SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
After capturing much of the Frontier and the Tribal Areas, the jihadis have now brought their war to Pakistan’s cities and the heartland. The latest instance of this insidious expansion was visible when Sri Lankan cricketers narrowly escaped an attack in the morning of March 3, 2009, when terrorists ambushed the bus carrying them to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore for the third day’s play of the second Test. At least seven persons – six Policemen escorting the Sri Lankans and the driver of another van in the convoy – were killed and 20 others, including seven Sri Lankan players, were wounded in the attack near the Liberty roundabout, 500 metres from the stadium.
While no official determination has been made thus far regarding the group responsible for the attack, analysts and officials in Lahore and elsewhere in Pakistan opine that evidence on the ground points to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) or some other al Qaeda affiliate, possibly including the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) or the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). At the time of writing, preliminary investigations into the attack have suggested that LeT militants, who went underground after an apparent crackdown on the group in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008, may have carried out the assault. Leaks after the initial probe suggested that a group of "headstrong" LeT cadres, who went underground and hid in the garrison city of Rawalpindi after Government action against the terrorist group and its front organization, the Jama’at-ud-Da’awa, had acted on its own and carried out the attack. However, all of this remains speculative at the moment, and the character of the attack and of the Security Forces’ (SFs) response leave many suspicions unaddressed.
Apart from the fact that the Lahore attack itself reflected a humongous security failure, the incident irreversibly destroyed the immunity sports in general, and especially cricket – an enormously popular sport in the sub-continent – had hitherto enjoyed. Clearly, the militants can now attack any soft target, anywhere.
Emboldened by the state’s capitulation in Swat, the militants will certainly make similar and other demonstrations elsewhere in Pakistan in order to progressively establish their writ. The Taliban – al Qaeda combine can also be expected, in the proximate future, to increasingly attack the heartlands of Punjab, the Army’s conventional stronghold and the country’s most populous province. With Pakistan’s Security Forces gradually losing their will to fight amidst desertions, fatigue and a refusal to ‘kill their own’, the state will increasingly be forced to seek ‘compromises’. It is abundantly clear, now, that the jihadi who now dominates the NWFP and FATA, will look to control Pakistan in the proximate future.
While the guns have fallen relatively silent in the Swat Valley, there violence continues elsewhere in the NWFP and across Pakistan. Violence and subversion are now crystallizing as a natural consequence of the state of play in FATA and Swat. While the progressive collapse in NWFP and FATA is well documented, it is Punjab that is, in many ways, emerging as a jihadi hub. 304 persons, including 257 Security Force (SF) personnel and 34 civilians, were killed in 78 terrorism-related incidents in Punjab in 2008. The fact that more civilians and SF personnel were killed in Punjab than militants, gives a clear indication that the Islamist terrorist networks are securing an upper hand. Out of the approximately 78 incidents in 2008, 21 were reported from Islamabad and 22 from Lahore. 49 persons, including 34 civilians and 14 SF personnel, have died so far in Punjab in 22 incidents in 2009 (including six in Lahore and one in Islamabad. Data till March 8).
Southern Punjab has always been a base for a mélange of jihadi groups. For long, it has hosted groups such as the LeT, JeM, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), LeJ, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Hizbul Tahrir, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan (TJP) and Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan (SMP). Furthermore, militants from across Pakistan and outside easily find safe haven in places like Lahore and Islamabad. Peshawar, the NWFP capital which is just 150 kilometers away from Islamabad, is already under militant siege, and Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi are increasingly being targeted. While one suicide attack has occurred in the current year in Punjab, there were 12 during 2008. In addition, security agencies successfully neutralized many suicide modules. At least 53 ‘potential suicide bombers’ and 16 linkmen were arrested in 2008 from places including Lahore, Sargodha, Rawalpindi, Jhang, Islamabad, and Sialkot, an indication of the substantial pool of fidayeen (suicide cadres) who could inflict mayhem not only in Punjab, but across Pakistan.
