SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
On January 28, 2007, authorities fixed February 17 as the date for the execution of six of the seven militants of the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), including its chief, Abdur Rahman, its ‘operations commander’ Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, who is also the chief of the Jagrata Janata Muslim Bangladesh (JMJB), Majlish-e-Shura (the highest decision-making body) members, Ataur Rahman Sunny, Abdul Awal, Khaled Saifullah and suicide squad member Iftekhar al Mamun. Another convict, Asadul Islam alias Arif, is absconding. All of them have been sentenced to death for their involvement in the Jhalakathi bomb attack that killed two judges in November 2005. There is, however, little chance of the sentence being carried out on the appointed day as all the convicts have filed mercy petitions with the President. Authorities have indicated that, in case the President rejects the petitions, the militants will be hanged in March. President Iajuddin Ahmed, temporarily presiding over the fate of a politically polarised nation that faces an uncertain poll in a few months, is not expected to take a decision on the petitions any time soon.
Previously, on January 27, all the convicted JMB leaders and cadres, barring Bangla Bhai had submitted their mercy petitions to the jail authorities. Bangla Bhai, who has been kept in Kashimpur Jail, submitted his mercy petition a day later on January 28. Interestingly, some of the letters to the President from the JMB militants, which have been described as ‘mercy petitions’, were nothing but reassertions and justifications of the past criminal actions of the group. After submitting a three- page letter which the jail authorities described as a compilation of quotations from Quran and the Hadith and an invitation to the President to "join the path of Islam", for instance, Rahman reportedly announced that "in Islamic law, the President does not have the jurisdiction to show mercy", so "he (Rahman) does not want the President's mercy". Similarly, Bangla Bhai’s three-and-a-half page ‘mercy petition’ defended his activities by referring to different verses of the Quran and Hadith. The official explanation for considering such an assertion as a ‘mercy petition’, consequently, defied logic. A jail official said, "Whether he (Bangla Bhai) appeals for mercy or not, whatever he has written in the letter would be considered as his mercy petition and we will send it to the President through the Home Ministry." Both Rahman and Bangla Bhai had earlier made similar claims in their letters to the Supreme Court justifying the killing of people in order to establish Islamic rule. They even went to the extent of asserting that all judges, who held trials under Taguti (non-Islamic) laws, neglecting Shariah, deserve death. At that stage also, the Supreme Court had accepted their letters as appeals and had stayed the execution of the death sentence before, confirming it thereafter, on November 28, 2006.
Despite the appeals pending before the President, however, it would seem that these radical groups are nearing the end of the road. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the fate of the JMB militants in coming months, as has repeatedly been emphasized in SAIR, the execution of the death sentences on the JMB militants is not likely to bring about a dramatic change in the course of Islamist militancy in Bangladesh.
The arrests of the top JMB leadership had been expected to bring out the group’s entire dynamics into public knowledge, but these expectations have been belied. Much current information about the outfit, which, before the August 17, 2005, country-wide bombings, functioned in relative anonymity, however, remains largely speculative, with little hard evidence or information available to the public. It is not clear whether the absence of hard information in the public sphere is part of a collusive arrangement, but the JMB’s complex and widely hypothesized linkages with the state establishment remain entirely hidden away.
Open source information indicates that 57 JMB cadres were arrested between April 26, 2006 – the day last Majlish-e-Shura member of the group, Khaled Saifullah was arrested from a rented house in Dhaka city’s Paradagair locality – and January 31, 2007. These arrests took place across 11 Districts: Narayanganj, Rangpur, Tangail, Gazipur, Chittagong, Kishoreganj, Chapainawabganj, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Bogra and Sherpur. All but three of the arrested were lower-rung cadres of the outfit. Three middle level operatives of the JMB who were arrested during this period were:
The political leadership in Bangladesh has repeatedly claimed to have ‘broken the back’ of Islamist militancy through the high-profile arrests. The neutralisation effort appeared also to have consisted of occasional raids on ‘militant dens’ leading to the recovery of explosives and ‘bomb-making material’, though only four such raids were reported between April 26, 2006, and January 31, 2007. Two of these raids were conducted in the Savar Police Station area of Dhaka District and the Badda locality of Dhaka city. Moreover, whereas intelligence reports indicated that following the arrests of the top leadership, the JMB cadres were trying to regroup in the north and north-eastern regions of the country, most recent arrests and raids have taken place largely in a few of the north and north-western Districts. JMB’s extensive network during the August 2005 country-wide attacks was known to have consisted of hundred thousands of cadres and sympathizers and a group of ‘2000 suicide bombers’. A few arrests and raids are not expected to significantly dent the outfit’s strike capability. Further, there are even lesser indications that the official drives against the group have had any impact on its lifeline – its financial networks and international linkages, especially those with the Islamist charities based abroad.
