SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Men of Hindoostan
After exactly one year of ‘declared war’, the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) overran Kilinochchi Town, the de-facto capital of the projected Tamil Eelam (Homeland). The SLA captured Kilinochchi, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) political and administrative headquarters in the early hours of January 2, 2009, as they launched simultaneous attacks from three directions in Paranthan, Iranamadu and Adampan. The Defence Ministry disclosed that troops of 57th Division entered the highly defended stronghold from the southern and south-western boundaries while Task Force-I troops marched in from the north and the northwest. The Army had earlier taken the Jaffna-Kandy (A-9) Highway on the Omanthai-Paranthan stretch. Notably, it was on January 2, 2008, that the Sri Lanka Government had decided to withdraw from the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) signed on February 22, 2002, between the then United National Front (UNF) Government and the LTTE.
The fall of Kilinochchi has, at once, exposed the myth of the LTTE’s invincibility and the credentials of many a much-experienced ‘strategic expert’. Some uncomprehending experts have currently succumbed to inexplicable bouts of breast-beating at this decisive defeat of what has long been recognized as one of the most lethal and enduring terrorist organisations in the world. Thus, one such expert, who had earlier warned that the conflict in Kilinochchi would be "a long and fatal kiss" for the "young and hastily-trained Sinhalese recruits" of the SLA, quickly shifts his dire predictions to Mullaitivu. He had warned that Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka’s "keenness to keep his promise of ‘In Kilinochchi before the New Year’" would prove as disastrous as General Douglas McArthur’s promise of "home before Christmas" in the Korean war, because "Kilinochchi has now nothing but death traps for the SL Army laid by the LTTE". Adding some historical wisdom to these assessments, he asserted, further, "The battle being fought for Kilinochchi is a combined miniature version of the battles of Stalingrad in the erstwhile USSR and El Alamein in North Africa". This expert now draws parallels between "scenes witnessed after the US Army moved without resistance into Baghdad" and notes that, "Almost six years later, the violence still continues in Iraq." The learned conclusion drawn is that "the end of the LTTE’s campaign will come not when it loses an important piece of territory, but when it loses the support of the Tamil people in the areas still controlled by it and in the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora."
This is just unqualified nonsense and is based on an inversion of the logic of counter-terrorism successes in theatre after theatre across South Asia. The reality is, the defeat of terrorism results in a dissipation of the legitimacy of rebel forces and of what passes for ‘popular support’. Rebel groups and the ideologies they propagate have repeatedly been discredited by defeat. The reality of ‘popular support’ moreover, is that it is based at least as much on the terror the group is able to inflict on its ‘followers’ as on any ideological appeal (though this may not be as much the case with vocal, affluent and unduly influential Diaspora elements who operate outside the risk and terror of the actual conflict).
Another notable expert-in-mourning sees the defeat at Kilinochchi as a disaster for Indian foreign policy: "We have lost the game", he notes theatrically, "Whatever influence India had would diminish as a result of Sri Lanka being able to handle the situation entirely on its own… It is a strategic error (for India) not to keep back channels with the LTTE". It is, indeed, astonishing to learn that India has no leverage in Sri Lanka other than the option of supporting a terrorist organisation that is banned on Indian soil, and a terrorist leadership that was responsible for the assassination of one of its former Prime Ministers. Incredible, moreover, that Sri Lanka’s abilities to "handle the situation entirely on its own" (a small exaggeration, certainly), undermines the possibility of diplomatic influence in a country that has a long tradition – only occasionally marred – of friendly relations with India.
But such are the contours of strategic sagacity in South Asia.
Meanwhile, at the time of writing, the troops attached to Task Force-IV, operating in the East of the Jaffna-Kandy (A-9) Road, have captured the key junction town, Oddusudan, on the Mankulam-Mullaitivu (A-34) Road, taking full control of the Oddusudan-Nedunkerni-Puliyankulam Road, and are surging ahead, just four kilometres away from the centre of the LTTE’s military bastion at Mullaitivu. About 30,000 troops are also currently deployed in Kilinochchi to clear the town of booby traps and landmines.
In a special address to the nation on State television Rupavahini, hours after the troops captured Kilinochchi, President Mahinda Rajapakse described the action as a "major victory in the world’s battle against terrorism." He reiterated the resolve of his Government to continue the fight till the LTTE was "fully and finally defeated," and asserted this was "the final message to the LTTE, to lay down their arms and surrender." He said his Government would continue the fight against the LTTE until the "final act of this false Eelam struggle is played to its finish" in the small territory of the jungle dominated Mullaitivu, where it is confined today.
Acknowledging the loss, the pro-LTTE Tamil Net website stated that the SLA "has entered a virtual ghost town as the whole civilian infrastructure as well as the centre of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had shifted further northeast." The Website claimed that the LTTE, who had put up heavy resistance, kept their casualties low in the defensive fighting, adding, "It is the first time after a decade the Sri Lankan forces have been able to take control of the town after several months of fierce fighting that has claimed hundreds of combatants on both sides of the war."
