SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Respite for Musharraf
It is now almost certain that Pakistan’s destiny as a nation will remain captive to President Pervez Musharraf, with or without his uniform. Musharraf heaved a sigh of relief on September 28, 2007, after the Supreme Court judgment dismissed the Opposition’s petitions on the dual office issue, clearing the way for him to contest the October 6 election to the nation’s highest office while remaining the Army Chief.
A nine-member bench of the Supreme Court dismissed six similar constitutional petitions (filed by Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan and others) challenging the holding of two offices by President General Pervez Musharraf and his candidature for re-election in uniform, declaring them "not maintainable". The 6-3 majority verdict "did not touch upon the substance of the petitions. Nor did the Bench make any observation on the recent changes to the election rules made by the Election Commissioner, favouring President Musharraf." The verdict simply maintained that the "petitions, which pleaded for the Court’s intervention since an issue of public importance relating to fundamental rights was involved, could not be maintained on these grounds." The short order read:
In a certain sense, this is a complete reversal of the more recently manifested independence of the judiciary and the assumed political role of the highest court of justice. Legal analysts opined that the Court did not discern the "substance of the petitions" since it was badly divided and may have also wanted to avoid any plausible confrontation with the military regime. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, one of the petitioners, "had earlier declared to the Press that the opposition parties have reservations regarding the attitude of the judges who, he feels, have been compromised and are under Government pressure."
Despite this ‘technical victory’, Musharraf is not yet out of the woods. A fair amount of uncertainty still exists with regard to the course of the rapidly changing political process. Moreover, he must also fulfil the promise he made to the Supreme Court that "if elected" he would doff his uniform before taking a fresh oath of office.
However, the processes of elections, et al, do not change the fundamentals of the troubled situation in Pakistan. Irrespective of the configuration of the political formation that would assume power once the Presidential elections and the various ongoing ‘deals’ with political parties – including exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), there is no real transformation since the military would remain at the helm of affairs and the flag of extremist Islam would continue to flail vigorously across Pakistan, even as the state gradually withers away.
Nevertheless, escalating crises are immediately at hand, among them, the issue of a failing Musharraf’s grip on the Army after he doffs his uniform. What would be the contours and powers of a civilian presidency? Would the Army’s power-play undergo a radical shift after Musharraf relinquishes direct command? Reports indicate that General Musharraf has already appointed loyalists to key posts in the Army and reshuffled the hierarchy before his promised resignation (a commitment he has made to the Supreme Court, not to mention his wider public commitment and assurances to the American leadership) from the post of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). The significant among these new appointments is that of Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj as Director-General of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Once considered "General Musharraf’s eyes and ears as head of the Military Intelligence," Taj, as a Brigadier, was also Musharraf’s military secretary during the 1999 coup. He succeeded Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, who is widely believed to be a possible successor to Musharraf as Army Chief. Maj. Gen. Mohsin Kamal has been appointed as Corps Commander of Rawalpindi, a key post historically connected directly to the trajectory of power in Islamabad and the succession of coups the country has experienced. Kamal replaced Lt. Gen. Tariq Majid, another possible successor to Musharraf as COAS. Further, Musharraf promoted six top commanders to the rank of Lieutenant General. In combination, these various moves are obviously designed to ensure continued control of the Armed Forces after he assumes the identity of a ‘civilian President’, eight years after he ousted Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup.
Amidst a fair amount of speculation on the ‘transition’ to a civilian presidency, it is crucial to note that General Musharraf, "during his six-day-long discussions [in July 2007] with his top military aides in Rawalpindi after the restoration of the Chief Justice, is said to have been advised by his then Corps commanders that the best thing for him to do is to seek an "honourable exit"."
Meanwhile, with narratives of a crisis-ridden presidential election escalating, the diffusion of turmoil across the length and breadth of the country and the intensification of its multiple insurgencies shows no signs of abating. Indeed, "the growth and resurgence of emboldened extremists continues to form a dangerous backdrop to power jockeying in Islamabad."
