SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Ill-prepared and Vulnerable
Following the killing of 17 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres on March 18, 2008, in Chhattisgarh, joint operations engaging Forces from different States have emerged as the new mantra for success against the rampaging Maoists. This rare success, however, does not offer any major or long-term relief for Chhattisgarh, whose fight against the Maoists continues to suffer from multiple handicaps. If any doubts on this count are entertained, they should be settled by the fact that an estimated 55 Maoists overran a Steel Authorities of India Ltd. (SAIL) iron ore mine at Durg, about 170 kilometres from the State capital, Raipur, and looted 200 bags of potassium nitrate explosives (about 1.75 tonnes), on March 27, 2008. A day earlier, on March 26, a general strike call by the Maoists in the Dandakaranya region, protesting the killing of their comrades, paralysed normal life in the southern Bastar Division, with trucks off the roads and shops and business establishments shut down.
Nevertheless, in what is being hailed as the biggest ever counter-insurgency operation in recent times in the State, on March 18, 2008, Greyhound forces from Andhra Pradesh joined with the Chhattisgarh Police to carry out two separate ambushes on a Maoist plenum in the Darreli Forest areas under the Pamed Police Station in Bijapur District, 10 kilometres from the inter-State border between Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. The slain Maoists included seven women cadres and top dalam (squad) ‘commanders’ from the Khammam District of Andhra Pradesh. The bodies of all the Maoists killed in the operation were recovered along with an AK-47 rifle, three Self-Loading Rifles (SLRs), landmines and several single shot weapons. The CPI-Maoist later rubbished the claims of the Police and said that no encounter had taken place and its cadres were actually poisoned by the Police, who had come to know of the meeting. Maoist fronts and sympathisers, on the other hand, claimed that the encounter was staged and the persons killed were, in fact, innocent villagers and not Maoists.
Chhattisgarh remains the State worst affected by left-wing extremism (LWE) and the second most violent theatre of conflict in the country, after Jammu & Kashmir. As many as 14 of Chhattisgarh’s 18 Districts are currently affected by Maoist activities, if not by violence. In spite of a minor dip in overall LWE related fatalities in 2007, principally as a result of a decline in civilian and Maoist fatalities, as compared to the previous year, Chhattisgarh accounted for nearly 52 percent of the total LWE-related fatalities in the country. The year witnessed a 135 per cent increase in SF fatalities compared to 2006. According to the Institute for Conflict Management database, at least 57 LWE related fatalities had already been reported till March 30 in the current year.Chhattisgarh: Left-wing insurgency related fatalities 2003-2008
*Data till March 30, 2008
The unsurveyed and near-impenetrable Abujhmadh Forest area in the Bastar Division (and overflowing into the Gadchiroli District of neighbouring Maharashtra) is the CPI-Maoist’s ‘Central Guerilla Base Area’, and is the location where the Party Central Committee – including its ‘General Secretary’, Muppala Laxmana Rao @ Ganapathy – and its various formations take shelter. While security forces have managed to carry out intermittent small-scale raids on the periphery of this vast region of nearly 4,000 square kilometres in the past, several factors, including the absence of basic infrastructure in the area, have continued to make it an impossible task to seek a permanent hold over the territory. The Maoist dominance over Abujhmadh, consequently, remains near total and undisrupted.
While Maoists have managed to carry out ambushes and raids targeting the SFs in the Abujhmad area with impunity, the Police administration’s claims of gaining ground within the Forest have been contradicted by the realities of the ground on several occasions. On August 30, 2007, Chattisgarh Director-General of Police (DGP) Viswa Rajan’s trip to Chintalnar village in the Dantewada District located within the Abujhmadh region was cut short after Maoists opened fire close to the area where his helicopter had landed. The Police Chief, accompanied by the Bastar Range Inspector General of Police (IGP), R.K. Vij, was to visit the nearby Mukaram village, where 13 Police personnel had been killed by CPI-Maoist cadres on August 29, 2007. The Police Chief’s chopper had to take off within 15 minutes of landing. Similarly, on February 20, 2008, Maoist cadres opened fire on the convoy of the District Collector and District Superintendent of Police (SP) of Narayanpur, while they were on tour in the Rainar area of Abujhmad region. Both, however, escaped unhurt.
In the second week of March 2008, 1,000 Police commandos drawn from three States, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, carried out operations twice within the Abujhmad Forests. While the first operation was conducted in areas bordering Narayanpur in Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, the second operation was carried out in the forests of south Bastar region. Three large Maoist camps and 12 smaller camps were said to have been destroyed during the operations. However, raids of this nature can only be seen as temporary and make little impact on the operational advantages enjoyed by the Maoists, who have established a permanent presence in the area.
