SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Embers of Terror
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the theatre of a raging high intensity conflict (more than 1,000 fatalities per annum) between 1990 and 2006, saw a continuation of declining trends in fatalities and a second consecutive year within the low intensity threshold. 541 persons, including 69 civilians, 90 Security Force (SF) personnel and 382 militants, were killed in 2008. Fatalities had fallen to 777, well below the high intensity mark, in 2007, from a peak in 2001, at 4,507. J&K has witnessed continuously declining violence since 9/11, bringing tremendous respite to the people of this terror-wracked State.
In its year-end review, the Union Home Ministry stated that, during 2008 (data till November), terrorist incidents in J&K were down by 39 per cent, killings of civilians by 41 per cent and of SFs by 31 per cent, over the corresponding period of 2007. The level of infiltration across the Line of Control/International Border also saw a decline and, for the first time since 1990, the number of militancy-related incidents, according to J&K Police data, dropped below the four-figure mark to approximately 703 in 2008. The J&K Director General of Police (DGP), Kuldeep Khoda, stated on December 25, 2008, that the year witnessed an exceptional decrease of 40 per cent in militancy-related incidents compared to 2007, the largest such decline since 1990. The highest number of militancy-related incidents stood at 5,946 in 1995.
Comparative Fatalities in J&K, 2001-2008
Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal database
The diminution in violence was further underlined by the fact that civilian casualties, at 89 in 2008, fell below the 100 mark for the first time since 1990. Even SF fatalities stood at 85.
382 militants were killed in counter-terrorism operations across J&K in 2008, including some top ranking commanders. These included at least 67 category ‘A’ terrorists, and 27 category ‘B’ terrorists.
Source: Jammu and Kashmir Police
More than 30 commanders of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and 22 of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) were killed in the year under review. Among the top militant leaders killed in 2008 was Bashir Ahmed Mir, ‘commander-in-chief’ for operations across India of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI); Hafiz Naasir, Kashmir Valley chief of the LeT; Sajjad Afghani, the J&K chief of HuM; Qari Usman, a LeT ‘divisional commander’; Zahoor Ahmad Waza alias Zeeshan, ‘financial chief’ of the HM; Abdul Haq alias Jahangir, ‘battalion commander’ and ‘financial chief’ of the HM; Ghulam Hussain Wani aka Shameem Thool aka Shameem Shahid, a HM ‘divisional commander’; Najeebullah alias Doctor, ‘divisional commander’ of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM); Abu Khubaib, ‘launching commander’ of the LeT; and Barkatullah Ansari aka Hyder, a ‘divisional commander’ of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). During 2007, eighty seven terrorist leaders were neutralized across the State.
Steps initiated to check infiltration from across the border have had significant success. For the first time since 1990, the number of militants operating in J&K is estimated to have fallen below 1000. On December 24, 2008, DGP Khoda told reporters at the year-end briefing on the security situation in the State, "There are around 577 local militants and 231 foreigners operating in the State. These are figures based on information from various agencies working on the ground… The measures taken along the Line of Control and International Border have resulted in lesser number of militants infiltrating into the State. There have been casualties among the infiltrators which means the efficiency in preventing infiltration has improved."
Attempts to strengthen political and civic participation in governance received a noteworthy boost in the Legislative Assembly elections, which were held in seven phases in November-December 2008. A record number of 1,353 candidates contested from 87 Assembly constituencies in 2008 as against 709 in 2002 and 547 earlier in 1996. For the first time since the beginnings of terrorism in the State, 4,277 political/public meetings were held by various parties, 2,281 in Kashmir and 1,996 in Jammu, including 1,115 small, 2,516 medium and 646 large meetings.
A comprehensive decrease of 86 per cent was registered in militancy-related incidents during the elections in 2008, as compared to the 2002 Assembly elections. About 1,000 militancy-related incidents were reported during the 2002 elections, as against just 145 in the 2008 elections. Similarly, a 95 per cent decrease was noticed in civilian killings during the elections – 220 in 2002 and 12 killings in 2008. Further, no political office bearer was killed during the elections in 2008, as against 48 in 2002. In fact, during year 2008, only three political activists were killed as against 101 through 2002. 148 SF personnel were killed during the 2002 elections, but only five such killings were reported in 2008.
The overall improvement in the ground situation was dramatically reflected in a voter turnout averaging 63 per cent during the seven phases of the 2008 elections, as compared to 43.6 per cent in the 2002 elections, which were held under the shadow of the gun. Significantly, all terrorist groups and their sympathetic and front organizations, including factions of the Hurriyat Conference [the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH)] had announced a boycott of the elections and issued threats of retaliation against those who participated, but these were, evidently, rebuffed by a public long weary of extremist excesses and endless strife.
