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SAIR Archive            SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW          LATEST ON SATP
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 16, No. 26, December 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


INDIA
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Reds on the Tracks
Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

In the night of December 19, 2017, at around 11 pm, an armed squad of about 15 Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, including some women, carried out an attack at the Masudan Railway Station in the Jamalpur area of Monghyr District, Bihar. The Maoists set ablaze station property, including the signaling panel, hampering rail services, and abducted two railway employees present at the station - Assistant Station Master [ASM] Mukesh Paswan and porter Narendra Mandal. Though the movement of trains was restored after the fire was doused at around 5:30am, it had to be suspended again at 6:40am following a phone call, reportedly from the Maoists, threatening to kill the captives if traffic was not stopped. An unnamed railway official stated, “Assistant station master Mukesh Paswan and porter Narendra Mandal at Masudan were held captive and taken away to some undisclosed location at about 11:30pm. The panic-stricken ASM called the Malda [West Bengal] DRM [Divisional Regional Manger] to inform that the Maoists had threatened to kill them if the movement of trains continued [on Masudan track].” After the State Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) launched a joint search operation, the Maoists released the two men in a hilly area at Jamalpur. Train services were restored thereafter. Interestingly, there was no force deployment at the station, which falls within a Maoist-affected region, even when the Maoists had called for a 24-hour Bihar and Jharkhand bandh (shut down) on December 20, 2017, protesting police action against their (Maoist) cadres.

Around 100 Maoists abducted a railway employee and ‘hijacked’ the Danapur-Durg Express in the Bhimbandh area of Lakhisarai District, Bihar, in the intervening night of August 2-3, 2017. A statement by the CRPF noted, "Train no-13288 Danapur Durg Express train was hijacked near the Bhalui station [in Bhimbandh area of Lakhisarai] around 2:30am (on August 3). The cabin man who was on duty was also abducted." The siege ended after an exchange of fire took place between personnel of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) and the ‘hijackers’. However, no casualty was reported from either side. The railway employee was subsequently released. Interestingly, intelligence inputs, almost a month prior to the incident, had warned about the assembly of several Maoist leaders in the Bheembandh area and combing operation were ongoing. An unnamed CRPF official claimed, “We along with Seema Sashastra Bal and Bihar Police forces were already combing the area.” The attack coincided with the “martyr’s week” observed by Maoists between July 28 and August 3 each year, to commemorate their men killed in encounters.

On May 29, 2017, CPI-Maoist cadres blew up railway tracks between Chiyanki and Karmabad Railway Stations in Palamu and Doghar Districts in Jharkhand. The traffic on the route was disrupted for nearly 10 hours till a railway team reached the incident site and reinstalled the broken lines. The incident took place during the 24-hour State-wide bandh called by the Maoists in Jharkhand to protest the alleged ‘anti-poor policy’ of the State Government.

According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), the Maoists have targeted Indian Railways on at least five occasions in the current year (data till December 25, 2017). However, no casualty was reported in any of these incidents. 100 such incidents have been reported since 2004, including those in the current year. These incidents have resulted in at least 162 fatalities and 210 persons injured. In the worst ever attack on the railways by the Maoists, at least 148 persons were killed and more than 145 injured, when the Maoists attacked Howrah-Kurla Gyaneshwari Express, a passenger train, in the Sardiya area of the Jhargram region in the West Midnapore District of West Bengal in the early hours of May 28, 2010. The incident occurred during the "black week" [May 28-June 2, 2010] declared by the Maoists. The most recent attack on the railways by the Maoists, which resulted in fatalities, took place on November 30, 2013, in which three Policemen were killed and two were injured, as about 20 CPI-Maoist cadres attacked a Police team escorting the Patna-bound Sahebganj-Danapur Intercity Express near Jamalpur city in Munger District. Police disclosed that the attackers were travelling on the train and attacked the Police party when the train was passing through a tunnel one km from Jamalpur railway station. After shooting the Policemen, the Maoists collected the four rifles of the Policemen, cut the vacuum brake hosepipe and got off the train.

