SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
With at lest 1,401 fatalities in 2007 (till June 3) in the undeclared war between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka is seething with tension. Rattled by the air attacks (at the Katunayake Air Port and the Muthurajawela gas storage facility in Colombo, and the Palaly Air Force Base in Jaffna between March 26 and April 29, 2007) by a rudimentary LTTE ‘Air Force’ – the Air Tigers – and, at the same time, triumphal over its victories in the Eastern Province, the state has embarked on a buying spree, seeking to augment both its defensive and offensive capabilities with a range of military acquisitions. For a country at war, this is unsurprising, but is also proving somewhat unsettling for the equations of power and influence that exist in the South Asian region.
It is substantially to China and Pakistan that Sri Lanka is turning in its hour of need. Reports suggest a slew of deals with China to acquire a JY 11 3 D radar (a direct fallout of the failure to detect and prevent the air attacks on Colombo) and large quantities of ammunition and ordnance for the Sri Lanka Army and Navy. The latter category reportedly includes as many as 70,000 rounds of 120 mm mortar shells for the Army, 68,000 152 mm artillery shells and 50,000 81 mm high-explosive mortar bombs. The Sri Lanka Navy’s shopping list is said to include 100,000 14.5 mm cartridges, 2,000 RPG-7 rockets and 500 81 mm airburst mortar shells. The Navy is also looking to acquire 50 type 82 14.5 mm twin-barrel naval guns, 200 Type 85 12.7 mm heavy machine guns and 1,000 type 56 7.62 mm submachine guns.
From Pakistan, Sri Lanka is already reported to have acquired some refitted Soviet era tanks and MIG plans, as well as cartridges and augmentation charges for 81 mm mortars, and a range of unspecified ‘security equipment’. Sri Lanka is further seeking to acquire helicopters, VIP vehicles with B-7 protection and substantial quantities of Claymore type fragmentation devices and ammunition for its artillery. Military cooperation with Pakistan further involves the training of Sri Lankan pilots by the Pakistan Air Force. Significantly, Pakistan has been a major supplier of weapons to Sri Lanka for some time now, and in 2001 had provided a range of equipment, including Heckler and Koch G3 rifles, 120 mm heavy mortars and large quantities of ammunition.
China and Pakistan do not, of course, exhaust Sri Lanka’s current efforts for military acquisitions. Russia and Israel are also significant sources, and reports suggest current efforts to acquire an unspecified number of MiG 29 Fighters from the former. India has remained a major supplier of what it describes as "defensive military equipment". Significantly, Gotabaya Rajapakse, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, had, on May 29, 2007, urged India to provide "urgent weapons supplies".
Nevertheless, the massive emerging dependence on Pakistan and China has had major reverberations in what Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wikremanayake described as "our very friendly country", India. India’s National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan, on May 31, 2007, articulated the country’s concerns, declaring bluntly: "We are the big power in this region. Let us make it very clear. We strongly believe that whatever requirements the Sri Lankan government has, they should come to us. And we will give them what we think is necessary. We do not favour their going to China or Pakistan or any other country…"
The remark, unsurprisingly, provoked some consternation across the region, with Pakistan reacting sharply, as the Foreign Office spokesperson declared that "Pakistan would not accept hegemonic tendencies from any country in the region," and further, that ''the matter is primarily for Sri Lanka to decide. Such statements raise questions about India's attitude and policy towards its neighbours." Within Sri Lanka, there were several angry responses, the most shrill among these coming from the radical Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), personally accusing Narayanan of mischief and pointing to his past career in India’s Intelligence Bureau where he "undoubtedly participated in formulating… anti-Sri Lanka acts by the then Indian Government". Official responses were, however, broadly restrained, emphasising at once, Sri Lanka’s extraordinary relationship with India, but emphasising the freedom to acquire necessary and suitable military equipment from wherever this was available, particularly in view of the fact that India was unable to meet Sri Lanka’s perceived needs. President Mahinda Rajapakse underlined the position that India was the only country "that can acceptably involve itself in Sri Lanka", but added, "There must be more support from the Indian Government." Through all this, China, though, maintained an inscrutable silence.
