SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Over the weekend, March 9-12, 2007, a hundred-odd trucks will have started driving some 11,000 Border Security Force (BSF) troops, so far committed to counter-terrorism duties in five Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) towns, to their peace time locations.
Although the troop withdrawal is a part of a phased programme to remove the BSF from counter-terrorism duties, New Delhi’s decision to persist with the pullout plan comes in the midst of an intense political debate on the next steps in the J&K peace process. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), notably, has threatened to pull out of the State’s coalition Government unless its demands for complete demilitarisation are accepted.
Eight of the ten departing battalions are being pulled out from the Kashmir valley – two each from Tral, Sopore, Pulwama and Chrar-e-Sharif. Two more battalions will leave the mountain town of Doda, north-east of Jammu. Officials say that the pullout is expected to be complete in a week. It is likely that these units will be relocated along India’s frontiers with Pakistan and Bangladesh after rest and retraining, in line with a 2003 report calling for the BSF to be freed from responsibilities other than guarding the border.
Each departing battalion is being replaced by a newly-raised and trained Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) formation, which, under the plan and in alliance with local police, will become India’s principal counter-terrorism Force. Since each CRPF battalion has seven companies to the BSF’s six – the additional manpower is made of personnel receiving on-the-job training – the troop withdrawal will, in practice, mean an increase in the numbers of personnel available to the J&K Police for counter-terrorist operations.
New Delhi’s decision to go ahead with the planned withdrawal of the BSF comes days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rejected parallel calls from the PDP and the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) for demilitarising J&K. PDP leaders have ceased to attend meetings of the J&K Cabinet after Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad refused to consider calls for removing the Indian Army from parts of its core constituency, southern Kashmir.
While levels of violence have diminished significantly in recent months in southern Kashmir – the district of Kulgam, for example, has not reported a single terrorist outrage of consequence in over three months – officials in New Delhi contend that the continued presence of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) cadre indicated that the demand was premature. Eleven battalions of the Rashtriya Rifles are currently operating in southern Kashmir and their removal, New Delhi contends, could pave the way for bloodshed.
Barring Chief Minister Azad’s party, the Congress, and its main opposition in New Delhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party – both of which have substantial political equities in the Jammu and Ladakh regions – all of the State’s major political forces, both secessionist and unionist, have supported the demilitarisation idea. If the debate on demilitarisation has acquired such intensity, it is in no small part because of the unfolding politics of the India-Pakistan dialogue process.
Fearing that the APHC will fight elections after a peace deal – a development some optimists believe is just months away – both the PDP and the National Conference (NC) are seeking to pre-empt the secessionists’ likely platform. Advocates of demilitarisation point to the fact that violence has been in steady decline in J&K since 2002, with the focus of jihadi terror groups instead shifting to major cities across India.
Politicians like the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti argue that this is good reason to free J&K’s people of the day-to-day harassment that large-scale security force deployment brings in its wake. Earlier this month, former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Saeed – Mehbooba Mufti’s father – wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, demanding that demilitarisation be seriously considered by New Delhi. Delhi, however, has flatly rejected the calls, despite the prospect that a debilitating political crisis could follow.
Many believe the PDP is preparing to bring down the Government sooner rather than later. Responding to Chief Minister Azad’s acid call for politicians supporting demilitarisation to first renounce their own security, Mehbooba Mufti and Mufti Mohammad Saeed announced that they would return their security detail. Mehbooba Mufti has since travelled without a bullet-proof car – although, as her opponents have gleefully noted, she continues to use personal security officers provided to a party colleague, and enjoys a police escort for her public functions.
Underpinning the PDP’s aggression is its belief that demilitarisation will be part of an India-Pakistan peace deal – and a desire to claim that the party’s position led to the breakthrough. In 2005, Pakistan’s President, General Pervez Musharraf, called for the demilitarisation of parts of the Kashmir valley. Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz also suggested "both countries should pull back their troops and the security could still be maintained in the area through police and other organisations."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been the subject of not a little critical commentary in Kashmir for his flat rejection of these calls. His concerns, though, need fair examination. While violence has been in steady decline since the India-Pakistan crisis of 2001-2002, Pakistan is yet to deliver on its promises to end cross border terrorism. The infrastructure of major jihadi groups remains intact in Pakistan – and could be used to coerce J&K’s civilian population, if Indian Forces retreat.
It is true, of course, that the Indian Army is not the sole instrument through which J&K can be secured. Experience, notably in Punjab and Tripura, shows that terrorism is best fought by well-trained and well-equipped Police forces. Even the Rashtriya Rifles, which is drawn from the ranks of the Indian Army, uses weapons and tactics that closely resemble those of the Police-officered paramilitary forces like the BSF and the CRPF – operating, notably, with its organic air, armour and artillery support.
