SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
A historical strategic shift has been engineered by the Maoists and, despite their open declarations of intent and the visible translation of words into deeds, this remains largely unnoticed in the general discourse and, indeed, in large segments of the Indian intelligence and security community. There is a continuing proclivity to view Maoist incidents of violence and disruption as discrete events, demanding no more than specific and localised patterns of Police response.
The 9th Congress of the Maoists, held in the latter half of January and early February 2007, attracted some media comment, but has failed to provoke any sense of particular urgency in India’s establishment at the national or State levels, nor have events thereafter been coherently linked with what is known to have been decided at this convention. The discomforting reality, however, is that the Maoists are, as in the past, deadly serious, and their plans and projections have already been moved into the phase of active implementation. If there was any scope for doubt on this count, it should have been convincingly settled by the two-day Maoist blockade across six of the worst affected States along India’s eastern board on June 26 and 27, 2007. The blockade was organised in protest against the economic policies of the Government. Regrettably, far from being recognized as a small taste of catastrophes to come, the blockade evoked a sense of relief in the security leadership, with the top Police official in Jharkhand declaring, "We were expecting major attacks by Maoist rebels, but their reaction has been rather mild."
It is useful to review the ‘rather mild’ actions of the Maoists during their blockade. The blockade affected wide areas in Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. While urban concentrations remained relatively free of incident, transport links were disrupted virtually across the States, and one estimate puts the direct costs in damage to Railway properties at INR 400 million. The indirect costs of disruption of services will have been much larger, with the blockade dislocating supply lines from the country’s principal mining areas in Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The Central Coalfields Limited, for instance, dispatched just 17,500 tonnes of coal by rail on June 26, as against the daily average of 67,000 tonnes. Jharkhand alone is believed to have suffered an economic loss to the tune of INR 1.5 billion over the two-day blockade. Major acts of violence during the blockade included:
Summarizing these developments, an assessment by the Union Home Ministry on June 28, stated that twenty incidents took place in States affected by Naxalite violence during the two-day economic blockade. Ten incidents pertained to damage to railway property, mainly in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The other incidents related to obstruction of the movement of goods on highways passing through the States. Though the Railways were yet to make a detailed assessment of the losses incurred by it during the blockade, preliminary estimates suggested that this could be about INR One billion.
Given the scale and lethality of some recent Maoist attacks, the violence witnessed during the blockade would certainly seem ‘mild’. The core error of such an assessment, however, is that the Maoist protracted war is simply equated with Maoist violence, and the significance of the widespread disruption of activity across six States in a centrally coordinated programme is not recognized. As Muppala Laxmana Rao @ Ganapathi, the ‘general secretary’ of the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist) declared recently, "we use both violent and non-violent forms of struggle."
The Maoists recognize clearly that they have suffered ‘tactical reverses’ in some States, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, where the counter-insurgency effort spearheaded by the State Police and its elite Greyhounds Force, has squeezed the rebels out of their strongholds, and into neighbouring States. The Maoist leadership has made "an in-depth study of the enemy’s counter-revolutionary tactics, plans and methods" and drawn "lessons from these". As a result, "the Party is now more equipped to defeat the enemy’s tactics." Ganapathi explains the essence of this tactical readjustment: "A specialised study of the strength and weaknesses of the Indian state is taken up. As you might be aware, even the mightiest enemy will have the weakest points. We have to correctly identify these weak points and deal effective blows so as to achieve victories."
