SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
As Nepal lurches from crisis to crisis, echoes of Hitler’s successful campaign to destroy the Weimar Republic in Germany grow ever louder. Not a day passes without a new outrage by the ‘Brown Shirts’ of the Young Communist League (YCL), or what Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala more correctly labeled the ‘Young Criminals League’. Unfortunately, the transitional state in Nepal has proved every bit as hapless as its post-World War I predecessor in Germany.
The result is a disastrous – and still deteriorating – security situation, enabled both by the presence of Maoist leadership figures in the interim regime and the holding of the key Home Ministry position (thus authority over the only presently active state armed capacity, the Police) by a figure variously labeled as either an incompetent or a Maoist fellow-traveler, Krishna Prasad Sitaula.
In reality, Sitaula appears to be following faithfully the marching orders given to him by his Nepali Congress (NC) boss, Prime Minister Koirala. Koirala, hobbled by advanced age (85) and poor health, seems determined to press ahead with a ‘compromise’ which has, as per critics, long since become an exercise in one hand clapping. Most seriously, the continued security deterioration, together with the inability or unwillingness of the state to provide even the most basic services (e.g., electricity and water), has unleashed a host of violently centripetal forces.
There are seven major separatist movements active, with those in the tarai, the southern and western parts of Nepal sharing a border with India, the most serious and powerful. Already, these tarai insurgents, comprised at least in part of breakaway Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-M) factions, have proved more than willing to answer Maoist violence in kind. The state has compounded matters by both vacillating and engaging in deceptiveness in its dealings with representatives of these movements.
If the political situation is grim, the economic picture is worse. Though macro indicators are reasonably stable, the micro situation is such that, if anything, the conditions of unemployment and under-employment, which contributed powerfully to the Maoist ability to recruit manpower, have deteriorated. The Maoists have contributed to the deteriorating situation by engaging in violent labour mobilization, necessarily displacing unions already in place, then engaging in job-actions which betray a well-nigh complete lack of knowledge of fiscal realities.
Socially, centripetal forces have led to a demand from virtually all groups, whether of gender, sector, ethnicity, language, or locality, for inclusion in the new-order distribution of rights, resources, and privileges. The key omission, of course, is any consideration of obligations.
If there is one apparent bright spot, it is that – quite contrary to Maoist cant – there appears no sign of military desire to intervene in the political chaos. Under the old-order, the domination of the formal military chain-of-command by what effectively was a parallel Palace structure – a military secretariat – was noted by some analysts. But few were astute enough to grasp the degree to which this arrangement increasingly rankled. Numerous line officers became convinced that their interests would be better served in a more ‘modern’ arrangement. Thus, contrary to expectations, there was no resistance to the transfer of command from the Palace to the Parliament.
Unfortunately, this transfer was done as clumsily and inefficiently as all others in the transition period. Koirala himself secured the Defence portfolio but failed to oversee the creation of mechanisms which could serve as a secretariat for implementing Nepal Army (NA) transformation. Though the Defence Secretary, Bishnu Dutta Uprety, was a holdover with some experience, he was not a security specialist but a line civil servant doing a tour of duty.
The new head of NA, General Rookmangud Katawal, though an experienced officer, finds himself overseeing an Army that is progressively being hollowed out by the inaction brought on by NA’s being limited to garrison functions (with some engineer units involved in mine-clearing and road construction, the exception). The bottom line is that the worst military abuses of the old-order, especially a completely stove-piped chain-of-command have not only been carried over but actually exacerbated by the new-order.
The Maoist goal remains the sweeping away of the old-order and its replacement by a Radical new-order. The specifics as articulated, in speeches, the media, and CPN-M documents, are common to communist movements throughout South Asia, inspired as they remain by Stalinism, and feature a dreary litany of state intervention in all economic, social, and political facets of existence.