The LTTE first took control of Kilinochchi in 1990, when the SLA withdrew its garrisons after the departure of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The SLA regained control of the town following operations Sathjaya I, II, and III in September 1996. The town was re-captured by the LTTE in September 1998, and has since been designated as the LTTE’s "administrative and political headquarters." Kilinochchi town, which lies about 334 kilometres (255 miles) north of capital Colombo, is where almost all decisions were made by the exclusive command of the outfit’s leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and his top-rung leadership. The LTTE ‘courts’, ‘Police’ Headquarters, ‘Eelam’ banks, and the luxurious LTTE Peace Secretariat complex, all operated from Kilinochchi, lying along the main supply route (A-9).
That the victory surprised even the Government is evident from its own admission, on December 25, 2008, that there would be a delay in capturing Kilinochchi, owing to significant numbers of civilians still remaining in the outskirts of the town. Defence spokesperson, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, had claimed that 150,000 civilians still remained trapped by the LTTE in and around Kilinochchi. "The President is very watchful that no civilian is hurt in the ongoing battle. This is why the crawl to Kilinochchi by the Security Forces has been very slow." However, on December 29, 2008, Rambukwella declared that the SLA would arrest the LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and bring him to the courts before February 7, 2009. Speaking at a function in Kandy, Rambukwella said Prabhakaran was hiding in a bunker at a location limited only to a small area in Wanni. The Minister claimed Government troops would overrun Prabhakaran’s bunker in the immediate future. The hopes of speedy victory were rekindled further on January 1, 2009, when Lt. Fonseka told Daily News that the fall of Kilinochchi was imminent within the succeeding 48 hours, as the Security Forces (SFs) had already entered Kilinochchi Town from the South, West and North: "The Task Force I troops are operating just one kilometre short of Kilinochchi railway station…" he had stated then, "They have advanced beyond the Iranamadu Junction and are fast advancing towards the heart of Kilinochchi. There are signs that the LTTE will flee from Kilinochchi as troops advance towards the heart of Kilinochchi. But troops will have to engage in fierce battles in areas such as Ramanathapuram in the east of Kilinochchi."
The fall of Kilinochchi is the more momentous in view of the LTTE’s repeated claim that it had executed tactical retreats on other battlefronts only to give a ‘befitting reply’ to troops at Kilinochchi. As recently as on December 30, 2008, the leader of the LTTE political wing, Balasingham Nadesan, in an e-mail sent to Associated Press claimed, "We have made several strategic withdrawals in order to save the lives of our people and maintain the strength of our forces. When the time and place is conducive, we will regain the land we have lost."
Soon after the capture of Kilinochchi, the defence ministry stated, "There is no option available for the LTTE rebels other than to flee towards the jungle patches in Puthukuduiruppu and Vishvamadu in the East of Iranamadu Tank as troops aggressively advanced towards the heart of Kilinochchi on all fronts." Unsurprisingly, speaking at a special function in Colombo to announce the military success in Kilinochchi, Lt. Gen. Fonseka disclosed that over 1,500 LTTE militants had been killed during the preceding two months in the north, that small numbers of LTTE cadres were concentrated in Wanni, and that the SFs could neutralise them in the near future.
There has been no pause in SLA operations after Kilinochchi, and troops have moved inexorably into Mullaitivu, where many envisage another intractable phase of the war in this densely forested region. It is useful, however, to recall, here, that some commentators had earlier spoken about the LTTE’s ‘invincibility’ in the jungles of Thoppigala, a large forest with 700 square kilometres, where the rebels took shelter after being evacuated from the entire Eastern Province in 2007. The LTTE was, however, quickly pushed out of this forest haven at that time.
With a total forest area of about 1,712 square kilometres out of a total land area of 2,415 square kilometres (70.9 per cent) the Mullaitivu District has proven an ideal hiding place for the LTTE, alongside the Elephant Pass in Jaffna, to carry its guerrilla war in the past. With SLA Forces now pushing forward at the Elephant Pass as well – in an effort that would restore the road link between Jaffna and the Sri Lankan mainland, it is now only a matter of time before the LTTE succumbs in Mullaitivu as well.
Government Forces have already made deep inroads into the Mullaitivu District and the SLA’s strongest Force, the 59th Division, is pressing forward at the Welioya Front. By January 3, 2009, troops had advanced towards the LTTE’s military headquarters in Mullaitivu. "The battle for Mullaitivu has already begun," the Ministry stated, disclosing that Government troops were also moving further north of their positions in Kilinochchi in a bid to retake the strategically vital Elephant Pass, which was lost to the LTTE’s Operation Ceaseless Waves (Oyatha Alaigal) in April 2000. Elephant Pass lies at the entrance to the Jaffna Peninsula, which the SF’s wrested from rebel control in 1995. However, with most of the Kilinochchi populace having been forced to move eastward towards Mullaitivu even before the ‘Eelam war-IV’ began, it may be difficult for the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) to target LTTE forces. The Government’s ‘zero civilian casualty policy’ may hamper air support to ground troops, delaying the inevitable outcome somewhat.
