SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Inaugurating a three-day 'Global meet on resurgent Bihar' on January 19, 2007, in Patna, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam observed that Bihar's development was crucial for the development of India. And in an attempt to encourage investment, Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, stated that ‘good governance’ was possible with firm efforts being made to establish the rule of law and make the State "an investor-friendly destination." The persistent problem of the Maoist insurgency in Bihar, however, remains a crucial element in defining the trajectory of the State’s future.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs, in its 2006 report on internal security, stated that, except in the State of Chhattisgarh, where incidents and casualties registered a steep increase, Left Wing extremist-related violence in the other affected States was contained during year 2006. According to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, Bihar accounted for 40 fatalities in year 2006 – 16 civilians, five security force (SF) personnel and 19 Maoists (also known as Naxalites) – as compared to 106 fatalities in 2005, including 25 civilians, 29 SF personnel and 52 Maoists.
The decline witnessed in the Maoist activity in Bihar can be attributed to, among others, two primary reasons: first, there has been a tactical retreat on the part of the Maoists, as the success story of SFs, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, has forced a revaluation of strategies and tactics not only in Bihar, but in all theatres across the country; and the SFs have also, to a certain extent, been able to counter Maoist subversion with the arrests and killing of some of the top leaders in the State. The SFs have also made significant seizures of arms, ammunition and explosives through year 2006.
Some of the significant Maoist-related incidents and developments in Bihar in year 2006 included:
Despite reverses and a decline in violence and fatalities, the Maoists are evidently in a process of making a qualitative penetration across the 38 Districts of Bihar. Reports relating to the Maoists’ politburo document suggest that they have launched a "socio-economic investigation" in places, both where their movement is strong and also in targeted areas, to identify new issues faced by the people. The "social investigation" is aimed at redefining the strategies and field-level tactics during the Special Congress – a major brainstorming session for the Party. It is significant, within this context, that "The study and documentation of local issues, grievances, and social and political power distribution" is a necessary prelude, within Maoist theory, to political mass mobilization around these grievances, the organization of protests and activities, which lead up to the creation of ‘revolutionary solidarity’ and eventually, to the training and deployment of cadres in the protracted ‘people’s war’. The Maoist threat, consequently, is "not limited to the areas of immediate violence, nor does this threat vanish if violence is not manifested at a particular location for a specific period of time. It is in the complex processes of political activity, mass mobilisation, arms training and military consolidation that the Maoist potential has to be estimated. While incidents of violence and fatalities would be crucial in any threat assessment, they cannot exhaust its entire content." These broad considerations suggest that the Maoists are focusing on a process of political mobilization and consolidation, which will translate into violence in the foreseeable future.
It is also important to note that it is not long since Bihar was witness to the Jehanabad incursion. In what is arguably the most daring attack in the history of the Naxalite movement in India, approximately 150 to 200 armed cadres of the CPI-Maoist along with an estimated 800 ‘sympathizers’ attacked the Jehanabad District Jail on November 13, 2005, and freed 341 prisoners, abducted more than 20 activists of the Ranvir Sena (a militia of upper caste landlords), and looted a large quantity of arms and ammunition. During the siege, seven persons (three Maoists, two Ranvir Sena cadres and two police personnel) were killed. Subsequently, the Maoists executed nine of the abducted Ranvir Sena cadres. The Maoists, who had virtually taken control of all entry and exit points of the town, also carried out synchronized attacks on the District Court, Police Lines, District Armoury, the residence of the District Judge, and the S. S. College, where a Paramilitary Forces’ (PMF) camp had been set up. The Jehanabad incident is not an isolated one, and essentially marks a ‘higher stage of militarization’ of the movement.
Crucially, the lower levels of violence do not mean that the state has reclaimed territory from the rebels or secured any dramatic victories over the rebels. Indeed, the number of Districts affected by Maoist activity in Bihar has, according to sources, remained more or less the same. There are variations in the levels and patterns of Maoist activity but the larger picture remains unchanged. While 11 Districts (West Champaran, East Champaran, Kaimur, Rohtas, Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada, Jamui, Patna (south), Jehanabad, Arwal) are categorized as highly affected, another 16 Districts (Sheohar, Sitamari, Begusarai, Lakhisarai, Munger, Muzaffarpur, Nalanda, Khagaria, Darbhanga, Buxar, Siwan, Vaishali, Saharsha, Banka, Purnia, Katihar) are categorized as moderately affected, while three Districts (Madhubani, Sapaul, Araria) fall into the category of ‘targeted’, bringing the total number of Districts in the State affected by Maoist activity to 29 (of a total of 38 Districts). The last category of ‘targeted’ areas, however, remains a misnomer in the strategic sense since the CPI-Maoist has clearly expressed its intent to capture power across the length and breadth of the country, and has established Regional, State and Special Zonal Committees to oversee this grand enterprise that leave only a handful of areas presently outside its scope.
