SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The symbolism is unmistakable. On February 25, 2007, just two days before election results that brought Okrom Ibobi Singh back to power as the State’s 25th Chief Minister were announced in Manipur, 16 Security Force (SF) personnel were killed by insurgents of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) in an ambush, while they were returning from election duties.
With Ibobi Singh’s swearing-in on March 3, 2007, the curtains have fallen on the tumultuous process to elect the 9th Legislative Assembly in this northeastern State. If Ibobi Singh’s last tenure (between March 2002 and February 2007) is any index, this could be another period marred by turbulence, corruption and a widespread breakdown of governance. With most of the issues of his last regime unresolved, extraordinary attention and efforts will be needed if the State is to be dragged out of the morass it finds itself in today.
Singh’s earlier regime was the first in Manipur’s history of electoral politics to complete a full term of five years. Notwithstanding his political acumen, Singh also presided over the fate of the country’s third most violent theatre of conflict, behind Jammu & Kashmir and Chhattisgarh. 285 militancy-related deaths in 2006 and 1,250 fatalities between March 2002 and February 2007, are symptomatic of the unending militant violence that has affected every one of Manipur’s nine Districts, severely impacting on the state’s capacity to govern, administer justice, and provide minimal security to its citizens. The diktat of nearly 15 active militant groups ran in much of Manipur, while the authority of the Government remained limited to the confines of the capital, Imphal, and District headquarters.
Indicative of the State’s fragile security situation was the decision of the Election Commission (EC) of India to hold the elections in three phases in one of India’s smallest States (ranked 23rd in term of its geographical area), with a spread of just 22,327 square kilometres. While polling was held in 19 constituencies of three Districts (Ukhrul, Thoubal and Senapati) on February 8, the second phase witnessed polling in 29 constituencies in another three Districts (Imphal East, Imphal West and Bishnupur). The final phase of polling on February 23 was for 12 constituencies in the three remaining Districts (Tamenglong, Chandel and Churachandpur) and the Jiribam sub-division of Imphal East District. The EC’s decision was, however, justified given the fact that 22 percent of the total 2,177 polling stations were declared as ‘highly sensitive’ and 62 percent were ‘sensitive’ – the categories indicating the level of threat to the polling process from potentially disruptive elements, including the militants. In addition, there were extraneous factors such as hostile geography – nearly 100 polling stations where voting was held on February 23, for example, were not connected by any road network and could be reached only after treks of up to 30 kilometres.
Militant violence took a leap forward during the polling process. While the UNLF carried out several attacks in the four Valley Districts, the Naga outfit, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), was involved in a number of incidents aimed at ensuring the victory of select candidates in the five Hill Districts. The prominent incidents during this phase included:
Manipur has traditionally witnessed heavy polling, and this time around over 80 per cent of the State’s 1.7 million voters cast their votes. The Congress Party won 30 seats of the total of 60 Assembly seats, and also secured the support of the CPI, which was a junior partner in the earlier Secular Progressive Front (SPF) ministry, and won four seats in the present elections; as well as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which won three seats.
Significantly, the election results are seen to have reinforced the divide between the Valley and the Hills – the core issue in the State’s unending strife. The United Naga Council (UNC), which made its maiden entry into electoral politics and fielded eleven candidates as ‘consensus’ representatives of the ‘Naga people’, with the avowed objective of working towards integration of the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur in the proposed ‘Nagalim’ (greater Nagaland) managed to win six seats. Five of its candidates, including Samuel Jendai, who was tipped to win the Tamenglong seat after the NSCN-IM abducted independent candidate Khanthuanang Panmei to pressure him to ‘retire’ from the elections, lost to other Naga candidates. Khanthuanang Panmei won by a margin of 1,301 votes. Panmei’s abduction had led to the banning of the poll process in the Temenglong District by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K). The constituencies from where UNC contested successfully include Phungyar, Chingai and Ukhrul (all in Ukhrul District), Tadubi (Senapati District), Tengnoupal (Chandel District) and Tamei (Tamenglong District). The UNC subsequently managed to augment its strength to eight by enlisting the support of Khanthuanang Panmei who won from Tamenglong and M. Thohrii who won from Mao constituency. Nine of the Congress Party’s sitting Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) lost in the Hill Districts, largely inhabited by the Nagas.
