SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Struggle for Militant Renewal
Early in February 2009, at a rally held by jihadi groups in Muzaffarabad, Hizb ul-Mujahideen (HM) chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah — widely known by the pseudonym Syed Salahuddin — ruled out the prospect of peace.
"Jihad will continue", the Urdu-language newspaper Roznamcha Jasarat reported him as saying, "until the independence of Kashmir [from India]". He lashed out at the Pakistan Government for proscribing the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) — both of which were represented at the rally, despite promises from Pakistan to put a stop to their activities. "If there is a setback to the war [in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)] due to the cowardice of the Government", Shah said in his capacity as the head of the United Jihad Council, "then this war will need to be fought in Islamabad and Lahore".
Few took Shah’s threats seriously: his once-feared organisation is now estimated to consist of less than a few hundred operational cadre. The HM has not succeeded in carrying out a single operation of consequence in years, an indicator of the depth of its penetration by India’s intelligence and police services. Key commanders, fearful of elimination by the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP), have chosen to remain at their bases in Pakistan rather than take up field positions. Most humiliating of all, dozens of cadre have returned home from Pakistan to their homes in J&K, aided by quiet deals with the authorities.
But as the summer has unfolded, Indian authorities have realised Shah’s threats weren’t entirely idle. For the first time since 2005, the year-on-year reduction of infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC) has reversed. From an historic low of 126 in 2008, estimates compiled by the JKP show, 236 jihadis had crossed the LoC from January to July in 2009. Many of these were HM operatives, often working in close coordination with the LeT. By way of contrast, estimated infiltration stood at 1,504 in 2002, after which Pakistan scaled back support for jihadi groups in the face of Indian war-threats and mounting international pressure.
Not surprisingly, the slow escalation in infiltration threatens the ceasefire that went into place along the LoC in 2003. In July 2009, India’s Parliament was informed that there had been 77 ceasefire violations in 2008, up from 21 in 2007 and 3 in 2006. Most appear to have been the outcome of fire directed by jihadis at Indian forward positions to cover infiltration attempts.
What do these figures mean? And what long-term consequences might they have for J&K?
So far, the surge in infiltration is yet to bring about an increase in violence. JKP records show that 58 civilians have been killed from January to July, down from a total of 147 in 2008 and 170 in 2007. Losses of Indian Security Force (SF) personnel have also continued to decline. Thirty-nine police and military personnel have been killed between January and June, down from 85 in 2008 and 122 in 2007. The number of attacks targeting Indian Forces have also fallen, from 217 in 2007 to 129 in 2008 to just 51 until the end of June 2009.
J&K has seen a steady de-escalation of violence since 2001, when 1,098 civilians were killed and 1,258 were injured. Six hundred and thirteen Security Force personnel and 2,020 terrorists also died. The State has seen no fidayeen (suicide squad) attacks since 2007, when there were two strikes, down from a high of 28 in 2001. Nor have there been any car bombings over the last two years, where there were 13 in 2005.
But the reversal in infiltration trends obviously raises the prospect that J&K could see a renewed wave of violence. Pakistan’s apparent failure to shut down training camps run by anti-India jihadi groups lies at the heart of these fears. India’s Defence Minister A.K. Antony recently told reporters that "even today, dozens of terrorist camps are functioning actively on Pakistan soil."
Both the LeT and JeM, Indian intelligence officials say, have continued to operate facilities despite recent promises. JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar is building a sprawling new seminary outside of his home town, Bahawalpur. In addition, JeM recruits continue to be trained at a facility near Fort Abbas, near the India-Pakistan border in Punjab.
Lashkar commander Muzammil Bhat, who is believed to have trained the fidayeen assault team that attacked Mumbai in November 2008, is now believed to have taken operational control of the organisation. His predecessor, ‘military chief’ Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, is in jail awaiting trial for his alleged role in the carnage. Last year, western media had reported that Bhat — also known by the aliases ‘Yusuf’ and ‘Mohammad Muzammil’ — had been arrested in a military raid on the Lashkar’s main training base in the Shawai Nullah, near Muzaffarabad. However, Pakistan did not confirm the claims. Indian intelligence sources said Bhat has been sighted at a new Lashkar training facility that has come up some thirty kilometres from Muzaffarabad, in Pakistan-administered J&K.
