Terrorism Update
Show/Hide Search
    Click to Enlarge

Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 2, No. 24, December 29, 2003

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



Walking the Knife-Edge
Ajai Sahni
Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management

The coup and the assassination have been integral to political transition in Pakistan virtually since the moment of its creation [the country's first Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1951, and violence or machinations have marked virtually every change of regime since]. This ruinous legacy continues to reassert itself at each crucial turn of the country's history. So, again, even as the Pakistani dream continues to unravel, the country's military dictator General Pervez Musharraf - himself in power as the result of a coup against an elected Government - came under two serious attempts on his life within eleven days, on December 14 and December 25, 2003, the latter involving two separate suicide attacks within moments of each other.

Speaking on national television after the second assassination attempt, Musharraf spoke harshly about the "cowardly people who attack while hiding", and declared that "terrorists and extremists" opposed to the global war against terrorism might have plotted the attacks, adding further that he would not be cowed down by such actions. It would appear that the lines between the Pakistani state and the Islamist extremist forces that have long been its protégés would finally harden into a clear antagonism.

Both the assassination attempts and such a crystallization of attitudes have been expected ever since Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, speaking on the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the US, had declared in a message to "our brother Muslims in Pakistan": "How long will you be patient with Musharraf, the traitor who sold out the blood of the Muslims in Afghanistan and handed over the Arab emigrant Mujahideen, the descendants of the Companions of the Prophet, to crusader America?"

Things, however, are never entirely clear in Pakistan, and the establishment has so long been in bed with the terrorists that the disengagement is far from simple or inevitable. Thus, even as President Musharraf was denouncing the "cowardly people" who had attacked him, his Information Minister, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, was arguing that 'the jehadi culture in Pakistan could not be changed and he who denied jihad had no place in Islam', adding, however, that "whether or not it is jihad can only be decided by the state." The distinction between 'our jehadis' and 'their terrorists' has evidently survived in Pakistan's political rhetoric, despite the attacks on the country's current President. The ambiguity is also reflected in an interesting turn of phrase in reports on the assassination attempts on Pakistan television; the expression "khud kush hamlavar" or 'suicide attacker', a decidedly pejorative description, was used repeatedly to describe the failed assassins. Islamist suicide bombers in Kashmir, in Palestine, and in other parts of the world are routinely glorified as 'fidayeen', 'those who sacrifice themselves', and this has been the conventional appellation on Pakistan TV as well.

Such ambivalence is, however, becoming progressively unsustainable in Pakistan, if only because the line between 'our jehadi' and 'their terrorist' is being rapidly obliterated. Many of the prominent terrorist groups that are perceived as being close to the state and substantially controlled by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) now have cadres moonlighting for, and deeply sympathetic to, Al Qaeda and its affiliates, even where the top leadership remains apparently compliant.

The growing danger to Musharraf and his regime, however, does not come from the swelling ranks of 'their terrorists' alone. Preliminary disclosures blame the Christmas assassination attempt on the Al Jihad, a relatively minor terrorist group that has been virtually inactive for several years, but matters are far from simple. Both the recent attacks reflect high levels of complexity as well as of complicity within at least a section of the establishment, and these discredit the possibility of a rag tag operation. Both incidents occurred within a hundred yards of one another in Rawalpindi, which is the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army and the most militarised city in a militarised country; they occurred within the high security Cantonment areas; they occurred on the President's daily route, which can reasonably be expected to be completely sanitized. The December 14 incident is particularly significant in this context. Over half a tonne of explosives had been transported to, and then unloaded, concealed and primed at, a bridge that is heavily guarded round the clock, on the regular route between the President's office and residence; and had been detonated by remote control, presumably by an assassin lying in wait in sight of the bridge [the attempt failed, according to the official Pakistani line, because of the jammers on the President's cavalcade, though it is still unclear how or why the explosion eventually did occur over a minute after the procession had passed beyond the bridge]. Again, on December 25, reports indicate that there were two Presidential motorcades - one of them a decoy - moving simultaneously on two different routes, but the terrorists were able to correctly identify and target Musharraf's motorcade. There is, consequently, in both incidents, substantial circumstantial evidence to suggest an 'inside job'.