The UNC’s ‘Declaration Paper’, dated January 16, 2007, and signed by all the Naga candidates in the elections, is indicative of the party’s future course of action. The declaration read:
Although numerically insignificant, the UNC candidates are expected to keep the fire of Naga sub-nationalism burning during their tenure in the Assembly.
While the UNC performance provided a shot in the arm for the cause of Naga unification, the Manipur People`s Party (MPP), which had projected itself as the guardian of the interests of the Valley’s predominantly Meitei community by emphasising the protection of Manipur’s territorial integrity, was effectively routed, securing just five of the 36 seats it contested. Prominent among those who lost were party chief L. Chandramani, sitting MLA Nimaichand Luwang and former Chief Minister Rajkumar Dorendra Singh. MPP’s candidate from the Andro constituency, Shyamkumar, who is currently lodged in New Delhi’s Tihar jail, won with a huge margin of 13,221 votes over his nearest rival. Shyamkumar, a UNLF sympathizer, was arrested at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on October 5. 2006, along with two other senior members of the outfit en route to Kathmandu.
The demand for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958 was one of the key issues highlighted during the campaigning stage by a majority of the political parties. The failure of the Union Government to implement the recommendations of the Jeevan Reddy Committee, which was set up in November 2004 to look into the working of the AFSPA in the north-eastern region, was emphasized by parties like the MPP to galvanize support. It was only Ibobi Singh’s Congress Party that not only blocked a resolution to have the Act removed in the 8th Assembly, but also omitted any reference to it in its election manifesto. It is not clear whether the poll results have decisively buried the moves to repeal the Act, principally by forces sympathetic to the militants.
The UNLF, while abstaining from issuing a boycott call on the poll process, did try to undermine the chances of the Congress Party. In a Press statement, on February 6, the UNLF announced that the group`s ‘Central Special Force’, in the course of an investigation, had unearthed a specific case where more that INR 50 million worth of development funds were siphoned off through the State Public Works Department by Chief Minister Ibobi Singh and his close confidants, including Govindas Konthoujam, minister in charge of Public Health Engineering, Youth Affairs & Sports and Tourism, for use in the elections. The statement further claimed the officials and ministers concerned had since ‘confessed’ to the act, and handed over about INR 48 million to the UNLF. The outfit claimed that the Chief Minister had been systematically siphoning off 10-15 per cent of all development funds.
The return of the Ibobi Singh regime, while it helps retain some element of stability in Manipur’s fragile political scenario, also marks the homecoming of a leader who has failed miserably to contain militancy and has often been known to have acted indecisively on every front of governance, aggravating the State’s endemic problems of security, poor infrastructure and economic stagnation. Despite his enormous limitations, however, the people of Manipur do not appear to see an alternative to Ibobi Singh’s leadership. It can only be hoped that the minimal expectations of Manipur’s 2.4 million people might just spur him to deliver on his party’s promises, finally.
Silent Maoist Consolidation
On February 24, 2007, 400 gelatine sticks weighing about 50 kilograms were seized on the outskirts of Berhampur town in Orissa, while being transported to neighbouring Naxalite hit Districts. This was only the latest in a continuous stream of seizures that reveal the systematic process of Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist) consolidation in the State, despite the decline in visible violence by the rebels. 16 of Orissa’s 30 Districts remain affected by Maoist activities: Sundergarh, Keonjhar, Sambalpur, Mayurbhanj, Deogarh, Jajpur, Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagada, Gajapati, Ganjam, Nawarangpur, Kalahandi, Nuapara, Bargarh, Bolangir.
During year 2006, Maoists killed three civilians and four Security Force (SF) personnel while 16 Maoists were killed by the SFs. In 2005, Maoists had killed 13 civilians and one SF personnel while the SFs had killed one insurgent.