India faces a multiplicity of dilemmas here. Narayanan had admitted that India would "not provide the Sri Lankan government with offensive capability. That is the standard position." In principal, this appears unimpeachable. A free supply of offensive weaponry could create conditions for the escalation of conflict in Sri Lanka.
On the other hand, it remains the case that the LTTE is, even today, designated as a terrorist organisation by India (with its Chief, Vellupillai Prabhakaran an accused, among others, in the assassination of India’s former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi) and it is not clear how such a position can be reconciled with a desire to restrain Sri Lankan ‘offensive operations’ against this terrorist group. Further, any realistic assessment of the international arms bazaar would fairly quickly demonstrate that a withholding of particular supplies by India will have little impact on Sri Lanka, as other suppliers will immediately step into the breach – as Pakistan and China have presently done.
Crucially, the intervention of players such as these will have necessary and proximate strategic consequences. Pakistan has a long history of mischief in the region, and, as G.H. Peiris notes,
It is useful to note, in this context, the increasing activities of the Pakistani Tablighi Jamaat among the tiny Muslim minority in Sri Lanka, and reports relating to the radicalisation of elements within this community.
As regards China, India is already waging a losing battle against its expanding influence in South Asia. Critically, India’s failure to respond adequately to Myanmarese expectations for developmental and military cooperation through the 1990s, and the freeze in relations between the two countries before that, has resulted in a virtual Chinese takeover of Myanmar. The Chinese influence in Pakistan has long been the source of difficulties for India, and China is also making progressive inroads into Bangladesh. Any strengthening of the Chinese stranglehold in Sri Lanka will simply complete India’s encirclement.
India’s quandary arises principally out of its apprehensions of the political fallout in its State of Tamil Nadu, of any unqualified assistance to Colombo in its war against the LTTE. It is significant that Narayanan’s remarks on weapons’ supplies were made at Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, after a meeting with the State’s Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi. There is a strong undercurrent of sympathy in the State for the ‘Tamil cause’ in Sri Lanka, and its political management is a necessary imperative both for the State Government and the Centre.
It remains the case, however, that the pressures of local sentiments and sympathies have to be balanced against India’s strategic projections and calculations, as well as India’s robust relationship with Colombo. There is a need, moreover, to clearly separate support for action against the LTTE from any sense of antagonism towards the Tamil population in Sri Lanka – though this becomes somewhat difficult when the Sri Lankan state engages in patently discriminatory actions directed against the Tamil minority, as was the case in the recent forced deportation of Tamil migrants from Colombo (an act for which Prime Minister Wikremanayake has now apologised). The dismantling of discriminatory practices and laws in Sri Lanka could go a long way in separating the terrorists from the community, and pressure on Colombo to this end must be a necessary part of Indian policy.
On the other hand, a far greater measure of realism must attend the Indian position on military assistance. If Colombo is to resist the temptation of Chinese and Pakistani aid, it must have absolute confidence in Delhi’s intentions and capacities to meet its requirements. Quibbles over ‘defensive’ and ‘offensive’ weaponry have little place in the realpolitik that will define South Asia’s future, and India’s position within it.
Manabhum, a 1,500 square kilometre wilderness in Arunachal Pradesh’s Lohit District, has emerged as the main staging area of rebels belonging to the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), after cadres of the group were expelled by the Bhutanese military blitzkrieg from the Himalayan kingdom in December 2003. The border with Myanmar, where ULFA’s dreaded 28th Battalion is located, is barely 25 kilometres from the outer periphery of this heavily wooded reserve forest, making it the rebels’ preferred hub for the coordination and launch of operations.