Actual incidence of rail sabotage by the Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists (LWES)] during this period may be much higher. Indeed, on April 23, 2010, the then Union Minister in the Ministry of Railways, Mamata Banerjee, had informed the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament), "Railways has become a target of Naxals. Incidents of attacks by Naxals nearly doubled to 58 in 2009 from 30 in the previous year. 56 incidents were reported in 2007." The Government has not provided such data for earlier or later periods. 

These attacks have resulted in massive losses to railways' property. In her April 23, 2013, statement, Mamata Banerjee had disclosed in the Rajya Sabha, "We have lost Rs. 500 crore [period not specified] because of Naxal bandhs [shut downs] and obstructions. We have lost about 40 per cent of our business due to Maoist violence and agitations like bandhs. These have hit our operations to a great extent." Most recently, Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Railways Rajen Gohain informed the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) on December 14, 2016, that the railways lost INR 702,92,441 in LWE attacks in 2015 alone. He further stated that the maximum damage to railway property by Naxalites was caused in the year 2014, though he did not provide the figure. The Government has not provided such data for earlier or later periods. 

Meanwhile, the Government continues with its rhetoric within and outside Parliament that "safety is accorded the highest priority by Indian Railways and all possible steps are undertaken on a continual basis including upgradation of technology to aid safe running of trains". These claims are not backed by the record, either of vulnerabilities to Maoist attacks and other crimes, or of the sheer quantum and frequency of Rail accidents across the country.

Indeed, according to the 12th report of Standing Committee on Railways (2016-17) on Safety and Security in Railways presented to the Lok Sabha on December 14, 2016, the Railway Protection Force (RPF), in place of its meager sanctioned strength of about 76,000 personnel, had only about 69,000 personnel in position. The report noted, further, that the Government admitted, "given the magnitude of train operations in the country that the present [sanctioned] strength of the RPF is not adequate". The Indian Railways carry over 22 million passengers and over three million tons of freight per day across a network spanning 119,630 kilometres.

The system of providing security on the Indian Railways at present includes a three-tier security system of District Police, Government Railway Police (GRP) and RPF. There is a well-defined separation of duties and powers of the three agencies. However, according to the Safety and Security in Railways report, the Government itself has "opined that the three tier security system of RPF, GRP and District Police is not fully effective to deal with security related aspects. Multiplicity of law enforcement agencies over Railways may sometime leads to confusion among public and grey areas among these agencies."

Earlier, in February 2015, a Ministry of Railways White Paper released with the "objective to show the challenges that the organization is facing today", had noted, "Investments in safety have also been insufficient."

The Indian Railways have often been described as the “lifeline of the nation”, and their disruption, particularly by the LWEs is a matter of very serious concern. Despite the long history of Naxalite attacks on the Rail networks, the responses remain lackadaisical, with little done in terms of measurable indices to tackle the problem. As the Maoists come under pressure across the country, and particularly in their regions of erstwhile dominance, the temptation to escalate attacks on soft targets such as the railways will increase. There is little evidence of any urgency in the Government’s response to this potential threat.

PAKISTAN
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Defenseless Minorities
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Eleven civilians were killed and 56 injured in a suicide attack by two Islamic States (IS, also Daesh) terrorists on the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, on December 17, 2017. Police Guards stationed at the church entrance and on its roof killed one terrorist but the second detonated his explosives-filled vest outside the prayer hall, Provincial Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti confirmed, causing all the casualties. Police Official Abdur Razaq Cheema disclosed further that two other terrorists managed to escape. At the time of the incident there were nearly 400 worshippers in the church for the pre-Christmas service. The IS claimed the attack.

One seven-year-old boy was killed when an unidentified terrorist hurled a hand grenade at a Christian colony in the Chaman area of Qilla Abdullah District, Balochistan, on December 1, 2017. "It was a hand grenade which caused the explosion at the colony's gate," Gul Mohammad, a local Police officer disclosed, adding, "The blast also smashed windows in nearby homes."