There is also much to suggest that the authorities were largely playing to the galleries by their drive against militancy, as was evident in episodes such as the August 2, 2006 incident: a few weeks before Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led alliance went through the mandatory process of passing on its powers to a caretaker government, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) personnel claimed to have swooped on a forest area adjoining a madrassa (seminary) near Jibontola village in Mymensingh’s Bhaluka sub-District and arrested 26 JMB militants, including an Afghan war veteran and two suicide bombers. The militants, aged between 16 and 20, were said to have been undergoing training in the militant den. Bomb-making materials and training equipment were reportedly recovered. However, on August 3, police produced the militants in a court and asked for a remand of only seven of those arrested, claiming that no specific charges existed against the rest.
It is, of course, the case that the period after the arrest of the JMB leaders has been marked by an absence of any significant militant activity in Bangladesh, other than a few incidents when JMB militants issued threats. These included a June 21, 2006, bomb threat to Sonali, Agrani and Grameen Banks in the Gaibandha District and the November 8, 2006, death threat to the Mymensingh municipality chairman. The complete absence of a terrorist attack subsequent to the arrests of the JMB top brass is, however, grounds for no more than limited comfort. The silent growth of the outfit had caught the country unawares before it revealed its capabilities in August 2005, and further, in November-December 2005, and there is reason to believe that such a process of consolidation is ongoing even now. It is useful to recall that there was a gap of just six months between the Government’s authoritative denials of the group’s existence (in February 2005) and the outfit’s demonstration of strength in August 2005.
While the judiciary in Bangladesh is seen to have acted fairly independently and swiftly on the fate of the JMB top brass, a large number of the arrested lower-rung cadres have either been released on bail or have been able to secure freedom by taking advantage of the extremely vague or soft charges that have been brought against them. The cases in which JMB cadres have been released include:
The ‘neutralization’ of the JMB’s top leadership was achieved by a regime that had been the most potent force behind its growth, and this was done under tremendous pressure from international actors as well as the domestic public, to set things right before the general elections. What is missed out in this is that the arrests of the visible leadership have only reinforced the anonymity of the shadowy group of controllers who supported the group behind the scenes. Today, the outfit’s cadres and the middle level leadership are scattered all over the country, giving the group a dispersed and amorphous form – much like that of the al Qaeda – and it is a question of time before the middle-level leadership finds its feet, and initiates moves, once again, to realize the JMB’s grandiose plans for a radicalized Islamist Bangladesh.
When Karbi Anglong was declared an autonomous District in October 1976 under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, this was intended to resolve the tensions arising out of the disparate aspirations of the District's overwhelmingly tribal population. Thirty years later, Karbi Anglong remains conflict-ridden, with 13-militancy related fatalities (seven per cent of the total militancy-related fatalities in Assam), including six civilians and seven security force personnel. The relatively small number of fatalities, however, is not an accurate index of the instability and violence that continue to wreak havoc in the lives of the people of the State’s largest District.
Karbi Anglong, spread over 10,434 square kilometers, consists of three Sub-Divisions – Diphu (the District headquarters), Bokajan and Hamren. Located in the central part of Assam, Karbi Anglong is abutted by Golaghat District in the east, Meghalaya State and Morigaon District in the west, Nagaon and Golaghat Districts in the north and the North Cachar Hills District and the State of Nagaland in the south. With three per cent of Assam’s population of 26.7 million (according to the 2001 Census), and 13 per cent of the State’s land mass, Karbi Anglong is home to a minority non-tribal population as well as several tribes. While the majority Karbis are spread throughout the District, Bodos live in the Langhin area; Kukis (also called Thadous or Hmars) in the Singhason and Koilamati areas; Dimasas in the Dhansiri or Mohendijua area; Tiwas in areas bordering Nagaon and Morigaon Districts; Mans in Bokajan sub-division; Garos and Khasis in the Hamren sub-division; Chakmas in the Borlangphar area; and Rengma Nagas in the Nilip Block.
Nearly 89 per cent of Karbi Anglong’s population lives in its 2,633 villages. Some 47 per cent of the District is forested, consisting of 14 State Reserve Forests and 17 District Council Reserve Forests. Compared to a State population density of 340, Karbi Anglong is sparsely populated with a density of 78 persons per square kilometre. District headquarters Diphu is 213 kilometres away from Dispur, the State capital.
In recent years, Karbi Anglong has been a theatre of bitter ethnic strife. Clashes erupted in 2005 between Karbis and Dimasas and, on October 29, 2005, a total of 88 people were officially reported killed and 1,014 houses were set ablaze. People belonging to other ethnic groups – Bodo, Nepali and Assamese – also lost their lives in the violence, in which the involvement of local insurgents of the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) and Dima Halim Daogah (DHD), was confirmed by the Government. A year and half earlier, on March 24, 2004, at least 34 Karbi villagers had been killed by the Manipur-based Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) militants at Uden Tisso and Sarpo Terong villages under Bokajan Police Station, and Jari Teron under the Manja Police Outpost. Clashes had started over the issue of extortion from Kuki ginger cultivators in the Singhasan Hills, but soon took the shape of an extended ethnic conflict involving UPDS and KRA militants, which continued for three months.
