SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The US-led coalition is unambiguously losing the war in Afghanistan and it is important, at this stage, to reiterate the obvious, that is, precisely why the war was undertaken in the first instance: because of 9/11, because of the Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, and because of the assessment that that Taliban regime there had provided safe haven and operational facilitation to the Al Qaeda for its planning and execution of the multiple and catastrophic strikes in America. The war was not merely punitive, it was intended to be preventive. It has proven a failure on both counts.
As with all leaderships confronted with the possibility, if not imminence, of defeat, saving face has become infinitely more important than the original objectives of the war. It is useful to emphasise, here, that this was not a war of conquest, or even of ‘liberation’ (despite the rhetoric of ‘Enduring Freedom’), but of defence. Its principal objective was to deny a base for future 9/11s to be strategised, planned and executed.
But the Taliban and Al Qaeda have survived – albeit somewhat damaged – and, if current trends persist, will soon have the freedom, the power and the required setting to plan out their next wave of attacks against America and the West. And Western – particularly US – leaderships are squarely to blame for this. US diplomat Alberto Fernandez has spoken scathingly of the “stupidity in Iraq”; but the stupidity in Afghanistan is far more manifest, and was considerably the more avoidable. Warning of the dangers of defeat, Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge, UK’s former Chief of Defence Staff, noted, “I think we’ve lost the ability to think strategically”. General David Richards, a British officer commanding NATO troops in Afghanistan noted the ‘upsurge of violence along the eastern border with Pakistan’ and warned that the situation was approaching a ‘tipping point’ where a majority of Afghans would switch their allegiance to the resurgent Taliban if there were no visible improvements over the coming six months. The outgoing British commander, Brigadier Ed Butler, described Taliban operations in Afghanistan as ‘more ferocious than anything in Iraq’, and reports suggest that the Taliban were operating in battalion-sized units of 400 men, equipped with ‘excellent weapons and field equipment’.
Distressed military commanders are now increasingly advocating the ‘Musharraf model’ of cutting deals with the Taliban, to virtually cede vast territories to the extremists on the perverse argument that “the only way to restore security in the Pashtun south is a comprehensive accommodation with tribal leaders, mullahs, former mujahideen, and the Taliban forces they are related to”. At the same time, General Richards concedes that General Pervez Musharraf’s deal with the Taliban in Waziristan is an integral part of the problem, and that “There has been an upsurge in terrorist activity inside Afghanistan since this agreement was reached.” US military officials have confirmed that attacks on coalition and Afghan forces has tripled along the eastern border with Pakistan since Pakistani troops relinquished control of the area under the ‘peace agreement’ with the Taliban.
Every single detail of what is occurring has been closely scripted, and Pakistan has been key to these developments from the very commencement of Operation Enduring Freedom to the present ‘reconquest’ of nearly a third of Afghanistan by the resurgent Taliban. This, indeed, is the core of the enduring ‘stupidity’ of US policy in the region: the utter and abysmal failure to see through Pakistani machinations, the continued and abject dependence on Pakistani ‘cooperation’ to secure coalition objectives in Afghanistan, and the inability to comprehend the irreducible conflict of interests that excludes the very possibility of Pakistani good faith. US and coalition military commanders have repeatedly confirmed what President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly stated: that the “main problem lies inside Pakistan”. Unfortunately, as one commentator has noted, “Gen. Musharraf has played the Americans beautifully.”
For nearly three decades now, Pakistan has remained the most active and aggressive player in the South Asian region, defining for itself a role that has substantially shaped the foreign policy priorities and security concerns of all its neighbours to an extent far in excess of its size and strategic strengths. Islamist extremism and terror have remained the primary instruments of motivation, mobilization and execution of its policies of strategic extension. Covert asymmetric warfare and terrorism in Afghanistan is only one manifestation of this politics of violent disruption, and it remains central to the Pakistani vision.
It is the rationale and continuance of this strategy that is now clearly visible in Pakistan’s proxy ‘re-conquest’ of extended areas of Afghanistan through the Taliban. After 9/11, and under US threat, Pakistan apparently disowned the Taliban and claimed to be enthusiastically ‘hunting’ the Al Qaeda. In reality, a duplicitous policy helping relocate these organizations and allowing them significant operational space on Pakistani soil, was combined by a pretended participation in the ‘global war against terrorism’. Pakistan’s ‘cooperation’ in the war on terrorism has been, and remains, entirely coerced, except in the case of a handful of domestic sectarian terrorist groups and a few ‘renegades’ who turned against the establishment in Pakistan. At the same time, the Taliban has been actively supported to recover from the reverses of Operation Enduring Freedom, and has carried out a campaign of escalating terrorism in Afghanistan from bases and widely known operational headquarters in Pakistan – not just the ‘uncontrollable’ areas of Waziristan, but also across the North West Frontier Province and North Balochistan, where the writ of the Pakistani state is far less in dispute. Over the past five years, they have successfully disrupted Kabul’s influence in ever widening areas, and now, exhausted and desperate Western Forces are striking deals with local Taliban commanders, and the idea of accommodating an oxymoronic ‘moderate Taliban’ in Kabul is finding increasing support in Washington.