Earlier in 2009, Roznamcha Jasarat reported that a rally held in Muzaffarabad had attracted "thousands of people, including the representatives and leaders of Pakistan’s banned organizations Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkat-ul- Mujahideen, and Jamaatud Dawa, in addition to the leaders of the Muttahida Jihad Council." Later, Pakistani authorities had promised to shut down the Lashkar-linked Falah-i-Insanyiat ‘charitable trust’, after reports emerged in May 2009 that it was working among refugees from Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. No action was, however, eventually taken. In many south Punjab towns and village, the Falah-i-Insaniyat label has been used to keep open Lashkar offices.
Most worrying, from India’s point of view, is Pakistan’s failure to legally proscribe the Lashkar’s parent organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and prosecute its chief, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. In July, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry chief, Rehman Malik, told its Parliament that the JuD was among twenty-five organisations proscribed in Pakistan. It later emerged, though, that the JuD had merely been removed from a list of charities, not banned.
One plausible explanation for Pakistan’s refusal to give up its long-standing sponsorship of anti-India jihadis is that its efforts to gain political leverage in J&K have come to nothing. In 2008, massive Islamist-led protests rocked J&K in the wake of the grant of land-use rights to a trust which manages the Shri Amarnath Shrine in southern Kashmir. The protests were read by Kashmiri secessionists — as well as some commentators — as a generalised explosion of mass anti-India sentiment. Later in 2008, however, rural voters came out in overwhelming numbers and defied the secessionists calling for an election boycott.
In 2009, Kashmir has seen sporadic protests, notably in the wake of the alleged rape-murder of two women in the town of Shopian — a crime that secessionists have claimed, so far without evidence, as an atrocity carried out by Indian SFs. But it has become painfully clear both to political separatists and jihadis that the reach of Islamist groups is, at best, limited. Police logs documenting protests reported between May 30, 2009 — the date the bodies of two alleged rape-murder victims were recovered in Shopian — and June 30, 2009 cast interesting light on the real scale of the secessionist constituency. Of 111 protests and clashes recorded by the JKP from May 30, 2009, to June 30, 2009, just 17 took place in rural and semi-urban areas. More than half these rural incidents, moreover, occurred in villages just outside of Shopian town, mainly Meminder, Shirmal and Bonagam. Just four districts in the Kashmir Valley — Srinagar, Shopian, Baramulla and Pulwama — accounted for 92 of the documented protests and clashes.
Second, the numbers involved in the protests were relatively small. In only ten cases did more than a thousand people participate in demonstrations. Half of these took place in Shopian itself. Of all the 38 protests which led to clashes between the Police and protestors, none involved more than a few hundred people. Most incidents in which Police used lethal force involved only a few dozen protestors, and were the outcome of poor training and discipline.
Finally, the figures contain bad news for the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Bar June 9, 2009, when thousands of students in nine urban centres and one village participated in protests linked to the Shopian case, the Hurriyat’s structured programme of agitation drew few followers. Protests staged by transport operators, lawyers and Government employees between June 13 and June 16 led just a few dozen supporters to gather at each venue. Zamrooda Habib’s June 2 women-only sit-in at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk drew just 20 followers. Farida Behanji, who organised a similar protest on June 27, mustered an even smaller number.
Most of the protests were spearheaded by supporters of Kashmir’s Islamist patriarch, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Geelani’s hardline Tehreek-i-Hurriyat draws heavily on the cadre of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). Not surprisingly, three of four sites at the core of the summer’s protests — Shopian, Pulwama and Baramulla — are historical heartlands of the JeI, whose cadre forms the backbone of secessionist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s hardline Tehreek-i-Hurriyat.
Without the military backbone the HM had once provided, it is clear, the secessionist movement in J&K simply cannot sustain itself.
Can the Hizb ul-Mujahideen re-grow its backbone, destroyed by the haemorrhaging of top commanders to Indian forces from 2003 onwards? Police sources say the code-name ‘Ghazi Misbahuddin’, traditionally assigned to the HM’s overall commander for military operations in J&K is now used by Gandoh-based commander Ghulam Abbas. But beyond funnelling funds, both India’s intelligence services and the JKP say, Abbas has little work: there is no longer any army to command.
