SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The little credibility that President Pervez Musharraf’s regime had, both domestically and internationally, appears to be rapidly fading in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Conspiracy theories now abound in Pakistan, and most are willing to lay the responsibility for the former Prime Minister’s death on acts of omission or commission by Government agencies, particularly the malevolent Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with its abiding linkages to the Islamist terrorist forces it created in the country over the past decades.
Apart from the contradictions emerging in the official descriptive of the circumstances of death, a succession of disclosures relating to denial of security even after the devastating suicide bombing of October 18, in which Bhutto narrowly escaped assassination, and revelations that Bhutto had actively been blocked from hiring her own guards, appear to substantially establish the regime’s mala fides. Contradictions are also appearing in the Government’s quick attribution of the assassination to Baitullah Mehsud, the ‘commander’ of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and to al Qaeda. Both organisations have denied involvement in the attack, and there is certainly something suspect in the steady build-up in preceding months of the alleged threat from Mehsud, who, it was claimed, had warned that Bhutto would be killed if she returned to Pakistan. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) spokesperson, Farhatullah Babar, has now indicated that Mehsud had sent ‘reliable emissaries’ to Bhutto at least twice after the October 18 bombing, to reassure her that "I am not your enemy, I have nothing to do with you or against you or with the assassination attempt on you", and had exhorted her to "Identify your enemy". Musharraf’s stock in Washington has certainly declined after this incident – though the blind strategists at the White House would probably incline to clutch desperately at the ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA) thesis and continue to back Musharraf in the immediate future. A number of prominent Western leaders, including more than one US Presidential candidate, has held the Musharraf regime ‘directly or indirectly’ responsible for Bhutto’s assassination, with Hillary Clinton calling for an international probe into the incident, arguing, "I don't think the Pakistani Government at this time under Musharraf has any credibility at all."
Within the murky circumstances that currently prevail in Pakistan, it is doubtful if the truth about the Bhutto assassination will ever be conclusively established. What is certain, however, is that every conceivable protocol for the protection of an individual in the highest category of terrorist threat – as Bhutto, a former Prime Minister and a Prime Ministerial candidate at the time of her death, must have been, certainly after the October 18 attempt on her life – was breached. It is important to recognize that it is not necessary for security agencies to have directly engineered the assassination – simply and wilfully to ‘look the other way’ for a few moments would be an act of sufficient complicity to have ensured the success of the suicide attack. Bhutto’s assassination demonstrates beyond doubt that the Army’s (and/or its intelligence agency’s) capacity to terminate the emergence of any democratic leadership in the country – however discredited or incipient – through acts of omission or commission, is absolute.
It is useful to acknowledge, nevertheless, that Musharraf has domestically been infinitely weakened by this assassination and the rioting which followed (which claimed 47 lives, principally in Police firing in Sindh). The assassination itself reflects a measure of loss of control, and the ‘military strongman’ (retirement from the Army notwithstanding, he retains full military support) appears far from strong. Worse, the assassination has brought together various democratic formations – including the PPP and the Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) – in an opportunistic alliance that is now seeking ‘vengeance’ through the electoral process. At a different time, this scenario would be a necessary prelude to the ‘restoration’ – albeit temporary – of ‘democracy’ in Pakistan, with the Army once again withdrawing into the wings.
This, however, does not appear to be much of a possibility under present circumstances. Whatever Musharraf’s fate, the centrality of the Army, and the imposition of no more than a puppet ‘democratic’ Government – not very different from the Shaukat Aziz-led administration, irrespective of leadership – will remain the reality of Pakistan’s future. Democratic forces in Pakistan are far too week to exercise direct control over the Army and, more significantly, with the continuous escalation of the scale of terrorism and insurgency in the country, the principal function of the Government in the foreseeable future will remain security and law and order administration.