It isn’t surprising, therefore, that soldiers of the Army’s 2nd Mountain Division, based near the eastern Assam District town of Dibrugarh, make regular forays into this dense jungle in adjoining Arunachal Pradesh. Army troopers have given rather interesting code names to their successive offensives inside Manabhum: it was ‘Operation Blazing Khukri’ on the fringes of this forest between April 5 and 10, 2007, in which soldiers of the 7/11 Gorkha Rifles killed eight ULFA cadres, including two women. The troops followed this up with ‘Operation Blooming Orchid’, this time in Manabhum proper, between April 27 and May 1, 2007. Two ULFA camps were destroyed and the area was ‘successfully sanitized’ during the operations by nearly 500 soldiers.
Things, however, are not quite as good as the preceding narrative may suggest. The ULFA continues to dominate the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border and persists with its depredations into Assam from this safe haven. The Army Operations have limited impact, with the bulk of cadres simply retreating further inside Arunachal Pradesh, or crossing the international border into Myanmar, only to return the moment troops have vacated their forest sanctuary.
This pattern could be prevented, and the ULFA sanctuary in Manabhum substantially neutralized, by an adequate deployment of Central Para-military Forces (CPMFs), backed by the Arunachal Pradesh State Police, along the borders with both Assam and Myanmar. It does not require great strategic depth or foresight to understand and plan such deployment, at least along a semi-permanent counter-insurgency grid to check the cross border movements of the rebels.
There is, however, no such deployment of men from the CPMFs in Manabhum, and only a thin presence of personnel from the State Police. By way of ‘security cover’ inside Arunachal Pradesh, along the border stretch with the eastern Assam districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar, extending across more than 400 kilometres, there is a lone company of the India Reserve Battalion. The story is more or less similar in the Tirap and Changlang Districts of Arunachal Pradesh, areas in the grip of an assortment of Naga and other rebel groups.
Interestingly, the media, covering the meeting of the Police Chiefs of four northeastern states (Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland) in Guwahati on June 4, 2007, talked of plans for ‘coordinated’ operations by the Security Forces (SFs) in the four States, even while participants pointed out several loopholes in counter-insurgency strategies.
There is, regrettably, much more in evidence of a deeply flawed counter-insurgency strategy in the region. Assam currently has in excess of 140 CPMF companies, a majority from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). What comes as a rather disturbing disclosure by some top security officials is that battalion Headquarters of many of these CRPF companies are located in distant States, including, for instance, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. In most cases, the companies deployed in Assam to battle potent rebel groups like the ULFA are headed by officers of the rank of sub-inspectors or inspectors, and are loose formations with serious flaws in the command and control structure so very essential for effective counter-insurgency. This may, in fact, well be the situation with respect to CPMF deployment in several parts of the country. Commanders of such battalions, whose companies are located in states such as Assam, make only occasional visits to see their boys ‘in action’.
Union Home Ministry mandarins appear to have concluded that the ULFA is a spent force, and may find no fault with prevailing counter-insurgency tactics in Assam. But Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland have become major theatres of the ULFA insurgency in the sense that the rebels use these States as transit stops on their way to Myanmar or as staging areas close to eastern Assam, and a quick look at the rising fatalities inflicted by the ULFA in Assam puts a question-mark on the ‘spent force’ thesis. Data for the current year, released by the Ministry of Home Affairs, indicates that there were a total of 156 insurgency-related incidents in Assam between January 1, 2007, and March 31, 2007, a number approaching that for Jammu and Kashmir, at 211 incidents, over the same period. The ULFA, between January 1, 2007, and June 10, 2007, carried out 68 attacks in eastern Assam, and also inside Manabhum in Arunachal Pradesh (31 incidents of firing, six grenade attacks and 31 bomb explosions), killing 81 civilians, 11 police and paramilitary troopers and two Army soldiers. Close to 100 people, including 84 civilians, were injured in these attacks in the area.