The National Conference (NC) emerged the single largest party in the elections, securing 28 seats (20 in Kashmir, six in Jammu and two in Kargil), while the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was second with 21 seats (19 in Kashmir and 2 in Jammu). The Congress party was victorious in 17 seats (13 from Jammu region, three from Kashmir and one from Leh), while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prevailed in 11 constituencies. The National Panthers Party won three seats and the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the People’s Democratic Front and the Democratic Party (Nationalist) secured one each. Independents won in four constituencies. Forty-four seats constitutes a mark in the 87-strong House. The NC leader Omar Abdullah assumed office as the new Chief Minister of J&K, with the Congress extending support to his party and joining the Government.
The success of the elections also needs to be assessed against the backdrop of the extended Shri Amarnath land agitation which had virtually paralysed and apparently polarized J&K through July-August 2008, and which had, at one point, raised a question-mark over the very possibility of the elections being held on schedule. The agitation impacted dramatically on both sides of the Pir Panchal and led to the deaths of at least 51 civilians (Kashmir – 42; Jammu – 9) and injuries to another 1,473 (Kashmir – 979; Jammu – 494). 333 SF personnel were also injured during the 62-day agitation (Jammu – 182; Kashmir – 151). Apart from the socio-political impact of the agitation, which is bound to linger for some time, there were serious economic costs incurred before order was restored. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) president Ram Sahai claimed in Jammu on September 1, 2008, that the economy of the Jammu region had suffered a loss of INR 9,980 crore during agitation. Sahai said the industrial and tourism sectors were affected the most during the turmoil. He pegged the losses to the tourism trade (hotels, lodges, restaurants, cinemas) sector at INR 3,050 crore and of the industrial sector at INR 4,050 crore.
J&K also saw increasing tensions along the Line of Control (LoC) and international border. Defence Minister A. K. Antony informed the Parliament on October 20, 2008, that, "Pakistan had violated the five-year-old pact on ceasefire 58 times since the ceasefire agreement came into effect from November 2003. And since January 2008, Indian positions on the LoC have been fired upon 34 times, while the total cease-fire violation by Pakistan has occurred on 58 counts." He, however, indicated that ingress across the LoC/border was decreasing: "Infiltration bids in Jammu and Kashmir from across the International Border are on decline, today. There were only 243 infiltrators during April to September 2008 as against 419 infiltrators during the same period last year. During the current year, 193 terrorists were killed while 157 were arrested in the same period this year. A multi-tier arrangement, including deployment of troops, surveillance devices, Line of Control fence, State and Central security forces, has proved effective in discouraging infiltrators."
On a more general level, the secular decline in violence witnessed since September 2001 can be attributed to Pakistan’s compulsions arising out of its domestic difficulties, the American and international pressure on Islamabad, and the continuing successes of the counter-insurgency grid in J&K. Diminished violence, however, does not indicate a necessary decline in the capacity for terrorism, and there are clear indications that the infrastructure that supports and sustains the Kashmir jihad remains intact in Pakistan, despite the recent crackdown in that country. Lt. Gen. P.C. Bhardwaj, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Northern Command, told reporters on January 15, 2009, that "a number of terrorists training camps are still active in Pakistan." While the exact present number of these camps is not available, official sources had disclosed in September 2008 that there were 45 such camps. Notwithstanding the recent crackdown on the LeT and its front the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa (JuD), sources indicate there are currently at least 1,500 militants waiting at mobile and temporary launch pads for an ‘opportunity’ to infiltrate into J&K. These militants have reportedly been divided into small groups (each comprising of 75-80 men) and have been kept, in readiness, across the Line of Control/International Border. Reports also indicate that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, is training women to carry out militant attacks. During interrogation of a woman arrested in the State during the first week of January 2009 by the J&K Police for providing logistical support for JeM and LeT militants, it was disclosed that the ISI is inducting women into militancy. The arrested woman reportedly confessed that she was trained by the ISI in the Bhiber and Kotli forests in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), and that there were presently about 700 women receiving arms training in different militant camps run by the ISI.
The unstable domestic scenario in Pakistan has impacted significantly on the Kashmir jihad, though it has not yet led to any change in the establishment’s intent or the infrastructure that supports and orchestrates terrorist violence on Indian soil. There is, nonetheless, a definite pause, and a shift within J&K, with Islamabad increasingly attempting to nurture a cohesive political voice in its favour. To this end, efforts are directed towards uniting various pro-Pakistan groups, including the two factions of the main secessionist formation, the APHC. The objective appears to be to gradually transform the predominantly terrorist movement into a more wide-based movement of political extremism, backed by calibrated terrorist operations, to secure a stronger position at the negotiating table and achieve what has not been possible on the ground through terrorism alone.