Essentially, Pakistan has managed to wait out the storm, with its strategic tool, the Taliban, substantially intact. The calculation has always been that the US and Western powers will eventually lose patience in Afghanistan and return, in desperation, to the earlier ‘franchise’ arrangement, restoring Pakistan and its Taliban proxies to influence over Afghanistan. The enemies of freedom, evidently, have had, and held on to, the capacity for strategic thinking despite the tremendous – and now evidently transient – reverses they suffered. And their calculations are proving to be entirely correct.
A quick overview of recent developments in Afghanistan is edifying. More than 3,000 people had already been killed across the country in 2006, by October 10, according to an Associated Press count; this is more than twice the toll for the whole of 2005. Coalition fatalities in 2006 touched 172 by October 10, far exceeding the 130 coalition soldiers killed through 2005. Taliban attacks have also become the more lethal, with an increasing number of suicide bombings decimating top Afghan officials, including associates and appointees of the beleaguered President Karzai. Year 2006 has already witnessed 91 suicide attacks in Afghanistan, with at least one every week, up from 21 suicide attacks in 2005, six in 2004, and just two in 2003, when the first such attacks in the country occurred. Suicide attacks this year have taken place not just in the Taliban strongholds in South and East Afghanistan, but across the country, even in the relatively secure northern and western provinces.
Just over September and October 2006, the major targeted attacks have included:
October 15: Two gunmen on a motorcycle killed a Kandahar provincial council member, Mohammad Younis Hussein, outside his house.
October 14: The Governor of the eastern Laghman province escaped unhurt after a bomb exploded outside his compound.
October 9: The District Police Chief, Administrator and Intelligence Chief were killed by a roadside bomb as they were on their way to investigate the overnight burning of a school in Khogyani District of the eastern Nangarhar province.
September 26: A suicide bomber killed 18 people outside the provincial Governor's compound in Helmand province. The Governor escaped unhurt.
September 25: Gunmen on a motorcycle killed Safia Ama Jan, the Director for the Ministry of Women's Affairs for Kandahar province. Jan, a leading women's rights activist, ran an underground school for girls during the Taliban's rule.
September 10: A suicide bomber killed Abdul Hakim Taniwal, Governor of the eastern Paktia province, outside his home. Another suicide bomber killed six people at his funeral the next day.
The Pakistan-Taliban strategy is clearly to deny access and disrupt the operation of Coalition and Government Forces and officials, undermining the administration and relief efforts even in secure areas, to bring both Kabul and the international Coalition to its knees – as has been the case with British Forces at Musa Qala, a key forward base in the Helmand province, who were forced into a humiliating ‘agreement’ with ‘tribal elders’ who “approached the Afghan government to negotiate a ceasefire between British forces and the Taliban in the area”.
The Pakistani strategy and involvement is even visible in major Taliban reverses, such as the bloody confrontation with NATO Froces in the Panjwai District between September 4-17, 2006. NATO’s ‘Operation Medusa’ ended with nearly 1,100 of a 1,500-strong Taliban Force – which “crossed over from Quetta – waved on by Pakistani border guards” – dead, and 160 in NATO custody. Interrogation of the captured Taliban cadres has confirmed, in significant detail, the complicity and support of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Further confirmation of such support came from the sheer firepower that the Taliban forces brought to the battle: according to NATO’s post-battle assessment, the Taliban fired an estimated 400,000 rounds of ammunition, 2,000 rocket-propelled grenades, and 1,000 mortar shells. Further, ammunition dumps unearthed after the battle exposed an additional stock of over one million rounds. An unnamed senior NATO officer, cited by Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan’s foremost expert on the Taliban, noted, “The Taliban could not have done this on their own without the ISI.” Rashid notes, “NATO is now mapping the entire Taliban support structure in Balochistan, from ISI- run training camps near Quetta to huge ammunition dumps, arrival points for Taliban's new weapons and meeting places of the shura, or leadership council, in Quetta, which is headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the group's leader since its creation a dozen years ago.”
