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Weekly Assessments & Briefings
Volume 2, No. 40, April 19, 2004

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



The Shadow of Terror Lengthens
Ajai Sahni
Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management

The US Coalition's growing troubles in Iraq are bad news for South Asia. Among the primary targets of Islamist extremist terrorism in the region, India has long seen a necessary convergence of its interests with those of the US-led global war against terrorism - though there have been differences over the discriminatory focus of this war, and the evident indulgence extended to Pakistan's continuing support to terrorist groups. The increasing disarray in Iraq creates imminent dangers of an escalation and widening of Islamist terrorist activities in this region, even as it creates possibilities of intensification of violence by terrorist groups deriving their justification from other ideological streams.

The spaces for such a resurgence are created by two factors. The first of these is based on the nature of terrorism as a method; to the extent that it is seen to succeed substantially even against the world's greatest military and economic power in Iraq, it will be estimated to have far greater probabilities of success against the weaker state powers within South Asia. This would be considered to be the case in all theatres, and with respect to movements inspired by the entire spectrum of 'revolutionary' ideologies. The second of these factors relates to the diminished international focus on terrorist movements in this region, as events in Iraq (and, to an extent, West Asia) exhaust the greatest proportion of Western, and particularly US, attention. This creates opportunities and incentives for terrorists and their state sponsors in South Asia to intensify campaigns that had, briefly, been brought under significant pressure as a result of the glare of international publicity and the increased risk of international penalties after 9/11. It is useful to recall that it was the neglect of developments in South Asia - and particularly of the assembly lines of jihad in Pakistan and then Taliban-controlled Afghanistan - that contributed directly to the current mushrooming of global Islamist terrorism and the planning and execution of 9/11. While the armies and infrastructure of terrorism in Afghanistan were substantially eroded by the US-led campaign there, much of these simply shifted across the border into Pakistan, to join forces with a number of like-minded terrorist groups, many of them created and directly supported by covert state agencies in that country. Considerable American pressure on the Musharraf regime had resulted in some cosmetic curbs on these organizations, and a marginal decline in their visible activities. Such trends are now in danger of reversal, as American prestige suffers blow after blow in Iraq.

There is, today, a growing assessment among radical Islamist groups that, while America does have the unquestionable power and technology to blow any country out of existence, it does not have the capacity or comprehension to manage even a mid-sized nation - such as Afghanistan or Iraq - under occupation or surrogate rule. America, moreover, is assessed to have no effective defenses against sustained and determined terrorist campaigns, and is, consequently, perceived to be immensely vulnerable despite its apparent strength. As Iraq emerges as a critical element in the US Presidential Election campaign, America's domestic political vulnerability to terrorist activities in foreign theatres will also be underlined. The events in Iraq, within these calculations, place an absolute limit on how much pressure the US can now exert on rogue states and state sponsors of terrorism, especially where such entities are able to manipulate the instrumentalities of terror within intensities that do not provoke extreme retaliation, or within the confines of 'credible deniability'. The result is that the US is expected to be increasingly cautious in exerting extraordinary pressure on countries such as Pakistan, for instance, to end their covert support to terrorism and the activities of terrorist groups on and from their soil. This will create the opportunities for a consolidation of terrorist forces within such areas.

Iraq has also sounded the death knell of the international consensus against terrorism, once again throwing the entire issue into the realm of moral ambivalence. America's unilateralism and mismanagement have alienated many natural allies in the war against terrorism, and the delusionary constructs under which the US Administration continues to act do not suggest any trends towards increasing executive competence, and consequently, little prospects of greater international participation in the campaign in Iraq. Spain's new Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has already issued instructions for the withdrawal of his country's 1,300 troops from Iraq 'as soon as possible'. The US Administration has expressed some expectations that India and Bangladesh would send Forces to Iraq after the 'handover of sovereignty' on June 30, but this is sheer fantasy. No country would send in its Forces to Iraq unless the present administrative and political incoherence is brought to an end. To the extent, however, that American decision-making continues to rely overwhelmingly on paradigmatic constructs and the personal proclivities and biases of individuals within the Administration, rather than on any clear conception of the ground realities in Iraq, no such resolution appears to be in sight.