Crucially, the decrease in levels of violence in J&K is not due to any change in Pakistani intent, but is rather the consequence of "changes in capacities and compulsions in Pakistan." The multiplicity of crises in Pakistan has diluted Islamabad’s capacities to sustain past levels of terrorism in J&K,
Another important element in the decrease in violence in J&K is the progressive shift in the terrorists’ focus to the Indian heartland. 336 civilians and 27 SF personnel died in Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist attacks outside J&K in 2008 in locations as varied as Bangalore, Rampur, Jaipur, New Delhi, Ahmedabad and Mumbai – attacks engineered principally by terrorists groups that were earlier limited in their campaigns to J&K. In significant contrast, 69 civilians died in the whole of J&K through 2008. In the immediate future, it is anticipated that Pakistan-based terrorist groups will continue to sustain calibrated levels of violence in J&K and simultaneously carry out terrorist attacks on soft targets in the Indian heartland. Such a shift offers Pakistan greater ‘deniability’, and also enables it to harness the grievances – real or perceived – among Indian Muslims.
Pakistan’s intentions, notwithstanding a change in regime and international pressure, remain unchanged as far as the Kashmir jihad is concerned. The only noticeable shift is in strategy and tactics. Crucially, Pakistan’s Islamist terrorist reserves remain intact. In fact, no Islamist terrorist group, including those focusing on Kashmir, has been effectively neutralized in Pakistan since 9/11. As radical Islamist mobilization and a belligerent posture on Kashmir remain integral to Pakistan’s internal politics – both for the ‘democratic’ parties and the Army – consequently, regardless of the significant and continuing decline in terrorist violence in the State, a stable peace still remains a distant prospect in J&K.
Three explosions rocked Assam’s principal city Guwahati’s Birubari, Bhangagarh and Bhootnath localities on the first day of 2009, leaving five persons dead and more than 50 injured. The macabre beginning to the New Year was perfectly in tune with the trend of militant violence in the State in the latter part of 2008.
With at least 387 fatalities (provisional total), Assam in 2008 remained the second most violent theatre of conflict in India’s Northeast, after its neighbour to the east, Manipur, which recorded at least 499 fatalities. Nevertheless, this represented a decline in fatalities in all categories, as compared to 2007. A decline of nearly 15 percent was recorded in the civilian category, whereas the decline among SFs was 25 percent. However, fatalities in the militant category remained comparable. Assam Police sources further indicate that 1,300 militants from various groups in the State were arrested in 2008, considerably weakening the militant outfits.
Assam: Militancy related fatalities: 2005-2008
* Data Source: 2005- 2008 (January-August): Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Data: 2008 (September-December): South Asia Terrorism Portal.
The data indicating an improvement in the security situation, however, flatters only to deceive. While a measure of normalcy did appear to have been imposed during the first eight months of 2008, militant violence rose sharply in the last four months, pushing most parts of Assam into chaos, uncertainty and fear. All 27 Districts of the State reported militant violence in 2008. While the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) continued to be the most dominant anti-state formation, the Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF) and the Black Widow (BW) remained the principal peripheral groups. Intermittent activities by the All Adivasi National Liberation Army (AANLA), the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) and the Hmar People’s Convention – Democracy (HPC-D) were also reported. Further, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), in spite of its May 2005 ceasefire, continued to be engaged in factional clashes with its arch rival, the cadres of the disbanded Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT).
At least 22 major incidents of terrorist violence, involving deaths of three or more persons, were reported from Assam in 2008. The most significant among these included:
October 30: 87 persons were killed and about 200 injured in nine near-simultaneous blasts in Assam’s capital, Dispur, the adjoining Guwahati city and three other Districts – Kokrajhar, Barpeta, and Bongaigaon.
October 30: BW militants killed at least seven Police personnel at Langlai near Thujuari in the North Cachar (NC) Hills District. Three militants were also killed in the retaliatory firing. Haflong Police sources said that the BW militants opened fire on the Police party who were transporting the body of a Dima Halim Daogah (DHD) leader, Naklai Dimasa, who had been killed by BW militants on October 29, from Haflong Civil Hospital to Diyongmukh, after the post mortem.
October 25: Five ULFA militants and a soldier were killed during an encounter between a joint team of the Army and para-military Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and militants at Mahina village in the Nalbari District.
September 26: Seven suspected Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami (HuJI) militants were killed in an encounter with the Army at Bashbari under Rupshi Development Block in the Dhubri District.
June 29: Seven persons were killed and 35 others, including two Policemen, were injured in an explosion at a crowded weekly market in the Kumarikata village of Nalbari District.
May 11: A group of around 10 armed BW militants shot dead eight labourers engaged in the construction of railway quarters at Thoibasti in the NC Hills District.
May 10: 12 BW militants were killed and 18 others injured in a gun battle with SFs in the NC Hills.
February 19: Five employees of a private cement factory, Vinay Cements, were killed while another was injured in an attack by BW militants about four kilometres from Umrangshu in the NC Hills.
February 11: Four persons, including an Assam Police Battalion soldier, were killed and another two were injured when BW militants ambushed a convoy of North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd. officials, 20 kilometres from Umrangsu in the NC Hills District.
