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SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 15, No. 33, February 13, 2017

Data and assessments from SAIR can be freely published in any form with credit to the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal


ASSESSMENT

AFGHANISTAN
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Unrelenting Bloodshed
S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

On February 8, 2017, six employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were shot dead by terrorists of the Islamic State (IS, formerly, Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, also Daesh) in the Qoshtapa District of Jawzjan Province. After the killing, ICRC suspended its operations in Afghanistan on February 9, 2017.

On February 7, 2017, at least 22 people were killed while more than 41 were injured in a suicide attack outside Afghanistan’s Supreme Court complex in the national capital, Kabul. Later, in a post on Twitter on February 8, 2017, Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.

On January 10, 2017, at least 38 people were killed and another 72 were wounded in two back to back explosions in Kabul city. Kabul Police officials disclosed that the majority of those killed or wounded were civilians. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the explosions.

On January 10, 2017, in a separate incident in Kandahar Province, as many as 13 civilians were killed, including five United Arab Emirates (UAE) diplomats, in an explosion at the residence of the Kandahar Provincial Governor while he was hosting a dinner for visiting diplomats and dignitaries. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Civilian continue to bear the brunt of terrorism in Afghanistan. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) at least 121 civilians have already been killed in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2017 (data till February 12).

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which began systematically documenting civilian casualties on January 1, 2009, has recorded 70,188 civilian casualties (24,841 dead and 45,347 injured) up to December 31, 2016. Through 2016, UNAMA recorded 11,418 civilian casualties (3,498 civilians dead and 7,920 injured) as against 11,002 civilian casualties (3,545 civilians dead and 7,457 injured) in 2015. More disturbingly, the conflict severely impacted Afghan children in 2016. UNAMA recorded 3,512 child casualties (923 deaths and 2,589 injured), a 24 percent increase over 2015, and the highest number of child casualties recorded by UNAMA in a single year. The disproportionate rise in child casualties across Afghanistan in 2016 resulted mainly from a 66 per cent increase in civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war – most of these casualties were children.

The battle between the Security Forces (SFs) and the Taliban to establish effective control over areas across Afghanistan intensified further through 2016. According to the United States (US) Department of Defense (DoD), from January 1, 2016, through November 12, 2016, as many as 6,785 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) service members were killed and an additional 11,777 members were wounded. The DoD reported that the majority of ANDSF casualties continue to be the result of direct-fire attacks, with IED explosions and mine strikes accounting for much lower levels of casualties. ANDSF includes the Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan Air Force (AAF), and Afghan National Police (ANP).

In contrast, fatalities among the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Forces continued to decline, with 16 fatalities in 2016, as against 27 in 2015 and 75 in 2014. A total of 3,528 NATO personnel, including 2,392 US troopers, have been killed so far, since 2001. The increase in fatalities among ANDSF, on the one hand, and simultaneous decline in NATO fatalities, on the other, is primarily because NATO Forces have ceased operating as combat Forces (barring a few specific operations) since the beginning of 2015, and ANDSF has taken up the lead in fighting the terrorists.

Though there is no specific data on the number of terrorists killed in Afghanistan, according to partial data compiled by SATP, at least 11,469 terrorists were killed through 2016, as against 10,628 such fatalities in 2015. Most of the terrorists killed belonged to the Taliban.

According to US Force-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), as of November 26, 2016, the ANDSF assigned force strength was 322,585, including 174,950 of ANA and 147,635 of ANP. Meanwhile, according to US DoD, as of December 2016, the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) launched on January 1, 2015, to train, advise and assist the mission in Afghanistan, consisted of 13,332 U.S. and Coalition personnel. Of that number, 6,941 were U.S. forces and 6,391 were from 26 NATO allies and 12 non-NATO partners.

The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in its latest Quarterly Report released on January 30, 2017, offered bleak progress statistics about Afghanistan. An estimated 57.2 per cent of the country’s 407 Districts are under Afghan Government control or influence as of November 15, 2016, a 6.2 percent decrease from the 63.4 percent reported in the preceding quarter in late August 2016, and a nearly 15 percent decrease since November 2015. Further, Afghanistan's largest independent news agency, Pajhwok Afghan News, on February 7, 2017, reported that as many as 704 people were killed and 563 others wounded in 137 attacks in January 2017 in 24 of the 34 Provinces of the country, showing a 10 per cent spike in attacks and a 17 percent rise in causalities compared to December 2016. Terrorists, SFs and civilians, including women and children, were among the casualties, but Pajhwok could not find the exact figures for each category. The Global Terrorism Index 2016 put Afghanistan at the second highest impact from terrorism, measuring 9.44 out of 10, after Iraq at 9.96 out of 10.

