SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Administrative incompetence in India manifests and articulates itself in some of the most imaginative guises, and the meltdown in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) over the past weeks, unsurprisingly, produced some disingenuous formulations. The most creative among these was a theory of ‘decompression’ enunciated by a senior State Police officer, which asserted that the best way to deal with the rising tensions in both the Valley and in Jammu was simply to withdraw Forces and allow often-violent demonstrators free run of the State’s capital cities (Srinagar is the summer, and Jammu the winter capital of J&K). It was this ‘idiot philosophy’ of administration that resulted in sectarian and separatist mobs simply and repeatedly taking over both towns, even as the Security Forces (SFs) withdrew under specific orders not to confront or obstruct the crowds. As a result, separatist mobilisation produced two ‘mass rallies’ on August 18 and 22, 2008, in Srinagar, gathering crowds estimated at about 125,000 and 250,000, respectively. This mobilisation was mirrored by communal mobilisation over the Amarnath Land Allocation controversy by Hindu right wing organisations in Jammu.
Another ‘stream of thought’ – enunciated in two diametrically opposite perspectives – also found sympathetic audiences at the highest echelons of power, both in the State and at the Centre. In one formulation, the breakdown in Jammu was a ‘mere law and order problem’, while events in the Valley reflected a ‘political problem’. Jammu was, consequently, to be ‘tackled’ through stern Police action, while a ‘military’ or ‘police’ response in Kashmir would be entirely counter-productive, and the state’s agencies could profit most through conciliation of and negotiation with separatists in the Valley. Conversely, in the opinion of other resident sages, the ‘street rage’ in Jammu was rooted in a long history of injury and neglect, and needed to be ‘handled sensitively’, but the separatist excesses in the Valley deserved no leniency, and were to be abruptly suppressed through the use of all means necessary. While both theses were advanced by officials of impeccable ‘secular’ credentials, there are no prizes for guessing the religious identity of the respective backers of each proposal.
It is significant that no coherent advocacy of the rule of law, the necessity of imposing the writ of the state, or of protecting the lives, properties and freedom of movement of the common people, found any meaningful space in the frenetic policy discourse over weeks of crisis.
What is astonishing is that such gratuitous nonsense was not only given a hearing, it produced abject state paralysis in both Srinagar and Jammu, as well as at the Centre, despite grave anxieties expressed by intelligence agencies and central Security Forces. It is significant that these ideas found currency within the context of a collapse of confidence that had followed the August 11 secessionist march to the Line of Control (LoC) in which severely inadequate force deployment had resulted in "murderous street clashes between Police and protestors" which claimed some 20 lives.
In any event, the Government, both at the Centre and in the State, celebrated the fact that the demonstrations by separatist elements at Srinagar on August 18 and 22, as also the total bandh (shutdown) they imposed in the intervening days, "passed off peacefully". It was, of course, of trivial importance that separatist mobs had taken over the heart of Srinagar town for days at end; their leaders had delivered incendiary speeches; and slogans of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ (Long Live Pakistan) and ‘Bharat teri maut aayi, Lashkar aayi, Lashkar aayi’ (India, your death has come, the Lashkar has come, the Lashkar has come), among others, were raised.
On the same days, Jammu town was handed over to another rabble demanding restoration of the allocation of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, which took to the streets and engaged in several acts of vandalism. Once again, the Police and Security Forces had been ordered out of the affected areas in order to ‘avoid confrontation’.
But if peace is to be secured by simply withdrawing the state’s security presence from all areas of possible confrontation and conflict, then it will not be long before the Indian state vacates its entire jurisdiction and lapses into the territorial extent of what was evocatively described in the terminal stages of the Mughal era: Sultanat-e-Shah Alam/ Az Dilli ta Palam [The Empire of Shah Alam (extends) from Delhi to Palam].
