SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Late last year, Bilal Ahmad Mir decided to undertake the most dangerous decision of his life: he volunteered to leave the comfort of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s (HM’s) offices in Muzaffarabad, and take charge of a terror cell in northern Kashmir.
Mir’s handlers at Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate armed him as best they could. He was given a legitimate Pakistani passport, AH0992231, stamped with a Nepal visa issued in Islamabad. On March 3, 2008, Mir flew from Karachi to Kathmandu on Pakistan International Airways flight 268 — and promptly handed himself over to waiting Indian intelligence operatives who his family had made contact with the previous summer.
Even as India prepares to resume the dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), stalled by the political crisis that swept Pakistan, J&K is readying for elections to its Legislative Assembly. By this winter, J&K should have a new Government in place. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan will likely be fleshing out a five point peace formula hit at by their covert negotiators S.K. Lambah and Tariq Aziz, which includes the recognition of the Line of Control (LoC) as a de facto border, cooperative management of some agreed subjects, free trade and movement, and demilitarisation — all contingent on an end to terrorism.
For the leadership of the HM, the numerically largest terror group in J&K, the prospect of an historic peace deal must appear just as the butcher’s blade does to the chicken whose neck it is about to sever.
Deal or no deal, the HM and other Islamist terror groups won’t be players in influencing the outcome of the electoral process in J&K — for the first time since 1995. In 1996, when the State took its first steps toward the restoration of democracy, 61 political workers were killed in terror strikes. Another 57 died in 1997. In 2001, the year before the fateful elections that brought the Congress-People’s Democratic Party (PDP) alliance to power, 76 political workers were killed. One hundred party workers were butchered in 2002.
Politicians were forced to cut deals with Islamist terror groups, making clear just where real power lay. Indeed, the killing of National Conference workers was a major reason for the party’s defeat in 2002, and led it to soften its stand on terrorism thereafter.
But now, jihadi organisations just don’t have the muscle left to enforce compliance. Earlier this year, the United Jihad Council (UJC) announced that it would not use force to obstruct the democratic process — the customary transformation of necessity to virtue. Few politicians take that promise at face value. As in past elections, the path to democracy will more likely than not be punctuated by assassinations and bombings. But the fact is, the jihad is waning.
Mir isn’t the only senior Hizb ul-Mujahideen commander to have given up the fight in recent months. Since late 2007, the HM’s ‘supreme commander’ in J&K, Nasir Ahmed Bhat, has been living in a safehouse outside Srinagar, under the secret protection of the State Government.
On the eve of the next Assembly Elections, the J&K Government hopes to use Bhat — better known as ‘Ghazi Misbahuddin,’ the alias traditionally used by the HM’s senior-most field commander — to demonstrate its willingness to talk to terrorists who decide to abjure violence. HM’s ‘supreme commander’, Mohammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin has refused to meet this condition, but others in the organisation seem increasingly willing to take whatever deals are on offer.
Unnoticed, over a dozen mid-ranking commanders at the Hizb’s camps in Pakistan have returned to India since January 2008. Most experts believe the flow home from HM camps would have been even higher if India had not come down hard on cross-LoC surrenders, after Intelligence reports warned that some rehabilitated terrorists had reactivated their connections with jihadi groups. All the major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, though, are lobbying for a proper and secure rehabilitation policy to be put in place — and one most likely will be, once a new Government takes office.
Even as things are, the HM is desperately short on both leadership and cadre. Kulgam-born Riyaz Ahmad Bhat was scheduled to replace Nasir Ahmed Bhat, but flatly refused to run the risk. His parents, family sources said, have now travelled to Pakistan to secure their son’s marriage — and thus ensure he stays on at a HM camp rather than risking death at home. Muzaffar Ahmed Dar, a long-standing HM operative from Magam, with an undistinguished record of service in the organisation, was obliged to take charge in his stead. He has little, however, to take charge of.
Across the north Kashmir zone, the HM has just three commanders of significance: Mohammad Shafi Shah, a Papchan-Bandipora resident who uses the code-name ‘Dawood’; his old-friend from the adjoining village of Chuntimulla, Ali Mohammad Lone; and Tanvir Ahmad, from Baramulla’s Bagh-e-Islam neighbourhood. Together, these three HM formation leaders are believed to have less than three dozen men under their command.