A look at the Army’s actions along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border gives further indications of how active the ULFA remains in the area: since September 24, 2006, the Army has killed 19 ULFA militants along this stretch, and captured another 14, and has also apprehended 31 ‘overground workers’ of the group. The Army is, however, handicapped by the fact that it can operate only 20 kilometres inside Arunachal Pradesh, from the border with Assam (Tinsukia District), as this is the extent of the proclaimed ‘Disturbed Area’ where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958, applies. With the Army’s hands tied, there is the more pressing reason for heavy deployment of the CPMFs deeper within and beyond the Manabhum forests.
Effective policing of densely wooded stretches such as Manabhum is all the more urgent in view of credible intelligence inputs that Chakma refugees settled since decades in Arunachal Pradesh have started providing logistic support to the ULFA. There are also reports of Chakma settlers being enrolled by the ULFA, and also being recruited by other rebels groups active in the Tirap-Changlang-Lohit belt in Arunachal Pradesh, mainly the National Socialist Council of Nagaland -Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and Khaplang (NSCN-K) factions. If all these inputs are pieced together, it becomes clear that there is enough potential for escalation of the insurgency in Arunachal Pradesh itself, led by visiting rebels and their local allies.
Crucially, the ULFA’s changed strategy over the past few years of not engaging in direct gun battles with the security forces and the group’s reliance on carrying out furtive bomb attacks in public places should not be viewed as a conclusive sign of the group’s weakness, but as a tactical shift. By all accounts, the ULFA is making definite bids at regrouping. Reports with Indian security agencies suggest that, at present, up to 100 women cadres are being trained by the ULFA in fresh camps set up by the group inside Bhutan. New Delhi has received information on the emergence of new insurgent camps in Bhutanese territory, though Bhutan remains in a denial mode, at least in its public pronouncements. ULFA is also said to be carrying on with its recruitment drive, though the training of cadres has been constrained by the lack of permanent bases such as the ones the group had inside Bhutan prior to the 2003 military action against them.
The Army’s own operations in the eastern Assam Districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar and some other nearby stretches between January 1, 2007, and end May 2007, give further indications of significant ULFA activity: the soldiers have killed 28 ULFA cadres, and apprehended 40 cadres and 106 ‘overground workers’ of the group in this five-month period. 103 automatic weapons have been seized from the rebels.
There is clearly an urgent need to revamp the Unified Headquarters structure, and the patterns of deployment of, and coordination with, CPMFs and the State Police, both in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, to blunt the continued insurgent offensive. There is evident need for augmented deployment in Arunachal Pradesh, particularly along the border with Assam, for the continued surveillance of the dense reserve forest in Manabhum, and a strong check on the inter-state movement of insurgents. The existing systems of superintendence and command of the CPMFs also need review, and there is a clear need for higher command structures to be located in the areas of operation to ensure the optimal utilization of the Force. The residual threat of ULFA activity, moreover, will always persist as long as New Delhi is not able to effectively engage with Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh to deny safe haven to the insurgents on foreign soil.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
June 4-10, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Khaleda Zia charged for August 21, 2004, grenade attack on Awami League rally in Dhaka: Former Prime Minister and chief of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia, her son Tarique Rahman, the Jamaat-e-Islami chief Matiur Rahman Nizami and 25 others were charged with murder on June 5 in the August 21, 2004, grenade attack on an Awami League (AL) rally in Dhaka. Badar Aziz Uddin of Cox's Bazaar, one of the many injured in the attack, filed the case with the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court, Dhaka. The attack that occurred in Dhaka's Bangabandhu Avenue killed 23 persons. The other accused include Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, former State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar, former BNP parliamentarians Amanullah Aman, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, Mirza Abbas, Mosaddek Ali Falu, Barkat Ullah Bulu, Salahuddin Ahmed, Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu, Helaluzzaman Talukder Lalu, Krishak Dal General Secretary Shahjahan Mian, Islami Bank Managing Director Nurul Islam, and businessman Giasuddin Al Mamun. The complainant reportedly said that the blasts were carried out on instructions from Khaleda Zia, Tarique Rahman, Nizami, Babar and Ali Ahsan Mujahid. The magistrate asked the officer-in-charge of the Paltan Police Station to inquire into the case and submit a report. The Daily Star, June 6, 2007.
