SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
On July 6, 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) rejecting a petition that claimed that the organisation had not been found to engage in any terrorist activities.
Significantly, Mohammad Aamir, the chief of SIMI's Uttar Pradesh State unit and the prime accused in the Kanpur riots of March 16, surrendered before a metropolitan magistrate on April 25 after spending a night with the police. Before the media could get a whiff of the surrender, Aamir, who is believed to have spent almost a year in terrorist training camps in Bangladesh, was ensconced in the barracks of Kanpur Jail. With pressure to act against Aamir mounting, the surrender proved a convenient way out for the State Government, after an earlier plan for his surrender in March was aborted on grounds of political expediency.
The September 27, 2001, proscription under section 3(1) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, was intended to neutralize SIMI's capacities, which had become a source of visible threat to national security. However, the annual renewal of the proscription notwithstanding (the latest ban order was issued on February 8, 2006), the organisation has managed not only to continue with its not-so-covert activities in its traditional strongholds, but to extend activities into new areas. In an age when ‘zero tolerance' is the declared policy towards any terrorist challenge to India's security, the official response has been marked by a typical mix of administrative lethargy, political opportunism and a lack of a coherent policy.
Before its proscription, SIMI enjoyed a close working relationship with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) in Bangladesh and its students' wing, the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS). Over the years, while old linkages have continued, a new nexus has been established with the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B). Investigations into the July 28, 2005, Shramjeevi Express explosion near Jaunpur and the Varanasi serial blasts of March 7, 2006, indicated a role played by SIMI ansars (full-time cadres) and the HuJI-B's cadres/agents. The prime conspirator of the Varanasi blasts, thirty-two year Waliullah, the Pesh Imam of Phulpur in Allahabad, who was arrested on April 5 near Gosainganj, on the outskirts of Lucknow, was a SIMI ansar who had earlier been arrested in 2001, along with three of his brothers, on charges of harbouring terrorists. Mohammad Zubair, a resident of Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh, who was involved in the attacks in Varanasi's Sankatmochan Temple and the Railway Station and was subsequently gunned down in the Handwara area in the Kashmir Valley, was also a SIMI cadre. Babu Bhai, the man behind the Shramjeevi Express blasts near Jaunpur, was, again, a SIMI ansar who received training at an ICS-run training camps in Ukhia, Bangladesh.
These three young men were products of a continuous recruitment drive by SIMI cadres for the HuJI-B in Uttar Pradesh's Jaunpur, Allahabad, Kanpur, Lucknow, Ambedkar Nagar, Aligarh, Azamgarh, Sonauli, Ferozabad, Hathras areas. Till the first quarter of the current year, SIMI old-timers like Mohammad Aamir, Mohammad Salman, Mohammad Rehan and Shariq Fahim, most of whom have spent time in Bangladesh, were in charge of such operations. SIMI cadres, according to sources, are also involved in safe transportation of explosives, as well as the creation of channels for funds and securing safe houses for HUJI-B cadres.
SIMI's operations in the southern State of Kerala reflect a different modus operandi. Here, SIMI operates under the cover of some 12 front organisations, at least two of which are based in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram, and a third in the port city of Kochi. Kondotty in Malappuram District has also emerged as a hot-bed of SIMI activities. An official declaration submitted on June 1, 2006, by the State Government before the tribunal examining the legality of the ban on SIMI, indicated that the outfit's cadres had ‘lately' developed links with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Reports from various agencies, including the State Police Special Branch further indicate that SIMI is operating under the cover of religious study centres, rural development and research centres. Some of these front organisations were spreading "extremist religious ideals" among sections of youth in Kerala by acting under the guise of "counselling and guidance centres working for behavioural change". SIMI is also reported to have established a women's wing in Kerala. Generous funds for such activities flow in from contacts in Kuwait and Pakistan.
