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SAIR Archive            SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW          LATEST ON SATP
Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 16, No. 9 August 28, 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
USA
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AfPak: Radical Redirection
Ajai Sahni
Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, ICM & SATP

There has been a tremendous and polarizing response to US President Donald Trump’s announcement of a “new integrated strategy for the U.S. approach to South Asia”, in particular, his approach to the Afghanistan-Pakistan conundrum. However, most commentary, other than that of Trump’s committed partisans, has been dismissive of this new approach, abruptly writing it off as ‘old wine in new bottles’; pointing to its commonalities with past and demonstrably failed strategies – particularly including those of the precedent administration of President Barack Obama; criticizing it for its excessive reliance on use of force, when ‘history’ has apparently demonstrated that ‘military solutions don’t work’, and so forth.

But Trump’s strategy deserves close attention because it does, in fact, contain radically original elements, and also because, irrespective of its actual implementation and eventual probabilities of success, it will – indeed, has already begun to – dramatically alter the geo-strategic environment of South Asia and the wider Asian region.

Broad-stroke counter-terrorism options with regard to the AfPak region are, of course, limited. Simply put, they are exhausted by the choice between reliance on use of force, on the one hand, and negotiated settlements, on the other. Both have been tried fitfully – or have been indiscriminately mixed in – over the past decades, and it is not just the ‘military solution’ that has been unsuccessful; negotiations have gone nowhere as well.

Behind the sweeping generalizations on use of force and negotiations, however, are an infinity of graded options and priorities, and it is here that Trump – or, more likely, to borrow a currently popular phrase, the ‘adults in his administration’ – breaks sharply with the past. It is useful to examine some of the innovations of this new approach.

First, it must be enormously emphasized, Trump’s AfPak (he does not call it so, but it is a useful contraction) is by no means a simple repackaging of Obama’s AfPak, though he also proposes an increase (surge) in US armed presence in Afghanistan. Indeed, for those who study these issues with any measure of seriousness and non-partisan commitment, the inevitable failure of Obama’s AfPak policy was evident from the very moment of its announcement. Among its many disastrous elements, the most self-destructive was the announcement of a predetermined draw-down schedule. Indeed, the underlying logic of the ‘surge’ – the pivot of Obama’s AfPak policy – was the puerile argument that, since adding 30,000 troops in Iraq had ‘succeeded’, this magical number would also prevail in Afghanistan within an arbitrary and publicly announced timeframe, presenting Pakistan and its proxies in Afghanistan with a promise of preordained victory if they could simply outlast the deadline.

The new strategy explicitly recognizes the folly of offering a determined adversary with, as Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson expressed it in a Press Statement released on August 21, 2017, “artificial calendar-based deadlines”. Instead, he declared, “We are making clear to the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield... ”

Announcing his South Asia Policy on the same date, President Trump reiterated,.
A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military options.  We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground – not arbitrary timetables – will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.  I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.

Trump had, in his election campaigns, clearly advocated an exit from Afghanistan – something President Obama also sought, but failed to achieve in full measure – but has recognized the error of this perspective, noting, “The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory... the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable... A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill…”

The Obama and preceding George W. Bush administrations had both recognized Pakistan’s dubious role in the troubles in Afghanistan, but always sought to tread softly or, after a particularly harsh statement (for instance, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark in Islamabad, “you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours”; or, earlier, then Secretary of State, Richard Armitage’s alleged threat, confirmed by then President Pervez Musharraf, to ‘bomb Pakistan back into the stone age’), to quickly mollify Pakistan with aid and generous praise of its ‘great sacrifices’ and role in the ‘war on terror’.

Trump is far less compromising: “Today, 20 U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world…  Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.” Trump then commits himself “to stripping terrorists of their territory, cutting off their funding, and exposing the false allure of their evil ideology.”

