SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The irony of the date was, perhaps, missed, when a new chapter in Nepal’s turbulent history was inked, on April 1, 2007, with a 22-member Interim Cabinet led by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala taking the Oath of Office. The Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-Maoist), which presided over a ten-year ‘peoples’ war’, in which at least 13,000 lives were lost, joined the Interim Government with the agenda of setting up a republic under multiparty democracy in the Kingdom. After long and hard bargaining, the Maoists managed to bag five ministerial berths in the Interim Cabinet: Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Minister for Information and Communications; Dev Prasad Gurung, Minister for Local Development; Matrika Prasad Yadav, Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation; Khadga Bahadur Biswokarma, Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare; and Hisila Yami, Minister for Works and Physical Planning. Earlier, the Maoists were demanding the post of Deputy Prime Minister, but due to a lack of consensus between the parties, the post of Deputy Prime Minister was abolished altogether. After the oath-taking ceremony, Maoist Chairman Prachanda declared, "It is a historic day for Nepal. A new process of making a new Nepal has begun now and our responsibility has increased. So we have come prepared to shoulder responsibilities for the sake of the nation."
Prime Minister Koirala reiterated Prachanda’s sentiments, speaking of "a new phase" in Nepal’s history, but, without naming the Maoists, urged the ‘nominated members’ not to disrupt the Parliamentary process. "If you, recently-entered MPs, do not obstruct the parliamentary process we can achieve our goals," he said. The meeting of the Eight-party leaders approved, among others, the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) – which lays down policies, programmes and priorities for the Interim Cabinet. Apart from the CMP, the Maoists have agreed to return all seized properties – private or public – within 15 days; help return displaced persons respectfully; and stop the public display of weapons. If any weapon that is not registered with the United Nations (UN) is found, it will be seized by the Government. At the District level, all-party units will be formed to monitor the return of seized properties.
The inclusion of the Maoists in the Interim Government, however, is yet to settle a number of critical questions, including the conduct of the insurgents. In the past, the Maoists have arrogantly violated the letter and spirit of the agreements they have signed with the Government and continued with their subversive agenda even after signing the pact with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) on November 7, 2006. The successive agreements between the Government and the Maoists have certainly brought an end to the killings by the Maoists, but the ‘peace’ remains deeply tainted, since the Maoists continue to indulge in looting, extortion and interference in the day to day lives of the people and activities of local administrations.
At the time of writing, the Maoists continue with their coercive ‘tax collection’ from the people and from foreign tourists visiting Nepal. Reports indicate, for instance, a collection of NR 100 from each tourist visiting the Annapurna region. NR 85 is charged for each bus, NR 90 for a truck, NR 65 for a tractor, NR 105 for an oil tanker and NR 35 for a jeep operating in this area. In the Siraha District, the Maoists have been collecting NR 50 per tractor of sand as ‘extraction fee’ from Gagan, Ghurmi, Mainabakti and Kamala rivers, and NR 10 per vehicle as ‘road tax’. In Bara District, they have placed obstructions on roads at Nijgadh, Simra, Jitpur, Gandak Chowk and Kalaiya, and are collecting ‘road tax’, ‘scrap tax’, ‘herbs tax’ and ‘forest products tax’ since September 1, 2006. They have been collecting money at Kabeli, Ranke and other places, demanding NR 1,000 each from drivers of buses, trucks and other heavy vehicles, and NR 500 from each taxi driver.
The Maoists have also obstructed the establishment of Police Posts throughout the country as these could hinder their subversive and extortion activities. The Maoists threw away goods and articles from the Police Posts and pressurised Police personnel to turn back from the village in different parts of the country. They have also obstructed re-establishment of displaced Police Posts in different parts of the Bhairahawa, Bardiya, Kaski, Sindhupalchowk, Kavrepalanchowk, Sankhuwasabha, Rupandehi and Nawalparasi, Rukum and Humla Districts. Similar campaigns were also reported from far-western districts such as Doti, Kanchanpur and Achham. The Police say that the task of re-establishing the Police Posts had been initiated as per the directive of the Home Ministry after the Government and the Maoists signed the Comprehensive National Peace Treaty. But the Maoists say that they would not allow the re-establishment of Police posts until local bodies have been formed.
The Maoists have interfered in the process of the management of their arms and armed cadres, forcing the authorities to include underage children in their ‘army’. Further, the number of weapons registered with the UN has raised eyebrows and there are widespread suspicions that the Maoists have hidden a bulk of their weapons. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), on February 23, revealed that a total of 30,852 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cadres were registered at the seven main and 21 sub-cantonments across the country, while just 3,428 weapons had been registered in the first phase of the verification process. The UNMIN also said that the number of weapons registered falls short even of the number believed to have been looted by the Maoists from the security forces.