While Maoist violence has largely been restricted to the forested and rural/ semi-urban settings of four Districts of the southern Bastar Division (Dantewada, Bastar, Kanker and Bijapur), Maoist activities are gradually spreading into new and urban areas as well. For example, on January 22, 2008, 91 country-made pistols and 26 wireless sets were recovered by the Police after these were ‘dropped’ by two car-borne Maoists at a busy square in the Dangania area of the State capital, Raipur. On the next day, a senior commander of the CPI-Maoist, Malti, who is also the wife of the spokesman of the outfit, Gudsa Usendi, was arrested from the Farid Nagar locality in the Supela area of Bhilai in the western Durg District, along with two of her associates. Nine pistols, five locally made firearms, one wireless set, INR 600,000 in currency notes and 11 mobile phones were recovered from the house in which she had reportedly been staying for the past two years. A few days earlier, Police seized cloth bundles worth INR 700,000 from tailors who had been asked to stitch Maoist uniforms at Bilaspur. In January itself, burnt Maoist uniforms were found in the forest areas of the eastern Mahasamund District, adjoining Raipur District.
Incidentally, the poorest, the most backward and the most loosely governed of the State’s regions have become Maoist strongholds. According to one July 2007 study, "600 villages in the Bastar interior areas lack governance and are without the basic necessities of health, education and other needs." Sympathetic and Front organisations connected with the Maoists claim that the rebels in these areas are educating the rural folk on the techniques of cultivation and producing more food grains. A few small tanks have also been dug by the Maoists in these villages to help the farmers. However, such cases of benevolence are isolated and essentially driven at furthering the rebels’ cause. The Maoists have formed local organisation squads in such areas primarily with the objective of carrying out recruitment drives. According to an official estimate, over the past three years (2005-2007), the Maoists have, in fact, destroyed more than 300 school and panchayat (village level self-government bodies) buildings in the State, in addition to destroying at least 20 bank buildings in rural areas. Nevertheless, senior Police officials, speaking to SAIR, blamed the political administration’s legacy of neglect and underdevelopment for what are now the Maoist strongholds, arguing that it is nigh impossible to reverse the historical conditions by SF action within a short period of time.
The Maoist strongholds are certainly not the only areas that have been neglected by the State administration. Strategic myopia has made the State’s political masters persistently neglect the tasks of capacity building within the Police Force. Like many other States of the country presently witnessing the scourge of Maoist extremism, the Chhattisgarh Police suffers from many deficiencies, grossly limiting the State’s ability to deal with the challenge.
Chhattisgarh has one of the poorest Police strengths among the LWE affected States in the country. Although the Police-population ratio (Policemen per 100,000 population) stood at 131, compared to the national average of 126, as on December 31, 2006, the Police density (Policemen per 100 square kilometre area) was a paltry 22.3, as against the national average of 44.4. In comparison, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand have Police densities of 28.8, 54.8 and 36.1 respectively. The situation in the Bastar Division – the heartland of the violence in Chhattisgarh – is even more disturbing. For an area of 39,114 square kilometres, the four Districts of Bastar Division had a total sanctioned strength 2,197 Policemen (5.62 Policemen per 100 kilometres) in 2006, and actual availability was just 1,389, nearly 37 per cent short of the authorized numbers, yielding a ratio of just 3.55 Policemen per 100 square kilometres. This situation has improved somewhat, with current sanctioned strength having been raised to 6,000 men. However, actual current availability is 4,000 – still 33 per cent short of the sanctioned strength, yielding a ration of 10.23 policemen per 100 square kilometres, still far short of any acceptable policing presence, particularly in an area of widespread insurgency. Police officials are confident that the current deficit against sanctioned strength will be covered by June 2008, but the crisis of capacities will certainly persist in the Bastar region well beyond this date.
The actual strength of Chhattisgarh Police as on December 31, 2006, stood at 30,095 with a shortfall of 9,658 personnel. The shortfall of 24 percent, however, was entirely located within the Civil Police component, which has a sanctioned strength of 27,810 and an actual strength of 18,147. The Armed Police component, on the other hand, flaunts a surplus of five personnel (11,948 actual strength as compared to a sanctioned strength of 11,943). In operational terms, though, it remains grossly insufficient. The State Government reportedly created 6,423 additional posts and filled 2,500 of these in 2007. According to the statement of the Governor of Chhattisgarh, E.S.L. Narasimhan, in his address to the State Legislature on February 18, 2008, most of these newly recruited cadres have been deployed in the Maoist affected areas.