In northern Kashmir, there are similar signs of disarray. Mohammad Shafi, who uses the code names ‘Dawood’ and ‘Doctor’, presides over the small group of operatives still active in northern Kashmir. Born in the village of Papchan, near Bandipora, Shafi is among the HM’s senior-most field operatives. He joined the organisation in 1992, soon after finishing school. But there have been signs in recent years that Shafi’s commitment to the jihad is waning. Police sources say he initiated communications with the authorities in 2007-2008, to explore an exit route.
Both Qayoom Najar and Majid Bisati, Shafi’s key lieutenants, are believed to have sought to integrate their operations with those of the LeT. However, the effort fell through because the Lashkar itself had haemorrhaged commanders in counter-terrorism operations targeting the group.
In the central Kashmir area, the HM has only one significantly active unit. Mushataq Ahmad, a one-time resident of the village of Vorpach near Ganderbal, leads a group of three ethnic-Kashmiris and two Pakistani nationals. Despite the political significance of Ganderbal — J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s constituency — the HM has been unable to mount any operations of consequence in the area.
Things aren’t much better for the HM in southern Kashmir. The organisation’s top bomb-making expert, Pervez Ahmad Dar — known by the code name ‘Pervez Musharraf’ — executed a number of attacks on military convoys while serving as the Awantipora-area commander. He has, however, been unable to stage a major attack in over a year. Shabbir Ahmad, named in Police records as the perpetrator of the killings of at least three civilians in the recent Lok Sabha elections in J&K, has also carried out no significant attacks since.
Mudassir Ahmad Shah, the third major Hizb ul-Mujahideen operative still active in the Awantipora area, has also had little recent success. Born in the village of Gadikhal, near Awantipora, Shah came from a family with an Islamist tradition; his father, Abdul Ahad Shah, was a Jamaat-e-Islami activist of long standing. Having joined the organisation while studying to become a dentist, police sources say, Shah trained as an improvised explosive device fabricator — an enterprise which cost him an eye. He is alleged to have been responsible for a string of bombings in Srinagar and Banihal in 2006-2007. Police say Shah left for Pakistan in 2007, before returning home in May 2008, but has done little since. Like his north Kashmir counterparts, his unit has been attempting to tap the operational resources of the Lashkar, to no avail.
Perhaps the only significant sized HM unit in southern Kashmir is the Kellar-based group of Fayyaz Pir, which is thought to have recruited at least twelve Shopian residents to its ranks in recent weeks. Sangarwani-born Pir is thought to have joined the HM seven years ago, and stuck with the organisation even as its south Kashmir leadership was annihilated in a successful Police-led campaign that began in 2006. Pir’s new recruits, though, have received only rudimentary training in the Pir Panjal mountains, rather than formal military instruction at the HM’s camps in Pakistan. Perhaps predictably, the group has been unable to stage a single major operation.
Despite past reverses, there remains a risk that, given the renewed push across the LoC, the HM may regain at least a part of its earlier operational capability. Indian strategists would be ill-advised to assume that the militants are fated to lose their battle for renewal.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 24-30, 2009
Pakistan unwilling to act against Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad despite concrete evidence, says NSA: In his first substantive comments on relations with Pakistan since the July 16, 2009 Sharm el-Sheikh summit, the National Security Adviser (NSA) M.K. Narayanan said that averting another major Mumbai-like incident was the Government’s top priority and that unless Pakistan took "real action" against those involved in terrorism, the progress it had reported so far in the Mumbai case would amount to "a chimera." In an interview to The Hindu on August 30, 2009, he indicated that Pakistan was unwilling to act against the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed despite the fact that there was concrete information about these groups re-establishing training camps. "In places like Manshera and Muzaffarabad, enlargement of what I would call training camps is going on… Their capabilities are increasing and we see the threat, and the threat is not to Kashmir but to some of the hinterland areas. That is our concern. That is what [our] agencies are concentrating on." The Hindu, August 31, 2009.
70 militants and 18 soldiers among 92 persons killed during the week in NWFP: 18 militants were killed and several others were arrested during the ongoing military operation in the Charbagh sub-division of Swat District on August 30, 2009. Brigadier Tahir Hameed said search and clearance operations against the militants continued in Balash Banar, Gutt and Mangaltan areas during which 18 militants were killed and many others were arrested. Meanwhile, two local leaders of the ruling Awami National Party and a student were killed by unidentified gunmen in the Dheri area of Kabal sub-division, Police said.