If disaffected elements in the Army, presumably at a level sufficiently high as to engineer such operations, are now, indeed, targeting Musharraf (and this remains essentially in the sphere of informed speculation) the fragile equation that has been contrived between powerful and ideologically incompatible political entities - including armed non-state groups - to maintain a modicum of order in Pakistan is now dangerously imperilled. To the extent, moreover, that much of the world, including the US and increasingly India, has invested almost its entire faith on the survival of this tenuous arrangement, and in General Musharraf, to contain the burgeoning dangers of this epicentre of terrorism, the situation is grim. As The Washington Post noted, "The past week has given the Bush administration more cause to reconsider its heavy reliance on a single general, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, to maintain stability in one of the world's most dangerous areas."

The assassination attempts in Pakistan also underline the frailty and brittleness of the current and vaunting peace processes in South Asia. While both the Indian and Pakistani leadership are, in the run up to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in January 2004, currently competing to outdo one another in the rhetoric of South Asian 'unification', the fragility of the balance, the contingent nature of all plans and enterprises in the region, and the degree to which the initiative lies with organisations committed to terrorism, make a mockery of all such projections.

For the moment, Musharraf has survived and the SAARC summit is expected to go ahead on schedule, with all regional leaders having reconfirmed their participation, despite serious and legitimate security concerns. To believe, however, that peace is somewhere around the corner, is delusional. Pakistan and its leaders - including Musharraf and his generals - have only just begun to pay the price for their long sponsorship of terrorism, what one leading Pakistani commentator described as "the 'globalisation' of terrorism we performed in the past decade", and the conflagration will escalate substantially before it is eventually doused. Regrettably, it is not Pakistan alone that will have to pay the price of its past and ongoing transgressions.


ULFA Offer of Talks: A Tactical Move?
Wasbir Hussain
Associate Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi; Consulting Editor, The Sentinel, Guwahati

On December 26, 2003, Day 12 of the Bhutanese military assault against Indian insurgents in the Himalayan kingdom, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) - the largest among the three groups battling the royal army - offered conditional peace talks with New Delhi. ULFA's self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua telephoned this writer from an undisclosed location for a lengthy interview in which, apart from stating that the ULFA had 'repeatedly' been requesting Bhutan to act as a mediator for possible peace negotiations between his group and the Indian Government, the ULFA leader made the following main points:

  • ULFA is ready for peace negotiations with the Indian Government provided New Delhi agrees to discuss their key demand of sovereignty, with a neutral third party mediator acting as facilitator (in the past, India has consistently rejected third party mediation in all negotiations with insurgent or terrorist groups in the country).
  • ULFA has requested Bhutan several times to play the role of mediator, and to convince New Delhi to agree to discuss the sovereignty issue.
  • Bhutan had sought time on this and that the crackdown on the rebels, including the ULFA, by the Royal Army came even as his group was continuing with their negotiations with Thimphu on the modalities for the rebels' withdrawal from the kingdom.
  • That, like Norway which facilitated the resumption of the deadlocked peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ULFA would only accept a nation state as a third party mediator.
  • New Delhi could argue its point of view on ULFA's sovereignty demand in case the two sides were to meet directly.
  • ULFA is always ready for a 'scientific process' of talks, through which it could make a beginning towards achieving its demands, or otherwise determine the scope for progress.

What precisely is new in these comments by the elusive ULFA 'military chief', and do they assume particular significance, coming as they do in the wake of the battle in Bhutan? ULFA's claim that it had been urging the Royal Government in Thimphu to mediate between the rebel leadership and the Indian Government is certainly new. If that is, indeed, the case (and in view of the Bhutanese authorities' refusal to comment, this claim cannot simply be dismissed as false), it implies that ULFA may actually have been preparing grounds for a possible peace dialogue with New Delhi. In fact, ULFA's detained 'publicity chief' Mithinga Daimary alias Dipak Kachari (he disclosed his real name as Dipak Kachari while talking to the media after his handover by the Bhutanese Army to Indian authorities last week) also told journalists during a court appearance in Guwahati earlier in the day on December 26, 2003, that his group had requested Bhutan to act as a mediator. The fact that the statement is separately corroborated by two top ULFA leaders does give some credence to the outfit's claims.

