SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
For some years now, and certainly since the catastrophic 9/11 attacks, there has been a great deal of talk about the augmenting convergence of interests and perspectives between India and the US, and, despite historical suspicions, some hiccups and several irritants, the graph of relationships has shown continuous, though gradual, improvement. The character, content and atmospherics of President George Bush’s visit to India suggest that Indo-US relations have arrived at the end of the beginning, and are now geared to move significantly forward.
The inherent conflict of interests and perspectives between the political culture and society that is Pakistan, and those of the US, has also been vividly in evidence over these intervening years. After the successful end of the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, there was a natural and progressive disengagement on America’s part from the unstable, militarized, Islamist ‘republic’. This was abruptly reversed after 9/11, as perceptions of short-term strategic concerns and of Pakistan’s purported centrality in the ‘war on terror’ forced a mistaken reorientation of American policy, reviving a network of supporters at Washington who ignored accumulating evidence of Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, violation of democratic and human rights, widespread nuclear proliferation, and the most extraordinary range of lawless behaviour in the international sphere, to package and project the country as a close friend and necessary ally to a credulous American public and policy community. Evidence of the error of this approach has been mounting, as Pakistan spirals into disorder under its ‘strong leader’, General Pervez Musharraf, and, at the same time, remains a primary sponsor and safe haven for terrorism – both domestic and international. Finally, however, the contours of the Bush stop-over at Islamabad suggest that, for Pakistan, relations with the US are now poised at the beginning of the end.
No doubt, a great distance remains yet to be travelled – in both directions – and the course of history is notoriously convoluted. The direction of these movements is, however, substantially both necessary and inexorable. Pakistan’s unnatural strategic overreach, extended engagement with terrorism and Islamist extremism, and persistent political instability, have generated a blowback that threatens to sweep the country into widening disorder, and condemns it to necessary strategic irrelevance in the medium and long term. It is significant that every one of a large number of US strategic projections currently available, with time frames ranging from 2020 to 2050, confirm this strategic irrelevance. Conversely, the stability of India’s democracy and the increasing proportions and dynamism of its economy have underlined its importance in the same projected scenarios. Despite the personal proclivities of the leaders of the current US Administration, as well as the often highly personalized basis of decision making, it is inevitable, consequently, that US policy eventually shifts to align more consistently with US strategic projections.
Pakistan will, of course, vigorously contest these emerging trends, but its capacities to do so successfully are increasingly suspect. General Musharraf did arrange for another ritual slaughter of over a hundred ‘Al Qaeda militants’ in the North Waziristan Agency, to coincide with the Bush visit – but the US President did not appear to be overly impressed and simply encouraged him to do more in the war on terror.
The nuclear issue – rather than terrorism and Kashmir – dominated what is publicly known of President Bush’s tour of both India and Pakistan, and it was on this point that the long-flagellated ‘hyphenation’ of US relations with India and Pakistan was abruptly shattered. Bush unambiguously declared, when General Musharraf pressed for a comparable deal on civil nuclear cooperation at Islamabad: “Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories… as we proceed forward, our strategy will take in effect those well-known differences.”
The shock and disappointment in Islamabad has been palpable. Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri did bluster on, in a TV interview, about Pakistan’s ‘position of strength’, ‘defensive parity in South Asia’, and the ‘fact’ that an agreement on ‘mutual investment’ could have been pushed through, but most Pakistani commentators appeared to be in agreement that the country had gained little, indeed, that the visit “did more harm to relations between the two nations”.
