SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
For the past nearly six months since the Maoists joined the Government in Kathmandu – indeed, progressively since their 12-Point Understanding with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) in November 2005 – a discourse of utter delusion has dominated analysis of Nepal’s politics. A number of ‘Nepal experts’ claiming direct access, variously, to the King, to the Army Command, to the Maoist party bosses and (the unfortunate stragglers) to the decrepit leaders of the SPA, have been painting rosy pictures, staking their reputations on the imminence of elections in November 2007, and a consequent permanent resolution of Nepal’s protracted troubles, furiously brushing every bit of contrary evidence under a carpet of verbiage. Diplomats and international organisations – ‘peacebuilders’, all – have joined in the make-believe with great enthusiasm, The less privileged among commentators scavenge the daily news for leavings, discovering nuance and suggestion in the sundry public statements, postures and pretensions of various political factions and leaders.
Behind all this – bare, obvious and assiduously ignored – are the ponderously shifting realities and imperatives of power. Never concealed, but widely neglected, was the simple truth that the Maoist engagement with democracy is tactical, not ideological – and could not be otherwise.
The Maoist withdrawal from the Interim Government on September 18, 2007, (the Party had four Ministers in the Cabinet, while one had resigned earlier, on August 2, over ‘differences’ with his Cabinet colleagues), and their announcement of an escalating campaign of protests and demonstrations, reflects their changing assessments of the equation of power within the country. Their ‘mass movement’ commenced a day after the Maoist withdrawal from the Government with a ‘door-to-door public awareness campaign’, but will intensify progressively with rallies and protests organised by ‘our sister organisations’, to culminate in a gherao (sit in) at all District Administration offices on September 30, and eventually a General Strike from October 4 to October 6, 2007. The final strike coincides with the Election Commission’s October 5 deadline for nominations to be filed for the scheduled November 22 Constituent Assembly (CA) Elections.
On leaving the Interim Government, the Maoists have clarified that they have not exited the ‘peace process’ and remain committed to the 12-Point Agreement with the SPA. They have, nevertheless, made it equally clear that the scheduled November elections are unacceptable, and will be disrupted. Among others, Ananta, a ‘deputy commander’ of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and a member of the Maoist Central Committee, reportedly declared: "All our sister organizations will be mobilized… to ensure the Constituent Assembly elections are unsuccessful."
It is interesting, in this context, to examine the dramatic shifts the Maoist position has undergone over the past months. The CA Elections were originally scheduled for June 20, 2007, on the basis of a "breathless timetable that creates the illusion of great and irreversible advances", and prior to this date, the Maoists were unqualified and enthusiastic advocates of early elections – the earlier the better. Their armed strength, their ‘influence’ in rural areas, their capacities to exclude and intimidate cadres of other political formations across wide areas of the country, and consequently, their ability to rig an overwhelming electoral outcome in their own favour, were undiluted. The King had been emasculated, the Army confined to barracks, the restoration of Police Stations and Police Posts – withdrawn over the years under the fury of the Maoist armed onslaught – had been effectively obstructed, the countryside belonged to them, and the deal with the SPA had given them renewed entry into and sway across the Kathmandu Valley and other urban centres – from which they had been excluded by harsh counter-terrorism measures under preceding regimes. The legitimacy of an electoral process appeared attainable, without the attendant risks of the ‘untidiness’ democratic processes bring with them. In effect, the authoritarian ideal of ‘one man, one vote, one time’, seemed within reach.
All that, however, changed very rapidly after the EC declared that it was impossible to complete the "technical processes" for the CA Elections on the June schedule. The Maoists were abruptly confronted with the uncertainties of a real election in November 2007, with a progressive challenge to their armed thuggery by competing armed thuggeries – particularly in the Terai region in Southern Nepal, along India’s borders , a significant dilution of their influence in rural Nepal, incipient political activity by other parties, and growing discontent and dissent within the Maoist cadres and leadership. Most observers now agree that the scheduled elections would have made the Maoists just one – and not necessarily the dominant one – of many parties in the Constituent Assembly, a position that would deny them the possibility of hammering through a Constitution that would secure their objectives of absolute or near-absolute authority.