In the turbulent days of protests preceding the August 18 ‘mass rally’, security officers who had done their duty had been summarily transferred out, humiliated, and, in at least one case, denied rightful and hard-earned Independence Day honours. Areas of the old town in Srinagar, which had been hotbeds of terrorism in the 1990s, and had been recovered at great sacrifice by the security forces, had once again been abandoned, without contest, to the extremists. Worse, demonstrators dispersing from the mass rallies pelted stones on Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in the old City, forcing the troopers – under strict orders not to fire at the crowds – to withdraw, and then proceeded to smash their bunkers. One report spoke of, "groups of phenomenally emboldened secessionists dismantling hundreds of CRPF bunkers in the Capital city." In all, state authority visibly crumbled across both the Valley and Jammu, even as evidence of direct Pakistani interference in the current troubles mounted, and repeated violations of the ceasefire along the LoC were registered.
At the time of writing, however, the State Administration – on apparent instructions from a hitherto palsied Centre – is beginning to display some incipient evidence of a spine. The separatists, led by the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the All Party Hurriyat Conference’s (APHC) Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, had announced another three-day bandh after the August 22 ‘mass rally’, to be followed by another mass rally, at Lal Chowk, on August 25. In the night of August 23, however, a curfew was announced, and orders were passed out to the SFs to arrest second-rung secessionist leaders (the principal mobilisers), and to block off the movement of protestors from rural Kashmir into Srinagar. Geelani and Farooq were also arrested on the morning of the 25th, hours before the announced 'mass rally'. Initial reports suggest that the Lal Chowk area has been effectively ‘sealed’, and the possibility of a significant gathering remains remote, though a handful of minor incidents had been reported from different locations in the Valley at the time of writing.
At the same time, action has also been initiated against communal leaders responsible for violence in Jammu, and several prominent agitationists have been arrested under the Public Safety Act.
Negotiations with saner elements on both sides have, moreover, reportedly produced the outlines of a settlement of the Amarnath Shrine Board dispute, with a draft agreement providing for a restoration of the disputed land to the Board, explicitly for temporary use during the period of the annual yatra (pilgrimage), and with provisions for the reconstitution of the Board with members drawn from both Hindu and Muslim State subjects.
The agitation in the Valley, however, has left the Amarnath land controversy far behind. While utterly cynical falsification of the issue had helped spark the initial demonstrations in Kashmir, it is now the case that these have now taken a momentum and direction entirely unrelated to the apparent proximate provocation, and have dovetailed perfectly into the wider objectives of mass separatist mobilisation – objectives that have been vigorously, though unsuccessfully, pursued over the past two years by Pakistan-backed overground organisations in the State.
Administrative decisions over the past weeks have resulted in tremendous demoralisation among SFs in J&K, and a loss of confidence in the State’s Police and Administrative leadership. They have also resulted in the destruction of specific capacities – large numbers of bunkers and Police posts – and of SF dominance in traditionally ‘difficult’ areas, all of which will require a tremendous effort of restoration. More significantly, the days of anarchy have demonstrated extraordinary vulnerabilities of the Indian state and have not only "phenomenally emboldened" the secessionists, but brought about an abrupt – albeit tenuous – unity of purpose across historically fractious formations.
The belated state response will, of course, result in some semblance of immediate order, but the subversive impulse that has found new momentum in Kashmir will not easily disappear, and separatist elements will continue with intensifying efforts to capitalise on the developments of the past weeks through new alignments and new initiatives. Any sign of infirmity in the Indian state will even further encourage such developments, and while excess of force will have its own adverse consequences, any hesitation in the use of judicious force will be calamitous.
The state in India has, for far too long, privileged violent dissent at the expense of the constitutional and democratic constituencies. This, precisely, has not only infinitely widened the separatist spaces in J&K, it has also made moderate and secular politics nigh impossible, forcing ideologically nationalist and secular political formations to adopt increasingly radical platforms, merely in order to be heard, or to secure a meaningful presence in their interface with Government and with the people. The environment of exceptionalism and impunity that has long strengthened subversion, extremism and terrorism in J&K must be brought to an end, and democratic politics be restored to its primacy in the State. To this end, any argument advocating delays in the holding of State Assembly elections must be brusquely rejected. India has held elections in circumstances infinitely worse than what currently prevails in J&K. The state must rebuild confidence in its instrumentalities and restore an elected Government to power in the State at the earliest.