Elections to the Gram Panchayats (village level self-government bodies) in Orissa during February 13-21, 2007, witnessed significant Maoist mobilisation and open calls for a boycott of the Panchayat polls. The Maoists distributed a large number leaflets, put up posters and banners and threatened the local people with dire consequences in case they participated in the election process. On February 12, the Maoists had triggered a landmine blast and injured three SF personnel in the Kalimela block of Malkangiri District. On February 13, polling in two Panchayats, Poplur and Kurmanur, was cancelled as the polling officials and SF personnel could not reach the polling stations due to obstruction by the Maoists. In the Redhakhol area of Sambalpur District, the Maoists looted ballot papers and ballot boxes and openly conducted meetings to ‘persuade’ people to boycott the polls. Similarly, at Baripada in the Mayurbhanj District, Maoists attacked a polling booth and forced the polling officials to leave.
Attacks on SFs and Government officials have been a regular feature in Orissa. Prominent incidents include:
Most Maoist activity in Orissa took place in the Districts bordering the neighbouring States of Andhra Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand, all of which are severely affected by the insurgency. Significantly, eight of the 16 Maoist fatalities in Orissa in 2006 took place in the southern Malkangiri District, while seven occurred in the northern Deogarh District. The dense forest stretch between river Shaberi and Sileru in the Malkangiri District bordering Andhra Pradesh has emerged as the principal area of concentration for the Maoists operating in the State. Other Districts, including Sambalpur, Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj in the north and Gajapati and Rayagada in the south, also witnessed significant Maoist activity.
Though fatalities have remained low in Orissa, the real problem for the Government is the spread of the Maoist ideology and influence and a corresponding retreat of governance. Intelligence sources indicate that marijuana (Ganja) cultivation in the State’s hilly terrain in Maoist-affected areas is helping generate substantial revenues, enabling the Maoists to acquire weapons and material to sustain their subversion. A cluster of southern Districts, Gajapati, Rayagada, Koraput, Malkangiri and Kandhamal, has emerged as a hub of Ganja cultivation under apparent Maoist protection, with a parallel growth in Ganja plantation and Maoist activity. On February 11, 2007, police seized more than 100 kilograms of Ganja from two Government-run buses near Berhampur town in the Ganjam District and arrested nine persons. While one of the buses was on its way from Damanjodi in Rayagada District to Cuttack, the other one was headed from the Maoist-dominated Motu area of Malkangiri District to the State capital, Bhubaneswar. Earlier, on February 6, 2007, fifteen kilograms of Ganja was seized and three persons arrested from a passenger bus in the Adaba area of Gajapati District. Previously, on January 27, 2007, 80 kilograms of Ganja, which arrived from Gajapati District, was seized from the Berhampur bus stand.
The Maoists are also moving into Orissa’s coastal areas, mainly to Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. The CPI-Maoist, under the banner of front organisations like the Daman Pratirodh Manch (Resistance against Oppression Forum) and Rajnaitika Bandi Mukti Committee (Political Prisoners Freedom Committee) have staged several demonstrations in the heart of capital, Bhubaneswar, and these have been attended by significant numbers of tribals and Maoists. On January 10, 2007, Maoists put up a provocative banner in front of the main gate of the Ravanshaw College in Cuttack, a premier educational institution in the State, threatening vengeance against the killing of Maoist woman ‘Commander’ Jyothakka and her husband by the security forces on the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border on December 28, 2006. In November 2006, the Police had arrested a youth while he was distributing provocative Maoist leaflets on the same campus.
Since the Kalinga Nagar incident in January 2006, when 12 tribal people were killed in Police firing while protesting against a proposed steel plant project, Maoists have also consolidated their base among the tribals in the Jajpur District. On January 2, 2007, nearly 4,000 Maoist supporters took part in a rally in Jajpur protesting against the Kalinga Nagar incident. The Visthapan Virodhi Janmanch (Displacement Resistance People’s Front), another Maoist cover organisation for the tribals of Kalinga Nagar, has been opposing the steel plant project and has regularly organised road blockades on National Highway 200, the lifeline that links the mineral-rich Keonjhar and Jajpur Districts with the Paradip Port. On February 1, 2007, Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik held a meeting with the leaders of the Visthapan Virodhi Janmanch, but the meeting ended in failure.