However, as far as their operational areas are concerned, the CPI-Maoist continues to maintain a presence in all parts of Bihar, with their primary support base located in the lower castes and poor peasantry. Increased Maoist mobilization has been recorded in south central Bihar with a gradual spread towards the northeastern part of the State. This upsurge has also been made possible by the Ranvir Sena’s decline in the Magadh region (Gaya, Nawada, Aurangabad and Jehanabad Districts), which this armed group dominated earlier.
Effective counter-insurgency operations against the Maoists have been inhibited by a lack of inter-State co-ordination, a perennial problem which the Centre is presently attempting address in earnest. Recent reports indicate that West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand were unable to reach an understanding to launch a joint offensive against the extremists, at the Bhubaneswar meeting convened by the Union Home Ministry in December 2006, to evolve a coordinated response to the Maoist problem. The Director General of the Jharkhand Police, J. Mahapatra, claimed that Bihar officials argued that they were not ‘dependent’ on Jharkhand to contain the Naxalite menace. Asserting that they were self-sufficient, the Bihar representatives stated their forces had been able to ‘successfully fight’ the Naxalites, according to Mahapatra.
The spread of left wing extremism in Bihar has been enormously facilitated by the sheer and endemic lack of human development, a crumbling State administrative machinery, and decaying infrastructure. Maoists have taken advantage of this widespread 'retreat of governance', not only in establishing a network of extortion, imposing 'levies' and 'revolutionary taxes', but also initiating 'developmental works' in some areas.
Maoist subversion in Bihar overlays a much wider breakdown of the criminal justice system, and the State has persistently neglected issues of policing and the need to develop adequate capacities of response to various challenges of internal security. The Crime in India – 2005 report, published by the National Crime Records Bureau, indicates that Bihar has policemen per lakh population ratio of 57, the worst in the country. By comparison, national average is 122, and some states boast a ratio of 854 (Mizoram) and 609 (Sikkim). Even the other Maoist afflicted States are significantly better off: Andhra Pradesh has a ratio of 98; Chhattisgarh, 103, Jharkhand (which was formerly part of Bihar), 85; and Orissa, 90. Substantial sections of the Bihar Police continue to use the antiquated World War I vintage bolt-action .303 rifles and other obsolete equipment, as compared to the more sophisticated weaponry with the Maoists, and the condition of rural Police Stations in the State is abysmal. Organisations representing Police personnel in the State have repeatedly protested against the lack of adequate protection to the Police and their families, and the Force is hardly in a position to protect the public. Despite the rhetoric of ‘resurgent Bihar’, unless these parameters undergo dramatic transformation, little can be expected in any other sphere of development. In the absence of improved security, the expectation of any noticeable surge in investment and economic activities will prove entirely illusory.
In the shadow of persistent bewilderment and neglect, both at Imphal and New Delhi, Manipur continues to suffer from an unending cycle of violence, year after year. Each of Manipur’s nine Districts has been severely affected by militancy, but the hilly District of Chandel has witnessed one of the most persistent campaigns of violence unleashed by Valley-based militants, in particular the United National Liberation Front (UNLF).
Initially called Tengnoupal, the Chandel District was created on May 13, 1974. Spread over 3,313 square kilometers, Chandel is the fourth largest District of Manipur, and lies in the south-eastern part of the State, bordering Myanmar on the south, Ukhrul District on the east, Churachandpur District on the south and west, and Thoubal District on the north. With a population of 1,22,714 (as per 2001 Census), Chandel is the third most sparsely populated District in the State. Close to 86 per cent of the total population are tribals from about 20 different tribes, prominently consisting of Anal, Lamkang, Moyon, Monsang, Chothe and Maring (collectively known as old Kuki), Thadou and Zou, as well as some Meitei. Nearly 88 per cent of the population lives in a total of 361 villages.
The District is divided into three sub-divisions: Tengnoupal, Chandel and Chakpikarong and seven police stations: Tengnoupal, Moreh, Chandel, Chakpikarong, Pallel, Machi and Molcham. The District headquarters, located at Chandel, is just about 64 kilometres from the State capital, Imphal, connected by National Highway 39 and State Highway 10. In spite of its proximity to the centre of political and administrative power in the State, Chandel remains one of the most backward Districts of Manipur. The reach of the district administration to the scattered hamlets, often consisting of no more than 50-60 houses, separated by hills, bamboo thickets and streams, remains rather limited.