At this time, even though the Afghan Taliban has declared that it has no intention of participating in peace talks with the Afghan Government, despite international efforts, an attempt is being made to bring the rebels to the talks table. The first round of official peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan Government had taken place in the intervening night of July 7 and July 8, 2015, in Murree in Pakistan, with an agreement to meet again on August 15 and 16, 2015, in the Qatar capital, Doha. Before, the second round of talks could take place, the Afghan Government disclosed, on July 29, 2015,  “The Government... based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban, died in April 2013 in Pakistan." Subsequent disclosures indicated that Omar died while he was under treatment in Karachi. Soon, the Taliban split into two factions – one led by Pakistan’s nominee, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and another by Mullah Mohammad Rasool. The next round of talks failed to materialize. Mansoor was killed in a US air strike on May 21, 2016, in Pakistan, near the Afghan border. He was succeeded by Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, but the possibility of talks ended at this stage.

Significantly, Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of UNAMA, in his quarterly briefing to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in New York on December 19, 2016, urged the Taliban to enter into direct talks with the Government, without preconditions, to prevent further bloodshed in the country. However, responding to the renewed call for talks by Yamamoto on December 23, 2016, Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, declared, “Our fight is for independence, and as long as foreign occupation forces are present here (in Afghanistan) any talk about peace and reconciliation is meaningless.” Further, on January 25, 2017, the Taliban group issued an open letter claiming, “The Afghans, as a nation ravaged by war for thirty eight long years, sincerely want to bring this war to an end. However they know – despite whatever reasons for previous wars – that the principle cause for the ongoing conflict is the presence of foreign occupying forces in our independent country.”

The fifth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China on the Afghan peace and reconciliation process had been held in Islamabad, Pakistan, on May 18, 2016. The QCG reiterated that violence served no purpose and that peace negotiations remained the only option for a political settlement, and member countries resolved to use their respective leverages and influence to secure an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. Separately, the third session of the trilateral "working group" of Russia, China and Pakistan on Afghanistan held in Moscow on December 27, 2016, discussed the current situation of Afghanistan decided to work towards delisting the Afghan Taliban from the world body’s sanctions list in a move purportedly aimed at launching peaceful dialogue between Afghanistan’s Government and the insurgent groups.

As talks with the Afghan Taliban hit a roadblock amidst a surge in violence, the Afghan Government signed a peace agreement on September 22, 2016, with the Hezb-e-Islami (HeI) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, paving the way for the armed group's commander to make a political comeback despite allegations of war crimes during the 1990s. Once branded the "butcher of Kabul", Hekmatyar was a prominent anti-Soviet commander who stands accused of killing thousands of people when his fighters fired on civilian areas of the capital city during the 1992-1996 civil war. The draft of the peace agreement had been signed on May 18, 2016, by HeI representatives and High Peace Council (HPC) officials.

While the Taliban has regained significant ground, it has now entered into a fratricidal turf war with its own splinters. Several deadly clashes have taken place across the country, particularly in western provinces, following the announcement of the death of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. In the latest incident of infighting among the Taliban factions, on January 8, 2017, at least ten Taliban cadres were killed in Bakwa District in a landmine explosion orchestrated by a rival group in Farah Province. Indeed, the Islamic State (IS or Daesh) faction, which made inroads into Afghanistan subsequent to the June 2014 release of Daesh’s ‘world domination map’, has benefited from Taliban infighting, taking recruits from Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda defectors. But, the U.S. military and its Afghan partners have managed to push back Daesh’s presence in the country from nearly a dozen Districts to just two or three. Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, spokesman of US Army in Afghanistan, thus asserted, on December 22, 2016, “A year ago, U.S. commanders estimated the strength of the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan at between 1,500 and 3,000 members. Today, it is about 1,000. We think we've significantly reduced that presence."