It is far from clear, though, whether the police and CRPF will in fact be able to hold the ground should the Army be withdrawn. In 1999, some 58,000 Indian Army troops were withdrawn from counter-terrorism duties, to fighting the Kargil war. Terrorists – who had been on the defensive ever since 1995 – rapidly capitalised on the disruption of the security grid. It took the best part of two years, and cost hundreds of both civilian and Indian soldiers’ lives, to contain the damage.
Again, in 2000-2001, a limited cessation of offensive counter-terrorism operations led to the degradation of the intelligence network as well as large-scale atrocities against civilians. During what came to be known as the Ramadan Ceasefire, efforts to secure peace saw the LeT and anti-dialogue factions of HM sharply escalate attacks. As a result, the Ramadan Ceasefire saw an increase in civilian fatalities compared with previous years – a paradoxical outcome for a strategy intended to secure peace.
The Ceasefire That Wasn’t
Signs exist, as the BSF pullout demonstrates, that New Delhi is willing to respond to Pakistani de-escalation of the jihad in J&K by experimenting with non-Army counter-terrorism Forces at a local level. For example, a new CRPF battalion is due to be inducted later this month in Kokernag, a sensitive area of southern J&K often used by terrorists to transit from mountain hideouts in Kishtwar. If terrorist violence does not escalate in these areas, officials say, a larger withdrawal of troops could be considered.
New Delhi had decided to hand over urban counter-terrorist operations to the CRPF in 2003, as a consequence of a Group of Ministers report on internal security. BSF troops were gradually withdrawn from urban areas north of the Jhelum river, which broadly marks the divide between north and south Kashmir. However, the withdrawal plan bogged down amidst concerns about CRPF’s ability to deal with the operational challenges with which it was confronted.
Prime Minister Singh overrode these concerns in 2005, in an effort to consolidate his dialogue with the APHC. In September that year, soon after the Prime Minister met with the APHC chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the CRPF took charge of Srinagar, ending the BSF’s fifteen-year presence in the city. While violence in Srinagar has not escalated, the city has seen regular terrorist strikes – a cause of some concern, which has meant that BSF components remain in place to guard key locations like the Governor’s residence.
While the CRPF is confident that it will be able to discharge its new responsibilities in Sopore, Tral, Pulwama, Chrar-e-Sharif and Doda, sceptics argue that the organisation has a poor record of independent counter-terrorism operations. Unlike the BSF, notably, the CRPF does not have a dedicated intelligence organisation capable of intercepting terrorist communications and running networks of sources. Raising such resources could take years, critics note.
If Prime Minister Singh’s advisors have now chosen caution, it is not the least because of Pakistan’s failure to dismantle jihadi infrastructure and the steady growth of Islamist forces in that country. Both together mean that the decline in cross-border terrorism is by no means irreversible. Does this mean the death of the demilitarisation idea? No. By pulling out the BSF, Prime Minister Singh has demonstrated that he is willing to take chances, even where failure will involve political costs for his Government.
By most scholarly indexes, J&K – which continues to witness over 1,000 conflict-related fatalities a year, despite the recent de-escalation in violence – is still the site of a war, even if both India and Pakistan are loath to call it that. Phased demilitarisation is necessary if the peace process is to have meaning to J&K’s residents. But this experiment involves human lives, and its timing and execution must be driven by calm professionalism, not political passion.
Lurching towards a Crisis
The killing of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Member of Parliament (MP) Sunil Mahato on March 4 bore all the elements of a typical Maoist ‘surprise attack’. As the 38-year old MP watched a football match organised to mark the Holi festival at Bakuria village in Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum District, cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) numbering around 40-45, including women members, who were already present among the spectators, suddenly overpowered the bodyguards, snatched their weapons and fired at the MP, his associates and his bodyguards. The MP was killed on the spot along with one of his party colleagues and two bodyguards, while another party colleague succumbed to his injuries subsequently. The Naxalites raised slogans before leaving with four INSAS rifles and ammunition looted from the guards.
The CPI-Maoist on March 6 claimed responsibility for the killing by putting up handwritten posters in the villages of Hadia and Lango areas under the jurisdiction of Ghorabandh Police Station in Dhanbad District, far from the site of the killings, thus arousing suspicions that Mahato could have been the victim of his personal rivalry with the Mafia, not the Maoists. The posters, however, claimed that Mahato had instigated villagers at Lango to kill 11 Maoists, and further that Mahato was killed for two reasons: for telling contractors not to pay ‘tax’ to the Maoists; and, for supporting the anti-Maoist movement being led by the Nagrik Suraksha Samiti (Citizens Defence Committee) in East Singhbhum and West Singhbhum Districts. The posters declared: "He instigated innocent tribals. He asked them to kill us with arrows. We killed him with bullets."