Defending the low weapons count, Prachanda refuted allegation that the Maoists had concealed their weapons, arguing, "Since a large number of our weapons were grenades and home-made bombs, which the UN did not register as weapons, the total number of arms was felt to be fewer compared with the number of combatants." Interestingly, he added that many of their weapons were destroyed by fire when the Royal Nepalese Army attacked houses in villages, and were swept away in rivers when they were transporting weapons across rivers, during the course of the conflict.
The Maoists have also not spared the citizenship distribution process and have frequently interfered in the preparation of the voters’ list across the country. For instance, the citizenship certificate distribution team deployed in the Siddharthanagar municipality of Rupandehi District halted their work following interference by the Maoists on February 12. The Maoists decamped with the voters’ lists and other documents from the Kavre Village Development Committee (VDC) area of Dolakha District on February 9 and, on the same day, they seized all voters' list documents from the Salyantar VDC area of Dhading District, protesting that they had not been included in the tasks of the collection and compilation of the lists.
On March 9, Nepal’s Chief Election Commissioner Bhoj Raj Pokhrel stated that the planned Constituent Assembly (CA) polls might be delayed, as the parties had been indifferent to the preparations needed for the process. Prachanda promptly threatened that the nation could fall into a ‘big disaster’ if the CA election was not held on time. The Maoists had also ominously warned that there would be a Jana Andolan (People’s Movement) III if the Interim Government was not formed by March 30, and the Maoist spokesperson, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, had declared that there was a possibility that the Party might decide to participate in the CA elections without joining the Interim Government. He had threatened, on March 25, that if there was further delay in the formation of the Interim Cabinet, or if the CA elections were not held on time, the Maoists could decide to stay away and support the Government from outside. Within a few days, however, the Maoists dramatically shifted their position to join the Interim Government, which is dominated by the Nepali Congress, and successfully negotiated their five ministerial berths in the 22-member Cabinet.
Given their combination of threats, evasions and large scale subversion, it is unlikely that the Maoists, by merely being a part of the Interim Government, would engage in a good-faith process to ensure long-term peace in Nepal. The Government remains unable to contain or tackle the Maoists by any use of force, and fears that the rebels may revert to the insurgency at any stage. If the present state of affairs continues till the elections, which are presently scheduled to be held on June 20, 2007, a free and fair poll for the Constituent Assembly can hardly be expected. What prevails in Nepal today is, at best, an uneasy peace. Though the Maoists have joined the Interim Government and have allowed a proportion of their weapons to be locked away, they have demonstrated little serious interest in reining in their cadres and ending the coercive activities associated with the decade-long insurgency.
Yet another ‘surprise’ strike
In an attack that vaguely resembled the Jehanabad jailbreak operation of November 2005, on March 31, 2007, hundreds [estimates varying between 200 to 500] of suspected cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) led simultaneous attacks on a Police station, a block office and a branch of the Central Bank of India at Riga in Bihar's Sitamarhi District bordering Nepal, 300 kilometres from capital Patna. An hour-long exchange of fire between the Maoists and the Bihar Military Police (BMP) and Special Auxiliary Police (SAP) personnel left one SAP personnel dead and half a dozen people including the bank manager injured. The Maoists attempted to blow up the Manihari road over-bridge, using ‘milk-can bombs’, in a bid to disrupt the transport link between the target of the attack and the District headquarters at Sitamarhi. Only after a SAP platoon stationed at Manihari reacted and was subsequently reinforced by personnel of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB, a Border Guarding Force under the administrative control of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), did the Maoists call off the operation and flee.
While the State Police can rightly claim to have successfully repulsed the attack, what remains alarming is the continued element of surprise that such attacks bring, particularly in view of the prolonged and meticulous preparation that precedes such incidents. Revelations made by arrested Maoist leader Shivchandra Paswan, one of the senior leaders who participated in the attack, and who was arrested on April 2 from Barahi village under the Riga Police Station, threw light on such preparatory efforts. Paswan revealed that arms used during the attack were smuggled into Riga days before the operation, on vegetable-laden carts. The ‘area commanders’ of the outfit coordinated the attack by keeping each other involved using Chinese-made Motorola walkie-talkie sets. The Police, obviously, had little clue, as Sitamarhi District Superintendent of Police M.R. Nayak who rushed to Riga after the attack, conceded: "'I had no intelligence inputs regarding the attack. There was no warning of any threat of Maoist attack."