Deficits in the State Police Force have led to a near-permanent dependence on the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs). 13 CPMF battalions had been deployed in Chhttisgarh till January 2008, and another five were sanctioned in February, of which four have already been deployed in the State, bringing the current total to 17 CPMF battalions. Chhttisgarh’s share of the total of 33 CPMF battalions deployed in all LWE affected States in the country is, consequently, over fifty percent. The State has, in addition, four India Reserve Battalions (IRBs) and another four have already been sanctioned by New Delhi.
In the Maoist strongholds, the Chhattisgarh Police lack basic infrastructure and limited intelligence penetration, affecting the Force’s fighting capacities and overall performance. For example, none of the 17 Police Stations in Bijapur, one of the worst affected Districts in the State, has a concrete building. These are housed either in barracks or in improvised structures. Many of the State’s remote Police Stations continue to remain poorly connected with the District Headquarters. On November 2, 2007, 16 Policemen, including six Central Reserve Police Personnel (CRPF) personnel, were killed and five others injured, in a Maoist ambush in the Pamed Police Station area in Bijapur District. Sending quick reinforcements to this Police Station was clearly not an option on the part of the District Administration, in the absence of any road network linking this Police Station. In fact, before the ambush, a proposal to shut down the Police Station had been submitted to the State Government, as it was believed to be ‘completely unserviceable’. Another instance is the Koylibeda Police Station in Kanker District, which has 43 Police personnel monitoring a 150 square kilometre area in "some of the most treacherous terrain" with the help of 10 motorcycles and 25 bicycles. In February 2008, eight of these motorcycles were under repair and 15 bicycles were sent ‘on loan’ to the CPMF camp in the nearby area. The dominance of the Maoists over the interior areas is further evidenced in the fact that about 50 Police Stations located in the Dandakaranya area have not been provided with arms and ammunition because of the sheer risk that these would immediately be looted by the Maoists.
Investigation into the December 16, 2007 Dantewada jailbreak incident brought out several loopholes in basic policing in the Maoist affected areas of the State, demonstrating the state of Police preparedness. On that day, 299 prisoners, including 105 Maoists, escaped from the Dantewada Jail after overpowering the security guards. The Maoists also snatched one INSAS rifle, three .303 rifles, three muskets and one wireless set from the guards, before escaping. Even as the Dantewada Superintendent of Police Rahul Sharma termed the jailbreak a "pre-meditated conspiracy" hatched by the undertrials, the administrative inquiry revealed:
Several capacity-building proposals were announced by New Delhi as well as by the State administration in the beginning of 2008. These include strengthening the road networks and Police Stations in the Maoist-affected areas. It is not clear, however, within what timeframe the State Government plans to complete such ambitious projects. Considering Chhattisgarh’s almost non-existent road network in the interior areas and given the sort of dominance that the Maoists have established over these, such projects could take years to complete. Other measures include the training of Police personnel, the construction of fortified Police Stations, and several initiatives to boost the sagging morale of the Police Force. A 15 per cent hike in the basic pay of Police personnel serving in Maoist affected areas of the State has also been declared.
On February 15, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil announced the constitution of a Unified Command Structure (UCS) in Chhattisgarh. Headed by the Chief Minister, the UCS is intended to establish better coordination between the State and Central Forces in fighting the Maoists in the interior areas of the State. Chhattisgarh is the first LWE affected State to get such a structure, although the UCS experiment has produced mixed results in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam and Manipur.
The success of the March 18 joint operations appears to have enthused the Police Chief in Chhattisgarh, who now speaks of undertaking "two or three" such area domination operations every month. Area domination is, indeed, crucial if the Maoist strongholds are to be retaken. It is, however, hard to imagine that two or three encounters every month could suffice to cure Chhattisgarh of its ills. The counter-insurgency campaign in the State suffers from numerous structural deficits and unless these are addressed, neutralising Maoist extremism will remain an unrealisable dream.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
March 24-30, 2008
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Druk Phuensum Tshogpa wins National Assembly elections: The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT, or Bhutan Harmony Party), led by former Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley, won the National Assembly elections on March 24, 2008, winning 44 of the 47 seats. The DPT won all the seats in the eastern, central and southern constituencies. The People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) won in Gasa, Chukha and Haa. The PDP president, Sangay Ngedup, lost in his constituency, Kabji-Talo under Punakha, to DPT’s Tshering Penjore. According to the Election Commission of Bhutan, the voter turnout was close to 80 percent. Kuensel Online, March 25, 2008.