Pakistan’s military establishment, through the ISI, has long been the principal terrorist organisation in South Asia. The Taliban – as is the case with the many named Islamist terrorist groups operating in India from Pakistani soil – is no more than an instrumentality, a proxy, an agent, of the ISI. Unless the West recognizes and addresses this reality, it will fail in Afghanistan, and will become the more vulnerable on its own soil to the rampage of Islamist terrorists.
The idea that Afghanistan and Iraq are America’s ‘new Vietnam’ is gaining wide currency, as failing coalition Forces in both theatres flail about desperately for a face-saving ‘exit strategy’. What is often missed out, however, is that the world and the ways of warfare have changed tremendously and irrevocably since the war in Vietnam. The option to simply ‘declare victory and run’ no longer exists. If these theatres are ceded to the extremists, the war will simply move to Western soil. President George Bush has been wrong – and disastrously wrong – about a lot of things. But he is right when he says, “We're fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the world so we do not have to face them here at home.”
If the Americans fail in Iraq, in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, they will have nowhere to hide.
The Garo Hills in Meghalaya supposedly entered into a ‘peace mode’ following the entry of the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) into a tripartite cease-fire agreement with the Union and Meghalaya Governments on July 23, 2004. But, as has been the case in the past, a deal with one insurgent group has only cleared the space for others. The vacuum left by the ANVC is rapidly being filled by the lesser-known groups, which have increased activities such as extortion and abduction, taking advantage of the cooling off of Security Forces (SF) operations in the area after the truce with the ANVC. Unsurprisingly, Meghalaya Chief Minister, J.D. Rymbai, is now expressing concern over the presence of a multiplicity of minor militant outfits in the Garo Hills, though, at a Press briefing on October 16, 2006, he stated that it was still "early to take any action and we cannot act suddenly. We have to observe and analyse the movement of the militant groups to find out ways and means to address the problem."
A new entrant on the militant bandwagon demanding an independent ‘Garoland’, is the Liberation Achik Elite Force (LAEF). Formed in early 2006 by a former Meghalaya Police Constable, Peter Marak, the LAEF reportedly has some educated men among its cadres. Marak was posted as constable in the Garo Hills during the latter part of the 1990s, and subsequently unsuccessfully contested the by-election for Meghalaya Legislative Assembly from the Songsak constituency as an independent candidate. The LAEF is active in the Songsak, Kharkutta and Rongjeng areas of the East Garo Hills District. In an appeal in the first week of October 2006, the LAEF outlined the reasons of its existence: "LAEF stands to fight for a separate Achik state after studying the scenario of the State. It is learnt that the citizens of our land have been ill-treated and discriminated in every field – socially, politically and economically by the Khasis and Jaintias of Meghalaya making our people lag behind in the development process." It also appealed to the Achik (Garo) people "to co-operate and join hands to fight for a peaceful movement for an independent separate Achik State." According to intelligence sources, LAEF has suspected linkages with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), through Marak, who has some Naga connections and frequents NSCN-IM facilities in Nagaland.
The Achik National Liberation Front (ANLF), a breakaway faction of the ANVC, has been active in the East Garo Hills since 2005, with its headquarters at Chimik in the District. Nobin Marak, the leader of the group, has deployed cadres in the coal-rich areas of Nangalbibra in the South Garo Hills district and Resubelpara in the East Garo Hills district, principally for their extortion potential. A non-governmental organization (NGO), the Federation for Achik Freedom, received a demand note in October 2006, along with the photograph of the militant leader, Nobin Marak, in a place with a lot of cash scattered around him. On August 30, 2006, bodies of two unidentified persons, with their hands tied, were recovered from Nangapa village near Dagal in the East Garo Hills district. Police sources maintain that both were killed by the ANLF.
