SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Spread over Jharkhand
Village-level resistance in the State of Jharkhand in eastern India, against the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) received a setback on September 12, 2005, when 17 civilians at Beluwaghati village in the Giridih District were killed by a group of at least 200 Maoists. Among those killed were a 7-year-old and a 70-year-old; 11 of the dead were Muslims, while the rest belonged to the Scheduled Castes, the lowest in the Hindu hierarchy of castes. Deputy Inspector General of Police, Neeraj Sinha, stated that "the victims were members of a Village Defence Committee (VDC), one of hundreds formed by the Government to fight the Maoists."
This was not the first incident of its kind. Earlier, on August 31, four civilians had been killed by the Left Wing extremists (also known as Naxalites) of the Jharkhand Sangharsh Jana Mukti Morcha near Turudi village in the Latehar District. Similarly, on July 5, Maoist cadres beheaded three members of the Shanti Sena (peace squad), a group campaigning against the Maoist, at Khairpani village in Gumla District.
The Giridih incident should come as no surprise to those who have followed Jharkhand's short history. Since its birth on November 15, 2000, the State has witnessed a steady increase in Maoist consolidation and violence to the point that it has emerged as one of the States worst affected by Left Wing extremism in the country. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, between 2001 and January 31, 2005, Maoist violence accounted for 652 deaths in Jharkhand, as compared to 540 in the neighbouring State of Bihar and 509 in the southern State of Andhra Pradesh. Maoists are currently active in 16 (Garhwa, Palamau, Chatra, Hazaribagh, Giridih, Bokaro, Ranchi, Latehar, Lohardaga, Gumla, Simdega, East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum, Dhanbad, Seraikela-Kharsawan and Koderma) of the 22 Districts in the State, while the Districts of Dumka, Deogarh, Jamtara and Godda are currently 'targeted'.
The State's geographical location, particularly its close proximity to Maoist-affected districts in the neighbouring States of Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh, has certainly contributed to the extremist consolidation in Jharkhand. According to Chief Minister Arjun Munda, as many as 21 districts of Jharkhand share borders with other States, making the Maoists' task easy, as they escape into these contiguous districts after striking in Jharkhand and vice versa. Arrests and seizures by security forces in the West of the State have revealed that the Maoists use the porous border of Garhwa District, which shares a border with Bihar, for acquisition and transport of material, including small arms, explosives, medicines and uniforms. In the south, Maoists shuttle between Jharkhand and Orissa in order to escape the police dragnet in both States, while eastern borders are used for transportation of arms and manpower from West Bengal and Assam. Open source reports indicate that, before the February 2005 Legislative Assembly elections in the State, approximately 824 Maoists from Andhra Pradesh, other neighbouring States and Nepal had entered the bordering areas of Arki (Ranchi), Kuchai (Seraikela-Kharsawan) and Bandgaon (West Singhbhum) in Jharkhand.
The Maoists have also streamlined their structure in the region, creating greater efficiency in operations. Available information suggests that the 'Jharkhand-Bihar-Bengal regional committee' of the erstwhile Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) has been dissolved after the MCC-Peoples' War Group (PWG) merger of September 21, 2004, and two 'regional committees' have since been formed, one for Bihar-Jharkhand and another for West Bengal. Under the new dispensation, in order to provide safe passage to the Maoists operating in Bengal during encounters and combing operations, the Ghatshila Subdivision in East Singhbhum District in Jharkhand has been placed under the supervision of the Bengal 'regional committee'.
Further, sources indicate, the Maoists have divided the whole Jharkhand State into two Zones 'military operations and levy collection' - the North Chottanagpur zone (headed by Prakash Dubey alias Sania alias Kamdev) and the South Chottanagpur zone (headed by Anal). These zones are divided into 12 or 13 sub-zones and each sub-zone is further divided into 'areas' headed by an 'area commander'. There are Special Regular Guerilla Squad (SRGS) and Local Regular Guerilla Squad (LRGS) comprising 15-20 armed cadres in each 'area'. Further down the hierarchy is the Self Defence Squad, comprising 10-12 cadres, while the People's Militia Squad that operates at the village level, occupies the lowest rung.