Even as the Islamist extremists hold territory and control in the NWFP and FATA, through violence or otherwise, the Taliban – al Qaeda combine is expected to activate sleeper cells in the madrassa network of south Punjab in order to increase violence in Punjab. Pakistan’s urban heartland, including the national capital Islamabad, the Punjab capital Lahore, and the garrison town of Rawalpindi, the Sindh capital, Karachi, and other towns, can be expected to come under increasing and continuous attack. An indication of the gravity of the situation was visible in the report of the Karachi Police’s Crime Investigation Department (CID) Special Branch, which stated that the Taliban "could take the city hostage at any point". The report warned that the Taliban network was spreading across Pakistan so briskly that it may be on course to strike the financial and shipping hub of Karachi. The Taliban has established hideouts in Karachi, the report said, adding that militants have "huge caches" of arms and ammunition and could strike, possibly in a manner similar to the Mumbai attacks of November 26. The report mentions Taliban hideouts and their presence in areas like Sohrab Goth and Quaidabad. Besides living in small motels in these areas, the Taliban are hiding in the hills of Manghopir and Orangi town, and in other low-income areas and slums, Daily Times quoted the Police report as stating. The Taliban’s systematic infiltration of Karachi has led to the hills on the outskirts of the city, slums and small motels, becoming militant hubs. Sources disclosed that the ‘deputy chief’ of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hasan Mahmood, was reportedly hiding in Karachi.
Pakistan is not merely an increasingly violent state, it is also increasingly ungovernable. With the state capitulation in the Frontier and the deepening of multiple conflicts, the political stand-off between President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief in a fragile democracy, can only complicate the situation. Any loss or diminution of state control across the board is now synonymous with jihadi ascendancy. Worse, the once-omnipotent Armed Forces have their own demons to tame, and there is already much talk about an impending Army putsch in Pakistan.
There are clearly no easy solutions in Pakistan. The rules of global engagement will have to be radically recast, if the country’s rapid collapse is to be averted. Mere declarations that Pakistan is facing a serious internal security threat and calling the Lahore attack an ‘eerie replica’ of the Mumbai attacks, as US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton did, can hardly suffice. The global community, led by USA, the most dominant interlocutor in the region, will have to recognize the dangers of ‘business as usual’ while dealing with augmenting crisis that is Pakistan. The top US diplomat in Kabul, Christopher Dell, rightly warned, on March 4, that Pakistan constituted a far greater security challenge to America and the world than Afghanistan:
Dell also noted that there were signs that the rate of infiltration of insurgents across the frontier from Pakistan’s Tribal Areas had increased, possibly as a result of cease-fire deals between the Taliban and the Pakistani Government. "Every time the Pakistanis have signed a peace deal, two things happen," Dell said, adding "There is an uptick in the fighting on this [the Afghan] side, and the peace deals have fallen apart quickly. We think we’ve already seen an increase of fighters crossing the border."
Three principal militant leaders in FATA have settled their differences and formed a united front, the Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen (Council of United Holy Warriors) to focus on launching attacks in Afghanistan. This front (formally announced on February 22) comprises the groups led by the ‘central chief’ of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Baitullah Mehsud, and the two reportedly pro-Government commanders, Maulvi Nazir of South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan. The three, according to sources, met at an undisclosed location and decided to resolve their differences to foil the designs of ‘external forces’ to create divisions between the various Taliban factions based in Pakistan. A 13-member executive council has been constituted to run the affairs of the new front. The Shura subsequently issued a pamphlet that vowed to target the al Qaeda’s three enemies: "Obama, Zardari and Karzai". Interestingly, the TTP subsequently announced that it would no longer fight the Pakistan Army.
Major General John MacDonald, the new deputy commander of US forces in Afghanistan, told The Guardian on March 4 that the militants were "most dangerous when they begin to collaborate with one another… We think we have already seen an increase in the number of fighters coming across the border particularly in the Kunar area right opposite Bajaur." He predicted that the coming surge in the number of coalition troops in Afghanistan would lead to an increase in fighting, "So yes, this summer you will see more violence… We’re just about to kick a beehive."
The Lahore attack underlines the reality that Pakistan is a dysfunctional state. The country’s leadership, however, remains willfully blind and, as the Pakistani newspaper Dawn noted, living in a state of denial is fast becoming "a Pakistani specialty". Ejaz Haider notes, further,
The network of Islamist extremists in Pakistan is working to create a strategic vacuum across large areas of the country, within which they hope, eventually, to capture power. While the jihadis focus on escalating internal chaos, situational factors, including the current political stand-off, an inept and compromised leadership and a worsening economic crisis, enormously creates widening opportunities for disorder.