and Pitfalls of Democracy
The Chief of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda’s takeover as Prime Minister has already created a minor tremor in the domestic political scenario and the world of diplomacy. In Nepal, the politics of consensus that was not only a political commitment, but a constitutional dictate, has come to an end. The Nepali Congress (NC), the second largest party in the 601-member Constituent Assembly (CA), has not only decided to sit in the Opposition, it is fast transforming into a bitter political adversary. The United States (US), which still has the CPN-M on its terrorist list, is trying to mend fences without actually knowing how. India is suspicious of the Maoists’ perceived proximity to China. And the European Union (EU) is cautiously watching how the Maoist-led Government will deal with the human rights issues and promote the politics of pluralism, with the right of dissent as its integral part.
All this, of course, demands pragmatic balancing abilities on Prachanda’s part. It may be too early to come to any definitive conclusion within a week of his takeover as Prime Minister, but things do not appear smooth and rosy. On August 22, he failed to form the Cabinet at its desired size. The Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), part of the three-party alliance under Maoist leadership, chose not to join at the last minute. Prachanda was firmly reluctant to accept Bamdeb Gautam, a two-time Deputy Prime Minister in the past, as his number two, or to undermine the seniority of his long-term comrade and intellectual prop, Baburam Bhattarai, now his Finance Minister. The CPN-UML has threatened to walk out of the alliance, if Prachanda did not offer the number two position to Gautam. The appointment of Upendra Yadav of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) may be seen Prachanda attempt at accommodation, but if the NC and UML, the two major national parties, stay away from the Government, Nepal will most likely be headed towards political instability and economic ruin. Moreover, the process of drafting the new Constitution, which calls for at least a two-thirds majority for adoption of each clause, will not be possible at all.
Prachanda’s real test will begin next week, when he returns from Beijing after attending the concluding event of the Olympic games. He apparently ignored India’s direct request to first visit Nepal’s southern neighbour, in keeping with past practice. "It’s a sports-related visit and not directed against India at all", C.P. Gajurel, head of Foreign Affairs of the Party, clarified. But India will, perhaps, need more concrete assurances from the Maoists. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not only sent a warm invitation to Dahal to visit Delhi at the ‘earliest convenient date’, he took all possible care not to annoy Prachanda. Dr. Singh said India and Nepal need to fight common enemies like hunger, scarcity and poverty, but omission of ‘terrorism’ was part of a deliberate effort of appeasement towards the Nepali Maoists, and demonstrates how important it is for Delhi to keep Prachanda happy.
Prachanda, of course, realizes that mere radical slogans are not going to keep the people mesmerized for long. The King and the monarchy are gone. The NC, which has ruled the country for nearly ten of the 15 years of democracy, is not part of the Government. In other words, Prachanda’s Government has no ‘cushion’ available, and the people’s wrath will fix directly on him. That is why his first address to the nation as a Prime Minister, just before his departure for China, was far more circumspect than earlier orations. For the first time, he made it clear that his Government was totally committed to a multi-party democracy based on pluralism, that there would be regular elections, and that the rule of law would prevail. That was a veiled admission that, as Prime Minister, he would not be encouraging a parallel regime of the Young Communist League (YCL) and that of various other CPN-M organisations, including its Kangaroo courts.
Prachanda also pledged that his party would hold no grudge against the Nepal Army, much vilified in the past by the Maoists, and solicited all help from the Army, the Armed Police force, the para-military forces that were set up to fight ‘terrorists’ some five years ago, the Nepal Police and the Government’s intelligence wing, the National Investigation Department. Invoking the ‘nation is under threat’ slogan, he said his topmost priority was to save the country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. "If that cannot be saved, democracy and republic will lose all relevance," adding, further, that "one party, one man or one institution alone can not save this." Touching on this most emotive issue, Prachanda solicited individual and institutional support, but, at no stage, did he reveal where the threat emanated from. Many read this statement as an indication that Prachanda is in no hurry to integrate the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the Nepal Army.
