SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
In Nepal, as the 10 April date of the Constituent Assembly (CA) polls approaches, it is unclear just what will be held. Leading Maoist figures have stated publicly that if the vote does not favor them, they will launch a "people’s rebellion." The situation engendered by Young Communist League (YCL) intimidation, extortion, physical violence, and even murder has been bad enough. Evidence now indicates Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-M) agents in the Tarai have been meeting secretly with Indian arms dealers in the black market.
Regardless of outcome, the Maoists intend that there will be a reckoning.
Even before most recent events, the security situation was tenuous. The continued internal deterioration – and inability or unwillingness of the state to provide a secure environment (or even regular basic services) – has demoralized the citizenry and increasingly led to ‘no go’ areas being created by YCL terror. Inhabitants have been warned that retribution will come if the vote does not favor the Maoists. Election fever runs high in urban areas, but few expect the polls to come off as planned. One Madheshi candidate stated that his party had instructed him not to commit his funds until April 2.
Ironically, the longer ‘peace’ prevails, the more chaotic the situation becomes and the more dangerous for those who oppose terror. In their approach, the Maoists are not using even the same vocabulary, much less the same game plan, as supporters of parliamentary democracy. They are not looking for re-incorporation or reconciliation, as democrats understand the words. To the contrary, they are on the offensive. They simply are proceeding along an avenue of approach complementary to armed actions. To them, violence and non-violence are just two facets of a unified struggle, very much as, in boxing, feints and movement of the body are as necessary as punches thrown.
Thus the Maoists see themselves as engaged in a struggle for liberation, and use of violence is just one line of operation. The Seven Party Alliance (SPA) has proved so fearful of a return to general violence that it is willing to accept the lower level of menace and targeted violence that is ongoing. Extortion (and even armed robbery in broad daylight in the capital) has become so common that there is an increasing outflow of businessmen, who are simply shutting down establishments and taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude. The quality of life for the bulk of the population has deteriorated dramatically; ironically, this, too, though it is a result of continued thuggish actions by the Maoists, helps them in their propaganda against ‘the old feudal order’.
All CPN-M actions currently being undertaken are designed simply to bring the Maoists to power. When called to account by their CCOMPOSA (Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia) compatriots for having abandoned the revolutionary struggle, the Nepali Maoists succeeded in placating their critics by outlining just what they planned. Put in so many words: our way will deliver power by emphasizing the ‘non-violent’ aspects of people’s war – and using violence to give them salience. As the CPN-M put this explicitly, in its report to the June 2007 CCOMPOSA meeting held in India:
Prachanda explained this further to a Central Committee meeting held at the end of July 2007 before the 5th Plenum of the CPN-M, itself held in early August 2007, using an ‘expanded meeting’ format that brought together 2,174 delegates. In his working paper, he maintained that the present transition period has seen ‘republic democracy’ seized by reactionaries within the SPA, who are trying to ‘change it’ to ‘parliamentary democracy’. In contrast, the will of the Party and the people is ‘new republic democracy’, Maoist shorthand for ‘people’s republic’. The correct manner to achieve this is by burrowing into the system, gaining experience, preserving revolutionary power, and developing further the counter-state (party infrastructure).
Such an approach is necessary in a global situation where socialism has not prevailed anywhere, continued Prachanda. The reinforcement of the Nepali reactionaries by the USA, India, and Hindu extremists has forced the revolutionaries onto the defensive in some areas, but overall their strength is swelling. Thus the correct course of action is to stay the protracted war course using low-level terror as the form of violence, united front building, and political warfare.
This ‘reaffirmist' line was attacked by the ‘rejectionists’, led by Maoist combatant leader, Ram Bahadur Thapa aka Badal. Ironically, he was joined by key figures Vaidya and Biplav, both of whom had been in Indian custody, but had been released for reasons that remain under discussion. Optimists claim the release was to facilitate incorporation of the Maoists into the political mainstream. Cynics claim it was to cause division within the Party. Regardless, the rejectionist faction saw no point to the ‘go slow’ approach of the reaffirmists and advocated violent street actions in the only strongholds remaining to the state, the urban areas. Though they found themselves overruled, they remain a powerful voice fueling the present spiral of violence.