Unsurprisingly, there was a rising chorus within the Maoist leadership for a postponement of Elections to the Summer of 2008, and increasing emphasis on a number of ‘grievances’, including, particularly, the conditions in the newly established Maoist ‘cantonments’ to which an estimated 30,000 People’s Liberation Army ‘cadres’ are currently restricted ( there are 28 camps across the country; most sources suggest that barely a third of the cadres in these are, in fact, members of the PLA, and the Maoists had ‘agreed’, on April 18, 2007, to bring down their number to 17,000); and the absorption of the PLA ‘soldiers’ into the national Nepali Army (formerly the Royal Nepalese Army, RNA). A 22-point ‘Charter of Demands’ was defined on August 20, 2007, including the demands for immediate abolition of the Monarchy and the declaration of a Republic in Nepal as a precondition to the CA Elections, and it was these two ‘prerequisites’ for continuing in the Government that were used as the principal justification for the eventual Maoist withdrawal. Maoist front organisations have argued that "The Maoists were left with no option but to launch a programme of strong protests to establish a Republic because Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala hesitated to express his commitment towards republicanism." It is, however, useful to see how the Maoist position has shifted on this count from its fundamental commitments in the various agreements with the SPA.
The 12-Point Understanding between the SPA and the Maoists (November 22, 2005) noted unambiguously:
Thereafter, the Eight-point Agreement of June 16, 2006, resolved, inter alia, to:
Finally and crucially, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of November 21, 2006, which formed the basis of the Interim Constitution and Government, and defined the arrangements for the management of Armed Forces, weapons and the terms of the peace and relationships between the Maoists and various other political formations in the country, noted explicitly:
It is useful to note, here, that the King has been stripped of all administrative powers and his command over the Army. His assets have been frozen, and, while he continues to reside at the Nagarjuna Palace, five kilometres Northwest of his earlier residence, the Narayanhiti Royal Palace, all palaces, properties and assets, other than the wealth or property he had acquired before he became King, have been nationalised. Indeed, the King’s isolation and impotence are complete – though Maoist advocates and leaders continue to drum up the bogey of his potential to ‘distort’ political and electoral processes in the country. To the extent that the fate of the monarchy, and hence, the creation of a Republic, were left to the authority of the ‘first meeting of the Constituent Assembly’ (and rightly so, since the Interim Government and Constitution have no electoral or constitutional mandate), the rising insistence, since mid-April 2007, on an immediate declaration of a Republic in Nepal is irreconcilable with the commitments accepted by the Maoists, including the commitment to consensual resolution of issues of national interest, and to the right of the Nepali people to participate in the CA elections without fear, influence, threat or violence.
To understand, consequently, why the Maoists have taken the extreme steps of withdrawal from the Government, and threatened the disruption of the electoral process, it is necessary to ‘rewind’ somewhat, to the circumstances within which the opportunistic alliance with the SPA was forged.
At the time when King Gyanendra seized power in February 2005, the Maoists had successfully imposed an ‘ugly equilibrium’ in which Kathmandu had lost its powers to govern in vast areas virtually across the country, but where the Maoists lacked the capacity to quickly neutralize Kathmandu’s residual power. Two principal poles of power existed at this time – the Maoists, with their PLA, on the one hand; and the King and his RNA, on the other. The political parties, fractious, marginalised and discredited, were utterly irrelevant to developments in the country. With no easy victory in sight, the Maoist purpose was to disempower the King and to paralyse or undermine the RNA. This was the objective of the collaboration in the Loktantra Andolan (Democracy Movement) of April 2006, which ended King Gyanendra’s ‘direct rule’, and of the succession of agreements with the SPA.
The gains of this strategy have now been exhausted. The King and the monarchy have been comprehensively discredited, and no political entity could seek their restoration within the system. The Army, confined to barracks, demoralised and directionless, is less a threat to the Maoists now than was the case before the Interim Government took charge. The Maoist power, while it appears to have been diluted in the Terai, has, in fact, grown, with many parts of the country earlier outside their armed sway – including the Kathmandu Valley – having been targeted for mobilisation and recruitment over the past months. As for the Terai, the ‘weakness’ of the Maoists springs essentially from the imperatives arising out of their engagements in the ‘peace process’, and the necessity of at least appearing not to engage in organised violence – the occasional (deniable) tactical strike notwithstanding. In a situation of a return to armed conflict, however, the riffraff of Madheshi groups, which is currently at the centre of all attention, will easily be neutralised by the better organised and armed Maoist forces.