As Prime Minister, Prachanda is certainly trying to dispel the impression at home that the Maoists, once in power, will establish authoritarian one-party rule. There are still fears in the public that, with the monarchy voted out in a captive CA that did not even allow a debate on the issue, the Maoists would target the Nepal Army, the judiciary – mainly the Supreme Court – and the Media, institutions that could create organized resistance to authoritarianism. Prachanda’s appeal will, however, still be seen more as a tactic than a change of heart and mission, since other senior leaders of his party have said that their war for a ‘people’s republic’ will continue from the Government, CA and the street. All Prachanda’s pledges, including the one that his Government would respect Press freedom and human rights are, consequently, met with visible degrees of public distrust.
The Maoists are yet to return the property they ‘confiscated’ from individuals during the years of conflict – something Prachanda pledged to do long ago, when he signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement way back in 2006. The YCL is presently lying low, but its military structure has not yet been dismantled. Prachanda will now be judged more on delivery than on rhetoric. In other words, he may not have a reasonable spell of what is called a ‘honeymoon period’ which any new Government would normally enjoy. The reason is simple: either as an insider or an outsider, the CPN-M has determined the course of politics and major political decisions in the country ever since they joined the peace process in April 2006.
Apart from the law and order situation being at its lowest ebb, the country has been suffering from acute shortages of fuel and cooking gas for the past two years, mainly due to the huge arrears of the Nepal Oil Corporation against the Indian Oil Corporation, the sole supplier for Nepal. The country’s far-western and some eastern areas have already been declared scarcity hit, with starvation looming large. The Government’s ability to deliver, or lack thereof, will largely dictate how people will view the new Government. Further, the UML and NC decision to stay away from the Government not only makes the Constitution writing process difficult, it also endangers the peace process. That will have a direct bearing on the prospects of the Government.
But Nepal’s politics has an equal, if not greater, external component as well. India mediated and brought the Maoist and pro-democracy forces together in the anti-monarchy platform, getting them to sign a 12-point Agreement way back in November 2005, but is now sore over the Maoists’ perceived pro-China tilt, seeing Prachanda’s recent visit to Beijing as evidence.
Prachanda has, at times, shown scant respect for India’s security concerns, and is on record having supported a ‘plebiscite’ in Jammu and Kashmir and in India’s Northeast. As he moved closer to the power, however, he and his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, have tried to convince Delhi that they would respect India’s genuine security interests and not allow Nepal to be used against its southern neighbour. In the same breathe, however, they have also said that all the major treaties that Nepal has signed with India need a review, if considered necessary, may be scrapped. The first such treaty they have in mind is the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, besides other agreements concerning hydro-projects. The day following his takeover, Prachanda said that the first ever hydro-power treaty that Nepal signed with India (the Kosi project) was a ‘historic blunder’ and that he would take the devastation caused by the Kosi flood on the Nepal side to the international community.
India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, mainly L.K. Advani, the party’s projected prime ministerial candidate for the 2009 elections, has accused the Manmohan Singh Government of ‘outsourcing’ its Nepal policy to the Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M). Advani was equally critical of the world’s only Hindu kingdom being turned into a ‘secular republic’ without involving the people in this decision. The BJP’s possible return to power may not be the undoing of what has already happened in Nepal, but Prachanda has other reasons to fear the BJP’s return to power. Prachanda is likely to undertake a visit to India sooner than many think, as he also needs to address Delhi’s suspicion over his China visit.
There are other international players as well, who are cautiously watching developments in Nepal. The EU has raked up the issue of suppression of the ‘free Tibet’ movement (the CPN-M and the UML are two parties that have ‘denounced’ the free Tibet movement as something that Nepal should not be encouraging). With Prachanda’s visit to China, and Beijing’s sensitivities on the subject, Kathmandu’s ruthlessness towards the movement is almost certain to increase. What is yet to be seen is how the EU will respond, and whether any future repression will have a bearing on the grants and assistance that Nepal receives from the EU. There is also the US, with the Maoists still stuck with the ‘terrorist’ tag, warning the new rulers to adhere to international standards of human rights and freedoms.