This leaves the key external player, India, in a quandary. Jettisoning the ‘two pillars’ approach to Nepal – backing parliamentary forces and the monarchy – which had long informed Indian strategy, has backfired badly. Bringing the Maoists into the parliamentary mainstream has proved impossible for the simplest of reasons: the Maoists never had any intention of following this script. Only the hubris of South Block could have missed this fact, stated by the Maoists repeatedly both publicly and in their inner circles.
Now, with the monarchy sidelined and Maoist-induced chaos endangering even the parliamentary forces, New Delhi is displaying growing anxiety at the possibility of a huge radical safe-haven emerging at the very moment that India’s own indigenous Maoists are expanding. All sources in Nepal cite direct Indian intervention in the Tarai as decisive in pulling the Madheshi into the CA vote. Yet New Delhi’s influence has proved of much less consequence in Kathmandu and the hill areas. This creates a nail-biting geostrategic situation.
A second irony, sources indicate, is that the Maoists themselves would prefer this, the third attempt at holding CA elections, to be scuttled, since they, too, are unclear as to the outcome. Numbers alone place them at a disadvantage, with the hostile Tarai holding more than half the Nepali population.
Further, though they speak of inevitable victory, the Maoists are unsure just how far YCL threats and violence will carry the Party in an election monitored by outsiders (such as the Carter Center), which has developed an unpredictable momentum of its own. Where, previously, the Maoists saw their ability to exclude SPA campaigning from the rural areas as decisive, particularly as sympathetic figures in some NGOs and embassies continued to attack the state in the urban centers, the CPN-M now faces a more problematic reality.
What the Maoists – and SPA – seek to avoid at all costs is being blamed for a third CA postponement. Yet the Maoists hold the cards. Despite the efforts of some sources (notably left-wing NGOs) to strike a pose of moral equivalence, blaming both the state and the Maoists for ‘violations’, it is the Maoists and their YCL who are driving the violence that endangers the polls.
Nepali vernacular media quote Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to the effect that if the run-up to the CA election has not been completely disrupted by the Maoists as of March 28, the process will go forward as scheduled. Odds are a vote of sorts will indeed occur – but that it will be an ‘election’ only in the same sense that the Maoists have renounced ‘violence’ to ‘join the system’.
The counter-insurgency mechanism in northeastern India’s largest state, Assam, was almost falling into a pattern nearly two decades after it was launched, but drastic shifts in strategy by the highly adaptive United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the state’s frontline separatist group, have compelled the security establishment to carry out a major rejig in operations. In the past, kidnappings, selective killings and direct gun-battles with security forces were among the favourite tactics for terror and fund generation adopted by the ULFA, which was formed in 1979 to fight for the creation of a ‘sovereign, Socialist Assam’. Of late, however, ULFA appears to have adopted a strategy to protect its cadres from the hands of pursuing Army, Police and Paramilitary Forces, by avoiding direct combat with the troopers. There is, as a result, resort to the use of hirelings, who may not even be sympathizers of the group, to carry out bomb and grenade attacks.
Security officials in Assam have described this new trend as ‘outsourcing’ by the ULFA, with the objective of inflicting maximum damage with minimum loss to the group itself. Aside from scores of ULFA rebels killed or arrested by the security forces in the course of the ongoing counter-insurgency operations, as many as 350 cadres have surrendered to the authorities just between January 2007 and February 2008. Although fresh recruitments could be on, the ULFA looks hard pressed not to lose its trained fighters.
Some of the principal tactical shifts the ULFA has undergone include the following:
The ULFA’s shift in tactics obviously makes the task of counter-insurgency agencies more challenging. First, they are usually clueless as to who may be an ULFA bomb courier because they are people who do not figure in their list of suspects. Ever since the Army, Police and Paramilitary Forces (PMFs) in Assam were brought under a Unified Command on January 4, 1997, the counter-insurgency strategy focused on operations to flush out the rebels from their camps, hideouts or areas of influence. The crackdown was aimed at neutralizing known cadres of the ULFA. Now, the ULFA seems to have succeeded in creating a corps of over-ground handlers who do not figure in Police records and who are either used to plant bombs themselves or entrusted with the task of hiring totally unknown people to execute such jobs. The fact that several bomb couriers have either been killed or severely injured while trying to execute their assigned tasks indicate their lack of training in handling explosives.