If this is, indeed, the Maoist calculus, the possibilities of their return to the Interim Government and their endorsement of the current electoral process are remote, and contingent upon absolute capitulation by the G.P. Koirala Government – something that has been made the more difficult by the personal denigration of the ailing Prime Minister by a number of top Maoist leaders, and a proposed signature campaign on a demand for his removal on grounds of ‘failure’.
Absent such an outcome, the Maoists can be expected to intensify a mass mobilisation that would seek to replicate the passions of the Loktantra Andolan in the streets, but, this time, led squarely by the Maoists, resulting in escalating disorders designed to engineer an eventual collapse of the present regime and, ideally, a transition of power to a Maoist regime or another unstable equilibrium with some political formations, more to the Maoist advantage than the present arrangement. In the absence of one of these scenarios, a return to arms would be inevitable, this time around under a weaker regime in Kathmandu, and an Army increasingly uncertain of its own role and of the country’s future. It is useful to note that several officers and personnel are currently being investigated for ‘excesses’ against the Democracy Movement, and demands for further inquiries into deaths and disappearances over the entire period of the conflict have already resulted in the drafting of a Bill to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to enquire into allegations of Human Rights violations by both the Army and the Maoists. Given the new legitimacy that has been conferred on the Maoists by their brief participation in the Government at Kathmandu, the Army will hesitate to take strong action against a group which may well be part of, or the entirety of, a future national government.
The Maoist gameplan is simple. Everything that enhances their power will be embraced; everything that undermines or constrains their influence must be destroyed. It is only the astonishing strategic blindness that afflicts the global analysis of contemporary conflicts, and the enveloping proclivity to wishful thinking, that shrouds their intentions and allows the Maoists to exploit the ambiguities of a discourse that is altogether alien to their own totalitarian ways of thinking.
Asia’s last Colony
On August 13, 2007, the people of what is called ‘Azad Jammu & Kashmir’ [AJK, Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). ‘Azad’ means ‘Free’] organized a ‘Long March’ in an assertion of the unity of the AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB, referred to in Pakistan as the ‘Northern Areas’) region, rejecting the arbitrary division of populations within Kashmir, and the restraints on travel and people-to-people contacts that have been imposed by the Pakistani establishment. The traditional routes between AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan have been shut down by the Pakistan Government since its occupation of the region in 1948, and two exclusionary systems of governance have been established in these two constituent units of PoK. The ‘Long March’, from Muzaffarabad, the capital of AJK, to Gilgit, organised by the National Students Federation (NSF) and supported by virtually all nationalist Kashmiri organisations in AJK, sought, through acts of civil disobedience, to focus global attention on the backwardness of the state and the excesses of the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies. The NSF leadership had, consequently, announced that the Long March would not stop at any Pakistan Army checkpost en route to Gilgit, and would not submit to any search or identification processes imposed by Government agencies, as the Pakistani Army was an alien occupying Force. The arduous long march, through high mountain passes and across extended glaciers, and through unmarked routes, claimed the lives of two volunteers, Sardar Amjad Khan and Raja Bahzad Khan, who died when the march hit adverse weather conditions in the upper reaches of the Neelam Valley.
The NSF has repeatedly emphasized the fact that the divided areas of J&K should be united, and the first step in this direction should be the unification of AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan under a single State Assembly, and the natural routes between AJK and GB should immediately be restored. The trade between Pakistan and China should pass over these routes through GB and AJK, and this trade should come under the authority and jurisdiction of the administration of united AJK-GB, with royalties for this trade flowing to this administration from Pakistan. By redirecting the Pakistan China trade to these routes, not only would the time and cost of transport of goods to Rawalpindi and Lahore be substantially reduced, the areas along these routes would experience an economic renaissance, with benefits accruing not only to the people of this region, but also to the people of Pakistan. There would also be an inevitable impact on the excesses currently committed by the Pakistan Army in the region.
After 60 years of Pakistani rule, the majority of people in AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan live in conditions of extreme backwardness, and are denied all socio-economic rights and, in the case of GB, constitutional recognition and the most basic political freedoms. For six decades, governments in AJK, which are installed on the commands of the Pakistan Army, have not been able to provide even the most basic necessities to the people. Consequently, the area remains mired in poverty and has been reduced to a playground of the intelligence agencies and jihadi forces. The Government in AJK is virtually a proxy administration appointed by Islamabad. The puppet regime in Muzaffarabad, the capital of AJK, needs permission from those at the helm of affairs in Islamabad on even the most minor administrative issue.