SIMI activists have reportedly been meeting covertly in different parts of the State to increase their network of associates and sympathisers. The State Crime Branch is currently investigating the role played by SIMI cadres in the murder of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) zilla seva pramukh (District President), N. Sunil Kumar, on May 9, 2006. Official sources maintain that SIMI's covert activities in the State were given a boost after 25 of its key activists met at Chinthavilappu in Kozhikode some time in 2005. A religious scholar from Minicoy in Lakshadweep had also given discourses with a strong fundamentalist message in Malappuram at the behest of SIMI activists. Similar community ‘get-togethers' have been organised by SIMI activists in Thrissur and Kozhikode in the recent past.
In the western State of Maharastra, areas such as Aurangabad, Malegaon, Jalgaon and Thane have remained SIMI strongholds. Following the death of Irfan Moinuddin Attar, the Kolhapur-based Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) cadre, killed in an encounter near Tral town in the Pulwama District of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on May 30, 2006, the police are maintaining a close vigil on SIMI activists in the State. Irfan was engaged in terrorist activities in J&K under the name of Janbaaz Hizbi after a stint in the madrassas (seminaries) of Shirol and Udgam in Kolhapur District, and a subsequent stay in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Intelligence agencies indicate that madrassas in the Districts of Jalgaon, Nashik, Thane, Sholapur, Kolhapur, Gadchiroli, Nanded, Aurangabad, Malegaon and Pune have been brought under the scanner for SIMI activities. There are more than 3,000 madrassas in the State, with about 200,000 students. As many as 500 madrassas are located in the State capital, Mumbai. Sources indicate that many of these madrassas are potential breeding grounds for SIMI's activities.
SIMI activists, over the years, have also become a vital part of the LeT's grand plans for destabilisation in India. The Maharashtra Police suspect that the three LeT terrorists who came to Nagpur to attack the RSS headquarters on June 1 used the SIMI network in arranging arms and ammunition for the task. The seizure of 30 kilograms of RDX, 17 AK-47s and 50 hand grenades from Aurangabad and Malegaon between May 9 and 12 and subsequent arrests of 11 LeT terrorists pointed to similar linkages. Most of the hideouts used by the LeT cadres belonged to SIMI activists. Even the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) of the Mumbai police had named a former SIMI member, Zainuddin Ansari, as the LeT appointee in the Marathwada region, including Parbhani, Aurangabad and Beed.
The LeT has reportedly conducted aggressive recruitments in both Maharashtra and Gujarat and SIMI appears to have provided it with manpower for this drive. The outfit is believed to be specially targeting well-educated and technically sound persons for its operations. At least four of the 11 LeT operatives arrested from Aurangabad and Beed were well-educated and technically competent. Dr. Sharif Ahmed, arrested from Aurangabad on May 15, is a doctor. Bilal Ansari, another Lashkar operative, is a professional calligraphist, Sayyed Jafruddin is a second year Bachelor of Science student and is proficient in computers. Still evading arrest is Zahibuddin Ansari alias Zaby who is a graduate and an electrician.
Mohammed Amir Shakeel Ahmad Sheikh is another SIMI activist arrested in the arms haul case. Sheikh had come under the intelligence scanner for the first time in 1999 after he made a provocative speech at a meeting of SIMI members, which was attended by Azam Ghauri, a top LeT commander. Azam Ghauri was shot dead by the Hyderabad Police in Karimnagar on April 6, 2000. Ahmed — a high school dropout — was then trailed by intelligence officials for several months. But his links with LeT could not be established. Following his recent arrest, it has now come to light that Ahmad and at least five other SIMI members were the first to be recruited by the Lashkar in the name of jihad.