The October 30 serial explosions across four western Assam Districts, were the biggest-ever militant strike in the State, which witnessed militancy since the early 1980s. Explosives packed into small cars, auto-rickshaws and planted on bicycles went off almost simultaneously, killing 87 persons and injuring over 200. The coordinated and well planned attacks, ULFA’s claims that it was not involved in the bombings, as well as the subsequent claim made by the shadowy Indian Mujahideen, initially led analysts and politicians to draw parallels between this attack and the explosions that had taken place in other Indian cities. However, ULFA’s involvement in the explosions in cooperation with elements from the NDFB and the Bangladesh based HuJI, was subsequently established by investigators. The specific linkages that underpinned the attacks are currently being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI), the Union Government’s premier investigative agency.
ULFA was immensely weakened in June 2008, when the Alfa and Charlie ‘companies’ of the group’s Myanmar-based ‘28th battalion’ (one of three surviving military formations) came over ground seeking a negotiated settlement to their grievances. The ‘28th battalion’ was ULFA’s primary strike force, and the desertion of two crucial companies was a major setback. Over a hundred surrendered cadres led by Mrinal Hazarika, Dibakar Moran, Prabal Neog and Jiten Dutta organised public meetings and addressed rallies, galvanising public opinion for a peaceful settlement of the decades-long conflict. Hopes were generated by both the pro-peace ULFA leaders and the SF establishment in Assam, who predicted imminent surrenders of many more ULFA cadres, threatening the outfit with near extinction. This even prompted the State Government to ask New Delhi to halt counter-insurgency operations by the Army and para-military forces, a request that did not find favour in North Block. However, neither the Bravo ‘company’, the sole remaining formation of the ‘28th battalion’, nor the two other surviving battalions [‘27th battalion’, active in the hilly southern District of Karbi Anglong and the ‘709th battalion’, active in western Assam Districts] followed the example set by Mrinal Hazarika and his command. ULFA evidently managed to survive the setback.
The disintegration of the ‘28th battalion’, mostly responsible for the ULFA’s activities in the eastern-most Districts (known as Upper Assam Districts), resulted in a thaw in militant activities in Districts of Tinsukia, Sivasagar and Nagaon. At the same time, the central and lower Assam Districts emerged as the outfit’s primary battleground once again. The December 2003 military offensive by the Bhutanese Army had decimated the ‘709th battalion’ based in that country. It was this battalion that was primarily responsible for the hit and run attacks in Districts such as Nalbari and Kamrup (in which capital Dispur and Guwahati are situated). As a result, for at least three successive years (2004-06), ULFA’s capacities to carry out sustained attacks in these areas had been severely dented. Over the succeeding two years (2007-08), however, the outfit has managed to revive the ‘709th battalion’. The ‘battalion’ is presently headquartered in Bangladesh, under the direct supervision of the ULFA ‘commander-in-chief’ Paresh Baruah. Senior leaders like Hira Sarania and Akash Thapa are in command of the ‘battalion’ and presently carry out attacks under direct instructions from the ULFA top leadership.
Similarly, recent intelligence inputs indicate that the Bravo ‘company’ of the ‘28th battalion’ is attempting to find a foothold in the Dibrugarh and Sivasagar Districts. Consisting of hardcore cadres such as Gojen Konwar alias Samudra Nirmaliya, Tikira Changmai, Bhola Rongsual, Niren Sarmah and Upen Dehingia, this ULFA military formation is trying to revive activities in these Districts.
In the aftermath of the October 30 serial explosions, a massive revamp was initiated within the NDFB, which had been observing a ceasefire agreement since May 2005. Following the agreement, the outfit’s cadres had come overground and were settled in three designated camps set up by the Assam Government in the western Assam Districts. However, NDFB chief Ranjan Daimary continued to stay put in his hideout in Bangladesh and, except for issuing occasional statements reaffirming the group’s goal of a ‘sovereign Bodoland’, did nothing to initiate a process of dialogue with the Government. The sense of unease over the lack of progress in the peace talks, as a result, led to a divide between Daimary and the Assam-based senior and middle rung leaders who had come overground following the ceasefire declaration. On December 15, accusing Daimary of involvement in the October 30 serial explosions, the Assam-based leadership expelled him from the NDFB and elected Vice-President B. Sungthagra alias Dhiren Boro as the new ‘president’. The ‘general body meeting’ held in the Serfanguri designated camp in Kokrajhar District also elected a full set of office bearers. The new ‘president’, who had been released from prison only in the earlier part of the year, after his arrest in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim in January 2003, not only promised to carry the peace process forward, but also hinted at participating "directly or indirectly" in parliamentary elections, scheduled to be held in April-May 2009. His subsequent threats and imprecations against the new leadership of NDFB notwithstanding, Ranjan Daimary today is a very lonely man in Dhaka.
The developments within the NDFB are expected to introduce some sanity in the Bodo heartland. The new leadership is expected to rein in wayward cadres of the outfit who have not only engaged in intermittent clashes with erstwhile BLT cadres and in extortion activities, but also, on occasions, have served as mercenaries for the ULFA.