AJK suffers immensely across the socio-economic matrix. For instance, there is not a single institute for technical education – a medical or engineering college – in the region even in this modern age. There is no public or private sector industry worth its name. The common people of the region can only secure employment in demeaning menial occupations in the region, or in the lowest echelons of the service industry in Pakistan. People of ‘Azad Kashmir’ can ordinarily be found working in hotels, or as street hawkers in Pakistan’s large cities, such as Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Gujranwala. The local population derives no benefits whatsoever from the region’s rich forest, mining and water resources. The forests across vast regions have been clear-felled, and the entire wood has been transported to Pakistani markets or has been exported by Pakistani contractors to other countries. The Pakistan Army is also involved in smuggling the timber of thousands of precious Deodar trees, as well as endangered flora and fauna, out of the region, and into Pakistan.
Islamabad’s rulers have also consistently sought to transform the demographic dynamics of the region. According to one report, "As per the 1991 census, residents of ‘Azad Kashmir’ are mostly Sunni Muslim and predominantly Punjabi-speaking, with barely 20 per cent Kashmiris." Similar patterns of demographic destablisation are being engineered in GB. There has been a large scale expropriation of land and residency rights of the indigenous populations in AJK. Further demographic shifts are being engineered, with an aggressive policy of resettlement of the ethnic Hazarawals and Afghans (Pashtuns) in the Neelam Valley, with large tracts of land being allocated to, or bought by, these outsiders, who are liberally provided residency permits. The State has very large mining resources and, for instance, the Neelam Valley has a significant deposit of unique rubies, which are, again, taken into Pakistan, with no benefits accruing to the people of the region or even of the Neelam Valley.
As regards the region’s tremendous water resources, successive Pakistani Governments, whether military or civilian, have left no stone unturned in their plunder. Pakistan is increasing the height of the Mangla Dam without the consent of the people of AJK. Mirpur town was submerged under the Dam, but the electricity generation is done outside AJK, so that all revenue and power generation benefits go to Pakistan. The Pakistani people have obstructed the construction of dams in their own areas [protests that have thwarted the Kalabagh Dam project in Mianwali District, in the Punjab Province, and bordering the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), are a case in point], but the Army can simply trample over the rights and territory of the Kashmiris. The latest example of this continuing oppression is the raising of the height of the Mangla Dam by 30 feet, as a result of which the people of Mirpur will be displaced once again. Pakistan has never paid any royalties for the Mangla Dam project to AJK, nor is their any intention of making such payments in future. As one commentator has noted, Pakistan argues that the construction of Mangla Dam is "a consequence of the 1961 Indus Basin treaty between India and Pakistan with the World Bank acting as guarantor. The Azad Kashmiris, particularly the Mirpuris, argue that water is a Kashmiri natural resource commandeered by the Pakistani state to the disadvantage of Kashmiris."
There are no representative democratic structures in AJK. Pakistan’s ‘hypocrisy about Kashmir' is visible in the very nature of the equations that have been imposed on AJK and its citizens through the 1974 Interim Constitution, which prescribes various limitations for the ‘autonomy' granted to the region.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), "Pakistani officials dominate the Council and major bureaucrats occupy key decision making posts… the Chief Secretary, the Inspector-General of Police, the Accountant General and the Finance Secretary (of the region) come from Pakistan." Indeed, a number of secondary or non-strategic administrative posts also go to Pakistanis, and are increasingly dominated by ex-Army officers. Thus, the current Health Secretary of the State is retired Major General Jehangir Anwar Khan, who, ironically, maintains his offices and permanent residence at Islamabad, and not in the State Capital, Muzzafarabad.
Dissent in AJK has been methodically suppressed by Pakistan over the years. The HRCP, in its report, State of Human Rights in Azad Jammu & Kashmir, in July 2004, noted that "Fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association are often infringed in AJK under various pretences, despite claims to the contrary by the officials." Further, the UNHCR Human Rights Watch World Report 2007, stated:
Since its formation in 1966, the NSF has been struggling for unity and freedom of the whole of Jammu & Kashmir. NSF units, which exist in all the educational institutions in AJK, work to create ideological awareness among the students. The NSF has worked as the avant garde on issues relating to students and the general public, as a result of which many of its cadres have been victims of excesses by Pakistani intelligence agencies. Many have been imprisoned, hundreds have been prosecuted for sedition, and dozens have been killed. Even today, dozens of NSF cadres are in jail.