A couple of years have passed since the ULFA set three preconditions for any possible talks with the Indian Government: talks must centre around their demand for sovereignty; must be held outside India; and must occur under the supervision of the United Nations. Now, during his conversation with this writer, the ULFA 'C-in-C' had made two concessions: (1) he said a neutral third party mediator would do, and (2) he said New Delhi would be free to argue its case on ULFA's sovereignty demand. Known to be a tough hardliner, Barua, has thus given clear enough indication that the ULFA would be willing to hear out the Indian Government's point of view on the sovereignty issue. This in itself is a positive development, though it would be premature to describe this as a softening of its position. Nevertheless, there are signs in this of the rebel leadership coming round to a reasonable stance that could well provide a breakthrough to a political approach to solving the insurgency problem in the Northeast Indian State of Assam.

The timing of Paresh Barua's offer for talks, albeit conditional, cannot be missed. Despite his claim that only between 15 and 20 of his cadres have been killed and about the same number wounded in the battle in the jungles of southern Bhutan, the fact is that his group, as also rebels belonging to the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) and the Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO), have been uprooted from all of their 30 camps inside the Kingdom. The number of fatalities may not be the most significant consideration here (the Indian Army would like to believe that at least 120 rebels have been killed); rather, the fact that the rebels have been dislodged from fortified bases which they have long used to launch murderous raids on the Indian security forces or other targets, and return to the safety of their camps is the most significant impact of the Bhutanese military operations. The insurgents had been benefiting from this safe haven for the past 12 years, and Bhutan's attempt to persuade the rebels to withdraw from the Kingdom over the last six years had not yielded results.

Within Assam, the ULFA had ceased to operate as a cohesive force right from the time of the first Indian Army offensive, Operation Bajrang, launched in November 1990, followed by Operation Rhino. Thereafter, it was only in its Bhutan bases that the outfit had the breathing space to plan its political and military strategies, and to carry out strikes into adjoining Indian territory. With the Bhutanese military assault, the ULFA's line of command and control has been snapped, and its primary operational base has been lost.

What is particularly disturbing for the group is that almost all its key middle-rung leaders have fallen into the security net. Here, mention can be made of the group's 78-year-old ideologue and political advisor, Bhimkanta Buragohain, thought to have been dead, but who appeared on December 26, 2003, to surrender before the Indian Army at the IV Corps Headquarters in the north Assam garrison town of Tezpur. He had been handed over by the Royal Bhutan Army to Indian authorities on December 25. Mithinga Daimary, the ULFA' publicity chief', was another senior leader, captured and handed over to India, as were Buragohain's deputy, self-styled 'Major' Robin Handique, and the outfit's medical specialist Dr. Amarjit Gogoi.

Buragohain was one of the founders of the ULFA, and his capture and subsequent 'surrender' is certainly a major loss for the group. More than that, his statement to the media describing the 'path of armed struggle' for independence as 'wrong,' and his appeal to his fellow rebels, including Paresh Barua, to give up violence and lay down arms, could have an adverse impact on the morale of those rebels still with the group. Here, some may choose to reject the significance of Buragohain's remarks, as they came in the form of a written statement while he was in the custody of the Indian Army (he was subsequently handed over to the Assam Police on December 27. The Police now say that the 'law will take its own course' in dealing with him, as the Army did not mention his 'surrender' in the FIR it lodged with the Assam Police before handing him over). But the ULFA veteran could have refused to make any such statement, or, had he been under pressure from the Army, could have broken ranks at the Press Conference and refused to cooperate further, and he would not have been much worse for the experience.