If their vague vision of a utopian future is to be carried out, the Maoists understand, they must have power. They claim they will gain it ‘peacefully’. But their understanding of the term ‘peacefully’ has been consistent and boils down to: ‘as long as we get what we want, we will not resort to violence; but when non-violence does not work, we will reconsider our position’. ‘Non-violence’, in the Maoist lexicon, means only that firearms are not used as the weapons of first resort. In particular, their constant use of menace and extremist threats, backed up by very real actions, such as abductions and near-fatal beatings, is denied – by both the Maoists and their apologists, including international fellow-travellers.
Yet the Maoists know just what they are doing. When taken to task by their Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisation of South Asia (CCOMPOSA) compatriots for having abandoned the revolutionary struggle, the CPN-M succeeded in placating its critics by setting forth a convincing case that it was only pursuing the struggle by other (but still ‘Maoist) means. By violently denying the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) access to the 70 per cent of that the country the Maoists still control, as well as using street gangs in urban areas, the CPN-M intends to dominate the Constituent Assembly elections projected for November 2007.
To be sure, Maoist calculations have been hobbled by the tarai upheaval, as well as the growing popular revulsion against YCL abuses. This reaction has increasingly resulted in vigilanté action, because the state is seen as failing in its most basic duty, the provision of security to the populace. The regular claims by Koirala that Maoist abuses will no longer be tolerated are belied by standing instructions that no police intervention can occur without direct authorization from the Home Minister – and he does not often issue such orders.
The trump card, as the Maoists see it, is threatening to bolt the Government, to take to the streets, to launch a new people’s war. Though they quickly clarify that they do not mean ‘returning to the jungles’, the threat is clear enough: pitched street battles.
The CPN-M, therefore, is simply pursuing its ends by other means in the same way – people’s war. Its lines of operation have remained consistent. Only the choice of weapons has changed with time and circumstances. Coercion, persuasion, and inducement are of a piece.
Violence, thus, remains integral to the Maoist strategy for taking control. The only issue is the proper balance between ‘the ballot and the ArmaLite’, as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) pithily put it [referring to the small arms manufacturing unit that produced the infamous ‘Widowmaker’ the AR-18, which was widely adopted by the IRA]. This, the Maoists – prisoners to a hackneyed, discredited, vicious ideology – have had trouble finding. As a result, the party hierarchy is no longer fully in charge.
Though the people’s war shift to seizing power from within has been explained up and down the ranks, the CPN-M leadership did not anticipate the reversal of protracted war roles, with time beginning to favour the state. Not only are the Maoist ranks becoming increasingly restless (for what do they have to show for a decade of internal war?), but their own misbehavior has mobilized a powerful backlash so pronounced that all attempts at surveys point to a Maoist drubbing in a fair election. Of course, it is precisely a level playing field that the Maoists seek to thwart.
In only one other key area have their designs been denied: the integration of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) into the NA (Nepal Army). The military has been adamant that integration must be a process whereby individual volunteers are screened through the normal processes of induction. The Maoists, in contrast, want to see their units absorbed intact. This would be accompanied by demands for ‘democratization’ of the military, by which the Maoists mean politicization: better ‘red’ than ‘professional’.
In sharp contrast, the essence of ongoing NA transformation is the movement towards a non-political Army responding to the dictates of a parliamentary system.
Here again the different conceptions of democracy collide. Koirala – and certainly General Katawal – sees the Maoists as having agreed to return to the fold, as defined by and structured as parliamentary democracy and the market economy.
The Maoists, however, see matters differently. In their calculus, they are accepting the surrender of the old-order. Their intention remains a revolutionary reordering of Nepal to form a people’s republic. In these plans, the ‘old military’ is to be cut back dramatically, and in its place are to be substituted armed popular groups as seen, for example, in Iran and increasingly Venezuela.
Hence what is occurring is a battle of mobilisation capabilities. Throughout the counterinsurgency, the Maoists had the advantage in this contest for the simplest of reasons: the Government did not recognize the game being played. To the contrary, all efforts by knowledgeable members of the state, especially within the security forces, to mobilize citizen capacity, whether in local defence forces or even watcher groups, were thwarted by incomprehension, outright opposition, or alliances made with the donor community.