Incidentally, the NDFB was also accused by the Assam Government of fuelling the week-long riots between Bodos and immigrant Muslim settlers in Assam’s three Districts (Udalguri, Darrang and Baska). Violence between the two communities, beginning October 3, 2008, had led to the death of over 50 persons and displaced over 150,000 people from their villages to relief camps. Competition over livelihood and shrinking land resources is fuelling hostility among the tribes and other communities in Assam. The difference is often more pronounced in the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) area, where the Bodos live under constant apprehension of losing their majority status. In addition, local politics involving the erstwhile BLT, rechristened as the Bodo Political Party (BPP), which is a ruling alliance partner with the Congress Party, and the NDFB is adding to the complexities of peace making between divided communities in the Bodo heartland. The January 15, 2009, deadline set by the State Government for the return of all riot-affected people living in the relief camps to their villages has since passed. Over 50,000 people, mostly Muslims, continue to be lodged in the relief camps.
Away from the hotbed of ULFA-led violence and also removed from the epicentre of counter-insurgency operations, the peripheral insurgencies, primarily led by the KLNLF and the BW, continued to thrive in the hilly southern Districts of Assam throughout 2008. The KLNLF, purportedly fighting for the rights of the Karbi people, accounted for at least nine civilian casualties in the Karbi Anglong and neighbouring Nagaon Districts. On November 3, three Hindi-speaking non-tribal civilians were killed by the KLNLF militants at Bamuni Sukanjuri village in the Nagaon District. Further on December 1, at least three persons, including a child, were killed and 30 others injured, in a bomb blast triggered by the KLNLF in a passenger train at Diphu Railway Station in the Karbi Anglong District. The outfit, however, suffered reverses not just in terms of the surrender of 34 cadres and the arrest of another five, but also the September 25, 2008 emergence of the United Karbi National Liberation Forum (UKNLF), a new outfit that challenged the KLNLF monopoly in the Karbi Anglong District. On December 30, the KLNLF declared a two-month long ceasefire starting January 1, 2009, primarily directed at putting a halt to counter-insurgency operations against the outfit launched in the later part of the year.
The BW, operating in the hilly southern District of NC Hills since its formation in 2003, has grown in lethality. Its estimated 100 cadres have access to sophisticated weapons, courtesy the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) with which the outfit shares cordial strategic linkages. Many BW cadres have found shelter in NSCN-K camps in the Peren District in Nagaland. The BW has also invested in putting together a team of IED experts. The hilly terrain of the NC Hills District provides excellent cover to BW cadres. The outfit remains the most potent peripheral outfit in Assam, accounting for 40 civilian and 11 SF deaths in 2008. On October 30, the day the ULFA orchestrated serial blasts rocking four Assam Districts, seven Assam Police personnel were killed in an ambush by BW cadres, who opened fire on a Police party, which was carrying the dead body of a BW leader killed on the previous day. Earlier, on May 11, a group of around 10 armed BW militants shot dead eight labourers engaged in the construction of Railway quarters at Thoibasti in the NC Hills District. Intermittent SF operations in the District imposed minimal costs on the outfit, which suffered just 17 fatalities throughout the year, including the loss of 12 cadres on May 10. Only five cadres of the outfit including ‘deputy commander-in-chief’ Franky Dimasa, were arrested. Two days after Franky Dimasa’s arrest in Guwahati on March 22, BW declared a unilateral ceasefire. The State and Union Governments decided not to reciprocate on the grounds that the declaration did not lead to a cessation of violence by the outfit in subsequent months.
The AANLA, purportedly fighting for the rights of the plantation workers whose ancestors were brought to Assam from northern India by British colonialists, saw its capacities significantly dented by SF operations in 2008. The group had secured prominence by inciting clashes in Guwahati and capital Dispur in November 2007, and subsequently carrying out the December 13, 2007, explosion in the Rajdhani Express, killing five people. Through 2008, at least 27 AANLA cadres were arrested, including the outfit’s ‘commander-in-chief’ Nirmal alias David Tirki, who was arrested from Jharkhand on December 7. In addition, over 20 AANLA cadres surrendered to the authorities. On December 24, AANLA cadres did manage to carry out a minor explosion on the rail tracks near Bokajan in Karbi Anglong District, five minutes after the Rajdhani Express crossed a nearby station. However, the neutralisation of over half of the outfit’s cadre strength in 2008 alone inflicted a serious setback on the group.
Islamist militancy in Assam is principally linked to illegal migration from Bangladesh and is located in concentrations of migrant populations, mostly in Dhubri, Nagaon and Goalpara Districts. Of these, Dhubri and Goalpara have been the traditional entry points for migrants from Bangladesh. The Assam Police, on the other hand, has played down the threat of Islamist militancy in the State. In a statement on April 1, 2008, the Assam Government stated in the Legislative Assembly that 234 Islamist militants, including 150 MULTA cadres and 50 Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) cadres were currently lodged in different jails in the State. Through 2008, at least 17 MULTA cadres were arrested from the lower and central Assam Districts of Dhubri, Darrang, Nagaon, Kokrajhar, Sonitpur and Kamrup. Islamist groups did not carry out any act of violence in 2008. MULTA’s activities remained confined to acting as a subsidiary to the ULFA.