On October 7, 2017, terrorists hurled a hand grenade at a church at Shah Zaman Road in Quetta, but no casualties were reported.

According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), these were the three terrorism-related attacks on Christian community in which 12 persons were killed and 56 others sustained injures during the current year (data till December 25, 2017). During the corresponding period of 2016, there were two such incidents which had resulted in 76 fatalities and 305 persons injured. No such incident was reported during the remaining period of 2016.

Terrorist attacks on Christians are not a new phenomenon in the theocratic state of Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan has witnessed at least 25 such incidents resulting in 246 fatalities and 603 persons injured since March 2000 (data till December 21, 2017). Some of the prominent terrorism-related incidents targeting the Christian community across Pakistan included:  

March 27, 2016: At least 74 people were killed and more than 300 injured in a suicide blast inside the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in the Iqbal Town area of Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab Province, when Christians were celebrating Easter. ‘Spokesperson’ of the Jama’at-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a breakaway faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Ehsanullah Ehsan declared, “We had been waiting for this occasion. We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter. It was part of the annual martyrdom attacks we have started this year.”

March 15, 2015: At least 15 persons, including 13 Christians and two Policemen, were killed and more than 70 were injured, when two suicide bombers attacked two churches near the Youhanabad neighbourhood in Lahore, sparking mob violence in which two terrorists were killed. Youhanabad is home to more than 100,000 Christians. JuA had claimed responsibility for the attack as well.

September 22, 2013: At least 79 worshippers, including 34 women and seven children, were killed and another 130 were injured when two suicide bombers attacked a Christian congregation at the historic All Saints Church in the Kohati Gate area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, on September 22, 2013. Ahmed Marwat, ‘a spokesman’ for the Jundullah group, a faction of the TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack, and declared, in a statement to the media, "Until and unless drone strikes are stopped, we will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land. They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them."

March 10, 2010: Six persons, including two women, were killed and seven persons were injured when over a dozen terrorists armed with Kalashnikov rifles, pistols and hand-grenades attacked the office of World Vision International, a US-based Christian aid agency, in the Oghi village of Mansehra District in KP.

December 25, 2002: Three women were killed and 15 persons were injured in a grenade attack on the United Presbyterian Church near Sialkot in Punjab.

September 25, 2002: Seven persons were killed and another three were injured in a terrorist attack on a Christian welfare organisation's office, Idara Amn-o-Insaaf (Institute for Peace and Justice), in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. Lashkar-e-Islami Mohammadi (LIM), a little-known terrorist group, was blamed for the attack.

August 5, 2002: Six persons were killed and another four were injured in a terrorist attack on a Christian missionary school in the Jhika Gali Town of Murree tehsil (revenue unit) in Rawalpindi District of Punjab.

March 17, 2002: Five persons were killed and more than 40 were injured, including the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Pakistan, in a grenade attack during the Sunday morning service at the Protestant International Church located between the American and Russian Embassies in the heavily protected area of the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad.

October 28, 2001: 17 Christians – including five children – and one Policeman were killed and nine persons injured, when six gunmen opened fire on a church in the Model Town area of Bahawalpur District in Punjab. 

Other than Christians, other religious minorities have regularly faced atrocities across Pakistan. The Jinnah Institute of Pakistan, in a report titled State of Religious Freedom in Pakistan 2015, had noted that, during the period 2012-2015, at least 543 incidents of violence were recorded against religious minorities in Pakistan. Shias were targeted on at least 288 occasions during this period, followed by Hindus (91 occasions), Christians (88 occasions), and Ahamadiyas (76 occasions).

Christians constitute a meagre 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population of 193 million. While they have been victims of terrorist atrocities, they have also been intermittently attacked in mass and targeted violence by Islamist extremists. Right-wing vigilantes and mobs have taken the law into their own hands, killing at least 69 people over alleged blasphemy since 1990, according to an April 13, 2017, report. Most recently, a Christian teenager, Sharoon Masih (17), was beaten to death by his classmates for drinking from the same glass used by a Muslim student in the Vehari District of Punjab on August 30, 2017. Media reports indicated that the boy was killed just because of his faith. His mother Razia Bibi had warned Sharoon not to mix with the boys who practiced Islam after one of them had reportedly told him (Masih), “You're a Christian don't dare sit with us if you want to live.” Sharoon was just on his fourth day at his new school at the Government Model MC High School in Burewala.