While primary investigations have established that most of the Maoist leaders and cadres involved in the attack had come from the Nepal side of the border [Riga is barely 15 kilometres from the India-Nepal border], statements emerging from Police sources after the attack underline the problem that continues to affect the performance of the security set up in most of the country’s Maoist affected States: available knowledge failing to be translated into preventive action. Bihar Police intelligence reports indicate that the Maoists have traditionally exploited the porous Indo-Nepal border for their activities. The dense Balmiki Nagar forests on the banks of Susta River, which divides India and Nepal, have remained a safe haven for the Maoists. Areas such West Champaran’s Bagaha along the India-Nepal border are emerging as prime recruitment grounds for the Maoists, and a Bihar Police document notes specifically that "Tharu (name of a tribe) boys and girls of Bagaha in West Champaran District have been recruited." While it is not easy to guard the 1,747 kilometre long India-Nepal international border, 725 kilometres of which runs along Bihar, even the large movements that would have taken place before and after the Riga attack appear to have escaped the attention of the enforcement and border security agencies. Similarly, little appears to have been deciphered from events such as the meeting that was organised by the Nepali Maoists, two days before the Riga attack, in the adjacent Gaur Bazaar in the Rautahat District across in Nepal on March 29. The porosity of the border has become a permanent and convenient alibi to explain away Police helplessness.
Complacence is, however, certainly part of the problem. Fatalities in Maoist violence in Bihar have declined over the past three years. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), left-wing extremism related fatalities declined from 171 in 2004 to 96 in 2005, and further to 45 in 2006. Maoist related incidents also dipped from 183 in 2005 to 107 in 2006. A total 257 Maoists were arrested in 2006. According to the Institute for Conflict Management database, only nine fatalities have been reported till April 4, 2007. This has been hailed as a notable ‘improvement’ in the situation both by the Union Government as well as the Government of Bihar.
While this data is heartening, it fails to provide a complete picture of the situation on the ground. According to a March 2007 document of the Bihar Police, 30 of the 38 Districts in the State have been affected by Maoist activities. Nine of these Districts – Patna, Gaya, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Arwal, Kaimur, Rohtas, Nawada and Jamui – are designated as ‘hyper-sensitive’. A further nine Districts, including Bhojpur, Muzzafarpur, Sitamarhi, Motihari, Darbhanga, Saharsa, Banka, Bagaha and Sheohar, fall into the ‘sensitive’ category. The remaining 12 Districts are categorised as ‘less sensitive’. Evidently, Maoist activities – if not Maoist violence – is endemic across much of the State’s territory.
Before the March 31 Riga attack, moreover, the Maoists were involved in several incidents, including at least three major attacks, in the State. On January 22, one Police personnel was killed and at least two people were injured when CPI-Maoist cadres attacked the Police picket at Erahi in the Buxar District. The Maoists reportedly decamped with 10 rifles. On February 27, CPI-Maoist cadres attacked a BMP camp at Khaira village in the Lakhisarai District and killed four Police personnel, besides wounding another three. The extremists decamped with one carbine, three self-loading rifles and ammunition. On the same day, Maoists blasted the railway track near the eastern cabin of Dhanauri Station on Kiul-Jamalpur section of the Eastern Railway in the Lakhisarai District. They also uprooted the track at Urain station in a stretch of about 10 metres.
There is further evidence of Maoist dominance over the ‘recovered’ Bihar: the Riverine areas of Purnia, Katihar, Sitamarhi and Saharsa remain safe havens for the CPI-Maoist. Maoist recruitment and training centres are known to operate in the southern Bihar Districts of Jamui, Gaya and Kaimur. Three schools at Amba in the Aurangabad District have closed down since February 2007 after the Maoists threatened to blow them up unless school authorities paid a ‘levy’. Since then, classes are being conducted in open fields by irregular teachers, as the permanent teachers have fled out of fear. In the Gaya District, Maoists have set up ‘People’s Courts’ to try those charged with robbery and rape. The accused are hung up-side-down from trees and beaten till they ‘confess’ to their crimes.
Following the Riga attack, the State Government contended that the attack was a consequence of the March 2007 diversion of 10 CRPF companies from the northern Bihar Districts to the election-bound State of Uttar Pradesh by the Union Government. Since 2006, Bihar has had 23 companies of the CRPF at its disposal, out of a total of 30 in the State, for dedicated counter-Maoist operations. However, the need to provide Uttar Pradesh with 700 companies of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) led to the unilateral move, a decision which was reportedly resisted by the State Chief Secretary and Home Secretary.