Pakistan has long been thought to be on the threshold of state failure. The Foreign Policy Failed State Index, for instance, showed Pakistan at the 9th rank among nations most at risk in 2008, up from 34th in 2005. While international efforts to stabilize the country are urgently needed, these must be located within a far more realistic framework than the well-intentioned and wishful interventions of the past, which sought a transformation through large infusions of unconditional aid. It is time, indeed, for the world to prepare for the possible and proximate collapse or radical transformation of Pakistan. Ajai Sahni notes,
The collapse of the Pakistani state and the dangerous ramifications of a Talibanesque extremist regime in control of the nuclear button are no longer figments of an overactive imagination. It is evident that the Taliban – al Qaeda combine seeks to reduce Pakistan to the status of a captive territory from where it can launch and sustain its global jihad. It is evident that the current establishment in Pakistan lacks both the capacity and the will to effectively contest and contain this enterprise. It is evident, equally, that neither the South Asian neighbourhood nor the principal external powers with capacities to intervene in the region have a coherent strategy to alter the evolving trajectory of events. Unless the entire approach to Pakistan undergoes a fundamental and decisive reinvention, Pakistan can only fulfill its manifest destiny as a global catastrophe.
The past weeks have seen two issues, which threaten to derail the Nepali political process, come directly and starkly to the fore.
Responding to the recruitment process initiated by the Nepal Army (NA), in defiance of the Maoist Defence Minister’s orders, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the Maoist Party (CPN-Maoist) announced recruitment to its ranks as well. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which states there would be no additions in either army, came under direct threat. At the leadership level, tensions escalated between the Maoists and the Army, and Maoist and non-Maoist parties, and have still not been resolved.
Even as this was happening, on the ground, rising ethnic assertion brought the country to a standstill. Tharu political organisations called a strike and shut down the Tarai for more than a week, objecting to their official categorisation as a Madhesi community – they claim a distinct indigenous identity while Madhesis insist that Tharus are a part of the larger Madhes. Three persons, including a policeman, were killed on March 6 during the protests, while dozens were injured. The deadlock persists and the Government has remained incapable of brokering a compromise.
These two episodes are symptomatic of the state of the Nepali state today. On one hand, there is an extremely fragile peace process, which is coming under immense strain because of inter-party acrimony, Maoist belligerence, and the Nepal Army’s defiance. On the other, state authority is crumbling in the Districts, where any group can operate with total impunity under a political cover to demand what they think is their share of the pie.
Nepal is the only country in South Asia with two standing armies. Both armies have their respective days of celebration. The PLA put up a massive show of strength in mid-February on the 14th anniversary of the Maoist War in a United Nations (UN)-supervised cantonment in the southern District of Nawalparasi. It was attended by the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and all top Maoist leaders. A few days later, the Nepal Army put up a show on Shivratri, in keeping with tradition. The programme was attended by all constitutional functionaries.
The existence of these two armies was recognised, ipso facto, by the peace accord. But there was also recognition that this was an inherently untenable situation. And that is why provisions were made regarding the ‘integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants’ and for the setting up of a special committee that would decide on the future of the Army.
There has been little movement on this critical issue since the agreement of November 21, 2006. Initially, the non Maoist parties wanted to leave the implementation of this clause till after the CA elections, since they calculated that a massive defeat for the Maoists would put them in a weaker position on integration. The poll results, however, defied expectations and a victory meant that the Maoists became even more assertive. From privately accepting that they would have to settle for a few thousand people in the NA at lower levels before the polls, they demanded group level entry and space in the NA's command structure after the election results.
Complicating the integration issue is the fact that the all-party consensus broke down and the minimum degree of understanding required between the Nepali Congress (NC) and Maoists went missing. Non-Maoists also became wary of the stated Maoist commitment to transform into a democratic force and started viewing the NA as the only force that could prevent a total Maoist takeover. At this stage, when their distrust for the Maoists has only grown, they are unwilling to take the risk of the Maoists taking control of the Army through integration.