Clearly, significant adjustments in counter-insurgency tactics have been forced by the ULFA’s tactical shift, which is still in a process of development. Elements of these adjustments, on the ground, as executed by the Army, Police and Paramilitary Forces, include the following:
In addition, there is increased emphasis on improvement of intelligence gathering and efforts to ensure that SFs maintain high standards of human rights protection during counter-insurgency operations. On March 17, 2008, the chief of the Army’s Kolkata-based Eastern Command, Lt. Gen. V. K. Singh, met Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who heads the Unified Command in the State, and arrived at an agreement on the following vital points:
The Army commander is already reported to have passed on this message to his field commanders, indicating that any violation of human rights in the name of counter-insurgency operations will be dealt with sternly. The objective of this measure is to ensure that the increased public anger against ULFA attacks and killings of innocent civilians is not diluted by any incident of excess by the security forces.
There have been several highly publicized incidents of death of militants or suspected militants in the custody of Security Forces in Assam. The stress on avoiding such aberrations and the warning of stern action against any trooper violating human rights is itself part of the new counter-insurgency posture, particularly in view of the fact that ULFA, of late, has been at the receiving end of the people’s ire over attacks in which innocent people have been killed. During 2007, at least 150 people, dozens of them Hindi-speaking migrant workers, were killed in bombings and shootings orchestrated by ULFA. Further, despite its denials, the ULFA has been accused by the security forces of carrying out a grenade attack at a gathering of tribes-people in Assam’s easternmost town of Jonai on March 15, 2008, which killed four people and injured 50 others. An estimated 15,000 people, mostly belonging to the Mising ethnic group, were watching the celebrations of their biggest festival when two motor-cycle borne youth hurled a grenade and escaped. The incident led to general strikes in the area and open condemnation by several groups, including the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), the state’s apex student organization.
The attack at Jonai served as a reminder of the August 15, 2004, bomb explosion at an Independence Day parade in adjoining Dhemaji, the headquarter of the District by the same name, which led to the death of 14 persons, including 11 school children. The ULFA was blamed for the Dhemaji blast, but the group had denied responsibility on that occasion as well. Few people, however, accept these denials, and ULFA continues to be blamed for the mindless attack in Dhemaji, where children lost their lives.
Moreover, ULFA ‘chairman’ Arabinda Rajkhowa’s statement on the group’s ‘Army Day’ celebrations on March 16, 2008, appear to corroborate the security forces’ claims. Rajkhowa sought to remind his ‘beloved brothers in arms’ that the people were opposed to and not happy with certain ‘anti-revolutionary activities by revolutionary soldiers’. The ULFA ‘chairman’ exhorted his cadres to lead a disciplined life. An English Daily from Guwahati quoted Rajkhowa as saying: "The masses would be inspired if we could overcome our frailty and advance with renewed discipline."
This rare self-introspection by the ULFA is not without significance. It is too early to say if the ULFA will, once again, change tactics by putting a halt to roadside bombings that most often kill or maim innocent civilians. But if ULFA does decide to go back to its earlier tactics, targeting security personnel or people in trade and industry, the latter for ransom and to exert maximum pressure on the Government, this would be no surprise, as public resentment against them mounts.
Tactics may change, but what is expected to remain a constant is ULFA’s violence and the concomitant pressure on the Government. The cat-and-mouse game in Assam, consequently, appears set to continue for some time to come.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
March 17-23, 2008
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
First-ever parliamentary elections to be held on March 24: Elections to the first-ever parliamentary elections in Bhutan will be held on March 24, 2008, when an electorate of more than 318,000 persons will be electing 47 members to the National Assembly in a two-party contest. The polls are the final step towards putting in place a democratic constitutional monarchy a year after the Himalayan Kingdom completed 100 years of monarchy. The royal family and religious leaders will not be exercising their franchise as they are to remain above politics. The two parties in the fray are Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (Virtuous Bhutan Party) and the People’s Democratic Party, which, between themselves, have put up 10 women candidates out of 94. Counting begins shortly after polls in the 865 polling stations that start at 9 a.m. and are over at 5 p.m. The results will be compiled the same evening and subsequently sent to the National Council Centre in Thimphu. They will be officially submitted on March 25 to King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk. Elaborate security arrangements have been made for the elections with the Royal Bhutan Police being assisted by the Royal Bhutan Army in maintaining law and order. The border with India was sealed on March 23 and would remain to be closed to any movement till a day after the elections. The Hindu , March 24, 2008.