These factors are superimposed on a South Asia immensely more complex than it was before 9/11. Pakistan alone stands at a crossroads in its history, with its internal contradictions creating increasing stresses, as the Pervez Musharraf regime adopts ideologically incompatible objectives; and as elements within a number of hitherto 'captive' jehadi groups begin to chart out an independent course. Areas of instability in Pakistan currently include the North West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA), which have long been loosely controlled by the state, but where strong bonds on ethnic and religious lines dominate social and political life. In addition, Sindh, while currently relatively calm, has a history of political and sectarian violence, which could, in situations of rising political uncertainty in Islamabad, revive. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and particularly the Northern Areas are denied basic political and human rights, and the Shia population, which constitutes a majority in the region, has been subjected to repeated and genocidal campaigns of repression; there are now increasing signs of political unrest and a potential for violence in this region. The American effort to orchestrate a transition to democracy through a controlled military regime is also fundamentally flawed, and has, in fact, immensely weakened democratic and secular forces in Pakistan, even as it has further entrenched the military-jehadi-feudal combine of revanchist forces in the country. The Kashmir issue, moreover, has been entirely miscast by the US Administration, and ignores the reality that it is essentially a symptom of the larger ideological conflict between an exclusionary Islamist extremist Pakistan and a liberal, democratic and pluralist India.

There is, moreover, an enormous multiplicity of terrorist actors and organizations across South Asia - drawn from diverse ideological streams, including Islamism, ethnic fundamentalism and Left Wing extremism - who will derive great encouragement from America's discomfiture in Iraq. It is, indeed, safe to say that the future of terrorism in the South Asian region will be decided substantially by actors and events outside the region; events in Iraq are impacting directly on the potential, not only for Islamist terrorism, but for all forms of terrorism in South Asia, and on the diminishing potential for the stabilization of both Afghanistan and Pakistan in the foreseeable future.



Meghalaya: Extortion Dynamics
Research Associate, ICM Database & Documentation Centre, Guwahati

Extortion is the backbone of insurgency in the Northeast and Meghalaya, host to two insurgent groups, is no exception. Media reports suggested that the presence of uniformed private security personnel in the business establishments of Police Bazaar and Barra Bazaar in Shillong, Meghalaya's capital, is intended to protect shop-owners from extortionists. The common belief is that when a demand comes from the militant of the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) or the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC), no law enforcer or constitutional authority can protect those who do not pay up. In several cases in the mid-1990s, defaulters were simply eliminated, and the case of Rajesh Saigal of Saigal Motor Accessories in Laitumkhrah is fresh in public memory.

In the early 1990s, outfits like the ANVC depended on forest contractors for the major share of their funds. However, with public exposés of forest scams and the ban on the timber trade, the focus of extortion shifted to the lucrative coal trade, and eventually brought businessmen, ministers and Government officials into its ambit. In September 1997, a State Minister who happened to run a weighing bridge on lease was given an extortion note of Rs. 50,000. Around the same time, seven top businessmen were asked to pay amounts ranging from Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 200,000, and gradually, increasing numbers of traders and businessmen found themselves targeted by the insurgents' 'tax' network.

Police sources indicate that, during March 2003, the ANVC had served extortion notes to most businessmen in the East and West Garo Hills districts. Government servants in these districts were also asked to pay a certain proportion of their salaries every month. Truckers engaged in coal transportation were also asked to pay Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000 annually to the outfit. Besides this 'annual tax', 'every truck carrying coal and other commodities is directed to be ready to pay any amount at any moment whenever the militants are in need of money'. Approximately four hundred trucks ply daily carrying coal from the Garo Hills.

"Receiving demand notes, negotiating on the amount and the nature of payment has become a part of our business skill. When even the laborers working in the coal business are not spared, I can't think of defying the militants demand not only for the continuation of my business but also for my own safety", rued a frustrated businessman, who owns a coal field in Borsora.

According to rough estimates, Meghalaya exports coal, limestone and boulders worth Rs. 2 billion annually to Bangladesh. Between October 1989 and March 1990, the Meghalaya Mineral Development Corporation (MMDC), in charge of the official export, exported 36,000 tonnes of coal to Bangladesh, worth Rs. 33.5 million. The average transshipment of coal to Bangladesh from South Garo Hills through land customs stations alone is of the value of Rs. 20 to 25 million. Although no accurate estimate is available of the proportion of this total trade that finds its way into the militants' coffers, it is certain that the coal trade alone could meet most of the financial requirements of the ANVC's operations.