The visit will also do a great deal of harm to Pakistan’s increasingly beleaguered Dictator. In the run-up to the Bush visit, demonstrations against the Danish cartoons initially orchestrated by sarkari (state sponsored) jehadi organisations had inadvertently acquired a momentum of their own, and had taken on the character of an anti-Musharraf, anti-Bush and anti-US campaign. The Karachi suicide bombing at the US Consulate on March 2, the eve of President Bush’s visit to Pakistan, in which an American diplomat was among the four killed, did little to ease tensions, though Bush did demonstrate solidarity by refusing to cancel the stopover at Islamabad because of “terrorists and killers”. Crucially, however, Musharraf very desperately needed something substantial to offset domestic perceptions and the fundamentalist lobby’s projection that he was paying too high a price for US support, and that he was an “American stooge”. This, despite efforts to suggest that much was in the pipeline, he did not receive. Instead, there was a pro forma homily on the need to restore democracy, and an embarrassing expression of the hope that the elections of 2007 would be “open and honest”. It is significant, within this context, to note, as Pakistani commentator Mohammad Shehzad does, that President Bush is “the fifth American President to visit Pakistan and on all five occasions, a democratic government was not in place.” On Kashmir, there was little more than an exhortation “for the leaders of both countries (India and Pakistan) to step up and lead”. Worse, for the first time, Bush openly suggested that Musharraf’s commitment to the war on terror was under review: “Part of my mission today was to determine whether or not the President is as committed as he has been in the past to bringing these terrorists to justice”. The conclusion, “and he is”, could only slightly soften the sting of the initial observation, particularly given Islamabad’s continuing and manifest bad faith on the sponsorship of and support to terrorism.
There are gradual, but tectonic shifts presently occurring in Asia’s strategic architecture, and President Bush’s visit, like that of his predecessor, President Bill Clinton in 2000, confirms these. Transient accidents of history – including perceived imperatives arising out of the 9/11 events – may momentarily militate against these broad movements, but cannot significantly alter the inexorable direction and momentum of the flow of history.
Once again, the rampaging Maoist movement has violently drawn attention to itself with a succession of daring and bloody attacks that go to the very core of governance, the credibility of administration, and the sagacity of political leadership across extended areas along India’s eastern board. The most significant of these was the February 28 landmine blast that killed, according to the official record, 26 villagers and injured another 40, while they were returning in trucks after a meeting of the state-sponsored anti-Maoist Salva Judum campaign. While this was probably the worst attack in the history of the Maoist movement, the current year has already seen a significant number of major Maoist operations:
February 6, 2006: Ten Nagaland Armed Police personnel were killed and eight injured when a powerful landmine exploded as their vehicle was moving through a forest in Dantewada District, Chhattisgarh.
February 9, 2006: Eight Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel were killed and several others injured when a large group of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres attacked the National Mineral Development Corporation store in the Hirauli area of Dantewada District. Mining officials feared that about 50 tonnes of explosives were looted.
February 28, 2006: 26 tribals were killed and 40 others sustained injuries in a landmine blast triggered near Eklagoda Village, in the jurisdiction of Errabore police station of Dantewada District, when they were returning from an anti-Maoist Salva Judum meeting in two trucks and a bus.
March 3, 2006: Maoist cadres, mainly women, posing as marriage party revelers, attacked a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) camp and a police outpost near Chandrapura in Bokaro District, Jharkhand, killing seven Security Force (SF) personnel.
March 5, 2006: Over 100 Maoist cadres attacked the Umaria Police Station in Bihar, close to the Jharkhand border, damaging the police station and adjoining residences. Three Maoists were killed and two policemen injured in the attack.
March 5, 2006: Maoists blew up a major portion of the Bhansi Railway Station in Dantewada District. A railway engine and a major portion of the platform were damaged, but no person was killed.
By the end of February, a total of 115 persons had already been killed in Maoist violence in 2006, including 61 civilians and 28 SF personnel – with Chhattisgarh accounting for the largest number, 74, including 49 civilians and 22 SF personnel.
This Maoist onslaught comes after another crucial year has been lost to vacillation, incoherence and neglect, as the steady creep of Maoist extremism continued across wide swathes of the country, penetrating unexpected areas with an array of unsettling tactics. On February 21, 2006, Minister of State for Home, Sri Prakash Jaiswal, conceded in Parliament that Maoist violence had increased dramatically in 2005, with 892 persons killed (516 civilians, 153 police personnel and 223 Maoists), compared to 653 persons (466 civilians, 100 police personnel and 87 Maoists) killed in 2004. The enhanced lethality of the Maoist conflict was demonstrated by the fact that, while incidents of Maoist violence had increased by just four per cent between 2004 and 2005, total fatalities registered an increase of nearly 37 per cent.