The socio-political and cultural landscape of the region has been adversely affected since it has been the epicentre of the Kashmir jihad for a long time. Pakistan military intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has set up the puppet headquarters of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) – a group that can have no independent presence in the State – in Muzaffarabad, while all other groups engaged in violence in Indian administered Kashmir, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Al Badr, etc., have camps and offices in the capital and elsewhere in ‘Azad Kashmir’. The Muttahida Jehad Council (MJC), a conglomerate of Pakistan-based jihadi outfits, again run as a proxy of the ISI, also has ‘headquarters’ in Muzaffarabad, though it is incapable of creating or maintaining an independent setup in AJK. The LeT and the JeM, however, while they substantially owe their existence to ISI support, have managed to create a space for themselves in the State, and enjoy at least some support outside the Pakistani establishment and agencies. The principal terrorist training camps still being run in the State belong to the LeT, which has emerged – particularly after the earthquake of October 8, 2005, when state agencies used the LeT to channel much of the relief to affected populations.
The clergy in AJK has always exploited religion to impose the will of the Pakistani secret agencies and the Army, and has always projected the falsehood that any opposition to the Army or its institutions constitutes a threat to Islam. The Kashmiri people have remained silent in this oppression essentially to avert this purported threat and have borne the excesses of Islamabad, and have, in the process, lost not only their fundamental rights, but all rights whatsoever. This exploitation continues, although there is an increasing awareness among the people today, and occasional voices of protest can now be heard against the excesses of the state.
Pakistani intelligence agencies have divided the people of PoK on sectarian lines, and the people live largely under the shadow of insecurity, conflict and violence. Islamist extremists have sought to forcefully impose their perverse notion of Islam on the people of AJK and have, for instance, banned tape recorders and routinely compel people in public places and on public transports to offer namaaz (prayers). Wherever their camps are established, the entry of common people is banned, and the poor people who foraged for forest resources or cut grass in these areas are refused entry. If some people mistakenly enter these areas, they are locked up in the private detention centres maintained by these radical groups.
Conditions changed somewhat after the devastating earthquake of October 2005. A dialogue was established between Pakistan and India, after which the activities of the jihadi groups were somewhat limited. The freedom with which their units moved around in the streets of Muzaffarabad and other parts of AJK has undergone relative curtailment. However, their camps remain in place, and their activities continue. The European Parliament Report, Kashmir: Present Situation and Future Prospects (Rapporteur: Baroness Emma Nicholson, May 2007) stated that "activities of constantly mutating AJK-based terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harakat ul-Mujahedeen have caused hundreds of deaths in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and beyond." The region, it said was, "where fundamental institutions and regional stability have been constantly undermined by organised crime and infiltration across the LoC [Line of Control] by radical Islamist networks exploiting the rugged terrain." While the report laments the "continuing political and humanitarian situation in all four parts of Jammu and Kashmir, it draws particular attention to the democratic deficit in AJK and Gilgit and Baltistan, where, regrettably, Pakistan has consistently failed to fulfil its obligations to introduce meaningful and representative democratic structures."
After the 2005 earthquake, the Pakistani media projected one of the many jihadi groups, the LeT, as a messiah for the affected populations. The leaders of the LeT, who often have the title ‘Abu’ prefixed to their names, used the generous relief aid to accumulate great personal wealth and many of them in fact entered into multiple marriages as a result of their sudden prosperity. Every LeT leader now has at least four wives, and the ‘Abus’ receive allowances for wives, children, house and travel. Even before the earthquake, these groups maintained schools, colleges, hospitals and workshops, but after the earthquake and the generous relief funding to the tune of billions of rupees, the jihadis have opened their institutional complexes, hospitals and madrassas (seminaries) in Muzaffarabad, and these have become places where the common people are subjected to extortion. Such hospitals, constructed on relief funding, do not even offer free treatment. Shavia Nallah, the LeT hospital built on relief funding, has been constructed on a public park, and the adjoining private properties have also been forcibly occupied by the group. When some opposition was generated, LeT militants shot at and wounded one of the local youth. The hospital was eventually set ablaze by the enraged mob on June 11, 2007.