In contrast, the entire thrust of the Maoist effort was to form a counter-state that could challenge the state. In this, they have never faltered. Their present participation in the Government is for no purpose other than to facilitate their eventual takeover. In their briefings to their followers, there could be no middle ground: one order must give way to the other.
Therein lies the challenge for the Nepali state. A tenuous old-order, held together as much by tradition as by structure, has seen its glue dissolve. And the effort to achieve a new-order contains a critical flaw, because a key player, the CPN-M, lacks sincerity. Assessments of what is to come should look to the Weimar example and examine carefully how Fascism emerged triumphant as a consequence of state weakness and individual cowardice when confronted by thugs in the streets.
With 4,383 militancy-related fatalities between 1992 and 2006, Manipur remains the third most violent theatre of conflict in the country, behind Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and Assam, over this extended period. In more recent times, it has outstripped Assam, with 311 fatalities in 2006, as against Assam’s 242; it has, however, in turn been overtaken by the Left Wing insurgency in Chhattisgarh, which resulted in 462 fatalities in 2006.
Apart from the overall insecurity resulting from the threat to and loss of life, Manipur now has one of the most comprehensive networks of terrorist extortion in the country, affecting almost every earning citizen in the State, even as the state and its agencies remain virtually paralysed – with the exception of the Army and Central Paramilitary Forces engaged in a Sisyphean counter-insurgency effort that has done nothing to permanently diminish the intensity or expanse of extremist depredations.
Some 15 militant groups operate in the State, some claiming to represent, on the one hand, the State’s majority Meitei community, principally dominating the Imphal Valley, while others professing to speak for the Naga, Kuki and other tribal communities, dominate the Hill areas.
Endemic extortion demands have often triggered tentative and ineffectual protests. Most recently, on June 2 and 3, 2007, pharmacies across Manipur downed their shutters after a militant group demanded INR 10 million as 'tax' from the All Manipur Medical Representatives Association and the All Manipur Pharmaceutical and Druggists Association. The overmanned State Police – Manipur has 535 policemen per 100,000 population against the Indian average of 122 – which plays almost no role in counter-insurgency and has demonstrated neither the will nor the capacity to protect citizens against terrorist excesses, nevertheless saw fit to force open some of the stores on June 4. However, the shutters came down again as soon as the Police left. The pharmacies eventually opened on June 9, after a combination of use of force and assurance of protection by the Police. In the interim, doctors at the Imphal-based Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, the largest hospital in the State, were forced to postpone major surgeries fearing shortage of lifesaving medicines.
Earlier, on May 28, over 100 shops in Imphal’s Paona Bazaar, many of them selling smuggled foreign goods, closed down in protest against an extortion demand of INR 1.5 million by an unidentified militant outfit. Shops, however, reopened a day later, following an "agreement involving an unspecified amount" between the owners and the militant outfit. In another incident, on May 23, suspected United National Liberation Front (UNLF) militants abducted a Reliance Telecom engineer in Churachandpur District for the failure to pay an extortion amount of INR Three million.
It has never been easy to do business in Manipur, either for private enterprises or for state agencies. The Government of India-owned Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) shut down its main office located at the Khoyathong locality in capital Imphal between May 21 and June 3 after an extortion demand of INR Two million by an unidentified outfit. The closure of the Imphal office affected about 250,000 policyholders and nearly 1,000 agents of the LIC. In the following week, offices of four other insurance companies — New India Insurance, United Insurance, Oriental Insurance and National Insurance - closed down as well, following similar demands from ‘unidentified’ groups. While the LIC reopened on June 4 after the police urged it to resume business, the remaining agencies remain were gradually nudged open one after another, by the police between June 10 and 12.
The state’s collapse is total, and there is no protection even for business establishments operating in the heart of the fortified capital, Imphal, despite the continuous ‘successes’ of continuing military operations. A significant proportion of all Government funds also finds its way into militant coffers, and the insurgents have carried out attacks on the residences of prominent politicians, police and administrative personnel and professionals, as well as on common civilians, in case of any failure to comply.