The growing audacity of the Maoists has been reflected in actions involving hundreds, and occasionally thousands, of cadres in operations that increasingly mimic the now-established tactics of their Nepali counterparts, involving coordinated attacks on police stations and posts, as well as on administrative headquarters and well-guarded government establishments. The first of these – at that time an extraordinary – attacks occurred in Koraput, Orissa, in February 2004, when a few hundred cadre overran the District Headquarters, including the City Police Station, the Sadar (town) Police Camp, the Office of the District Superintendent of Police, the Treasury and the Orissa Special Armed Police 3rd Battalion Centre; simultaneous attacks were also launched on three police stations at Laxmipur, Narayanpatna and Kakriguma, all in the Koraput District. The Maoists looted some 200 weapons and killed four SF personnel in this raid.
While there were lesser experiments of this nature thereafter, the Jehanabad Jailbreak set a new benchmark on November 13, 2005, in the midst of the processes for the Legislative Assembly Elections in Bihar. An estimated 200 Maoist ‘hard core’ cadre, backed by over 800 ‘sympathisers’, attacked the Jehanabad District Jail, freeing 341 prisoners and abducting more than 20 activists of the Ranvir Sena (a private militia of upper caste landlords), and looting a large quantity of arms and ammunition. Seven persons (three Maoists, two Ranvir Sena cadre and two police personnel) were killed in this attack. The Maoists subsequently executed nine of the abducted Ranvir Sena cadre. The Maoists took control of all the entry and exit points to the town, and carried out simultaneous attacks on the District Court, Police Lines, District Armoury, the residence of the District Judge, and the SS College, where a Para-Military Forces Camp had been set up.
Earlier, on November 11, over a hundred Maoists had attacked a Home Guard Training Centre at Pachamba in the Giridih District of neighbouring Jharkhand, killing five persons and decamping with 183 rifles, some pistols and a substantial cache of ammunition.
June 23, 2005, had also witnessed synchronized attacks across nine locations in the Madhuban Block of the East Champaran District, Bihar, when large groups of Maoists attacked the Police Station, Block Ofice, Post Office, two Banks, a Petrol Pump, and the homes of Rashtriya Janata Dal Member of Parliament from the Sheohar constituency, Sitaram Singh, and two supporters. The resulting gun-battle spilled over into the neighbouring Sheohar and Sitamarhi Districts, and twenty Maoists, four SF personnel and two civilians were dead by the time the assault ended.
The Jehanabad Jailbreak represented a major tactical shift in the Maoist strategy. As a Maoist Press Release on November 14, 2005, declaimed, the Jehanabad attack demonstrated that,
The Press Release declared, further,
The increasing effectiveness and organization reflected in the Maoist attacks has worried SF leaders. J.K. Sinha, the Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which has its personnel deployed across all the Maoist afflicted States, admitted, “We are not much concerned about 20 small acts of violence because these activities can be controlled by us, but the bigger attacks are worrisome… They (the Maoists) are now trying the ambush our men so they can have the maximum impact on the morale of the Force.”
In the meanwhile, state responses grind on in the established rut, throwing more men and more money into the conflagration, with little concern for strategic consistency, operational efficiency, or effective coordination. Large amounts of money have been allocated by the Centre to the States for Police modernization, but remain largely unused, or are misdirected into other expenditure. In May 2005, Jaiswal complained: “The money is under-utilized despite the Centre relaxing norms and by reducing amount of matching grants which have to be given by the States from 50 to 40 per cent, 40 to 25 per cent, and 25 to cent per cent (sic)”. Utilization of funds was particularly poor in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Jharkhand, for instance, received Rs. 360 million for police modernization for the period 2005-2006, but till the end of December 2005 had utilized just Rs. 20 million. In the meanwhile, Police proposals to purchase 15 anti-landmine vehicles were on hold because of ‘lack of funds’, many of the State’s 400 police stations were housed in decrepit hired buildings, and funds intended for the modernisation programme were diverted to buy luxury cars for State Ministers and bureaucrats.
