SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
On September 30, 2006, the Mumbai Police disclosed that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, conceived the serial bomb blasts that killed nearly 200 people and injured over 700 in Mumbai on July 11, 2006. It was executed through the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), with local assistance from the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the Police Commissioner of Mumbai, A.N. Roy, told the media.
Roy stated that 15 persons had been arrested in connection with this case, of whom 12 were directly involved in the blasts. He said the investigators were yet to find concrete evidence against the remaining three, who could be released, if found innocent. A top LeT cadre, Azam Cheema, who reportedly runs a training camp at Bahawalpur in Pakistan, has been identified as the principal conspirator by the Mumbai Police. Many of those arrested had received training in the use of arms and explosives at Bahawalpur on more than one occasion, Roy added.
Cheema's three planners in India were the Lashkar’s western India commander Faizal Sheikh, a resident of Mira Road near Mumbai, Kamaluddin Ansari, who was arrested from his home in the Madhubani District of Bihar, and Ehtesham Siddiqui, a publisher of Islamic literature and Maharashtra secretary of the SIMI. The three are among those arrested. Seven teams of two militants each – one Pakistani and one Indian – were formed to plant seven bombs on an equal number of trains. Police have arrested four of the Indians, but three are still at large. All but one of the Pakistanis escaped and it is believed that he possibly failed to disembark from the over-crowded train compartment, and died in the blast at the Khar station. His mutilated body remains unclaimed. Commissioner Roy said that the Police had the face reconstructed and conducted DNA tests on the body; further, narco-analysis tests on one of the arrested persons confirmed that it was the body of Salim, a resident of Lahore in Pakistan.
Roy said 11 Pakistani militants in three groups had reached India in March 2006 via three different routes – from Nepal in the North, Bangladesh in the East and from across the Gujarat border with Pakistan in the West. Ansari smuggled in two Pakistanis through Nepal; Abdul Majid, a resident of Kolkata in West Bengal, smuggled in five from Bangladesh, while four were brought in by an unnamed collaborator from the Gujarat border. One Pakistani, Mohammed Ali alias Abu Osama, died in an encounter with the police at Antop Hill in Mumbai on August 22. The remaining nine of the 11 escaped and may have left the country. One of the Pakistanis, Ahsannullah, is suspected to have brought 15 to 20 kilograms of RDX, the main explosive used in the bombs, while the other material, ammonium nitrate and nitrite, as well as the pressure cookers in which the explosives were packed, were procured locally.
Bahawalpur in the Punjab province, incidentally, serves as the headquarters of the Jaish-e-Mohammed. The LeT has also maintained a presence in Bahawalpur. This was revealed after a LeT module was neutralised in Mumbai in July 2006. The module was preparing to bomb the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, India’s premier nuclear research and fissile material-producing complex.
The latest revelations come at a time when the ISI, Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, is reeling under the impact of the British and Afghan allegations that the agency was covertly supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. During his recent visit to the United States of America, President Pervez Musharraf was forced to defend the ISI in the wake of rising allegations of sustained wrongdoing by the agency.
The Mumbai disclosure also come a few weeks after India and Pakistan agreed to resume the peace process, which had stalled in the immediate aftermath of 7/11. The fate of the ‘joint mechanism’ on counter-terrorism, announced after the September 16 meeting between General Musharraf and the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in Havana, appears to be in serious jeopardy. In an immediate response to the Mumbai revelations, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam declared, “It is baseless, it is irresponsible and (done) out of habit.” Pakistan’s Minister of State for Information, Tariq Azim Khan, describing it as India’s knee-jerk reaction in blaming Pakistan for militant acts, added, “India has always chosen this path of pointing a finger at Pakistan without evidence… If they have any evidence, they should provide it to us and we will carry out our investigations.” Khan’s offer to ‘carry out investigations’ is not new. However, this time Islamabad would have to provide more than the usual line of ‘investigations not proving India’s claims.’ The institutional mechanism, whose parameters remain entirely unclear, will certainly question Pakistan’s commitment (January 6, 2004) not to allow territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India. More importantly, it will also severely challenge the efficacy of such an institutional mechanism. Taking charge as India’s Foreign Secretary on October 1, 2006, Shiv Shankar Menon stated in New Delhi that India will give evidence to Pakistan and "judge it by its actions and not words." Menon questioned how Pakistan can deny the involvement of ISI and Pakistan-based terrorist groups without looking at the evidence. For all its criticism, the joint mechanism, in the context of the latest disclosure, could be a decisive opportunity for New Delhi to call Pakistan’s bluff.