SIMI's activities have also continued in Assam and West Bengal, where the organisation has infiltrated madrassas, Muslim clubs, libraries, and other cultural bodies for covert mobilisation of Islamist forces. In 2003, SIMI activists have operated from the platform of ‘Islamic Siksha Shivirs' (Islamic Educational Camps) in Mograhat in the North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. A two-day ‘workshop' organised in the District between August 31 and September 1 had, in fact, finalised the outfit's infiltration plans. Sources indicate that in August 2003, one Jamaluddin Chaudhory of the ICS had taken seven SIMI activists from Assam and West Bengal to residential madrassas in Chittagong, Rangpur and Dhaka for ‘higher Islamic studies'. Additionally, some hardcore SIMI activists from Malda and South 24 Parganas had crossed over to Bangladesh for higher studies in Islamic theology at a Saudi-funded private institution in Chittagong. In the 2004 general elections, SIMI had backed the newly floated ‘Indian National League (INL)', which put up candidates in six constituencies of Jangipur, Murshidabad, Diamond Harbour, Basirhat, Jadavpur and Kolkata North-West. Senior SIMI leader Hasan Saidullah Ashrafi contested the Basirhat seat from the INL platform and finished seventh among eight candidates polling just 4,780 valid votes.
While the Centre has continued with the annual renewal of the ban on SIMI, there are indications that there is a rethink on this in certain political quarters. Electoral considerations, for instance, appear to be influencing the Uttar Pradesh Government, where a State Home Department spokesperson stated in May that since the organisation was not involved in "any activities" and neither had Uttar Pradesh received any complaint against SIMI, it would not support the continuation of the ban. Further, in the first week of June, the Sunni Central Waqf Board in Uttar Pradesh appointed Mohammad Ismail Syed Shareef, a leather industrialist and a known SIMI sympathiser as the caretaker and manager of Kanpur city's oldest and biggest seminary — the Jaam-e-Uloom.
The threat from SIMI has far from abated, but the politics of expediency is already being revived. If the policy of competitive appeasement currently adopted by the UP Government finds takers in other States as well, and in sections of the political leadership at the Centre, the gains of the past five years could easily be reversed.
‘Development' has often been touted as a panacea for militancy in various theatres in India, and this is almost a basic article of faith in the bureaucracy and planning establishment. The result is that large financial allocations are made under a range of special schemes for areas afflicted by insurgency and terrorism, and these are duly expended by the Governments in these troubled regions. Outsiders are often mystified, however, that there is little evidence of these enormous ‘developmental' allocations and expenditures having a visible impact on the conditions prevailing in the target areas or on the populations that are supposed secure benefits and relief.
Manipur is a case in point. Between 1993-94 and 2003-04, in addition to its share of central taxes, which amounted to INR 22.7 billion, Manipur received another INR 60.8 billion in Grant-in-Aid from the Central Government under various developmental programmes, special allocations and other provisions intended to secure advancement in the State. Despite this, however, the State remains mired in poverty and backwardness, with avenues for employment chronically stagnant in virtually every sector, with the exception of the militancy itself, which has emerged as the largest ‘employer' in the State, after the Government. The per capita net income of the State at current prices was INR 11,370 for 1999-2000 as against the All India average of INR 16,047. There are more than 400,000 unemployed persons as per the live register of the Employment Exchanges (which represent, at best, an incomplete picture of total unemployment in the State), in a population of under 2.4 million. 76 per cent of a total 774,904 workers in the State are engaged in agricultural activities over a total cultivable area that covers just 9.41 per cent of the total area of the State, suggesting very high levels of disguised rural unemployment. Worse, several large manufacturing industries have shut down, while small enterprises are being progressively crippled.
Why the ‘developmental panacea' does not – cannot – work is evident even on the most cursory study of the circumstances that prevail in a situation of widespread intimidation, disorder and terrorism. In Manipur, large proportions of the State's resources are both directly and indirectly siphoned out by the militants' extortion campaigns, even as the delivery mechanisms for the developmental and relief services of the State collapse, bringing planned developmental activities to a standstill.