Unlike the Jharkhand Government, which preferred an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the killing, the Union Government was convinced of the fact that the act was the handiwork of the Maoists. Union Home Secretary, V.K. Duggal, stated on March 5, "Apparently, it looks like retaliatory action because as a key functionary of the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti, Mahato had been raising his voice against Naxals." The Union Minister of Home Affairs, Shivraj Patil, in a suo moto statement in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) on May 6, before the Maoist posters claimed responsibility for the killing, provided a vivid description of Mahato’s assassination. He also spoke of the customary reinforcements, ‘sealing’ of borders and combing operations to nab the culprits.
It was, however, nobody’s belief that Mahato’s killers would actually be caught. There is even less faith that the unlikely event of their arrest could dent the reign of the Maoists in Jharkhand. While the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) maintains that Left Wing extremism in the country has declined by 6.15 percent from 1,608 incidents in 2005 to 1,509 in 2006, fatalities in Jharkhand have actually risen from 119 in 2005 to 124 in 2006, though this rise is marginal. According to an estimate in August 2006, as many as 21 of the 22 Districts of Jharkhand were affected (Highly affected - 12, Moderately affected - 4, Marginally affected - 5) by Left Wing extremism. [There are wide variations in these estimates. While the MHA maintains that only 16 Districts are affected, the Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda in December 2006 stated that 18 of the State’s Districts are affected.] Interestingly, the East Singhbhum District, where Mahato was killed, was in the ‘moderately affected’ category. Intelligence inputs indicate that most Districts affected by the Maoist movement are in the "mass mobilization" stage, but pockets in the State are now in the advanced "guerrilla warfare stage". Jharkhand is the part of the CPI-Maoist’s Eastern regional bureau that looks after Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the Coastal belt. The State is also an integral part of the Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) and the ‘Red Corridor’ that runs along India’s eastern board, from Andhra Pradesh to the border with Nepal.
Mahato’s killing was preceded by several operations by the Maoists in the State, in the first two months of 2007 alone. On February 5, a group of 200 CPI-Maoist cadres attempted to overrun a Police picket at Lawalong in the Chatra District. In the ensuing encounter a civilian was killed and two others were injured. On February 27, CPI-Maoist cadres detonated an explosive device and destroyed an under-construction building of the State Tourism Department at Madhuvan in Giridih District. The Maoists had warned against the construction, but the Government had chosen to go ahead. Earlier, on January 23, a consignment containing spares for arms, including assemblies for mortars, sent from Indore in Madhya Pradesh to the CPI-Maoist ‘area commander’ Rajendra Oraon, was seized from a private transport firm in Ranchi. A man, identified as Prabhu Sao, was arrested in this connection.
The preceding year, too, was no exception. Major attacks by the Maoists in Jharkhand in 2006 included the following.
June 1: At least 12 police personnel were killed when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine explosion in the West Singhbhum District.
June 3: Maoists killed three civilians in the Hadian village under the Ghorabandha Police Station of East Singhbhum District.
June 26: At least 400 Maoists attacked a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp, killing one CRPF man in the Hazaribagh District.
December 2: Fourteen police personnel belonging to the Special Task Force of the Jharkhand Police were killed and three injured in a landmine blast detonated by suspected CPI-Maoist cadres at Kanchkir in the Bokaro District.
December 10: CPI-Maoist cadres stopped the 346 Tata-Kharagpur passenger train near the Kanimouli Station on the Gidhni-Chakulia line in the East Singhbhum District bordering West Bengal for about two hours. Maoists also looted two rifles and cash from the Railway Protection Force personnel escorting the train, and snatched walkie-talkie sets from the guard and driver of the train.