While Bihar initially appears to have been a victim of New Delhi’s myopic policies, the reality is somewhat more complex. First, while the MHA had asked the Bihar Government to temporarily relieve 10 of the 30 companies of CPMFs deployed in the State, the decision of the locations from where this force was to be withdrawn was left to the discretion of the State Government’s and its assessment of available intelligence. Secondly and crucially, the persistent dependence on the Centre is increasingly unsustainable. The MHA, for instance, contends that the State Government has raised only two of the three sanctioned India Reserve Battalions (IRBs), thus continuing its dependence on Central Forces. Bihar’s State Police Force, moreover, is one of the worst in the country, with the lowest police to population ratio (at 56 per 100,000 population, against a national average of 122 per 100,000), and the neglect of the State’s security administration has been both protracted and abysmal.
The reality in Bihar, as in most of the 16 Maoist-afflicted States in the country – with the dramatic exception of Andhra Pradesh – is that the enforcement and intelligence agencies are yet to come to grips with the character, nuances and scale of the Maoist threat, and have been repeatedly overwhelmed by ‘surprise’ attacks. The sheer capacities required to contain the Maoist threat are lacking, and the understanding of Maoist strategies, both of mobilisation and of protracted war, are severely deficient. The approach within the security set-up of most affected States remains defensive, leaving the initiative almost entirely in Maoist hands, while the enforcement agencies continue to function within the context of a ‘routine law-and-order’ context that is entirely incapable of identifying and monitoring indices of the gradual Maoist mobilisation and consolidation that precedes the orchestration of violence.
The killing of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) Member of Parliament, Sunil Mahato on March 4 in Jharkhand, the attack on the Rani Bodli Police camp in Chhattisgarh on March 15, the April 6-attack on the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) camp and a Police station at Bermo in Jharkhand and the Riga attack in Bihar represent the beginning of a new phase of high-profile Maoist strikes, especially in regions where large mining, irrigation or industrial projects are ongoing or planned – a fact that is strongly corroborated in the Maoist literature. An eight-page ‘annual report’ of the ‘Central Military Commission’ of the CPI-Maoist (October 2005 – September 2006), seized by security forces in March 2007, lists several upcoming projects in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh as targets for such attacks. The list includes proposed bauxite mines operated by the Jindal Group near Visakhapatnam; the Polvaram irrigation project in Andhra Pradesh; projects of the Tata, Essar and Jindal groups in Chhattisgarh; the Rajghara-Raoghat-Jagdalpur Railway line; the Posco and Tata steel plants in Orissa; power plants of the Reliance group; and the ongoing Narmada projects in Madhya Pradesh.
On April 4, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar came up with the routine responses that inevitably follow each Maoist strike. He asked his top bureaucrats and Police officers to strengthen the defence mechanism by speedy restoration and strengthening of basic infrastructure in Left Wing extremism-affected areas. Given the track record of the State Government, it is, however, difficult to imagine that the Riga episode will bring about any radical transformation in the way the State has battled left-wing extremism thus far.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
April 2-8, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Six persons killed in Maoist attack in Jharkhand: At least six people were killed when an armed group of 300 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres on April 6-night attacked the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) camp and the adjoining Gandhinagar police station building in the Bokaro thermal power city area of Bokaro district. The attack on the CISF camp occurred around 8.30pm when only six personnel were on sentry duty. The Maoists exploded a series of bombs and also blew up the Pilpilo road bridge connecting the Central Coalfields Limited’s Khashmahal project with the main highway. Reports said the six people were killed on the spot as the trucks and dumpers they were driving tossed up to 15 metres towards the sky under the impact of the explosions triggered by the Maoists. Times of India, April 7, 2007.
air capability is of little threat to India, says Chief
of the Southern Air Command: The Chief of the Southern
Air Command of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Marshall
Y. R. Rane, said that the recently acquired air combat
capability of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
posed "little or no threat" to the country. At a press
conference in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of Kerala,
on April 4, 2007, the Air Marshall said non-State actors
with air capability were surely a threat to international
civil aviation. Hence, the integration of civilian assets,
such as air traffic monitoring radars, with air defence
systems was being given priority by the Central Government.
He said LTTE's acquisition of air capability was "something
that could not be sustained." The IAF has re-positioned
some of its radars following the recent developments
in Sri Lanka. More "combat assets" of the IAF will be
moved to South India, he added.
Hindu, April 5, 2007.
