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SAIR Archive            SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW          LATEST ON SATP
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 15, No. 52, June 26, 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


PAKISTAN
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Kurram Agency: Sectarian Monster Revisited
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

At least 67 persons were killed and more than 200 injured in back-to-back explosions in the Turi Bazaar area of Parachinar, the headquarter of Kurram Agency, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), when the market was crowed for Iftar and Eid shopping on June 24, 2017. Initially, an explosion took place at the busy Turi Bazaar, moments after an Al Quds Day (an international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people) rally had concluded at the central Imambargah (Shia place of worship). When people rushed to the spot to remove the injured and bodies, the second blast, which was more powerful, took place resulting in even greater death and destruction. The al-Alami (International) faction of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the twin bomb blasts, issuing a statement that it was targeting Shias and threatened more attacks over “Pakistanis fighting against Sunni militants in Syria’s civil war”.

Citing the same reason, the group had also claimed the December 13, 2015, suicide attack in a makeshift market in Parachinar, which killed 25 persons and injured 62. A statement released to a foreign media channel and attributed to the spokesman of the Jhangvi group, Ali bin Sufian, declared that the attack had been carried out against Shia elements who were supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian government, adding, “We warn... parents that if they don’t stop their children from ongoing (sic) conflict in Syria they should remain prepared for more such attacks.”

This is the third major attack in Parachinar during the first half of 2017. At least 24 persons were killed and 100 were injured in a suicide attack on an Imambargah in the Noor market area of Parachinar on March 31, 2017. The explosion took place as people gathered for Friday prayers near the women´s entrance of the Imambargah. A witness stated that security personnel at the Imambargah were checking devotees when an unidentified person parked a car next to the building, which then exploded. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction Jama’at-ul-Ahrar (JuA) claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack was part of TTP’s "Operation Ghazi" and Shias were the targets, according to the outfit’s statement to the media.

On January 21, 2017, 25 persons were killed and more than 87 injured in a bomb explosion at the Sabzi Mandi (vegetable market) area, again in Parachinar town, in the morning when the market was crowded with retailers buying fruits and vegetables. In a text message sent to journalists, the LeJ-al-Alami claimed that, along with the TTP splinter, Shehryar Mehsud group, it had carried out the attack. In a separate statement, the spokesman for TTP, Mohammad Khurassani, declared, “A well-trained fighter, Saifullah alias Bilal, carried out a suicide attack in Parachinar… Saifullah attacked headquarters of enemies of Islam who are involved in extrajudicial killing of our suppressed associates. He avenged murders of Malik Ishaq, Noor ul Amin, Asif Chhoto and many other associates, who were killed in fake police encounters.”

Nevertheless, the Kurram Agency, long known for sectarian violence, has seen a definite decline in such incidents in recent years, despite the fresh attacks, but Shia dominated Parachinar in the Upper Kurram Agency remains a principal target for Sunni sectarian terrorist formations. Built by the British Royal Army in the 1890s, the town is the headquarters of the Kurram Agency, housing offices of the political administration, units of the Army and Frontier Corps, and a civilian population of less than 100,000. Kurram comprises three sub-divisions: Upper, Central and Lower Kurram. Some 58 per cent of its population is Sunni, and 42 per cent Shia (according to the 1998 Census). The majority of Shias live in Upper Kurram, while Sunnis dominate Lower and Central Kurram. The present cycle of escalation started when three people were killed and 13 were injured in an attack on a Shia Imambargah in the morning of April 6, 2007. Clashes in Kurram from November 2007 to 2010 left over 3,000 people dead, while thousands of families were forced to flee their homes.

Unlike other tribal agencies of FATA, the dynamics in Kurram are different because of the sectarian divide and the geo-strategic location of the Agency. Kurram is surrounded by Afghanistan from three sides and has remained in turmoil since 1980, after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Thrust into Afghanistan on three of its sides, the Kurram Agency has always been of critical importance for Pakistan. It shares the major portion of its borders with the troubled Logar, Paktia, Khost and Nangarhar Provinces of Afghanistan. The al Qaeda and Taliban infested Tora Bora Mountain range in the Nangarhar Province shares its boundaries with the Kurram Agency. In the north-east, Kurram abuts the Khyber Agency; the Orakzai Agency lies to its east; the Hangu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is on its south-east; and the North Waziristan Agency lies south, all in Pakistan. The Kurram Agency connects the tribal areas of Pakistan to Afghanistan through lower, central and upper Kurram. Crucially, the Thal-Parachinar route is the shortest route to Kabul from Peshawar.