ISI still helping terrorist groups against India, says National Security Advisor: National Security Advisor (NSA) M. K. Narayanan, delivering the 25th Air Chief Marshal P. C. Lal Memorial Lecture on March 26, 2008, said that the Pakistani external intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), continues to help terrorist outfits like the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to launch attacks against India. "We have seen no change in ISI's attitude to mentor terror groups like Lashkar and Jaish... attacks on India from Pakistan's soil are likely to continue", he said. Admitting that intelligence and security agencies sometimes failed to thwart terrorist attacks, as was seen in the Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi blasts, Narayanan said, "We have a zero-tolerance towards terrorism… We have averted several terrorist attacks in the last few years... Since 2004, more than 1,000 terrorist modules have been neutralized", he added. Times of India, March 27, 2008.
Taliban set terms for talks with Government: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said on March 30, 2008, that it was ready for talks with the Government, provided that Islamabad reverses its pro-American policies. TTP leaders told a rally in the Inayat Kalay Bazaar of Bajaur Agency in the FATA that they welcomed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s announcement that the Government would negotiate with the Taliban and end the Frontier Crimes Regulations. Gillani said on March 20 that fighting terrorism would be his top priority and offered to hold talks with those militants who laid down their weapons. TTP leaders, including Maulana Faqir Muhammad, Maulana Sher Bahadar, Muhammad Ismail, and party spokesman Maulana Omar, also demanded the implementation of Sharia law and the jirga system according to tribal traditions. They also said jihad against America would continue in Afghanistan. However, they added that they were ready to end their activities and improve law and order in Pakistan if the Government showed flexibility. The TTP leaders stated that the Taliban were defenders of the country and that Pakistan’s western border was safe because of them. Daily Times, March 31, 2008.
Dawood Ibrahim gang merges with Lashkar-e-Toiba in Pakistan: The Times of India, quoting intelligence agencies, has reported that underworld gangster Dawood Ibrahim’s ‘D-Company’ in Pakistan is now officially a part of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)’s terror network. The merger has been described as a part of the plan by the Pakistani external intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to further increase its anti-India campaign. A senior Indian intelligence official, confirming the merger, stated, "The underworld gang and the Lashkar jihadis have been knocked into a single entity and this has serious implications for India's internal security." Times of India, March 28, 2008.
Yousaf Raza Gillani elected Prime Minister: The National Assembly, on March 24, 2008, elected Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Vice Chairman Yousaf Raza Gillani as the country’s new Prime Minister, with the highest number of votes in Pakistan’s parliamentary history. Gillani won with a majority of 264 votes in the 342-seat Lower House, compared to his competitor, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, securing only 42 votes. Three Members of the National Assembly – Maulana Asmatullah of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Ideological, Faqir Jadem Mangrio and Ghulam Dastgir Rajar of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional – chose to abstain from the voting process. Daily Times, March 25, 2008.
135 LTTE militants and 28 soldiers killed during the week: At least 169 persons, including 135 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants and 28 soldiers, were killed in separate incidents between March 22 and 29, 2008. Among the major incidents, 11 sailors were killed when a locally–built fast attack craft of the Sri Lanka Navy was caught in a LTTE-triggered sea mine explosion in the Nayaru Sea on March 22. Ten LTTE militants were killed by the troops during clashes in the Kallikulam area of Vavuniya District on March 23. Nine militants were killed and several others injured during an encounter with troops in the north of Janakapura in Vavuniya District on March 27. On March 28, nine militants were killed during two separate clashes in the Kaduruvitankulam and Periyathampane areas of the Vavuniya District. Further, 10 more militants were killed as the troops advanced over an area of about 700 metres in the Ilantaivan region of Mannar District on March 29. Among the civilian casualties, the Deputy Chairman of the Moneragala local council, A. Muththulingam, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the evening of March 29. Sri Lanka Army; Colombo Page, March 24-31, 2008.
LTTE has links with global terrorist groups, says Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake: Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake stated that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) maintains links with international terrorist groups such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and certain affiliates of al Qaeda. "According to some experts on terrorism, they maintain contacts with other terror groups such as PKK, Taliban, Islamic groups in the Philippines and even some affiliates of Al Qaeda," he said. He also said that certain reports mentioned that Tamil youths received training in Palestinian camps in Syria and Lebanon. "The Black Tigers are responsible for suicide operations and have perfected suicide bombings and assassinations. It is generally believed that they learnt it from some Palestinian groups," Wickremanayake told a gathering in Jerusalem in Israel. Times of India, March 25, 2008.
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