SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
the Smokescreen, the Terror Proliferates
Even for those who have long focused on the growth of Islamist extremism and terror in Bangladesh, the sheer scale and dispersal of the 459 coordinated bomb blasts within a single hour, across 63 of the country’s 64 districts, on August 17, 2005, came as a surprise. Indeed, recoveries of a number of unexploded devices, as well as arrests and the discovery of cottage ‘bomb factories’, including one in the single district – Munshiganj – which escaped the serial blasts (but where over a hundred bombs were recovered from a house at Baligaon village), suggest that the numbers could well have been larger.
Over the past years, Islamist extremist activities have only been noticed in a few of Bangladesh’s western districts including, Naogaon, Rajshahi, Kushtia (each sharing border with the Indian State of West Bengal), Bogra, Natore and Pabna. The Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and its twin organisation, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) – the latter is widely held responsible for the August 17 explosions – have been known to be active in these districts. Southern Districts, including Bandarban, Cox’s Bazaar, Chittagong, Khagrachhari, Rangamati (sharing borders with Myanmar and the Indian States of Mizoram and Tripura) have also witnessed significant extremist activity attributed to the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-BD) and its international partners, including the Al-Qaeda. In addition, Sylhet in east Bangladesh, sharing a border with India’s Assam State, has also seen some Islamist terrorist violence, prominently including the May 21, 2004, attack in which two persons were killed and the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Anwar Choudhury, was among some 70 injured in a powerful bomb blast at Hazrat Shahjalal Shrine in Sylhet. There was, however, little cumulative evidence of capacities in any single terrorist organisation – or known coalition of such organisations – that could engineer a nationwide strike of such a magnitude. Nor, indeed, is it credible that such capacities, involving thousands of persons, could have systematically been acquired without generating a substantial volume of intelligence ‘chatter’ – if not actual precursor incidents and arrests.
Intelligence sources estimate that at least two persons would have been involved in the planting of each explosive device – suggesting an operation mobilizing well over a thousand cadres through the length and breadth of the country. That a conspiracy of such magnitude could escape the notice of intelligence agencies defies belief.
Equally incredible, indeed ludicrous, is the Minister of State for Home, Lutfozzaman Babar’s statement that, "We had intelligence reports of some attacks between August 14 and 16, but we had no information of attacks on August 17." Terrorist plans don’t come with an inbuilt and irrevocable ‘expiry date’, after which everyone goes home. [Babar quickly shifted his position, claiming shortly thereafter that the incidents were "totally unexpected. None of us had any idea about such an incident."] Separately, an unidentified ‘security official’ disclosed in The Daily Star, "We were told that there might be attacks on Awami League rallies and meetings." He clarified, however, that, "This was not a specific warning, but we stepped up security across the country on August 14, 15 and 16." There is no explanation why security was then ‘stepped down’ on August 17.
While the sheer number of explosions is startling, the bombs were all of low intensity and of crude manufacture, clearly intended to communicate a message, rather than to inflict hard damage to life and property. That is why, despite the scale of the operation, only two persons were killed, and the total number injured were estimated at just 100. Most of the targets were Government establishments, mainly offices of the local district administration and courts. Significantly, just two hours after Prime Minister Khaleda Zia left for China from the Zia International Airport, on a five-day official tour, a time bomb went off on the stairs inside the Airport. The districts that witnessed the largest number of explosions included Dhaka (28 explosions, including the high-security Bangladesh Secretariat, Supreme Court complex, the Prime Minister's Office, Dhaka Judges Court, Dhaka University, Dhaka Sheraton Hotel, and Zia International Airport); Barisal (18); Chittagong (16); Khulna (15); Sylhet (15); and Rajshahi (12).
Some 300 persons have since been arrested, including a number of low level activists of the JMB, and the Government has circulated photographs of 15 leaders of four militant organisations, including Maulana Abdur Raman and Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, to all airports and land ports in Bangladesh to prevent them from leaving the country. Interrogations of persons arrested in the immediate aftermath of the explosions, including some who confessed to their involvement, revealed that they claimed allegiance to the JMB, the group whose leaflets and propaganda material was recovered near the site of several explosions.