A significant chorus that has been heard from fleeing militants over the past fortnight is that the Bhutanese crackdown had taken them totally by surprise. Many of them, including ULFA 'lieutenant' Domeswar Rabha, a hardcore cadre who had been trained by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Myanmar in 1988, Utpal Bharali, Naziruddin, Surya Boro and others, told this writer during exclusive conversations after their surrender to the Indian Army and the Assam Police, that their leaders had never once given them any indication of a possible assault by the Bhutanese. "Every time, our senior leaders used to tell us everything was fine and that our relations with the Bhutanese were quite cordial. After this attack, we lost faith in our leadership and decided to give up," Utpal Bharali, 31, a former ULFA 'sergeant', told this writer at a safe house in the north Assam town of Mangaldai on December 22, 2003. Even the ULFA's detained publicity chief Daimary confessed they had been surprised by the Royal Army's action.

Clearly, the ULFA leadership had either taken Thimphu so much for granted that they never imagined the possibility of military operations against the Indian rebels, or the group's leaders had not passed on to their cadres, any information of a possible crackdown that they might have had.

Paresh Barua, however, has his own version of the turn of events: he told this writer that the Bhutanese assault came even as discussions between his group and the Royal Government was on: "Our foreign secretary and adviser (Shasha Choudhury and Buragohain) were in talks with Thimphu, both with Brigadier Victor (believed to be a Royal Bhutan Army commander) as well as the Home Ministry. In response to Bhutan's request, we had sent faxes to the Home Ministry there saying that I shall be coming over for a meeting with them. Then, as there was a five-to-six-day break in the talks, the operations began". He said Thimphu launched the offensive "in a hurry" due to "intense pressure from India."

Attempting to verify these claims is pointless, but the news blackout on the progress, as well as the success or failure of the operations by the Bhutanese authorities has, in fact, helped the ULFA in its crucial hour. For instance, the ULFA 'C-in-C' has put the number of his fighters killed at not more than 20. On its part, Bhutan remains silent on the casualty figures. Secondly, the ULFA leader made a significant claim during his conversation with this writer that he had ordered his cadres not to fight the Bhutanese troops and to leave. "Bhutan is not our enemy really, and so we had taken that stand. Later, when we realized that it is the Indian Army that was actually fighting us inside Bhutan, we asked our soldiers to retaliate," Barua claimed. Indian Army officials, of course, denied sending soldiers into Bhutan.

A war of words is only to be expected in an inaccessible theatre of combat. Scoring brownie points will certainly be uppermost on the rebel group's agenda in its bid to keep the morale of cadres and supporters high. The most crucial consideration, at present, however, is whether ULFA's conditional offer for talks is merely a tactical move to get some pressure off its back, or whether it is a serious offer that could lead to some progress in pushing through the logjam of persistent insurgent violence in Assam. In either event, New Delhi can be expected to approach the offer with a measure of seriousness, and to initiate some efforts towards a political process that may move towards a lasting solution to the problem. Bhutan, after all, is certainly not the ULFA's last post.


Islamic Militancy: The Shadow Lengthens
Guest Writer: Haroon Habib
Senior journalist, commentator and author, Dhaka; former Chief Editor of Bangladesh Sangbad Sanstha (BSS), the country's premier news agency

The Bangladesh Government recently and sharply rejected a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report that had alleged that Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia's Government was "not doing enough" to prevent the country from becoming a "haven for Islamic terrorists" in South Asia. The report, obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, says the Bangladesh Government was unwilling to crack down on Islamic terrorism. The CSIS report also suggested that there could be dangers to Canadian aid agencies in Bangladesh. A foreign office spokesman at Dhaka has dubbed the report 'a campaign to malign Bangladesh'.

Similar 'rejections' had also been articulated by the Bangladesh Foreign Office, and by powerful ministers of the alliance Government, when the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Time magazine, and subsequently other prominent foreign media, published reports about growing jehadi activities following the change of regime in Dhaka after the elections of 2001. While the ruling Alliance has consistently denied the presence of Islamic militants in the country, the nation's vibrant Press, political Opposition and leaders of civil society have repeatedly projected a different picture.