An elaborate machinery for 'levy and tax' collection has also been created. According to a senior State Police officer, the Maoists collect an average of Rupees 10 million as levy from each district annually. A levy is imposed on Government contractors and industrialists, who are required to pay at monthly intervals, while those earning from forest products and mines are charged an unofficial 'tax' ranging between two and 20 per cent. For example, on September 13, 2005, computer floppies and discs seized from six Maoists in the West Singhbhum district revealed that they had collected over Rupees 5 million as levy each month, with over 200 industrialists, contractors and professionals paying 'taxes'. Some individual businessmen paid in lakhs and, in turn, were issued formal receipts from the local 'area commander'. Apart from 'taxation', the Maoists also benefit from the rich forest produce. A 21-page report, prepared for discussion during the meeting of Chief Ministers of the Maoist-affected States in New Delhi on September 19, 2005, mentions that the Maoists have benefited through the illegal trade in Khair trees in Jharkhand. Khair wood is used extensively in the dye industry and is the main ingredient of pan masala (chewing tobacco), and fetches a price of Rs. 40 to Rs. 50 per kilogram.
The State's rich forest cover has also helped the Maoists open training camps in several areas, including the Martolia Hills in Ghatshila subdivision of East Singhbhum District, several locations in the Jhumra Hills of Bokaro, the Saranda Forest in West Singhbhum District, the Gurpa Forest in Palamau District, the border region of Hazaribagh and Chatra, the Baruhatu and Shilaghati Hills of Ranchi, the Madhuban Hills of Giridih, and some places in the Latehar and Garhwa Districts.
Maoists are also devising ways to win over the local populace. 'Developmental activities', such as setting up schools and building small earthen dams, have been undertaken by them in various interiors of the state, while at the same time, intelligence reports indicate that Maoists are fielding their relatives in the upcoming village body (panchayat) elections in a parallel move to capture the local democratic space. As a new strategy, the outfit has come up with a "one-member-from-one-family" campaign to expand their base in the rural areas. Front organizations such as the Krantikari Kisan Committee (Revolutionary Farmers Committee) and the Nari Mukti Morcha (Women's Liberation Front) play a major role in penetrating into new areas and facilitating the recruitment process. Members of Front outfits organize village meetings, ferry arms and work as couriers.
Both the State Police and civilian bureaucracy have, from time to time, accepted their failure to tackle the Maoists. On September 13, 2005, Chief Minister Arjun Munda admitted that the Maoists in Jharkhand were taking advantage of the lack of basic infrastructure in the rural areas, but did not clarify whether the rebels and their front organisations would be banned by the State, as was belatedly done in Andhra Pradesh. He nevertheless claimed that, "as the MCC and PWG were banned outfits, the organisation formed by their merger stands automatically banned. It does not need to be banned afresh." The State's Director General of Police (DGP), V.D. Ram, however, stated that the new outfit was not yet banned in the State and the proposal to ban the CPI-Maoist in Jharkhand had been sent to the Home Department two months ago. Such procrastination lends some credence to reports of a politician-Maoist nexus in the State. Open sources indicate that, according to a report prepared by the Inspector General of Police (law and order), R.C. Kaithal, Welfare Minister Ramesh Singh Munda had paid Rupees 1.5 million to the Maoists for support in the last Assembly Elections in February 2005. The report is also said to mention that the Minister had contacted the Maoists for their 'help' during the polls and had struck a deal, offering them Rupees 2.5 million in exchange for their support.
Although the state has launched special operations such as Operation Hill Top in Bokaro District, Operation Black Thunder in East Singhbhum District and Operation Chakravyu across the State against the Maoists, these have hardly dented the Maoist infrastructure and capacities. The State's efforts to mobilize 'popular resistance' against the Maoists under these circumstances - without establishing a strong grid and ensuring dominance of the Security Forces - is dangerous and counterproductive and exposes innocent and essentially vulnerable populations to Naxalite retaliation. The Giridih attack against innocent villagers has exposed the administration's muddleheaded policies and lack of well-defined strategies against the Maoists. The Maoists will continue to brutally repel any efforts at local level resistance, unless the State is able to establish a permanent police presence, and restores or establishes the full paraphernalia of civil governance and public services in these areas.
On September 8, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) announced the formation of a People's Consultative Group (PCG) to prepare the ground- work for the eventual initiation of talks with the Union Government. The group, ULFA announced, had nine members and is to be led by writer Indira Goswami, who has been acting as the mediator between the outfit and the Government in New Delhi for some time now. The ULFA also requested Rebati Phukan, a former football player from the State, to supplement Goswami's efforts.
A day earlier, the ULFA had announced its desire to form such a group (an announcement to this effect was made by Goswami) of 'like-minded people not attached to the outfit'. A peep into the profile of some of the members of the PCG suggests that ULFA has kept its word and has indeed constituted a 'like minded' group, whose members would form an effective pressure group to further the objectives of the outfit.