A tremendous myth had been generated over the past months regarding the imminent restoration of ‘democracy’ in Pakistan – with Benazir Bhutto projected as the great liberal hope. This was arrant nonsense. Bhutto was a discredited, demonstrably inept, compromised and corrupt leader, one who had been directly involved in the creation of and support to the Taliban, and who actively supported the terrorist ‘jehad’ in Indian Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in her earlier tenures as Prime Minister. She was returning to Pakistan under a US-brokered deal to participate in an election that was already being pre-rigged in her favour (through the selective exclusion of a number of leaders, including Nawaz Sharif, by a puppet Election Commission which had ‘rejected’ their candidature on criteria that should have made Bhutto’s participation impossible as well). The principal objective of this election was not the ‘restoration’ of a viable and meaningful democracy, but the legitimization of the Musharraf dictatorship through the fig-leaf of a ‘civilian government’ which would have exercised no more than nominal powers, essentially at the pleasure of the President.
None of this has changed, and any electoral process in the foreseeable future would secure essentially the same objective – irrespective of the identity of the ‘Prime Minister’ or the Party that would be catapulted to dubious ‘power’. This is the reality behind the myths, both, of Bhutto’s return to, and assassination in, Pakistan: neither event could have any significant impact on the perverse equations of power that prevail on the ground. America’s feeble and tardy meddling in Pakistan has no real potential to restore meaningful democracy, as the state remains torn between two principal adversaries: an overwhelmingly powerful, but steadily weakening Army; and the radical Islamists, with their own reserve armies of suicide bombers and augmenting capacities for terrorism.
The tyranny of the sensational and the immediate tends to mask the ponderous, tectonic, shifts in power that are wrenching Pakistan apart. The reality is that no conceivable external intervention, no ‘feeble meddling’, can now define or significantly alter the trajectory of events in Pakistan, certainly in the near term. An internal dynamic has become entrenched and will prevail in all major developments. The residual strengths of the Pakistani state – principally its Army – are considerable, and the eventual outcome is not something that will occur in the weeks or months. Nevertheless, the steady erosion of power, and the attritional and centrifugal impetus that events have now attained, appear inescapable. It is only the improbable and radical reinvention of Pakistani politics and, crucially, the Pakistani military-intelligence complex, that can secure an outcome that can evade the destructive dynamic of extremist Islamisation, the subversion of state institutions and mounting violence. It is not within the capacity of any external power to engineer this ‘turnaround’.
This needs urgently to be recognized by the global community – but most significantly by the US and by India. A grave crisis threatens the region and the world, in the event of the progressive collapse of state power in Pakistan, the cumulative augmentation of areas of jehadi autonomy and influence (both within and outside state structures) or the takeover of the state by radical Islamist elements (again, both within or outside state structures). These eventualities yield two principal strategic challenges: the containment of the inevitable terrorist fallout and overflow across the region, and probably across the globe; and the neutralisation of Pakistan’s nuclear assets and the prevention of their leakage or lapse into the hands of radical Islamist elements or a radical Islamist Pakistani state.
It is abundantly clear that India, the US and the world, far from being prepared for these eventualities, continue to wilfully ignore their rising probabilities. It is, of course, all very well to hope that a miracle will abruptly pull Pakistan out of its perpetual and damning crises. But, miracles, by definition, are rare events. No single country – and certainly not India, which would bear the brunt of its immediate impact – has the capacity to contain the fallout of Pakistan’s creeping dissolution. It is necessary, consequently, to urgently address these threats, and to create the needed coalitions and backup measures that can help neutralize the extraordinary dangers posed by a progressively fragmenting Pakistan.
The surrender appeared abject. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made little attempt to hide his despair in the Chief Minister’s Conference of Internal Security in New Delhi on December 20, when he said, "What used to be a minor problem in the State has now taken the shape of full-blown terrorism that the State alone cannot tackle. We need help from the Central Government." The statement reflects, at once, the tremendous anxiety over the encircling threat of Left Wing Extremism (LWE) as well as the incapacity of many afflicted States to respond effectively.