Similarly, the Bangladesh-based HuJI, which has not participated in any terrorist act in Assam, received twin setbacks in the State. On September 26, seven suspected HuJI militants were killed in an encounter with the Army at Bashbari under the Rupshi Development Block in Dhubri District. Six revolvers, three grenades, two Gelatin sticks, six detonators, about two kilograms of explosives, some Bangladeshi currency, a Bangladeshi mobile SIM card and addresses of some hotels in Bangladesh were recovered from the possession of the slain militants. On October 16, another two suspected HuJI militants were shot dead by Army personnel during an encounter at Krishnai in the Goalpara District, and some arms, grenades and explosives recovered from them. SF successes against Islamist militancy also included the killing, on February 11, of three militants belonging to an unspecified group with suspected links to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, at Binajuli village under Agia Police outpost in the Goalpara District.
Following the succession of terrorist strikes, especially after the October 30 serial explosions, the Assam Government declared a "zero tolerance" policy towards militancy in the State. On December 3, 2008, it replaced its Police Chief R.N. Mathur with G.M. Srivastava, who is credited with executing a highly successful counter-insurgency campaign in neighbouring Tripura. On January 10, 2009, the Assam Legislative Assembly passed the Assam Preventive Detention (Amendment) Act, 2009, raising the maximum period of preventive detention of terrorist suspects from six months to two years. The security establishment in the State has also been beefed up with 22 additional CRPF companies, taking the over all presence of central Forces in the State to 142 companies. A ‘comprehensive security plan’ for State capital Dispur and conjoined Guwahati, the targets of at least 610 bomb blasts since 2002, has also been put in place. Guwahati has been brought under the Unified Command Structure, the body that has coordinated operations of the Army, para-military and Police forces in the State since 1997. SFs have since conducted several search and clear operations in Dispur-Guwahati and arrested at least ten ULFA cadres, besides killing three, including a hit man of the outfit’s ‘709th battalion’, Pranjal Deka.
Assam’s counter-terrorism strategy still relies disproportionately on central forces, and the Assam Police suffers significant infirmities. The police population ratio of 176/100,000, though better than the all India average of 125, is the lowest in the entire Northeast. Media reports indicate, moreover, that out of a sanctioned strength of 56,740, the Assam Police has a vacancy of 8,511 personnel. The Assam Government proposes to raise the strength of the Police force by 50 percent in a phased manner over the next five years, but given the State’s financial constraints, the implementation of such an ambitious plan may be difficult.
The Awami League’s (AL) victory in Bangladesh in the December 29, 2008, parliamentary elections has stirred a measure of optimism over the possibility of concerted action against insurgent safe havens in that country, but it remains to be seen whether the Sheikh Hasina Wajed Government will actually have the capacities – or, indeed, even the will – to act forcefully against the various militant groups operating from Bangladeshi soil in India’s Northeast. Absent such action, counter-insurgency in Assam promises to be an uphill task through 2009.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
January 19-25, 2009
81 militants and 31 civilians killed in FATA: 81 militants and 31 civilians were killed across the FATA during the week. 20 people, a majority of them local tribesmen, were killed and several others were wounded in two different missile strikes by US drones in North and South Waziristan agencies on January 23, 2009. In the first incident, 10 persons were killed and several others injured when a US drone fired three Hellfire missiles on a Hujra (male guest house) of Khalil Dawar in Zyaraki village of North Waziristan. According to sources, two spy planes were seen flying over Mirali town during the strike. Sources close to the militants told The News the drone fired missiles after some guests, probably foreign militants, entered the Hujra of Khalil Dawar. They said besides Khalil, his two sons, brother Mansoor, a nephew and six other people were killed in the attack. However, a senior Government official in Miranshah said six among the dead were hardcore militants, including four Arabs and a Punjabi Taliban militant. It was the first missile attack by US spy planes in North Waziristan in 2009. In the second incident, 10 persons were killed in South Waziristan when a US drone fired two Hellfire missiles on the house of a local tribesman, Dil Faraz Gangikhel Wazir, in Gangikhel village. Official and tribal sources said all those killed were local tribesmen. They said Dil Faraz, his three sons, two nephews and some guests were killed in the attack. A Wana-based official of the political administration said the drone had probably missed the target and killed only innocent people. He said four children also lost their lives in the attack. It was the third attack by US drones in South Waziristan in January 2009, and the first after Barack Obama became the US President. A day earlier, on January 22, the body of an alleged US spy was found in the Derpakhel area of North Waziristan Agency. The deceased was identified as Noor Farid, who had been kidnapped from Miranshah a few days previously.