A significant proportion of the blame for the state of affairs goes to the raging militancy in the District. A total of 38 militancy-related fatalities were reported from Chandel in 2006. Eight civilians, seven security force (SF) personnel and 23 militants were killed in separate incidents. The proximity of the District to Myanmar, which has been used by the Valley based militants as a safe haven for years, has been the bane of Chandel. These militant outfits frequent the District en route Myanmar.
The UNLF and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) remain the most dominant militant groups in the district. In 2006, the UNLF accounted for 15 fatalities, including two civilians and five SF personnel, while PLA-related incidents claimed 11 lives, including two SF personnel. Significant incidents of violence involving these groups in 2006 included:
Chandel’s Khengjoi-Dingpi area, located in the south-eastern part of the District and consisting of about 40 hamlets, is an example of the virtual free run that the militants enjoy in parts of the State. Attacks on the tribal population by valley-based militants in Khengjoi-Dingpi date back to 2001 and most of such attacks have remained unreported in the media. In 2001, subsequent to an encounter with the United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) near Aibol-Joupi Village, UNLF militants assaulted the villagers. A penalty of INR 100,000 and INR 50,000 were reportedly imposed on Aiboljoupi and Hollenjang villages.
In the complete absence of the state machinery, moreover, it is the militants, who ‘govern’ the region and, in order to increase their acceptability, they are known to have constructed water tanks and few community halls. They have also periodically intimidated the civilian population, and some cases of sexual assault on tribal girls have also been lodged with the local police.
The major influx of the Valley-based militants into Khengjoi-Dingpi areas began after security posts at Sehlon and Phaisanjang, in place since the Kuki-Naga ethnic clashes of the 1990s, were removed in 2003. The area assumed further strategic importance for the militants after SF operations flushed them out of the ‘liberated zones’ in the Sajik-Tampak area in 2004 and from Henglep following ‘Operation Dragnet’ in early 2006. On December 15, 2006, SF personnel claimed to have cleared several villages in the Khengjoi-Dingpi areas, during a week long counter-insurgency operation. Operations reportedly began after Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during the latter’s one-day visit to Imphal on December 2, that Khengjoi range was the only remaining place in the State where militant camps still existed. During the operation, the UNLF militants are known to have forcibly used villagers of Molcham and Tuileng as human shields against the SFs. On December 18, at least 471 villagers from six villages in the Khengjoi areas, who had fled to Moreh due to the counter-insurgency operation, were escorted back to their respective villages by the SFs. SFs claimed to have recovered and later defused 61 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during the operation. The SF claims that the area had been cleared were, however, quickly dispelled with an ambush by the UNLF on December 22, 2006, in which one SF person was killed and another five injured, in the Khengjoi range. Further on January 8, 2007, the UNLF claimed to have killed two SF personnel near Hengshi. Again on January 9, a stray bullet wounded an old man during an exchange of fire between UNLF cadres and SF personnel at Kamphajal village.
Key to the success of the security forces in the Khengjoi-Dingpi area is the construction of the Tengnoupal Samtal Road, which is projected as the future lifeline for the backward areas in which no state machinery presently exists. Once completed, the road will allow SF personnel easy access to the area. Unsurprisingly, the militants have been using all their powers to stall the project. Intelligence sources indicate that, while the outfits have already intimidated the Border Roads Task Force (BRTF), which is in charge of the project, they also have employed able bodied civilians from 40 odd villages in the area to keep a watch on SF movement. Failure to obey the militants’ diktats is known to invite severe punishment, including death.
Planting of anti-personnel landmines and IEDs by groups such as the UNLF, in order to deter the movement of the SFs, has been a constant in the militancy in Chandel, with areas like Khengjoi-Dingpi most affected by the phenomenon. Thus, on January 7, 2007, at least 71 IEDs were recovered and later defused by the SFs in the area. A number of civilians have been killed, injured or maimed in landmine/IED explosions over the years. Some of the incidents involving landmine/IED explosion in 2006 included:
The militancy in Chandel reflects the near-complete administrative breakdown and the retreat of civil governance that afflicts much of Manipur. Regrettably, the increasing public distress and popular concerns are yet to find reflection in an adequate official policy to address the unending crisis of militancy in the District.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 22-28, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
JMB leaders seek presidential mercy: Five of the seven leaders and cadres of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), who have been sentenced to death, have asked for presidential mercy. Mercy petitions by the outfit’s chief Abdur Rahman, and other leaders, Ataur Rahman Sunny, Abdul Awal, Khaled Saifullah and Iftekhar al Mamun were submitted to the jail authorities on January 27, 2007. JMB second-in-command Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai submitted his mercy petition on January 28. Meanwhile, February 17 has been fixed as the date for execution. The Daily Star, January 28-29, 2007.