There is, nevertheless, evidence of an enveloping smokescreen going up, and that the state is, in fact, eager to deflect suspicion away from the Islamist extremist groups. Several leaders of the ruling coalition – including some from Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s ostensibly secular Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), have sought to shift the blame to the Awami League. Despite interrogation reports confirming JMB involvement, the Deputy Minister for Land, Ruhul Quddus Talukder, a BNP Member of Parliament, declared, "I don’t think they (the JMB) have such a strong network. Awami League must have done this, using fake leaflets, to destroy Bangladesh’s image internationally." Mufti Fazlul Haq Amini, Chairman of the Amini faction of the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ-Amini), a constituent member of the ruling four-party alliance, addressing a rally in front of the Baitul Mukarram Mosque, Dhaka, on August 19, declaimed: "Swearing upon Allah, I know the 14-party alliance of Awami League and left parties launched the bomb attacks in a planned way to uproot the Islamic forces, but Islamic forces can never be eliminated."
Gradually, however, the emphasis is being shifted, and India has now been brought into the picture. The Jamaat-e-Islami amir (chief) and Industries Minister, Matiur Rahman Nizami (the Jamaat is another coalition partner in the BNP-led coalition Government), blamed India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and Israel’s Mossad for "playing an important role" in the August 17 attacks, claiming, "They are the patrons of the serial blasts as they don’t want good relations between Bangladesh and China. That's why the incident occurred when Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was on a visit to Beijing." While Foreign Minister M. Morshed Khan distanced the Government and the BNP from Nizami’s statements, stating that "his voice is not BNP’s voice", he went on to add that it was "too early to go into speculations whether Islamist terrorists are present in the country or not."
This is entirely consistent with Dhaka’s past record. With enormous evidence of the activities of Islamist terrorists – including the JMJB and the JMB – accumulating over the past years, Dhaka kept up a steady stream of denials till fairly recently. Indeed, on January 26, 2005, State Minister for Home, Lutfozzaman Babar, had declaimed, "We don’t know officially about the existence of the JMJB. Only some so-called newspapers are publishing reports on it." Less than a month later, on February 23, 2005, under extraordinary pressure from the international community, particularly Western donor countries, the Government announced a ban on both the JMB and JMJB, organisations of whose existence it had denied at the highest level just a month earlier. The ‘ban’, however, was a red herring, and had little impact beyond the ritual arrest and brief detention of a few leaders and cadres. Even in cases where cadres of these organisations have been arrested on charges of terrorism, their treatment has been extraordinarily benign. A few recent examples, consistent with an extended past record, adequately illustrate the pattern:
August 2, 2005: Police dropped two top cadres of the JMJB, identified as ‘Bheti camp in-charge’ Shariatullah Simar and his deputy Mustafizur Rahman Khwaza, from the charge sheet filed in the Ziaul Haque Zia murder case. The charge sheet against 20 other persons was submitted to a court in Naogaon on August 2. Zia had been abducted from his residence by JMJB activists and was beaten to death at Raninagar in the Rajshahi district on November 14, 2004.
July 28, 2005: According to Independent, most of the 68 JMJB cadres, arrested between January 24 and January 30, 2005 from various places in Bagmara, have been released due to the non-submission of reports against them by the police.
June 1, 2005: 24 followers of Bangla Bhai, ‘Commander’ of the JMJB, released from the Rajshahi Central Jail. Earlier, the Rajshahi district court granted bail to 26 of Bangla Bhai’s followers.
April 7, 2005: A total of 42 JMJB cadres were released on bail from the Rajshahi central jail.
Bangladesh, again under extreme international pressure, has periodically launched massive ‘anti-crime’ (anti-terrorist) drives – but these have overwhelmingly targeted the ruling coalition’s political opponents, particularly Awami League cadres and activists, rather than any known terrorist formations.