Apart from the recent suicide attacks, the broad trend of decline in sectarian incidents has given some relief to locals. During the sectarian violence of 2007-11, at least 1,167 people were killed while more than four thousand houses were destroyed in the Kurram Agency. The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights was informed, on December 11, 2011, that during the sectarian violence 745 Shia were killed and 965 were injured; while 422 Sunnis were killed and 800 injured. However, the fatalities figure in sectarian violence during the succeeding five years (2012-16) was been reduced to a total of 208 fatalities. This has, however, come at the cost of a simultaneous increase in terrorist and militant activities from across the Afghan border. While the security situation has witnessed remarkable improvements, particularly after Army operations in the adjacent Orakzai and North Waziristan agencies, the presence of TTP and IS on the abutting Afghan territory has created new threats for the Kurram Agency. Sajid Hussain Turi, Member of National Assembly (MNA), thus observed that the people did not feel safe from the Afghanistan side, as border posts were being attacked from Afghan territory.

The anxieties of the tribal elders have been reconfirmed in a tweet by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General (DG) Major General Asif Ghafoor, who attributed recent terrorist incidents to ‘sanctuaries’ in neighbouring Afghanistan. The tweet, read: "Recent terrorist incidents linked to sanctuaries across."

Due to the persistent threat from Afghanistan, local authorities have asked villagers residing along the border to set up posts on hilltops and to keep vigil during the night to prevent any attack from the Paktia and Khost Provinces. On April 3, 2016, the Assistant Political Agent, Shahid Ali Khan, and the Commandant of the Kurram Militia, Colonel Umar Malik, met elders of the Turi, Bangash and Mangal tribes near Parachinar, to mobilise the tribal people against the threat. An elder from Borki disclosed, “Officials say that IS and TTP’s fighters were involved in attacks on the security posts. People are not only keeping vigil during night, but elders of Borki and Kherlachi have also provided four heavy machine guns and ammunition to the paramilitary forces as a gesture of support.”

However, after some months of this arrangement, the Government launched a deweaopnisation campaign in Kurram Agency on December 27, 2016, asking the local tribal people to hand over weapons to the administration. Brigadier Malak Amir Mohammad Khan, the local Brigade Commander, asked tribal elders at a jirga (tribal council) in Parachinar to voluntarily surrender their “heavy weapons” to the political administration within 45 days, threatening ‘strict action’ against violators of the order would be taken. Brigadier Khan added, “All the tribal areas had been cleansed of terrorists and compliance of law is the collective responsibility of every citizen.”

Tribal elders in Parachinar, however, remained apprehensive, as the recent history of violence against the tribes and the fragile security situation in Afghanistan continued to threaten security in the Agency. MNA Sajid Hussain Turi thus observed, “The so-called Islamic State has headquarters in our backyard (Nangarhar). Disarming Turi and Bangash tribes in upper and lower parts of Kurram is very inappropriate. Any action against tribes at this moment will create problems.” On February 7, 2017, hundreds of pamphlets containing threats were allegedly distributed by Daesh in the Kurram Agency on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line, threatening attacks in specific tribal areas. The Daesh pamphlet declared, in the local language, Pashto, "We have achieved our goals in Afghanistan and are now ready to confront Shia renouncers in Pakistan's tribal areas."

Haji Faqir Hussain, secretary of the Anjuman-e-Hussainia, the central representative body of various Shia tribes in Kurram, noted that the indifferent policies of successive Governments over the past decades had forced the local population to secure themselves against hostile elements within and outside the Valley: “The administration can’t guarantee our safety, keeping in view the harsh realities of recent past. Disarming people at this moment is tantamount to tying their hands and feet.” 

