SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Once again, in one more Indian province, the extreme fragility of order has been demonstrated. A matter of almost trifling significance has been allowed to swell – indeed, has been engineered – into a national crisis. For the past seven years, India has been flaunting data on declining fatalities in the conflict with Pakistan-backed terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) as evidence of our successes in the State. But the abrupt meltdown in J&K following upon the approval and subsequent revocation of the land transfer to the Amarnath Shrine Board sharply underlines the question of the credibility and competence of the state, and of the legitimacy of the national and regional leadership among an ever-widening segment of the population. There is clear evidence of an extraordinary loss of faith, and the deficit of trust has rapidly augmented into endemic mistrust. Conspiracy theories abound, and certain, obviously mischievous, elements have been able to project the formal commitment of a 40 hectare piece of land to a use to which it has informally been put for decades, as a plot to ‘transform the demography of Kashmir’. The credence that has been given to this ludicrous canard among the people of Srinagar, and the lip service the idea of ‘defending our land’ has subsequently received from some of the most prominent political actors drawn from the Valley, is evidence of the utter make-believe in which much of the population exists, and the growing distance between public perceptions and the Government.
The sequence of developments is fairly clear, and in any system in which some vestiges of ethical norms had survived, would have shamed the principal political players. In India, however, the very notion of shame has been expelled from the realm of politics.
Briefly, the current controversy arises out of the order of May 26, 2008, sanctioning the diversion of a plot of 39.88 hectares of forest land at Baltal to the Amarnath Shrine Board for the raising of pre-fabricated (temporary) structures to accommodate pilgrims to the Amarnath Shrine. No permanent structures were permitted, and permanent residence in the harsh terrain, which is virtually inaccessible for as much as eight months in the year, is not possible. Significantly, this was no abrupt decision. The issue has long been under consideration, and has had a slow and magisterial passage through various levels of Government, culminating in the eventual State Cabinet decision, which essentially validated what had already been passed as an interim order by the Divsional Bench of the J&K High Court as far back as May 17, 2005, empowering the Shrine Board to use the land to house pilgrims during the annual Amarnath yatra. Baltal, 93 kilometres from Srinagar and 16 kilometres from the Amarnath Shrine, is the last staging post on the pilgrims’ route.
Crucially, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which was then a partner in the State Government, was integral to the decisions taken, with various Ministers – including, particularly, the Ministers of Law and Forests – drawn from this party piloting the proposal and giving it their unqualified approval. The PDP’s conduct thereafter has been nothing short of disgraceful in the extreme. Immediately after walking out of the Government, the PDP has made common cause with communal and separatist elements such as various factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), to mobilize mass and often violent street demonstrations demanding annulment of the land allocation to the Amarnath Shrine Board, forcing the resignation of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, and the imposition of Governor’s rule in the State.
With State Assembly elections around the corner (to be held by November 2008) and General Elections for Parliament due a few months later, State and national political formations, all, leapt in to exploit the situation. In an extraordinary combination of political opportunism, folly and weakness, the outgoing Azad Government revoked the order of allocation to the Amarnath Shrine Board on July 1, 2008. The fury that had been whipped up in the Valley was now mirrored in an even greater fury in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, and particularly in Jammu town, which is also a crucial halt on the Amarnath yatra. Long festering sores – the decades of resentment against the Valley’s discrimination, against terrorism and over the dispossession and expulsion of more than 400,000 Kashmiri pandits by the Pakistan-backed terrorists and communalists from the Srinagar region – erupted.
The agitation over the revocation of the land transfer to the Amarnath Shrine Board entered its 43rd day on August 11, with the death toll at 11, and over 500 persons injured. Despite political interventions at the highest levels, moreover, the radical polarization between the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu region appears to be exacerbating, with religious extremists on each side occupying increasing space. Worse, every party is making communal calculations; every party – including those who pretend to make pleas for greater harmony and reconciliation in the national interest – plays divisive politics. The space for a truly secular politics in J&K appears to have been entirely exhausted. While demonstrators in Jammu continue to challenge the relentless curfew, now in its eleventh day, communal elements, led by various factions of the APHC, with the PDP now joining in, have declared their intention to breach the Line of Control (LoC) and ‘march to Muzzaffarabad’ in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) to protest the supposed ‘economic blockade’ of the Valley imposed by Jammu. The losses that are being incurred by the present disorders will, obviously, be vastly exaggerated, and will eventually become another source of perpetual grievance to be exploited by anti-national elements. The call to march to Muzzaffarabad, in any event, has hardly been made with any seriousness. It is abundantly clear that no Government worth its salt will allow the marchers to get anywhere close to the LoC, and the intention is evidently to internationalize the issue and project a communal solidarity with Pakistan. Significantly, the ‘prime minister’ of PoK, Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, has declared that ‘his people’ would ‘receive our brethren with open arms.’