The PCG also includes Hyder Hussain, Editor, Pratidin, a pro-ULFA vernacular daily from Guwahati. Rebati Phukan, the new addition to the facilitator's list, is a distant relative of ULFA chief Paresh Baruah and, in 1991, his efforts to mediate between the rebels and the Government were spurned by Baruah.
The formation of PCG comes at a time when the ground work for negotiations between New Delhi and ULFA, which began almost a year ago in November 2004, has progressed little beyond a few rounds of exchange of letters. ULFA's demand for a negotiation process that includes the agenda of sovereignty for Assam and the Government's insistence that the outfit ceases violence and accepts unconditional talks, continue to obstruct the beginning of a process of dialogue.
It appears that ULFA's sudden move is linked to a serious predicament its key division, the '28th battalion', is faced with. On August 31, the Army's Tezpur-based IV Corps launched counter-insurgency operations in the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park area in the Tinsukia district, spread over 756 square kilometres with a core zone of 340 square kilometres, following inputs that a team of 40 militants belonging to the 'battalion' had moved from its base in Myanmar, and were holed up inside the forest area. Within a week, Army personnel were successful in encircling the area, capping all exit routes and making a steady forward march. The operation produced quick results. According to official claims, three militants were killed, including 'commander' Achintya Saikia and his female associate, on September 20. Satellite phones, arms and documents were recovered from the site of the encounter. Nine ULFA linkmen have also been arrested and were handed over to the police on September 23. ULFA, however, claims that the toll is much higher, and that twelve of its cadres had already been killed by September 13.
Army sources, although tight-lipped over this success, admit the possibility of 'netting some big fishes' if the operation is continued for some time. The Army believes that, along with the cadres, a huge cache of arms and ammunition, stockpiled in the park area by the outfit, is up for grabs, and that a few ULFA camps are now without crucial supply lines. The interception of 'Mayday' calls made by the cadres over satellite phones to the ULFA top leadership in Bangladesh has revealed their anxiety over depleting essential items and the closing in of the Army.
Following its debacle in Bhutan in December 2003 and continuous military onslaughts in several districts of Assam, the '28th battalion' remains the only major functioning tactical division of the ULFA and is consequently key to its grand strategy and tactical capacity to execute acts of sabotage, particularly in the Upper Assam districts of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sibsagar. The 'battalion' is led by some of the better-trained and motivated 'commanders', and is absolutely vital for the outfit to sustain its sporadic attacks. Its neutralisation is also likely to disrupt the functioning of a large number of sleeper cells based in the urban centres of the State, most of which, according to sources, have been nurtured by this 'battalion'. From the point of view of the Army, the ongoing area domination exercise will also disrupt the free run the ULFA has enjoyed so far from its bases in Myanmar. In some measure, these factors explain the haste in forming the PCG, and the demands for a halt to the Army's operations and its withdrawal from the area.
Curiously, in Assam, the eagerness in political circles to negotiate with terror has remained undiminished and has often clashed with the Security Forces' assessment of the situation. More often than not, the political class has had its way in overriding security concerns. This time as well, the ruling Congress regime, which faces an election in less than a years' time, remains vulnerable to pressures, even from an group like the PCG. Within days of its formation, the PCG has been able to crank up hopes by describing itself as the epitome of ULFA's sincerity towards a peaceful solution, and has echoed the ULFA's demands for the termination of military operations, which it claims are vitiating the 'conducive atmosphere' for negotiations. It has also alleged 'large-scale human rights violations' in villages such as Dhadia Laika, Phasi Dia and Bon Gaon, which lie within the perimeter of the National Park. On September 15, the PCG claimed to have secured an assurance from the Government that Army operations would be stopped. Subsequently, on September 21, it sent a team to the Dibru-Saikhowa forests, to make an on-the-spot assessment, but the Army disallowed its entry into the area.
The response of the Ministry of Defence, which remains responsible for the Army's operations, in the face of enormous pressure generated by the PCG, has - as yet - remained firm. The Defence Minister has clearly ruled out any possibility of the Army loosening its hold over the area. Speaking to the media at Army Headquarters at Rangiya in the Kamrup District of Assam, Pranab Mukherjee said on September 22, "A group formed by the ULFA or someone else cannot dictate terms to the Government."
at least, the Government appears to be showing no signs
of stepping on to the slippery slope denial and the argument
that the 'terrorists are our sons and lets bring them back
home'. It remains, however, to be seen whether this determination
will abide, and whether it eventually becomes the seed of
a future and coherent Government policy on terrorism.