Despite the very large number of glaring cases of extortion highlighted in regional and, on occasion, national media, the fact is that the bulk of such exactions are concluded in tacit deals, away from the glare or even knowledge of the media. The nature of these secret deals was revealed after the arrest of the UNLF ‘general secretary’ and ‘finance-in-charge’ Narengbam Marjit alias Thabal Singh at Guwahati in neighbouring Assam, on May 1, 2007. INR 4.7 million in cash along with two laptops and a car were recovered from the UNLF leader. The Manipur police subsequently established that top Government officials from Manipur were being summoned to cities outside the State to settle extortion demands made by the UNLF, as well as by other groups.
The border town of Moreh in Chandel District accounts for INR 20 billion in informal and INR 100 million in formal trade between India and Myanmar. The 109 kilometre stretch of National Highway (NH) 39 between Imphal and Moreh, which has been the mainstay of the dwindling trade between the two countries is a major source of insurgent revenues, as well as the location of several incidents of militant violence resulting from a failure to pay or resistance against insurgent ‘taxes’. On May 19, for instance, cadres of an unidentified militant group forced back all passenger service vehicles, including taxi services, proceeding towards Moreh from Pallel in Chandel. Previously, on May 17, suspected People’s United Liberation Front (PULF) militants attacked a passenger bus at Lilong along the Indo-Myanmar road for its failure to pay. The incident led to a day’s suspension of passenger services by the Indo-Myanmar Bus Drivers and Owners Association.
New Delhi’s ‘conflict resolution strategy’ in neighbouring Nagaland has only added to Manipur’s pervasive woes. As the Centre’s ‘ceasefire’ with the NSCN-IM approaches a decade without any final settlement, the NSCN-IM appears to have secured a licence to kill and extort on both sides of Nagaland’s border with Manipur, and there has been a continuous expansion and consolidation of the Naga insurgent group’s in the Hill tracts of Manipur.
Two national highways, NH 39 and NH 53, constitute the link between Manipur and mainland India, through Assam. While NH-39 connects Dimapur in Nagaland with Imphal, NH-53 links Silchar in Assam to Manipur’s capital.
For nearly a decade, NH-39 has been under the virtual control of the NSCN-IM, with the outfit establishing 26 permanent collection points along this stretch of road. The mode of ‘tax’ collection at these points is both systematic and elaborate. Worse, NSCN-IM cadres also collude with State Government personnel and are present at many of the Government check posts, where they collect INR 200 against a receipt slip of INR Two and INR 500 against a slip of INR Five from the vehicles. Alternately, drivers can buy up ‘slips’ from various points in Dimapur city and surrounding areas, which are produced at the collection points in order to continue their journey. According to one estimate, every commercial vehicle passing through this route pays out at least INR 4,000 per trip as ‘taxes’ to the NSCN-IM. Truckers who fail to pay the ‘taxes’ and/or produce pre-paid slips are often beaten up and are forced to pay exorbitant ‘fines’. On many occasions, trucks have been looted or burnt for non-compliance. In April 2007 alone, six trucks were burnt along the Dimapur-Imphal route by the militants. Some collection points have also recently come up in the Karbi Anglong District of Assam, adjoining Dimapur, where the NSCN-IM’s influence is substantial.
The Manipur Government’s decision to strengthen check points along NH-39 at Sekmai, Kanglatongbi, Senapati, Lairou, Maram, Tadubi, Mao, Sapermeina and Taphou has had limited results. These reinforced points now provide some protection to vehicles that have already been taxed on their way from Dimapur, or are subsequently taxed on their way to Dimapur, once they are outside the protected areas within Manipur. In any event, the NSCN-IM dominates the Hill Districts of Manipur, including Ukhrul, through which the highway winds it way, and beefing up checkpoints does little to dilute this pervasive influence. Indeed, in the month of May, the NSCN-IM went to the extent of intimidating the highest ranking bureaucrat (deputy commissioner) of the Ukhrul District, after he had proposed action against the outfit’s extortion network, forcing him to flee to capital Imphal.