Insurgency related fatalities in Bihar: 2006-07
* MHA Data till July 31, 2007
Source: Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India
** Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) provisional Data from August 1, 2007 – December 30, 2007.
Year 2007 witnessed a rise in overall fatalities in LWE-related incidents in Bihar. According to provisional data (till December 30), 57 fatalities were recorded in 2007, as compared to 51 fatalities in 2006. Whereas fatalities among the Maoist ranks remained at comparable low levels, there was a sharp dip in civilian fatalities (down from 30 to 20), with a corresponding and alarming rise in security forces (SF) ranks, registering more than a four-fold increase – at 22, up from five in 2006. The dominance of the Maoists in the State was demonstrated in the proliferation of ‘swarming attacks’ – coordinated assaults by large numbers of Maoist cadres and ‘people’s militia’, principally on Police and SF posts, camps and establishments. Of the 36 swarming attacks conducted by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) through out the country in 2007, 11 took place in Bihar alone. Significantly, there were just nine swarming attacks by the Maoists across the country, in 2006, of which only one was located in Bihar.
Interestingly, at the beginning 2007, Bihar was being projected as a ‘success story’. The State witnessed a decline in LWE-related activities from an alarming 323 incidents in 2004 to 186 in 2005 and to a further 107 in 2006. The related fatalities had also nosedived from 171 to 96 to 51 during the corresponding period. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), ‘LWE violence’ was reported from 69 Police Stations in the State in 2006, a noticeable decrease from a total of 80 Police Stations in the preceding year. The achievement was largely ascribed, by both the State Government and the MHA, to the neutralisation of several Maoist cadres, mostly through arrests. In fact, 441 extremists including 10 zonal commanders and 30 area commanders of the CPI-Maoist were arrested in 2006, and another 16 had surrendered to the Police.
It is now evident, however, that the dip in violence was not the consequence of the ‘neutralisation’ of Maoist cadres. Indeed, the numbers in 2007 with regard to arrests appears even more impressive than the preceding record. According to Bihar Police data (released on December 20), 553 extremists were arrested in 2007. In addition, 160 firearms including SLRs and stenguns, 2,916 detonators, 35 ‘can bombs’, 4,800 live cartridges, and 2,476 kilograms of explosive materials were also recovered during the year. Nevertheless, violence escalated across the State, particularly targeting SFs, the Government machinery and the political establishment. The reality, as repeatedly emphasised by SAIR, is that the decline in violence over the preceding years was a tactical decision on the part of the Maoists, and certainly not the consequence of any dramatic operational successes or visible augmentation of the capacities of the state’s instrumentalities.
The sheer and endemic lack of human development, crumbling administrative machinery and decaying infrastructure have facilitated the spread of LWE across Bihar. The Maoist dominance is well documented and officially confirmed. According to a March 2007 Bihar Police document, 30 of the State’s 38 Districts are currently affected by Maoist activities. Nine of these have been designated 'hyper-sensitive'. A further nine Districts fall into the 'sensitive' category, while the remaining 12 Districts are categorised 'less sensitive'. According to the Institute for Conflict Management’s database, Maoist activities – though not necessarily Maoist violence – in 2006 and 2007 (till December 20), was reported from 32 Districts. While Maoist influence has been most visible over the southern and central Districts, the northern Districts, sharing border with Nepal, have also been witnessing increasing mobilisation as well as the actual orchestration of attacks, indicating a comprehensive expansion of the Maoist strength across the State’s geographical spread. Six Districts, including four sharing Bihar’s southern boundary with Jharkhand (Rohtas, Gaya, Aurangabad and Jamui), have been designated as ‘worst affected’ by Maoist violence by the MHA. Even capital Patna has not remained immune to Maoist activities, and at least eight Maoists, including senior ‘commander’ Bhaskarji and Tushar Kant Bhattacharya, were arrested in four different incidents in 2007.