While it is now evident that the LTTE is a progressively spent force as far as conventional war is concerned, and that it will be nigh impossible for them to regain the swathes of land they have lost, the outfit retains a significant residual menace. Even if the rebels are completely routed at Mullaitivu, the possibility of a terrorist and guerrilla hit and run campaign would remain, unless the top leadership is entirely neutralised. Balasingham Nadesan thus warns, "We are used to all types of wars… we will struggle on with the help of our people until their political aspirations are met." The seriousness of this admonition was demonstrated shortly after Mahinda Rajapakse’s victorious speech, when an LTTE suicide bomber blew himself up, killing three persons, including two Airmen, and injuring 37 others at the entrance to the Air Force camp at Slave Island in Colombo on January 2, 2009. Crucially, the Eastern Province may once again become the target of escalating LTTE violence and refuge. The province has already witnessed a rising graph of attacks, with as many as 232 reported incidents in 2008, in which 198 persons (69 civilians, 36 SFs and 93 militants) were killed (ICM database). The Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, itself witnessed 109 killings in 2008 (85 civilians and five SFs).
For Colombo, this is not a time either for triumphalism or for haste, but rather, for the steady consolidation of the victories of the recent past, and for the accommodation of legitimate Tamil aspirations within the Sri Lankan constitutional order, with no concessions whatsoever to terrorists.
For the world, there are crucial lessons that can be learned from the successive reverses inflicted on the LTTE by the SLA. The most significant of these is that terrorism can, indeed, must, be defeated, if political solutions are to apply. Colombo’s long history of defeats was a consequence, not of the invincibility or intractability of the LTTE, but of the indecision, the weakness or the lack of realism in earlier political leaderships, which failed to make an objective assessment of the LTTE’s capacities, and to acquire and deploy the resources to neutralize these in the past, relying, instead, on what was seen to be the ‘easier’ option of negotiating with the terrorists. The lesson the world can learn from Sri Lanka – as indeed, from other theatres of successful counter-terrorism in South Asia – is that while the war against terror will never be easy, it will remain a necessity in ages to come; cultures that seek the ‘ease’ of political and negotiated solutions without addressing the challenge of the coercive and disruptive dominance of terrorist groups will, consequently, be condemned to the greater suffering of relentless victimhood.
2009 has begun with a startling victory at Kilinochchi. With the necessary political and military will, this may well be the year that a 33 year old terror is finally extinguished in Sri Lanka.
If one is looking for a single sentence to sum up the significance of the results of the December 29, 2008, parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, it should read: this is a second liberation. The first one, on December 16, 1971, rid it of Pakistan’s colonial rule and the nightmare of genocide and mass rape unleashed by the Pakistani Army since the night of March 25 that year. The results of the December elections have liberated Bangladesh from an inexorable descent into Talibanesque social medievalism and a reign of terror unleashed by Islamist fundamentalists. The country now has a chance to return to the Liberation War’s legacy of secularism, modernity, gender and social justice, political democracy and cultural pluralism, and friendship with neighbouring countries, particularly India. This is precisely the path the voters wanted their country to take.
The verdict has been overwhelmingly decisive. The Awami League (AL) has won 230 of the 299 seats (out of a total of 300 seats in the Jatiya Sangsad or National Parliament) to which elections were held on December 29, and 49.2 per cent of the votes polled, as against 62 seats and 40.13 per cent, respectively, in the 2001 election. The Grand Alliance it spearheaded has won 262 seats, with the Jatiya Party accounting for 27 (against 14 in 2001) seats, with five going to ‘others’ in the coalition. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Begum Khaleda Zia, which won 193 seats in 2001, now has just 29, with its share of votes declining from 40.97 per cent to 32.74 per cent. Its principal ally in the Four-Party Alliance, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JeI-B or Jamaat) has had its seats reduced from 17 to two.
The Jamaat, along with its student’s wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS or Shibir), constitute the matrix within which terrorist organizations like Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), and Ahle Hadith Andolan Bangladesh (AHAB), evolved. Leaders like Mufti Abdul Hannan and Bangla Bhai, aka Siddiqul Islam, Operations Commanders of the HuJI-B and JMJB respectively, till Hannan's arrest and Bangla Bhai's eventual execution, Abdur Rahman of JMB, Muhammad Asadullah al-Galib of AHAB graduated either from the Jamaat or the Shibir or both.
The JeI has suffered major blows in the recent election. Its Amir (chief), Matiur Rahman Nizami, General Secretary, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, and fire-eating stalwart, Delwar Hussain Saydee, have lost. It will, however, be foolish to believe that the party has been wiped out, or that the BNP has been hobbled permanently. Though the Jamaat has won only two seats, its share of votes polled has actually increased from 4.28 per cent in 2001 to 4.55 per cent in 2008. Besides, it has never been a dominant electoral force. Its strength lies in its huge economic empire which, as Professor Abul Barkat of Dhaka University has shown, yields an annual net profit of Taka 12 billion, at least 10 per cent of which is spent on organizational matters like holding regular party activity, running military training centres and maintaining about 500,000 party workers. As long as this empire, built with funds received from abroad during the 1970s and 1980s, remains intact, the JeI will continue to have the ability to make waves in Bangladesh’s politics as a highly-organised marginal force, which can tilt the balance whenever the AL’s popularity wanes.