After the two suicide attacks, the Government came back from deep slumber and reverted to the same security arrangements with the tribes in the Agency. On April 27, 2017, senior security officials convened a jirga of Turi and Bangash tribes in Parachinar and directed them to observe ‘extreme vigilance’ to prevent terrorist attacks in the area, as an alert has been issued. The officials asked the elders to keep all sensitive places, including important buildings, hospitals and schools, under strict check. Following the red alert issued by the political administration and security agencies on April 6, 2017, Security Forces (SFs) increased patrols and established six additional checkpoints inside the town. An aura of fear and uncertainty prevailed across the area after the red alert and reports that suicide bombers and fighters of the Islamic State group had sneaked into Kurram Agency from across the Afghan border. In response, the Education Department announced a three-day closure of all institutions in Kurram. Tribesmen through the public address systems at mosques, made announcements about the threat. Armed volunteers set up bunkers on the roof of houses and near the city.

A significant Army presence had already been in place in Parachinar in particular, and in the Kurram Agency, in general, as part of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (Elimination of Discord) which was launched in February 22, 2017, after a series of terrorist attacks across Pakistan in the month of January. On April 10, 2017, SFs declared several localities of Parachinar “red zones” in the wake of the March 31 suicide attack. Kurram Militia, a wing of the Frontier Corps, informed people through pamphlets that the central Imambargah, Punjabi Bazaar, Hazara Colony and its adjacent commercial and residential areas had been included in the red zone.    

Despite the high security alert and arrangements, the devastating terrorist attack has exposed gaping holes in the security apparatus, and in the Government’s claims of having neutralized terrorism in the tribal areas.

SRI LANKA
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Sustained Progress
S. Binodkumar Singh
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

On June 21, 2017, the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Amendment Bill was unanimously passed by Sri Lanka’s Parliament. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, presenting the Bill to the House, declared, “This institution is paramount in order to put an end to the issue pertaining to the disappearance of persons as soon as possible.” On August 11, 2016, despite objections raised by the Joint Opposition which alleged that the Bill will betray the military, the OMP Bill was passed in Parliament without a vote, after the Prime Minister convinced the Joint Opposition that, “This office is not vested with powers to take criminal actions or prosecute forces for war crimes, as some claimed. It would be purely a legal process.” The OMP will identify appropriate mechanisms for and help search for and trace missing persons, submit recommendations to authorities to take measures on missing persons, protect the rights of missing persons and their relatives, identify channels through which missing persons and their relatives can obtain relief, collate data related to missing persons obtained by Government institutions and other institutions, and centralize all available data within its database.

Earlier, pledging to launch a full scale special investigation into allegations that disappeared persons are being held in certain detention camps, President Maithripala Sirisena observed, at a gathering in Sampur town of Trincomalee District on May 20, 2017, “If anyone forwards such information on disappeared persons who are said to be held in some place or places, a full scale investigation would be conducted to ascertain the truth. I will appoint a special committee to ascertain whether there is such detention center.” Further, President Sirisena, while meeting with the families of disappeared persons in Jaffna District on June 12, 2017, promised that he would issue directives to the National Security Council to release lists of persons who surrendered to the Armed forces in the final phase of the war, detainees, and political prisoners.

In a historic move, the Cabinet of Ministers on May 2, 2017, had approved Sri Lanka’s first National Reconciliation Policy drafted by the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) Chaired by Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The policy was prepared after discussions with all the relevant parties to affirm reconciliation and coexistence in the country and to prevent future conflict. Further, on June 14, 2017, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposal made by President Maithripala Sirisena, as the National Integration and Reconciliation Minister, to establish a National Reconciliation Committee and to appoint District Secretaries as conveners in the District level committees, to resolve ethnic and religious issues. Later, on June 7, 2017, when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called on the United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres at the UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary General assured UN support to the Sri Lankan Government's plans for bringing about reconciliation and creating conditions for lasting peace.

Significantly, over eight years after the successful conclusion of the Eelam War on May 17, 2009, Engineer Brigade Commander Amith Seneviratne, at an event held at the Batticaloa District Secretariat on June 21, 2017, announced the successful completion of the mine clearing operation in Batticaloa District. Batticaloa is the first District to be declared mine free. At the commencement of the clearing operation in 2009, de-miners identified 377,026,951 square meters as the Confirmed Hazardous Area (CHA). The daunting task was undertaken by the Army’s Humanitarian De-mining Unit (HDU), together with International Non-Government Organisations and Non Government Organisations (INGOs and NGOs), including Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Halo Trust, Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD), Sarvatra Technical Consultants (STC), Horizon, Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH) and Skavita Humanitarian Assistance and Relief Project (SHARP). The Army had carried out 83 per cent (312,111,499 sq m) of the Batticaloa mine clearing operation, whereas MAG, Halo Trust, FSD, STC, Horizon, DASH and SHARP cleared the remaining 64,915,452 square meters. HDU comprises 450 de-miners capable of undertaking manual and mechanical mine clearing operations, in addition to the Mine Detection Dog (MDD) project. The Commander further disclosed that about 27 square kilometers remained to be cleared in Northern and Eastern Districts, with Kilinochchi being the worst affected area.