In a welter of violence, at least 1,896 people, including 655 civilians, 354 security force (SF) personnel and 887 terrorists, have died in 2007 (till September 30). This adds to the 1,471 persons, including 608 civilians and 325 SF personnel, who died in terrorism/insurgency-related violence in Pakistan during year 2006. Crucially, the 2006 level already reflected well over a doubling in fatalities since 2005, when a total of 648 persons (including 430 civilians and 81 SF personnel) were killed in insurgent and terrorist conflicts. Large and widening tracts of Pakistan are now clearly violence-afflicted with an extended array of anti-state actors engaging in varying degrees of armed activity and subversion. A cursory look at the map indicates that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan are witnessing large-scale violence. Islamist extremist activities in parts of the Sindh and Punjab provinces have brought these areas under the security scanner as well. The writ of the military regime under General Musharraf is currently being vehemently challenged – violently or otherwise – across wide geographical areas, on a multiplicity of issues, and with the troubles reaching into the heart of Islamabad and Rawalpindi as well.
The magnitude of Pakistan’ slide into anarchy is best illustrated in the fact that between March 22, 2002 (the first suicide attack) and 2006, there were 22 suicide attacks and just in 2007 (till September 28), there have already been 41 of them. In the past three months, the fidayeen have unceasingly targeted Army convoys and check-posts, police stations and training units, government officials, restaurants and mosques. Another indication of the state collapse is visible in the fact that a small group of approximately 20 militants captured at least 280 soldiers, including a colonel and nine officers, after intercepting a military convoy in the Momi Karam area of Luddah subdivision in South Waziristan on August 30, 2007. Not a single bullet was reportedly fired by the soldiers. At the time of writing, the soldiers were still being held hostage.
A more dangerous facet of this escalating instability is that processes of radicalisation have been strengthened immensely under the Musharraf regime. The NWFP has swiftly crystallized as the core of Islamist militant mobilisation in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region even as radical Islamists rapidly expand their presence across the other Provinces. It is significant that the NWFP is a region where the state’s presence has been relatively strong in the past, and the situation has never been even remotely comparable to the traditionally ungoverned FATA. A comprehensive failure to control the widening insurgencies, sectarian strife and Islamist terrorist violence, now envelope large swathes of Pakistan.
Evidently, Pakistan’s problems will not vanish with the October 6 ballot and General Musharraf’s almost certain re-election as President. The state of play across Pakistan continues to remain critical, and a ‘civilian presidency’ or an ‘elected’ civilian Government in the immediate future will not only continue to face problems ensuing from processes of radicalisation and the retreat of state, but may well be part of the circumstances resulting in their acceleration. Irrespective of the dramatis personae, Pakistan will continue to remain the "epicentre of global instability", and its unfortunate reality is that every new ‘solution’ will bring with it new and potentially greater problems.
No Scope for Smugness
Considering the fact that only six of the State’s 35 Districts are affected by Left Wing extremism (LWE), Maharashtra has, over the years, registered a significant number of extremist incidents and related fatalities. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), incidents of Maoist violence in Maharashtra rose from 75 in 2003 to 84 in 2004, to a further 94 in 2005 and 98 in 2006. Related fatalities were 40, 17, 56 and 61 in the corresponding years. 16 fatalities were reported in 58 incidents in the first six months of 2007. Whereas the MHA designates Maharashtra as one of the States where LWE has been kept under control, these figures, at least for 2007, are certainly comparable with the States like Orissa where the problem is present in 22 Districts out of a total 30. Between January and June 2007, Orissa registered 17 fatalities in 45 incidents. Similarly, Andhra Pradesh, where all 23 Districts of the State are affected, though strong Police action has brought the problem down to a low scale, registered 61 incidents and 40 deaths in the first six months of 2007.
All the six LWE affected Districts in Maharashtra (Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Bhandara, Gondia, Yavatmal and Nanded) are located in the eastern part of the State, in the economically backward Vidarbha region, sharing borders with Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Geographical contiguity with, and the ‘spill over’ from, the Maoist affected Districts of Adilabad, Karimnagar and Nizamabad in Andhra Pradesh, as well as Rajnandgaon, Bastar, Kanker and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, have been described as the principal reason for the extremism in Maharashtra.
The Maoists have also exploited the geographical conditions and terrain of these Districts for their activities. According to the Maharashtra State Forest Department, 47.08 per cent of the total area in Gondia District is designated as 'forest'; in Gadchiroli the forest area is 90.96 per cent; in Bhandara, 45.58 per cent; in Chandrapur, 46.69 per cent; in Yavatmal, 27.35 per cent; and in Nanded, 11.35 per cent. The scheduled tribe population – populations that have been highly vulnerable to Maoist mobilization – in these Districts is also comparatively higher. With the State tribal percentage at 8.8 per cent, Gadchiroli's tribal population is 38.3 per cent; Yavatmal, 19.2 per cent; Chandrapur, 18.11 per cent; Gondia, 18 per cent; Nanded, 8.8 per cent; and Bhandara, 8.6 per cent.