The Maoists have also been ambiguous on integration. There is a dogmatic faction within the party which is happy to keep the PLA intact as an asset and a bargaining tool that can be used later, in case things do not move according to their plot. There are, moreover, close to 4,000 Maoist armed cadres who were disqualified by UN monitors for being underage and late recruits. Though the Maoists have repeatedly stated they will discharge the disqualified cadres, there has been no movement in this direction. Sources indicate that in certain ‘divisions’, Maoist commanders have not even informed those who were disqualified about their status, fearing a reaction.
An Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) headed by Prime Minister (PM) Prachanda, but with the participation of all key parties, was set up in October 2008. The PM told his PLA cadres at the Nawalparasi celebrations (PLA’s 14th anniversary of the Maoist war) that they were now under the AISC ‘in principle’. But the Maoist chain of command for the PLA is intact, with Nand Kishore Pun ‘Pasang’ as commander.
This is the background against which the recent controversy over recruitment arose. The Nepal Army issued recruitment notices around October last year. It was in December, when a PLA deputy commander, Baldev, announced that they would also start recruitment as a response. The Defence Minister, Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’, formerly the ‘deputy commander’ of the PLA, ordered the NA to stop recruitment with immediate effect. The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) also issued a statement pointing out that recruitment to either of the two armies would be against the Peace Accord.
The Chief of Army Staff, Rukmangad Katuwal, responded by stating that the process had moved too far ahead and the NA would continue with recruitment. The country is thus witness to a strange situation, where the NA chief and his boss, the Defence Minister, are having a public spat. The NA managed to garner the public support of all non-Maoist parties, who had been observing with worry the increasingly warm ties between sections of the Army and the Maoists, and who saw this as the right opportunity to increase the gulf between the two. The NA has also secured the private backing of various international actors, including USA and India.
The Army’s defence is that they were not engaged in additional recruitment but were filling in existing vacancies, and that this was allowed by the CPA. The NA claims to have done this twice before, when G.P. Koirala was Prime Minister. They also point out that they had informed the Defence Ministry of this decision in October, and it took more than two months for the Defence Minister to object to the exercise. UNMIN has made it clear that they had privately written letters to the NA on both the previous occasions when recruitment was initiated, and that the Peace Accord says there would be no recruitment, not even to fill existing vacancies. PLA commander, Pasang, accused the NA of violating the Peace Agreement and urged the Government to act against the Army. Unofficial reports suggested that Defence Minister ‘Badal’ strongly asked the Prime Minister to sack Army chief Katuwal when the NA went ahead with the process. An NGO, the International Institute for Human Rights, Environment and Development (INHURED International), has also filed a case against the NA in the Supreme Court, challenging the recruitment.
Against this backdrop, the PLA then issued a statement saying they would also go ahead with recruitment. Pasang and other PLA commanders claim that Prime Minister Prachanda was only informed of the decision, and did not order it. This is highly unlikely as Pasang is a Prachanda loyalist, and the attempt to distance Prachanda could be a ‘good cop – bad cop’ strategy. Pasang emerges looking radical to his cadres and soldiers for taking on the NA and his own leadership. And if and when a compromise is brokered, Prachanda comes out looking good to the rest of the national and international actors for having ‘kept the process on track’.
For now, the PLA move will help the Maoists bargain with the AISC and the Government when they demand that the NA stop recruitment. It will also help them further establish the ‘equivalence’ between the NA and PLA, which increases their strength in the integration debate.
But a face saver is becoming increasingly difficult to find. INHURED has also filed a case against the Maoists in the Supreme Court for violating the Peace Accord, thus bringing the judiciary in to mediate on clauses of the Peace Accord, signed in good faith by the leading political actors. This has escalated tensions between the NA and PLA, though back-channels between the two exist. And it has made Prachanda’s task of reconciling interests of his party’s army and the national Army; of appeasing his radical cadre and keeping the peace process on track; of instituting civilian control of the Army, but keeping its sensitivities in mind; and of building up a consensus, that much more difficult.