UPDS was formed in March 1999 with the merger of two outfits, the Karbi National Volunteers (KNV) and Karbi People’s Front (KPF), with the objective of creating a separate homeland for the Karbis, and entered into an extended cease-fire agreement with the Union Government in May 23, 2002. In January 2006, UPDS dropped its main demand for an autonomous State and, instead, settled for additional powers to the existing Autonomous Council. However, in September 2006, the outfit announced the suspension of its ‘peace talks’ with New Delhi, without discontinuing the cease-fire. A month later, media reportage indicated its involvement in an intensified extortion drive, with incidents reported from Nahorjan, Tongkory, Tinglijan, Ramsing Terang and Dikoi Terang in the Karbi Anglong District. Prominent incidents in 2006 and early 2007 included:
The ceasefire between the UPDS and the Union Government led to a split in the outfit, with a splinter group rechristened the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF). The KLNLF also formed an ‘armed wing’, the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Resistance Force on May 16, 2004. Apart from engaging in internecine clashes with the UPDS, the KLNLF has engaged in violence targeting civilians in Karbi Anglong and adjoining areas. Significant incidents involving KLNLF cadres include:
Militancy from Karbi Anglong also spilled over into the neighbouring States, especially the Jaintia Hills and its adjoining Ri-Bhoi District, in Meghalaya, which witnessed an extortion drive by the Karbi militants. On June 24, 2006, several villagers of Moolaber, Skap, Deinler, Saba, Myntang, Psiar, Lum Moojem, Khatkhasla, Mooshrot, Mukroh and other neighbouring villages near Labang-Nongphyllut in the Jaintia Hills Distict were forced to pay INR 200 each by UPDS militants. Again, on July 1, 2006, several farmers of Mawlasnai area in the Ri-Bhoi District, with their cultivable lands in the Madan Umwang and Khlieh Umwang areas, were served demand notes by the UPDS to pay ‘levies’. They were later asked by the militants to attend a meeting at Madan Umwang, and were threatened with dire consequences in case of failure to meet the demands. Similarly, Khasi farmers in the Block-II areas of the Ri-Bhoi District alleged that they were subjected to extortion, on October 24, 2006, by the KNV. On June 28, 2006, several civil society groups and chiefs of local self-governance institutions, Rangbah Shnongs, urged the Government to create more Police outposts and deploy additional Police personnel to prevent the UPDS from harassing Khasi-Pnar families in the Block-I and II areas of the Jaintia Hills District. Meghalaya Chief Minister J.D. Rymbai, on July 5, 2006, accused the UPDS of violating rules of the cease-fire agreement by engaging in unlawful activities along the Assam-Meghalaya border.
Karbi Anglong also witnessed violence by militants primarily based and active in other Districts of the State. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), for instance, which has been under a cease-fire agreement with the Union Government since May 25, 2005, has extended its ‘operations’ into this District:
Similarly, the DHD and its renegade group, the Black Widow, based in neighbouring North Cachar Hills District, also operate in Karbi Anglong. An internecine clash among Black Widow cadres occurred at Lanfer village under Kheroni Police Station in the Hamren sub-division on August 20, 2006, following the escape of five cadres of the outfit from its camp in North Cachar Hills. Further, on December 1, 2006, two DHD militants were arrested during a search operation at Diphu.
Karbi Anglong comprises six Police Station jurisdictions – Diphu, Howraghat, Bokajan, Baithalangso, Hamren and Kheroni. These police stations have further been divided into 11 police outposts: Diphu Town, Manja, Dhansiri, Bakulia, Dokmoka, Uttorborbil, Dillai, Borpathar, Khotkhoti, Donkamoka and Ulukunchi. There are also 10 Border Outposts (BOPs), including Lahorijan, Sankartilla, Monglamukh, Doldoli, Daujingphang and Rongapahar along the Assam-Nagaland border and Khanduli, Mokoiram, Sabuda and Mukroh along Assam-Meghalaya border. Against the back drop of the continuing militancy, the security set up in the District appeared to have registered some successes, including:
Regrettably, the state of militancy in Karbi Anglong fails to register in the consciousness of mainstream Assam, both among the intelligentsia and among policy makers. Despite the many peace processes and ceasefire agreements with various groups in and around the District, the unfortunate reality is that area will continue to fester in the shadow of official neglect.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 29-February 4, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Hurriyat Conference calls for cease-fire in Jammu and Kashmir: Speculating that the next few months could be a watershed for Jammu and Kashmir, chief of the separatist conglomerate, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, urged India and the militants to announce a cease-fire to help build a conducive atmosphere. He asked the militant leadership to announce a time bound truce in the Valley so that a positive atmosphere is built. Addressing a press conference in Srinagar on February 4, 2007, after an Executive Council and General Council meeting of the amalgam, the Mirwaiz (a hereditary title of one of Kashmir's important religious seats, and also head priest of the Jamia mosque) said that during the recent 9-day stay of the three member APHC delegation - himself, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat and Bilal Gani Lone - in Pakistan, they held several meetings with the leadership there. The Mirwaiz sought the initiative from the militant leadership to announce a time bound truce and let India respond positively to such an initiative. Daily Excelsior, February 5, 2007.