It must be evident how completely these developments have aided the cause of communalism, separatism and Pakistan’s proxy war against India. For months, now, Pakistan has been trying – largely unsuccessfully – to raise the temperatures in J&K. There has been a continuous effort, since early 2007, to orchestrate street demonstrations against alleged ‘human rights violations’ by the Security Forces, and to demand a withdrawal of the Army from the State. These efforts were fairly transparent and were limited to the handful of separatist fronts well known to be linked to terrorist formations in the State and to Pakistan – and remained largely unsuccessful. Abruptly, however, after nearly four years of a ceasefire that had been held without significant incident, a flurry of ceasefire violations have been initiated by the Pakistan Army along the LoC. Till August 10, there have already been 20 ceasefire violations on the LoC by Pakistan in 2008 – most of them since June 2008 – principally in the Poonch and Rajouri areas of Jammu, but with incidents also reported from the Uri, Kupwara, Tanghdar, Machail and Gurez sectors. The sheer frequency and intensity of ceasefire violations establish a pattern of a broad strategy of escalation. Commentators have seen this as an effort to find a rationale for redeployment of Pakistani Forces along the LoC and Indian border, in order to justify withdrawals from counter-terrorist operations in the FATA and NWFP areas, where Pakistan wishes to dilute its operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Pakistan’s intentions are, and long have been, no secret to observers in this region. But, at a time when they most needed it, India appears to have provided the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) the most extraordinary gift in the form of the disorders and communal polarization that have now arisen out of the self-inflicted wounds in J&K. Even without the provocations of external agency, these wounds will take an age to heal. As they are dovetailed into Pakistan’s subversive agenda, they will provide an inexhaustible source of further provocation and violence.
An All Party Delegation, headed by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, has visited J&K in an effort to ‘resolve’ the crisis. It is significant, however, that leaders from Jammu and from the Valley remained unwilling to sit together with the Central team, and had to be met separately, at Jammu and Srinagar, respectively. Unsurprisingly, the Delegation appears to have failed to soothe tempers in either region, many politically correct declarations and speeches notwithstanding. Worse, far from any attempt to improve the situation, political formations, without exception, continue to furiously scrape away at the wounds, to keep them bleeding. The PDP, which participated in the All Party Delegation’s deliberations, has joined the ‘Muzaffarabad Chalo’ bandwagon. Various national political parties continue to justify their own actions or criticize rival formations. A Governor’s recall has been allowed to become an issue of public debate, creating a further and grave handicap in the state’s capacities to address the crisis. The Governor himself has been caught in a predicament not of his own making. Injured egos abound, and appear to prevail over the national interest. Competitive communalism and brinkmanship are the core elements of politics in J&K, with parties completely at odds with each other, scoring points that they think will secure apparent electoral advantage, but which are progressively undermining national security.
At least some parties appear to be planning to extend this destructive dynamic beyond J&K, to other parts of the country, and this portends disaster. Even at the peak of terrorism in the Punjab or in Kashmir, the threat remained largely confined only to a part of the country. Today, J&K’s ailment and Pakistan’s proxy war are already and progressively afflicting targets across the country.
J&K has been, and, despite repeated failures and aberrations – including the great and neglected injustice done to the Kashmiri pandits – will remain, a test case for the success of Indian secularism and national integration. While separatists and Pakistani proxies have great reason to celebrate the ongoing disorders in the State, political formations and leaders committed to the national cause need urgently to pause and introspect on the consequences of the current course they have variously adopted.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 4-10, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Maoists threaten to capture towns in four States: The Communist Party of India-Maoist have threatened to come out of their forest hideouts and 'capture' towns in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. In a message posted to media persons in Orissa's Gajapati District, a Maoist leader claimed that the Centre and State Governments' "efforts to suppress Maoists will go in vain". The two-page message in Telugu language was signed by Bhaskar, chief of the Maoists' Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee. The message said, "We will capture some towns in the four states, including Orissa, within a few years." Times of India, August 10, 2008.
President Musharraf siphoned millions of dollars from US war on terror fund: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Zardari has accused President Pervez Musharraf of misappropriating millions of dollars of United States aid given to Pakistan for supporting the war on terror. Zardari made the charge in an interview published in The Sunday Times on August 10, 2008. "Our grand old Musharraf has not been passing on all the $1 billion a year that the Americans have been giving for the armed forces," he claimed. "The Army has been getting $250m-$300m reimbursement for what they do, but where’s the rest? They claim it’s been going in budget support but that’s not the answer. We’re talking about $700m a year missing. The rest has been taken by Musharraf for some scheme or other and we’ve got to find it," Zardari said. The alleged misappropriation will form a part of the charge against Musharraf to be announced on August 11 when Parliament is recalled to start impeachment proceedings, the report said. Zardari claimed the US aid might have gone to fund rogue members of the external intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). "We’re looking for the money. I think he [Musharraf] has a slush fund being used for this and for some activity for the future," he said. . Daily Times, August 11, 2008.