Finding the truth about Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is an exceptionally easy business: facts to substantiate just about any prediction one might wish to make litter its landscape.
Is peace, as optimists claim, around the corner? Easily proved. Violence has been in steady decline since 2002; tourist traffic to Srinagar is at record levels; marriages are once again being held, as tradition mandates, late at night; power supplies and the road network have improved; some in Kashmir's tiny Pandit minority, which was forced out of the State when the jihad gathered momentum in 1990, are considering returning to their long-abandoned homes.
But evidence that the jihad in J&K could be on the verge of reinventing itself, rather than dying a slow, unlamented death, is every bit as easy to come by. In just the past eight weeks, Indian soldiers have recovered 3,000 kilograms of explosive material in the Kashmir Valley, a record haul that exceeds the entire quantity discovered between January and end-September 2004. Terrorist groups have also demonstrated considerable inventiveness in bypassing Indian counter-measures, rendering at least some well-established defensive postures redundant. New tactics for penetrating the fence along the Line of Control (LoC) have also been adopted. All of these are signs that the severely-degraded leadership of terrorist groups, notably the Hizb ul-Mujahideen (HM), is starting to get its house in order once again.
Most of the new explosives recoveries have consisted of freely-available chemicals like potassium permanganate and aluminium powder. While these chemicals have a wide variety of legitimate applications, notably in the construction and mining industries, skilled bomb-makers can use them to fabricate improvised explosive devices. Although devices made with these substances are, kilogram for kilogram, less effective than conventional military explosives, their effectiveness has been demonstrated around the world - presently and notably in Iraq, where they have been used with considerable effect. Interdicting the movement of such chemicals into J&K, given India's notoriously poor controls on the production and sale of hazardous materials, is near-impossible. Officials worry that that the shift away from military explosives like RDX is designed to lend credibility to Pakistan's claims that it is not giving military support to terrorists in J&K.
Indian officials also have reason to be worried by the creativity displayed in the use of improvised explosive devices. For the past several years, all movement along major roads in J&K has been preceded by what are called Road-Opening Parties (ROPs), which check routes for mines and improvised explosive devices. Typically, such checks are carried out early in the morning. While anti-sabotage checks carried out by ROPs have by no means always been effective, they did for the most part help protect Indian military movements. Now, however, terrorist groups have found a way to evade the checks. In two recent bombings of military convoys, terrorists drove cars fitted with explosives along with regular traffic once the ROP had completed its work. They then overtook the targeted military convoy, and parked the vehicle some distance ahead. The explosives-rigged car was detonated as the convoy passed. No real solution has been found for this tactic, since stopping civilian traffic when roads are put to military use is not a workable option.
India's defence establishment is also discovering that the new fence along the LoC is not quite the infiltration-proof barrier it was advertised to be. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently noted, cross-border infiltration has declined in recent weeks. However, this was preceded by unusually high levels of infiltration this spring when terrorists took advantage of weather damage to the LoC fence. Yet, the problem goes deeper. In a remarkably candid interview to Frontline magazine, the XV Corps commander, Lieutenant-General SS Dhillon, noted that infiltrating terrorist cadre were now equipped with barrier-penetration tools, and had received training on mock versions of the fence in camps in Pakistan. One common expedient, for example, was to clip a bypass on to the electric trip-wires laid through the fence's concertina rolls, and then cut a way through. As a consequence of the high early-summer infiltration, violence has risen this summer - relative, that is, to the quiet of spring - a fact Prime Minister Singh also expressed concern over.
To some in the security establishment, the message is clear: J&K's largest terrorist group, the HM, is slowly recovering from the decimation of its field leadership in 2003 and 2004 . Ibrahim Dar, who handles the HM's current Srinagar-area operations, and who recently returned to J&K from Pakistan, is believed to be working to insulate his organisation from Indian communications intelligence penetration, notably by using couriers to send messages rather than rely on wireless or cellphone traffic. Sohail Faisal, an HM operative with over a decade of field experience, who was recently appointed its south Kashmir 'divisional commander', has made similar efforts to revive the HM's shattered organisational apparatus.
