SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The results of Sri Lanka's presidential election of 17 November 2005, as officially announced on the following day, indicated that Mahinda Rajapakse, the Prime Minister, had edged out his rival Ranil Wickremesinghe, the leader of the parliamentary Opposition, by a margin of less than two percentage points, having secured a bare 0.29 per cent above the mandatory 50 per cent of the total of valid votes required for a contestant to be declared the president. Rajapakse, nominated by his party, the People’s Alliance (PA) which is headed by the outgoing President Chandrika Kumaratunga, had the backing of the Janathā Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP, the main ‘Left’ party in Parliament); the Jāthika Hela Urumaya (JHU, the parliamentary representation of which consists entirely of Buddhist monks); the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), the arch rival of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Tamil segment of Sri Lankan politics; and a medley of other organisations claiming to represent Left-oriented or ethnicity-related interests. Similarly, Wickremasinghe, the nominee of the United National Front (UNF), headed a broad coalition of parties that included the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC, the largest party of the Muslim community that constitutes seven per cent of the total electorate); and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) and one of its splinter groups, the leaders of which mobilise the support of the so-called ‘Indian Tamils’ (the ethnic sub-group accounting for about 6 per cent of the electorate, living mainly in the highland plantation areas). The overall voter turnout was 73.7 per cent. The campaign and the poll were remarkably free of electoral malpractices and violence.
The campaign themes of both contestants had an almost exclusive focus on the ‘national question’ and the ‘economy’ – the former embracing a variety of issues that converge on the quest for a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, and the latter focusing on the main challenges of development among which acceleration of growth, alleviation of poverty, reduction of unemployment and curtailment of inflation were accorded high priority. It was in respect of the ‘national question’ that there were more pronounced contrasts in the stances of the two candidates.
Rajapakse, while declaring commitment to a search for an "honourable peace", pledged to safeguard the unitary nature of the Sri Lankan state. He maintained that the peace efforts must involve broad-based participation and not be confined to bilateral negotiations between the Government and the LTTE, and refuted both the LTTE claim of being the sole representative of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, as well as the notion of an ‘exclusive Tamil homeland’ comprising the country's Northern and Eastern provinces. On prominent controversies of the recent past, Rajapakse rejected the Norway-authored blueprints for an ‘Interim Self-Government Authority’ for the north-east, and for a Post-Tsunami Operations Management Structure (P-TOMS), on the grounds that their implementation would bestow official recognition and formal powers of government on the LTTE to the negation of the tenets of democracy. On the frequently violated terms of the Government-LTTE ceasefire of February 2002, Rajapakse stressed the need to re-negotiate the terms of that agreement. These, while conforming to the policy stances that had been advocated all along by the JVP and the JHU, with which Rajapakse had entered into electoral agreements at the commencement of his campaign for the presidency (evidently without the formal sanction of his own party), deviated in many respects from those advocated by President Kumaratunga, the leader of his party.
"Defeat Secessionism" was the misleadingly belligerent rubric Wickremesinghe adopted for his essentially pacifist approach to the ‘national question’. Making a distinction between a ‘unitary’ and a ‘united’ Sri Lanka, the prime objective he claimed to pursue was that of unifying the nation already divided. For this he sought a popular mandate to offer the LTTE scope for extensive power-sharing within the framework of a federal constitution. He premised this policy stance on the belief (disregarding evidence to the contrary) that the LTTE leaders have indicated their willingness to accept devolved power as an alternative to secession. Throughout his election campaign, Wickremesinghe ardently defended the ceasefire agreement forged during his tenure as Prime Minister (December 2001 to April 2004), trivialising the increasingly frequent violations of that agreement by the LTTE. His campaign rhetoric concerning the quest for peace, though intended to persuade the ‘nationalists’ in the Sinhalese segment of the electorate to his view that Sri Lanka has no option other than that of seeking a compromise with the LTTE, was also primarily aimed at attracting the support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA, a group of parties represented in parliament by 18 members operating under LTTE control), Tamil voters in mainstream politics, and, hopefully, the endorsement of the Tiger leadership.