While the Government's overall position remains broadly unchanged, there is now growing evidence of a less aggressive stance, as evidence mounts, with at least occasional disclosures of encounters and arrests of jehadis by the enforcement agencies leaving them no choice but to admit that a number of clandestine militant Islamic groups were, in fact, active across the country, and were receiving significant external support.

There are now increasing reports of the operation of several jehadi groups in the country, particularly in its northern and western regions, with coherent linkages and political networks, as well as access to arms and military training. Whatever their actual numbers or present capabilities, as well as the limited influence they have on the general population, these jehadis have started causing alarm in democratic circles, and unless they are effectively contained, may become a real and extraordinary danger in the imminent future. There are also frequent allegations in the media regarding the 'mysteriously soft' attitude of the Government towards these entities, as none of the arrested militants has, so far, received any punishment, nor has there been any meaningful investigation into their funding and support structures.

Police and intelligence agencies first suspected the involvement of these underground outfits in a series of bomb blasts at secular cultural functions and political meetings, which killed nearly a hundred people between 1997 and 2001. The fanatics also planted powerful bombs at one of then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's political meetings. At that time, Government agencies had unearthed some militant 'hideouts' and a few cadres with suspected 'foreign connections' were arrested. But the administrative measures were too small to contain the fast growing networks that have become entrenched over the past decades.

Understandably, with the change of regime in mid-2001, the genuine national concern was perhaps neglected since the new Government had been formed with the support of two of the country's organized fundamentalist parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ). The installation of the alliance Government gave a boost to the radical Islamists's morale, after they had virtually been on the run during the previous Awami League (AL) rule. With the change of guard, most of the arrested militants, including those charge-sheeted, were released on bail and eventually the charges against them were dropped. Within a year, however, the 'concern' had started resurfacing, with the media reporting frequent encounters between 'armed Islamic militants' and the police, as well as subsequent arrests, with interrogations throwing light on foreign linkages of the cadres and organizations.

Although these clandestine armed outfits first came to be focused on in the late Nineties, they have had their roots in the country since 1971, when Bengalis of the former East Pakistan were fighting their war of liberation against then-West Pakistan. The Jamaat-e-Islami, with its militant students' group, Islami Chhatra Sangha, had floated their first armed cadres, 'Al-Badar' and ' Al -Shams' to 'defend Islam' and Pakistan's unity while the Pakistan Central Government had formed the 'Razakar Bahini' to counter the Bengali freedom fighters. Two senior ministers of the present cabinet - Matiur Rahman Nizami and Ali Ahsan Mujahid - were directly involved in the floating of these infamous groups, which were responsible for killing of hundreds of secular Bengali intellectuals after branding them 'anti-Islamic'. These groups were the first militant religious organizations in this country, formed in close co-operation with the Pakistani Army.

Following the bloody political changeover in 1975, Bangladesh has passed through a prolonged military and pseudo-democratic era. The banned Jamaat-e-Islami and other 'anti-liberation' entities which took part in the 1971 genocide were once again given license to operate, thanks to the subsequently assassinated President General Zia-ur-Rahman, the founder of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). And in the name of Islamic charity and religious education, the jehadis started building up their initial bases with substantial funding reportedly from sources abroad. Over the years, thousands of madrassas (seminaries), known as 'Koumi Madrassas', entirely outside governmental control and nor accountable to anyone except their sponsors, were built. The main objective of the sponsors of a large proportion of these madrassas was allegedly to train and develop the 'soldiers of Allah': the jehadis.

Testimonies of arrested militants suggest that they are well funded and well equipped to carry out an 'Islamic revolution' in the country. They are staunch admirers of the Taliban, and many of their cadres reportedly fought in Afghanistan and also in Kashmir. Media reports suggest that a section of the Jamaat-e-Islami, IOJ and the Islami Shasantantra Andolon may be in league with some of these extremist groups, though these political fronts have all denied the charge. The Government has not banned any of the militant groups so far, with the exception of Al-Hikma.