Christians have been systematically targeted by Pakistan’s perverse blasphemy laws, which prescribe a mandatory death sentence for any act purportedly bringing Islam and its Prophet to disrepute. Most recently, a Christian man, Nadeem James Masih, was sentenced to death on September 15, 2017, for blasphemy. Nadeem was arrested in July 2016, after his friend Yasir Bashir told the Police that he sent him a poem on WhatsApp that was insulting to Islam. Following the incident, Masih fled from his home in Sara-e-Alamgir town in Punjab to escape an angry mob that had gathered there, but later surrendered to the Police. His trial continued for more than a year at the Gujrat Jail in Punjab. Besides the death sentence, Masih has been fined PKR 300,000. While not a single convict has ever been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, there are currently about 40 people on death row or serving life sentences for the crime, according to a release dated April 26, 2017, by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Underlining the weakness in the existing blasphemy law, the Islamabad High Court asked Parliament on August 11, 2017, to make changes to the current decree to prevent people from being falsely accused of the crime. In a 116-page order, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui suggested that Parliament amend the law to require the same punishment of the death penalty for those who falsely allege blasphemy, as for those who commit the crime. "Currently, there is a very minor punishment for falsely accusing someone of blasphemy," the judgment noted.

Significantly, then Federal Minister for Minorities’ Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was killed on March 2, 2011, by terrorists of the Fidayeen-e-Muhammad, a TTP faction, and al Qaeda Punjab Chapter, for his opposition to the country’s blasphemy laws. Christians have also been attacked for opposing often forcible conversions to Islam. Asia Bibi (46), a Christian woman from the Sheikhupura District of Punjab, who has been sentenced to death and has been in prison for the last four years following a conviction for blasphemy, in her memoir Blasphemy, describes how she had been asked to convert to Islam to ‘redeem herself’. The Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, came forward in her support and asserted that the blasphemy law had been abused in her case. Taseer was later killed by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri on January 4, 2011, for his support to Asia Bibi and a campaign for amendment to the blasphemy law. 

As SAIR had noted earlier, seeds of religious intolerance have been systematically sown in Pakistan since its inception in 1947 – and, indeed, even earlier, during the struggle for independence. There was a further and escalating radicalization during and after the regime of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Since then, Pakistan has witnessed rising attacks against all minorities, including the Christians. The 2017 Annual Report of USCIRF noted that “during the past year, the Pakistani Government continued to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations. Religiously discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, such as the country’s blasphemy and anti-Ahamadiyas laws, continue to result in prosecutions and imprisonments.”

Moreover, there were many instances that reiterated the fact that religious extremists have enormous support across Pakistan. In the most recent assertion of radicalized groups in the country, the Federal Government bowed down before violent Islamist protesters. On October 2, 2017, the National Assembly passed the ‘Election Bill 2017’, making changes in the Khatm-e-Nabuwat [finality of Prophet-hood] clause of the earlier Bill. Soon after, countrywide protests led by Tehreek-e-Labaik of Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist party, erupted against this change. Other pro-Muslim parties, such as Pakistan Sunni Tehreek and Tehreek-e-Khatme Nabuwwat (Movement for the Finality of Prophet-hood) also lent their support, demanding the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for removing the clause which, according to these groups undermined Islamic beliefs and amounted to blasphemy. Mounting pressure, the protestors began camping at Islamabad’s Faizabad Traffic Interchange from November 6, 2017. The Government restored the original clause on November 17, 2017, but the Islamists continued with their protest. Eventually, on November 25, 2017, bloody clashes took place just outside Islamabad, in which at least six people were killed and another 200 were injured. Speaking from the site of the clashes, TLP 'spokesman' Ejaz Ashrafi declared, “We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end.” Clashes also took place elsewhere in the country and continued on November 26 as well. Order was restored only after the resignation of Law Minister Hamid on November 27, and with the Army mediating between the protest leaders and the Government.