While allegations of supporting terrorist networks are not new to the ISI, it is the cumulative impact of the recent Western and (for much longer) Indian reports that is causing concern for the Agency. While its network and strategy of promoting militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, and of seeking ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, are well-known in this part of the globe, the West has, for a host of reasons, not recognized the diabolic nature and intent of the Agency. However, the West is now finding it increasingly difficult to ignore the footprints of ISI terror across the world.
A report commissioned by Britain's Ministry of Defense is reported to have concluded that the ISI “has been supporting terrorism and extremism, whether in London… or in Afghanistan or Iraq.” “The [Pakistani] Army’s dual role in combating terrorism and at the same time promoting the MMA [Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of Islamist parties], and so indirectly supporting the Taliban through the ISI, is coming under closer and closer international scrutiny,” said the British Defence Academy report. It also noted: “Indirectly Pakistan, through the ISI, has been supporting terrorism and extremism whether in London on 7/7 or in Afghanistan or Iraq.” The Report recommended, moreover, that it was necessary to dismantle the ISI if the problem of Pakistan’s support to Islamist terrorism was to be resolved.
In September 2006, a British Pakistani facing trial for allegedly plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament and other high-profile targets in Britain, reportedly refused to give further evidence claiming that he feared for the safety of his family in Pakistan, who had been contacted by the ISI after his testimony at Old Bailey. 24-year old Omar Khyam, who was to continue his testimony about his activities in Pakistan in 2000, told the Court: "Before we go on to that topic, I just want to say the ISI in Pakistan has had words with my family relating to what I have been saying about them… I think they are worried I might reveal more about them, so right now, as much as I want to clarify matters, the priority for me has to be the safety of my family so I am going to stop... I am not going to discuss anything related to the ISI any more, or the evidence."
Even as the British Government distanced itself from the report saying the views were not its own, the much harassed General Musharraf warned the West, "You will be brought down to your knees if Pakistan does not cooperate with you… Pakistan is the main ally. If we were not with you, you would not manage anything. Let that be clear. Remember my words, if ISI is not with you and Pakistan is not with you, you will lose in Afghanistan."
Pakistan and its leader have, evidently, mastered the art of intimidation and blackmail, and have extracted a generous price, through threats and cajoling, from the West for their purported ‘cooperation’ in the ‘global war against terrorism’, even as they have diverted a proportion of this largesse to continuing their support and sponsorship of Islamist terrorism. It remains to be seen whether the world has the capacity to recognize Pakistan’s persistent perfidy, and to evolve a workable strategy to neutralize it.
Pawns of War
On September 18, 2006, 11 Muslim labourers, engaged in the clearing of a reservoir at Rattal Kulam in Pottuvil in the southern part of the Ampara District in the Eastern Province, were found hacked to death. While immediate popular anger, in townships like Pottuvil and Ulla, was directed against the Special Task Force (STF) of the Police, who were said to be in control of the area during the incident, the lone survivor of the attack, Kareem Meera Mohideen, recuperating from grave injuries, identified the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as the attackers. The LTTE tried its best, to wash its hands off the incident by blaming it on the STF.