Over the years, Government departments in Manipur have regularly paid out a fixed percentage of their revenues to various militant groups. Further, the insurgents also directly interfere in the award of Government contracts and execution of developmental projects, which essentially are reduced to largesse that they come to control, rather than projects to be executed on the ground. On February 8, 2006, employees of the fisheries department went on a general strike at Lamphel in the capital Imphal, in protest against extortion notices issued by unspecified militant outfits. More recently, four officials of the state food and civil supplies department were abducted by suspected United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) cadres from different places in Imphal on June 12, 2006, for their failure to meet monetary demands that have been intimidated to their respective offices. One of them was rescued by the Manipur police from a spot near Aimol village in the Thoubal District on June 16. Earlier, unable to cope with such undue interference, the taxation wing of the Manipur Government ceased to function after all the employees, barring the Head of Department, took leave en masse on August 25, 2005, following threats from various militant groups. Media reports indicate that this was the first time in Manipur that an entire office complex was closed down in protest against intimidation by the insurgents.
In such an environment of rampant extortion, compounded by widespread corruption at every level of the State administration, development activities have languished. Basic infrastructure facilities like roads, communications, health care and education, all show visible signs of decline. At a function in Imphal on June 2, 2006, the Chief Minister noted, "No outside firms take interest in working in the State due to huge extortion demands. Underground groups, irrespective of whether they belong to the Hills or Valley, have been demanding their percentage from any development project taken up in the State". Earlier at Khongjom in the Thoubal district on April 23, 2006, the Chief Minister said, "All development projects have been stalled for interference by militant outfits. The construction of a flyover in Imphal is delayed because the militant outfits are demanding a certain percentage of the project fund. The construction of the Assembly complex has also been similarly stalled." Confessing his Government's inability to deal with the situation, the Chief Minister asked ‘public organisations' for help in tackling the situation.
The Public Distribution System (PDS), which is intended to provide essential commodities at affordable prices, particularly to the poorer and more vulnerable sections of the population, has also been among the principal targets of the insurgents, who siphon off rice, sugar, wheat and other essential commodities, selling the bulk of these in the black market, though a small fraction of the total quantities is also distributed to narrowly targeted groups in their areas of domination at reduced prices in order to secure support and legitimacy. At meeting of legislators of the ruling Secular Progressive Front (SPF) held in Imphal on June 7, 2006, apprehensions were expressed regarding the failure of the PDS in the State, largely due to the activities of different militant groups. Some of the legislators who attended the meeting pointed out that at least 85 per cent of the PDS items were ‘diverted' to meet the militants' demands.
The functioning of Manipur's only medical institute, the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) at Imphal, has also been repeatedly affected by undue militant interference. On June 14, 2005, an unidentified militant group served an extortion demand of INR 1.5 millions to its management. Earlier on May 9, 2005, a senior doctor, Yumnam Nandabir Singh, was abducted by the militants and a demand for INR 3 million in ransom was raised. He was ultimately freed on May 14, but it is not clear whether Singh bought his freedom by acceding to the ransom demands. Such developments have compelled at least seven senior doctors and professors to leave the Institute. There have also been several reports of the possibility of the Institute being shifted to Shillong on security grounds. Over 52 per cent of the respondents in an online poll conducted in January 2005 by Kanglaonline – a web portal – felt that "Underground organisations" should be held responsible if RIMS is shifted from Imphal to Shillong – as contemplated by the North Eastern Council, the region's planning body, which funds the Institute. "Even during war, hospitals are not targeted. But here in Manipur, several militant groups are trying to loot the hospital and people in the name of sovereignty. It is very unfortunate," the chief minister declared in the State Assembly on June 24, 2005.
Militant groups have also increased their share of booty from the general population, with extortion targeting almost every segment of the population. This has resulted in both protests and in the stifling of projects in the private sector. Thus, on May 30, 2006, the All Manipur Auto Rickshaw Owners and Drivers Association appealed to an unspecified militant group not to serve monetary demands on auto rickshaws owners and drivers. A statement issued by the Association in Imphal appealed to the group to understand the difficult conditions under which they earned their livelihood. On May 18, 2006, unable to meet the extortion demands served by suspected People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), twelve brick-kilns located at Pangei, Haotal and Waiton areas in the Imphal East District, temporarily closed down. On April 1, 2006, four staff members of a private recording studio were abducted by suspected Kuki National Front (KNF - Zougam faction) from Tuibong for their refusal to pay extortion amount of INR 200,000. They were subsequently released after an unspecified amount of money changed hands.