Recent years have seen the evolution of two major tactical innovations by the Maoists. The first of these was the introduction of swarming attacks, the first of which occurred in Koraput in Orissa, where the District headquarters was overrun by up to a thousand People’s War Group (PWG) cadres on February 6, 2004. This was clearly a pattern borrowed from a model that had secured extraordinary successes in Nepal, and has since recurred with increasing frequency. Thus, while year 2004, the year of the introduction of this tactic in India, saw just one such attack, 2005 witnessed three, 2006, nine, and, by the end of June 2007, there had already been at least 12 such attacks. Indeed, in his interview released by the CPI-Maoist on April 24, 2007, Ganapathi boasted, "hundreds of people, and at times even more than a thousand, are involved in the attacks against the enemy as you can see from the recent counter-offensive operations, as in Rani Bodili, Riga, CISF camp in Khasmahal in Bokaro District, and so on in the past one month itself." The most recent of such attacks occurred on June 30, 2007, with simultaneous attacks at the Rajpur Police Station and Baghaila Police Outpost in Bihar’s Rohtas District, in which thirteen persons, including six policemen, were killed.
The second tactical shift, once again inspired, at least in part by a successful Nepalese model, is the coordinated blockade. Strikes and blockades have long been part of the Maoist tactical handbook, but they have tended to be geographically localised and focused on narrow issues and grievances. The coordinated blockade across six ‘heartland’ States – those worst afflicted by Maoist activities – and on broad issues of economic policies, including the SEZs, the "unhindered ruthless exploitation and control by imperialists and the comprador big business houses" and the "loot by rapacious hawks like Tatas, Ruias, Essars, Mittals, Jindals and imperialist MNCs" represents a dramatic transformation.
What is intended here is a systematic widening of the areas of conflict and the Maoist recruitment base, but within a strictly calibrated framework – hence the limited violence during the blockade, and the restriction of the blockade to just six States. Significantly, official sources now confirm Maoist activity, at various levels and intensities, in 182 Districts across 16 States (and this is an underestimate; official sources in several States beyond these 16 have already confirmed at least some Maoist activity within their territories). Responding to earlier estimates of 165 Districts affected by Maoist activity, Ganapathi had declared, "as far as our influence goes, I should say it is even more than that."
The reason for the self-imposed limits on both violence and geographical spread of the blockade are strategic and are based on a recognition of the unique infirmities of the Indian state and its capacities for response. The numbers of swarming attacks are also deliberated limited as a matter of choice, and do not reflect actual Maoist capacities, which would be significantly greater. The objective of these various operations is to widen the mass base, to ‘blood’ cadres, and to augmented morale, without carrying the violence and disruption beyond the threshold that would provoke massive and coordinated state response. It is assumed – correctly – that as long as these incidents and episodes remain sporadic and apparently unconnected, the state and its agencies will be tempted to lapse into habitual somnolence soon after each provocation, leaving progressively augmented operational spaces open for the Maoists. There is an underlying recognition, here, that violence beyond a certain level could provoke powerful and coordinated responses which the current Maoist capacities may be insufficient to resist. Recognizing the "tough situation" faced by the Party and its cadres in Andhra Pradesh, for instance, Ganapathi notes, "There is an immediate need to transform a vast area into the war zone so that there is enough room for manoeuvrability for our guerrilla forces." This transformation is the objective of coordinated blockades and the increasing frequency of swarming attacks.
The Maoists are now also increasingly cognizant of the potential for urban mobilisation well beyond their traditional target demographic. Ganapathi notes, "Middle class is terribly affected by such issues as price-rise, insecurity, corruption, unemployment for their children, high cost of education and health-care, threats from real estate mafia, etc. Keeping these in mind, our Party has drawn up plans to mobilise the middle class into struggles on such issues." This third strand will soon be drawn into the web of Maoist activities and strategies, and there is increasing evidence of exponentially rising front organisation activity in a number of urban concentrations.
As in the past, the Maoist perspective is rooted in the context and philosophy of the protracted war. Thus, Ganapathi imposes a timeframe of decades on his war plans:
The Maoist consolidation has already secured unprecedented sway and, "After a long time in the history of the revolutionary communist movement in India since the 1970s, a single directing centre has come into existence... today the revolutionary movement has become further strengthened, has spread to large tracts of the backward countryside, has well-knit Party structures, Army and vast mass base."
The Indian state is yet to recognize the coherence of specific initiatives and actions within the broad framework of the Maoist campaigns and strategy across the country, and unless the unity of purpose and of the underlying rationale is recognized and confronted with an equal, indeed, greater, coherence and lucidity, the creeping malignancy of Maoist subversion will continue to extend itself.