Bihar remains a critical centre for the Maoist strategic outreach. In spite of significant arrests, the at least 2,500 strong cadre of the CPI-Maoist has found it easy to retain its strongholds in the State. Unconfirmed reports have indicated that the outfit is successfully canvassing among the State’s rural populations to ‘contribute’ one child per family to augment the outfit’s strength. Following a meeting of the Maoists’ Central Military Commission (CMC) in February 2007 in the Bihmbandh wildlife sanctuary in Bihar, the group has shifted an unspecified number of arms fabrication units to Bihar.
The CPI-Maoist is also reportedly benefiting from its linkages with the Maoists in Nepal. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, in his speech at the Chief Minister’s Conference on Internal Security on December 20, called for efforts to engage the Nepalese government in a dialogue to tide over the problem. The Chief Minister’s concerns have also been corroborated by the Central Para-military Forces (CPMFs), with sources within the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) claiming that CPI-Maoist activities in the Districts of Sitamarhi, Sheohar, East & West Champaran and Muzzafarpur are aided by their nexus with their Nepali counterparts. Nevertheless, links between the CPI-Maoist and their counterparts in Nepal remain largely unsubstantiated in terms of actual operational cooperation.
The Maoists in Bihar have, however, demonstrated their capacity to repeatedly impose a total shut down on the State. On at least three occasions in 2007, Maoist sponsored bandhs (general strikes) paralysed life across the State. Road and rail traffic were disrupted on December 12, during a bandh called to protest the death sentence awarded to five CPI-Maoist cadres in connection with the November 3, 2005 killing of three Policemen at Gaura village in the Banka District. Previously, on November 18 and 19, a 48-hour long bandh protesting the violence in neighbouring West Bengal’s Nandigram, affected vehicular movement across rural Bihar. Again on September 23, a bandh call, in protest against the arrest of senior CPI-Maoist leader Tushar Kant Bhattacharya, disrupted civilian life across the State. In addition, cases of periodic shut-down of markets and schools for either non-payment of extortion amount or refusal to abide by Maoist diktats are commonplace. In the last week of September, a rural market in the southern Aurangabad District remained shut for over a week for violating a Maoist call for a shutdown. A few months earlier, the Maoists shut down a school in the same District for over six weeks for failing to meet an extortion demand before the construction of the new school building commenced.
In a number of the northern Districts, the CPI-Maoist runs Jan Adalats (People’s Courts) administering a crude and swift retributive ‘justice’. In one such case, on July 1, two alleged ‘Police informers’ were beaten to death following a Jan Adalat ruling at Sisahani village in East Champaran District.
Maoist activities have impacted adversely on several development projects across the State. According to a December 2007 report by the Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON), 23 of the 57 road building projects in the Arwal, Gaya, Aurangabad and Jehanabad Districts have been abandoned by the contractors due to Maoist extortion demands. In the Month of November, the CPI-Maoist demanded INR 220 million from the Hyderabad-based Engineering and Construction Inc., which is engaged in road building in the Rohtas District, leading to a temporary suspension of the project.
Pitted against such challenges, the effectiveness of the SF operations has been severely undermined by endemic capacity deficits. Bihar has an abysmal Police-population ratio of 60.49 per 100,000 (as against a national average of 142), though Police density (Policemen per 100 square kilometre area) at 57.94 is higher than the all India average of 48.89. A staggering 19,624 vacancies 27 per cent of the total sanctioned posts at 71,497) exist in the Police Department, the highest among LWE affected States in the country. As a result, Bihar remains perennially dependant on the meagre CPMF deployment for its counter-insurgency operations. At present, 30 companies of CRPF personnel are deployed in the State, and this ‘inadequate deployment’ has become the permanent and convenient alibi to explain away high-profile Maoist attacks. For example coordinated attack on the local Police station, block headquarters and two branches of banks at Riga of north Bihar’s Sitamarhi District on the March 31, 2007, was blamed on the diversion of CPMF companies to the election-bound State of Uttar Pradesh.
