proclaimed. The ANP, which, just days before the convention, had merged with the Pakhtoonkhawa Qaumi Party, is widely believed to be articulating a position that finds favour with a majority of Pashtuns living on either side of the border. At the Pashtun convention, sources indicate, many from the various Pashtu tribes. endorsed the view for the creation of a separate Pashtun state. The average Pashtun has, for long, hoped that the Durand Line will be erased to enable Pakhtoons living in the NWFP, parts of North Balochistan and in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan to form a state of their own. Incidentally, within Pakistan, the NWFP, Balochistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are currently witnessing extensive unrest and anti-state violence.
Pakistani insecurities on the Afghan front are directly related to the contested nature of the Durand Line. Most Afghans (and Pashtuns) believe that the Durand Line should rightly have been drawn much further South, at Attock, and this is what the Afghans will inevitably press for when their country is strong enough. Within this context, it is useful to note that, south of the Durand Line, in what are currently the Pakistani NWFP and FATA, land records, police, legal and administrative records still refer to the people as 'Afghan'.
The Taliban, as has been documented extensively, exists on both sides of the border. While they have obviously been weakened, they retain substantial subversive capacities. With Islamabad’s strategy to quieten the chaotic Waziristan region along the Afghan border having failed, the mountainous terrain along the Durand Line provides a secure pathway and safe hideout for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. On February 17, Afghan television channel Tolo broadcast video recordings of men beheaded in Pakistan because they opposed the presence of Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists there. The macabre images showed the heads of three men being held up in front of a crowd, which chanted "Long live Osama bin Laden" and "Long live Mullah Omar." "The footage... shows half a dozen dead bodies being dragged by a vehicle through the streets of Mandrakhel [in Waziristan] – while a uniformed Pakistani military officer drives past without interfering," Tolo stated.
Afghan officials have consistently asserted that Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives are coming in from Pakistan, where they are reportedly based in areas of the NWFP, FATA, and also from Balochistan. Afghanistan has given Pakistan detailed information about members of the Taliban who, Kabul says, are orchestrating an insurgency from Pakistani soil. On February 18, President Hamid Karzai told a News Conference at Kabul, "We gave our brothers a lot of information, very detailed information about individuals, locations and other issues", referring to the intelligence handed over to the Pakistani authorities. Karzai, according to noted Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, handed over extensive intelligence dossiers to Musharraf, containing details of how suicide bombers who attack targets in Afghanistan are being recruited, trained and equipped in Pakistan. The dossiers reportedly include the names and addresses of Pakistani recruiters, trainers and suppliers. “In places like Karachi, Pakistani extremist groups working on behalf of the Taliban for a fee carry out the recruitment and then bring them to safe houses in Balochistan for training and equipping with the (suicide) vests,” said a senior Afghan official who accompanied Karzai. The official said that all top Taliban ‘commanders’, including Mullah Mohammed Omar, are known to be living in Pakistan and the issue had been repeatedly raised with Pakistan.
Taliban have regrouped rather well along the Afghan countryside, particularly in provinces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Unsurprisingly, violence is significant near the Pakistan border. The subversion that targets Afghan provinces close to Pakistan, like Paktika, is a reality despite the fact that Islamabad has deployed approximately 80,000 troops on their side of the border. The burden of evidence suggests that the Taliban/Al Qaeda have in fact been provided space by the military to operate in the Pakistani areas along the border. Notably, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an Islamist alliance with close links to the Taliban, governs Balochistan and the NWFP.
The security establishment in Afghanistan, including coalition intelligence sources, has indicated a disturbing shift in terrorist tactics, with the Jihadis increasingly adopting 'Iraq-style' suicide attacks. At least 30 suicide bomb attacks have killed nearly 100 people since November 2005, most of them claimed by the Taliban. There are 200 to 250 Fidayeen (suicide squad members) ready to go into action, Mohammad Hanif, a Taliban spokesperson, disclosed to Western journalist Scott Baldouf. And the more recent violence in Afghanistan indicates a widening geographical expanse of subversion, with the Taliban and Al Qaeda orchestrating attacks beyond the Taliban's traditional stronghold in Kandahar and Uruzgan. For instance, thus far in 2006, terrorist violence has been reported from Helmand, Herat, Konar and Nangarhar provinces, in addition to an escalation of fighting along both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The U.S.-led coalition suffered at least 99 fatalities in 2005, the highest toll since 2001, and overall terrorist violence in Afghanistan during 2005 claimed at least 1,500 lives.