Afghanistan’s principal problem, however, remains Pakistan. Exposing Islamabad’s role, Afghanistan's Permanent Representative to the UN, Mahmoud Saikal, stated, on January 11, 2017, "The cycle of violence and insecurity in Afghanistan, and our part of the world is inextricably linked to the presence of sanctuaries and safe-havens in the region, from which extremist groups are sustained and enjoy an incessant flow of political, financial, material and logistical support for the continuation of their malicious activities.” Endorsing Afghanistan’s view that terrorists are able to strike whenever they want to because of the existence of terrorist safe havens inside Pakistan, US Defense Secretary General James Mattis declared, on January 12, 2017, “Sanctuaries and freedom of movement for the Afghan Taliban and associated militant networks inside Pakistani territory is a key operational issue faced by the Afghan security forces.” Further, on February 9, 2017, General John Nicholson, commander of the US forces and the NATO-led RSM in Afghanistan added, “The Taliban and Haqqani network are the greatest threats to security in Afghanistan. Their senior leaders remain insulated from pressure and enjoy freedom of action within Pakistan safe havens.”

No end is presently visible for Afghanistan’s crisis. Reaffirming US support to the Afghan Government and SFs on January 5, 2017, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook noted, “Afghanistan is still dangerous and challenges there remain. We will continue to provide the kind of support we can to bolster the Afghan security forces.”

Afghan Forces are reeling under circumstances created by the withdrawal of an overwhelming proportion of NATO Forces, though the small remaining contingents continue to provide active support. There is, however, far greater recognition today of Pakistan’s enduring mischief in Afghanistan, and a growing willingness among engaged powers to impose costs on Islamabad for its malfeasance. With the change of regime in Washington, there is an expectation that this will translated into effective policy. It remains to be seen whether this will exercise sufficient pressure on Islamabad to act against the Taliban. Absent a conclusive defeat inflicted on the Taliban, there is little hope of peace in this war wracked nation.  

INDIA
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Andhra Pradesh: Continuing Consolidation
Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

On February 5, 2017, a group of about four to six armed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres shot dead a tribal, identified as Parsika Pullaiah (40), at Alligudem village under Chintooru mandal (administrative unit) in East Godavari District. When the villagers tried to prevent the Maoists from killing Pullaiah, they were reportedly told, the Maoists would not spare any ‘informer’. This is the lone Naxal [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)]-linked violent incident reported in the State thus far in 2017 (data till February 12).  

Indeed, the security situation in the State in terms of LWE violence has improved considerably over the past years, and these gains have been further consolidated through 2016. Significantly, the State recorded lowest number of civilian fatalities (five) in such violence since 1968, when three civilians were killed, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database. The highest ever civilian fatalities in LWE-linked violence in Andhra Pradesh stood at 218 in 1991.

Significantly, as in 2015, there was no fatality among Security Forces (SFs) in 2016, though the number of Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) killed increased from two in 2015 to five in 2016. The highest ever fatalities, at 56, among SF personnel were registered way back in 1992, while LWEs had suffered their maximum loss, 275, in 1998. The dramatic decline in fatalities in both these categories clearly suggests that the Maoists are no more on the offensive in the State and have their backs to the wall. SFs also arrested 17 LWEs through 2016, in addition to 44 such arrests in 2015. Continuing SF pressure resulted in the surrender of 26 LWEs in 2016, in addition to 133 in 2015.

Other parameters of violence were also indicative of significant gains. According to data provided by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), LWE-linked incidents in Andhra Pradesh decreased from 35 in 2015 to 17 in 2016. The State reported 577 such incidents in 2003.

There was no major incident (involving three or more fatalities) of civilian killing through 2016, as in the preceding two years (SATP data). The last such incident took place on February 19, 2013, when three tribals were killed by the Maoists in the Lakkavaram Forest area in G.K. Veedhi mandal in Visakhapatnam District.

The Maoists were involved in at least four incidents of exchange of fire with SFs in 2016, as against eight such incidents in 2015. There was just one attack on an economic target through 2016, as compared to five such attacks in 2015. Further, the Maoists were able to organise only one Praja court (Kangaroo Court) in 2016, in Visakhapatnam District; as against two in 2015. The Maoists gave bandh (total shut down) calls on three occasions in 2016, as against six such calls in 2015.