To elude the police dragnet, the militants have adopted varied methods of extortion. Shunning the earlier practice of sending its own men to collect the ransom, the ANVC, in 2003, started sending extortion notes demanding between Rs 1 million to Rs 4 million by Registered Post from Williamnagar, to businessmen and Government servants in Tura. The group also engages college students, auto rickshaw drivers, common people and some of its overground members for the distribution of extortion notes. In November 2003, police arrested one Jerry Marak, a 1st year Pre-University student from Tura, in this connection. In a recent interview, a Shillong-based businessman disclosed that, "Such demands from the militants are often conveyed through a middleman… and even the middleman has another person through whom the demand and the payment is done, which makes the whole business more elusive". The extortion notes are often delivered by scooter-borne youth.

The abduction of Government officers and businessmen for ransom is another method used by the outfits to procure funds. A Customs official, posted in Dawki, speaking to this writer, maintained that "the abduction of businessmen and government officials by militants is often for ransom, while village headmen and school teachers in the village are often abducted on the suspicion of being police informers."

Among the recent incidents involving significant sums of money are:

  • September 2, 2003: ANVC militants demanded Rs. 1.5 million as ransom for the release of the abducted Manager of the State Bank of India's Bajengdoba branch in East Garo Hills, Salyban Pateh.
  • March 4, 2003: The ANVC ambushed a General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) vehicle killing 3 personnel and looted Rs. 7 million at Rongjang in East Garo hills.
  • February 28, 2003: The NDFB/ANVC cadres abducted six persons from RC Agarwalla Coal Exporting Company and Customs official Dipak Mahanta from Gasuapara for a ransom of Rupees 40 million. After this incident, operations in 13 land customs stations spread over Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura, which screen export of coal, boulders and limestones to Bangladesh were suspended through March.
  • December 19, 2002: ANVC cadres abducted P.N. Bezbaruah, District Health Medical Officer (DHMO) and member of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council for a ransom of Rs. 3 million. He was released on January 29 after 41 days in captivity, after a substantial amount of money had changed hands.

The HNLC's criminal and extortion network is no less efficient. The HNLC since its inception, according to rough estimates, had collected more than Rs. 50 million by 1997. Till that year, the group had looted 14 banks, offices and petrol pumps, harvesting Rs. 6.5 million through such exercises. The arrest of the HNLC 'finance secretary', Fullstar Rani, on June 7, 2003, revealed that the group was receiving more than Rs. 42 million annually through extortion and other illegal activities. Most of the money collected is sent to 'Chairman' Julius K. Dorphang and 'General Secretary' Chrisstarfield Thangkhiew in Bangladesh. During May 2003, the police had alleged that the HNLC had opened bank accounts in Bangladesh in the name of some Khasi-Bangladeshis, with millions of rupees deposited.

Till very recently, everybody who mattered paid up to the HNLC in Shillong. Documents seized from HNLC cadres in 2003 revealed that Patel Engineering, which has taken up the construction of PHE dam at Mawphlang, had 'donated' about Rs 14 million to the outfit. In July 2003, the police identified 152 businessmen against whom cases were filed at five police stations for allegedly funding the HNLC. The police also filed First Information Reports (FIRs) against 14 Government employees at three police stations on charges of funding militants to the tune of Rs. 600,000 every six months. Even 'Teer' (local lottery) counters in Shillong provide a significant income to the HNLC. The Special Operation Team of the Police, on November 3, 2003, arrested the Vice President of the Archery Association, Risting Khonsngi, from Wahingdoh, and the General Secretary, Herbok Laloo, hailing from Mawkhar, for contributing money to the militant group. According to media reports in 2003, Government Departments like the Public Health Engineering (PHE) and the Public Works Department (PWD) were funding the outfit. During a recent interview with this writer, L. Sailo, Director General of Police, Meghalaya, conceded the fact and even explained how the mechanism works. "Unlike the businessmen for whom the collection is monthly, Government departments pay up annually, mostly during the last financial month. The departments pass separate bills for such demands." Senior Police officials also disclose that the 'secretary' of the HNLC's finance cell had recently built a bunglow in the Mawlai area of Shillong.

To aggravate matters, politicians in the State have also been accused of colluding with the militants. In April 2003, former Garo National Council Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Clifford R. Marak accused former Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) speaker Purno Sangma of giving Rs. 30 million to the ANVC during the February Assembly Election. "It was an open secret that Sangma donated Rs. 3 crore to ANVC to ensure that the Nationalist Congress Party Candidates emerge victorious in the elections", Marak said in a media interview.