How serious, though, is the threat? Indian intelligence and defence analysts are divided, along predictable lines. Some believe that the intense western pressure on Pakistan, coupled with its internal ethnic, political and economic crises, make it unlikely that it will allow a significant escalation of the jihad to take place. Others, however, believe that Pakistan wishes to continue to use the jihad as a source of leverage within J&K, and is in the process of finding means through which its secret war against India can be made self-sustaining. History, certainly, suggests that the second proposition is not as strange as it might at first seem. Contrary to popular perception, the jihad in J&K did not begin in 1990; only one phase did. Pakistan-backed covert groups operated with some success in the State through the 1950s, with minimal external support. So, from mid-1960 to 1972, did the Master Cell and al-Fatah, which had considerable political impact, despite the limited scale of their military operations. It is worth noting that many of those who became senior leaders in the ongoing jihad, cut their political teeth - and learned their operational skills - in these earlier ventures.
It is, of course, entirely possible that what we are witnessing in J&K might just be the death throes of a war that history has already passed by. It costs nothing, however, to at least consider the possibility that the lull now being experienced is just the eye of the storm.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
September 19 -25, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
10 soldiers killed in Manipur: At least 10 soldiers were killed and three of them sustained injuries in an attack by the proscribed Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) at Upper Ngariyan village in the Tamenglong district of Manipur on September 19, 2005. About 20 cadres of the outfit opened fire and hurled grenades on the patrol party, said an unnamed official. The KYKL, in a press statement, claimed that the attack was carried out by its 'army wing', Meeyamgi Yawol Lanmi, and the cadres involved in the attack had returned safely to their base camp. KanglaOnline, September 20, 2005.
Maoist-affected States agree to form Inter-State Joint Task Forces: On September 19, 2005, in New Delhi, the Union Government and States affected by Maoist violence agreed to make the Inter-State Joint Task Forces functional to facilitate coordinated anti-Maoist operations. The decision came at the first meeting of the Standing Committee of Chief Ministers of the affected States, presided over by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil. As the first step, the States will appoint nodal officers who will coordinate with each other and the Union Government. Briefing the media, Patil said a special group would be formed in every State to set up administrative structures at the State and district levels for better governance and faster socio-economic development. The Hindu, September 20, 2005.
Pakistan-Afghanistan border is the safest hideout for bin Laden, says President Musharraf: The "safest place" for Osama bin Laden to seek sanctuary is the rugged Pakistan-Afghanistan border, President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with Time magazine released on September 25, 2005. Gen. Musharraf said Pakistani authorities a year ago "had some identification of a rough area where he was, through technical means, but then we lost himů That is how intelligence works. You can get to a person immediately, or you can just lose him immediately." "I think the safest place would be on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, because this line we are not including in each others areas, so therefore you can easily switch sides," added the President. Daily Jang, September 26, 2005.
Madrassas decide to register by December 31: Representatives of Madrassas (seminaries) in a meeting with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on September 23, 2005, announced their decision to register their institutions with the Government by December 31, 2005. Speaking on behalf of the Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris-Deenia, a confederacy of seminaries, Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman said the matter has been amicably settled and there would be no problem in the registration. "This is not a success or defeat of anyone, but is the success of Pakistan, of (the) religion (of) Islam and a step forward to settle issues amicably without any confrontation and therein lies our national interest," he said. He added that there were around 13,000 seminaries across the country providing education at places where there are no government schools and that all of them would register by December 31. Dawn, September 24, 2005.
Nine persons killed in twin bomb explosions in Lahore: Nine persons were killed and at least 33 others sustained injuries in two separate bomb blasts in Lahore on September 22, 2005. The first bomb, a timed-device attached to a bicycle, detonated about 10.40 am (PST) near Minar-e-Pakistan in the precincts of the Lorry Adda Police Station, killing one person. Within an hour, another 'cycle bomb' exploded near the Ferozepur Road in Ichhra police station limits, killing eight persons. Dawn, September 26, 2005.
Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan submits interim report: Presenting its interim report in the Senate on September 21, 2005, the Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan said the Frontier Constabulary (FC) and Coast Guard (CG) should be withdrawn from interior Balochistan, and proposed a number of other measures to improve the economic and social conditions of the province. Proposing several confidence building measures, the Committee recommended that the FC and CG be withdrawn from the interior of the province. In its report, the committee said these forces should only patrol the borders and check smuggling of narcotics and arms. Any FC check post considered indispensable to the province interior must be established under a specified procedure, the report said. The committee also demanded that outstanding gas royalty arrears of Balochistan be cleared by the Federal Government before December 2005. It added that gas exploration companies should spend a sizeable portion of their revenue for development of their areas of operation. It approved Senator Dilawar Abbas's formula, which had suggested increase in gas royalty and Gas Development Surcharge to Balochistan. Daily Times, September 22, 2005.
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