What is ignored in such ‘justifications’ is the utter neglect of capacity creation within the State Police apparatus, and the refusal of the State’s political leadership to face up to its own responsibilities. The waste, underutilisation and diversion of available funds for Police modernisation has been a bane in States affected by LWE. According to the MHA, Bihar spent INR 603 million in 2004-05 and INR 531 million in 2005-06 on fortification and augmentation of weaponry for Police Stations in the LWE affected Districts. A further INR 338 million had been released (till November 15, 2006) in the 2006-07 financial year. Regrettably, the impact of this significant expenditure reflected poorly on the actual working conditions of the State Police. A May 2006 report by the Bihar Police Association indicated that over 300 Police Stations, 92 Police pickets and over hundred town outposts located in extremist-hit Districts were without boundary walls and minimum infrastructures. Similarly, the ambitious INR 1.5 billion jail modernisation programme is yet to be implemented. The Bihar Government is yet to provide bullet-proof vehicles, high-frequency wireless sets, night-vision devices and anti-landmine vehicles to Police personnel in the LWE affected Districts. Similarly, the number of personnel to have completed the "anti-extremist tactics course" designed to fight LWE remains miniscule. The quality of arms available with Police personnel is yet to achieve a level of satisfactory sophistication, compared to those available with the Maoist cadres. As a result, the law-enforces have much reason to be fearful of the extremists – and their vulnerability has repeatedly been demonstrated through swarming attacks that have overrun Police Stations and Posts. On one occasion, on April 24, 2007, the Manikpur Police Station in the Lakhisarai District was shut down for over a week after Police personnel deserted their posts, fearing Maoist attack.
In July 2007, the Bihar Government unveiled a ‘three-pronged strategy’ to deal with the LWE problem comprising the simultaneous mounting of an offensive against the extremists, the strengthening of intelligence networks and undertaking development schemes as an ‘anti-dote’ against the rampaging Maoists. Since April 2006, in a bid to tide over its dependence on the CPMFs and to fill up the void of trained personnel, the Government has raised the 5,000-strong State Auxiliary Police (SAP), comprising retired Army personnel, and has deployed them in sensitive Districts. The SAP, widely considered the brainchild of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has since expanded to include another 11,500 personnel. However, the results of these initiatives are yet to make any impact on Maoist activities in the State.
Nitish Kumar’s plea of helplessness cannot absolve him of the sins of political lethargy and administrative collapse that have contributed immensely to the Maoist capacities in the State over the years. Chronic neglect of internal security and policing issues has allowed the armed extremists to establish a sway over wide areas of the State and to gradually envelop so called ‘safe zones’. The Centre can, of course, provide some ‘emergency relief’ in terms of CPMFs and resources, to fight the worst of the current manifestations of Maoist violence. If a permanent solution is to be secured, however, it is the State Government that will have to acknowledge its obligations, build capacities, and create the situation in which the rule of law and administrative and security dominance of the state and its agencies can be restored.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
December 24-30, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
80 per cent of CPI-Maoist cadre in Andhra Pradesh neutralised: Eighty per cent of the CPI-Maoist cadre in Andhra Pradesh was neutralised, Director General of Police S.S.P. Yadav said in Hyderabad on December 29, 2007. According to him, "Cadre strength dwindled from 850 last year to 400 this year." He also stated that the total loss of life on account of Maoist attacks on both sides – Maoists and Police – had come down from 194 in 2006 to 87 during 2007. He added that "There is a decline of 42 per cent in the crime rate during 2007 when compared to last year. 1,061 extremists were arrested, 119 had surrendered and 43 died in 46 exchanges of fire. Out of 43 deceased, four are policemen." As many as 178 Maoist arms’ dumps, which contained a large quantity of arms and ammunition, were found during combing operations in 2007, he stated. The Hindu, December 29, 2007.
