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SAIR Archive            SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW          LATEST ON SATP
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 15, No. 47, May 22, 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
PAKISTAN
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Border Disorder
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Two Frontier Constabulary (FCB) soldiers were injured in cross-border firing in the Kurram Agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, from the Khost Province of Afghanistan on May 12, 2017. The attack took place as FCB personnel were undertaking construction of a wall along the border on the Pakistani side.

This is the second cross-border attack coming from Afghanistan over the past week. At least 12 persons — 10 civilians and one sepoy each from the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps (FC) — lost their lives and around 40 others were injured in firing and shelling by Afghan forces in Kali Luqman and Kali Jahangir areas of Chaman in Qilla Abdullah District of Balochistan on May 5, 2017, while Pakistani officials were carrying out a census in the area. An Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) press release tweeted by its Director General (DG) Major General Asif stated, “Afghan border police opened fire on FC troops detailed for security of census in a village along Chaman border… Since 30th April, Afghan Border Police had been creating hurdles in conduct of census in divided villages of Killi Luqman and Killi Jahangir in Charnan area on Pakistani side of the border. This was done despite the fact that Afghan authorities had been informed well in advance and coordination was carried out through diplomatic and military channels for conduct of census."

An Afghan official, Zia Durrani, talking to journalists in Afghanistan, alleged that Pakistan was, on the pretext of census, undertaking “malicious activities and was provoking villagers against the (Afghan) Government”.

Later in the day, an exchange of fire was reported at two check posts at Torkham Border crossing between Pakistan and Afghan armed forces in the Khyber Agency of FATA. According to the details shared by officials, Afghan forces kept firing at Iqbal Post and Post II at Torkham Border for at least an hour. Pakistan also retaliated to the firing. Meanwhile, the political administration imposed a curfew in the area suspending NATO supplies and Afghan Transit Trade activities.

In a face-saving measure on May 7, 2017, the Pakistan Army claimed that it had killed more than 50 Afghan soldiers in a clash on the Chaman border crossing in the Qilla Abdullah District of Balochistan on May 5. Frontier Corps (FC) Major General Nadeem Ahmed stated, "We are not pleased to tell you that five Afghan check posts were completely destroyed more than 50 of their soldiers were killed and over 100 were wounded… We are not happy for their losses but we were forced to retaliate." However, Afghanistan quickly denied the claim. Sediq Sediqqi, an Afghan Government spokesman tweeted, "Very false claims by Pakistani Frontier Corps that as many as 50 Afghan soldiers lost their lives in Pak (Pakistan) retaliation totally rejected." Afghanistan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal further stated that only two Afghan soldiers were slain and seven others injured.

In the aftermath of the firing, the Pakistan Government closed down all the Pak-Afghan border-crossings for an indefinite period. Earlier, Pakistan had closed its borders with Afghanistan at Chaman and Torkham on February 18, 2017, following the suicide attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sehwan and a series of terrorist attacks across the country, blaming Afghanistan-based Pakistani terrorists for the attacks. On March 7, 2017, Pakistan temporarily opened its border crossings with Afghanistan at Torkham and Chaman.

After a month of closure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the reopening of the border on March 20, 2017. The Prime Minister declared that links of recent terror attacks had been traced back to Afghanistan, “but Pakistan is reopening the border as a goodwill gesture.”  

The recent skirmish along the border started on June 12, 2016, over the construction of ‘Pakistan Gate’ at the Torkham border crossing. Both sides resorted to cross-border firing, blaming each other for initiating the clash. The construction of the gate appeared to have angered the Afghan Government. Tension prevailed as both sides traded small arms and mortar fire across the border for three days. By the time a ceasefire was agreed to by Pakistan and Afghanistan on June 15, four soldiers (including one Afghan border police officer and a Pakistan Frontier Corp’s Major Ali Jawad Changezi) had been killed and at least 40 injured. The Torkham border reopened on June 18, after five days of closure.

The under-construction border gate, including a trench and walls, has been a major bone of contention between the neighbouring countries. Afghanistan contends that the installation of a physical barrier would make this border permanent, while Pakistan had announced, for the first time in September 2005, that it had plans to build a 2,400-kilometre fence along its border with Afghanistan to check armed militants and drug smugglers moving between the two countries. The conflict over the legitimacy of the Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan is more than a century old. The Durand Line, named after British diplomat Mortimer Durand, was drawn in 1893 as the international border between British India and Afghanistan in an agreement with Afghan ruler Abdur Rahman Khan. No Afghan Government has accepted the border since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, on the ground that the agreement with the British lapsed after their withdrawal from their Indian empire, and because it divides the Pashtun ethnic homeland and tribal communities living both side of the border. These tribal populations are accustomed to moving back and forth freely and in some cases own land on both sides of the border.