In its one-time south Kashmir strongholds, the decimation of the HM has even more marked. Just one commander of consequence has survived the thoroughgoing destruction of the organisation by the J&K Police — Pervez Ahmad Dar, who uses the code-name ‘Pervez Musharraf’. Panzgam resident Raees Dar, known to his associates as ‘Kachroo’ or "brown-hair", was arrested by the J&K Police on March 31, 2008; the organisation’s all-powerful financial chief Farooq Dar, code-named Hanif Khan, was shot dead near Tral on February 10, 2008.
Since the arrest of Tajamul Islam, the Karachi-bred son of one of HM chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah’s most trusted aides, the central division has had no leadership at all. On March 19, 2008, in a desperate attempt to demonstrate its continuing presence, the HM carried out a bombing at Srinagar’s Jehangir Chowk. Cadre and resources for the operation had to be mobilised by Tanvir Ahmed’s north Kashmir cell — leading to a series of errors which led to its rapid unravelling by Police investigators.
Indeed, the ease with which attempted HM terror operations have been stopped suggests a high degree of penetration by the J&K Police and Intelligence Bureau — another sign of the demoralisation in the rebel ranks. At least one ranking commander, south Kashmir — based Javed ‘Seepan’ Sheikh, is rumoured to be a Police asset, which has led to mistrust and factionalism within the HM’s already-fractured ranks.
Does all this mean that the waning of the jihad is an inexorable process? Not just yet: Pakistan’s covert services, and the Islamist terror groups it helped create, aren’t quite ready to give up the fight.
Addressing a March 1, 2008, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) gathering in Muzaffarabad by telephone, its Lahore-based amir Hafiz Mohammad Saeed announced that restrictions placed on his operations in Pakistan-administered J&K would soon be lifted. While the jihad in J&K had suffered because of the fallout of the United States’ war in Afghanistan, he said, things were changing. Saeed also announced the Lashkar would soon be setting up a new magazine devoted to the jihad in J&K.
On ground, there are signs that the LeT war-machine is preparing itself for renewed battle. In March 2008, the Lashkar began installing new state-of-the-art wireless communications equipment at its control station in Kel, just across the LoC from the critical infiltration routes across the Lolab mountains. A training centre just outside of Balakote, in Pakistan-administered J&K’s Muzaffarabad District, has been revived under the command of one of the Lashkar’s top irregular warfare instructors, Wagah resident Sagir Ahmed. And, sources indicate, since January 2008, a former Pakistan Army officer known to his subordinates as ‘Captain Salim’ has been training cadre for combat in J&K at a new camp in Lala Moosa, near Gujranwala.
Perhaps most important of all, the ISI has resumed direct funding for the HM, which was shut off under international pressure in 2006. Married cadre at the HM camps in Pakistan-administered J&K are now receiving PKR 10,000 a month, up from PKR 5,200; single men receive PKR 8,000 against the PKR 4,200 on offer before ISI funding was cut off.
All of this, of course, might prove to be too little—and too late. Despite energetic infiltration efforts last summer, violence levels have continued to drop.
Jihadi organisations in J&K have, however, demonstrated that they can put up a fight in the one area where they are still present in some strength — the dense forests above Baramulla, where the major infiltration routes across the LoC converge. Bucking the dramatic state-wide fall in violence, Baramulla saw an escalation in 2007, with 22 Indian soldiers and Policemen killed in combat against 16 in 2006, while 103 terrorists were killed, up from 95. Should high levels of infiltration take place this spring and summer, jihadi groups could well try to replicate this model elsewhere.
Whether this outcome is realised depends on two factors: the competence of India’s pre-election counter-terrorism operations, and the extent to which Pakistan is willing to go to revive the dying jihad.
It is the second of these that could prove most important. While politicians like People’s Party of Pakistan chief Asif Ali Zardari have laid out a brave agenda for peacemaking with India, the power to shape strategic policy lies not with them, but with Pakistan’s Army. General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani represents the Pakistan Army’s institutional consensus — a consensus that includes among its pillars the belief that sub-conventional warfare is an integral component of national security. In recent weeks, restrains imposed on anti-India jihadi groups like the Lashkar and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) have been loosened, in an evident effort to restore the Pakistan Army’s legitimacy among the Islamists, who have so spectacularly turned on it in recent months. With its forces heavily committed to the west, though, it is unclear just how far Pakistan’s military establishment can risk precipitating a potentially war-inducing crisis with India.