The economic policies advocated by the two candidates had certain differences at least in relative emphasis. For example, the JVP platform that backed Rajapakse often promoted the concept of a "balanced economy" (as distinct from an "open economy") which probably meant the imposition of Government restrictions on the private sector, a reversal of processes that had hitherto been associated with economic liberalization (such as privatisation of state-owned enterprises and curtailment of Government sponsorship of social welfare), and the enhancement of Government sponsorship of community-based economic activities of the peasantry. The policy package offered by Wickremesinghe, in contrast, emphasised the need for greater orientation of the economy towards the free market, modernising peasant agriculture, promoting advanced technology, and attracting foreign aid and investment. For the elevation of living standards and for poverty alleviation, the pledges of both candidates were similar in that they offered more jobs, higher wages and employment benefits, better public utilities and welfare services, doles, subsidies, price controls, production incentives etc., all of it in a frenzied effort to outbid each other for voter support.
The results of the election suggest that it was the contrasting stances of the two candidates on the ethnic conflict (rather than their economic pledges) that had an overwhelmingly decisive impact on voter alignments. The overall pattern discernible in the related data could be sketched out as follows:
A week before the election the LTTE/TNA called for its boycott. On the day of the poll, the LTTE proceeded further along this course and prevented the inhabitants of the areas under its control from exercising their vote. There was, consequently, no polling in Jaffna District, and a low voter turnout in the districts of Vanni and Batticaloa. The disruption of elections by insurrectionary groups is, of course, not a novel phenomenon in Sri Lanka (Table). Indeed, since the early 1980s, there has never been a country-wide poll free of such disruption. Nevertheless, in the context of Wickremesinghe’s policy of appeasement (which had involved, among other things, the maintenance of silence on any atrocity committed by the Tigers, and permitting foreign benefactors of the LTTE to violate Sri Lanka’s sovereignty), its boycott decision was not merely an unexpected adverse turn of prospects, but the decisive factor in the eventual outcome of the poll. Had it not been for the LTTE sabotage in the north, Wickremesinghe would certainly have been elected the President.
Voter Turnout in the main Tamil Areas of the 'NorthEast'
[Note: At the presidential polls of 1994 and 1999, the voter turnout in other districts exceeded 75%. In 1988, low turnout rates were also recorded in the southern districts of Hambantota, Matara and Galle as a result of disruptions caused by the JVP-led insurrection of that time.]
Spokesmen for the LTTE have rationalised the boycott on the basis of their dissatisfaction with the policy pronouncements of both candidates. A somewhat more plausible explanation lies in the propaganda value of the boycott, representing as it does both a show of power as well as a reiteration of their dissociation from the politics of Sri Lanka. Some critics have also attributed the boycott to the Tigers’ uncertainty about their capacity to rig the election in favour of their preferred candidate in the way they did at the parliamentary elections of April 2004. According to yet another interpretation the boycott was intended to ensure Wickremesinghe’s defeat and thus undermine his increasing personal popularity among the Tamils.
The aftermath of the election is unlikely to be featured by a major change in the state of the ethnic conflict unless there is a major calamity which, given past experiences, can never be ruled out. The probable scenario of the period ahead is a continuation of the uneasy truce and the stalemate in peace negotiations, alongside brinkmanship and sporadic acts of terrorism. Nor is it realistic to anticipate significant changes in the state of the economy.