The killings had come a month and half after the tragedy at Muttur in Trincomalee District. Amidst ground fighting between the LTTE and Government forces to control the town and its surrounding areas, at least 10 displaced Muslim civilians, who had sought refuge in the Arabic College in Muttur, were killed and several others sustained shrapnel injuries when LTTE shelled the camp on August 3. On this occasion too, the pro-LTTE website Tamil Net had alleged that the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) was responsible for the killings. A day later, on August 4, 17 aid workers attached to the French Aid agency, Action against Hunger were executed with bullets to their heads. On the same day, the LTTE killed over 100 Muslims, including women and children, after accusing them of collaborating with the Security Forces (SFs). The victims had been intercepted by the LTTE cadres at Pachchanoor, while fleeing Muttur. The LTTE, however, on August 6 denied the charges. “There is no massacre as alleged by the Sri Lankan Government”, the head of the LTTE peace secretariat, S. Puleedevan said, adding, “We have not killed any civilians. In fact, we gave them notice to quit the area before we launched our operation.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s search for the bodies lasted only one hour on August 16 following the LTTE’s threat to “shoot any one who dared to approach the forest”.
As the situation in Muttur worsened during weeks of heavy fighting and artillery assaults, the Muslim population fled to Kantale, a predominantly Sinhala town about 60 kilometres away. By August 8, there were over 40,000 internally displaced Muslims seeking shelter in tents and in Muslim schools in Kantale. It was exactly after a month that, on September 7, the government announced that the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) would return to Muttur. Many returned reluctantly for the holy month of Ramadan.
Their stay, after their return to Muttur, however, turned out to be a rather brief. On September 22 and 23, 700 to 800 families – 10 per cent of Muttur’s population – left the township after the Tigers warned that they were planning an offensive to reclaim the territory lost to Government forces. The LTTE circulated leaflets in the area asking the people to leave the area as they could launch hostilities on Muttur “at any moment”. Families boarded boats in Muttur and sailed for the nearby Muslim-majority island of Kinniyai, as Government forces refused to let them pass by road. Roadblocks were, however, removed on September 23, after meetings between the Government and local authorities. Government ministers also travelled to the area to try to persuade people to stay. But the residents were just too afraid.
It is interesting to analyse whether the recent incidents of repeated victimization of the Muslims, constituting 7.15 per cent of the country’s population of 20 million, is the result of their being ‘caught in-between different manifestations of the conflict at different moments in history’ – a collateral fallout of the long and bloody war, or a part of the larger goal of ethnic cleansing by the LTTE. As the LTTE is finding it increasingly difficult to face one of the most determined efforts by Government forces, the Muslims are turning out to be its easy prey. While each of these arguments contains elements of truth, there is significant evidence that the Muslims have also been the victims of opportunistic policies of successive regimes at Colombo, for whom they are a useful, yet dispensable demographic.
The Eastern province – once predominantly Tamil, is today a volatile mix of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim populations. More than 31 percent of the country’s Muslims live here, making them a distinct opposition group in the LTTE’s homeland campaign, the reason why the LTTE has been stubbornly opposed to Muslim participation in the peace talks. The East, in fact, remains the last Muslim bastion after the 1990s, ever since the LTTE purged the country’s Northern province of its substantial Muslim population through a systematic campaign of violence. The LTTE’s forcible expulsion of the entire Muslim community of the Districts of the Northern Province, numbering an estimated 75,000 in October 1990, was part of this campaign. [A Report by the United States Department of State quotes a much smaller number of Muslims, 46,000, who were expelled from the Northern province.] The Report, nevertheless, however, qualifies this observation, stating further: “Some Muslims returned to Jaffna in 1997, but did not remain there due to the continuing threat posed by the LTTE.”