Given the existing challenge, the Maharashtra Police, especially its Anti-Naxal Cell overseeing counter-Maoist operations, has claimed to have secured several successes in the recent past. Arrests and surrenders of the CPI-Maoist cadres are said to have been a major accomplishment of the Anti-Naxal Cell. Some of the incidents in which Maoist cadres were neutralised in just 2007 include:
The Maharashtra Police have also claimed to have curtailed the flow of cadres to Maoist ranks. Maoist recruitment in both Gadchiroli and Chandrapur Districts is said to have been drastically reduced, forcing the outfit to wind up several of its dalams (armed squads) in the Gadchiroli and Gondia Districts by June 2007 and shifting the existing cadres into Chhattisgarh. The dalams that have folded up include the Gamini, Kotagaon, Dhanora and Jimmalgatta.
Nevertheless, the Maoists have carried out attacks targeting not only State Police personnel, Government offices and infrastructures, but have also carried out a campaign against ‘police informers’ and their own surrendered colleagues. In the first three months of 2007, at least eight surrendered Maoists were killed by their former comrades in Gadchiroli, Gondia and Chandrapur Districts. At least four incidents of suspected police informers being killed by the Maoists have been reported from Gadchiroli District in 2007 (till end-September).
Police ‘successes’ have, in fact, been largely incidental, and the State’s anti-Maoist policy suffers from several drawbacks. Each of these existing loopholes has the potential of allowing the Maoists to regain their lost bases.
Among the State’s initiatives is the Gaonbandi (no entry to the villages) scheme that has been implemented since 2003, to prevent the Maoists from exploiting, mobilizing and recruiting the villagers. As part of the Scheme, any local village body or panchayat passing a resolution barring entry to the Maoists, is provided with INR 200,000, to be paid in two instalments. Regrettably, the implementation of the Scheme has been far from adequate. Till the end of 2006, only 112 of the total of 324 Gaonbandi villages (villages that had banned Maoist entry) had been given the assured funds. Of these, only 73 villages received the full amount of INR 200,000. In November 2006, the Maharashtra Government increased the reward amount to INR 300,000, to be paid in one instalment. However, the Scheme continues to be marred by a poor record of disbursement of the promised funds.
The State Police’s surrender scheme, introduced on August 29, 2005, has also faced problems of fund shortage. The policy offers INR 200,000 for a dalam commander, INR 100,000 for his deputy, INR 75,000 for dalam members, and INR 40,000 to INR 5,000 to lower rank cadres who surrender. The State Government had initially decided to keep aside INR 50 million for the scheme, only to withdraw this amount, asking the perennially cash-strapped Police department to meet the expenses from its regular fund. By February 2007, Maharashtra Police chief, P. S. Pasricha, was expressing concerns about the shortage of funds and its negative impact on the surrender policy.
Similarly, little success appears to have achieved in terms of disrupting the Maoist network that has targeted the forest areas in the Vidarbha region through any State scheme to deliver financial benefits. Way back in December 2000, deposing before the Estimates Committee of the State Legislature, then Principal Secretary (Home) M.R. Patil had stated that forest contractors, tendu leaf (leaves of diospyros melonoxylon used for rolling bidis) traders and local businessmen in the Maoist -affected areas of Maharashtra were being forced to fund the extremists in the State out of fear. According to State Police officials, Gadchiroli District alone, had been coughing up nearly INR 140 million every year from the trade in tendu leaves and bamboo produce. Of late, teakwood smuggling from Gadchiroli forests had overtaken extortion from tendu leaf and bamboo contractors, as the prime venture for Maoist resource generation. The largest proportion of this trade reportedly occurs on the banks of the Godavari River, along the Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh border in south Gadchiroli. Money passing into Maoist coffers ranges between INR 200 to 500 for a 3.70 metre-long plank of teakwood.
The orientation of the anti-Maoist strategy in Maharashtra appears to be prejudiced heavily towards containing the violent potential of the outfit. Accordingly, the Maharashtra Police have invested substantially on augmenting the fighting capabilities of its force. At the forefront of anti-Maoist operations in the Vidarbha region is a Special Action Group (SAG) of 300 specially trained Armed Police personnel, raised in 2006 on the lines of the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh. Trained at the Unconventional Operations Training Centre (UOTC) at Hingana on the outskirts of Nagpur, SAG personnel have been deployed in Gadchiroli, Gondia and Bhandara Districts.