Another group operating in the Garo Hills is the United Achik National Front (UANF), which was formed on January 21, 2004, by former cadres of the People’s Liberation Front of Meghalaya (PLF-M). This group has engaged in widespread extortion and has also set up camps in neighbouring Bangladesh. The UANF ‘chief’, Nimush Marak, was killed in an encounter with the Bangladeshi security forces at a Rangamati hideout in Bangladesh bordering the Gasuapara village of South Garo Hills district on June 12, 2006. Following Nimush Marak’s death, UANF cadres have regrouped in the Dalu area of West Garo Hills, and Gasuapara, Purakhasia and Kherapara areas in South Garo Hills and have indulged in widespread extortion and intimidation. The outfit even claimed, in March 2006, to have set up an ‘underground government’ in the Garo Hills, a claim which has been dismissed by the State police. The UANF is suspected to have operated in close cooperation with the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which also maintains some camps in Bangladesh. A top NDFB leader, Sushil Boro, who was arrested along with three of his accomplices from a militant hideout at Manikura under Haluaghat subdistrict in the Mymensingh District of Bangladesh on July 1, 2006, confessed that he was working as an ‘advisor’ to the UANF. Names of an unspecified number militants belonging to the UANF figured in the list of wanted militants, residing in Bangladesh, which was handed over by the Border Security Force (BSF) to the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) during their meeting in Shillong on August 31, 2006.
Some incidents involving these various groups in year 2006 include:
June 21, 2006: Two ANLF cadres were shot dead by police personnel in an encounter at Nangalbibra in the South Garo Hills District. One country-made carbine, pistol, SBBL guns, a Chinese grenade, and a few rounds of live ammunition were recovered from their possession.
June 16, 2006: An unidentified UANF cadre was killed in an encounter with the police at a border village near Mahendarganj in the West Garo Hills district. Another militant managed to escape from the incident site.
June 13, 2006: Police conducted a raid at the residence of LAEF leader Peter Marak at Songsak in the East Garo Hills district, and recovered one Chinese hand grenade along with some incriminating documents, including demand notes. Marak manages to escape.
June 6, 2006: Two LAEF cadres, Xavier P. Marak and Sylseng Marak, were arrested from Williamnagar in the East Garo Hills district. Incriminating documents were recovered from the arrested militants.
May 28, 2006: A nine-year old boy, Vaibhav Singh, was abducted by suspected UANF cadres from the Fancy Valley locality of Tura in the West Garo Hills District.
May 23, 2006: Seven UANF cadres surrendered before the Sub-Divisional Officer at Ampati in the West Garo Hills District.
May 22, 2006: At least 12 UANF cadres surrendered before the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the Western Range F. D. Sangma at Tura, the headquarters of the West Garo Hills District.
May 14, 2006: A woman was abducted by ANLF militants from Rangran in the West Khasi Hills district. She was rescued two days later after a police operation in which one ANLF militant was killed. A Self-Loading Rifle with a magazine and two live ammunition shells were recovered from the slain militant.
April 26, 2006: Two senior customs officials, Superintendent D. Bora and Inspector Mrinal Sharma, were abducted while traveling on a vehicle by suspected UANF cadres at Baburambeel border area in the West Garo Hills district. Subsequently, UANF demanded a ransom amount of INR 15 million for releasing the officials. Eventually, BDR personnel handed over the abducted customs officials to the Indian authorities on May 14, 2006. It is unclear whether any ransom was paid to the UANF.
February 5, 2006: A businessman, P. Saha, was shot dead after being dragged out of a civil convoy from Tura to Baghmara. His driver was also wounded by ANLF cadres at a place near Sibbari in the South Garo Hills District.
Apart from activities by local militant groups like the ANVC and the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), Meghalaya’s territory has also been used by outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and NDFB for transit to and from Bangladesh, for safe havens and for concealing caches of arms and explosives. Both the ULFA and NDFB had a tactical alliance with the ANVC to facilitate their movement through the Garo Hills. With the ANVC drawn into the cease-fire process since 2004, smaller groups have now emerged as major facilitators for the outsider militant organizations who use Meghalaya’s territory for a variety of purposes.
While it has been convenient for the State police to dismiss small organizations such as the UANF, ANLF and the LAEF as ‘inconsequential’, for groups like the ULFA and NDFB, these facilitators come handy. Dealing with the ANVC had involved cooperation at the organizational levels, but arrangements with the smaller and newer outfits can be purely mercenary and incidental.
The State Police, which claim to have successfully neutralized the threats of the ANVC and the HNLC, are bound to find dealing with the smaller and amorphous groups much more challenging. Functioning without a proper structure and comprising thoroughly dispensable cadres, these groups may have a more extended existence compared to their more structured predecessors. Over time, these groupings may also begin to exercise significant influence on the political scenario in the area.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
October 16-22, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Evidence on Pakistani involvement in 7/11 Mumbai blasts pretty good, says National Security Advisor: National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan has described the evidence of Pakistani involvement in the July 11, 2006, bomb blasts in Mumbai as "pretty good" but not "clinching." Narayanan said the evidence gathered by the Mumbai police "is as good ... as we can possibly get in terrorist cases" but that it was up to the courts to decide whether it was clinching or not. "We have connectivity, linkages, confessions. We have a number of arrests which are pretty good. But there are pieces of the puzzle which are not available. I would hesitate to say we have clinching evidence but we have pretty good evidence." He made these remarks in an interview to CNN-IBN on October 22, 2006. CNN-IBN, October 23, 2006.