Mahato’s killing could just be the starting point for the escalation of the Maoist ‘people’s war’ through out the country, which appeared to have weakened temporarily. Premonitions of such a trend were provided by a statement released by the CPI-Maoist on February 19, 2007, to mark the successful completion of the outfit’s ‘Unity Congress’ in January-February 2007 at an unspecified location (widely speculated to be in Jharkhand). The statement declared:
The conclave, attended by 100 senior Maoist leaders from 16 States, re-elected Muppala Lakshman Rao @ Ganapathi as the ‘General Secretary’ of the Party. Ganapathi is reported to have remarked: "No more hit and run. Now time has come to spread in the towns and identify specific targets, hit them precisely and with impunity." There is overwhelming apprehension that the Maoists have started finalizing plans for executing hits involving high-profile targets.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, on March 6, indicated that the State was exploring options of adopting the ‘Andhra Pradesh model’ to tackle the Maoists, and also to "review the surrender policy for extremists." Only a day later, on March 7, the Union Home Minister made a statement in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) noting that Andhra Pradesh had achieved "note-worthy success in controlling the problem through Special Forces, namely, Greyhounds, and other measures". However, given Jharkhand’s past record, replicating the ‘Andhra model’ is easier said than done.
Reports indicate that Jharkhand has not being following the directions laid down by the Union Government for Left Wing extremism-affected States. The Jharkhand Police has an alarming vacancy rate of 29 per cent and there has been little attempt by the State Government to recruit additional personnel. The State also has a poor police-population ratio of 85 per 100,000, compared to the national average of 122. Similarly, the density of police personnel (policemen per 100 square kilometre area) in Jharkhand is 30.8 against an all India average of 42.4. Given the fact that nearly 30 per cent of the State’s geographical area of 79,714 square kilometres is forested and consequently virtually un-policed, such a profile of the State’s Police Force can hardly make the task of countering the Maoists easier.
In addition, the State Government is known to have failed to utilize the central funds released under the Police modernization scheme. According to the MHA, INR 1.827 billion were provided to Jharkhand in six financial years between 2000 and 2006 under the scheme. Utilization has, however, been abysmal. In 2004-05, for instance, the utilization of the INR 220 million released was a minuscule 7.33 per cent.
Jharkhand appears to have faltered miserably in executing the development schemes that the Union Government supports in the Left Wing extremism affected Districts. The State has an unutilised balance of INR 2.4 billion allotted to it under the Backwards Districts Initiative (BDI) component of the Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana (RSVY) and other schemes to fill in the critical gaps in physical and social development. Under the BDI Scheme, an amount of INR 150 million per year is sanctioned for each Maoist affected District for three years. The State Government shares 25 percent of the expense on BDI. There have also been allegations of widespread corruption in the implementation of schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). Interestingly, lack of finance has never been cited as a reason for the poor implementation of projects by the Jharkhand Government.
In a way, Jharkhand represents all that’s currently lacking in most of the States affected by Maoist activities. Union Home Minister Patil, on March 6 informed the Rajya Sabha that a strong mechanism for ‘monitoring’ Left Wing extremist activities had been put in place. However, as the Maoists bid to intensify the peoples’ war throughout the country, there appears to be little hope that a comparable mechanism will emerge that goes beyond a role that simply ‘monitors’ to one that effectively counters the extremist depredations.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
March 5-11, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
President rejects mercy petitions of JMB militants:President Iajuddin Ahmed on March 4 rejected the mercy petitions of six of the seven militants of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) who have been sentenced to death for their involvement in the killing of two judges in Jhalakathi in November 2005. The militants include JMB chief Abdur Rahman, second-in-command Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, Majlish-e-Shura (the highest decision-making body) members Ataur Rahman Sunny, Khaled Saifullah and Abdul Awal, and suicide bomber Iftekhar Al Mamun. The decision of the President clears the way for the execution of the militants. According to the jail code, the jail authorities will reschedule the date of execution within 21-28 days from the date of receipt of the copy of the President’s decision. The Daily Star; March 6, 2007.
171 civilians killed in Tripura between January 2004-January 2007: Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar informed the State Legislative Assembly that 171 civilians were killed and another 183 were injured in militant attacks in the State between January 2004 and January 2007. During the same period 197 civilians were abducted by various militant outfits. The Chief Minister further said 104 militants of different outfits were killed in encounters with security forces and 71 security personnel were killed in militant attacks during the same period. He mentioned that the Biswamohan Debabarma faction of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) carried out the maximum number of attacks during the period, including 93 attacks in 2004, 61 in 2005 and 62 in 2006. The Chief Minister added that 862 militants and collaborators surrendered during the tenure of the present Government, adding that highest figure for surrenders was 322 in 2004. Tripura Info , March 7, 2007.