Helicopters gunships attacked several suspected Taliban positions on January 22, killing seven persons, including four women and two children, in the Mohmand Agency. According to local people, a bomb hit the house of tribesman Zain Khan in Shekhan area, killing two women. Another two houses were hit in Ghunget Choher village of Lakaro Sub-division, killing two women, two children and a man.
Several militants, including top commanders of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Mohmand chapter, were killed on January 21, as the military intensified its operation against the militants in Mohmand Agency. Sources said Security Forces (SFs) targeted the hideouts of the militants in the Lakaro and Pindyali sub-divisions and elsewhere in the tribal agency with helicopter gunships, killing several militants and destroying their hideouts. More than 15 militants, including some important commanders, are reported to have died in the attack, while approximately 40 shops in the Qayyumabad and Askarabad Bazaars on the Peshawar-Bajaur Road and 33 houses were also destroyed.
Taliban militants in the North Waziristan Agency on January 20 shot dead six people on charges of spying for the US forces stationed in Afghanistan. Tribal sources at the Agency headquarters Miranshah said that two of the six slain spies were Afghan nationals. One of them, whose bullet-riddled body was dumped near the Miranshah Bazaar, was identified as Guldar Ali, hailing from Afghanistan’s Khost Province. Similarly, another four bodies were recovered from the Tehsil Road near Mirali. A handwritten letter placed near the bodies blamed all the four persons for spying for US forces.
Troops backed by warplanes and helicopter gunships killed at least 38 Taliban militants in an ongoing military operation in the Mohmand Agency on January 20 – raising the Taliban death toll to 60 over 24 hours. A statement said the Frontier Corps (FC) had advanced and secured Darwazgai-Lakaro-Mamad Ghat Road in the operation and "militant strongholds of Habibzai and Mulakhel were destroyed." It also said that ‘leading commanders’, Umar Khitab, Qari Mumtaz, Haroon Rashid, Bilal, Yaqub, Yar Syed, Yousuf and Hamza, were among the dead. Troops also "engaged Taliban strongholds of Krair and Chingai." The Security Forces reportedly launched the crackdown in Mohmand Agency as early as the weekend, but a paramilitary official told AFP that ‘hardcore militants’ were killed in the preceding 24 hours. A paramilitary official told Dawn that the FC and Mohmand Rifles, backed by warplanes, helicopter gunships, tanks and artillery, targeted suspected militant hideouts in five villages of the Lakaro and Pandyali Sub-divisions, said to be strongholds of the Taliban’s Mohmand chapter. Three civilians, including the owner of a restaurant and his two sons, were killed in Danish Kol, residents said. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, January 20-26, 2009.
22 civilians and 19 militants among 44 persons killed in NWFP: 22 civilians and 19 militants were among 44 persons killed during the week in NWFP. Eight Taliban militants, including ‘commander’ Noor Bakhtiar, were killed by the Security Forces (SFs) during clashes in the Nangolai area of Kabal Revenue Division in the Swat District on January 24, 2009. Earlier, two SF personnel were killed in a suicide attack near Mingora town in Swat District on January 23. According to a Press Release issued by the Swat Media Centre, a car laden with explosives blew up near the Fizagat check-post, killing two SF personnel and injuring 22 others. Further, in an improvised explosive device attack in the Takhtaband area of Mingora town on January 23, three civilians, including a woman, were killed. The militants reportedly intended to target an SF convoy, but failed in their bid. The Taliban claimed responsibility and warned of more attacks. "As long as bullets are fired at us, such attacks will continue to take place," a spokesman for the Swat chapter of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan threatened. Separately, five members of a family, including three children, were killed when a mortar shell hit a house in the Manpetai village of Khwazakhela sub-division. In the Kalakot area of Kabal sub-division, a mortar shell killed Babar Shah and injured three others. In a similar incident, a man on his way home was killed in a mortar attack in the Chaqo area of Matta Sub-division. Further, suspected militants shot dead a bank manager, Shah Rahman, in the Banora area of Fatehpur. In addition, a civilian wounded during shelling in the Qamber area on January 22 succumbed to his injuries on January 23.
21 persons, including 11 militants, were killed and an unspecified number of them injured in military operation and fresh incidents of violence in Swat District on January 22. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR)-run Swat Media Centre (SMC), 11 militants were killed and nine injured in Qamber and Koza Drushkhela. The SMC spokesman claimed that a militants’ hideout was destroyed in shelling at Qamber and four militants were killed. Sources added that Security Forces (SFs) also carried out a ground assault in the Koza Drushkhela area of Matta sub-division, the stronghold of Maulana Fazlullah-led militants, and killed seven militants, besides injuring three others. A dumper truck was attacked in the Chamtalai area of Khwazakhela Sub-division by the militants, killing the driver and a passer-by on the spot. In the Terat area, beheaded bodies of two persons, including a prayer leader identified as Khanzada, were found. Assailants also reportedly opened fire at one person, Abdullah, in Kanju Bazaar in Kabal, killing him on the spot and injuring another man. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, January 20-26, 2009.