Pakistani plans for mining and fencing the border were renewed on December 26, 2006, but were again opposed by the Afghan Government and the South Waziristan Agency of FATA saw a border skirmish in April 2007. Pakistani SFs operating in South Waziristan made a three-tier security deployment on April 11, 2007, to stop cross-border infiltration by militants into Afghanistan. Pakistan fenced 12-kilometers of its border stretch with Afghanistan to ‘choke off’ cross-border infiltration, but Afghan troops tore down the fence on April 19, leading to a gun-battle, though there were no casualties.

Despite Afghanistan’s opposition Pakistan later started excavation work on a several-hundred-kilometer-long trench along the Balochistan border in April 2013. After about three years of constant efforts, a 1,100 kilometer trench in Balochistan along the Afghan border was completed on June 20, 2016. The 11-foot-deep and 14-foot-wide ditch on the entire stretch of the border was done under the supervision of FC at a cost of PKR 14 billion.

Since the December 16, 2014, terrorist attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School, Pakistani authorities, who claim that the terrorists entered Pakistan through Torkham, have sought to further regulate the movement of people and goods through the border. The movement across the Afghan-Pakistan border also generates revenue for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two countries exchange goods and services worth some USD 3 billion annually across the Durand Line, in addition to a large volume of illegal trade and smuggling.

Pakistan's move to close the border crossings every time there is a rise in tensions has failed to resolve the problem of the border conflict, and to stop terrorist movements on both sides. Crucially, such moves are futile because terrorists and other illegal actors don't use the official crossings. Terrorists with sanctuaries on either side of the border often use one of many other unofficial passes and crossings along the over 2,400-kilometer frontier. Wahid Muzhdah, a Kabul-based analyst noted, on March 7, 2017, "There are over 20 unofficial crossings along the Afghan-Pak border which militants use to move between the two countries… I believe the initial goal of closing the border from the Pakistani side is to put economic pressure on Afghanistan." But the border closure has dented business on both sides. Khan Jan Alokozay, vice chairman of Afghanistan's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) observed, "Afghan and Pakistani businessmen are losing USD 4 million on average each day."

Nevertheless, on April 1, 2016, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on regulations that would require Afghan citizens to present valid and authorized travel documents prior to entering Pakistan via Torkham. On April 2, an apex committee which included Pakistan’s Army Chief Raheel Sharif, called for the enforcement of the border crossing mechanism “in true letter and spirit,” at all crossing points, especially Torkham. On April 8, Pakistan issued a notification asking all Afghan nationals residing in Torkham to vacate the area. Over 300 Afghan families were evicted from the border town the following week. Tensions mounted as Pakistani authorities demolished houses of Afghan nationals in Torkham. By April 18, over 300 such houses had been razed to the ground. Then on May 11, in the face of Afghanistan’s continued objections to Pakistan’s construction of a barbed wire fence at Torkham, Pakistan closed the border. The tension peaked on June 12 over the ‘Pakistan Gate’ issue.

Since then, an undercurrent of tension persists along all border crossings. On August 18, 2016, a group of Afghan demonstrators attacked the Friendship Gate at Chaman and set the Pakistani flag on fire. A large number of Afghan nationals, celebrating the 97th anniversary of their country’s Independence Day, gathered near the Friendship Gate after marching through the streets of Spin Boldak town across the border. They carried placards and banners inscribed with anti-Pakistan slogans and started pelting the Friendship Gate with stones, smashing windowpanes of buildings.

While border clashes between Afghanistan and Pakistan are not a new occurrence, the situation in the past few months has been more warlike than usual. Both countries accuse each other of providing jihadists with safe zones to launch attacks across the border. On May 18, 2017, the Pakistan Army claimed that it has satellite images and ground reports that proved Afghanistan’s “involvement” in cross-border terrorist acts and infiltration of terrorists from Afghan areas into Pakistan. Lieutenant Colonel Haroon of the Pakistan Army asserted, “Satellite images show that the Afghan border area of Parchow in Nangarhar province had been utilised by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Khalid Sajna and Daesh groups to train militants.” Stressing the need for effective border management for ensuring peace in Pakistan, he added, against the evidence of decades of Pakistani mischief, “We will never allow Pakistani soil to be utilised for destabilizing Afghanistan.”