If it wasn’t his toothpaste-advertisement smile, the face peering out from behind the prison bars would look disconcertingly similar to that of Osama bin-Laden.
Amongst the ranks of jihadi groups in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Ghulam Hassan Gujjar probably better known than his doppelganger. Operating under the improbable nom de guerre ‘Santra Chacha,’ or Orange-uncle, Gujjar helped thousands of terrorists from Pakistan cross the Line of Control (LoC) after 1988, evading Indian ambushes and minefields. In 2003, when Pakistan diluted support for cross-border terrorism and a ceasefire went into place along the LoC, he retired to the two homes – and two families – he had built in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
But early this spring, Gujjar was called out of retirement to help facilitate a renewed infiltration surge. "I brought twenty-six Mujahideen across in just one trip," he recalls, "along with eighteen porters for their weapons and ammunition." During questioning, Gujjar provided Jammu and Kashmir Police interrogators a graphic account of just how adept infiltrators had become at evading India’s LoC fencing – and the new tactics they were using to defeat electronic surveillance equipment.
When an Expert Committee set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Srinagar at the end of June 2007 to discuss the prospect of demilitarising Jammu and Kashmir, Gujjar’s story formed the centrepiece of its briefings. Although the Committee is charged only with exploring the "reconfiguration and redeployment of Security Forces (SFs)," rather than actual troop cuts, officials argued that this summer’s grim infiltration figures make even this impossible.
Given that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the junior partner in the Congress-led alliance that rules J&K, has threatened to bring down the Government unless movement begins towards demilitarisation, this summer’s renewed infiltration offensive could have consequences far greater than the purely military.
Just what are security experts so disturbed by? Ever since June 2002, when an Indian war threat and intense United States-led diplomat pressure forced Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to promise to end cross-border terrorism, infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir has been in decline.
But that trend began to reverse last summer – and the upswing has continued this time around, too. Between January and May 2007, official estimates show, some 160 terrorists succeeded in penetrating the LoC. Similar figures were seen during these months in 2006, too – a sharp increase from 2005, when just 100-odd jihadis crossed over.
No full account has become available for just why infiltration has resumed. Some believe General Musharraf’s is indeed working to terminate infiltration, but that his efforts are being sabotaged by hardliners in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Advocates of this theory note that Pakistani forward posts are no longer used as launch-pads for infiltration attempts – and that some action has been taken to deter terrorists from crossing the LoC. In March 2007, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) ‘launching commander’ Imtiaz Alam was detained by the Pakistan Army’s Military Intelligence Directorate after he sent a twelve-man unit to reinforce his ‘northern division commander’, Mohammad Shafi Dar. Soon, though, Alam was released on ISI orders.
Others argue that Pakistan has decided not to allow the jihad to wither away until a political agreement on Jammu and Kashmir is put in place. During the spring and summer, snow-melt and rainfall makes it near-impossible to ford the Neelam river. As such, infiltrating terrorists and their supply porters must use bridges to cross the river – bridges which are guarded by the Pakistan Army, and whose use needs its institutional consent.
Whatever the truth, the escalated infiltration is yet to manifest itself in increased violence. Kashmir province saw just 290 terrorism-related incidents of violence between January and May 2007, down from 475 in the first five months of 2006. Ninety-five terrorists, 45 civilians and 39 SF personnel were killed during this period. By contrast, 124 terrorists, 98 civilians and 42 SF personnel lost their lives between January and May last year.
But, experts note, the jihadi cadre now crossing the LoC are better trained and equipped than in the past. Between January and May, 2005, SFs operating in J&K killed an average of 4.4 terrorists for each fatality they suffered. In 2006, though, the kill ratio for these months fell to 2.92:1. In the first five months of this year, the figure has fallen further, to 2.4:1. A decade ago, the kill ratio often exceeded 7.0:1. Notably, infiltration during the summer of 2006 and 2007 has exceeded terrorist attrition for the first time since 2001-2002 – suggesting the jihad is not about to wind down.