Significantly, US funding to Pakistan has been gradually drying up, and committed resources were recently blocked by Congress because the Secretary of Defence refused to certify that Islamabad had ‘done enough’ against terrorist formations – particularly the Haqqani Network – operating from its soil into Afghanistan. Several terrorist formations – proxies of Pakistani state entities – operating in Afghanistan and in India, have also been put on to the US proscribed terrorist organizations’ list by successive US administrations, the latest being the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddeen, headquartered at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Nevertheless, effective and concrete actions against most of these groupings and sanctions against their state sponsors are yet to be seen. The language of Trump’s ‘new strategy’, however, clearly puts Islamabad on notice. The President describes as a “pillar of our new strategy”, the change of approach on “how to deal with Pakistan”:
We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond.  Pakistan… has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists… Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people.  We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.  But that will have to change, and that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials.  It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace. 

Crucially, Trump redefines, with absolute clarity, the US engagement in Afghanistan:
We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists… That’s why we will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan. These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide; that no place is beyond the reach of American might and Americans arms.  Retribution will be fast and powerful… From now on, victory will have a clear definition:  attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.

This is what troubles the liberal mind most. The notion that military campaigns with an explicit emphasis on ‘killing’ are posited as the critical element in a counter-terrorism strategy; no ‘addressing root causes’; no ‘negotiated settlements’; no ‘political’ and ‘diplomatic’ initiatives.

The rawness of Trump’s language lends itself easily to parody and exaggeration; to a representation of the President as extremist and somehow unhinged. The strategy that Trump proposes is, however, well supported by the history of counter-insurgency successes, the most dramatic and comprehensive of which have resulted precisely from ‘killing terrorists’. However, not all terrorists are necessary or desirable targets. It is the attrition of leadership and core infrastructure that is crucial, and where these are destroyed, movements disappear. But in the present case, it is not just the Taliban or the Haqqani network leaderships that matter; the principal leadership of the insurgency/terrorism in Afghanistan lies in the Pakistan military leadership and this will require a whole new level of strategy to address. Nevertheless, the efficacy of targeting terrorist leaderships and infrastructure has been demonstrated again and again and is, indeed, currently being demonstrated in Iraq and Syria. Trump demonstrates a clear awareness of this, observing, “As we lift restrictions and expand authorities in the field, we are already seeing dramatic results in the campaign to defeat ISIS, including the liberation of Mosul in Iraq.”  If terrorist leaderships and infrastructure in AfPak can be effectively targeted and destroyed, their sponsors in Pakistan’s military will have little option but to accept defeat.

It is ironic in this context that Russia has chosen to criticize the Trump strategy, even as it has been one of the most vigorous advocates of the lethal use of force – at least on occasion with counter-productive consequences – against terrorism. Indeed, it was an aggressive Russian intervention in favour of the Syrian state that transformed the tepid and compromised Western campaigns in that country into an uncompromising and increasingly successful campaign across the Iraq-Syria theatre.

None of this is intended to suggest that the Trump approach has just one component – lethal force – and ignores all other instruments of strategic influence. Indeed, Trump speaks explicitly of the “integration of all instruments of American power – diplomatic, economic, and military – toward a successful outcome.” But each component of strategy has its own time and place. It has been sheer folly in the past, to give terrorists and their state sponsors a privileged place at the negotiating table, even as they continue to escalate violence to exercise greater leverage in negotiating processes. The Trump strategy does not repudiate other instruments of influence, but recognizes clearly and correctly that, while “Military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan or stop the terrorist threat arising in that country… strategically applied force aims to create the conditions for a political process to achieve a lasting peace” [emphasis added].

Crucially, while the Trump strategy does indicate that there will be a ‘surge’ of undefined proportions in US troop presence in Afghanistan, surrounding circumstances – and the character of the US-led campaigns in Iraq and Syria – suggest that overwhelming reliance is to be placed on aerial targeting of critical terrorist infrastructure and leaderships, with local Afghan Forces seizing and holding the ground after it has been ‘softened’ by targeted US air attacks. Indeed, this approach has been in place in Afghanistan even before the announcement of the new Trump strategy. United States Air Force (USAF) data indicates that airstrikes in Afghanistan rose from 705 in January to July 2016, to 1,984 in January to July 2017. These strikes have disproportionately – and very effectively – targeted the incipient Islamic State of Khorasan infrastructure in Afghanistan, but are yet to secure the scale and impact necessary to reverse the growing Taliban influence in the country.