More than 95 militants and 23 soldiers killed in clashes in Bajaur Agency: Paramilitary troops retreated from the Loyesam area of Bajaur Agency in the FATA on August 9, 2008, three days after an attempt to recapture the Taliban stronghold near the Afghan border. Loyesam lies on the strategically important road leading towards Peshawar, capital of the NWFP. About 200 Frontier Corps (FC) troops were deployed on August 6 to set up check-posts near the Afghan border, prompting "tough resistance" from the militants. More than 70 Taliban militants were killed and 60 others sustained injuries in a gun-battle between militants and the security forces (SFs) in the Bajaur Agency on August 8. Seven paramilitary troops also died in clashes near the Afghan border, as helicopter gun-ships and mortars targeted militants’ hideouts in the Rashakai and Tank Khata areas. Previously, hundreds of Taliban militants attacked a security check-post near the Afghan border late on August 6, sparking fierce clashes in which up to 10 soldiers and 25 militants were killed. The SFs had deployed a large force at Loyesam, 12 kilometres from Khar, headquarters of the Bajaur Agency, in a bid to reclaim important Taliban strongholds nearby. A Frontier Corps officer told AFP that 300-400 militants armed with AK-47 assault rifles, rocket launchers and grenades, participated in the attack. Earlier, Frontier Corps and Bajaur Levies personnel, backed by helicopter gunships, launched an operation against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)-linked militants in the Bajaur Agency on August 6. Official sources said that helicopter gunships targeted suspected hideouts and locations of the militants led by TTP deputy chief, Maulana Faqir Mohammad, at Loisam area in Nawagai town. Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the troops took action against militants when they attacked a security post at Loisam. The News; Daily Times, August 7-11, 2008.
President Pervez Musharraf to be impeached: After three days of dialogue, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led ruling coalition announced on August 7, 2008, that it had decided to impeach President Pervez Musharraf, warning that any move by him to fight back by dissolving Parliament would be rejected by the nation. A joint declaration drafted by the PPP and its main ally, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), and accepted by other partners in the coalition, listed the reasons for the move. Read out by PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari in the presence of PML (N) chief and former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and leaders of the other coalition parties at a Press Conference in Islamabad, the charges against the retired General Musharraf included his failure to take a vote of confidence from the newly elected Parliament despite a commitment he would do so to the Supreme Court at the time of his election from the outgoing Parliament in October 2007. It also listed his refusal to quit despite the electoral defeat of his political allies, his failure to address the new Parliament and the "incompetence" of his policies that had resulted in an economic crisis. It also accused him of trying to "undermine" the transition to democracy, and of weakening the Federation. Zardari also said the judges dismissed by President Musharraf would be reinstated after his impeachment. The Hindu , August 8, 2008.
TTP threatens to launch suicide attacks across country: Highly-motivated ‘boys and girls’ are eager to mount suicide attacks all over the country, including Karachi, targeting high-profile Government functionaries, according to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Addressing a Press Conference on August 5 in Anayat Kalley in the Bajaur Agency of the FATA, the TTP deputy chief Maulana Faqir Mohammad and spokesman Maulvi Omar said that a ‘Fidayeen Squad’, comprising 10- to 20-year-old boys and girls, was ready to carry out the attacks if the Government did not immediately stop the operation in Swat in the NWFP and did not reverse its decision to launch military operation in other tribal areas. Omar said the TTP chief, Baitullah Mehsud, had held consultations with key Taliban commanders and they were of the opinion that the only way to effectively counter the Government’s aggressive plans was to launch massive attacks. He said a plan had been finalised and the TTP had decided to launch suicide attacks in Peshawar, Mardan, Dir and other Districts of the NWFP. Dawn, August 6, 2008.
230 LTTE militants and 24 soldiers among 254 persons killed during the week: 230 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants and 24 soldiers were among 254 persons killed in separate incidents between August 1 and August 10, 2008. On August 3, the Security Forces (SFs) advancing towards the areas north of Vellankulam in Kilinochchi District repulsed LTTE attacks and killed 12 militants and injured 14 others. In a separate clash in the area, the SFs killed nine militants and wounded seven others. Two soldiers were also killed in the incident. On August 4, 11 militants were killed in the Thunukkai, south of Kalvilan, Kalaikadu and Vellaimuntai areas in the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi Districts. One soldier was also killed while five others sustained injuries during these clashes. 26 militants were killed and more than 73 others injured during clashes with the troops in the Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi Districts on August 6. Three soldiers were also killed while eight others sustained injuries in these clashes. On the same day, the SFs confronted LTTE militants in the areas north of Janakapura and Kiriibbanwewa in Vavuniya District and killed 10 of them and injured 20 others. On August 7, nine LTTE cadres and four soldiers were killed and 22 militants and four soldiers were wounded during clashes in the Andankulam and Kiriibbanwewa areas of Vavuniya District. Further, 15 LTTE militants were killed during clashes with the troops in the Thennayankuma area of Mullaitivu District on August 8. Separately, the troops confronted with the LTTE militants in the Palamoddai, Nedunkulam and Navathkulama areas of Vavuniya District on August 9 and killed 16 of them. On August 10, the troops opened fire on LTTE positions in the areas ahead of the Kilaly Forward Defense Line (FDL) in Jaffna District and killed 15 militants. Similarly, 15 LTTE cadres were killed and more than 13 others injured during another encounter between the two sides in the area south of Nayaru Lagoon in the Mullaitivu District. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Colombo Page, August 5-11, 2008.