Some of the entrepreneurial ventures linked to the Jamaat have also been funding terrorist activity. On April 5, 2006, Bangladesh Bank (the country’s Central Bank) had fined the Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd., which is joined at the hip with the Jamaat, Taka 100,000 for hiding suspicious transactions by terrorists violating money-laundering laws. According to the report, this was the third time that the Islami Bank had been penalized for covering up terrorist activity. Many in Bangladesh believe that a thorough investigation into its functioning — as also that of other Jamaat enterprises — is bound to reveal the party’s, as well as the Shibir’s, umbilical ties with organizations like the HuJI-B, JMB, JMJB and AHAB, which, though banned, continue to be active.
JeI leaders’ denials of ties with Islamist terrorist outfits have always lacked credibility. Referring to the notorious terrorist, Bangla Bhai aka Siddiqul Islam, Operations Commander of JMJB, Motiur Rahman Nizami, then Bangladesh’s Industries Minister, had said at a Press Conference in Dhaka on July 22, 2004, that Bangla Bhai was "created by some newspapers as the Government has found no existence of him". Ali Ahsan Mohammed Mujahid, on the same occasion, stated that the Government would certainly take legal action against Bangla Bhai ‘if he was traced out’. Among others present at the Press Conference were the Jamaat’s Assistant Secretary General Kamaruzzaman, and leaders like Abdul Kader Mollah, ATM Azharul Islam and Nayeb-e-Ameer Maqbul Ahmed.
That Bangla Bhai was not a media creation was proved beyond doubt after he was arrested and, following a trial, hanged with six others, including Abdur Rahman, on March 29, 2007.
However, it is useful to note, also, that Sheikh Hasina did not take any significant action against the Jamaat during her previous tenure as Prime Minister from 1996 to 2001. In fact, she had even allied with the Jamaat in 1994 and 1995 to launch an agitation against Begum Khaleda Zia’s Government, demanding the establishment of a caretaker Government to hold parliamentary elections.
It is, perhaps, different now. Under relentless and often murderous attack, during the regime of the BNP-led coalition Government, of which Jamaat was a assertive partner, the AL now has reason to demand stringent action. Sheikh Hasina too is likely to listen.
She will also be under pressure to act against Jamaat leaders like Matiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, on another count — the promise in the Awami League’s manifesto for the parliamentary election to bring Bangladesh’s war criminals to justice. Both have been accused of war crimes along with several other leaders of the party. It will not be easy to bring them to book. Supporters of war criminals have become firmly entrenched in Bangladesh’s premier intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces’ Intelligence (DGFI), which has close links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. They, as well as their fellow travelers, who have infiltrated into the armed forces and civilian administration, will fight bitterly to frustrate the new Government’s efforts.
On her part, Sheikh Hasina will not be without support. The Sector Commanders’ Forum, an organization spearheaded by the sector commanders of the Mukti Bahini, during the 1971 Liberation War, has sustained an intense campaign for the trial and punishment of war criminals over the last two years. Thanks to them and efforts by the Muktijuddher Chetana Bastabayan O Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Jatiya Samanyay Committee (National Coordination Committee for the Realisation of the Consciousness of the Liberation War and the Eradication of the Killers and Agents of ‘Seventy One’), popularly known as Nirmul Committee, evidence will not be difficult to come by. Besides, Ian Martin, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy, has promised Sheikh Hasina, whom he met on January 1, 2009, to congratulate her on her victory, all help in bringing the war criminals to justice.
The question is of political will. Sheikh Hasina’s and the AL’s credibility will be severely dented if they are seen to be unable and/or unwilling to act firmly. Besides, war criminals, left alone, will try to stage a comeback and resume the campaign of murder and terror they had unleashed in Bangladesh between 2001 and 2006. Sheikh Hasina, who has survived several attempts on her life, including the grenade attack on a rally she was addressing in Dhaka on August 21, 2004, which left 24 persons dead, should have no illusion on the score. Besides acting against war criminals, she will also have to dismantle the Jamaat’s economic empire, which sustains the party’s activities and openly promotes a jihadi mindset.
The Sector Commander’s Forum has urged the incoming Government to begin the trial of the war criminals as soon as possible. In a statement on January 2, congratulating the AL-led Grand Alliance on their landslide victory, it said that the soul of the martyrs would remain unsatisfied and the sovereignty of the country insecure until the war criminals were tried.
The issue of the trial of war criminals has a significance that goes far beyond bringing to book people who have been involved in genocidal violence that cost the lives of three million people and involved the rape of 425,000 women, though that is monstrous enough. Those designated war criminals are also leaders of the Jamaat, the spawning ground and ideological fountainhead of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh. Their trial and punishment will, consequently, help to neutralize the threat of a regression into near-anarchical violence and medievalism that still hangs over Bangladesh.