16 Police recruits were killed and 11 others sustained injuries on August 30 after a suicide bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body at the Mingora Police Station in Swat District. The volunteers for the new community Police force were conducting drills in the yard adjacent to the station when the attacker detonated his explosives, local Government administrator Atifur Rehman told The Associated Press. Authorities were investigating reports the attacker - possibly in uniform - might have hidden among the dozens of recruits, he said. "Initial investigations suggest the attacker climbed the small boundary wall and blew himself up, but there is also a report the suicide bomber was already inside," he said. In addition, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, his driver and two militants were killed in an ambush in the Karak District late in the night on August 29.
Security Forces (SFs) killed at least 18 Taliban militants, including six would-be suicide bombers, during the ongoing offensive against the Taliban in Swat on August 29. Helicopter gunships were called in after intelligence and locals said a suicide attack mastermind was present in the Charbagh town. "At least six would-be suicide bombers were killed in the shelling by helicopter gunships. The place was being used as launching pad for training suicide attackers," an army statement said. A military official in Mingora confirmed the strikes in the Mangaltan area of the town and the death toll, adding several Taliban militants were injured as well. Separately, bullet-riddled dead bodies of six suspected Taliban militants were found in a village in Swat, eight kilometres from Mingora. "Six badly mutilated bodies were found from two different places at Odigram," Ghulam Farooq, a senior Police official said. It was, however, not clear who had killed them. Meanwhile, the military sources said it continued search and clearance operations across Malakand and Swat. "Security forces carried out a search operation at Thana area and killed five terrorists during an exchange of fire," military sources added. Another Taliban militant was killed during an operation in Dandial.
Six militants and a minor were killed when gunship helicopters targeted a hideout of militants in the Charbagh area of Swat District on August 28. Acting on a tip-off, gunship helicopters targeted the base of militants near River Swat in the Charbagh area, killing six militants and injuring several others. A press release issued by the Swat Media Cell said the base was being used as a launching pad for preparing suicide bombers and using them for carrying out terrorist activities in Kabal, Kanju and Mingora city. Sources said a minor, identified as Ayaz, son of Fazal Rabbi, was killed while Ma’ab and Sajjad Ali were injured when helicopters targeted militant hideouts in Charbagh. Further, five militants were killed in a clash with the SFs in the Thana area of Malakand Agency in the early hours of August 28. Official sources said unidentified militants opened fire on the convoy of the SFs on Palai Road, west of Thana, at 4 am, and the troops returned the fire, killing five militants. Some of the slain militants were reported to be foreigners. In addition, two bullet-riddled bodies of militants reported to be brothers were found dumped in the Balogram area of Swat District. They were identified as Fazal Wahid alias Shikari, the militants’ ‘commander’ in Qambar area, and his brother Fazal Subhan. Elsewhere in the province, three bullet-riddled bodies of unidentified militants were found dumped in the Muhammad Khwaja area of Hangu District on August 28. Official sources said unidentified gunmen killed three militants and dumped their bodies in a field in Muhammad Khwaja area.
Seven Taliban militants were killed and four others arrested in a clash with the Police in Buner on August 27. The Buner District Police Officer said an exchange of fire occurred between SF personnel and militants, in which two vehicles were also destroyed.
Troops killed three Taliban militants and arrested seven others, while 11 locals – who were forced to get terrorist training – surrendered at Swat and Malakand on August 25. "Troops conducted a search operation in Taghan, Bishbanr near Gat and killed two Taliban, while another was killed and one arrested during a search operation in Asharbanr near Khawazakhela," said an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement. The ISPR said 11 locals surrendered to Security Forces in Bar Shaur near Chuprial.
SFs killed four militants during a search operation while 11 bullet-riddled bodies of the militants were found in the Sar Tiligram area in the Swat Valley on August 24. Sources said the SFs continued a search operation in Sar Tiligram area and killed four militants, identified as Sherzada, Yasin, Sabir and Bakht Rawan, besides recovering 11 bullet-riddled bodies of the militants. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, August 25-31, 2009.