Maoist ‘commander arrested:
A top ‘commander’ of the outlawed
Communist Party of India-Maoist
whose imprisonment had led to one
of the biggest-ever jailbreaks in
the State of Bihar, has reportedly
been arrested. Ajay Kanu, said to
be carrying a reward of INR 500,000
on his head, was arrested by the
Special Task Force of Bihar Police.
Official sources said Kanu was arrested
somewhere in the neighbouring State
of West Bengal. The arrest of Kanu,
second in line to CPI-Maoist's 'Area
Commander' for Bihar, Arvind, was
said to have led to the "invasion"
of Jehanabad Jail on November 13,
Two persons killed during police firing on Madhesi protestors: Police opened fire on February 4, 2007, on protesters from the ethnic Madhesi community demanding autonomy in southeast Nepal, killing at least two people. Demonstrations by supporters of the Madhesi People's Rights Forum, a group that represents people living in Nepal's southern plains, have affected the Himalayan nation over the past two weeks. The latest round of violence reportedly occurred at Malangawa, 100 kilometres southeast of capital Kathmandu when protesters attacked police, prompting them to fire at the crowd, a town official said. In nearby Birgunj, a commercial and business hub 60 kilometres southeast of Kathmandu, tens of thousands of protesters tried to march towards the main Government building in the town, where at least five protesters were wounded in police firing. The Madhesi group says ruling elites dominated by people from the northern hills have kept them out of jobs in the Government, police and army, and seats in Nepal's interim parliament. They want an autonomous region for the southern plains within a federal state. The Government said it is ready for talks but protest leaders insist Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula, whom they accuse of using excessive force, must resign before any negotiations take place. Reuters, February 5, 2007.
President Musharraf considering imposition of Emergency, indicates report: The military regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf is giving serious consideration to a proposal for the president to issue a proclamation of emergency on account of internal disturbance and fears of politics of agitation by the opposition, The News reported on February 4, 2007. "Given the internal security situation, the proposal to impose emergency by the president is gaining ground with each passing day," said a unnamed senior official. He added that the imposition of emergency by the president would be one option and if the proclamation is endorsed by a joint sitting of parliament it would automatically extend the term of the National Assembly for a period not exceeding one year and not extending, in any case, beyond a period of six months after the proclamation has ceased to be in force.
The proclamation of emergency is issued by the president under Article 232 (1), which says: "If the President is satisfied that a grave emergency exists in which the security of Pakistan, or any part thereof, is threatened by war or external aggression, or by internal disturbance beyond the power of a provincial government to control, he may issue a Proclamation of Emergency." Jang, February 4, 2007.
Eight Pakistanis arrested in Britain on terrorism charges: British counter-terrorism police arrested eight Pakistanis in an alleged kidnapping plot in Birmingham on January 31, 2007. The men planned to behead a British Muslim soldier and broadcast the act on the Internet, Sky News reported. Police, however, refused to comment on the broadcast report of a beheading plan, but counterterrorism officials said the kidnapping plot was the first of its kind to be uncovered in Britain. The potential victim was in protective police custody, Sky News reported, saying the kidnapping was going to be an "Iraq-style" execution. The men arrested were accused of committing, preparing or instigating terrorism, police said. "We can confirm that a major counter-terrorism operation took place earlier today led by West Midlands Police," a spokeswoman said, adding that the home secretary was kept updated about the operation. West Midlands Police said those detained were held "on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000" while the Home Office said it was part of a "nationwide operation." Daily Times, February 1, 2007.
A. Q. Khan will not be handed over to US: Pakistan has said that it would not hand over nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan for questioning to Washington despite an American bill, which could force Pakistan to surrender him and hoped that the Bush administration would intervene to make the final legislation more balanced. Speaking to the media in Islamabad, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam said US queries should be forwarded to the Government, which would investigate and respond. The proposed law called the Nuclear Black Market Counter Terrorism Act, recently passed by the US House of Representatives, requires the President to submit a report identifying any country or person connected with transactions with the nuclear proliferation network that supplied Libya, Iran, North Korea within 90 days of its enactment. Rediff, February 1, 2007.