The Maharashtra Police can rightly take credit for having contained Maoist violence within manageable limits, but there appears to be a bigger challenge at hand: countering the emerging Maoist potential to carry out urban operations. Three arrests in 2007 have brought this tactic into the open, as the Maoists consolidate capacities in urban centres to station their propaganda units and middle and senior level strategists.
Maoist mobilisation and networks have long been suspected in Maharashtra’s urban centres, including Nashik, Pune and State Capital Mumbai. A large number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in these urban areas are believed to be funding and otherwise supporting the Maoists. In 2006, the State intelligence department had blacklisted 59 such Mumbai-based NGOs. Nevertheless, Maoist consolidation in urban Maharashtra is believed to be continuing apace, with the Police handicapped by a wide range of legal and constitutional constraints that prohibit significant action against over-ground collaborators, and a conscious effort on the part of the Maoists to exploit every available democratic loophole.
Operational successes by the Police are, no doubt, significant. Much more will, however, be needed in terms of a strategy of containment and defence against the creeping Maoist consolidation in widening areas of the State, and to plug the unique vulnerabilities of a democratic system, compounded by the structural infirmities and lack of resources committed to policing in the State, and across the country. The recent Police ‘successes’ provide little grounds for the euphoric statements that followed, and the Maoists challenge can be expected to hang heavy over Maharashtra for some time to come.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
September 24-30, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Eight districts in four States selected for "strong' anti-Naxal action": The Union Government has selected eight districts - two each in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa - for launching a "strong anti-Naxalite action." The selection of districts was made on the basis of violence levels and other considerations like contiguity, geographical location and topographical condition. A decision to this effect was taken in the wake of a National Security Council meeting in August 2007 to review the Naxalite (left-wing extremist) situation. Times of India, September 27, 2007.
Security situation poor ahead of polls', says parliamentary panel: A top parliamentary panel tasked to review the security situation in Nepal ahead of the November 22 elections expressed concern at the prevailing law and order situation on September 30, terming it "poor" and inadequate for the successful conduct of the democratic exercise. The interim parliament's Constituent Assembly Elections Management and Monitoring Special Committee (CAEMMSC) advised the Government to increase the deployment of Nepal Police and the Armed Police Force throughout the country as the security situation was poor in the district for the elections. The monitoring panel's report stated that politicians were afraid to conduct their political activities outside the district headquarters due to the frail security situation in the country. Stating that law and order remains the main challenge ahead of the elections, the report urged the Government to pay special attention to control cross-border criminal activities in the districts in the Terai plains bordering India. Separate parliamentary panels had recently assessed the security situation in the country. After compiling the findings of the parliamentary teams, the special House committee chaired by Speaker Subash Nemwang held a meeting on September 30 to release its report. The special parliamentary team, led by the chief whips of the ruling parties, has been monitoring the security situation in all the five regions of Nepal. www.hindu.com, September 30, 2007. Hindu, September 30, 2007.
President Musharraf can contest election while being Army chief, says Supreme Court: The Supreme Court on September 28, 2007, cleared the way for President Pervez Musharraf to contest the October 6 presidential election while remaining Army chief, by dismissing as "non-maintainable" all petitions challenging his eligibility. The 6-3 majority verdict of the nine-judge Bench did not, however, touch upon the substance of the petitions. Nor did the Bench make any observation on the recent changes to the election rules made by the Election Commissioner, favouring President Musharraf. The verdict said the petitions, which pleaded for the court’s intervention as an issue of public importance relating to fundamental rights was involved, could not be maintained on these grounds. Among the three dissenting judges was Rana Bhagwandas, who headed the Bench. The Opposition parties and the legal community denounced the verdict, and called into question the independence of the judiciary. However, the Attorney-General, Malik Qayyum, denied that there was any government pressure on the Bench and reiterated that President Musharraf would step down as Army chief after his election. The Hindu, September 29, 2007.
LTTE has lost 60 percent territory during the last two years, says Army chief: The Army chief Sarath Fonseka stated on September 26, 2007, that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have lost 60 percent of the territory they controlled in the Northern and Eastern provinces during the last two years. "We have killed over 3000 of their cadres in our humanitarian operations while another 1000 of them had been injured," Fonseka disclosed. He also informed that the LTTE still possess a large amount of weapons and ammunition as they had amassed them during the start of the cease-fire period between 2002 and 2004. Xinhuanet, September 27, 2007.