On June 9, 2006, the Orissa Government imposed a belated ban on the CPI-Maoist and seven of its front organisations, the Daman Protirodh Manch, Revolutionary Democratic Front, Chasi Mulia Samiti (Farmers and Labourers Association), Kui Lawanga Sangh [Kui (a tribal group) Youth Association], Jana Natya Mandali (People’s Theatre Group), Krantikari Kisan Samiti (Revolutionary Farmers’ Association) and Bal Sangam (Children’s Association). These organisations were banned as Maoist fronts that were interfering in administration and undermining the maintenance of law and order.
During his visit to Bhubaneswar in December 2006, the Union Home Secretary, V. K. Duggal, expressed displeasure on the overall Maoist situation in the State. Reacting to the State Government’s over-dependence on the para-military CRPF, he told officials that, "Central paramilitary force is only a back-up. The real fight has to be from the State police personnel." He also remarked that Orissa was lagging far behind in sending its SFs for higher and specialised training. Apart from the Orissa State Armed Police (OSAP), as many as four battalions of the CRPF are deployed in Orissa to counter the Maoists. One battalion of the 1st India Reserve Battalion, which the State has raised to tackle the Maoists, has been deployed in the southern Districts of Malkangiri, Rayagada, Koraput and Gajapati, where there is a strong Maoist presence. The State is also raising the 2nd India Reserve Battalion to be deployed in its northern regions. In addition, the State has also deployed 14 sub-groups of the Special Operations Group (SOG) at strategic locations to oversee anti-Maoist operations. In February 2005, the Orissa Police formed a Special Intelligence Wing to keep track of Maoist subversion. In its counter-insurgency strategy, the Government has initiated combined combing operations along the Orissa-Andhra border with the help of the Andhra Pradesh Police.
The Orissa Government has also introduced upgraded training for its Special Forces, with specialisation in jungle and guerrilla warfare. It has also sent several batches of police officers for training in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, and is planning to set up a training institute on the lines of Andhra Pradesh’s ‘Greyhounds’ Police Force. In November 2006, the Government of Orissa decided to recruit 1,652 retired Army personnel for deployment in the Maoist-affected areas of the State and made a provision of INR 50 million in the first supplementary budget placed in the State Legislative Assembly for such recruitment. A provision of INR 7.5 million has been provided for strengthening the secret services under the intelligence.
As part of its non-military strategy, the Government has introduced reservation of elected posts in the Panchayat Raj (village self-government) institutions in Scheduled Areas, as prescribed under the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act; deregulation of as many as 68 items of minor forest produce in order to provide economic benefits to the tribals; restoration of over 10,000 acres of land to tribals under a special drive; withdrawal of police/forest/excise cases against tribals; and focused efforts to improve health, education and communication facilities in the remote and backward areas of the State.
In June 2006, the Government also approved a comprehensive rehabilitation package for surrendering Maoists. The rehabilitation package consists of a payment of up to INR 10,000 on acceptance of surrender; payment up to INR 20,000 for surrendering arms and ammunition; allotment of homestead land; a house building grant up to INR 25,000; INR 15,000 for marriage assistance; interest free loans of up to INR 200,000 from banks, with a subsidy up to INR 50,000 after repayment of 75 per cent of the loan; free medical treatment in Government hospitals within the State; and cost of fees and textbooks for study up to the high school level. The Government also proposed to withdraw cases involving minor offences against the surrendered Maoists.