Assisting the Pakistani and Taliban strategy is the regrettable reality that the Karzai regime has little control over southern and eastern Afghanistan. The end-game that Islamabad seeks to achieve, while reframing its quest for 'strategic depth', is to prevent the Kabul regime from stabilizing without a pre-dominant Pakistani role. Anything contrary to this would mean an increase in the dissent on the Durand Line, and a further destabilization of North Balochistan, the NWFP and FATA.
On February 4, 2006, soldiers of the Indian Army’s 1/3 Gorkha Rifles picked up a suspected United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) cadre – Ajit Mahanta – from his cottage at Gohain village under the Kakopathar Police Station of Tinsukia district. Mahanta reportedly was subjected to torture and killed during interrogations on February 5 and was subsequently dumped at the Assam Medical College in Dibrugarh. In a politically charged Assam, where elections to the State Legislative Assembly are due in May 2006, the issue has assumed serious proportions, much beyond the regular demands of the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and withdrawal of Army from the State.
The Army’s corrective measures were swift. An inquiry into Ajit Mahanta’s death was instituted. On February 12, the General Officer Commanding, Eastern Command, Lt. Gen. Arvind Sharma, visited Mahanta’s house and handed over a compensation amount of Rupees 100,000 to the family. Lt. Gen. Sharma announced that the Army would construct Mahanta’s house, adopt both his young children and provide a job to his wife. All that, however, appeared to have come a little too late and failed to assuage the anger of the local people.
Following Ajit Mahanta’s death, a large crowd, swelling to anywhere between 15,000 to 30,000, turned the area into a virtual war-zone blocking Highway 52, which links Assam to Arunachal Pradesh, for over four days between February 7 and 10; mobs burnt down passing vehicles, the railway station, post office and Government quarters before marching on to the Kakopathar Police Station with an intention of setting it afire. The ensuing fracas and firing on February 10 led to the death of nine persons, including two Security Force (SF) personnel. The rampaging mob also managed to snatch away two AK-47 rifles from the SF personnel.
There have, of course, been demonstrations over alleged human rights violations in Assam in the past. However, it is difficult to place the current protests, which involved extreme violence interspersed with calls for secession, within the overall trend of similar protests, which usually end with the announcement of an inquiry. ULFA’s stamp on the mass mobilization and the subsequent violent demonstrations in Kakopathar is, in fact, visible. Sources indicate that in a general meeting, blessed by the ULFA, held on February 10 at the blockade site of Kakopathar, resolutions such as ‘Declare the area as a liberated zone’, ‘Launch People’s war on the Army’, ‘Attack Army bases in the area’, were adopted, which finally culminated in the attack on the Kakopathar Police Station. During the blockade days, ULFA continued to target the security force personnel in the nearby Pangeri and Makum areas, resulting in exchanges of fire.
Intelligence sources indicate that, taking advantage of the negotiations with the Government and the consequent easing of SF operations in the area, ULFA has been able to regain its lost base in the upper Assam area and of late, has entered into fresh understandings with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) present across the border in Nagaland. The Army’s arrest and interrogations of several youths in the area, including Ajit Mahanta, can be seen in this light.
Electoral politics is also playing the spoiler, with ULFA remaining a potent force, courted by several political formations. Both the Government led by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, hoping for a comeback to power and other political parties in the State including the once powerful Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), have done their bit to take advantage of the situation in the hope of securing some electoral advantage. The State Government has allowed the situation to drift in the hope of taking electoral advantage and there was hardly any determined effort to end the highway blockade and accompanying violence. Moreover, since the formation of the ULFA-backed People’s Consultative Group (PCG), on September 29, 2005, which has so far held two rounds of dialogue with the Union Government at New Delhi, the Assam Government has allowed the holding of several open meetings across Assam, including one at the politically central Judges Field in Guwahati, where resolutions favouring an ‘independent Assam’ have been passed.