Incipient protests, such as the Long March of August 2007, at best bring the harsh conditions under which the people of PoK live, to the attention of the global community. Regrettably, such attention has been limited, and the free rein that Pakistan enjoys over these regions and its populations, remains largely unaffected by such fleeting interest. It is in the shadow of international neglect that the rights of the people of AJK and of GB have been systematically violated, and a tyrannical order has persisted for over 60 years.
The military bosses of Northeast India’s most potent separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), have clearly come in the line of fire of Security Forces (SFs) engaged in counter-insurgency operations. The ease with which the Assam Police, on September 17, 2007, captured Prabal Neog, the 43-year-old ‘commander’ of the ULFA’s dreaded ‘28th battalion’, fancifully called the ‘Kashmir Camp’, is a case in point. Neog was apprehended along with his wife and son, near Tezpur in the Sonitpur District, 180 kilometres north of Assam’s capital, Guwahati. This was, at once, a ‘prize catch’ and an easy one, and there lies the irony.
The entire security establishment agrees that the ‘28th battalion’ is the core strike force of the ULFA and is, by itself, a power-centre within the rebel group. This is largely because it is the only unit, among the ULFA’s four so-called ‘battalions’, that is not dependent on Bangladesh for refuge, to escape the counter-insurgency heat. The ‘28th battalion’ has remained active in the Assamese heartland of eastern Assam, in the Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar Districts, and has staging areas in the dense jungles of Arunachal Pradesh, in addition to bases in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division, across the village of Mynakshu, in the Mon District of Nagaland.
The ‘commander’ of the ‘28th battallion’ is, consequently, the ULFA’s most powerful military leader actually directing operations in Assam. Prabal Neog (real name Benu Bora), has risen from the ranks, having joined the group way back in 1989, and received arms training in Assam and Myanmar. In recent months, it was Neog who was believed to have planned and executed the massacre of more than 100 Hindi-speaking migrants across eastern and southern Assam. It was Neog’s crack hit-squads that had targeted these poor migrants, who were drawn mostly from the Bihar State. As a unit that is regarded as the ‘life blood’ of the ULFA, its commanders are obviously expected to be close to the group’s military chief Paresh Baruah.
It is, indeed, surprising how such an important rebel commander – personally in charge of up to 600 men of the ‘28th battalion’ – fell so easily into the police dragnet. How is it that he was traveling in a car with his wife Purabi, a former ULFA militant, and son Rajdeep, with a sense of near impunity? This was not the first time that a ‘commander’ of the ‘28th battalion’ has been trapped by the SFs. A little over a year ago, on May 18, 2006, the then ‘28th battalion’ ‘commander’, Mrinal Hazarika alias Plaban Phukan and three other ULFA militants were nabbed by the Police from two different hotels in West Bengal’s Siliguri town. An active satellite phone, two regular mobiles bearing Guwahati numbers and a 9 mm pistol loaded with two rounds of live bullets were seized from them.
The ease with which the ‘commanders’ of this most potent ULFA fighting unit have fallen into the security dragnet has given rise to speculation over whether internecine feuds within the ‘28th battalion’ are behind these surprise detentions. Immediately after Neog’s arrest, reports were doing the rounds that a prominent company commander of the ‘28th battalion’, Jiten Dutta, was actually keen on assuming the top post. Questions are now being raised on whether someone from within the unit tipped off the SFs regarding Neog’s travel plans. Apparently, Neog had also lost faith with a section of the ULFA leadership over his stand against Bangladeshi infiltrators, contrary to the silence among most of the group’s leaders on this, Assam’s most talked-about subject. In the absence of confirmation from sources within ULFA, these inferences will remain mere conjectures.
Irrespective of what the internal scenario within the ULFA, the fact remains that the Army’s 2nd Mountain Division, based in Dibrugarh District and responsible for counter-insurgency operations in eastern Assam and up to 20 kilometres inside Arunachal Pradesh, has gone hammer and tongs against the ‘28th battalion.’ Since September 24, 2006—when a temporary truce between the authorities and the ULFA ended—until September 19, 2007, soldiers from the 2nd Mountain Division have killed 51 ULFA militants and captured 95 others. 31 rebels from the group have also surrendered. A senior Army officer told this writer:
What is important to note here is that more than 90 per cent of the militants who have been neutralized, according to Army sources, belong to the ‘28th battalion.’