In July 2005, after the breakdown of the talks between the Maoists and the State Government in Andhra Pradesh, the Task Force on Naxalism (Left Wing Extremism) declared a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ towards the Maoists, unless they gave up arms. However, reflecting a habitual confusion, the Task Force simultaneously encouraged affected States to initiate talks with the Maoists ‘provided they are within the legal framework’ (though it is not clear how talks with an anti-State group that has been responsible for killing thousands of civilians and security personnel can be ‘within the legal framework’).
A Naxalite Coordination Centre has been established under the Union Home Ministry, with the National Coordination Committee (NCC) as part of it, since June 1998. There is, however, little evidence of coordination between the various States afflicted by the Maoist terror. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh observed, for instance, “Some States want to hold talks with them. Some would like to take a tough stand. Such individual policies are not going to help.” Worse, the Constitutional scheme, which places law and order management squarely within the purview of the States’ jurisdiction, clearly obstructs any enlargement of the Central role, even as it undermines effective cooperation between often-fractious States ruled by polarized political formations. After the February 28, 2006, landmine explosion that killed 26 tribals in Chhattisgarh, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil stated in Parliament, on March 1, 2006, “We are all responsible; we are all sorry.” Nevertheless, he noted further that the Centre had given prior information to the State Government regarding such an incident, and that the Centre was ‘extending all cooperation and had also drawn plans with adjoining States’. Further, 26,000 Central police personnel were already ‘at the disposal of the States. However, ‘it was for the States to utilize these forces and the Centre would not like to direct them, since it would amount to interference’.
It is not clear how this unwieldy scheme can lend itself to effective operational coordination against as highly motivated, relentlessly violent and strategically oriented an adversary as the Maoists. Even as Patil apologized in Parliament for the February 28 incident, and as criticism of the Salva Judum campaign mounted across the country, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh declared that the Salva Judum ‘would continue’ despite the attack: “The Government will redesign the strategy and give a new direction to the campaign,” he said, while describing the Maoist attack as “desperate and cowardly”.
While the state continues to flounder in confusion, taking refuge in clichés about terrorist ‘desperation’ and ‘cowardice’, there is clear and accumulating evidence that the Maoists are work according to a coherent long-term plan. The continuous extension of the sphere and effectiveness of violent activities is, no doubt, the most dramatic manifestation of this strategy, but it does not exhaust it. In West Bengal, where Maoist activities currently remain at a low key, a Maoist ‘central committee member’ identified as ‘Comrade Dhruba’ explained in July 2005 that, apart from Bankura, Purulia and Medinipur Districts, “our mass base in Murshidabad, Malda, Burdwan and Nadia is ready. After five years, we will launch our strikes.” These are the time frames of execution of a methodical and detailed strategy that is currently being executed across large areas of the country that are not currently afflicted by Maoist violence, and that are in still in the initial stages of ‘mass political mobilization’. Across these areas, security professionals remain largely oblivious to the dangers, till the stage of violence is actually reached – years after the consolidation of the Maoist ‘mass base’. Regrettably, apart from throwing in more resources – manpower and funds – into areas afflicted by high levels of violence, and general declarations of intent regarding economic development, and political and land reforms, there appears to be no coherent or consistent strategy to contain the systematic extension of the Maoist advance, and no accurate and consistently held assessment articulated within the national policy establishment of the magnitude of the danger to national security. The dangerous delusion that this is an ‘internal problem’ that can be ‘easily contained’ does not appear to have been diluted in any measure by the many decades across which the country has failed abysmally to contain the menace of Left Wing extremism and violence.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
February 27- March 05, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Chiefs of JMJB and JMB arrested: Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, 'Commander' of the outlawed Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), is reported to have been arrested at his hideout along with two of his associates in the Mymensingh District on March 6, 2006. Troops had surrounded Bangla Bhai's hideout since midnight and JMJB cadres reportedly threw bombs at them and subsequently opened fire, triggering a shootout.