11 persons killed in Manipur: On June 9, unidentified militants killed 11 persons in separate incidents at Moreh in the Chandel district. Another person is in a critical condition after being shot. According to an official source, five persons belonging to the Kuki tribe were shot dead at two different places in Moreh Ward numbers 5 and 7. Subsequently, six more bodies belonging to the majority Meitei community were recovered by the police from different locations, including a bridge constructed over the Minal river along the Indo-Myanmar border, near the water tank at Moreh Ward number 1, and at the Sunrise Cricket Ground of Moreh Ward number 4. The identities of some of the victims have been confirmed. The killings led to a series of clashes between the Kukis and the Meiteis, in which residence of the vice president of the Meitei Council, Moreh and vice president of the Imphal-Moreh Jeep and Tata Sumo Taxi Service Association, L Tomba, was set on fire. The District Administration has clamped a curfew on Moreh. Indian Express, June 11, 2007.
Infiltration rising in Jammu and Kashmir: A police spokesperson said that the level of infiltration has increased in Jammu and Kashmir during 2007. He disclosed that there were 214 incidents of infiltration in the State till May 31, 2007. This included the surrender of 49 infiltrators. Among the incidents of infiltration, 194 occurred in Kashmir and 20 in Jammu. By comparison, 141 incidents of infiltration had occurred between January 1 and May 31, 2006. The 2006 incidents included 105 in Kashmir and 36 in Jammu. According to the spokesperson, 168 militants had been killed in the current year, June 4, 2007. 221 militants were killed during the corresponding period in 2006. He said that militants are avoiding direct contact with the security forces and mostly using grenade attacks. He added that the number of active militants in the State has increased.
Earlier on June 6, Indian Army Chief General J. J. Singh had blamed "elements in the Pakistan Army" for supporting militants infiltrating into the country. "We have reports to suggest some elements of the Pakistan Army, including the Inter-Services Intelligence, are helping to push the militants across," Singh told reporters at a Defence Ministry function in New Delhi. "There is always some support available to militants to infiltrate across the border," he added.
On the same day, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said that April 2007 had witnessed an unusual upswing in infiltration attempts. He said the Army was asked to monitor the situation for three months to discern whether there was a pattern in the bids by militants to sneak across the Line of Control. "There was a hike in infiltration attempts in April, and we will monitor the figures for the months of May, June and July," he said. "But the ceasefire is holding all along the Indo-Pak border," Antony said, pointing out that the Director Generals of Military Operations of the two armies were in "regular touch" on the hotline to discuss the situation along the border. Kashmir Times ; PTI, June 7-8, 2007.
Purported al Qaeda CD calls Kashmir "gateway of Jihad against India": A purported al Qaeda compact disc (CD) is reported to have referred to Kashmir as the "gateway of Jihad against India." The Government of India has reportedly ordered an investigation to judge the authenticity of the CD, which carried a recorded statement of an Urdu-speaking masked gunman. Personnel of the Srinagar-based Kashmir News Service disclosed that an unidentified man delivered a CD and a five-page statement in Urdu, purportedly from the "chief" of "Al-Qaeda Fil Hind", Abu Abdul Rehman Ansari. The statement, read out in Urdu in the CD by a masked gunman, Abu Ibrahim Al-Aasim, criticized all factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and the Muzaffarabad-based alliance of militant outfits, the Muttahida Jihad Council (MJC), for "misleading the Kashmiris into the quagmire of UN resolutions and politics of shutdowns and demonstrations." Calling Kashmir the "gateway of Jihad against India", the statement observed that the political and militant leadership had pushed the Kashmiris into a serious confusion about the goal to be achieved in their struggle. It stated, further, that the Islamist movements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Somalia, Philippines and Algiers were clearly focused on a "change in system, erasing the borders and installation of Caliphate." "The ongoing armed struggle in Jammu and Kashmir has been transformed into a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan and a war of state interests by the countries under an organised international plot. Some black sheep are also beating the drum of dialogue with the heretic elements and their lackeys. Same people, who, until the other day only, used to euologise the Mujahideen for fighting the occupational forces, have now no hesitation in saying that the role of the gun was over and it is the turn of the dialogue process," it said. Underscoring the significance of "Jihad against India", the statement asserted that Prophet Mohammad had declared those people as blessed who launched a war against India.