In the political scene, however, one could expect some interesting changes, one of which is the possibility of president Kumaratunga’s exit marking the end of the Bandaranaike dynasty. In the course of the election campaign, relations between the President and her Prime Minister were less than cordial. Following her failure to mobilise support from within the PA for an anti-Rajapakse onslaught (making an issue of his alliance with the JVP and the JHU), Kumaratunga made several moves to jeopardise Rajapakse’s campaign. In these she received the fullest cooperation of her brother, Anura Bandaranaike, whom she had manoeuvred into a hypothetical party post of ‘Prime Minister designate’ and, thus, Rajapakse’s "running mate". With these estranged relations, it now seems improbable that Anura will be appointed Prime Minister or even retained in his present post of Foreign Minister. Among the other possible casualties in the formation of the new cabinet is the Minister of Finance.
The UNF has yet to recover from the stunning LTTE blow that denied Wickremesinghe the presidency. When the party does take stock, it seems likely that sympathy and commiseration for the defeated leader will drown possible criticism for his culturally incongruous persona and blunders of campaign strategy. In the absence of leaders of comparable stature in its ranks, the party will also ignore the fact that, despite the enormous resources at his disposal, the exclusive support from the country’s economic elite, and the strong external endorsement, Wickremesinghe has led the party to defeat at four national polls. Hence there will be no purges within the UNF, and Wickremesinghe will continue as the leader of the party. It will also persist with the myth of its own making about the LTTE’s willingness to abandon secessionism and accept a federal solution.
The role of the SLMC and the CWC in the period ahead has elements of uncertainty. Throughout the recent decades, their leaders have had a record of making successful deals with the leaders of one or the other of the main parties in office and securing for themselves enormous personal benefit and positions of power. This time around, the new President already has the support of other leaders of the Muslim and ‘Indian’ Tamil communities. Moreover, he could command a parliamentary majority without SLMC and CWC support. Accordingly, the leaders of these parties now have considerably diminished bargaining strength with the new President.
In an overall impact assessment it is not possible to escape the conclusion that the presidential election of 2005 has enhanced the ethnicity-based polarisation of the Sri Lankan nation. What could be hoped for in this context is that, with the fading away of the euphoria of victory and the bitterness of defeat, the two main parties and their allies will see the vital necessity for broad-based collaboration for facing the awesome challenges of national consolidation and survival.
The Shape of Things to Come
In what is arguably the most daring attack in the history of the Maoist (also known as Naxalite) movement in India, approximately 150 to 200 armed cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) along with some 800 ‘sympathizers’ attacked the Jehanabad District Jail in Bihar on November 13, 2005, and freed 341 prisoners, abducted more than 20 activists of the Ranvir Sena (a militia of upper caste landlords), and looted a large quantity of arms and ammunition. During the siege, seven persons (three Maoists, two Ranvir Sena cadres and two police personnel) were killed. Subsequently, the Maoists executed nine of the abducted Ranvir Sena cadres. The Maoists, who had virtually taken control of all entry and exit points of the town, also carried out synchronized attacks on the District Court, Police Lines, District Armoury, the residence of the District Judge, and the S. S. College, where a para-military Forces camp had been set up. Hours before the siege of Jehanabad town, about 50 kms from the state capital Patna, the Maoists had disconnected electric supply to the city and, two days earlier, had disconnected telephone services to the Jail and police line area. Clearly, as much as these indicate meticulous planning by the Maoists, they also reflect sweeping intelligence failures and security lapses.
Since the formation of the CPI-Maoist in September 2004 (after a union between the erstwhile People’s War Group and Maoist Communist Centre), Maoist attacks have become more specific and target-oriented. The Jehanabad incursion, it needs mention, is not an isolated one. Indeed, it marks a ‘higher stage of militarization’. On November 11, just a few days before the Jehanabad siege, over a hundred Maoists had attacked a Home Guard training centre at Pachamba in the Giridih district of neighbouring Jharkhand, killing five persons before decamping with 183 rifles, two pistols and 2,500 cartridges. Earlier, on June 23, 2005, at least 200-armed Maoists had targeted a Police Station and branches of the State Bank of India and the Central Bank of India in the Madhuban area of the East Champaran District in Bihar, close to the Nepal border. The Maoists had carried out a similar attack on the Koraput District armoury in Orissa on February 6, 2004, killing four security force personnel and looting more than 2,000 firearms. They had subsequently opened fire on the city Police Station, the Sadar (peri-urban) police camp, the office of the District Superintendent of Police, the Treasury and the Orissa Special Armed Police Centre of the 3rd Battalion.