The Army’s determined pursuit of the ‘28th battalion’ is demonstrated by the fact that, on Independence Day 2007, the 2nd Mountain Division created history by bagging a total of 89 awards, including one Kirti Chakra (Lt. Pankaj Kumar, 7/11 Gorkha Rifles) and three Shaurya Chakras. It is remarkable that, besides normal military means, the Army is also trying to get locals on its side. In eastern Assam, for instance, the Army has a budget of more than INR 20 million for certain social welfare programmes under what it calls Operation Sadbhavna (Goodwill) and Operation Jugajog (Contact).
What counter-insurgency strategists perhaps envisage is a weakening of the ULFA by hitting at the very core of its fighting capabilities to create conditions within which the Government can initiate peace talks with the rebel group from a position of strength. This is not a particularly new strategy or something that has not been tried time and again in the country’s theatres of insurgency. What appears to be new, however, is the focused manner with which the SFs, particularly the Army, are pushing ahead to choke off the cadres of the ‘28th battalion.’ In recent months, the Army has put enough pressure on the outfit in the Tirap and Changlang Districts of Arunachal Pradesh, a favoured rebel transit route on their way to Myanmar. Now, the rebels are being forced to take a circuitous route from Myanmar to enter Assam, through Tizit in Nagaland. Moreover, the medicine supply lines to ULFA camps are said to have been snapped by the Army, causing major problems for the rebels in the malaria-prone jungles.
Does this mean that this is the beginning of the end of ULFA’s strike potential? The honest answer must be a straight no. The ULFA has repeatedly demonstrated tremendous capacities to resurrect itself from such crises. The manner in which the group sprang back to life after the reverses it faced in the wake of the Bhutanese military blitzkrieg in December 2003 is a case in point. Though it is ‘advantage SFs’ in Assam, as of now, there is no room for complacency.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
July 17-23, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Top Maoist leader arrested in Bihar: On September 19, the Bihar police arrested a senior Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) leader, Tushar Kant Bhattacharya, and his accomplice, Umeshji, from a rented house at Dujra locality in capital Patna. A huge quantity of Maoist literature, explosives, a pen drive and training equipment were recovered from Tushar who has been staying in Patna for the past two months. Tushar has been accused in a number of murder cases in the Karimnagar, Prakasam and Adilabad Districts of Andhra Pradesh between 1974 and 1980. He is reported to be heading the CPI-Maoist’s Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and North Bihar units. He was also a member of the ‘international department’ of the South Asian Forum of Naxalite (left-wing extremist) organisations. Inspector General of Police, S. K. Bharadwaj disclosed: "We have informed the Police of the three States about his arrest and Police officials concerned and some officials from the Union Home Ministry are expected to arrive here to interrogate the arrested Naxal leader". Tushar was later produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate who remanded him to judicial custody for 14 days. Times of India; Patna Daily, September 20, 2007.
Senior ULFA commander arrested: Prabal Neog, commander of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)’s Myanmar-based ‘28th battalion’ was arrested along with his wife, also a cadre of the outfit, and child, at Tezpur in Assam's Sonitpur District on September 17. Neog’s ‘battalion’ was responsible for the outfit's operations in Upper Assam Districts and the killings of Hindi-speaking people in the State. Neog was also the mastermind behind most of the major bomb blasts in the twin Districts of Tinsukia and Dibrugarh. Neog was on his way to Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh from the Karbi Anglong District of Assam NDTV, September 17, 2007.
Government not to announce unilateral cease-fire during Ramzan in Jammu and Kashmir: Defence Minister A. K. Antony, while addressing a conference of Coast Guard commanders in New Delhi on September 19, said the Union Government would not go for a unilateral cease-fire in Jammu and Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan unless there was an offer for a cease-fire from terrorist groups. "We cannot decide unilaterally. It depends on them (militant groups) as well," the Minister stated. Certain political parties in the State had requested the Union Government to announce a cease-fire during the holy month. Security agencies opposed the move on grounds that truces during this period in the past were used by terrorists to regroup. PTI; Kashmir Times, September 20, 2007.