The second task, linked inextricably to the peace process, is that of Constitution writing. The time-table stipulates that the committees focus on internal discussions, solicit views from the public (40 teams are in the Districts for this purpose now) and come out with a Draft Constitution by the end of April. While it would be relatively easy to come out with a consensus in certain committees (fundamental rights, for example, where the Maoists have accepted liberal democratic rights in principle), federalism is looking like an increasingly intractable issue.
The Tharu protests are representative of why an issue like state restructuring is so complex. The Madhesi parties have been demanding a single Madhes province across the plains, though this is more of a bargaining chip than a serious slogan, given the heterogeneity within the Tarai and the lack of a support base for the Madhesi parties in western Tarai. The Tharus, encouraged by other national parties, have opposed this demand and said they want a separate province in the plains. The Government has issued an official notification and, without consultations, it seems deliberately, put the Tharus in the list of Madhesi communities. The ruling party must have known that this would provoke a backlash, the calculation being that this could only expose the contradictions between the Madhesis and Tharus and weaken the Madhesi demand. But now, the Government will have to engage with the Tharu groups and possibly withdraw the categorisation. But when they do that, Madhesi outfits may well be infuriated.
The point is that the federalism debate is occurring within an ethnically diverse society like Nepal at a time when state authority is weak and a culture of street protests and armed militancy has taken strong roots. The Maoists have proposed 14 predominantly ethnicity-based provinces. The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist Leninist) still do not have a roadmap for federalism, apart from opposing ethnic states. The Madhesi parties are asking for a single Madhes based on regional federalism.
It is difficult to figure out what could be a meeting point between these proposals and demands, and who could engineer a compromise that satisfies all sides. What is most likely is that, when the debate begins, possibly around April-end, it will spill out into the streets. When that happens, as the Madhesi protests of 2008 and Tharu protests now show, the Government will find it increasingly difficult to control the disorders without the use of force. With the use of force, however, the movements will only gain intensity. Negotiations will then have to take place between leaders in Kathmandu. But for identity movements without clearly defined leaders, as is the case of the Tharu agitation, the streets will continue to burn. And when there are multiple leaders, as in the case of the Madhesis, competitive radicalism will prevent any side from signing a deal which could be branded a ‘sell out’.
At the root of many of the complex problems that face Nepal today is the role of the Maoist party, its strategy and the way it is viewed by its adversaries. The Maoists are the strongest party – both because of their massive organisational machinery and committed cadre on the ground, and their numbers in the Constituent Assembly. They have cleverly used the state apparatus and policy measures to consolidate their base and entrench themselves further. At an ideological debate that took place in December, the party also decided to categorise the NC as the next ‘enemy’, with the monarchy gone, to polarise the polity in favour of republicans and the broad Left Front against status quoists, and to play on the contradictions between USA, China and India.
The tendency of the Maoists to shift goalposts after the elections and their provocative statements have led to serious doubts among the non-Maoists regarding the former rebels’ commitment to multiparty democratic rule. This suspicion is compounded by the insecurity of these non-Maoist parties, especially the NC, which has done little to overhaul its organisation and go back to the Districts to build up the party. So while the NC and the Indian establishment had hoped that this entire process would ‘tame’ and weaken the Maoists, the opposite has happened, with the Maoists emerging stronger than ever and in an unassailable position domestically. This has also given them the confidence to build ties with China on a scale unprecedented in Nepal’s history.