But this much is clear: the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir is clinging to the edge of the abyss by its fingernails. Whether it is any position to grab the rope Pakistan’s military establishment has thrown it — and if that rope is strong enough to take the load — remains to be seen.
An Uncertain Restoration
About 10 months after the security forces (SFs) wiped out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from the entire Eastern province, the Sri Lankan Government, on March 10, 2008, conducted elections to nine local body Councils in the Batticaloa District. The Elections marked the completion of the local body polls in the District, as in 2006, elections could be held only for three councils out of 12, due to the unstable security situation. The Batticaloa Elections also marked the completion of the local body polls in the Eastern Province, as elections for the Trincomalee and Ampara local bodies had already been held in 2006. The Elections, while reflecting the commitment of the Government to usher in democracy in the area, were also part of the process of consolidating the Government’s military gains by reinstalling structures of civil administration.
Colombo had been worried about the vacuum that had been created after the ouster of the LTTE from the East, and the elections were also an attempt to legitimise the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) – the political party created by the breakaway ‘Karuna’ faction of the LTTE, now led by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanttan aka Pilliyan – which the Government believes can provide the civil administration and create a situation where the LTTE can never recover a position that would allow it to return to the province.
The legitimacy of the election, however, was disputed as the main opposition United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the latter closely allied to the LTTE, along with some other parties, boycotted the elections, saying that these were not going to be free and fair. "People are terrified at the thought of elections and would feel greatly relieved without it," TNA Batticaloa District Member of Parliament S. Jeyanandamoorthy told Tamil Net on March 7, three days before the polls.
Nevertheless, the elections were, by and large, peaceful. The Deputy Inspector General (DIG)-elections, H.M.D. Herath, disclosed on March 11, that not a single incident of violence was reported on the polling day. According to DIG Herath, 30 violent incidents, mostly minor in nature, were reported during the entire election period, since the January 4, 2008, notification. He also indicated that special measures had been taken to prevent incidents of violence in the aftermath of the poll, with certain candidates and supporters expressing fears of retaliation.
Meanwhile, the largest elections monitoring body in the country, the People's Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL), which deployed more than 300 monitors (including 20 foreign observers) and covered 98 per cent of the polling areas, reported that no incidents of injury or acts of violence were recorded by its 15 mobile units, which travelled to all parts of the District on the polling day. PAFFREL, however, pointed out that there was a lot of pressure on candidates opposed to the TMVP not to contest. "The entire course of the election, from the time of its announcement, was free of overt violence," it said in its interim report on the poll, adding, "However, during this period PAFFREL received several reports of intimidation of candidates." It also noted that weapons were not carried in public, as feared by political adversaries of the TMVP, which was at least partially responsible for their boycotting of the polls. The LTTE had also called for the boycott, ensuring that the TNA would not participate.
Although the LTTE’s public posture in calling for the poll boycott referred to ‘apprehensions’ that the elections would not have been fair and free of violence, such a decision is hardly strange in view of the dwindling political fortunes of the TNA, which had lost its voter base in Batticaloa as well as in the entire Eastern Province. Further, the LTTE was not in a position to guarantee the personal security of TNA candidates, if the latter had chosen to contest. Thus, Batticaloa District Member of Parliament Jeyanandamoorthy, stated on March 7, "The Tamil National Alliance is totally boycotting these polls. Had our party fielded candidates, they would have been brutally murdered by the paramilitary groups. Even our fellow parliamentarians have been murdered. Some of them became victims of bombing. Why, even my own brother was shot dead. In the final Budget voting that took place in November 2007, relatives of the Parliamentarians were abducted in order to ensure that these Parliamentarians abstained from the voting process. I am unable to visit my own constituency."
However, buoyed by the outcome of the Batticaloa polls, on March 12 the Government announced that elections for the Eastern Provincial Council (PC), to elect 35 members – 10 in Trincomalee, 11 in Batticaloa and 14 in Ampara, along with two bonus seats that would be offered to the party or independent group that captures the largest number of seats in the Council – will be held on May 10. Corroborating the Government’s upbeat mood Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, on March 11, stated, "It [the March 10 election] demonstrated the shape of events to come… the success of the election has paved the way for Provincial Council elections in May." Unlike the Batticaloa polls, the PC election is being contested by all the major political parties barring the pro-LTTE TNA.