Unsurprisingly, the Awami League President and former Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, has claimed that the explosions were carried out under protection of the BNP-Jamaat-led alliance Government and direct supervision of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Hasina asserted, further, that the "Jamaat has been supervising activities of various terrorist groups in the country for a long time." Notwithstanding the polarized nature of the political discourse in Bangladesh, these are assertions that cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Given Bangladesh’s past record and present projections, it is improbable that the truth of the bomb blasts – as of several past terrorist actions and major arms seizures – will ever be fully known. Nevertheless, it is necessary to assess – albeit speculatively – what precisely the intent and purpose of the August 17 explosions could be. The most coherent explanation that arises within the country’s political context is that these were, simultaneously, the demonstration of expanded capabilities, a strategy of mobilization and a campaign of intimidation. The demonstration of terrorist capabilities is, at once, a powerful tool for further recruitment in areas where such operations are executed, and a severe warning to political opponents that dire consequences attend any efforts of opposition. Conceptualized as such, the serial blasts would be calculated to benefit the ruling coalition, or elements within this coalition, in the run up to the 2006 General Election. The intervening year can only see the augmentation of such terror that would help consolidate the Islamist right in Bangladesh, and extend its own and its coalition partners’ electoral prospects.
Areas: Legal Ambivalence and Rising Unrest
On August 31, 2005, a bench of the Northern Areas Chief Court (NACC) will hear a petition filed to determine the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan. The Bench has issued notices to the Federation of Pakistan, the Northern Areas Chief Executive, Chief Secretary and Northern Areas Legislative Council on a petition filed by Ehsan Ali, Labour Party Chairman and an advocate in the NACC. Ali filed the petition in June 2001 questioning the legality of the existing institutions in the region after the Supreme Court’s May 1999 verdict on the status of the Northern Areas.
On May 28, 1999, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had observed that, "It was not understandable on what basis the people of Northern Areas can be denied the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. We are of the view that the people of Northern Areas are citizens of Pakistan for all intents and purposes. They have the rights to invoke any fundamental rights but are also liable to pay taxes and other levies competently imposed." The Court ruled, further, "We allow the petitions and direct the respondent federation to initiate appropriate administrative/legislative measures within a period of six months from today to make necessary amendments in the Constitution... to ensure that the people in Northern Areas enjoy their fundamental rights, namely, to be governed by their chosen representatives, and to have access to justice inter alia for the enforcement of their fundamental rights under the Constitution (of Pakistan)."
It was against this background that the All Parties National Alliance (APNA), a conglomerate of regional political parties, on June 16, 2005, challenged in the High Court, the ban imposed on nationalist parties to participate in the elections in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Under the Interim Act 1974 of the Constitution of Azad Kashmir [PoK], a person may contest elections and seek Government employment only if he or she ‘believes in the ideology of Pakistan’ and the concept of the ‘State’s accession to Pakistan’. APNA contends that "those who are real patriots and believe in the reunification and independence of their motherland have been deprived of these basic human rights." APNA chairman Arif Shahid stated, at a Press Conference in Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK, that according to UN resolutions, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was a disputed territory whose future was yet to be decided and that the clause of accession to Pakistan was against the UN resolutions and a violation of human rights. In order to participate in elections, APNA has moved the Court for the removal of the unconstitutional clause of accession to Pakistan. In a writ petition filed under Section 44, APNA argues that "that the declaration… in Azad J&K Assembly Rules, 1970 and Sec, 3 and 9 of the Political Parties Act, 1987, to the extent of the words, "State’s accession to Pakistan" and in the Local Bodies Election Rules, 1970 the Declaration: "I believe in the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan" are coram-non-judice, illegal and have been inserted without lawful authority..."
The strategically important Northern Areas (NA) of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), spread over an area of 72,495 sq.kms, comprise the five districts of Gilgit, Ghizer, Diamer, Skardu and Ghanche. The population of approximately 1.5 million has ethnic groups as varied as the Baltees, Shinas, Vashkuns, Mughals, Kashmiris, Pathans, Ladhakhis and Turks, speaking a variety of languages including Balti, Shina, Brushaski, Khawer, Wakhi, Turki, Tibeti, Pushto and Urdu. Unlike the rest of Pakistan, Shias dominate the demography of the NAs.