In all these incidents, ‘sympathisers’, constituting the People’s Militia or Base Force in ‘revolutionary’ terminology, have supported the ‘regular’ Maoist cadre. The Jehanabad attack is also a reiteration of the Maoist strategy of a protracted ‘People’s War’ and constituent principle that seeks to surround cities from the countryside, where the communist-led forces establish base areas and liberated zones, expanding through the stages of the strategic defensive, the strategic equilibrium, and culminating in the strategic offensive. As one commentator has noted,
More alarming is the ground-level support that the CPI-Maoist now evidently has within the ‘red map’, which covers at least 165 districts spread across 14 States. The ‘Base Force’ experiment has also been successfully played out by the Nepalese Maoists over the past few years.
Within Bihar, the attack indicates increased Naxalite activity in south central Bihar and a gradual spread towards the northeastern part of the State. This upsurge has also been made possible by the Ranvir Sena’s decline in the Magadh region (Gaya, Nawada, Aurangabad and Jehanabad Districts), which they used to dominate earlier. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs data on Left Wing extremism, Bihar was the worst affected State in 2004, with Maoists active in 30 out of its 38 districts, and with 155 killings between January and November 30, 2004, up from 128 in 2003. A total of 93 people, including 22 civilians, 27 Security Force (SF) personnel and 44 Maoists, have died in year 2005, till November 20 (SATP data). As far as operational areas are concerned, the CPI-Maoist has a presence in all parts of Bihar, with the primary support base located in the lower castes and poor peasantry.
The objective of the Jehanabad attack was multi-fold: to free their comrades lodged in the jail, including ‘State Committee’ leader Ajay Kanu alias Dev Kumar; to abduct/kill Ranvir Sena activists; to loot arms and ammunition from the troops; and, most significantly, to send a signal to the authorities and the people that they were capable of carrying out such large-scale incursions. It is important to note, further, that, at the time of the attack, Bihar had been under Governor’s rule – the State’s affairs being controlled directly by the Centre – for over nine months and a massive security exercise was under way for the conduct of the State Legislative Assembly elections.
After having called for a boycott of the Assembly elections in Bihar, the CPI-Maoist had unexpectedly been lying low. This was the more significant, since the 57 constituencies in which elections were held on October 18 were spread across 12 Maoist-affected Districts in central and south Bihar. Provisional reports indicate that there was a 45 per cent voter turnout, thus suggesting a defiance of the Maoists’ diktat. But the attack on the night of the third phase was clearly meant to send a message that the Maoists are strong enough to strike. Bihar had a four-phased polling (October 18 and 26; November 13 and 19) for a total of 243 seats, out of which at least 50 constituencies are regarded as being vulnerable to Maoist violence. Incidentally, Jehanabad saw peaceful polling on October 18 in the first phase.
State apathy to the Maoist dynamic in Bihar, over the years, has meant that illegal arms factories are flourishing in many districts. There are over 1,500 illegal arms manufacturing units in Bihar and most of them are located in the Nalanda, Nawada, Gaya and Munger Districts. A general breakdown of law and order, the proliferation of criminal gangs and militias, the criminalisation of politics and an ill-equipped Police force has contributed to the continuous consolidation of Naxalites in the State.