Ironically, while the Government seems adamant about rejecting the 'charges' regarding religious militancy in the country, its Social Welfare Minister and Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General, Ali Ahsan Mujahid's remarks on December 19, 2003, deserve special scrutiny. "The base of the fundamentalists in Bangladesh," he declared at a party meeting in northern Nilphamari, "is so strong that all other powers are sure to be defeated here." He added further, "in a country where azans (calls to prayer) are offered from lakhs of mosques every day, there is no chance for the Awami League to return to power…."

Incidents in the early months of year 2003 suggested that, though the militant outfits may not be very large, their cadres had been completely indoctrinated by their mentors to launching campaigns of violence that members of the groups claimed were a 'holy war'. There are also reasons to believe that the activities of these extremist groups have a regional and global dimension, although there has been no serious investigation or probe into this aspect.

Bangladesh is an over-populated country with high levels of illiteracy and unemployment, and has been targeted by vested interests for a kind of political adventurism. Nevertheless, despite being deeply religious, the common people of the country have no special love for the jehadis, though a section of the extremely poverty stricken may be vulnerable to their blandishments if their activities and agenda are not effectively challenged. The militancy may also cash in on the discriminatory nature of the country's educational and economic systems. It is, consequently, necessary to make an objective assessment of the political, economic and cultural factors that enable and sustain the growth of these forces, and effective action must be taken to rid the nation of this menace. If the Government is not sympathetic and their funding and communication linkages are shut down, these groups would not be able to operate, and would certainly not be growing in strength.

Media investigations suggest that the Islamic militants in Bangladesh are presently split into more than a dozen groups, with each commanding a strength of a few hundred or thousand. The numbers alone do not give an adequate picture of the seriousness of the situation. On December 25, 2003, for instance, national newspapers reported that nine persons - including five members of the Ansar (the state 'Para Police') - had been arrested in connection with a bomb explosion inside an abandoned and dilapidated residential hotel on the western Khulna-Jessore Road. The arrested Ansar members were on duty at the hotel premises at the time of the explosion. The blast occurred when they were making bombs, and Police suspect that the four young men arrested belong to an extremist Islamic organisation, possibly the Al Muzahid party. The Police also recovered several books and booklets authored by fundamentalist leaders from the hotel rooms. A hand-written brochure titled Islamic Andolaner Note ('Points for the Islamic Movement') was also recovered. Police officer Shafiqul Islam of the Khalishpur thana (police station) disclosed, "One could make more than 100 bombs out of the quantities of bomb-making materials which were recovered by the police from the hotel rooms". The recovered materials included sulphur, potash, broken pieces of glasses, nails and rice husk. Police also recovered 12 live bombs.

While there is still not authoritative assessment of the strength and firepower of these groups, and weapons seizures have been negligible, while storming some 'training camps' in the jungles in southern Cox's Bazaar, security forces found advanced weapons, as also evidence of the involvement of the Rohingya Muslim rebels from Myanmar's Arakan province. Various investigations over the past few years, moreover, demonstrate that the bombs used by these extremists were highly sophisticated.

So far, security agencies have reportedly identified 48 'training centres' across the country. The names of an estimated 13 militant organisations are known, but only a few of them have created news. The known groups include Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, Jamaat-ul-Mujahid-ul-Bangladesh, Jaamat-e-Yahia Trust, Hizbut Tawhid, Al Harakat-ul-Islamia, Al Markaj-ul-Islami, Jamaatul Falaiya, Tawhidi Janata, World Islamic Front, Jumaat-as-Sadat, Shahadat-e-Nabuat, Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami and Al Khidmat.

To resolve the problem, secular thinkers suggest that the administration must first shed its 'ostrich syndrome', take serious note of such clandestine groups and work out strategies to neutralise them, since they reject both democracy and the idea of the sovereignty of the people. The so-called Islamists do not conceal their intention to set up a theocratic state, and hold the existing democracy responsible for 'anti-Islamisation'. Their ideological roots lie in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and several arrested militants have confessed that they received arms training in Pakistan, and fought in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Reports have it that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has now asked the Home Ministry and concerned agencies to launch a 'massive manhunt' for these clandestine extremist groups. But how can the Government act effectively against these militants with the Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote, two self-professed Islamic fundamentalist parties, as its coalition partners? How can the Government contain such militancy when it's own political strength is shared by the religious fundamentalists?



Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
December 22-28, 2003

Security Force Personnel






     Jammu &








Total (INDIA)





*      Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


Five Ansars dismissed for aiding Islamist outfit in Khulna: Five Ansars (para-military force personnel) arrested in the Khulna city on December 24, 2003, on charges of abetting Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) activists in making bombs inside an abandoned residential hotel have reportedly been dismissed from their services. Along with these Ansars, four ICS cadres were also arrested and charged under the Explosives Act. Unnamed sources were quoted as saying that the four ICS activists were arrested on the specific charge of bomb-making to carry out subversive activities under the umbrella of Al-Mujahiden, an extremist outfit based in Jamalpur and Sherpur districts. Security forces had recovered 16 powerful handmade bombs, bomb-making materials and brochures from the hotel. A large number of Ansars are suspected to have links with outlaws in the southwestern zone. The Daily Star, December 29, 2003.


1000 weapons belonging to terrorists active in India's North East seized: The Royal Bhutan Army is reported to have seized at least 1,000 weapons, including 650 AK series rifles, 150 rifles, 150 pistols, some rocket propelled grenades and around 2,00,000 rounds of ammunition along with 50 to 60 wireless sets and satellite telephones during the ongoing military operations against camps of terrorists active in India's Northeast. Sentinel Assam, December 22, 2003.


ULFA urges China for safe passage: The 'chairman' of outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has reportedly appealed to the People's Republic of China to offer safe passage to the outfit's cadres for temporary shelter in that country. Rajkhowa in a letter faxed to the Chairman of the People's Republic of China on December 25, 2003, said that of late ''we have come under massive attack of Indo-Bhutan joint forces and our combatants have been forced to retreat upto Sino-Bhutan border due to all-out air and artillery campaigns." Rajkhowa said that at this moment ''they have no option but to enter the territory of China to save their lives as they are negotiating with sub-zero temperature and starvation without any clothes and foodgrains… We request you to permit them safe passage to your territory with minimum temporary hospitality necessary for their survival", said the ULFA 'chairman'. Assam Tribune, December 29, 2003.

Union Government rejects talks offer of United Liberation Front of Asom: The Union Government on December 28, 2003, rejected the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam's (ULFA) offer for conditional talks on its demand for sovereignty. Speaking to reporters in Delhi, Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swami said, ''There is no question of any compromise on the sovereignty and integrity of the country.'' He was replying to a question on ULFA 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Baruah's reported statement that the outfit was ready for negotiations on its main demand of sovereignty with a ''neutral third party mediator'' acting as the facilitator. He wanted the third party to be a ''nation state'' as ULFA could not trust mediators from within India. Times of India, December 28, 2003.

Founding member of ULFA Bhimkanta Buragohain surrenders in Assam: On December 26, 2003, one of the founding members of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and widely considered to be its ideologue, Bhimkanta Buragohain alias Mama, surrendered before the Indian Army at Tezpur in the Sonitpur district of Assam. Buragohain also read out a statement asking other ULFA leaders and cadres to lay down arms. He said, "The path we led is wrong. Armed rebellion can not bring independence." Three more senior ULFA cadres, 'assistant central publicity secretary' Bolin Das, 'medical officer' Amarjit Gogoi and 'deputy political advisor' Sgt. Major Robin Handique also surrendered along with Buragohain. Earlier, unconfirmed reports had indicated that Buragohain had died after being wounded during the ongoing military operations by the Royal Bhutan Army. Sentinel Assam, December 27, 2003.