59 persons killed in sectarian violence in FATA: At least 59 persons were killed in sectarian violence at Parachinar and other parts of the Kurram tribal agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) since April 6, 2007. Sectarian clashes started on April 6-morning when unidentified people opened fire at a Shia procession. Earlier, a Sunni procession had allegedly been pelted with stones and its participants abused. 16 persons were killed in Kurram on April 8 as sectarian clashes spread to most parts of the tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Arbab Muhammad Arif, Secretary (Security) for the FATA, said that 40 persons were killed and 43 injured in the fighting in Kurram Agency on April 7. He said authorities have not kept any count of the number of Sunnis and Shias who have died in the clashes. However, he denied the suggestion that Pakistan Army’s helicopter gun-ships had caused most of the fatalities by firing at combatants from the air. Conceding that the clashes have spread out of the regional headquarters, Parachinar, to other parts of Kurram Agency, he said efforts were being made to control the situation through effective measures. The use of heavy weapons by the combatants, including missiles, rocket launchers and mortar guns was reported. Jang, April 9 & 8, 2007.
Pro-Taliban mosque announces parallel judicial system in capital Islamabad: Formally announcing the establishment of a parallel judicial system, the pro-Taliban Lal Masjid (Lal Mosque) administration on April 6, 2007, vowed to enforce Islamic laws in the federal capital Islamabad and threatened to unleash a wave of suicide bombers if the government took any action to counter it. "Our youth will commit suicide attacks, if the government impedes the enforcement of the Sharia [Islamic laws] and attacks Lal Masjid and its sister seminaries," Maulana Abdul Aziz, the in-charge of the mosque said in his Friday sermon. Aziz announced the setting up of a Qazi court in his sermon that also marked the opening of a three-day ‘Nifaz Sharia-o-Azmat Jihad Conference’. A large number of supporters had reportedly reached the mosque and the government did nothing to stop groups of people participating in the conference.
Maulana Aziz also said a day earlier that he was supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and South and North Waziristan and conceded that students of his seminary had joined the Taliban but on their own. Dawn, April 7 & 6, 2007.
Three Pakistanis charged in connection with London bombings: Three Pakistanis are facing life imprisonment after they were on April 5, 2007, charged in connection with the suicide attacks on London’s transport system on July 7, 2005, in which 52 persons were killed. Mohammed Shakil, 30, of Beeston, a suburb of Leeds; Sadeer Saleem, 26, also of Beeston; and Waheed Ali, 23, who recently lived in London but was originally from Beeston, were arrested on March 22, 2007. Saleem was reportedly arrested in Leeds and the other two men were detained at the Manchester airport as they were preparing to board a flight to Pakistan. The three were charged under the Explosive Substances Act (1883) for "unlawfully and maliciously" plotting with the suicide bombers "to cause explosions on the Transport for London System and/or tourist attractions in London." "The allegation is that they were involved in reconnaissance and planning for a plot with those ultimately responsible for the bombings on July 7 before the plan was finalised," said Sue Hemming, head of the Counter Terrorism Commission of the Crown Prosecution Service. Jang, April 6, 2007.
52 persons killed in clashes in South Waziristan: At least 50 people were killed in fresh clashes between pro-government tribesmen and foreign militants in South Waziristan on April 4, 2007. A tribal army led by Maulana Nazir, a pro-government militant commander waging a fight against Uzbek militants, captured the strategic area of Sheen Warsak after a fierce battle in which 19 Uzbeks and five tribesmen were killed. Three paramilitary soldiers were also killed during the fighting. In a gun-battle in Zaghunday, north of Sheen Warsak, the tribal army reportedly killed 25 Uzbek militants. Daily Times, April 5, 2007.
LTTE will use its air capability to attack India’s nuclear reactors, warns Sri Lanka Government: The Sri Lanka Government has warned that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has acquired the air capability to attack India’s nuclear reactors in South India. Sri Lanka Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona told Times Now that according to the Sri Lankan Government’s assessment, LTTE acquired the air power to target Indian nuclear reactors. "Their planes can easily fly up north (towards India) and there are very sensitive installations in India which could be threatened by small LTTE airplanes," Kohona said. Following the March 26, 2007-air attack on the Katunayake Sri Lanka Air Force base by the LTTE, Sri Lanka has officially informed India that the nascent LTTE air force is not as toothless as it was thought previously. Times Now, April 7, 2007.
Sea-Tigers Headquarter in Mullaitivu destroyed: The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) jets on April 4, 2007, attacked the Sea-Tigers Headquarter (HQ) of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Pudukudyirippu area of Mullaitivu district and destroyed it completely, military sources said. "Air Force jets bombed Tigers main sea HQ, destroyed buildings, fuel storage, vehicle park area and several other installations," said SLAF spokesperson Group Captain Ajantha Silva. However, he said information was not available about the casualties in the LTTE ranks. Meanwhile, the LTTE denied that the SLAF attack hit their Naval headquarters, but said two civilians were killed when SLAF jets bombed a populated area. Colombo Page, April 5, 2007.