Manipur’s other lifeline, NH-53, remains mostly unusable as two strategic bridges, Makru and Barak, in their present state, are too fragile to take the weight of goods-laden trucks. New bridges are being built to replace the existing ones. Construction on another transport route, the proposed railway line from Jiribam (along the border with Assam) to Imphal via Tupul (in Tamenglong District), which, it is claimed, will be ‘invulnerable’ to militant influence, is yet to begin. Not only are the poor condition of the road problematic, traffic along NH-53 frequently remains suspended due to strikes announced by numerous student, youth, ethnic and militant organisations that have mushroomed all over the State.
In the face of such overwhelming militant domination, the Government often chooses silence to express its helplessness. Barring an appeal by one of the State’s Members of Parliament (MP) in the Lok Sabha (Lower of House of Indian Parliament) Thokchom Meinya Singh and State Information Minister T.N. Haokip to the militant to ‘shun violence’, for instance, the Ibobi Singh-led Government failed to react to pharmacies’ shut-down. Even Health Secretary P. Vaiphei was quoted by the local media as stating that he came to know of the developments only through newspaper reports! The reaction is unsurprising in view of the extended record of the sheer spinelessness of the State Government. In 2005, for instance, the headquarters of the Taxation Department in Imphal was locked down for weeks after the militant slapped huge extortion demands on the officials. It is not clear whether a secret ‘settlement’ was reached with the militants before the department resumed its activities. In late May 2007, in a further abdication of responsibility, the State Government came up with an outrageous proposal to ease gun licensing procedures in order to allow civilians to keep arms to ‘counter militant violence’. The proposal has since elicited intense opposition from several civil society groups. On May 30, 2007, a five-member team led by the Director General of the Government of India’s Central Economic Intelligence Department visited Imphal to help Manipur formalise steps against money laundering, but little can be expected, since even the Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Act, 2005, is yet to be enforced in Manipur, and it would take a near miracle for the provisions of the Act to take effect and to deliver the intended results.
Manipur’s tragic and sustained downward spiral continues, reinforced by the collapse of the State Government, and the Centre’s manifest lethargy in evolving an effective strategy of recovery. Interestingly, none of the militant groups in the State appears to be fighting to win in terms of any of their political objectives. The survival of the groups at current or marginally augmented strengths, the defence of their ‘spheres of influence’ and ‘dominance’ against sporadic Security Force onslaughts and internecine strife, and the ‘management’ of the networks of extortion, have become ends in themselves. A kleptocracy reigns across Manipur, both through the State Government and through the exactions of the militants. For the common people there is no relief in sight.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
June 11-17, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
No al Qaeda presence in Jammu and Kashmir so far, says Northern Command chief: Ruling out the presence of al Qaeda in Jammu and Kashmir, the Northern Command’s General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Lt. Gen. H. S. Panag, said in Udhampur on June 17, 2007, that nothing has been established so far to corroborate reports about the terrorist group’s operatives in the State. "Much has been said by the print and electronic media about al Qaeda’s presence in Jammu and Kashmir but nothing has been established so far to corroborate these reports," said Panag. He added, "I would say we also have no records in the past about al Qaeda operatives having being found during counter-insurgency operations in the State. Only one odd case was reported about one al Qaeda militant from Afghanistan long back." He said, further, that after investigation this also turned out to be untrue. He also ruled out al Qaeda’s relations with terrorist groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir — Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). "We are only aware of al Qaeda’s strong relations with JeM and LeT in Pakistan," he observed. In Pakistan, al Qaeda has strong relations with LeT and JeM, whose cadres they train and assist in operations against the Government, the Northern Command chief said, adding they work in co-ordination in Pakistan, which is a major threat to the establishment.
Further, Lt. Gen. Panag stated that, as the terrorist training camps in Pakistan are still intact and the perpetrators of Jihad across the border have not changed their agenda, there is no reason to pull out troops from the State. "Since the perpetrators of ‘Jehad’ are making statements (referring to United Jehad Council (UJC) chief Syed Salahuddin) that there is no change in their agenda and also the presence of 52 militant training camps across the border, we can’t say the situation is appropriate for troops withdrawal," the Army Commander said.