Sri Lankan Muslims have also been encouraged and instigated by successive Sinhalese Governments at Colombo in the hope of weakening the LTTE’s claim to the whole of the Eastern Province. Sinhalese Governments have encouraged Muslim aspirations for a separate administrative unit for the Muslim-majority areas of the Eastern Province. During the 1980s, it was the Sri Lankan Government of the time – specifically the STF – that provided Muslims with weapons, ostensibly so that they could protect themselves against Tamil militant groups. By arming Muslims, sections in the Lankan Government were also hoping to deepen the divide between the Tamils and the Muslims in the Eastern province. When the LTTE unleashed violence against Muslims from 1990 onwards, many Muslim youth picked up weapons, if only to protect their homes and villages from Tamil Tigers’ terror. This led the LTTE to view the Muslims as Colombo’s quislings. The close ties that the political organisations representing the Muslims, such as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), enjoyed with the LTTE’s rival Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), further antagonised the Tigers. The LTTE ordered all Muslims to leave the Northern Province and periodic acts of violence were also directed against the Muslims in the Eastern Province. Thus,
Even during the ceasefire period, beginning 2002, Muslims were being targeted through a systematic process of abduction, intimidation, seizure of land and property and economic restrictions, including 'taxation' by the LTTE. Muslims from Mannar and Jaffna who had returned to their old homes following the ceasefire, began to move away again to areas around Puttalam and Kalpitiya as early as first week of July 2006, following acts of intimidation by the LTTE.
While Muslims have been systematically targeted by the LTTE, the Government has also failed to provide them the support that they need. Till recently, the Government had pursued a line similar to that of the LTTE in excluding the Muslim representatives from the formal peace negotiations, thus contributing further to their sense of marginalization and alienation.
Responses of the Muslim political parties, such as the SLMC, have reflected their lack of faith in either of the two warring parties. In a statement on August 4, before the Muttur massacre was reported, the SLMC adopted a resolution that read:
Similarly, after the Pottuvil killings, the SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem called for an international probe with assistance from the United Nations to find out the actual perpetrators of the massacre. The demand was rejected by the Government, which said that Sri Lanka has the expertise to carry out a full probe. This has been a further cause of annoyance for the Muslims as the Government had allowed foreign forensic scientists to carry out investigation into the August 4 killings of the 17 aid workers, of whom 16 were Tamils, attached to Action against Hunger.
It is in this context that the reported proliferation of armed Muslim militias in the Eastern province assumes importance. In fact, one of the theories that abound regarding the August 4 killing in Muttur, is that the hundred odd Muslim victims actually belonged to the Islamic organisation ‘Jihad’.
Indications do suggest that such periodic victimization is driving Muslims into the lap of existing extremist groups. Thus, unlike the past, when Muslims were by and large at the receiving end of violent attacks by Tamil Tiger militants, and of perceived official neglect, the Muslim militias now appear to be inclined to fight back. Islam in Sri Lanka – which had remained, by and large, free of fundamentalist and pan-Islamist influences of Pakistani origin – is now changing. Districts like Batticaloa have becoming home to growing instances of Islamist extremism and have witnessed tensions between moderate and hardline Muslim factions. An unspecified number of people in the District have reportedly travelled to Saudi Arabia for religious studies. In October 2004, followers of Sufi Islam in the town of Kattankudy near Batticaloa were attacked and their mosque demolished by mobs incited by orthodox Wahhabi clerics trained in Saudi Arabia. It was also reported that hundreds of Sufi Muslims were forcibly ‘converted’ to the orthodox faith. In the first week of April 2006, a policeman’s death in Batticoloa was linked to Islamist extremists. Women in burqa and hijab are increasingly seen in Muslim-populated areas from Kattankudy to the cosmopolitan capital, Colombo. Names such as Osama Group, the Muttur Jetty Group and the Knox Group, reportedly financed by ‘money from the Middle East’ figure increasingly in media reports.
While the September 22 decision of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) to accept the Muslims as stakeholders in the country’s ethnic conflict, entitling them to be represented at future peace negotiations, could help meet some of the community’s political aspiration, it means little to the people on the ground, who continue to face the ire of the terrorists, with little support from the State.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
September 25-October 1, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Court stays death penalty of JMB leaders Abdur Rahman
and Bangla Bhai: The registrar of the Supreme
Court (SC) on October 1, 2006, stayed the executions
of the convicted leaders of the Jama’atul Mujahideen
Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai, after both sent letters
through the jail authorities. Although the letters
did not seek to appeal against death penalty, the
Supreme Court accepted those as appeals. The SC
registrar said: “Since the letters came through
the jail authorities who attached their forwarding
to the letters, we have accepted those as jail appeal”.