Meanwhile, promising that the constitution-making process would not be delayed, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, at the opening of the new District Secretariat Office in Mannar District on May 19, 2017, noted, “We cannot drag the constitution-making process anymore. President Sirisena was elected in 2015 to fulfill this purpose. This is a time when Sri Lankans are commemorating those who died during the armed conflict. Those on both sides of the divide are Sri Lankans. However, the important factor is to ensure that there won't be another war in the future."

Separately, on June 20, 2017, the Cabinet of Ministers approved Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s proposal to appoint a Committee of Ministers chaired by him and a Committee of Officials to assist, to coordinate the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recommendations made in the consensus resolution adopted in October 2015. Earlier, at its 34th session on March 23, 2017, the UNHRC allowed two more years for Sri Lanka to fully implement the recommendations agreed upon in the October 2015 resolution.

Further, in order to encourage Tamils to join the Police, the Police Media Division announced on April 29, 2017, that Tamil-speaking persons applying for jobs in the Police in the North and East would be given preference. In a gazette notification issued on March 31, 2017, Police Headquarters had called for applications for over 1,500 vacancies, including Police Constables (PC), Women Police Constables (WPC) and Police Constable (Drivers) for Police Stations spread across the island, especially in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Further, to facilitate Tamil readership across the country and the world, the Army launched a Tamil website on May 19, 2017, concurrent to its English and Sinhala websites.

However, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) General Secretary V. Anandasangaree urged President Maithripala Sirisena on April 20, 2017, to take immediate measures to release all the private lands in the North and East that are still being held by the Security Forces (SFs). Further, calling for the Government to release the lands that are still under SF occupation, mete justice to the disappeared persons and provide employment to the war-battered, a hartal (General Strike) was organized by the Tamil National Council (TNC) in the North-East on April 27, 2017. The hartal was also backed by all major Tamil and Muslim political parties, including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and the Tamil National People's Front (TNPF).

Meanwhile, criticizing the Government’s slow progress in addressing wartime crimes on March 3, 2017, UN Human Rights Commission chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged the Government to adopt laws allowing special hybrid courts to try war criminals. Nevertheless, President Sirisena, rejecting the fresh appeal from the UN to allow international judges to investigate claims of war­time atrocities, on March 5, 2017, and vowed, "I am not going to allow non­governmental organizations to dictate how to run my government. I will not listen to their calls to prosecute my troops." At least 100,000 people were killed during the war between Government forces and rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which officially ended on May 17, 2009.

The assault of international organizations against the Sri Lanka Government, nevertheless, continues. Huma Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement on May 18, 2017, declared that Sri Lanka's Counter Terrorism Bill approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on May 3, 2017, falls far short of the Government's pledges to the UNHRC to end abusive detention without charge. While the Counter Terrorism Bill, which is drafted to replace the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) improves upon PTA, it would still permit many of the abuses occurring under current law, and raises a number of new concerns, HRW claimed. As part of its undertakings for security sector reform at the UNHRC in October 2015, the Sri Lankan Government pledged to repeal and replace PTA.

Further, a report compiled by former UN Special Rapporteur Mónica Pinto on the independence of judges and lawyers, following her mission to Sri Lanka from April 29-May 7, 2016, was tabled by the new Rapporteur Diego García-Sayán at the 35th session of the UNHRC on June 12, 2017. The report harshly criticized Sri Lanka’s justice system. Tabling the report, García-Sayán declared, “Although the armed conflict was concluded in 2009, very deep wounds could still be seen in the judicial system. Problems related to language are very serious and have a very serious effect on justice and on the likelihood of obtaining a fair process if you belong to the Tamil community.”