The road transport sector in the State – Manipur's lifeline, since virtually all goods and commodities have to be brought from the outside – is regularly targeted, and large segments are controlled by various insurgent groups, each of which levies a variety of ‘taxes' on every vehicle. On several occasions, services of passenger and transport vehicles running along the two national highways (NH-39 and 43) were disrupted following the threat from militant outfits to increase the amount of extortion collected from the vehicle owners. There have also been number incidences of attacks on tankers carrying liquefied petroleum gas and diesel/ petrol over the years. Militancy has also disrupted road construction and maintenance work on these highways, as militants have hijacked vehicles and abducted and harassed construction workers.
Of late, there have been some isolated incidents of protests against the militant diktats. On June 12, 2006, the entire Sagang Bazar observed a shutdown and local residents staged a dharna (sit-down strike) in protest against excessive monetary demands imposed by the UKLF, on some shopkeepers and other residents of Sagang and Borayangbi villages. Earlier on July 23, 2005, about 500 students took out a ‘peace rally' in Kakching town against illegal demands by militants on school authorities. On July 14, 2005, about 12 village Pradhans (head men) of Langmeidong block submitted mass resignations to the Deputy Commissioner of Thoubal District in protest against the militants' extortion demand. The insurgents had demanded a share out of money allocated to the Pradhans for village development.
Manipur has a vocal ‘civil society' which has dramatically protested against alleged human rights violations by the Security Forces and worked to fight against other social ills, including drug addiction, AIDS, alcoholism, etc. Despite the enveloping and uniformly adverse impact of extortion and militant intimidation on the State's development and on the living conditions of the people, however, otherwise vocal civil society bodies have remained persistently silent, strengthening significant claims that many of these ‘civil society' groups are, in fact, front organizations of militant outfits. That said, the utter incapacity of the State Government to recover even a narrow area of order free from extortion and intimidation at least within the Imphal Valley, indeed, even in State Capital, Imphal, points to a political paralysis and administrative incapacity that shows no signs of diminution.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
July 2 - 9, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Six JMB militants sentenced for life: A court in Feni District on July 3 sentenced six cadres of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) for life for the August 17 bombings in the District. The convicts are Mahfuz Khandaker alias Faruk, Kamal Hossain Duke, Mashiur Rahman, Redwan Haq, Shamim Hossain, and Rafiqul Islam. According to the prosecution, the JMB militants, led by Shamim Ahmed, simultaneously set off bombs in front of the Pourasava (municipal) Chairman's office, near a mosque and a high school on August 17 last year. The Daily Star, July 5, 2006.
Total number of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka crosses 4000: The total number of Tamil refugees coming to India from Sri Lanka since January 12, 2006 has crossed the 4,000-mark with forty more Tamil refugees reaching at the Rameswaram coast on July 2. 4,001 refugees of 1,263 families have so far arrived. Of these, 1,532 were men, 1,386 women and over 1,000 children. Nearly 70 per cent of the refugees were from Trincomalee, while the rest were from Mannar and Jaffna. The Hindu, July 3, 2006.
Canada deports Babbar Khalsa International terrorist: Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) terrorist Bachan Singh Sogi accused of plotting to assassinate the former Punjab Chief Minister, Prakash Singh Badal, his son Sukhbir and former State Director General of Police K.P.S. Gill, was deported by Canada. Sogi was removed on July 2 from the Riviere des Prairies Detention Centre in north-end Montreal after Canada's Public Security Minister Stockwell Day rejected his plea challenging a June 23 court order. The Hindu, July 4, 2006
Union Government refuses to release imprisoned ULFA leaders: Union government has refused to accede to the demand of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to release five of its jailed leaders before direct talks with the Government could begin. The decision of the Government has been conveyed to the ULFA-backed People's Consultative Group (PCG). The Government has also reportedly made it clear to the PCG that one of the top leaders of the ULFA will have to attend the talks with the Government when they takes place. The ULFA has also been asked to respond to the direct talks offer by August 15 and till then, ensure peace in Assam. The Telegraph, July 9, 2006.