Elaborating on the deployment of a total of 337,000 Army personnel in the State, he said that "only 25 per cent are into indepth counter-insurgency operations within the State." Of the rest, 45 to 50 per cent are deployed along the Line of Control (LoC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC) to counter-infiltration and remaining are at permanent locations (Garrisons), including support services, Lt Gen Panag disclosed. "So, only 25 per cent (75,000-80,000) soldiers can be pulled out of State, while rest would have to be there," he asserted. On the strength of militants active in the State, the Army commander said that data from various agencies have revealed the headcount of terrorists at 1,140. Daily Excelsior, June 18, 2007.
500 extremists killed in two years, admit Maoists in Chhattisgarh: The Maoists in Chhattisgarh have admitted that 500 of their rebels have been killed by cadres of anti-Maoist Salwa Judum movement in the last two years, a police official said on June 12, 2007. The admission came through leaflets and posters found by police in the Dantewada District, reportedly the worst hit by the Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh. "We recovered dozens of leaflets and posters in which Maoists said they had lost 500 fighters in the past two years," said Sant Kumar Paswan, Chhattisgarh's acting Director General of Police. He said the Maoists described their slain comrades as 'martyrs' and have vowed to take 'revenge' in the leaflets found in Bailadila Hills, known to have one of the finest quality of iron ore stocks.
Meanwhile, accepting that the left-wing extremist problem has spread to almost the entire State, the Chhattisgarh Government has decided to establish an Anti-Naxalite (Operations) Cells in six more Districts, which were till now free from left-wing extremism. The new cells will come up in the Raipur, Kawardha, Rajnandgaon, Dhamtari, Durg and Mahasamund Districts. After the establishment of these special units, only four districts – Bilaspur, Korba, Raigarh and Janjgir – remain classified as non-Maoist affected. Ten out of the 20 Police Districts, Bastar, Kanker, Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur, Sarguja, Korea, Jashpur, Balrampur and Surajpur, already have cells to tackle the Maoist problem. Indian Express, June 13, 2007; Times of India, June 12, 2007.
United States not brokering political deal in Pakistan, says US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher: The United States Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Boucher, said in Islamabad on June 15, 2007, that holding of free and transparent elections in Pakistan was a bigger problem than the issue of President General Pervez Musharraf’s uniform. Boucher denied that he had come to Pakistan to broker a deal between President Musharraf and the Pakistan People’s Party. Speaking to the media, Boucher said that President Musharraf had assured the US that the issue of his two offices would be settled in accordance with the Constitution and the US believed him. He said that President Musharraf had also assured the US that the elections would be held in a free and transparent manner. He added that the US was willing to provide monetary, technical and observer assistance to Pakistan for the elections. Boucher opined that the US believed that Pakistan was moving towards democracy and becoming a moderate country, adding that there was no contradiction in the US policy of supporting media freedom and President Musharraf simultaneously.
Asked about Pakistan’s role in the war against terrorism and frequent statements by US officials that Pakistan should do more, Boucher said "We certainly recognise the enormous effort, the enormous achievements and the enormous sacrifices that Pakistan has made so far. I’ve often said in the Congress and elsewhere that no country has done more against the terrorists or lost more people doing so than Pakistan. And I think that’s an important place to remember." However, he said more had to be done in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to eliminate "spaces where terrorists can plot and plan." Daily Times, June 16, 2007.
Eight soldiers among ten persons killed in Balochistan: Eight army soldiers, a police constable and a passer-by were killed in the night of June 14, when some unidentified armed men attacked a van on the Zarghoon road in Quetta, capital of Balochistan. Police said the victims were going to the Quetta Staff College from the railway station in a hired vehicle after arriving in the city by Chiltan Express. When the van reached near the Railway Rest House, the armed men opened fire, killing seven people on the spot and injuring six others. The armed men also shot at two police personnel on a motorcycle, injuring them seriously. One of the policemen later died in a hospital. Dawn, June 15, 2007.