The police chief, however, sounded confident that things are changing for better. "HNLC cadres are running away from the camps after we busted their finance cell. So they hardly have much finance now and though the situation in the two districts of Garo Hills is still not calm, in the recent times the situation in the city has considerably calmed down, except in the border areas like Borsora, which is still very sensitive."

Notwithstanding the Police Chief's assertion regarding the restoration of control over the urban centers, it is not clear whether the State Police force will also be able to rein in the militants in the remote areas of the State as well. On August 9, 2003, fifteen families belonging to the 25th Mile village under Hima Langrin in West Khasi Hills vacated the area in the wake of the expiry of ANVC's deadline to pay Rs 30,000 to the outfit by August 10. Earlier, the ANVC terrorists had killed the headman of Rajaju village in West Khasi Hills suspecting him to be a police informer. As things stand today, extortion continues in every nook and corner of Meghalaya. And the state of affairs is likely to remain bleak unless strong correctives are put in place.



Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
April 12-18, 2004

Security Force Personnel






     Jammu &








Total (INDIA)



 Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.


Nayanbasi Jamatiya faction of the NLFT agrees to cease-fire in Tripura: The Nayanbasi Jamatiya faction of National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) on April 15, 2004, signed a memorandum with representatives of the State and Union Government in New Delhi, agreeing to the 'cessation of hostilities' for a period of six months beginning April 15. The agreement was signed by the Additional Secretary of the Union Home Ministry, Commissioner Tribal Affairs (Tripura) and Nayanbasi Jamatiya. In another related development, four leaders of a NLFT faction headed by 'commanders' Mantu Koloi and Benoy Debbarma also agreed to come over-ground and submitted a ten-point charter of demands before the beginning of formal peace talks. Assam Tribune, April 16, 2004.


40 Maoist insurgents and seven civilians killed during aerial raid in Accham district: At least 40 Maoist insurgents and seven civilians were reportedly killed during a security forces' air raid in the Binayak region of Accham district on April 12, 2004. The civilians and Maoists had gathered to attend a programme organised by the insurgents when troops launched the aerial bombing. Nepal News, April 13, 2004.


Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries exist in Pakistan, says US envoy to Afghanistan: US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in Kabul on April 18, 2004, that Al Qaeda, Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami elements were still in Pakistan and blamed them for cross-border terrorist activities. According to Khalilzad, "These elements attack the American forces, the Afghan forces and the NGOs working in Afghanistan… But it will not be good for Pakistan to become sanctuary for these people to plan, get training and come to Afghanistan with weapons." The envoy alleged that Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists were in the Baluchistan area around Quetta while individuals were also in cities like Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. Jang, April 19, 2004.

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen involved in March 2-massacre of Shias in Quetta: Police sources said on April 15, 2004, that two suicide attackers who killed 47 persons during a Shia procession at Liaqat Bazaar in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan, on March 2 belonged to the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) terrorist outfit. The HM is one the largest terrorist outfits active in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. Rehmatullah Niazi, a police investigator, was quoted as saying in Daily Times that the two attackers were Abdul Nabi and Hidayatullah Mengal from Kalat, a town approximately 150 kilometers south of Quetta. "Families of the two men said they belonged to Hizb, but they had been out of contact with them for the last six months," added Niazi. Meanwhile, Salim Hashmi, the Hizb spokesperson, said it was "baseless" to link his group with the massacre. "It is impossible that anyone involved in sectarian violence could be associated with Hizb… This is out of the question," claimed Hashmi. Daily Times, April 16, 2004.


'Colonel' Karuna withdraws fighters from base; LTTE gain control of key areas in the east: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) reportedly gained an upper hand during its four-day offensive against the expelled eastern 'commander', Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias 'Colonel' Karuna, by gaining control over key bases under Karuna's control, including Amparai and Batticaloa. Earlier, Karuna had said that he would retaliate if there was an attack from the LTTE, but he reportedly withdrew his cadres from the key bases and disbanded most of his over 4,000-strong fighting force, asking them to either return to their families or join the LTTE. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Government said that it would help Karuna to find a safe passage from the besieged eastern region "on humanitarian grounds"' if requested. The whereabouts of Karuna are still unknown. Meanwhile, the pro-LTTE website Tamil Net claimed that Karuna has sought refuge in a Sri Lankan military camp in the adjacent district of Polonnaruwa. A spokesperson for the LTTE units that arrived in Kokkadicholai region said there was no resistance and that a large number of unit commanders of the Karuna faction have made contact with them and are expected to come over with their cadres shortly. The Hindu, April 14, 2004.

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.


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