It will also, perhaps, help relations with India, which the Jamaat leaders have designated as Bangladesh’s enemy. This is clear from the Jamaat’s view on Bangladesh’s defence articulated by Abbas Ali Khan, who became its officiating Amir after it was revived in May 1979, after being banned in the wake of the country’s liberation. Khan writes in the party’s official website,
Understandably, relations between India and Bangladesh were tense during the entire period of the four-party coalition Government headed by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who is also bitterly hostile toward India and has never been averse to resorting to communal politics. A week before the elections, she had said urged voters campaigning in Sylhet, to vote for her alliance to "save Islam and the country", adding, further, "You will have to decide whether to cast your vote for setting up a puppet government for serving certain quarters at home and abroad, who had been conspiring against Bangladesh."
During Begum Zia’s second innings as Prime Minister, Bangladesh continued to provide sanctuary, training, and assistance to terrorist outfits of northeastern India, prominently including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the All-Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF). Her Government had arbitrarily rejected lists of terrorist camps provided by India, stating that the latter did not exist, and had allowed wanted terrorists like Anup Chetia, Arabinda Rajkhowa and Paresh Baruah of the ULFA to move about freely and acquire massive business interests in Bangladesh. The country had also emerged, during her second tenure as Prime Minister, as a major staging ground for cross-border terrorist strikes in India, with the HuJI-B having a hand in most attacks since 2002.
In response to a question from an Indian journalist, Sheikh Hasina stated, at a Press Conference on December 31, that Bangladesh would not allow any terrorist outfit to use its soil (for attacks) against any country, including India. She also proposed the establishment of a joint task force by South Asian countries for combined action against terrorism. While nobody will question her intentions, her ability to deliver remains to be seen. She had closed down some camps of North-East Indian insurgent groups in Bangladesh after taking over as Prime Minister in 1996. But these had reopened not long thereafter, while she remained in power. Sources close to her had told this writer at that time that her hand was forced by a section of the Army and the DGFI – which may well have been the case. Both had acquired a very sizeable component of pro-Pakistan fundamentalist Islamist elements during the 15 years of thinly-disguised military rule in Bangladesh, from the end of 1975 to the beginning of 1991, when Khaleda Zia became Prime Minister for the first time. The latter’s tenure as Prime Minister, from 1991 to 1996, had seen a further consolidation of these elements, which Sheikh Hasina could only contain up to a point, and not fully curb, when she was Prime Minister from 1996 to 2001.
A part of the reason lay in the fact that the ISI was riding high. Having coordinated the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union on behalf of the United States, it had, in cooperation with the CIA and the transport mafia of Quetta, set up the Taliban in 1994. Given the background of the murder of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and her entire family in 1975, barring her and her sister Rehana, who were not then in Bangladesh, Shiekh Hasina might well have hesitated to take on Pakistani elements in the Army and the DGFI, which were closely linked to Pakistan.
The regional and international canvas is different now. Post 9/11, the United States has declared war on al Qaeda and the Taliban. The ISI, which has spawned Islamist terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and which has close links with al Qaeda and Taliban, is no longer the CIA’s blue-eyed boy. Sheikh Hasina will have extensive global support if she takes on Islamist terrorist organizations in Bangladesh linked to al Qaeda and Taliban. Indeed, it was pressure from the United States and the European Union countries which had forced Begum Zia to act against the JMJB, JMB and AHAB in February 2005 and the HuJI-B several months later. Also, but for international pressure the Army-backed Caretaker Government would not have come into being on January 11, 2007; nor would it, perhaps, have held the elections on December 29.
Sheikh Hasina is now clearly in a position not only to act against Islamist terrorists but even to cleanse the Army and the DGFI of elements favouring the Taliban, al Qaeda and their local franchise holders, and who are linked with the ISI. Many in Bangladesh have lauded Sheikh Hasina’s holding out the proverbial olive branch to the BNP by offering it the post of Deputy Speaker and a share in ministerial appointments; others advocate, albeit sotto voce, caution, recalling the general amnesty Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had proclaimed on November 30, 1973, which had enabled war criminals, including those convicted and sentenced, to come out from jails and the woodwork, to work surreptitiously for a revival of pro-Pakistan and fundamentalist politics. History rarely forgives those who fail to be firm when they need to.
A stern approach toward jihadi groups that use Bangladesh’s territory to mount terrorist attacks against India, and send agents and arms across the porous India-Bangladesh border, will go a long way in creating a climate in which all outstanding issues between the two countries can be sorted out; so will the withdrawal of sanctuary and assistance so long given to Indian insurgent groups. This applies particularly to the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh which has acquired a sharp and bitter edge because of the cover it provides to infiltration by terrorists and smuggling of arms and money, and because of the ISI’s known plan to carve out a Muslim-majority state comprising parts of north-eastern India, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Of course, it will not be easy to resolve these issues. But a beginning can be made with Bangladesh’s recognition of the existence of the problems, which it has been denying so far. This will require extraordinary political will. But so will effectively dealing with the terrorist groups and their patrons, cleansing the administration of corruption and worse, coping with continuing price rise, and the global meltdown that can hit the country particularly hard because of its dependence on the export of ready-made garments to the West and remittances from non-resident Bangladeshis. Accelerated economic cooperation with India, which is likely to be hurt far less, can provide Bangladesh with a much-needed cushion.