Maoist problem confined to two percent of the country’s villages, says Union Home Minister: Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil said in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament) on March 19, 2008, that the Maoist problem is confined to only two percent of the over 650,000 villages and not in one-third of the country as projected. "The Naxalite threat should not be exaggerated to create fear psychosis among people", Patil said. He said that while it is being projected that 10 States and 180 districts in the country were affected by the Maoist problem, "at a micro level, only 300 police stations out of over 14,000 in the country have Naxalite activities." Times of India, March 19, 2008.
17 Maoists killed in encounter in Chhattisgarh: On March 18, 2008, joint Security Forces (SFs) of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh killed 17 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, including seven women, inside the Darelli Forest under Pamedu Police Station in the Bijapur District. The encounter followed an aerial survey that revealed an ongoing plenum of the Maoists attended by 60 cadres. A top Maoist leader from Andhra Pradesh and four squad commanders of Khammam District in Andhra Pradesh were believed to be among those killed. Khammam Superintendent of Police D.S. Chauhan confirmed that those killed in the encounter were mostly from Khammam District. An AK-47, three Self Loading Rifles and some landmines were among the arms and ammunition recovered following two ambushes by the SFs. The Hindu, March 19, 2008.
KYKL militants kill 15 non-locals in Manipur: Militants of the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) killed at least 15 non-locals in three separate attacks in Manipur. Seven non-Manipuris were shot dead by the militants at Mayang Imphal Hanglun in the capital, Imphal, on March 17, 2008. Militants killed another seven non-local labourers and injured two others on March 18. Another local person was killed by unidentified militants at 7:30pm (IST) on March 19 at Kumbi in the Bishenpur District, raising the death toll to 15. The Director General of Police (DGP) Yumnam Joykumar Singh said that two KYKL militants involved in the March 17-incident was shot dead in an encounter on March 19. Another militant of the same outfit was shot dead in an encounter with the Police at Phaknung in the Imphal East District on March 20. The Hindu, March 18 & 20, 2008; Kangla online, March 19, 2008; Telegraph India , March 21, 2008.
Yousuf Raza Gillani to be Prime Minister: On March 22, 2008, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) named Yousuf Raza Gillani as its nominee for the post of Prime Minister. A Speaker of the National Assembly during Benazir Bhutto’s second tenure in power from 1993-1996, Gillani is a PPP leader from Multan in the Seraiki region of southern Punjab. He spent five years in jail from 2001, after being convicted by an anti-corruption court set up by the Gen. Pervez Musharraf regime. In a statement, party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said Gillani was the consensus candidate of the PPP and its coalition partners to take on the "heavy responsibility [to] lead the coalition Government and the nation to greater heights and a glorious future." The Hindu, March 23, 2008.
Five soldiers killed in suicide attack near brigade headquarters in South Waziristan: On suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a military vehicle in front of the brigade headquarters at Zari Noor in South Waziristan on March 20, 2008, killing five soldiers and injuring 11 others. A man claiming to be a spokesman for the pro-government militant commander Maulana Nazir claimed responsibility for the attack. "We have declared that mujahideen will soon avenge the death of their colleagues in the missile strike (on Sunday)," Commander Malang told Dawn from an undisclosed location. It is for the first time that Nazir’s group has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack. Nine militants were killed and 10 others wounded when three missiles hit a compound in the Shah Nawazkot area near Wana on March 16, 2008. Dawn, March 21, 2008.
165 LTTE militants killed in separate incidents during the week: At least 165 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants and 16 soldiers were killed in separate incidents between March 16 and 23, 2008. Among the major incidents, 12 LTTE militants were killed by the troops during separate encounters in the Pandivirichchen, Villattikulam, Kallikulam, Kappankulam and Nedunkandal areas of Vavuniya district and Periyakulam area of Mannar district on March 16. Eight militants were killed and two of their bunkers destroyed in an ambush carried out by the Army Special Infantry at Kottakkarankulam, West of Omanthai, in the Vavuniya district on March 19-evening. Similarly, 25 LTTE cadres and four soldiers were killed as the troops successfully responding to heavy resistance by the militants moved forward and captured an area of about one square kilometer in the Periyakulam and Ilantaivan regions, north of Uyilankulam in the Mannar district on March 22. 13 more LTTE militants were killed when the troops confronted a group of outfit’s militants in the areas southwest of Madhu and Kallikulam in the Vavuniya district on the same day. Seven LTTE militants were killed and 10 others injured by the troops during clashes between the two sides in the Kiriibbanwewa area of Vavuniya district. Sri Lanka Army, March 17-23, 2008.
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