But neither the proscription of the Maoists and their front organisations, nor the various governmental programmes for upgradation of its Forces and for relief to the people in affected areas are yet showing significant signs of success. While the proscription has led to some restriction on the open movement of the Maoists, it has in no manner created any hurdles in their ongoing efforts to consolidate their presence among the tribals – a significant part of their support base. With a strong inter-State network, a growing support base among the tribals and dense forests to hide in, the Maoist threat can only grow, unless the Government radically revises its strategies to deal with the problem and demonstrates a far greater sense urgency than has thus far been in evidence.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
February 26-March 4, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Member of Parliament shot dead by Naxalites: Naxalites (left-wing extremists) on March 4 shot dead Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's Lok Sabha (lower house of Indian parliament) Member of Parliament Sunil Kumar Mahato. Two of his bodyguards and three civilians including two party colleagues were also killed in the attack when they were witnessing a football match organised to mark the Holi festival at Bakuria village in Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum District. State Home Secretary Sudhir Tripathi said Naxalites opened gunfire from close range at 38-year-old Mahato, who represented Jamshedpur constituency. Mahato was killed on the spot. The Hindu ;Times of India, March 5, 2007.
Prime Minister rules out troops reduction in Jammu & Kashmir: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ruled out troops reduction in Jammu and Kashmir. Speaking on the sidelines of a book release function at his official residence in New Delhi on March 3, he said such a step could be contemplated if terrorist activities ended in the troubled State. The Prime Minister also rejected the contention that the Army was an "army of occupation." He said troops were in the State to protect the citizens, their lives and liberties from those who believed in violence and terror. Previously the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on March 2 had said that India and Pakistan had agreed on troops reduction. The Prime Minister described APHC chief’s statement as "speculation." The Hindu , March 4, 2007.
External Affairs minister rules out ‘joint management’ solution to Kashmir issue: On March 1, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, answering a question in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament), said that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India and therefore concepts like President Pervez Musharraf’s "joint management" cannot be the basis of any solution to the Kashmir issue. "Any demilitarisation or re-deployment of security forces within the territory is a sovereign decision of the Indian Government, based on our own assessment of the prevailing security situation," Mukherjee said. Mukherjee further said that Jammu and Kashmir enjoys autonomy under the Indian Constitution and has a democratically elected Government in place. "On the other hand, there is only nominal autonomy in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and there has been no popular election in Gilgit-Baltistan, which does not even have a legal or constitutional status." Daily Times, March 2, 2007.
Al Qaeda and Taliban have 'critical' hubs in Pakistan, says United States: Director of United States National Intelligence Mike McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 27 that Al Qaeda and the Taliban maintain "critical sanctuaries" in Pakistan's northwestern tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. He said that while 75 percent of Al Qaeda's leadership has been killed or captured, a new generation of terrorists is training in Iraq, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and East Africa. Indicating that Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zwahiri have probably found refuge in the tribal areas, he said, "To the best of our knowledge the senior leadership [of Al Qaeda], number one and number two, are there." Criticising Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for making agreements with local tribal leaders who since have allowed the Taliban and Al Qaeda to regroup, McConnell said, "The President of Pakistan believed that he could be more effective by signing this peace agreement. And in our point of view, capabilities of Al Qaeda for training and so on increased." He added, "We believe (Pakistan) could do more." Daily Times, March 1, 2007.
Senior Taliban leader arrested in Quetta: Security forces captured a high-ranking Taliban leader, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund in Quetta, capital of Balochistan. An unidentified security official said that Akhund, the third most senior member of the Taliban’s 10-member leadership council, was arrested late on February 27, hours after a visit to Pakistan by United States Vice-President Dick Cheney. The head of the Interior Ministry’s Crisis Management Unit, retired Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema, however, denied that Akhund had been detained. Daily Times, March 2, 2007.
bank facing curbs in two US
states on terrorism suspicion:
At least two American states
have clamped restrictions on
a Pakistani bank on terror finance-related
suspicions. "Two US states have
restricted this bank from dealing
in transactions in foreign exchange,
transfers of credits to foreign
banks and importing and exporting
currency or securities," sources
claimed, without naming the
bank or the two US states that
have subjected the bank to this
action. Asked what had prompted
the US states to take this action,
the sources said that it was
a news report carried by a section
of the Pakistani Press accusing
this bank and others of involvement
in terrorist money transfers
from the UK. According to the
Press reports, UK-based charities
had allegedly transferred funds
through this bank’s branch in
Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and
this money landed in the hands
of alleged terrorists who helped
finance the UK-bombing plot
in 2006. Reuters,
February 28, 2007.