Taliban impose taxes in North Waziristan: The Taliban on October 22, 2006, imposed their brand of penalties for various acts which they deemed to be offences and levied ‘taxes’ on businesses at Miranshah in North Waziristan. The Taliban, who recently opened their offices in Miranshah after signing a peace deal with the Government, also proclaimed a vast area around the town to be their ‘area of operations’ and ‘banned’ all sorts of criminal activities around the North Waziristan headquarters. The Taliban Shura (council), headed by Maulvi Abdul Wahid, reportedly distributed pamphlets spelling out their policies.
The Taliban proclaimed that maintenance of law and order and punishing crimes in the area between Miranshah-Ghulam Khan road and Deerdani checkpoint-I, Miranshah and the Tablighee Markaz and Miranshah and Mirali road would be their responsibility. They would devise punishments for different crimes and would award death for death according to the Shariat. Likewise, people committing other crimes in the area would also been punished according to Islamic jurisprudence. For robberies and thefts, the Shura prescribed fine amounting to PKR 500,000 and two-month prison term for the offenders.
According to the ‘tax schedule’ issued by the Taliban, every 10-wheeler truck entering North Waziristan would have to pay PKR 1,500 for allowing them six-month road access, while six-wheeler trucks would pay PKR 1,000 twice a year. Petrol pump owners, the pamphlet said, would have to pay PKR 5,000 to the Shura after every six months. Dawn, October 23, 2006.
Lahore High Court orders Hafiz Saeed’s release: Justice Muhammad Akhtar Shabbir of the Lahore High Court ordered on October 17, 2006, that the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa (JD, formerly Lashkar-e-Toiba) chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed be released immediately, rejecting the Government’s charges against him,. Saeed’s wife had moved a petition challenging her husband’s detention. Petitioner’s lawyer Ahmad Ghazi rejected the Government’s statement that Pakistan’s relations with neighbouring countries could be “affected by Hafiz Saeed or the JD’s activities”. “Only India has some reservations over Hafiz Saeed, but that country has expressed reservations over the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] as well. Does this mean that the ISI should be closed down?” he said. Daily Times, October 18, 2006.
Mullah Omar hiding in Quetta, says Afghan President: Afghan President Hamid Karzai told The Associated Press on October 16, 2006, that Mullah Omar, the fugitive Taliban leader, is hiding in Quetta, capital of Balochistan province. Karzai also blamed Pakistan for a surge in Taliban violence in Afghanistan, and demanded that President Pervez Musharraf crack down on militant sanctuaries. “We know he is in Quetta,” Karzai said of the fugitive Omar. Karzai claimed the Taliban were also “hiding in Karachi and the tribal town of Miran Shah”. “I don’t think the Taliban have a headquarters, but they have sanctuaries, which are definitely in Pakistan,” Karzai said in the interview. Daily Times, October 18, 2006.
98 sailors killed in LTTE suicide attack in Habarana: At least 98 sailors of the navy were killed and 100 injured on October 16, 2006, as suspected Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a naval convoy in Habarana. The massacre occurred at the entry point to east and Trincomalee district. The Defence Ministry said LTTE terrorists rammed into the naval convoy at Digampatana in Habarana around 1.30 p.m (SLT). The military said, "A huge explosion has occurred causing severe destruction to both naval personnel and the civilians in the area." The convoy comprising 24 buses was at the Digampatana rendezvous point when the attack occurred. The Ministry said over 340 unarmed naval personnel were believed to be present at the location. Naval sources said 13 buses had been damaged. The Hindu, October 17, 2006.
Supreme Court declares merger of north and east provinces null and void: Sri Lanka's Supreme Court on October 16, 2006, declared the temporary merger of the northern and eastern provinces, effected in 1987 and extended annually, "null and void and illegal." A five-member Bench of the court, headed by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, gave the ruling on a petition filed by three Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna members. It said the President had no powers to effect a merger of provinces under Emergency Regulation, and only Parliament could decide on the subject. The court referred to the two conditions laid by the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Accord before considering merger — cessation of hostilities and laying down of arms by militant groups. It said the President went ahead with the merger, though the conditions were not met with after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) violated cease-fire. The Hindu, October 17, 2006.