Christians in particular and other religious minorities at large will continue to suffer as long as the establishment maintains its policy of appeasement of Islamist extremists and fundamentalists. Given the past record of the state policy, there seems to be no foreseeable end to this tragic chain of events.


NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
December 18-24, 2017

 

Civilians

Security Force Personnel

Terrorists/Insurgents

Total

INDIA

 

Jammu and Kashmir

0
0
2
2

Left-Wing Extremism

 

Bihar

3
0
0
3

Chhattisgarh

0
0
3
3

Madhya Pradesh

1
0
0
1

Maharashtra

1
0
0
1

Odisha

2
0
0
2

INDIA (Total)

7
0
5
12

PAKISTAN

 

Balochistan

9
0
6
15

FATA

0
6
5
11

Punjab

0
0
2
2

Sindh

1
0
0
1

PAKISTAN (Total)

10
6
13
29
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.

INDIA

208 militants, 75 SF personnel and 40 civilians among 327 killed in J&K in 2017, says official data: According to official statistics, at least 327 persons, including 208 militants, 75 Security Force (SF) personnel and 40 civilians were killed in militancy-related violence in Jammu and Kashmir this year, highest in last five years. According to the data, as many as 338 militancy incidents were reported from the State this year so far. New Indian Express, December 23, 2017.

103 people associated with Islamic State arrested so far, says UMHA: The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) informed the Parliament on December 21 that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) along with other State agencies has arrested 103 people associated with - cadres or sympathisers – Islamic State (IS) and maximum arrests were from the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), followed by Maharashtra. According to the data put-forth, the NIA and State Security Agencies, shows the IS arrest counts state-wise: Uttar Pradesh-17, Maharashtra-16, Telengana-16, Kerala-14, Karnataka-08, Madhya Pradesh-06, Tamil Nadu-05, West Bengal-05, Uttrakhand-04, Rajasthan-04, Gujarat-04, Bihar-02, Delhi-01, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K)-01. News18 December 22, 2017.

If Pakistan wants better ties, it must address our concern on terror; says MEA: Responding to Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa’s remarks about backing lawmakers in efforts to improve relations with India, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar on December 21, said if Islamabad is serious about friendship, then it should understand India’s core concerns regarding terrorism and take action against terrorists operating from its soil. Earlier, Bajwa on December 19, according to media reports, had urged Pakistani lawmakers to try to improve relations with India and assured them that their efforts would be fully backed by the Army. Livemint, December 23, 2017.


NEPAL

President urges Left Alliance leaders to resolve ordinance on NA election through political consensus: President Bidhya Devi Bhandari on December 20 urged leaders of Left Alliance to resolve the stand-off over ordinance on the National Assembly (NA) election through political consensus. President Bhandari made the appeal during a meeting with Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) Chairman KP Sharma Oli and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who reached President’s residence in Sheetal Niwas. The Kathmandu Post, December 21, 2017.

Government urges President to authenticate NA election ordinance: Government on December 19 urged the President Bidya Devi Bhandari to authenticate the ordinance on National Assembly (NA) election. Government spokesperson and Minister for Information and Communications Mohan Bahadur Basnet requested the head of state to authenticate the ordinance soon so that the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led Government would proceed with transfer of power to the incoming government. The Kathmandu Post, December 20, 2017.


PAKISTAN

Six suicide attacks killed 45 persons in 2017 in Balochistan, says DIG Abdul Razzaq Cheema: Deputy Inspector General Police (DIG) and Regional Police Officer (RPO) Abdul Razzaq Cheema in a media briefing on December 22 said that six suicide explosions killed 45 persons, including  23 civilians, 12 Policemen and 10 Army personnel, in Balochistan during 2017. 195 persons,