Significantly, the US determination to “attack terrorists wherever they live” puts Pakistan clearly within the scope of future campaigns. While this would not be a radical break with the past – terrorists in Pakistan have been targeted by US Drone and Aerial strikes on many occasions, prominently including the killing of Osama bin Laden and, more recently, the then Taliban chief Mullah Mansoor, on Pakistan soil – it remains to be seen whether the scale and intensity of such campaigns will augment dramatically.

Unsurprisingly, the reaction to the announcement of the new Trump strategy in Pakistan has been alarmed and negative, with the establishment rejecting the ‘false narrative’ it imposes on the ‘complex realities’ of the conflict, and arguing, “You can’t single out one nation. There is not only one nation destabilizing Afghanistan.” Some reactions have been a little less restrained, with the Chairman of Pakistan’s Senate, Mian Raza Rabbani, for instance, declaring, “If President of US wants that Pakistan should be graveyard of American army, then we will welcome them (sic)”. The Pakistani narrative is, moreover, increasingly clear: create paranoia about a ‘nuclear armed state’ at the edge of the abyss, and also raise the bogey of Islamabad’s push into a rogue alliance with China, Russia and Iran, as US sanctions or punitive actions mount. Thus, Amir Rana, Director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, warned that isolating Pakistan as the ‘sole culprit’ could stymie efforts to stabilize the region and increase the influence of Russia, China and even Iran. Russian and Chinese responses to the Trump strategy have been uniformly critical.

The declaration of a new US strategy for Afghanistan – or the wider South Asian region – has immense importance, and has already triggered the beginnings of geo-strategic realignments in the region. It will, however, prove decisive only in the magnitude, quality and endurance of its implementation. Half measures and indiscriminate campaigns will both fail, but the potential for success, if appropriate scale and persistence can be attained, is unprecedented. It remains to be seen whether Trump’s policy will endure or, indeed, whether Trump would himself last out his full term – a prospect that both critics and supporters increasingly doubt.

Crucially, it is useful to remind ourselves that, despite the periodic theatrics of public and mass murders executed by Islamist terrorists, this is far from the best of times to be of this persuasion. These movements and their state sponsors are, as has been remarked earlier, on the wrong side of history, and their ideological underpinnings are based on an incorrect understanding of the nature of power.

Unfortunately, there has been a tremendous loss of confidence and of legitimacy on the part of democratic leaderships across the world, and an unwillingness to commit themselves to consistent counter-terrorism goals in an environment where petty ‘great games’ continue to define and dominate the conduct of nations.

INDIA
PAKISTAN
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J&K: Ceasefire Shambles
Nijeesh N.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

On August 16, 2017, a soldier of the Indian Army identified as Havaldar Narendra Singh Bisht, who was injured in sniper fire from across the Line of Control (LoC) in the Rampur sector of Baramulla District in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), succumbed to injuries at 92 Base Hospital in Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar. Violating the November 2003 cease-fire agreement (CFA), Pakistani Rangers had carried out the sniper attack on August 7, 2017, grievously injuring the soldier.

On August 12, 2017, an Army soldier identified as Naib Subedar Jagram Singh Tomar was killed, while another trooper, Sepoy Mohit Kumar, was injured when Pakistani Rangers resorted to heavy mortar shelling and firing targeting forward defence locations and civilian areas on the LoC in the Mankote area of the Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch District. According to reports, the Indian side retaliated strongly, effectively decimating three Pakistani posts and bunkers along the border, which were engaged in targeting civilian populations in the area. However, no casualty was reported on the Pakistani side.

On the same day, a 40-year-old woman identified as Raqia Bi was killed in firing by the Pakistani Rangers at border villages and Indian posts along the LoC in the Mendhar sector of Poonch District. Several mortar shells also fell in the villages at Gohlad and Sabra Gali but the people remained confined to their houses and narrowly escaped harm. According to reports, the Indian side hit back very strongly and destroyed three Pakistani posts and bunkers and the Pakistan army suffered casualties in the retaliatory action, but exact figures were not available.

On August 8, 2017, an Army trooper identified as Sepoy Pawan Singh Sugra was killed in Pakistani firing from across the LoC in the Mankote area of the Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch District.