Islamabad’s orientation towards the NAs has been riddled with suspicion, and there has been a systematic effort to alter the region’s demography by settling large numbers of Pathans from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Punjabis, in the area. This has already altered local majorities in several areas of the region. The late Amir Hamza, a resident of Gilgit and a former Senior Superintendent of Police, once stated, "They [the Pakistan Government] have never trusted us. From day one, that is, November 1, 1947, till now we cannot govern our own land. If we are given that right, they think all hell will break lose." There is no mention of Gilgit-Baltistan either in the Constitution of Pakistan or in the Interim Constitution of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The area is thus an extraordinary example of constitutional ambivalence and, in contravention of judicial decrees, Islamabad continues to maintain this status quo.
The recent petitions and earlier Court rulings mirror the prevailing climate of public opinion in the NAs. The people of Gilgit and Baltistan, who are not allowed to travel in Pakistan without special permission, are currently insisting that Islamabad clarify the region’s status, particularly in light of President Pervez Musharraf’s varied proposals on a ‘final settlement of the Kashmir issue’. Absent an unambiguous declaration from Islamabad, the existing political deprivation and resentment may lead to a gradual escalation of what is currently a situation of low-level violence with larger hidden costs.
The people of the NAs have also questioned why letters of accession from the Rajas (Kings) of Nagar and Hunza, signed by Pakistan’s first President Mohammad Ali Jinnah, were not accepted as legal basis for integration. According to Farooq Haidar of the NA chapter of the Jammu and Kashmir Front (JKLF), there is, in fact, "no documentary evidence" to suggest that the people of the area have acceded to Pakistan. Islamabad is believed to have suppressed the letters of accession from the Rajas of Nagar and Hunza partially because they had no power of accession (since the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir reverted to Maharaja Gulab Singh after the departure of the British), and because the whole State was sought to be brought under dispute before the United Nations.
Nominal political institutions such as the 24-member Northern Areas Legislative Council have been created, but these have had no impact on the political rights of the people of the region, which is directly administrated by fiat from Islamabad. The bureaucracy, primarily drawn from the North West Frontier Province and Punjab, has intensified the sense of alienation and negated any semblance of self-rule in the NAs. Forces opposing Islamabad’s rule over the region have long argued that the revenue accruing from resources like hydro-electricity, tourism and minerals are being ‘managed’ by Islamabad for the benefit of other provinces.
Dissent against Islamabad is now crystallizing as the perception grows that the legal status of the NAs is being held hostage to the ‘Kashmir issue’ by Islamabad. There is also the larger conviction in the region that successive Pakistani regimes, while calling for ‘basic human rights’ in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, have at the same time promoted extreme repression in the NAs. Indeed, Pakistan’s reticence in discussing the Kargil-Skardu road-link is connected to the fact that any alteration in the status quo in NA would weaken its claim on what it calls the ‘core issue’ of Kashmir. And General Musharraf, who has personally seen a fair amount of ‘action’ in Gilgit-Baltistan, is also aware that the further he moves on the Kashmir issue, the more untenable would Pakistan's position on the Northern Areas be.
And in the prevailing climate of ‘peace-building’ and ‘people-to-people exchanges’, many find it hard to fathom why people from the NA have been excluded from the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan. In tune with General Musharraf’s stated policies, separatists from the Hurriyat Conference and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Islamabad’s proxies in J&K, opted not to visit Gilgit-Baltistan during their sojourn in Pakistan in June 2005, though they did find the time and inclination to visit Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. The separatists believe that Pakistan’s control over NA is irrevocable and, as such, it would be prudent not to bring this disputed region into the current discourse on Kashmir.
The people of the NAs have also been extremely restive as a result of the attempts being made to re-engineer the demographic profile of the region. The Balawaristan National Front leader Nawaz Khan Naji stated in an interview on March 16, 2004 that "the Pathans are buying property and our cities are becoming Pathan-majority cities, where our locals are becoming minorities. We have no right to cast votes in Pakistan, nor in Azad Kashmir. Like a no-man's land. We are the last colony in the world." Sources in Gilgit indicate that large tracts of land are being allotted to Afghan refugees and Pashtuns from the NWFP.