24 soldiers and 13 militants among 39 persons killed during the week in FATA: Three militants were killed while eight others were arrested, four of them reportedly well-trained suicide bombers, during an encounter with the paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers at the Dosali checkpoint on the Esha-Razmak Road in North Waziristan Agency on August 30, 2009.
A former militant ‘commander’, who was also chief of a peace committee, was killed by militants in Mohmand Agency on August 28. Talking to the media from an undisclosed location, Taliban spokesperson Ikramullah Mohmand said the decision of killing former militant commander Yar Saeed was taken in the Shura (executive council) meeting held on the same day. He claimed Yar Saeed alias Chakri was picked up, along with his two colleagues identified as Jan Muhammad and Ikram from Qandaro in Safi sub-division.
A suicide bomber blew himself up as Security Force (SF) personnel gathered at sunset to break their daily fast in the holy month of Ramadan, killing at least 20 soldiers and injuring 10 others at Torkham in the Khyber Agency near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on August 27, according to Daily Times. Reuters, however, reported that at least 22 troopers had died. An injured soldier said that a man entered the compound where the soldiers had gathered and blew himself up when they offered him to break the fast with them. The bomber targeted soldiers from the Khyber Zakhakhel tribe, and sources said the political authorities of Torkham were tipped off about a week ago about the attack. In addition, at least 10 persons were killed and five others wounded when a drone fired two missiles at a house in the Kanigaram area of Laddha tehsil (revenue unit) of South Waziristan Agency on August 27. An intelligence official said those killed were believed to be militants from Uzbekistan.
Taliban militants attacked a military convoy killing two soldiers at Madi Jam, an area 20 kilometres east of Wana, in the South Waziristan Agency, on August 26. Subsequently, helicopter gunships and jets attacked Taliban hideouts.
Unidentified gunmen shot dead Afghan journalist Janullah Hashimzada in the Jamrud area of Khyber Agency on August 24 when he was on his way to Peshawar from Afghanistan. He was travelling in a passenger coach to Peshawar to reach his home in Hayatabad when four gunmen, driving a white colour car, intercepted the vehicle in the Surkamar area on the highway linking Pakistan to Afghanistan. Another passenger, Ali, also an Afghan national, sustained bullet injuries and was shifted to the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar. Janullah was the bureau chief in Pakistan for Afghanistan’s Pashto TV channel, Shamshad. Dawn; Daily Times; The News, August 25-31, 2009.
Interpol issues Red Corner Notice against Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and ‘commander’ Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi: The Interpol on August 25, 2009 issued Red Corner Notices (RCN) against Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) chief, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, and mastermind of the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. The notices were issued against Saeed and Lakhvi after a Mumbai court issued a non-bailable warrant against the duo for their involvement in the November 26, 2008 attacks. India also sent proof and requests to issue a similar warrant against LeT ‘commander’ Zarar Shah and Abu Al Qama. Interpol said it was analysing the evidence against them. The RCN were issued after India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) approached the international agency for the same with non-bailable warrants against them. Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani had issued the warrants, asking the Mumbai Police Commissioner and the CBI Director to execute them through Interpol and produce the accused before the court soon. PTI News, August 26, 2009.
TTP confirms Baitullah Mehsud’s death: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud died in August 2009 after a US missile strike, his "successor", Hakeemullah Mehsud, confirmed on August 25, vowing revenge on the US for the attack. Hakeemullah also declared himself the new leader of the group. Disputing the US and Pakistani version of events, the Taliban said Baitullah had survived until August 23. "Baitullah was injured in a drone attack and died on Sunday afternoon," Hakeemullah told AFP from an undisclosed location. "He remained unconscious after being seriously injured in a drone attack and died on Sunday. Now the shura [meeting of elders] has unanimously appointed me new head of the TTP," said Hakeemullah. "We will take revenge and soon. We will give our reply to this drone attack to America. The effects of our attack will go up to Washington," he added. Hakeemullah also said Waliur Rehman had been named Taliban chief for South Waziristan. "All of the Taliban are united. The news about the differences and fighting are baseless and those spreading such type of news will face failure," he added. The AP news agency said Waliur had confirmed Baitullah’s death and the announcement that Hakeemullah would lead the TTP. Daily Times, August 26, 2009.