Earlier, on March 2, 2006, security forces (SFs) arrested the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) chief, Sheikh Abdur Rahman, from his hideout at East Shaplabagh in the Sylhet city after a siege of more than 24 hours. "Sheikh Abdur Rahman along with two of his associates have come out of hiding and surrendered," said Lieutenant-Colonel Nurul Momen to Reuters. Earlier, while altercating with the SFs, Rahman claimed he would rather commit suicide than surrender and said he would not talk with anyone except State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar and asked the law enforcers to contact him. Rahman's wife Ayesha, their two sons and two daughters had earlier emerged from the house after tear gas shells were fired. They were among nine people detained. Reuters, March 6, 2006; The Daily Star, March 3, 2006.
26 people killed in Maoist-triggered landmine explosion in Chhattisgarh: At least 26 people were killed and 40 others sustained injuries in a landmine blast triggered by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) near Eklagoda Village, in the jurisdiction of Arabore Police Station of the Dantewada District on February 28, 2006. More than 200 people, mostly tribals, were reportedly returning from an anti-Maoist Salwa Judum meeting in two trucks and a bus when the Maoists detonated a landmine, blowing up one of the vehicles. The Hindu, March 1, 2006.
Over 100 terrorists killed in North Waziristan: More than 100 terrorists were reportedly killed in two separate operations by security forces (SFs) at Miranshah and Mir Ali in North Waziristan on March 4, 2006. Three SF personnel died while nine others were wounded in the operation. The main army base at Miranshah came under heavy rocket fire from terrorists, who also occupied the main Miranshah Bazaar, various Government offices and the telephone exchange. SFs retaliated with helicopter gun ships and heavy artillery fire, Geo Television reported. It confirmed that at least 85 terrorists had died in the operation. Meanwhile, unidentified men ambushed a SF convoy in Mir Ali, killing two soldiers and injuring seven others. The troops killed 25 terrorists in retaliation, Geo said. There were also unconfirmed reports of deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire. The encounter reportedly commenced on March 4-afternoon after the main Army base was attacked "from all sides", eyewitnesses and a military official said.
Earlier, SFs killed at least 41 foreign terrorists, including their Chechen 'commander', in a raid carried out by helicopter gunships on their hideout on March 1 at Danday Saidgai village in North Waziristan. Four Pakistani tribesmen and a soldier were also killed and an unspecified number of them injured in the raid and subsequent exchange of fire. An unnamed senior military officer said the slain Chechen 'commander' was named Asad. The officer denied reports that Tahir Yuldashev, chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was the prime target in the raid. Daily Times, March 5, 2006; Jang, March 2, 2006.
US and Pakistan pledge to combat terrorism: Pakistan and the United States on March 4, 2006 reaffirmed their commitment to a lasting strategic partnership with close cooperation in the war on terror. "Part of my mission today was to determine whether or not the president is as committed as he has been in the past to bringing the terrorists to justice, and he is," US President George W. Bush said in response to a question at a joint press conference with President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad. "He understands the stakes; he understands the responsibility; and he understands the need to make sure our strategy is able to defeat the enemy," said the visiting US President. The US President also said Pakistan and India had an historic opportunity to work towards lasting peace. He stated: "President Musharraf and Prime Minister Singh have shown themselves to be leaders of courage and vision. I encourage all sides to continue to make progress on important issues, including Kashmir. The best way for Kashmir to be resolved is for leaders of both countries to step up and lead." He added that the US role in this was to "continue to encourage the parties to come together". Daily Times, March 5, 2006.
US diplomat among four persons killed in suicide bombing in Karachi: A US diplomat, identified as David Fyfe, his Pakistani driver and a Rangers official were killed and 54 persons injured in a suicide car bombing near the US Consulate in Karachi on March 2-morning, a day before the US President George W. Bush reached Pakistan. The blast occurred behind the Marriott Hotel and in front of the Naval Central Surgery, a few yards away from the Consulate. Niaz Siddiqi, the Capital City Police Officer, confirmed at a news conference that it was a suicide car bombing. "The blast was suicidal and pieces of a human body found from the site are those of the suicide bomber," disclosed Siddiqi. "Due to strict security arrangements, the suicide bomber could not reach his target (the US consulate) and blew the car up on the way, when a motorcade of US diplomats was passing through," he added. Dawn, March 3, 2006.
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