Unsurprisingly, on April 13, 2017, the US confirmed that the terrorist safe havens were quite safe in Pakistan, allowing terrorist groups to carry our strikes across the border. US State Department acting spokesperson Mark Toner noted, “We’ve been very clear, while we understand that Pakistan has made efforts to confront terrorism and terrorist organizations on its own soil, that there are still what we call safe havens that exist for terrorist groups to operate from and carry strikes out on Afghanistan.”

It is not just Afghanistan and the US Coalition there that have a problem with Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism. Islamabad’s role in fomenting terrorism in India is well known. However, on May 8, 2017, Iranian Army Chief Major General Mohammad Baqeri also warned Islamabad that Tehran would hit bases inside Pakistan if Islamabad did not confront terrorists who carry out cross-border attacks. General Baqeri declared, "We cannot accept the continuation of this situation… We expect the Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists and shut down their bases. If the terrorist attacks continue, we will hit their safe havens and cells, wherever they are."

Pakistan continues to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy, and at the same time seeks to legitimize contentious borders by building barriers on the pretext of stopping ‘cross border infiltration’ by terrorists. There can be no peace in the Pakistani neighbourhood and, indeed, within Pakistan, as long as this continues.

BANGLADESH
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Relentless Exertion
S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

On May 17, 2017, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested two Neo-Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB) terrorists, Selim and Pranta, at village Chuadanga in Jhenaidah District. During the operation, RAB recovered 186 PVC circuit boards, 18 units of explosive-making gel, four drums of liquid chemicals, one anti-mine device, two suicidal vests, as well as some other explosive-making materials and electronics devices.

On May 11, 2017, five suspected terrorists were killed in a terrorist hideout in Benipur village of Rajshahi District. Police disclosed that they had asked the terrorists to surrender, but, they blew themselves up while coming out of the house. Fire-fighter Abdul Motin, who was injured in the explosion, died later at the Rajshahi Medical College Hospital. Locals claimed the militants were all involved with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) politics.

On May 7, 2017, two Neo-JMB terrorists were killed and two Policemen were injured during an operation in Jhenidah District's Maheshpur area. The terrorists, later identified as Tuhin and Abdullah, were killed in suicide bomb explosion.

On April 27, 2017, four Neo-JMB terrorists holed up at a den in Shibnagar Trimohoni of Chapainawabganj District were killed in suicide bomb explosions. Rafiqul Islam aka Abu was among the dead. The other three, believed to be Abu's accomplices, were not identified. Abu's pregnant wife Sumaiya Begum and their six-year-old daughter Khadiza were rescued from the den. Police recovered Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), bombs and pistols from the den.

On April 21, 2017, a Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit neutralized a Neo-JMB den in a house at Porahati village in Jhenidah District. Three suicide vests, one pressure cooker bomb, 20 plastic containers of bomb-making chemicals, IEDs, detonators and a 9mm pistol was recovered from the house. Later, CTTC disclosed that the location was a bomb-making factory from where explosives were supplied to other cells of the terrorist group. This was the largest bomb-making facility neutralized.

Significantly, Inspector General of Police (IGP) A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque, while addressing a community policing gathering in Lalbagh area in Dhaka city on May 13, 2017, disclosed that at least 65 terrorists had been killed in 15 recent anti-terrorism drives across the country. The IGP further stated that Police officials were working hard to identify and neutralize terrorist hideouts, and a ‘good number’ of terrorists had been arrested in the anti-militancy drive, he added.

Since the Gulshan Cafe attack on July 1, 2016, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 92 Islamist terrorists have been killed and another 1,050 arrested across Bangladesh. Prominent among those killed were the Neo-JMB leader and mastermind of the Gulshan Cafe attack, Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury aka Shaykh Abu Ibrahim Al Hanif aka Amir (30); the JMB ‘military commander’ for the northern region Khaled Hasan aka Badar Mama (30); Neo-JMB ‘military commander’ Murad aka Jahangir Alam aka Omar; JMB ‘regional commander’ Tulu Mollah (33); JMB ‘regional coordinator’ Abu Musa aka Abujar; Neo-JMB ‘military chief’ Aminur Islam aka Alam (23); Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) ‘chief’ Mufti Abdul Hannan; and HUJI-B ‘regional commander’ Tajul Islam Mahmud aka Mama Hujur (46) (data till May 21, 2017).

However, warning that the terrorists were now shifting their hideouts outside the capital city, Dhaka, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia noted, April 29, 2017, “Now, we all are conscious enough about the militancy in Dhaka as a result terrorists are shifting their dens outside the capital.” Further, to combat militancy and terrorism anywhere in the country, CTTC officials stated, on April 30, 2017, that Police was going to get a full-fledged unit with jurisdiction to operate across the country. Currently, the CTTC unit of DMP is the only specialized Police counterterrorism unit. The unit has to step in to launch anti-militancy raids in areas even outside its jurisdiction, requiring special permission from the Police Headquarters for each such operation. Jurisdictional issues also arose in the investigation of terrorism-related crimes outside DMP areas. CTTC officials asserted that the new “Police Anti-Terrorism Unit” would enhance their capacity manifold in the fight against extremists.