Meanwhile, violence, primarily sectarian in nature, continues to affect the NA. In Gilgit alone, 127 cases of violence occurred between January and May 3, 2005, including the killing of Agha Ziauddin, a Shia community leader and priest of the main Gilgit mosque, on January 8. According to Raji Rehmat, the Gilgit Superintendent of Police, while 148 persons were arrested for their alleged involvement in these incidents, a total of 26 vehicles, private as well as official, were set ablaze in the sectarian violence and protests.
At least 42 civilians and five security force personnel have died in sectarian violence in 2005 (till August 18). The most significant incidents include:
July 18: Unidentified assailants attacked a Rawalpindi-bound passenger bus coming from Gilgit near Chilas Farm on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), killing five persons and injuring 15 others.
March 23: Former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Sakhiullah Tareen, and four police officials were killed when unidentified men fired at his vehicle near village Jotal in the Northern Areas. Tareen was on his way back to Gilgit from Hunza when gunmen ambushed the vehicle. The Government had reportedly removed Tareen from the post of Northern Areas IGP and transferred him as Officer on Special Duty on March 18.
January 8: At least 11 people were killed, including six members of a family who were burnt alive, and 14 were injured during sectarian clashes that occurred after unidentified people shot at the vehicle of Agha Ziauddin. Reacting to news of his death, officials in Skardu said protesters burnt down a seminary and destroyed a Pakistan International Airlines office and some other shops.
There is some evidence to indicate that the sectarian violence in the NAs, in particular at Gilgit, is being planned and orchestrated from other Pakistani provinces, especially the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Ziauddin’s killer, for instance, belonged to the village of Zareef Korona on the outskirts of Peshawar in the NWFP. Later, Qari Anwar Khan, an NWFP-based leader of the outlawed Sunni group, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), was arrested on February 2 in connection with the Ziauddin assassination. Further, Police at Battagram in the NWFP disclosed on June 16 that they had foiled a bid to smuggle arms and ammunition and arrested two persons, Ubaidullah and Abdul Karim. Police officer Nisar Khan Tanoli said they recovered 12 AK-47 rifles, fifteen 303 rifles, twelve 8 mm rifles, 13 China rifles, 12 pistols, 20 other rifles, three 7mm guns and about 5,000 rounds of different bore. He added that the cache was being transported to Gilgit.
Further, the tactics used by sectarian terrorists in places like Quetta, Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, and elsewhere are now being employed in the NAs. The bomb explosion at a mosque in Naltar village, about 35 kilometers west of Gilgit, occurred during evening prayers when the attendance is relatively higher. A pattern of such attacks has characterized operations by sectarian groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in other provinces of Pakistan. Ahsan Wali Khan, a prominent journalist from the NAs, reports that there is a dangerous trend of well-organized teenagers armed with lethal weapons carrying out executions behind the smokescreen of mob violence. Road travel is becoming increasingly hazardous, especially on the KKH, since it passes through a Sunni majority area from Gilgit to Rawalpindi (the July 18 bus incident occurred on this route). The KKH also passes through the Shia dominated Nagar valley en route to Hunza and China, where IGP Tareen was killed. Uncertain travel on the KKH has led to a relative decrease in the volume of trade and inflow of foreign tourists, the mainstay of the local economy.
Notwithstanding escalating dissent, through legal, political and extra-legal channels, the possibilities of a more concerted and violent campaign against Islamabad are remote. Essentially a peaceful grouping, the sparsely populated nature of the NAs (a population of 1.5 million inhabits a vast area of 72,495 square kilometers) militates against the prospects of a widespread insurgency in the proximate future. Previous movements in the region have been brutally and easily suppressed by Islamabad, and the present crackdown has also been relatively severe. For example, a large contingent of the army, 800 Punjab Rangers, 1,000 Scouts and about 1,000 police personnel took part in a combing operation on April 1, 2005. This was in addition to the existing police strength of 3,700 in the NAs.