Balancing domestic and external compulsions will be a tough job indeed. It remains to be seen whether Prachanda’s party, which has not only survived and expanded on radical slogans and finally come to grab power, will allow the new Government to be just a little more efficient, and forego their radical dream? But Prachanda’s chair will certainly start shaking the moment he gives more weight to his party’s programmes and policies. He will be equally vulnerable the moment he stops to listen to the EU and other liberal democratic constituencies. Prachanda is already sinking in the quagmire of a political system called democracy.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 18-24, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Union Government files affidavit against SIMI in Supreme Court: The Union Government on August 20 filed a fresh affidavit in the Supreme Court, citing the involvement of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) cadres in the recent bomb blasts in Ahmedabad in Gujarat. In its affidavit, the Government said investigations revealed that the accused in the bomb blasts in Ahmedabad and Surat on July 26 were SIMI cadres. Annexing the depositions made by witnesses, the Government further said intelligence sources and secret surveillance by the Police made it clear that the accused had nexus with international terrorist outfits. Annexing a list of over 350 terrorist-related cases registered in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal since 2001 and the arrest of over 1,400 SIMI cadres, the Centre said that despite the ban, the outfit had continued with its activities and managed to keep its network alive clandestinely. The organisation was revived through the front outfits, Tahreek-e-Ehyaa-e-Ummat, Tehreek-Talaba-e-Arabia, Tehrik Tahaffuz-e-Sha`aire Islam and Wahadat-e-Islami. The Centre said the confessional statements of some of the accused revealed that SIMI cadres had secret meetings to mobilise Muslim youth to spread jihad in the entire Indian subcontinent especially in Gujarat, and that they had planned to wage a war against India by indoctrinating and training Muslim youth in the use of arms and ammunition.
The court on August 6 stayed an order passed by the Special Tribunal, set up under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, quashing the Centre’s February 7 notification banning the SIMI. As the tribunal order has been stayed for three weeks, the matter is listed for further hearing on August 25. The Hindu, August 21, 2008.
50 militants and 17 soldiers killed in suicide attack and subsequent military operation in Swat: Ten army soldiers, seven policemen, 50 militants and a number of civilians were killed in a suicide attack on a police station and the subsequent military operation in Swat on August 23, 2008. A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden jeep into the Charbagh police station at 7.45am (PST), killing four policemen and three civilians. 20 others were wounded. About 100kg of explosives were reportedly used in the attack. Military spokesman in Swat, Major Nasir Ali, told Dawn that soon after the suicide attack, security forces (SFs), backed by helicopter gunships, targeted militants’ hideouts in the valley, killing 50 Taliban militants, including their top commanders and foreigners. Ten army soldiers were killed and seven others injured in the fighting and three army vehicles were damaged. Several militant hideouts, including their command and control centre in Kabal, were destroyed. Major Nasir said the operation would continue till all objectives were achieved and the Government’s writ was restored. However, the Taliban dismissed the military version, claiming in turn that they had killed 33 SF personnel. Spokesman Muslim Khan said that the Taliban had carried out the suicide attack in reaction to the killing of 14 militants in Doaba in the Hangu district on August 22. Dawn, August 24, 2008.
70 persons killed and 67 injured in twin suicide blasts at Pakistan Ordnance Factories near Islamabad: Two suicide bombers blew themselves up on August 21, 2008 at the gates of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) in the high security cantonment town of Wah, around 30 kilometres from capital Islamabad, killing at least 70 persons in what was described as the deadliest attack on a military installation in the country’s history. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. The POF at Wah is a cluster of about 20 industrial units producing artillery, tank and anti-aircraft ammunition for the Pakistani armed forces. It employs around 25,000 to 30,000 workers. The bombers blew themselves up outside two gates of the factory at 2.35pm (PST) when hundreds of workers were leaving after a shift change. Most of the victims were civilian workers. The first explosion occurred outside the main gate and it was followed by an equally powerful blast at gate No.1 located close to a busy market. Witnesses said the bombers were on foot and they exploded themselves within a minute of each other. Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar claimed responsibility of the suicide attacks saying that they had been carried out in retaliation for military operations in Bajaur and Swat. He warned that such attacks would also be carried out in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Mardan, Bannu, Kohat and Swat. Dawn, August 22, 2008.