Punjab Government takes over Jama’at-ud-Da’awa headquarters: The provincial Government of Punjab has taken over the Muridke headquarters of the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa (JuD, the Lashkar-e-Toiba [LeT] front), appointing an administrator to run the schools and medical facilities on the premises, and renaming it Punjab Welfare Institute. The Punjab Government on January 25, 2009, named Khakan Babar, a senior official in the provincial Government, as the chief administrator of the assets at the Markaz-e-Taiba, a extensive facility located outside the provincial capital, Lahore. He will report to the Lahore District Commissioner. "(The administrator’s) job is to ensure that the schools and dispensaries in Muridke can continue to function, and at the same time ensure that the other purposes for which it was being used don’t function," said Pervaiz Rashid, an adviser to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The Hindu, January 25, 2009.
US to increase non-military aid to Pakistan and hold Islamabad accountable for FATA security: The new US administration will increase non-military aid to Pakistan, but hold Islamabad accountable for security along the border region with Afghanistan, according to a US foreign policy document released soon after President Barack Obama assumed office. The document – available on the White House website – says, "Obama and [Vice President Joe] Biden will increase non-military aid to Pakistan and hold them accountable for security in the border region with Afghanistan." It also says that Obama and Biden would ‘refocus’ American resources on the "greatest threat to our security – the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan". "They will [also] increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalise Afghanistan’s economic development. Obama and Biden will demand the Afghan Government do more, including cracking down on corruption and the illicit opium trade," it adds. Daily Times, January 22, 2009.
Troops capture Mullaitivu even as 147 civilians among 329 persons killed during intensified fighting in North-East: Troops captured Mullaitivu, as 147 civilians, 105 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants and 77 soldiers were among 329 persons killed during the week in North and East Sri Lanka. The pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net quoted the outfit’s sources as saying that 35 Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers were killed and 60 others wounded when the outfit’s defensive formations clashed with the SLA for 24 hours in the North-western frontier of the LTTE-held territory till the SLA was pushed back from Neththaliyaattuppaalam on January 19. Dead bodies of 38 LTTE militants, including 21 female cadres, which had not been accepted by the outfit, were buried in the Vavuniya cemetery in the afternoon of January 20, following a court order received by the Police on January 19. Security Forces (SFs) attacked LTTE camps in the areas east of Puthukkudiyiruppu and northeast and southeast of Mulliyaweli in the Mullaitivu District, inflicting heavy casualties on the militants on January 20. SFs later recovered the dead bodies of nine militants. At least 100 persons were killed in artillery exchanges between military and the LTTE over the preceding week, an unnamed Government official working in the area controlled by the LTTE said on January 22. Mullaitivu District Government Agent Emelda Sukumar told Reuters, "Around 30 people died in the morning today. Personally I saw that nearly 100 people have died from Saturday [January 17] up to today. More than 300 have been injured," Tamil Net, however, claimed that 66 civilians were killed and more than 200 wounded in SLA artillery fire over the preceding three days in Mullaitivu. LTTE sources claimed, further, on January 22, that 40 SLA soldiers were killed and 70 injured as the LTTE’s defensive formations put up stiff resistance against the SLA as it attempted to advance through Kallaaru in the North-western front. Meanwhile, 11 dead bodies of the militants were handed over to the representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Vavuniya (ICRC) and they were taken to un-cleared areas (areas not under Government control) to be delivered to the LTTE by the ICRC. 12 civilians were killed and 87 injured as the SLA continued artillery attacks on the Safety Zone in the Udaiyaarkaddu area of Mullaitivu District on January 24.
The SFs, meanwhile, achieved a major success on January 25, when troops captured Mullaitivu Town, the LTTE’s most prestigious military stronghold on the Eastern coast. The troops entered Mullaitivu by 1 pm (SLST). Earlier, on January 23, the 59th Division made a major breakthrough in their battle to capture Mullaitivu with the capture of the earth bund (embankment) located four kilometers south of Mullaitivu centre. Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka announced this victory to the nation in the evening in a special message. Military officials disclosed, "The Tiger stronghold of Mullaitivu fell under Security Forces control after 13 years, with the 59 Division troops under the command of Brigadier Nandana Udawatta entering this strategic stronghold last afternoon." Mullaitivu was among the most prestigious and strategically important townships, comparable to Kilinochchi, Paranthan, Pooneryn and Elephant Pass, which the LTTE had controlled during the two-and-a-half decades long conflict. The Army last controlled the isolated Army camp located in Mullaitivu in 1996, and it was overrun by the LTTE on July 18, 1996.
At least 22 civilians were killed and 60 others wounded as the SLA continued artillery shelling in various localities, including Chuthanthirapuram, Udaiyaarkaddu and Thearaavil in Vishvamadu, inside the 'safety zone' throughout January 25, Tami Net claimed. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Tamil Net; Colombo Page, January 20-26, 2009.