The resulting distrust between the NC and the Maoists – buttressed by distrust between India and the Maoists, and the Army and the Maoists – is now complicating the relatively simple plot envisaged in the 12 point agreement signed in New Delhi on November 22, 2005.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
March 2-8, 2009
Seven persons killed in terrorist attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore: Sri Lankan cricketers narrowly escaped a terrorist attack in the morning of March 3, 2009 when terrorists ambushed the bus carrying them to the Gaddafi Stadium for the third day’s play of the second Test. Seven persons - six policemen escorting the Sri Lankans and the driver of another van in the convoy - were killed and 20 others wounded in the attack near the Liberty roundabout. Seven Sri Lankan players were among the wounded. Two of them - Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavithana - were hospitalised for a few hours with bullet injuries. Doctors later reported they were out of danger. The other injured players were skipper Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Thilina Thushara and Suranga Lokumal. All of them escaped with minor injuries. A British coach, Paul Farbrace, and a Pakistani umpire, Ahsan Raza, were also injured in the attack. Police claimed at least 12 terrorists, who appeared to be highly trained and used rocket launchers, hand-grenades and sophisticated automatic guns in the operation lasting about 30 minutes, were involved in the attack. The attackers subsequently escaped from the incident site after commandeering a car and rickshaw. Police found a large quantity of hand-grenades, rocket launchers, suicide jackets, plastic explosives, time devices, Kalashnikov rifles, pistols and walkie-talkies left at different places in a radius of a few furlongs by the attackers. Police also seized three hand-grenades, a time device and a Kalashnikov from the backyard of the house of a retired army officer and several other weapons from near the Alfatah Departmental Store in Makka Colony and other adjacent places. They also seized a car parked near the Liberty Park with a huge-quantity of grenades and Kalashnikovs. Dawn; Daily Times, March 4, 2009.
Six persons killed in suicide attack at madrassa in Balochistan: Six people were killed and several others, mostly students, sustained injuries in a suicide attack on a madrassa (seminary) at Kili Karbala in the Pishin District on March 2, 2009. The Jamaat-Ulema-i-Islam (Fazlur Rehman faction; JUI-F) provincial chief Maulana Muhammad Khan Shirani, the Balochistan Assembly Deputy Speaker Syed Matiullah Agha and provincial ministers belonging to the party were attending a ceremony at the seminary when a 15-year-old boy blew himself up in front of the stage. However, all the JUI-F leadership escaped unhurt. District Police Officer Akbar Raisani confirmed the incident saying that the blast had occurred at a girls’ madrassa in Kili Karbala, where Shirani was scheduled to address the school’s convocation. According to eyewitnesses, two men had come to the seminary for the bombing but one of them escaped immediately after the first explosion. The News; Daily Times, March 3, 2009.
271 civilians and 137 LTTE militants among 410 persons killed in the North during the week: 271 civilians and 137 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants were among 410 persons killed during intensified fighting in the North during the week. At least 122 civilians were killed in continued artillery attacks by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) and bombardment by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) in Mullaitivu District, claimed the pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net. 45 civilians were killed when the SLA fired artillery shells within the 'safety zone' at Mullivaaykkaal, Valaignarmadam, Pokkanai, Maaththalan and the adjoining Iranaippaalai areas on March 2. Earlier on March 1, around 37 civilians were killed while on February 28 around 40 people died in SLA artillery attack and SLAF bombardment. Further, 20 militants were killed as the Security Forces (SFs) foiled a LTTE sea attack by destroying three boats in the Puthukkudiyiruppu area on March 1. At least 73 civilians were killed and more than 160 others wounded inside the 'Safety Zone' in the Mullaitivu District as SLA fired artillery shells and the SLAF dropped bombs on March 3, claimed Tamil Net. On March 2, a LTTE woman-suicide bomber blew herself up in the Vannakulam area, to the east of Elephant Pass and to the south of Vettalaikerny, when the 55th Division troops attempted to go closer to her on suspicion. In addition, approximately 68 civilians, including 21 children, were killed and 126 others sustained injuries as the SLA continued artillery shelling inside the 'Safety Zone' on March 4, claimed Tamil Net. An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) member was reportedly among the victims. Meanwhile, troops foiled the LTTE’s attempt with human shield by killing around 50 militants at Puthukkudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu on March 5. Further, troops in a search operation followed by clashes with the LTTE at Puthukkudiyiruppu, recovered dead bodies of 19 militants on March 7. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Tamil Net; Colombo Page, March 3- 9, 2009.
LTTE denies involvement in Lahore attack: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has denied any link to the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore on March 3, 2009, saying the outfit have no connections with those terrorists. "We don't have any connections with those people (Lahore attackers)," LTTE's spokesman Thileepan told the radio division of Australia's Special Broadcasting Service in the night of March 4. Answering a specific question that there are some suggestions that the LTTE could have been connected to those attacks, Thileepan replied: "No, that's not true." Asked whether the LTTE condemned the attack, he said: "Actually, we haven't made any comments on it." PTI, March 5, 2009.