The TMVP, a registered political party with a ‘(para)military’ setup, won eight Pradeshiya Sabhas (Local Councils) out of the total of nine councils for which the elections were held. It secured 61 seats, while the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UFPA) won 15 seats. Although the UPFA won the Batticaloa Municipal Council with 11 out of 19 seats, Shiwageetha Prabhakaran, a woman representative of the TMVP, was elected as Mayor of Batticaloa, confirming the fact the President Mahinda Rajapakse’s Government is trying to pay back the ‘Karuna faction’ and the TMVP for their support to the SFs in wiping out the Tigers from the East.
Results of the Local Body Polls in Batticaloa
Source: Daily News
There were nine political parties and 22 independent groups fielding 831 candidates for 101 seats in the nine local Councils and the Batticaloa Town municipality. A total of 270,471 voters were eligible to exercise their franchise. 285 polling stations functioned with 26 counting centres. More than 4,200 polling staffers were on duty along with 6,425 Police/security officials to ensure a free and fair poll. Despite persistent rain in most parts of the District resulting in heavy flooding, and the lurking fear of sabotage on the part of the LTTE, the polls witnessed a 59 per cent voter turnout. The Koralepattu North Pradeshiya Sabha Division recorded the highest percentage of polling (79.8 per cent) while the lowest figure, for the Batticaloa Municipal Council, was around 49 per cent.
The large voter turn out, in spite of the LTTE’s boycott call, was an indication of the lost influence of the rebels over a large area, where the outfit commanded unflinching deference about just over a year ago. The restoration of democratic institutions will bring welcome relief for the population after years of LTTE dominance.
Notwithstanding the TMVP’s triumph, the poll results in Batticaloa and the restoration of local body institutions, throw open several challenges to the Government efforts to strengthen gains in the region. More than the TMVP, President Rajapakse’s UPFA needs to live up to the main campaign slogan, promising 'economic development of the east'. The Government, after the final eviction of the LTTE from the Eastern Province in July 2007, embarked on the Nagenahira Navodaya (Reawakening of the East) Programme will have to deal with the issues of resettlement of all internally displaced persons (IDPs), economic development, creating employment and setting up an effective civil administration in the region.
The most important task ahead for the newly elected local bodies will be to ensure the safety and security for the common man. Terrorism related fatalities in the entire Eastern province have, of course, witnessed a steep decline – from 1,782 in 2006, to 845 in 2007, and just 35 in the first quarter of 2008. Batticaloa has witnessed similar declines: while 624 fatalities were recorded in the District in 2006, the number declined to 570 in 2007. Only 17 fatalities have been reported in the first quarter of 2008. Nevertheless, insecurity and fear remain pervasive. There have been almost daily occurrences of incidents of violence and evidence of all-pervasive anarchy – abduction, disappearances, extortion and intimidation – in the District, as well as in the entire Eastern Province. The presence of armed TMVP cadres has added to the complexities of the situation. If the gains of the recent past are to be consolidated, and a permanent stability established in the Eastern Province, Colombo will have to find a way out of this mess sooner rather than latter.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
March 31- April 6, 2008
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Chief spokesman of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen arrested in Jammu and Kashmir: The Handwara Police arrested Junaid-ul-Islam, the Kashmir-based spokesman of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), from the neighbourhood of Jammu and Kashmir Police Headquarters in the Karan Nagar area of capital Srinagar on April 3, 2008. The Deputy Inspector General of Police, Dr B. Srinivas, informed a Press Conference that Handwara Police conducted a raid in Srinagar and arrested HM ‘chief spokesman’ Abdul Khaliq Dar aka Junaid-ul-Islam aka Khalil-ur-Rehman aka Fazal-ur-Rehman early in the morning. According to Police records, Junaid-ul-Islam had crossed the Line of Control in 1990 to undergo training in guerrilla warfare at a HM camp in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). He underwent training and later also handled training camps for fresh recruits and trainee HM militants. He was an ideologue and was also known for writing articles and his reactions to the articles of other authors in local newspapers, particularly in the Urdu weekly Chattan. Police said that since his return to the Kashmir Valley in 2003, Junaid-ul-Islam had been operating as the chief spokesman. Daily Excelsior, April 4, 2008.