But it isn’t a cakewalk for the administration. Ahsan Wali Khan noted in The News on August 7, 2005, that certain officers of Superintendent of Police rank have refused to join duty at Gilgit, even at the risk of facing disciplinary action, because of the fear of being killed in the ongoing sectarian violence. These officers were selected and posted to Gilgit by the Federal Government to improve the law and order situation.
Persistent sectarian violence in the NA could, according to Pakistani analysts, impact adversely on the security forces in the country. Aziz-ud-din Ahmad wrote, in The Nation on July 28, 2005, that the region supplies the Pakistan Army with men and officers with greater capability to fight in some of the most difficult terrain along the Line of Control than men recruited from the plains of Punjab and that rise of communalism can affect their morale.
Pakistan has persistently propagated the thesis of ‘self-determination’ in Kashmir and in other theatres of supposed ‘Muslim oppression’ across the world. Curiously, in the NAs, Pakistan has utterly suppressed, and continues to seek the total circumvention of this very principle.
This decision was evidently hastened by the brutal killing of the Congress Party’s Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Makthal, Chittam Narsi Reddy, and eight others by Maoists at Narayanpet in the Mahabubnagar District on Independence Day, August 15. The dead included the legislator’s youngest son, C. Venkateshwar Reddy, Narayanpet Municipal Commissioner D.V. Ram Mohan and six others, who were participating at a public function to launch work on a cement road.
The ban has long been overdue – indeed, should never have been allowed to lapse. The Maoist used the interregnum of the ‘peace process’ and the lifting of the proscription to re-group, re-arm, and re-formulate strategies, which included the targeting of civilians and security personnel, and have successfully established an upper hand in the State, while the Security Forces tried to contain their activities with their hands tied by political fiat.
Suddenly wise, the State’s Home Minister, Jana Reddy, pronounced: "The Maoists have misused the opportunity given by the Government and resorted to mindless killings, extortions and kidnap. They have killed 157 political activists, policemen, home guards and civilians in the last 13 months." There has also been no-let up in extortion, and Chief Minister Reddy, in an interview to a television channel aired on May 21, 2005, stated that, "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 to 600 million) has been collected by them and they did produce good weapons, they did plant landmines in a number of places." Philosophically, the Chief Minister added, "Well, it’s part of life and you get used to it." If the Independence Day killings are any indicator, it may not be as easy for the Chief Minister to ‘get used to’ what the Maoists are planning in the coming months.
Far from being deterred by the ban, Janardhan, the official spokesperson of the CPI-Maoist ‘state committee’ ominously declared after the ban, "From now on, there will not be any peace zone in the state. We will strike in areas where CPI-Maoist is not strong. The State Government will see bigger attacks from CPI-Maoist. The more the state tries to suppress CPI-Maoist party, the more we will attack."
In their strategy to establish dominance, the role of Maoist front or ‘over-ground’ organizations, including the seven proscribed on August 17, has been crucial. In a letter addressed to the former Maoist emissary in the peace talks, Varavara Rao, a ‘Politburo’ member of the CPI-Maoist, Cherukuri Raj Kumar alias Gangadhar was critical of the inability of the party leadership to encash on the ‘favourable’ situation during the peace initiative. The letter seized from two couriers in May 2005, read "despite the situation turning favourable to us, we have failed to involve even a small section of people out of the lakhs who attended our meetings to agitate against Government policies."
Further, according to The Strategy and Tactics of Indian Revolution, a Maoist document drafted at the time of the formation of the CPI-Maoist, three categories of mass organizations are prescribed — underground units which directly recruit people, as well as open and ‘semi-open’ organizations, which carry out revolutionary propaganda using the available legal opportunities and organize agitations openly to mobilize people and organizations that are not directly related to the Maoist party, but work under some cover with a limited programme. The close coordination of objectives and programmes across these various organizations is illustrated by the recent arrest by the Nizamabad Police, on June 2, 2005, of CPI-Maoist ‘State Committee’ member, Ganti Prasadam alias Prabhakar and the former ‘District Committee Secretary’ of Cuddapah, Yamasani Surender alias Venkanna, along with four Revolutionary Writers' Association (Virasam) members at Arsapally.