People's War Group behind assassination attempt on Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, says probe team: During a press conference in Tirupati on December 25, 2003, the Special Investigation Team chief D.T. Nayak said nine members of the outlawed People's War Group (PWG) allegedly carried out the assassination attempt on Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu at Alipiri in the Chittor district on October 1, 2003. The extremists had spent about Rupees Twelve Hundred Thousand and used approximately 200 kilograms of Noble Gel-90 with a nitroglycerine component to prepare the 17 claymore mines for the Alipiri attack, he added. He further said that the boxes in which the mines were placed were manufactured at Wardha in the State of Maharashtra and sent to Tirupati by various routes. Hindustan Times, December 26, 2003.

Myanmar not to allow terrorists fleeing from Bhutan to enter its soil: Myanmar has indicated that it will flush out Indian insurgents, if any, in that country and assured India that it will not allow terrorists fleeing from Bhutan to enter its soil. U Win Aung, the Foreign Minister of Myanmar, is reported to have said in Delhi on December 23, 2003, that "We have a policy of not allowing any insurgents to get into Myanmar. We will take whatever action is necessary. We will flush out Indian insurgent camps, if any in our country." Times of India, December 24, 2003.


17 persons killed in assassination bid on President Musharraf in Rawalpindi: At least 17 persons were killed and 40 others injured during a second assassination attempt in less than two weeks on President Pervez Musharraf in the Jhanda Chichi area of Rawalpindi on December 25, 2003. The President narrowly escaped the suicide assassination attempt when his motorcade was hit by two explosive laden vehicles. Both the suicide bombers were also believed to have been killed in the incident. Reports indicated that the first explosives-laden vehicle which hit the Presidential motorcade emerged out of a petrol station situated at the main road near Civil Lines police station and struck at the concrete road divider. Moments after the first attack, another suicide bomber driving an explosive laden white Suzuki carry van smashed into a police van at the tail of the convoy. According to an unnamed police official, each of the vehicles driven was carrying about 25 to 30 kilograms of explosives. Over 20 vehicles, including three escort cars of the President's entourage, were damaged in the blasts. The incident site is approximately 100 yards away from the bridge where General Musharraf earlier survived a bomb attack on December 14, 2003. Meanwhile, President Musharraf later said that "terrorists and extremists" opposed to the global war against terrorism might have plotted the suicide attacks against him. "There is a strong possibility of this. We are fighting a war against terrorism," Musharraf said on national television. Nation, December 26, 2003.

Top Chinese terrorist shot dead in South Waziristan encounter: A man recently identified by China as its top terrorist has been shot dead during an anti-terrorism operation in the South Waziristan area. Hasan Mahsum, a former resident of China's Xinjiang region, was killed recently, said Beijing News on December 23. Meanwhile, Major General Shaukat Sultan said "Yes, this man [Mahsum] was killed in a Pakistan Army's operation on October 2." The Major reportedly confirmed that Mahsum was among the eight persons killed when Pakistan Army commandoes raided a suspected Al Qaeda hideout at Angoor Adda in the tribal area of South Waziristan. China had placed Hasan Mahsum on the top of its first ever list of terrorists last week. It identified Mahsum, aged 39, as a leader in the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which it said was a terrorist group, along with three others. Daily Times, December 24, 2003.

US renews ban on Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed: The US Secretary of State on December 23, 2003, redesignated the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The initial designations of these groups in 2001 expired on December 26, 2003. In a press statement, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said that "By redesignating Jaish e-Mohammed and Lashkar e-Tayyiba as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and publishing that decision today in the Federal Register, we preserve the U.S. Government's ability to take action against them in accordance with the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended." Daily Times, December 24, 2003.



The South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) is a weekly service that brings you regular data, assessments and news briefs on terrorism, insurgencies and sub-conventional warfare, on counter-terrorism responses and policies, as well as on related economic, political, and social issues, in the South Asian region.

SAIR is a project of the Institute for Conflict Management and the South Asia Terrorism Portal.


South Asia Intelligence Review [SAIR]

K. P. S. Gill

Dr. Ajai Sahni

To receive FREE advance copies of SAIR by email Subscribe.

Recommend South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) to a friend.





Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.