Unsurprisingly, on December 31, 2016, stating that Left Wing Extremism had declined to an all-time low in Andhra Pradesh, the one-time stronghold of the Naxalite movement, Director General of Police (DGP) Nanduri Sambasiva Rao noted, "The Left Wing Extremism (LWE) ideology is losing relevance and the Andhra Pradesh Police has succeeded in controlling Naxalite activities in the State."

A residual threat, nevertheless, lingers. The State recorded more incidents of civilian killing in 2016 as compared to 2015 – four in 2015 and five in 2016 – though civilian fatalities declined from six in 2015 to five in 2016. Moreover, civilian killings were reported from three Districts: Vishakhapatnam (three), Vizianagaram (one), and East Godavari (one) in 2016, as compared to two Districts: East Godavari (three) and Vishakhapatnam (three) in 2015. Indeed, DGP Rao acknowledged, on December 31, 2016, “Naxalite movements are continuing in Visakhapatnam Rural, East Godavari and Vizianagaram Districts.” The DGP also disclosed that 105 extremists were operating in the State, of whom 45 were from Andhra Pradesh and 60 from other States.

In the meantime, according to the latest data provided by the Bureau of Police Research and Development [BPR&D], as on January 1, 2016, the police-population ratio (policemen per hundred thousand population) in the State stood at precarious 95.74 per 100,000, as compared to a national average of 137.11 which is, itself, abysmally low. [Over 220 policemen per 100,000 population are considered necessary for ‘peacetime policing’]. At least 9,587 Police posts are vacant in the State, against a sanctioned strength of 59,174. Also, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State is 144, but just 124 officers were in position, considerably weakening decision-making in the Force.

Though the Andhra Pradesh Police has done incredibly well against the Maoists over the past decade , despite existing deficits, it is imperative for the Governments, both at the Central and State levels, to strengthen and improve the quality of the SFs, and resources available to address potential threats. Andhra Pradesh Districts that border the Maoist-affected areas of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha, remain vulnerable to attacks from these relatively safe areas. The Maoists have demonstrated a historical tenacity that leaves no space whatsoever for complacence, especially since many proximate areas across the State boundary remain highly affected by the LWE threat.


NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
February 6-12, 2017

 

Civilians

Security Force Personnel

Terrorists/Insurgents

Total

INDIA

 

Assam

2
0
0
2

Jammu and Kashmir

2
2
4
8

Left-Wing Extremism

Andhra Pradesh

1
0
0
1

Chhattisgarh

1
0
3
4

Jharkhand

1
0
0
1

Odisha

0
0
2
2

Total (INDIA)

7
2
9
18

PAKISTAN

 

FATA

0
0
2
2

KP

2
0
0
2

Sindh

1
0
6
7

Total (PAKISTAN)

3
0
8
11
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


BANGLADESH

Prime Minister urges imams to prevent misinterpretation of Islam to help Government stamp out terrorism and militancy: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina while addressing the National Imam Conference held at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka city on February 9 urged imams to prevent the misinterpretation of Islam to help the Government stamp out terrorism and militancy. "It's my fervent call to you all, including imams, Ulema alongside teachers, to immensely publicize in mosques, schools, colleges, and universities of the country that Islam is a religion of peace, and it doesn't believe in terrorism, extremism and killing people. Please continue to do that as people attentively listen to your words," she said. New Age, February 10, 2017.  

Prime Minister calls for combating terrorism collectively: Describing terrorism as a global phenomenon, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed on February 6 called for combating this social vice collectively. "We have to fight terrorism together to ensure peace in the world," she said while visiting German Parliament Members Hans Peter Uhl and Thorsten Frei who called on the Prime Minister at her Jatiya Sangsad Office in Dhaka city. Reiterating her Government's 'zero tolerance policy' against terrorism and militancy, the Prime Minister spelled out "We are directly contacting with the people of all sections including guardians, teachers, students, religious leaders and public representatives and talking to them to create awareness against terrorism and militancy." New Age, February 7, 2017.  


INDIA

Ongoing Manipur blockade could impact Naga peace-talks, says JIC Chairman RN Ravi: The Chairman of Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and interlocutor for the Naga peace-talks R. N. Ravi on February 10 said that ongoing economic blockade in Manipur may have an impact on the peace-talks. JIC Chairman RN Ravi said, "The Naga issue can't be dealt in political isolation. Naga neighbours are important stakeholders. A durable solution is not possible by disregarding neighbours' sentiment and confrontational attitude towards them." The news report further adds that over the stubborn attitude displayed by the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak- Muivah (NSCN-IM) over Manipur, Ravi had said, "It is bound to impact the tenor and character of further talks with NSCN-IM." The Asian Age, February 12, 2017.  