Centre to raise 35,000-strong force to fight Maoists: The Centre has agreed to recruit over 35,000 personnel under the India Reserve (IR) battalion scheme for deployment in the Maoist-affected States. These 35,000 Security Force personnel will be in addition to the 26 such battalions (over 26,000 men) being currently raised by 10 States. Sources in the Home Ministry said an in-principle decision had been taken to raise 35 battalions considering the vacancy of 100,000 in the States. As per the earlier sanctioned plan, six IR battalions (over 6,000 personnel) are being raised in Andhra Pradesh, followed by four in Chhattisgarh, three each in Bihar and Jharkhand, two in Maharashtra and one each in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka. The vacancy position was discussed by Chief Ministers in Delhi on December 20, when they assembled to discuss the internal security situation in the country. It was observed that states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa - which reported relatively higher numbers of vacancies in the Police force – witnessed maximum casualties in Maoist violence in the past two years. Times of India, December 25, 2007.
Parliament amends Interim Constitution to make Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic: On December 28, 2007, with the passage of the Third Constitution Amendment Bill by the Parliament, Nepal turned into a Federal Democratic Republic. Out of 273 members of Parliament, 270 voted in favour of the Amendment Bill that set a mid-April 2008 timeline for Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. As per the Amendment, the Prime Minister will bear all the responsibilities of the head of the state until the CA elections. A simple majority of the CA will implement the Federal Democratic Republican order. Nepal News, December 29, 2007.
Benazir Bhutto assassinated in Rawalpindi: Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson, was assassinated on December 27, 2007, in a gun and suicide-bombing attack, as she drove away from a campaign rally just minutes after addressing thousands of supporters at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi. Another 30 people were killed and over 100, including Benazir’s political secretary Naheed Khan and Sherry Rehman, wounded, when a suicide attacker (or possibly two) riding on a motorbike approached the vehicle, and blew himself up after firing at Benazir, who was waving to her supporters from her vehicle’s sun roof. PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar stated that Benazir fell inside the vehicle after receiving bullets in her head and neck. Witnesses said three gun shots were heard before the suicide blast near her Black Lexus bullet-proof vehicle. She later died at the Rawalpindi General Hospital. "The blast happened at around 5:10pm and the doctors pronounced her dead at 5:25pm," Babar said.
Following the assassination, PPP activists reacted violently in different cities in Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan. Angry protestors took to the streets, pelted stones, burned government and private property and various vehicles besides chanting slogans against the Government. At least 47 people were killed in different parts of the country.
Meanwhile, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin citing an alleged claim of responsibility by al Qaeda for Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Italian news agency Adnkronos International said that al Qaeda Afghanistan commander and spokesman Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid had telephoned the agency to make the claim. "We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen," the agency quoted Al-Yazid as saying. Dawn; Daily Times; The Post, December 28-30, 2007.
113 persons killed in sectarian violence in FATA: At least 113 persons have died in the ongoing sectarian violence in the Kurram Agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The clashes, which reportedly commenced on December 23, 2007, have intensified after receiving support from the Taliban from other tribal areas. Sectarian clashes have been reported from Maqbal, Nasti Kot, Kunj Ali Zai and Bash Khel, Khar Klay, Sadda, Sangeena, Shashoo, Mukhai Zai, Tunga, Bilyamin and other areas. According to local tribesmen, violence intensified after the arrival of a large number of militants from the adjoining areas of North and South Waziristan and Hangu. They said that missiles and rockets were being fired on Kharlachi and Borki villages from some areas in Afghanistan. "The agency is under attack from all sides, including from Afghanistan. We have been demanding that the authorities must expel outsiders from the area, but no action has been taken," said Akbar Ali, an elder of the Turi tribe. Dawn; Daily Times; The Post; The News, December 24-31, 2007.