On February 11, the Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi, during an election rally at Tezpur in Upper Assam, promised to punish the guilty involved in the incident. Such declarations of intent and clarity of purpose are rare, and were conspicuous by their absence, for instance, in the Manorama Devi custodial killing of August 2004 in Manipur under similar circumstances.
The ongoing ‘peace talks’ between the PCG and the Union Government have not put a halt on the endemic terrorist violence in Assam. According to a statement by Assam Minister of State for Home, Rockybul Hussain, on February 6, 2006, since the first meeting with the PCG on October 26, 2005, as many as 70 subversive incidents took place in the State and public properties worth Rs. 9,570,300 were damaged. During this period, four Army personnel, 12 civilians and 12 militants were killed. In fact, ULFA’s violent activities have been systematic and have been used as a ‘driver’ to move the ‘peace process’ in a certain direction. A series of bomb blasts across the State between January 20 and 24, was engineered to force the Union Government to hold the second round of dialogue with the PCG on February 7. While the ULFA has been able to successfully link the cessation of SF operations to the beginning of a peace process, the Government, curiously, in spite of periodic assertions to the effect, has not been able to convince ULFA to give up violence during the talks with the PCG.
Under the circumstances, SF operations in the State have been carried out under enormous pressure. On February 1, 2006, for instance, Army personnel were forced to call off anti-ULFA operations at Jeraigaon, the native village of the outfit’s commander-in-chief, Paresh Baruah, in the Dibrugarh District, following protests by organizations like the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the PCG. Earlier, on August 31, 2005, the 2nd Mountain Division had laid siege at the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Upper Assam for 27 days, surrounding an armed contingent of the ULFA, but were forced to pull back after a PCG delegation called on the Chief Minister seeking the termination of the operation ‘to create a congenial and conducive atmosphere for talks’. Four ULFA cadres had been killed before the siege ended, and a huge cache of arms and ammunition was recovered, though the bulk of ULFA cadres were allowed to escape.
That the ruling Congress Party’s recent actions have been influenced by the forthcoming elections was again evident in proposed amendments to the Foreigners Act, 1946. Recommendations by the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs seek to establish tribunals to pursue cases against the illegal migrants from Bangladesh, on the pattern of the discriminatory and disastrous Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) [IM(DT)] Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court on July 12, 2005. The withdrawal of the IMDT Act led to a tremendous backlash from the Muslim organisations in the State who had promised to ‘teach the Congress a lesson’ in the elections. Amendments to the Foreigners Act, which would apply only to Assam, would again attempt to lay the onus of proof on the police to establish the identity of suspected foreigners before a judicial tribunal – the very clause that had ensured the failure of the IMDT.
Muslims constitute nearly 30 per cent of the State’s population, and their support has had defining impact on electoral outcomes in the past. Estimates indicate that Muslims – including a large number of illegal migrants who have been fraudulently assisted in securing voting rights – dominate at least 40 of the State’s 126 Assembly Constituencies. Sonia Gandhi’s assertion on February 11 in Barpeta, an area believed to be migrant dominated, that proposed amendments to the Foreigners Act would provide the same protection to the alleged foreigners that the IMDT Act did, is a clear indicator of the party’s intentions.