Much of the new jihadi build-up is taking place in north Kashmir’s high mountains. Villagers have reported concentrations of up to 40 terrorists from Lolab, Gurez, Rajwar and Bandipora – remote areas where the Indian Army has historically been reluctant to commit forces, fearing that it would thin out the protection available for more densely-populated towns and villages in the plains. By some accounts, both the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) have built fortified hideouts in the Bandipora and Rajwar forests.
Clearing these high-altitude hideouts would mean a large-scale offensive in the mountains: an enterprise involving more troops than the Srinagar-based XV Corps and Nagrota-based XVI have readily available. Although critics of India’s counter-terrorism posture in J&K often represent the State as a garrison, the reality is somewhat less dramatic. Of the 337,000 Indian troops in J&K, almost half are committed to counter-infiltration and defensive tasks along the State’s frontiers with Pakistan and China. Another 100,000 are tied up by administrative duties and the enormous logistical chain which links the Himalayas with the plains, leaving only 80,000 troops free for counter-terrorist operations – a force roughly the same size as the J&K Police.
Does the heightened infiltration mean that an escalation of violence is around the corner? Not quite. There is no sign, yet, that terror groups or their sponsors in the Pakistani establishment wish to reverse the diminution of violence seen since 2001. However, the future is still fraught.
First, mired as it is in multiple internal crisis, Pakistan seems unwilling – or unable – to risk the full-blown confrontation with Islamists that a termination of the jihad in J&K would invariably involve. General Musharraf knows well that his dialogue with New Delhi is unlikely to yield much beyond the status-quo in J&K, a poor prize for running the risk of alienating the Islamists who still support him.
Second, jihadi groups are themselves divided on just what dividends peace might yield. Although powerful elements in the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) wish to turn from terror to politics, most understand that they will at best find bit-roles in democratic politics. While some elements in the HM may be willing to see their cause subjected to a quiet euthanasia, the more ideologically-rigorous cadre of groups like the LeT or Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) remain profoundly committed.
Third, the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) is hopelessly divided on the terms and content of its future engagement with New Delhi. While doves like Abdul Gani Butt are clear that the time has come to acknowledge the essential legitimacy of the status quo and participate in elections, few of his colleagues are willing to stake their future on a representational test. Indeed, APHC chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has distanced himself from the debate, and spent much of the summer travelling in west Asia and Europe. With neither an agreed road-map for progress, nor a shared vision of the future, the engagement between New Delhi and the APHC appears to have reached impasse.
For all these reasons, no decisive breakthrough in the peace process appears likely in the near term. When J&K heads towards elections next year, jihadi groups would like to be in a position to both advertise their power, and demonstrate on-ground influence. Hence, their need to reinforce their diminished ranks – even if no spectacular acts of violence are executed
Not surprisingly, demilitarisation has found its most vocal advocates among the PDP, which stands to benefit the most from a strong jihadi presence in the countryside. In the 2002 J&K Assembly elections, jihadi groups helped sabotage the election campaign of the PDP’s main rival, the National Conference. This time around, the diminished influence of jihadi groups would help the National Conference – an outcome the PDP, for obvious reasons, has no interest in bringing about. At once, the Congress would like to ensure that its alliance partner does not grow into a position from where it can dictate terms. Hence, the party’s own implacable opposition to troop cuts.
Given the potential of the demilitarisation debate to tear apart the Congress-PDP alliance Government in J&K, the Expert Committee is unlikely to make a public recommendation in the near-term. Highly-placed sources disclose that forward movement on troop relocation was unlikely until September or October, after snowfall would make infiltration across the LoC more difficult. By then, however, the need to secure the state in the run-up to next year’s elections would make troop reductions unlikely.
Both Indian troops and the soldiers of the jihad, then, will hold their ground – and their guard – this summer. Whether the PDP makes its peace with this fact, or chooses instead to bring down the Government to force its case on demilitarisation, remains to be seen.