There is no reason why this should not come about, given the huge reservoir of goodwill that exists for Sheikh Hasina in India. But she must address New Delhi’s concerns as well, particularly since most of these affect her own and Bangladesh’s well-being as well. The stage is now set for scripting a new scenario of friendship and cooperation between India and Bangladesh. It will be great pity if the play turns into a tragedy.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
December29, 2008-January 4, 2009
Awami League-led alliance wins landslide victory in the ninth General Election: Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League (AL)-led alliance on December 30, 2008, won a landslide victory in the ninth General Elections held under a caretaker Government after nearly two years of Emergency Rule. The Election Commission in Dhaka said the alliance bagged 262 seats (AL won 230 seats independently, alliance partner Jatiya Party bagged 27 seats) while former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led four-party grouping bagged only 30 seats (BNP on its own won 27 seats while Its allies won three — Bangladesh Jatiya Party  and Jamaat-e-Islami , in the 300-seat Parliament for which elections were held on December 29. Earlier, on December 29, security was tight and voting was peaceful across the country, barring a few minor incidents. Voter turnout was high, with about 70 per cent of the 81 million eligible voters casting ballots, said election official Humayun Kabir, AP reported. More than 650,000 Police officers and soldiers had been deployed across the country in a bid to prevent voter fraud and violence. Fakhruddin Ahmed, head of the military-backed caretaker Government, who led the country for the last two years, on December 30, 2008, termed the parliamentary election "most peaceful, free and fair" describing the turn out of voters as "heavy". The Hindu, December 30-31, 2008.
No improvement in Maoist violence in 2008, says MHA report: The year-end review report published by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on December 31, 2008, says that "the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) violence during the year 2008 remained at the same level as compared to last year in terms of number of incidents and casualties of Security Forces. Till November, the number of incidents of violence by Maoists and Police/civilian casualties were 1,435 and 658 as compared to 1,420 and 636 for the corresponding period of the year 2007," IANS reported. Samachaar, January 1, 2009.
ULFA triggered serial bomb blasts kill five persons and injure 50 others in Assam: United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants triggered serial bomb blasts in three different areas of Guwahati city, killing five persons, including a minor, and injuring 50 others, on January 1, 2009. The first explosion took place around 2:25 PM (IST) in Birubari followed by high-intensity explosions in the Bhootnath area (5:25PM) and Bhangagarh area (5:40PM). The blasts were triggered hours before the scheduled arrival of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram at Guwahati. "From prima facie evidence collected from the spot, it appears to be the handiwork of suspected ULFA militants," said Additional Superintendent of Police of Guwahati City, Debojit Deori. "The Birubari bomb, which was planted in a GMC dustbin near the Assam Association of Deaf office, was a low-intensity one. However, the subsequent blasts were aimed to cause maximum damage as they were planted in crowded areas," added Deori. Another unnamed Police official claimed that the bomb in the Bhootnath area was planted in a bicycle. Director-General of Police (DGP) G.M. Srivastav told The Hindu: "We had information that some cadres of the ULFA’s 709 battalion have entered the city to trigger blasts and we were hot on their trail. Under pressure in the form of stepped-up security, they dumped one bomb at a garbage bin in Birubari locality." The DGP said ULFA wanted to demonstrate its presence ahead of Chidambaram’s visit. The Hindu; Assam Tribune, January 2, 2009.
Chhattisgarh is the worst CPI-Maoist affected State, indicates media report: With the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) making its presence felt in more than half of the 18 Districts in Chhattisgarh, year 2008 saw large scale CPI-Maoist related violence, reports India Today. Out of a total of 212 people killed by the CPI-Maoist, 131 were civilians. 63 Police personnel, 14 Special Police Officers, and one secret Policeman. The Maoists also lost 52 of their cadres.
The Hindu, quoting Director General of Police (DGP), Vishawa Ranjan, reports that about 15,000 armed women Maoists operate in Chhattisgarh and they form a significant chunk of the insurgents engaged in a bitter battle with the State machinery. According to the DGP, "Some 30 percent of the total 50,000 armed rebels, or 15,000, are female insurgents, who actively participate in carrying out major strikes against civilians and Police forces," adding, "Roughly 10,000 highly militarised insurgents are present in Chhattisgarh, backed by another at least 35,000-40,000 armed cadre who carry multiple weapons." The group of women rebels also known as Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangh (Revolutionary Tribal Women’s Association) is a frontal unit of the outlawed CPI-Maoist and plays a key role in all major strikes, the report said. Police officials and experts say thousands of minor girls have been forcibly recruited to Maoist ranks as combatants. The Hindu; India Today, January 1, 2009.