The CPI-Maoist has now embarked on a programme to strengthen its various committees spread across different states – a process it had vigorously initiated during the period of the ‘peace process’ in Andhra. In order to ensure better co-ordination, the outfit is now focusing on consolidating a corridor connecting North Telangana Special Zonal Committee to Andhra Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee passing through the areas being held by Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, an area that stretches from Orissa to Maharashtra, covering the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh as well. This process has been enormously facilitated by the very long leash the organization was given by the Andhra Pradesh Government for the better part of a year.
Unfortunately, Andhra Pradesh has a long history of politicians, cutting across party lines, hobnobbing with the Maoists and contributing directly to their consolidation and continuous expansion. In 1982, the then-leader of the Telugu Desam Party, N.T.Rama Rao described the Maoists as desabhaktalu (patriots) and annalu (elder brother), and secured their support in the elections in the following year to unseat the incumbent Congress Government. In 1989, it was the turn of the Congress party, under Marri Chenna Reddy, to seek and secure Maoist support in the elections. In recent times, it is the Congress-ally Telengana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) that has been accused of having arrived at a deal with the Maoists before the 2004 elections. The Maoist influence over the TRS can be gauged by the fact that at least 500 of its elected members in mandals (local administrative bodies) and panchayats (village bodies) across Telangana resigned following an ultimatum issued by the former in June 2005. Among those who resigned on July 4, 2005, were five of its six ministers in the Andhra Pradesh Government. Unsurprisingly, the TRS has opposed the imposition of the ban, and TRS President and Union Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao stated, "It will be in the interest of society, people and the Government to lift the ban and restart talks." By these actions and statements, the TRS has secured a Maoist reprieve: on August 17, 2005, the Maoists issued a statement warning second-rung leaders of the Congress, Telugu Desam and the BJP not to take part in the municipal election campaign. Not surprisingly, the TRS has not been mentioned in the threat.
The Andhra Government has evidently botched up its policy to contain the Maoist threat, complicating matters in the neighbouring States as well. Andhra’s northern neighbour, Chhattisgarh has, among others, suffered directly. Warangal Superintendent of Police, M.S. Ravindra, is in possession of copies of resolutions adopted in a meeting of the CPI-Maoist ‘central military commission’, sometime in February-March 2005, which indicate that, following the breakdown of the peace talks, the outfit planned an ‘intentional retreat’ and a shift of important cadres and top leaders to Chhattisgarh and other neighbouring States for safety. During the period of the ‘peace talks’, a Central Reserve Police Force battalion had been shifted from Andhra Pradesh to Chhattisgarh’s Surguja district, but they had to move back into Andhra following the ban, affecting operations in Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh Director General of Police O.P. Rathore made matters clear: "It’s all Andhra Pradesh’s problem. In fact, Chhattisgarh’s Maoist problem is exported by Andhra Pradesh. They sometimes enter into a truce, sometimes impose a ban and, in the final analysis, Chhattisgarh suffers."
Significantly, the security preparedness within Andhra itself has been substantially undermined due to the State Government’s ambivalence. Following Maoist attacks on the Durgi Police Station in Guntur district on May 10 and Kukunoor police station in Khammam district on June 6, State Police chief Swaranjit Sen said "at least one third of the Police Stations in the State are unarmed and vulnerable to attacks," adding that, out of 1,585 police stations, 500 do not have weapons and are not armed.
On July 30, 2005 at the Task Force on Naxalism meeting in New Delhi attended by the Nodal Officers of all the Naxalite-affected states, the Union Government reportedly decided to adopt a ‘zero-tolerance’ towards the various Maoist groups active across the country, unless they give up arms. Though such apparent efforts for a unified strategy to counter the Maoists would be a welcome change, the incoherence of response persists. The Task Force also maintained that the affected States could initiate talks with the Maoists ‘provided they are within the legal framework’. Evidently, no lessons have been learned from the disastrous experience in Andhra Pradesh. As Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh, expressed it, "Some states want to hold talks with them (the Naxalites). Some would like to take a tough stand. Such individual policies are not going to help." Singh has been outspoken about the utter incoherence that currently characterizes responses, and has argued vigorously for a coordinated national approach: "State Governments do know what to do… Delhi does not know what it is doing. This confusion must be cleared immediately."