Under the IMDT Act, between January 1985 and December 2004, after a total expense of Rupees four billion, just 12,424 persons were declared illegal migrants in the State. Of these only 1,538 persons could be deported, with the police failing to trace the whereabouts of the rest. The amended Foreigners Act will ensure that the law enforcers would be similarly handicapped while dealing with the illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
Sources indicate that Chief Minister Gogoi, earlier in favour of holding the elections before the Bihu festivities in April, now wants these to be delayed to the maximum permissible limit of May 22 in the hope of winning back the ‘minority vote’ and containing the fallout of the Kakopathar incident. There are also indications that ULFA is setting up candidates exclusively from Motok and Moran tribes (several of the group’s leaders, including Paresh Baruah are from these tribes) to contest the elections from five Assembly Constituencies in upper Assam. None of the political parties in the State are likely to miss an opportunity of tying up with the ULFA to secure their electoral victory.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
February 13-19, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Prime Minister meets JKLF chief Yasin Malik: On February 17, 2006 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met separatist leader and chief of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Yasin Malik, in New Delhi and reportedly assured him that the Union Government has an "open mind" and would like to involve a larger cross section of public opinion to end "the period of suffering". In his first meeting with Malik, Dr. Singh said there was an air of optimism in Jammu and Kashmir and an opportunity to bring lasting and permanent peace in the State. Terming his meeting with the Prime Minister as part of "consultations", Malik claimed that the peace process would become irreversible only after key militant leaders were included in the talks. Malik said he wanted the Union Government to hold talks with separatist leaders in a third country on the line of negotiations being held with the Naga insurgent group NSCN-IM. Malik is the second leader after Sajjad Lone of the People’s Conference to be invited by the Prime Minister for talks on the Kashmir issue. The Prime Minister’s meeting with Malik comes a week ahead of his talks with a cross-section of political parties and separatists groups from the State. Daily Excelsior, February 18, 2006.
Former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba released: Former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and former minister for Physical Planning and Works, Prakash Man Singh, who were put under custody by the Royal Commission for Corruption Control (RCCC) for alleged irregularities in the Melamchi Drinking Water Project (MDWP), were released at midnight on February 13 after the Supreme Court scrapped the RCCC. Deuba was reportedly freed from the Police Academy in Maharajgunj where he was detained, while Singh was freed from Pahara Gan in Tripureshwor. The Supreme Court ordered the scrapping of the controversial RCCC saying the formation of the anti-graft body was unconstitutional as it contradicted with Articles 83 (3), 84, 85, 88 (3), 89, 105 (7) and 127 of the Constitution of the Kingdom (1990). Nepal News, February 14, 2006.
Lashkar-e-Toiba chief put under house arrest in Lahore: The Government on February 17, 2006 reportedly put Hafiz Mohamed Saeed, chief of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), under house arrest and barred him from addressing a conference against the publication of blasphemous cartoons in several European newspapers. The chief of LeT, which is also known as Jamaat-ud-Da’awah, was put under house arrest in Lahore to stop him from addressing an anti-cartoon conference in the city of Faisalabad in the Punjab province, his spokesperson Yahya Mujahid said. Yahya claimed that a heavy contingent of police arrived at the Lahore home of Saeed and told him he could not go outside. Reuters, February 17, 2006.
Three Chinese engineers and Pakistani driver killed in Balochistan: Three Chinese engineers and a Pakistani driver were killed on February 15, 2006 in Hub city, about 700 kilometers south of Quetta, capital of Balochistan province. Hub Deputy Inspector General of Police, Pervaiz Zahoor, informed that the Chinese, Long Wan Dei, Zhaobin and Veiy Jang Chang, were returning to their homes from work at Attock Cement Factory. A man identifying himself as Meerak Baloch, spokesman of the Balochistan Liberation Army, claimed responsibility for the attack. He said that the Chinese should stop work on all projects that the Baloch oppose in the province. This was the second attack in the province targeting Chinese after three engineers helping to develop a deep seaport in Gwadar were killed on May 3, 2004 in a car bomb explosion. Daily Times, February 16, 2006.
9,300 seminaries registered so far: At least 9,300 seminaries belonging to the Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat Madaris-e-Deeniya (ITMD), an alliance of five religious boards, have been registered with the Government. Religious Affairs Minister Ejazul Haq said at a press conference in Islamabad on February 14, 2006 that 11,882 seminaries are associated with the ITMD. He said the registration process began immediately after an agreement between the Government and the ITMD on September 22, 2005. There is no deadline for registration as it is a continuous process, he said. Daily Times, February 15, 2006.
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