The militants said that they are justified in killing
people for establishing Islamic rules and that the
judges, who held trial under taguti (non-Islamic)
laws neglecting the Shariah, themselves deserve
death. Meanwhile, the Additional Attorney General
Abdur Rezzak Khan described the letters as jail
petition and said the SC will decide whether to
consider them as appeals against the verdict or
The Daily Star, October
ISI conceived 7/11 blasts, says Mumbai Police: The Mumbai Police said on September 30, 2006, that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had conceived the July 11, 2006, serial bomb blasts targeting the railway network in Mumbai. Police Commissioner, A. N. Roy, told the media that the attack was planned and executed through the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which in turn used the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and their own modules. He said that 15 people have already been arrested of whom 12 were directly involved in the blasts. The principal conspirator of the attack has been identified as a top LeT functionary, Azam Cheema, who also runs a terrorist training camp at Bahawalpur in Pakistan. Many of those arrested had received training in the use of arms at Bahawalpur on more than one occasion, Roy said. He further said that Cheema's three executive planners in India were Faizal Sheikh, Kamaluddin Ansari and Ehtesham Siddiqui. The Hindu, October 1, 2006.
Number of militant camps run in Bangladesh has reduced, says Tripura Chief Minister: Tripura Chief Minister, Manik Sarkar, in a press briefing said, "Total number of NLFT and ATTF hideouts in Bangladesh has reduced from 56 to 26 recently," adding, "but there is no room for complacency. Insurgents have been trying to launch fresh offensive to disrupt the peace in the State and we have to remain vigilant as ever." Tripura Info, September 29, 2006.
Mastermind of terrorist attack on Parliament to be hanged on October 20, 2006: The Additional Sessions Judge Ravinder Kaur, on September 26, 2006, signed the death warrant and directed the Tihar Jail authorities in New Delhi to make arrangements for hanging Mohammed Afzal, convicted in the December 13, 2001, Parliament attack case, on October 20, 2006. Afzal was awarded the death sentence by the trial court in New Delhi in 2002. The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court later upheld the sentence. The Supreme Court has also rejected his review petition. The Hindu, September 27, 2006.
Ex-ISI officials may be helping Taliban, says President Musharraf: The Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, has played no role in propping up the renegade Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, President Pervez Musharraf told US television on October 1, 2006. General Musharraf, however, added that he is investigating possible support to the Taliban from retired ISI officials. Speaking on NBC television’s “Meet the Press” programme, he said “I have some reports that some dissidents, some people, retired people who were in the forefront of the ISI during the period 1979 to 1989, may be assisting with their links somewhere here and there.” Daily Times, October 2, 2006.
Balochistan hub of illegal detentions: Balochistan continues to remain the hub of illegal detentions and mysterious disappearances of political activists and family members of political leaders. According to unofficial estimates, around 3,000 political activists, relatives of political leaders and ordinary citizens of Balochistan are being detained by intelligence agencies. Relatives of those detained usually have no information on the whereabouts of their kith and kin and the Government has also not registered any cases against the detained suspects. Official sources said that scores of suspected terrorists, primarily Baloch supporters of the Balochistan Liberation Army, are in Government custody due to their alleged involvement in militant activity in the province. Some of these suspects have reportedly been missing for years. The extra-judicial arrests also include journalists and relatives of political leaders. Daily Times, September 30, 2006.
Taliban open office in North Waziristan: The local Taliban have reportedly set up their office in Miranshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan, for ‘curbing crimes and anti-social activities’ in the area. Announcements were made and pamphlets distributed in the town on September 27, 2006, asking residents to co-operate with the Taliban in keeping peace in the area. The office has reportedly been set up on the premises of the main bus stand in Miranshah. The Taliban Shura has appointed a committee to run the office. “There is complete lawlessness in the area and crimes have increased. So after the peace accord Taliban have set up office to serve residents of the area and restore peace,” read one pamphlet, referring to the agreement signed between the Government and the Taliban on September 5, 2006. Another leaflet posted around Miranshah said clerics would be collecting funds to pay for a force aimed at protecting people from criminals. Dawn, September 28, 2006.