ULFA militants on July 3 served an extortion note of Rupees 150 million on the Regional Director of the Reserve Bank of India in Guwahati. The letter was reportedly signed on June 25 by an ULFA ‘commander', Hira Sarania, who was involved in several acts of extortion in the past. Subsequently, on July 7, police arrested two ULFA militants and a link-man of the outfit from Birubari locality of Guwahati city in this connection. The Assam Tribune, July 5, 2006. The Telegraph, July 9, 2006.
Government invites United Nations to facilitate arms management: The Government has written a letter to the United Nations (UN), seeking the world body's role in facilitating arms management and other related issues in Nepal. UN officials on July 5 confirmed that the Nepal Government handed over the request letter to UN Acting Resident Co-ordinator, Junko Sazaki on July 4. The Himalayan Times, July 6, 2006.
King Gyanendra loses power to appoint judges: On July 5, the Judicial Council (JC) led by Chief Justice (CJ) Dilip Kumar Paudel and its member judges agreed on taking away from the King his power to appoint judges. "The Chief Justice and the Judicial Council members have agreed to have the judges appointed by the CJ after the JC's recommendation. The recommendation would, however, not be forwarded to the King for approval," Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Narendra Bikram Nemwang said. Nepalnews, July 6, 2006.
23 militants killed in Balochistan: On July 8 & 9, officials claimed that 23 militants were killed and 15 others were injured in an assault involving helicopter gunships and ground troops in Balochistan. Security Forces destroyed seven "terrorist training camps" in operations in the Sangsila and Bamboore areas of Dera Bugti District that began late on July 8 and continued until July 9. He further said that the information of militant deaths and injuries was based on intercepted communications between the rebels. The official spokesman said, "As part of the Government's plan to wipe out terrorists, operations were conducted and we succeeded in killing and rounding up a large number of Bugti loyalists.
Previously, on July 5, Security Forces personnel, backed by helicopter gunships, targeted hideouts of tribal militants in the Sangsila area in Balochistan, killing at least 25 suspected militants. A large cache of weapons, including rockets, landmines and other ammunitions were seized during the operation. "During a two-hour operation, security forces killed at least 25 militants and wounded several others," a Balochistan Government spokesman, Raziq Bugti, said in Quetta. The Dawn, Daily Times, July 10, 2006.
Madrassas must register, decides Punjab Assembly: The Punjab Assembly adopted a bill on July 3 to make it compulsory for madrassas (seminaries) to register with the Government. No unregistered religious seminaries should be allowed to operate and all seminaries set up after the bill was passed, must register within 12 months. Seminaries should submit annual reports of their educational activity to the registrar, the bill said, and should get their accounts audited and submit a report to the registrar. No madrassa should teach or publish literature that promoted militancy, sectarianism or religious hatred, it said, "provided that nothing contained herein shall bar the comparative study of various religions or schools of thought or the study of any other subject covered by the Holy Quran, Sunnah or Islamic Jurisprudence." Daily Times, July 4, 2006.
Multi-ethnic panel appointed to advise President Rajapakse: On July 5, Policy Planning Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced the constitution of a 12-member multi-ethnic committee to advise President Mahinda Rajapakse on power sharing in the Tamil dominated north and east. Rambukwella disclosed that the new committee would study models from all over the world including India and Canada. "What the President wants is that the new committee should study devolution models all over the world and look at the successes and form something that is best suited for us," Rambukwella said. The Hindu, July 6, 2006.