Law enforcement agencies, particularly the police, face an acute shortage of manpower and resources. For instance, there are currently 12,000 vacancies in the State for posts of police constables. An Inspector General of Police indicated in April 2005 that the force has been facing an severe deficiency of sub-inspectors and constables, as no fresh appointments have been made after 1994. The Crime in India – 2003 report, published by the National Crime Records Bureau, indicates that Bihar has a ratio of 1:1,652 in terms of actual police strength to the estimated mid-year population of 2003, the worst in the country. By comparison, Andhra Pradesh has a ratio of 1:1052; Chhattisgarh, 1:1061, Jharkhand (formerly part of Bihar), 1:1333; and Orissa, 1:1072. According to a Police official in Jehanabad, there is no separate counter-insurgency wing, which is why all major offensives lose steam after a while. The Special Task Force set up a few years ago to counter the Maoists has either been engaged in VIP security or posted in ‘peaceful areas’. In a submission before the Patna High Court earlier this year, the Bihar Police disclosed that approximately 20,000 individuals, including politicians, present and former bureaucrats and people from other walks of life, have been provided police house guards or bodyguards or both. The 80,000-strong police force in Bihar also lacks access to modern weaponry like anti-landmine vehicles, bulletproof vests and bomb disposal equipment. According to the Bihar Police Association, a majority of about 300 police stations, 92 police pickets and hundreds of police outposts in the Maoist-affected districts are facing severe infrastructure shortages. Bihar Police establishments and personnel have witnessed 43 Maoist attacks between January 2003 and November 2005, in which over 150 police personnel have died and hundreds of firearms have been looted.
The Maoist ‘success’ at Jehanabad is bound to echo in other parts of India with rebels’ Central Committee having reportedly called for another round of their Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign in ‘weak states’. The Jehanabad incident is an indication of, and a warning against the continuous neglect of a critical aspect of governance – the state’s monopoly on the use of force. In Bihar and elsewhere in places witnessing a retreat of governance, the state has abdicated its responsibilities on this count. In Bihar, specifically, power is now overwhelmingly wielded by the upper caste landowners with their militias, criminal syndicates in association with their political masters, or by the Maoists – all of which are uniformly aligned against the authority of the state and the interests of its citizenry. The loss of geographical space to subversive and violent non-state actors will have to be reversed immediately if the state is to reclaim its authority and restore order.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
November 14-20, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Police searching for 2,000 potential suicide bombers: Police in Bangladesh are searching for approximately 2,000 potential suicide bombers from three banned militant groups, an unnamed senior police officer was quoted as saying in Reuters. The report indicated that many of the militants had been trained in Afghanistan under the Taliban and might be preparing for more attacks after two judges were killed in a bomb blast on November 14, 2005. "They have assembled in the country to destabilise democracy… All the country’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been ordered to put concerted efforts into capturing the members of the suicide squad," said the police officer. Daily Times, November 17, 2005.
JMB suicide bomber kills two judges in Jhalakati district: A cadre belonging to the suicide squad of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) exploded a bomb killing two judges, Shaheed Sohel Ahmed, senior assistant judge of Nalchhiti sub-district and Jagannath Pandey, senior assistant judge of the Sadar sub-district, and wounding three people in the District Headquarter of Jhalakathi on November 14, 2005. Police arrested the bomber, Iftekhar Hasan al Mamun and seized an unexploded bomb strapped to one of his thighs along with 24 leaflets of the banned outfit. Mamun has reportedly confessed before a magistrate that he is a member of the JMB’s suicide squad. The Daily Star, November 15, 2005.
Four persons killed in Fidayeen attack in Srinagar: Two soldiers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and an equal number of civilians were killed, while 17 persons, including a Japanese journalist, sustained injuries, when two terrorists carried out a Fidayeen (suicide squad) attack at the business hub of Lalchowk in the capital city of Srinagar on November 14, 2005. While the exchange of gunfire was in progress, Abu Usama of the Al-Mansooran told the local news agency KNS over telephone that four cadres of his outfit had launched the suicide attack. The gun-battle between the terrorists and troops subsequently came to end on the afternoon of November 15, when Police shot dead one of the terrorists and arrested the other, identified as 19-year-old Aijaz Ahmed Bhat alias Abu Sumama, a resident of Faisalabad in Pakistan.The Hindu, November 16, 2005.