While the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has ordered an inquiry into the episode, the Mutahida Jihad Council (MJC), an umbrella organization of the militant groups operating in Jammu & Kashmir, questioned the authenticity of the CD. In a statement, a MJC spokesperson Syed Sadaqat Hussain said, "There is no base of Al Qaeda in Kashmir, Indian Agencies are trying to malign Kashmir-based militant organizations as well as separatist leaders. Neither there is any presence of Al Qaeda, nor have they any kind of role as far as the Freedom Struggle in Kashmir is concerned." Daily Excelsior; Kashmir Watch, June 9, 2007.
Balochistan unstable due to Afghanistan’s interference, says Government: The Balochistan Government on June 8 held the Hamid Karzai-led Afghan Government responsible for providing shelter to Baloch separatist insurgents, which they believe was "clear evidence of Afghan involvement in the instability created in Balochistan." "There is ample evidence to substantiate our allegations that Afghanistan is creating trouble in Balochistan and extending full support to Baloch fighters," Raziq Bugti, spokesperson for the Balochistan Government, told a press conference held in the Chief Minister’s Secretariat at Quetta. He said that, from day one, the Government had not ruled out the involvement of a foreign hand in creating trouble in Balochistan. However, he said, the Government’s stance became self-evident since the Governor of the Afghan province of Kandahar, Asadullah Khalid, stated that several Baloch had taken shelter in his province after fleeing from the conflict-stricken province of Balochistan. He disclosed that the Balochistan Government had made a formal request to the Afghan Government for handing over the people, who the Government believed were involved in terrorist activities across the province. According to the spokesperson, a majority of the people who were hiding in Afghanistan had escaped from the Dera Bugti and Sui areas in 2006, when the conflict between the Government and Bugti tribesmen intensified. Daily Times, June 9, 2007.
Evacuation of ethnic Tamils from Colombo: On June 7, Police started eviction of Tamils from the capital Colombo as part of a crackdown against LTTE suspects. Tamil men, women and children, lodged at low-budget hostels, were forced out of their rooms, ordered into buses and driven off under armed escorts, residents said. The move followed an announcement by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Victor Perera last week, that Tamils "loitering" in Colombo were a threat to national security and that they will be given transport to return to their villages. The Defence Ministry confirmed the eviction, but said it was directed against LTTE cadres using the cover of lodges to hatch bomb plots against the capital. "Investigations have also confirmed that those responsible for these brutal killings have hatched their brutal plans and executed them from these lodgings," the Ministry stated, adding that 376 people were evicted in seven buses and would be taken to Jaffna, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa.
A three bench panel of the Sri Lanka Supreme Court on June 8 issued an injunction to the Police to stop the evacuation of residents of Colombo lodges who are from the north and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. Responding to a fundamental rights petition filed by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Chairman of the Panel of Judges, Nimal E. Dissanayaka, said that the action is based on wrong advice. The Court scheduled a hearing on the case on June 22 and restrained IGP Victor Perera from carrying out any more evacuations of Tamils.
Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapakse asked the IGP to submit an immediate report on the manner exercised to transport Tamil persons who were living in lodges in Colombo to the North and East. Inviting the evicted people back to Colombo and promising disciplinary action against any wrongdoing, a statement issued by the President’s Office said that the President has called for an immediate inquiry to be initiated to ascertain the basis for this security related operation. The Hindu, June 8-9, 2007.