These incidents along the LoC and International Border (IB) are rampant. According to official figures, there have been at least 285 incidents of CFA violation reported till August 1 in the current year. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there have been at least another 19 such violations between August 2 and August 27, 2017. Official data further indicates that the Pakistan Army has violated the CFA on at least 2,463 occasions since 2005. There was one violation in 2005, followed by three such violations in 2006, 23 in 2007, 86 in 2008, 35 in 2009, 70 in 2010, 62 in 2011, 114 in 2012, 347 in 2013, 583 in 2014, 405 in 2015, and 449 in 2016.

The ‘unwritten’ CFA between India and Pakistan along the IB, LoC and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in J&K, virtually came into effect at midnight on November 25, 2003. The Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMO) of India and Pakistan, in their weekly telephonic conversation, discussed the modalities of implementation of the earlier proposal and mutually agreed that the ceasefire would be enforced between the two sides along all sectors of the IB, LoC and AGPL. The Agreement held reasonably - though with rising exceptions over time - as long as President Pervez Musharraf remained in power in Pakistan, but disintegrated fairly quickly thereafter. The first CFA violation on record took place on January 19, 2005, when mortars were fired from the Pakistani side across the LoC, targeting an Indian post in the Poonch sector, resulting in injuries to a girl.

CFA violations have, so far, resulted in 50 civilian deaths since November 26, 2003 (official data till June 30, 2017). These included three civilian deaths in the current year. According to SATP data, another four civilians have died between July 1 and August 27, 2017.

The number of fatalities among Security Force (SF) personnel is expectedly higher, as they are the real targets of these violations. The first fatality in Pakistani firing after the CFA took place on November 25, 2007, when a soldier was killed, and another two were injured in two separate firing incidents from the Pakistani side along the LoC in the Poonch Sector. According to official figures, since then, at least 72 soldiers have died (data till July 11, 2017), including five in the current year. These included 48 Army and 24 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel. While the Army is on duty along the 770 kilometres long LoC, the BSF patrols the 220 kilometres long International Border. According to SATP data, another 10 SF personnel have died between July 12 and August 27, 2017.

As SAIR has noted earlier, Pakistan has used these incidents of violation to increase volatility along the LoC and IB in order to facilitate infiltration of terrorists into the Indian side, from their launch pads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Indeed, according to official figures, since 2005, there have been at least 4,565 recorded infiltration attempts by Pakistani terrorists (data till June 30, 2017). These included at least 42 such attempts in the current year.  

Fire cover provided by Pakistan Army and paramilitary units located across the border is essential to create opportunities for successful infiltration. According to India’s Multi Agency Centre (MAC), around 80 terrorists have successfully infiltrated into J&K this year, till July 31, 2017, from PoK. In 2016, 114 terrorists had infiltrated into the State; 35 in 2015; 65 in 2014; 97 in 2013; 121 in 2012; 52 in 2011; 82 in 2010; 99 in 2009; and 27 in 2008.

Moreover, reports also indicate that around 300 terrorists are waiting in launch pads, mostly in the Neelam Valley of PoK, waiting to infiltrate into the Indian side. Official data, meanwhile, reveals that SFs have succeeded in eliminating 36 terrorists in 2017 (data till July 17) while they were trying to infiltrate from across the border in J&K. In 2016, the SFs had eliminated 37 terrorists during infiltration attempts; in addition to 46 in 2015; 52 in 2014; 38 in 2013; 13 in 2012; 35 in 2011; 112 in 2010; 101 in 2009; and 90 in 2008.

Year

Number of Incidents of CFA Violations*
Total Terrorism-Linked Deaths in Kashmir**

2003

0***
2542

2004

0
1810

2005

1
1739

2006

3
1116

2007

23
777

2008

86
541

2009

35
375

2010

70
375

2011

62
183

2012

114
117

2013

347
181

2014

583
193

2015

405
174

2016

449
267

2017

285****
239*****
Source: *Government Data, ** SATP, ***Data since November 26, 2003,
****Data till August 1, 2017, *****Data till August 27, 2017.

Despite Pakistan continuous CFA violations by Pakistan since 2005, the trend of declining fatalities in the J&K has only been fitfully affected. The trend was first broken in 2013, when Pakistan drastically increased the number of CFA violations. Broadly, levels of violence in J&K have tended to reduce – with short term variations – despite the rising number of CFA violations by Pakistan. 