Source: Criminal Investigation Department, Jammu and Kashmir Police
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
June 25-July 1, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
13 persons killed in Maoist attack in Bihar: On June 30, 2007, a group of 250 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres carried out simultaneous attacks on the Rajpur Police Station and Baghaila Police Outpost in Bihar's Rohtas District killing six Police personnel and seven civilians. They also looted four self-loading rifles, eight 303 rifles, two INSAS rifles and three carbines, besides hundreds of rounds of ammunition. While eight persons were injured in the attack, the Maoists also blew up the police station and outpost using dynamites before escaping. The Hindu ; Patna Daily, July 1, 2007.
Railways estimates loss due to Maoist economic blockade at INR one billion: 20 incidents occurred in States affected by violence during the two-day economic blockade called by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) in protest against the economic policies of the Government. The blockade ended on June 27-midnight. Ten incidents pertained to damage to railway property, mainly in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal, according to an assessment by the Union Home Ministry on June 28. Though the Railways would make a detailed assessment of the losses incurred by it during the blockade, estimates suggested that it could be about INR one billion. The other incidents are related to obstruction of the movement of goods on highways passing through the States. The Hindu, June 29, 2007.
Administrative Reforms Commission recommends repeal of AFSPA: The Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) on June 25, 2007, favoured sweeping powers to the Centre to deploy armed forces in case any State faced "major public order problems" and the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA). The Commission also recommended bringing investigation of certain crimes with inter-state and national ramifications directly under the jurisdiction of central investigating agency like the Central Bureau of Investigation. These offences include terrorism, organised crime, acts threatening national security, sedition, arms and human trafficking, assassination of major public figures and serious economic offences. On the issue of the AFSPA of 1958, the Commission, while recommending its repeal, suggested an enabling legislation in its place for deployment of Central forces in the North Eastern States. "We want the Government, both Centre and States, to implement the ARC on Public Order report fully, as it tries to address the vacuum created over the years," Veerappa Moily, the Commission Chairman, told the media after submitting the report to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. Tribune India, June 26, 2007.
Taliban on the march in NWFP, says Interior Ministry: A special report, which the New York Times claims to have been shown, warned President Pervez Musharraf that Islamic militants and Taliban fighters were rapidly spreading beyond the tribal areas and that, without "swift and decisive action," the growing militancy could engulf the rest of the country, Daily Times reported. The report prepared by the Interior Ministry said that security forces in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) were outgunned and outnumbered and had forfeited authority to the Taliban and their allies. "The ongoing spell of active Taliban resistance has brought about serious repercussions for Pakistan… There is a general policy of appeasement towards the Taliban, which has further emboldened them," the 15-page document stated. This report was taken up at the June 4, 2007, meeting of the National Security Council in General Musharraf’s presence. An unnamed Western diplomat called the document "an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the country’s heart… It’s tragic it’s taken so long to recognise it." Daily Times, July 1, 2007.
Suicide bombers holed up in Lal Masjid, says President Pervez Musharraf: President Pervez Musharraf said on June 29, 2007, that an operation could be launched against the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa brigade, but a raid would lead to heavy casualties on both sides because a large number of suicide bombers were inside the mosque and seminaries. Speaking to the media at the National Defence University in Islamabad, General Musharraf said: "Can you guarantee that blood of any dead or injured will not be screened on television channels during the operation?" He informed that militants having links with the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and al Qaeda were hiding in the mosque and seminaries and they had explosives. They might cause havoc in case of an armed operation, he said, adding: "Critics should understand that the Madrassa houses 2,500 women students with minor boys, and suicide bombers inside are equipped with sophisticated arms. While police are not capable of launching such a complex operation, the Army cannot be involved for it can give a wrong message to the world." He also observed, "We have involved senior clerics of the country, the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Imam-e-Kaaba to end the standoff. Shall we now call Allah to help these elements shun their wrongdoings?" Dawn, June 30, 2007.