A disturbing trend in Bangladesh has been the regrouping, to stage fresh attacks, by terrorists released on bail. An intelligence report submitted to the Home Ministry in August, 2016, revealed that, between February and June 2016, at least 28 terrorists had been released from jail, prominently including: Sikandar Naki, a JMB terrorist accused in a case under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) at the Turag Police Station, who was released from jail after securing bail from the court on June 2, 2016; Omar Sharif and Abu Bakkar, two terrorists of Hizb-ut-Tahrir accused in separate cases under the ATA filed with the Adabor and Hazaribagh Police stations, who obtained bail on May 2, 2016; Ashish, a terrorist of Hizb ut-Tahrir accused in a case filed with the Sobujbagh Police Station under ATA, who secured bail on April 16, 2016; Mominur Rahman, also a Hizb-ut-Tahrir terrorist accused in a case filed with Khilgaon Police Station under the ATA, who secured bail on April 15, 2016; another Hizb ut-Tahrir terrorist Sunny, accused in a case filed against him with Sabujbagh Police Station, obtained bail on April 14, 2016; JMB terrorist Shafiqul Islam, accused in several cases filed against him with Hazaribagh and Rampura Police Stations, secured bail on April 9, 2016; Raufur Rashid, a terrorist of Hizb-ut-Tahrir accused in a case filed against him with the capital's Mohammmadpur Police Station, obtained bail on April 7, 2016; Shafayet Jamil, a JMB terrorist accused in a case under ATA filed with the Kalabagan Police Station, secured bail on March 31, 2016; Nurul Amin, another JMB terrorist accused in a case filed with the Paltan Police Station, obtained bail on March 29, 2016; Sadik Shajib, a Hizb-ut-Tahrir terrorist accused in a case filed against him with the Uttara Police Station, got bail on March 29, 2016; and HUJI-B terrorist Lipi, accused in a case against her with the Cantonment Police Station, obtained bail on February 9, 2016.

Warning that legal action would be taken against guarantors who gave their bond for terrorists to secure bail, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, after the 6th meeting of the Committee on Combating Militancy at the Secretariat in Dhaka city on April 12, 2017, stated, “We have decided to take legal action against the guarantors upon whose bond the terrorists were released on bails, if they fail to place the culprits in the court. There was an intelligence report that many of the terrorists have already left the country for which they could not appear before the court ignoring repeated summons…” Separately, suggesting immediate steps for de-radicalization of arrested terrorists, Aminul Islam, Joint Commissioner of the CTTC unit of DMP, in his presentation at the Quarterly Crime Conference of Police on April 24, 2017, observed, “The country lacks any mechanism for de-radicalization and counter-narratives for terrorists. After arrest, terrorists usually behave tough (sic), but slowly they become normal.”

Meanwhile, promising that the Government would help terrorists get back to normal lives after surrender, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed stated, at the RAB Headquarters on the elite force’s anniversary on April 26, 2017, “Terrorists and extremists, who want to get back to normal life shunning extremism, should be given support so that they can reintegrate into the society. The Government had made a list of all the terrorists who had laid down arms. We will provide them financial aid and assist them to jobs they want so that they can get back to normal lives.” Further, reiterating her Government's zero tolerance policy against militancy and terrorism on May 3, 2017, Prime Minister Hasina declared, “We'll root out militancy and terrorism from Bangladesh to ensure peace and security in public life.”

Dhaka has demonstrated the efficacy of determined and relentless action against terrorist formations. However, the weapons and resources recovered during recent raids suggest that the significant flows to these groups persist. Moreover, the involvement of women as combatants also has grave implications for the country. Bangladesh has taken giant strides against terrorism and Islamist extremism, but the latent threat persists.


NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 15-21, 2017

 

Civilians

Security Force Personnel

Terrorists/Insurgents

Total

INDIA

 

Assam

0
0
2
2

Jammu and Kashmir

1
3
4
8

Nagaland

1
0
0
1

Left-Wing Extremism

 

Jharkhand

2
0
7
9

Total (INDIA)

4
3
13
20

PAKISTAN

 

Balochistan

3
0
0
3

KP

0
4
0
4

Sindh

0
2
0
2

Total (PAKISTAN)

3
6
0
9
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


INDIA

'Be ready India, we are coming', warns Indian IS leader: Abdul Rashid, a fugitive Islamic State (IS) preacher from Kerala, has sent out a warning to India, claiming the ‘Islamic Caliphate’ will expand and reach India in the near future. A native of Trikaripur in Kasaragod District of Kerala, Rashid was part of a 21-member group, including women and children, that went missing from Kerala last year and later joined the IS in Afghanistan. He is currently functioning as the leader of the terror outfit's Kerala members in the Nangarhar Province, and is sought by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Asianet News, May 19, 2017.

Pakistan may be propping up new terror outfit in Kashmir, suspect Indian intelligence agencies: The rising dissonance between Kashmiri separatists and terrorists based in the Valley on the one hand and Pakistan-based terrorist ‘commanders’ and cadres in Kashmir on the other has led Indian agencies to suspect that terror masterminds across the border may be covertly planning a new terrorist organisation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), with focus on ex-Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) ‘commander’ Zakir Musa. According to intelligence sources, multiple statements over the past two weeks by Musa, the self-styled successor of slain HM leader Burhan Wani, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Kashmiri separatists and United Jehad Council chief Syed Salahuddin, coupled with images, videos and audio clips circulated on social media, point to "a widening conflict between key stakeholders of violence in the Valley". Times of India, May 20, 2017.

Religious radicalisation in the northeast may lead to terrorism, says Rajnath Singh: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on May 16 described religious radicalisation as a serious security threat in northeast and said if not checked in time it could lead to terrorism. He also expressed concern over the proliferation of illegal arms in the region and asked the Police chiefs to launch organised campaigns against arms smugglers. The Telegraph, May 17, 2017.

Legislators also paying 'levy' to Naxals, says arrested Maoist in Bihar: Musafir Sahni, a self-styled ‘zonal commander’ of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), confessed during interrogation that one north Bihar Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) had recently paid INR 500,000 to CPI-Maoist in Muzaffarpur District on May 15. Sahni further added that at least 25 elected people representatives, including three legislators, had been paying 'levy' to Maoists operating in north Bihar. Sahni was arrested along with two other CPI-Maoist cadres from Ramnagar village in Sakra Police Station area of the District on May 11. Hindustan Times, May 16, 2017.

No dialogue with separatists in Kashmir, says Defence Minister Arun Jaitley: The Union Government on May 18 ruled out any dialogue with separatists in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in near future, saying its priority was to improve the situation in the Valley first. “Our priority is to improve the situation first,” Union Minister for Defence and Finance Arun Jaitley said in Srinagar when asked if the Centre had any plans to hold talks with separatist groups like All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Jaitley, after reviewing the security situation in J&K, said it was not as bad as the impression was being given by some media outlets. The situation in the valley is improving, he said. Daily Excelsior, May 19, 2017.

UPRF declares unilateral ceasefire in Assam: United People’s Revolutionary Front (UPRF), a militant group, which has been operating in Singhason Hills of Karbi Anglong District, affirmed unilateral ceasefire with the Government of India (GoI) for six months starting from May 18. The militant group also appealed the Government to speed up a peace process. Nagaland Post, May 20, 2017.


NEPAL

Cabinet meeting decides to accept Tharuhat Tarai-Madhes movement as political one: A Cabinet meeting held at the Office of the Prime Minister at Singha Durbar in Kathmandu on May 18 decided to accept the Tharuhat Tarai-Madhes movement as a political one. The Council of Ministers took a decision to declare Nawaraj Pathak of Namobuddha Municipality, Kavre, who died in the police firing and Kul Bahadur Tamang of Dolakha, who was killed in a clash during the local-level elections on May 14, martyrs and to provide ex-gratia support of one million rupees to their families. The Himalayan Times, May 19, 2017.

There is no alternative to amending constitution to make it sustainable, says FSF-N Chairman Upendra Yadav: Chairman of Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal (FSF-N) Upendra Yadav on May 16 said there is no alternative to amending the constitution to make it sustainable. Yadav said the government must honor the past agreements and initiate the process to amend the constitution. “Until our demands are met, our protests will continue,” he said. He further said June 14, the date set for holding the second phase of the local elections, is not appropriate. My Republica, May 17, 2017.


PAKISTAN

Army will fight terrorists, society should fight extremism; says COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa: The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on May 19 made a subtle distinction between terrorism and extremism, saying the military could only defeat terrorists but extremism is something civil society is better equipped to deal with. General Bajwa said extremism is the foremost factor driving terrorism, adding that though the former is a term "relative to our perception of what is normal," it has a lot to do with the environment in which people live. Dawn,