32 persons killed in suicide bombing at hospital in NWFP: 32 persons, including seven policemen, were killed and 55 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the emergency ward of the District Headquarters Hospital in Dera Ismail Khan on August 19, 2008. The attack was carried out when a large number of people had gathered there to protest against the murder of the local Shia leader Basit Ali earlier in the day. Attacked by a gunman near the Faqirni Gate, he was brought to the hospital where he died. Police said the 20 year-old suicide bomber blew himself up in the presence of police personnel who were trying to control the crowd. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. TTP spokesman Maulvi Omar said they had targeted police and other Government officials and "did not intend to attack any specific religious sect (the Shia)." He said suicide attacks would continue till the military operations in Bajaur and Swat were stopped. Dawn, August 20, 2008.
Pervez Musharraf resigns as President: President Pervez Musharraf on August 18, 2008, announced his resignation ahead of a threatened impeachment by the ruling coalition. In a farewell address to the nation, General (retired) Musharraf said he was going not because he was scared of a possible impeachment but because he wanted to spare the country the instability and uncertainty the proceedings would bring. "This is not the time for individual bravado. This is the time for serious reflection. Whether I win or lose, the nation will lose in every way. It will be a blow to the dignity of the nation and to the office of the President… Therefore, after consultations with all my advisers and friends, for the sake of the country, I announce my decision to step down from the office of President," he said. Defending his tenure as President, Musharraf said, "No charge sheet against me will stand," referring to the charges that the ruling coalition had finalised to support an impeachment motion. Declaring he had done nothing in his personal interest and everything for Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf said even if the motion was defeated, there would be tensions between the presidency and the Government and between institutions. "God forbid, the Army should not have to interfere. I would never want that," he said. Regarding his future, he said he left it for the people to decide. "I leave my future to the people of Pakistan. Let them be the judges and let them do the justice," he stated. The Hindu, August 19, 2008.
192 LTTE militants and 32 soldiers among 227 persons killed during the week: 192 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants, 32 soldiers and three civilians were among 227 persons killed in separate incidents between August 18 and August 24, 2008. At least 23 LTTE militants and four soldiers were killed and more than 46 militants and four soldiers injured as clashes erupted between the two sides at several places in the Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya districts on August 17. On August 18, at least 33 LTTE militants were killed and more than 16 others injured during clashes with the security forces (SFs) in the Nachchakuda, Navakkulam, Palamoddai, Uyilankulam, Sinnapuliyanperumal, Andankulam, Kokkuthuduvai and Vannavikulam areas of the Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts. Two soldiers were also killed while six others sustained injuries during the clashes at Nachchakuda, Vannavikulam, Andankulam and Kokkuthuduvai. 21 militants and two soldiers were killed while 23 soldiers sustained injuries as clashes erupted between the two sides in the areas south and east of Vannavikulam, west of Thunukkai, south of Malawi and Andankulam in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts on August 19. Troops captured Thunukkai, the second most important administrative hub of the LTTE, taking the Forward Defences of the ground troop’s just 12-kilometres south of Kilinochchi, after capturing Uyilankulam, located eight kilometres north of Thunukkai. At least 20 militants and five soldiers were killed during the two days of clashes in Thunukkai. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Colombo Page, August 19-25, 2008.
Ruling party wins provincial elections: Sri Lanka's ruling party won the weekend provincial elections and said the victory was an electoral endorsement of its eight-month campaign to militarily crush the LTTE. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won 56.3 percent of council seats in North Central province and 55.3 percent in Sabaragamuwa province. More than 68 percent of the 2.1 million registered voters cast their ballots on what observers said was a peaceful day in spite of pre-poll violence and intimidation, and reports of rigging by election monitors. "The expectations of violence were fortunately not met," the independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence said in a statement. The Media and Information Minister Anura Priyadharsana Yapa told Reuters the victory was "a clear endorsement to move forward. This is also endorsement of the decision taken by the president and the government to eradicate terrorism from the country." Reuters, August 24, 2008.