Eight Maoists killed in Jharkhand: On April 1, 2008, joint teams of the Jharkhand Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) killed eight cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), including a woman and a ‘sub zonal commander’, in an encounter at Bandu village under Ranka Police Station in the Garhwa District. The Director General of Police (DGP), V. D. Ram, said, "We had received a tip off about the movement of Maoists. One SLR, four .303 rifles, three 315 rifles, one sten-gun, one DBBL gun, one country made revolver and a large number of live cartridges, besides Naxal literature and belongings of the Maoists were recovered." Of the eight slain Maoists, one was identified as Basant Yadav, a ‘sub-zonal commander’, while two others are suspected to be Rajesh Paswan and Lallan Thakur, both ‘area commanders’. Hindustan Times, April 2, 2008.
Maoists to seize power if defeated in elections: Babu Ram Bhattarai, second in command of the CPN-Maoist, said at an election meeting in Kaski District on April 5, 2008, that the Maoists would go in for "State Capture" if the results for the upcoming Constituent Assembly election do not go in favour of his party. "It will not take us more than ten minutes to capture the State", he stated. "The National and International reactionary forces are hatching conspiracies to ensure the Maoists defeat… the Maoists with the peoples’ support in such a case would eventually capture the State", he said. "If the elections were held in a free and fair environment, no force on earth can defeat us", Bhattarai said, adding, "We were the first to forward the demand for the election to the Constituent Assembly, the UML and the NC are the "political monkeys" who are trying to reap the benefits of the CA election." Telegraph Nepal, April 6, 2008.
Force is only a ‘last option’ against militants, says NWFP Chief Minister: Authorities should only use force as a last resort against militants near the Afghan border, newly elected North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti said on April 1, 2008. Addressing the Provincial Assembly, he said the use of force in the past made it harder to bring peace to the Province. He said his Government would, instead, promote dialogue at all levels. "We’ll make every effort to restore peace in the province. We’ll form traditional jirgas for peace," he stated. The Awami National Party’s Hoti was elected as Chief Minister unopposed on March 31. Daily Times, April 2, 2008.
Minister killed in suicide blast: Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, the Highway Minister and Chief Whip of the ruling United People's Freedom Party, was assassinated on April 6, 2008, by suspected Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants in a suicide attack on a marathon opening that also killed a former Olympian and 12 others, while injuring approximately another 100 persons. The Minister was about to wave a flag to start a marathon when the bomb exploded at the western District of Grampaha, about 25 kilometres from capital Colombo. Considered as one of the prime targets of the LTTE, Fernandopulle is the second top Minister to be killed by the militants after D.M. Dassanayake, Minister for Nation Building, who died in a bomb blast in the same District on January 8, 2008. The Hindu, April 7, 2008.
176 LTTE militants and eight soldiers killed during the week: 176 LTTE militants and eight soldiers were killed in separate incidents between March 30 and April 5. Among the major incidents, at least 21 LTTE militants were killed when the troops attacked a bunker line of the outfit at Pikkulam in the Mannar District on April 1. The troops advanced another 800 metres into LTTE-held territory, neutralising the outfit’s Forward Defence Lines in the Kaliaddanchan village of Mannar District in the morning of April 2, killing 13 militants. One soldier was also killed while 12 others were injured during the clashes. On April 1, 21 LTTE militants were killed during clashes with the troops at Puthukulam in the Mannar District. Troops in the Sulanamaruthamadu and other areas of Vavuniya and Mannar District killed 12 LTTE militants. Separately, the security forces (SFs) in the newly captured Sinapandivirichchan area of Vavuniya District foiled an attempt by the LTTE to re-capture one of their bunkers in the area on April 2. In retaliatory action, the troops killed at least 11 militants and injured five others. Two soldiers were also killed while 15 others sustained injuries during the encounter. At least 11 LTTE militants were killed by the troops during clashes in the Navathkulama area of Vavuniya District on April 3. On April 5, 11 LTTE militants were killed during clashes in the Palampiddi, Madhu, Mundipurippu, Nedunkerni and Thirukethiswaram areas of Mannar District. Another 14 LTTE cadres were killed by troops during clashes in the areas north of Kiriibbanwewa and Janakapura in the Vavuniya District. Four soldiers were injured in the incidents. Sri Lanka Army; Colombo Page, March 31-April 7, 2008.
Recommend South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) to a friend.