China blocks the proposal at UN to blacklist JeM 'chief' Masood Azhar: At the behest of Pakistan, China has, once again, put a "technical hold" on a proposal at the United Nations (UN) to designate Masood Azhar, 'chief' of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), as a global terrorist. The proposal was moved by three permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) - US, UK and France - on January 19, 2017. Unlike 2016, what is different this time is that, while India was one of the co-sponsors of the resolution last time, this year, the US, the UK and France took the lead. "Last time, China had blocked the proposal citing it as a matter between India-Pakistan…so, this time, it was decided that others should take the lead. But Beijing has once again put it on hold," a source told. The Financial Express, February 8, 2017.  

Violence may spring up again, says J&K Police internal report: The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Police has prepared a report, warning about the possibility of a 'more dangerous repetition of 2016' after March and highlighted the 'lack of the preparedness to handle such crisis on part of the civil administration and Police'. Director General (DG) of the J&K Police SP Vaid confirmed that there were reports of 'possible unrest after March' but maintained that Police was ready to handle any 'law and order' situation, adding that All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders who lead such agitations were to be 'squarely blamed' for the consequences. The Times of India, February 8, 2017.


NEPAL

President authenticates Local Level Election Bill and Election Offence and Punishment Bill: President Bidya Devi Bhandari on February 10 authenticated the Local Level Election Bill and the Election Offence and Punishment Bill. The two bills were recently endorsed by the Parliament and the President enacted them in accordance to Article 113.2 of the Constitution, according to Assistant spokesperson at the President's Office, Prahlad Prasad Pudasaini. The Himalayan Times, February 8, 2017.


PAKISTAN

TTP provides core fighting group for IS, says ISAF Commander General John Nicholson: The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commander General John Nicholson (Jr.) said on February 12 that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) provides the core fighting group for the Islamic State (IS) group as TTP militants in Orakzai Agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) en masse joined the relatively new terrorist group. General John Nicholson (Jr.) appeared before the US Senate Armed Services Committee to brief American lawmakers on the current situation in Afghanistan. He told the panel that the IS, which in Afghanistan was called the Islam State Khorasan Province, comprised fighters mainly from existing militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dawn, February 13, 2017.

TTP publishes second issue of Vogue-style magazine 'Mujjallah': In an effort to promote its ideology and update supporters about its latest actions in the country, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has brought out a high gloss, Vogue-style magazine. The first issue of 'Mujjallah' magazine was published in November 2016 and reportedly distributed in Pakistan sometime in December 2016. The inaugural issue had 56 pages. The second issue printed a couple of weeks ago is slicker and thicker and has more pages than the first one. The paper quality of the magazine is at par with that of Vogue, besides having fine printing quality. The cover carries bulletins of the banned outfit's activities in Pakistan and also features reports on how to make bombs and other explosives. While declining to be named, they said, the magazine is being printed in Afghanistan, most likely in Jalalabad, and allegedly distributed throughout Pakistan amongst hardcore followers and also has a limited circulation in Afghanistan. Tribune, February 13, 2017.

Madrassas are not teaching hate material, says Punjab Government: The Punjab Government on February 7 giving a clean chit to all educational institutes - including 15,000 madrassas - has declared that no seminary or public and private institute is involved in teaching hate material to students. During the Punjab Assembly session, Law Minister Rana Sanaullah while commenting on a resolution moved by a treasury member Ms Hina Pervez Butt informed the House that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led Punjab Government had registered all 15,000 madrassas, including 532 existing in 'Gray Areas' of the province. Daily Times, February 8, 2017.


SRI LANKA

Government intends to hold public referendum on new Constitution with consent of all political parties, says Leader of House Lakshman Kiriella: Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella in reply to a question raised by Member of Parliament (MP) Wimal Weerawansa on devolution of power in Parliament on February 9 said that the Government intends to hold a public referendum on new Constitution with the consent of all political parties. He further said that no clauses have been defined yet in the proposed new Constitution and discussions are being held to formulate a legal framework. He said the Government will not go for federalism regarding the devolution of power. Colombo Page, February 10, 2017.