47 persons killed in NWFP during the week: At least 47 persons were killed during the week in the NWFP. Ten persons, including four Policemen, were killed and 27 others injured, in two bomb blasts near the Polytechnic College in Dera Ismail Khan on January 4, 2009. Sources said an explosive device, planted by militants near the main gate of the Polytechnic College, went off at 7:07 pm, injuring four persons. Eyewitnesses said soon after the blast, Police personnel and people rushed to the spot. As a large number of Policemen and people gathered at the site, a 16-year-old suicide bomber forced his entry into the crowd and blew himself up, killing 10 persons, including four Policemen, and injuring 21 others. Earlier, a suicide bomber was killed while two people sustained injuries near a check-post in Officers’ Colony in Bannu on January 4. The suicide bomber blew himself up in an attempt to target a check-post, but could not succeed as the bomb exploded before he could reach his target. On the same day, five persons, including two Security Force (SF) personnel, were killed in separate incidents in the Swat District. Frontier Corps official Sabir Khan from Chhuta Kalam and a Police official from Mamdheri, Azizur Rahman, who were abducted by the militants on January 3, were killed the next day. In another incident, unidentified assailants shot dead three persons at the Matta College Square and later escaped from the incident site.
Earlier, eight bodies were recovered from different parts of the District on January 3, Daily Times reported. According to a private TV channel, three bodies were found at Green Chowk while two bodies were recovered from the Ode Gram area of the District. Another three bodies were found from a house in the Shakardara area of Matta sub-division. According to the channel, the killings were part of a series of targeted killings in the Valley. Separately, Taliban militants killed the Traders Association President, Jameel Khan, in Barikot. Seven persons, including an Awami National Party leader and two Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel, were killed in different parts of the Swat District on January 2. Police sources said the militants kidnapped two FC officials, identified as Hameed and Rehmat Gul, from the Balogram Police post. Later, their mutilated bodies were found on the roadside in Odigram. Similarly, unidentified gunmen shot dead Deedar Gul, President of the Kalam chapter of the ruling Awami National Party. Suspected militants also shot dead a female dancer at Green Chowk in Mingora city. In the Shakardarra area of Matta sub-division, two persons, Ameer Hameedullah and Muhammad Kareem, were shot dead by unidentified assailants.
Three Policemen were killed and six injured in two bomb blasts in Peshawar and Bannu Districts, Police said on January 1. Unidentified men blew up a Police check-post near Jabba Mosque in the Mathra Police Station precincts of Peshawar, killing constable Asif Khan. Meanwhile, two Policemen – Abbas Ali Khan and Muhammad Ali Khan – were killed and six injured, when a bomb being defused by officials of the Bannu Bomb Disposal Squad exploded. Four persons were killed in separate incidents in Swat District on January 1. According to Dawn, three women and a boy of a family were killed and six persons, including four women, were injured when a rocket hit a house in Darra Adamkhel on December 31, 2008. Officials said the rocket fired from some location in the hills near the town blew up the house, killing the three women and the boy on the spot. SFs claimed to have purged the Alamganj area of militants, while two persons, including an elected councillor, were killed in the Swat District on December 30, 2008. Taliban killed two supporters of rival cleric Pir Samiullah in the Matta Sub-division of Swat District. A few weeks ago, the militants had also killed Pir Samiullah and hanged his body in Matta, alleging that he had developed cordial relations with the Army.Dawn; Daily Times; The News, December 29, 2008-January 4, 2009.
Jama’at-ud-Da’awa operating under new name: According to India's Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, less than two weeks after it was banned by the United Nations, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) front Jama’at-ud-Da’awa is active, CNN-IBN reported. Menon said the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa (JuD) is now operating under a new name. He also said the JuD has a new website, which is being used to collect money to fund terrorist activities. Speaking to the All India Radio, Menon rejected Pakistan's offer of joint investigation into the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26. He said India has shared evidence with Pakistan several times, but without any results. Menon added that even the Joint-Anti Terror Mechanism set up by India and Pakistan has yielded no results so far. According to Press Trust of India (PTI) sources, JuD may be planning to rename itself as 'Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool' (Movement for the honour of the Prophet) to avoid restrictions which Pakistan could be forced to impose on it because of UNSC sanctions. The indication that JuD may be thinking of changing its name reportedly came as some senior cadres of the outfit recently organised a rally in Pakistan under the banner of Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, sources told PTI. CNN-IBN, January 1, 2009.
No state institution involved in terrorism, says Foreign Office: Pakistan on January 1, 2009, dismissed criticism that some elements in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were involved in acts of terrorism and were not in control of the Government. "Pakistan’s Government and state institutions are committed to the war against terror. Therefore, vilifying Pakistan or for that matter any of its state institutions on this score is unwarranted and unacceptable. In Pakistan’s view, in the given situation, what is needed is more accurate alignment in the perception and interests of Afghanistan, Pakistan, US/NATO and countries in the region that have stakes in the struggle against terrorism," said the spokesman at the Foreign Office at an online media briefing. The spokesman also denied charges of any terrorist infrastructure on the Pakistani soil. "There is no terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan. Terrorism is a global issue. Terrorist elements are found in every society and religion. Pakistan, India and other countries of the region need to follow a cooperative, and not accusatory, approach to jointly deal with this menace," he said. The News, January 2, 2009.