Lashkar-e-Toiba militant arrested with explosives in New Delhi: A suspected Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militant was arrested with 2.5 kilograms of RDX by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police from near the Seelampur Metro station on January 25, 2007. The militant was to hand over the explosives to a LeT module that was to carry out blasts in New Delhi on Republic Day. A hunt has been launched for other militants. Joint Commissioner of Police, Karnal Singh, said that the arrest followed information provided by members of a LeT module which was neutralized in March 2005. The arrested militant, Iftikhar Alam, a resident of Gaya in Bihar, revealed that the explosives were given to him in Patna by a LeT conduit who had brought them from Nepal. Iftikhar further revealed that he did two training stints in handling of arms and ammunition in terrorist camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). He also visited Bangladesh. Hindu, January 26, 2007.
Peshawar police chief among 15 persons killed in NWFP suicide blast: On January 27, 2007, fifteen persons, including six police officials, were killed and 60 others wounded in a suicide attack targeting a Muharram procession near Qasim Ali Khan Mosque in the Dilgaran area of Qissa Khawani Bazaar in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). Peshawar police commissioner Mallik Muhammad Saad, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, three other police personnel and a Nazim (local official) were among those killed in the blast. Superintendent of Peshawar Police, Zaibullah, said that "an unidentified bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body when police stopped him from entering the procession, which was to be taken out from Qasim Ali Khan Mosque." A senior security official disclosed that the two severed legs of the suspected bomber had been recovered from the site. The blast also caused a power outage that left the city centre in darkness, complicating rescue efforts. NWFP law minister stated that the attack was "an act of terrorism" and "there was no evidence to suggest that the incident was part of Shia-Sunni sectarian violence." Daily Times, January 28, 2007.
Two persons killed in suicide blast outside Hotel Marriott in Islamabad: A suicide bomber blew himself up outside Hotel Marriott in the capital Islamabad on January 26, 2007, killing a guard, Tariq Mehmmod, and wounding five persons. The unidentified man detonated explosives strapped to his body after the security guard tried to stop him from entering the hotel through a side entrance. "It was a suicide attack. The suicide attacker and a guard were killed," Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said. He termed the bombing a failed attempt to kill people frequenting an upscale hotel. The suicide bombing occurred hours before a Republic Day function at the hotel hosted by India’s High Commission. The function, however, went ahead after the explosion. Dawn, January 27, 2007.
Two British Pakistanis among five persons arrested in UK under anti-terrorism laws: Five men, including, two British Pakistanis, were arrested during raids in Britain on January 23, 2007, under anti-terrorism laws. Two men, aged 25 and 29, were detained in Halifax, West Yorkshire, "on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism," said London’s Metropolitan Police. The BBC reported that they were thought to be British Pakistanis, being held on suspicion of involvement in facilitating terrorist activities overseas, although the police declined to comment. The other three suspects, two aged 24 and one 32, were arrested by anti-terrorism officers who raided four addresses in Manchester. Daily Times, January 24, 2007.
Government vows to destroy all LTTE military assets: Sri Lanka vowed, on January 25, 2007, to attack and destroy Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) military assets, including those in the outfit’s northern stronghold. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse stated, "We definitely want to destroy their assets, wherever those are – whether it is in the north, east, south." He added, "We want to destroy their assets everywhere, because as long as they have Sea Tiger bases, as long as they have artillery pieces ... terrorists are always thinking wherever possible they want to do damage." He added that the only way the LTTE can defuse the military's plan is through a genuine expression of desire about talking peace by leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. However, Rajapakse insisted that despite aiming to wipe out all LTTE military assets, the Government is committed to peace. "The bottom line is the Government is not going for a military solution. The Government is genuinely committed for a political solution." he said.
Previously, on January 23, LTTE had dismissed the Government’s invitation to stop fighting and resume talks, claiming that there was no sincerity in the offer. LTTE military spokesperson I. Illanthirayan claimed that the Government was making senseless statements to misguide the international community. "Their lips are talking about peace but their deeds are proving otherwise," Illanthirayan added. The Morning Leader, January 24, 2007, Reuters, January 26, 2007.