The National Unity Government (NUG) has made dramatic progress in addressing the issue of reconciliation by reaching out to Tamils, establishing a quick rehabilitation process and initiating constitutional and legal reforms. It has also passed enabling legislation to establish the OMP to help find some of the missing persons during the war. Colombo’s record on these parameters compares favourably with almost any other post-conflict society. But unrealistic expectations and criteria that are not applied to a multiplicity of conflicts – both current and past – are being imposed on Sri Lanka by elements within the international community. These are contaminating the discourse within the country, deepening polarization between the communities, and obstructing the process of reconciliation, rather than contributing in any constructive measure to its acceleration.

 


NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
June 19-25, 2017

 

Civilians

Security Force Personnel

Terrorists/Insurgents

Total

INDIA

 

Assam

1
0
0
1

Jammu and Kashmir

0
3
8
11

Manipur

2
0
0
2

Left-Wing Extremism

 

Bihar

1
0
0
1

Chhattisgarh

1
4
5
10

Jharkhand

1
0
0
1

Total (INDIA)

6
7
13
26

PAKISTAN

 

Balochistan

6
9
1
16

FATA

73
0
0
73

KP

0
0
5
5

Sindh

0
4
0
4

Total (PAKISTAN)

79
13
6
98
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


INDIA

Hafiz Saeed pumped in INR 500 million into Jammu and Kashmir, says NIA: Investigations into a case of terror funding in the Kashmir Valley being carried out by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) revealed that the founder of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Hafiz Saeed, pumped in almost INR 500 million for subversive activities in the region following the killing of top Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) 'commander' Burhan Wani in July 2016. The FIR (First Information Report) lodged by the NIA in connection with the case also names Saeed, who is the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, as one of the main accused for financing terror activities in the Valley’. The Asian Age, June 25, 2017.

War against terrorism in Kashmir entering into decisive phase, says Deputy Chief Minister, Nirmal Kumar Singh: Asserting that the war against the terrorism in Kashmir has entered into a decisive phase and the victory will be ours, Deputy Chief Minister, Nirmal Kumar Singh on June 23 said that common man in Kashmir is also sick of terrorist violence and wants to get rid of the same and once for all. "Majority of people in Kashmir are sick of violence and want to get rid of terrorism," Nirmal Kumar Singh said while addressing a seminar at Jammu Convention Centre in Jammu. He said there is resentment over the killings by terrorists. Daily Excelsior, June 24, 2017.

Bihar places cash rewards on heads of 43 top Maoists: The Bihar Government has announced cash rewards ranging from INR 25,000 to INR 500,000, for anyone giving information about at least 43 top Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) leaders active in the State. The cash awards will be on offer for anyone who gets hold of the Maoist leaders living or dead or assists the Police in facilitating the arrest of the Maoists. "Anyone cooperating with the police in getting hold of the Maoists will be rewarded with cash, as announced by the Bihar government for each of the ultras falling in the rewards category," Additional Director General (ADG) (headquarters), Sanjiv Kumar Singhal said. Hindustan Times, June 22, 2017.


PAKISTAN

67 persons killed and 200 others injured in twin bomb blasts in FATA: At least 67 persons were killed and more than 200 injured in back-to-back explosions in the Turi Bazaar area of Parachinar, the headquarter of Kurram Agency, in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) when the market was crowed for Iftar and Eid shopping on June 24, 2017. Initially, an explosion took place at the busy Turi Bazaar moments after an Al Quds Day (an international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people) rally had concluded at central Imambargah (Shia place of worship). When people rushed to the spot to remove the injured and bodies, the second blast, which was more powerful, took place resulting in most death and destruction. The al-Alami (International) faction of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for twin bomb blasts. It said in a statement it was targeting Shias and threatened more attacks over "Pakistanis fighting against Sunni militants in Syria's civil war". Daily Times, June 24, 2017.

13 persons including seven Policemen killed in suicide attack in Balochistan: Seven Policemen were among 13 killed and several injured in a suicide attack near the office of Balochistan Police Chief on Gulistan Road of Quetta, the provincial capital, in the early hours of June 23. Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) confirmed that the explosives were planted in a vehicle. The Police said that the bomber blew up the vehicle after he was stopped by the law enforcement personnel for screening as he was mysteriously taking rounds in the area. The News, June 23, 2017.

Pakistan deploys 15,000-strong force for Chinese security, President Mamnoon Hussain told visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi: Pakistan has deployed a 15,000-strong military force to protect Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure projects in the country, President Mamnoon Hussain said on June 25. The President told visiting Chinese