The Indian response to escalating Pakistani misadventures has tended to follow a hard line, crystallizing around the conviction that the ‘strategic restraint’ that New Delhi had observed over the past decades was no longer useful or acceptable. Thus, in response to the Uri Army camp attack on September 18, 2016, in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, the Indian Army executed a ‘surgical strike’ against terrorist launch pads across the LoC in PoK on September 29, 2016, inflicting significant casualties. Unconfirmed reports suggest that at least 38 terrorists and their handlers, as well as two Pakistani soldiers were killed in the strike. No Indian casualty was reported. However, in the 332 days since the ‘surgical strike’, according to partial data compiled by SATP, a total of 53 Indians (30 SFs personnel and 23 civilians) have died as a result of CFA violations by the Pakistan Army, even as India responds to each incident with retaliatory barrages that have caused significant damage and loss of life on the other side. While there is no systematic reportage on casualties on the Pakistani side, a statement by Zaheeruddin Qureshi, the Director General of Pakistan’s Disaster Management Authority, confirmed on June 19, 2017, that at least 832 lives had been lost and over 3,000 persons injured in what was described as India’s ‘unprovoked firing’ (the period over which these losses were sustained was not specified in most reports, though there is an indication that figures are for casualties since the November 2003 CFA).

The escalation of CFA violations continues to cause significant loss of life on both sides, with no measurable strategic purpose served. Nevertheless, with jingoism and aggressive posturing dominating the discourse, both in Islamabad and New Delhi, there is no proximate end in sight to this directionless bloodshed.


NEWS BRIEFS

Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 21-27, 2017

 

Civilians

Security Force Personnel

Terrorists/Insurgents

Total

BANGLADESH

 

Islamist Terrorism

0
0
2
2

INDIA

 

Jammu and Kashmir

0
8
4
12

Left-Wing Extremism

 

Jharkhand

1
0
0
1

INDIA (Total)

1
8
4
13

PAKISTAN

 

Balochistan

0
0
2
2

FATA

0
2
0
2

PAKISTAN (Total)

0
2
2
4
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


BANGLADESH

Intelligence agencies are closely monitoring social media to control cyber based militant activities, says Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan: Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan talking to reporters after a meeting of the National Committee on Militancy Resistance and Prevention at his Ministry on August 21 said the intelligence agencies are closely monitoring Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, cyber games, and other social media to control all sorts of cyber based militant activities. Khan said the members of law enforcement agencies have been asked to remain alert to check militancy. The Daily Star, August 22, 2017.


INDIA

Rohingyas' stay in Jammu as 'illegal', will deport them; asserts UMHA: The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) has described the settlement of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis in Jammu as ‘illegal’ and declared that they would be deported. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Hansraj Gangaram Ahir made the UMHA’s stand clear on deportation of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis at a press conference at Jammu on August 24 after high-level review of security situation along the International Border (IB) and another meeting on the issues of West Pakistani, Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Kashmiri refugees. Daily Excelsior, August 25, 2017.

Stone pelting, acts of terror have decreased in Jammu and Kashmir; says Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir: Minister of State for Home Affairs, Hansraj Gangaram Ahir on August 24 said that stone pelting incidents and terrorist activities have decreased in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after the modernisation of Police in the State. After visiting the border outpost (BoP) in Baba Chimilyal area of Samba District, he said that the Centre was spending about INR 500 crore on modernisation of the State Police, which included the latest equipments, arms and ammunition. India Today, August 25, 2017.


NEPAL

CIEDP begins detailed study of complaints of conflict victims: The Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) has started conducting detailed study into complaints of conflict victims after completing preliminary study. CIEDP is studying 100 such complaints, to begin with, said CIEDP Spokesperson Bishnu Pathak. Of the total 3,093 complaints, CIEDP has approved 1,300 for detailed study, while it is yet to decide on 1,400 to 1,500 plaints. Once everything is finalized, CIEDP estimates that 2,200 to 2,300 complaints will be taken up for scrutiny. The Himalayan Times , August 27, 2017.

Parliament fails to endorse second Constitution Amendment Bill: The meeting of the Legislature Parliament held on August 21 evening could not endorse the second Constitution Amendment Bill. As many as 347 lawmakers voted in favor of the Bill while 206 lawmakers voted against it.