Border Security Force to pull out of five towns in Jammu & Kashmir: Over 11,000 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel engaged in counter-terrorist operations will be pulled out of five of the worst violence-hit towns of Jammu and Kashmir by next week. BSF sources have disclosed that, while eight battalions would move out of the Kashmir Valley — two each from Tral, Sopore, Pulwama and Chrar-e-Sharif – two would pull out of Doda town. The pullout was expected to end by next weekend and these units would be relocated along the Line of Control after rest and retraining. Each battalion is being replaced with a newly raised Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) formation. Each CRPF battalion has seven companies, compared to the BSF's six. Thus, the withdrawal will mean an increase in the number of personnel available to the Jammu and Kashmir Police for counter-terrorism operations. The Hindu , March 8, 2007.
mechanism to monitor Naxal activities
in place, says Union Home Minister:
Union Home Minister Shivraj
Patil, making a suo moto statement
in the Rajya Sabha (the Upper
House of India’s Parliament)
on March 6 said, "The Central
Government has put in place
a strong mechanism for monitoring
[Left Wing extremist] activities
and for evolving strategies
to counter and closely address
the problem". He further stated,
"We certainly need greater concerted
and cooperative efforts between
the States inter-se as well
as between the Centre and States
to achieve more acceptable results."
March 6, 2007.
19 persons including 12 foreign militants killed in South Waziristan: Around 19 people were killed and several others injured on March 6 in reported clashes between the Wazir Zalikhel sub-tribe and Uzbek militants near Azam Warsak in South Waziristan. Among the dead were 12 militants, three of their local supporters, three members of the peace committee and an Afghan shopkeeper. Two brothers of Zalikhel chieftain Malik Saeedullah were reported to have been killed. A confirmation of the report from authorities in Wana, however, could not be received. Eyewitnesses said, "Foreign militants and their local supporters attacked the brothers of the chieftain on Tuesday, killing both of them, and this led to a gunbattle." Daily Times, March 7 & 8, 2007.
No air or land raids in North Waziristan: Pakistan Government agreed to launch no more land or air attacks in North Waziristan and also agreed to the withdrawal of the Army from check posts into camps. The deal was signed between the North Waziristan political agent representing the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor and "Tribal leaders of North Waziristan, local mujahideen and elders of the Utmanzai tribes". The tribal leaders agreed to ensure that no attacks were carried against law-enforcement agencies or on Government assets and there would be no "target killings". The tribal leaders and others also agreed not to set up a parallel administration, and to accept the writ of the Pakistan Government. Daily Times, March 10, 2007.
and India Anti-Terrorism Mechanism
to meet every quarter: The
joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism
between Pakistan and India would
meet every three months following
an understanding arrived at
the first meeting in Islambad
that started on March 6. A Joint
Statement issued at the end
of the meet said "any information
which is required to be conveyed
on priority basis would be immediately
conveyed through the respective
Heads of the Mechanism." Both
sides held discussions on the
parameters of the Anti-Terrorism
Mechanism and agreed to exchange
specific information to help
investigations on either side
related to terrorist acts and
prevention of violence and terrorist
acts in the two countries. The
Anti-Terrorism Mechanism was
set up following a meeting between
President Pervez Musharraf and
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
in Havana on September 16, 2006.
March 12, 2007.
Human Rights Commission records 100 abductions and disappearances: Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission said that nearly 100 abductions and disappearances took place in the country in the past two months of 2007. The majority of these abductions have taken place in the capital Colombo, Batticaloa in the Eastern Province and Jaffna peninsula in the Northern Province. More than a thousand cases of abductions were reported in 2006 including the disappearances of the Eastern University Vice Chancellor, a close relative of a senior Police officer, and a senior activist of the Government-allied Upcountry People's Front. The Sri Lanka Government said that it suspects some state security service personnel have been involved in abductions and murders that have mushroomed amid renewed civil war. The Police has arrested more than 450 people since September 2006 in connection with a host of crimes including aiding and abetting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and abductions and killings – including 20 of those serving in the Police and Army. "Out of the arrests of the defense personnel, some may be involved in abductions and killings and disappearances. It is (our suspicion)," said Defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella. Colombo Page, March 8, 2007.
LTTE responsible for more than 6,000 child abductions this year, says UNICEF: The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said that in January 2007 they have recorded 6,241 child abductions in the North and East provinces and blamed the LTTE for having recruited 6,006 of them for war. The UNICEF also blamed the breakaway Karuna group for abducting 235 out of the recorded 6,241. The UN agency said 1,879 children are still being held by both groups out of which 1,710 are still being kept by the LTTE while the Karuna group uses 169 of them. The UNICEF report said, "While the entire country has suffered from the consequences of the conflict, the eight Districts in the North and East, namely Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara, have borne the brunt of it. Since August 2006, over 200,000 persons have been displaced (including multiple displacements from Trincomalee to Vakarai and in January 2007, to Batticaloa Government-controlled areas). Some 600,000 people remain cut-off in the Jaffna District... "Daily News, March 9, 2007.