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the Andhra episode will not be duplicated in other States, or that unscrupulous politicians will not continue to strike deals with, and placate, the Maoists in future, as a means of wresting power.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 15-21, 2005
Two persons killed and 100 injured in 459 explosions across 63 districts: Two persons were killed and an estimated 100 persons sustained injuries in approximately 459 bomb explosions spread over 63 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts on August 17, 2005. All explosions occurred within a span of 30 minutes resulting in two civilian deaths, one in Chapainawabganj and the other at Savar. Explosions targeted Government establishments, primarily offices of the local district administrations and courts. As many as 28 explosions were reported from the capital Dhaka near the high-security Bangladesh Secretariat, Supreme Court complex, the Prime Minister's Office, Dhaka Judges Court, Dhaka University, Dhaka Sheraton Hotel, a location close to the United States embassy and the Bangladesh Bank. An explosion also occurred inside the Zia International Airport, barely two hours after Prime Minister Khaleda Zia left for China on a five-day official tour.
Islamist terrorist outfit, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh,
claimed responsibility for the blasts through leaflets
left at the site of the explosions. Leaflets, in Bangla
and Arabic, said, "We're the soldiers of Allah. We've
taken up arms for the implementation of Allah's law the
way Prophet, Sahabis and heroic Mujahideen have done for
centuries." It further said, "It is time to implement
Islamic law in Bangladesh. There is no future with man-made
The Daily Star, August 18, 2005.
Pradesh Government re-imposes ban on CPI-Maoist:
The Andhra Pradesh Government on August 17, 2005, proscribed
the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)
and seven other organisations. Chief Minister Y. S.
Rajasekhara Reddy signed an order banning the eight
organisations for one year under the Public Security
Act. Earlier, on July 22, 2004 the ban on the erstwhile
People’s War Group (PWG)
and six other organisations was allowed to lapse by
the present Government. At a Press Conference in the
capital Hyderabad, Home Minister K. Jana Reddy named
the banned organisations as the CPI-Maoist, Radical
Youth League, Rythu Coolie Sangham, Radical Students'
Union, Singareni Karmika Samakhya, Viplava Karmika Samakhya,
All-India Revolutionary Students' Federation and the
Revolutionary Writers' Association or the Viplava Rachayitala
Deccan Chronicle, August 18, 2005.
announces new hijack policy: On August 14, 2005,
the Government announced a new hijack policy, under
which for the first time, it can shoot down a commercial
aircraft if it is turned into a ‘missile’ by the hijackers.
The policy, approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security
(CCS), also reportedly states that there will be no
negotiations with hijackers on their demands. Hijackers
will be engaged in negotiations only to bring an end
to the incident, comfort passengers and prevent loss
of life but without conceding to any demand. Consequent
to the CCS approval, sources said, the policy is now
operational and mock exercises can be expected in the
near future to test how it works. Defence Minister Pranab
Mukherjee told the media that if a hijacking incident
occurred on Indian soil, the aircraft would be immobilized
and not allowed to take off. On shooting down the aircraft,
the Minister said this would be undertaken in extreme
circumstances. According to the policy, if a ‘rogue
aircraft’ paid no heed to Air Traffic Controller warnings
and deviated from its specified path or headed towards
any strategic spot such as the Rashtrapati Bhavan, India
Gate or Parliament House, a decision on shooting it
down would come into play. The
Indian Express, August 15, 2005.
Soldier accused in Musharraf assassination plot hanged: A soldier accused of plotting to kill President Pervez Musharraf was executed inside the New Central Jail in Multan on August 20, 2005. 35-year old Islamuddin Sheikh alias Abdus Salam Saddiqi was accused of involvement in the failed assassination bid on Gen. Musharraf on December 14, 2003, at the Jhanda Chichi bridge near the Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi. He was condemned to death in a summary trial conducted by a military tribunal under the rules of Field General Court Martial. The Dawn, August 21, 2005.
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