Maoists quit government: The Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-M) quit the Government as the eight-party leaders failed to create a consensus on its demands on September 18. Four senior Maoist ministers submitted their resignation letters to the Prime Minister (PM) Girija Prasad Koirala, soon after the meeting ended in a deadlock. The PM had rejected two key demands of the Maoists: the announcement of Republic before the elections and a proportional representation election system. Addressing a mass rally, the Maoist ‘second-in-command’, Baburam Bhattarai, said, "Our efforts to declare republic from the Parliament has failed. Now we will declare republic from the streets. Therefore, we have decided to come in the midst of the people." He also rejected the code of ethics and election schedule announced by the Election Commission and said "We will struggle for the purpose of having real elections, not this hypocritical drama." Subsequently, Maoists announced a nationwide protest movement which includes a door-to-door public awareness campaign, rallies, demonstrations and strikes. The street agitations, according to Bhattarai, will be peaceful, and the People's Liberation Army will remain in cantonments. Nepal News, September 19, 2007.
129 security force personnel killed in suicide attacks since January 2007: As many as 129 personnel of the Pakistan Army, Frontier Constabulary (FC) and 56 policemen were killed in 22 suicide attacks in nine months since January 2007. According to an Interior Ministry report on suicide attacks, 51 suicide attacks took place since January 2007 till September 17, in which 14 attacks targeted military personnel, four targeted the FC, four targeted the Police, while the remaining 29 targeted the civilian population. The report said that the Lal Masjid military operation in July 2007 had caused an increase in suicide attacks on Army and Paramilitary Forces. According to the report, the deadliest attack on the Pakistan Army was conducted on September 14 in Tarbela Ghazi, in which a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the Army mess, killing 16 personnel of the Special Services Group. It is for the first time in military history that militants targeted the elite force of Pakistan Army and that too in a highly secure and fortified military base. The report also reveals that the military was mostly targeted in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas. Mir Ali, Miran Shah and Tank remained the most favoured targets of suicide bombers. During the period in question three suicide attacks also took place in the Punjab targeting the Army. The first attack was conducted in Kharian Cantonment on March 29 and the second and third in Rawalpindi on September 4. According to the report, 56 Police personnel died in four suicide bombings during this period. The deadliest attack on the Police was carried out in Qissa Khawani Bazaar, Peshawar, on January 27, during the holy month, killing 12 police officials, including a Deputy Inspector General of police. Daily Times, September 21, 2007.
Osama bin Laden declares war on President Musharraf: The al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has vowed to retaliate against ‘infidel’ President Pervez Musharraf for the killing of Lal Masjid cleric Ghazi Abdul Rashid, US Websites said on September 20. "We in al Qaeda call on God to witness that we will retaliate for the blood of Ghazi and those with him against Musharraf and those who help him," a Website quoted Laden as saying. In another video, al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri warned that General Musharraf would be ‘punished’ for Ghazi’s killing. He also called on Muslims to fight the US and its allies around the world. "Let the Pakistan Army know that the killing of Ghazi and the demolition of his mosque have soaked the history of the Pakistani Army in shame... which can only be washed away by retaliation against the killers of Ghazi," he said. Daily Times, September 21, 2007.
Eradication of terrorism only path to peace, says Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa: Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said in Trincomalee on September 17 that the country can achieve permanent peace only through defeating terrorism "100 per cent militarily". "We cannot establish permanent peace in the country by winning only half or two thirds of the war against terrorism," he said, adding that President Mahinda Rajapakse cannot implement the desired political solution for the North and East conflicts unless the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorism was defeated 100 per cent. He reiterated that LTTE terrorism can be defeated by military means and the security forces (SFs) are committed to achieve that task without passing the burden of war to the next generation. He stressed that the SFs have now been able to confine the LTTE terrorism and its leader Prabhakaran only to the Wanni area, with the liberation of the East, adding, "If we are aware that LTTE terrorism exists only in the Wanni there is no hesitation on our part about the next step." Daily News, September 18, 2007.
LTTE fighting a defensive war: On September 19, LTTE political wing leader S.P. Thamilchelvan said that his outfit is fighting only a defensive war. In an interview with Tamil Net he said, "Without caring for International policies and passive requests, the Government of Sri Lanka is continuing its genocidal war against the Tamil people. The concerns raised by the International Community have failed to make any dent on the ethnic cleansing by Colombo Government which has proved itself a terrorist-state. Some International Governments, without understanding realities, give aid to the deceitful purposes of the Sinhala Government, which will only escalate the island's ethnic conflict to hitherto unseen heights." He added, further, "The LTTE is maintaining patience and still restricting itself to a defensive war. By doing so, it wishes the International Community to realize the futility of achieving peace by dealing with such a Government." Tamil Net, September 20, 2007.