Troops capture Kilinochchi: On January 2, 2009, the Sri Lanka Army captured Kilinochchi, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) political and administrative headquarters. The troops launched simultaneous attacks from three directions in Paranthan, Iranamadu and Adampan before capturing the town in the early hours of January 2. Kilinochchi town, which lies about 334 kilometres (255 miles) north of capital Colombo, remained the LTTE’s most strategic logistics base, and command centre. Kilinochchi was the de facto capital of ‘Eelam’ lying on the Jaffna-Kandy (A-9) main supply route. The Defence Ministry said that troops of the 57th Division entered the highly defended stronghold from the southern and south-western boundaries, while Task Force 1 troops marched in from the north and northwest. The Army had already taken the Jaffna-Kandy A-9 highway on the Omanthai-Paranthan stretch. The military had crossed into Kilinochchi District on July 31, 2008, and had since been engaged in clashes with the LTTE.
The pro-LTTE Tamil Net claimed that the rebels had put up heavy resistance, but kept their casualties low in the defensive fighting. "It is the first time after a decade the Sri Lankan forces have been able to take control of the town after several months of fierce fighting that has claimed hundreds of combatants on both sides of the war," Tamil Net reported. In a special address to the nation on state television hours after the troops captured Kilinochchi, President Mahinda Rajapakse described the action as a "major victory in the world’s battle against terrorism." He reiterated the resolve of his Government to continue the fight till the LTTE was "fully and finally defeated," and asserted his statement was "the final message to the LTTE, to lay down their arms and surrender." Stating that the capture of Kilinochchi should not be viewed as the victory of one community or region over the other, Rajapaksa maintained that it was a dream of all Sri Lankans who are opposed to separatism, racism and terrorism and strived for peace, freedom and democracy. He said his Government would continue the fight against the LTTE until the "final act of this false Eelam struggle is played to its finish" in the small jungle territory in Mullaithivu where it is confined to today.Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Tamil Net; The Hindu; Colombo Page, January 3, 2009.
156 LTTE militants and 17 soldiers killed as troops capture more areas in North: Task Force-I troops captured Kamalakadukulam, about two kilometres west of Paranthan, and Thadduwankoddy, in the north west of Paranthan, in Kilinochchi District on December 30, 2008. "Intercepted radio transmissions confirmed that 20 Tiger cadres were killed and 30 wounded in the fierce battles that erupted from early hours of yesterday," sources said. More than 50 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants were killed and over 60 others injured by the Security Forces (SFs) during clashes when Task Force-I troops entered Paranthan town on December 31, after cutting off the Jaffna-Kandy (A-9) road from the north of Paranthan junction, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka said. On the same day, troops of the 59th Division confronted LTTE militants to the west of Mulliyavalai in the Mullaitivu District and subsequently recovered the dead bodies of 15 militants. 11 soldiers were injured during these clashes. Further, Army troops advancing towards Kilinochchi town attacked more LTTE camps in the east and west of Iranamadu, north and south of Adampan and Paranthan areas, inflicting an unspecified number of casualties. In subsequent search operations, troops recovered the dead bodies of seven militants. Troops advancing towards Kilinochchi captured the key LTTE garrison of Paranthan in the morning of January 1, 2009, following hours of fighting that killed over 50 militants. Defence authorities said the battle for Paranthan began two days ago when the troops’ armour, artillery and infantry battalions launched a concerted assault on the militants holed up in the strategic town. In addition, the troops captured Iranamadu Junction, about six kilometres south of the Kilinochchi town centre, opening the route to the Iranamadu town. SFs operating in the East of the A-9 road captured another key junction town, Oddusudan, on the Mankulam – Mullaitivu A-34 Road, taking full control of the Oddusudan – Nedunkerni – Puliyankulam road. "Security Forces killed at least 10 Tiger cadres as they attacked a tractor transporting Tiger cadres and several other vehicles," a military official said. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Tamil Net; The Hindu; Colombo Page, December 30, 2008-January 5, 2009.
LTTE suicide bomber kills three persons at Air Force camp in Colombo: A Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suicide bomber blew himself up, killing three persons, including two Airmen, and injuring 37 others at the entrance to the Air Force camp in Slave Island in Colombo at around 5.15 PM (SLST) on January 2, 2009. An accomplice of the suicide bomber has been arrested. Air Force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said, "It was a rush hour and the road was blocked due to traffic congestion, when the LTTE suicide cadre was dropped by his accomplice on a motorcycle. The suicide bomber crossed the road and approached the Air Force camp entrance." A passenger bus plying from Moratuwa to Pettah was also caught up in the explosion and was damaged. Several passengers onboard the bus are reported to have sustained injuries. Daily News, January 3, 2009.
Note: In the original article it was incorrectly mentioned that Mufti Abdul Hannan ‘Operations Commander’ of the HuJI-B had been executed. Hannan has in fact been sentenced to death, but the death penalty is yet to be executed. The mistake has been rectified on April 26,2010.