CPI-Maoist kills nine abducted Ranvir Sena cadres in Bihar: On November 14, 2005, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) reportedly killed nine activists of the Ranvir Sena, a militia of upper caste land owners, a day after abducting them from the Jehanabad District Jail. District Magistrate, Rana Avadhesh, said three bodies, thought to be of abducted Ranvir Sena cadres, were recovered from the rail tracks near the jail. Five others were reported to have been killed in the adjoining Gaya District. The body of Visweshwar Rai, a prominent Sena member, was found in a Jehanabad village.The Telegraph, November 15, 2005.
Three persons killed in Karachi car bomb blast: At least three people are reported to have died and 20 others, including two South African women, sustained injuries in a powerful car bomb explosion in front of the KFC restaurant in Karachi on November 15, 2005. The blast, at around 8:40 am (PST), in a car parked in front of the food outlet, destroyed a Muslim Commercial Bank branch, a wing of the PIDC House and the outer elevation of the KFC. Meanwhile, Chakar Azam, a spokesperson for the Balochistan Liberation Army, said they detonated the car bomb. Speaking to The Associated Press in Quetta, capital of Balochistan province, he said: "We didn't want to hurt civilians. We did it to protest, and we did it to pressure the Government to get our rights. We will continue these attacks until the Government agrees to give due rights to the Baloch people for the resources extracted from their territories." Daily Times, November 16, 2005.
Pakistan must do more to fight terror, says 9/11 panel: Pakistan continues to be a sanctuary and training ground for terrorists, a report on the status of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission on terrorist attacks in the US has said, asking Washington to put pressure on Islamabad to counter terrorism. "Pakistan remains a sanctuary and training ground for terrorists," said a report by Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton of the 9-11 Public Disclosure Project, which examined action taken by the US Administration on the recommendations of the Commission that probed the 9/11 attacks. "(Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf has made significant efforts to take on the threat from extremism... yet we are disappointed that he has not done more," said the former Congressman, pointing out that General Musharraf has not lived up to his promises to regulate the Madrassas (seminaries) properly. "Taliban forces still pass freely across (the) Pakistan-Afghanistan border and operate in Pakistani tribal areas. Terrorists from Pakistan carry out operations in Kashmir. Finally, the results of promised democratization efforts are yet to be seen," he said in the report released on November 14, 2005. The United States must pressure Pakistan to seal its borders, disrupt the insurgents' efforts, both in Pakistan and Kashmir, and shut down Taliban-linked religious schools and training camps, the report added. 9/11 Public Discourse Project.
Mahinda Rajapaske elected President: Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party won the Presidential poll held on November 17, 2005, by defeating Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party. On November 18, Rajapaske reportedly said that he wants to hold face-to-face talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief to end the more than two decades of civil war. He said, "I am ready to talk to the (Tigers), and I am ready to meet Prabhakaran.'' Meanwhile, the LTTE has warned Rajapakse of the dangers of any move to break the country's three-year-old ceasefire. S.P. Thamilselvan, leader of the political wing of the LTTE, told BBC, "If they try to use military means to occupy our land or wage a conflict it will have negative implications for the other side. We hope that they will understand the reality." Earlier, polling was peaceful except for stray incidents of violence. A low voter turnout was reported from the Northern Province after the LTTE announced that it would not support any presidential candidate. According to reports received by the Election Commissioner, there was a 1 per cent voter turnout in Mulathivu. In Vavuniya, 28 per cent voted in the polls, while 21 per cent cast their ballots in Mannar. Meanwhile, the LTTE also blocked people in the ‘un-cleared areas of the North and East’ from entering ‘cleared areas’ to vote, by threatening and putting up road-blocks throughout the day. Daily News; Sri Lanka Online News, November 18, 2005.
Recommend South Asia Intelligence Review (SAIR) to a friend.