SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
An apparent peace has come to Nepal, with fatalities dropping precipitously and the Government-Maoist peace talks getting underway. Although, these developments should be a matter of relief, the conflict has far from ended and hopes of a tranquil future may be premature. Following the Jana Andolan (Peoples Movement) against King Gyanendras direct rule, the pace of political developments in Nepal has been fast and furious.
May 17 will go down in the history of the Himalayan nation as a momentous day, as the House of Representatives (HoR) unanimously passed a proposal, tabled by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, depriving the King of privileges enjoyed by him and declaring the reinstated House supreme. The HoR resolution scrapped the provision of Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Nepalese Army being held by the King, thereby depriving the King of his control over the Army. The proposal also dissolved the Kings advisory council, the Raj Parishad Standing Committee and deprived the monarch of any authority to enact the law concerning Royal succession, which will, in future, be the province of Parliament. The name of the Royal Nepalese Army was changed to Nepali Army, and His Majestys Government was replaced by the Government of Nepal.
The proclamation also made the income and assets of the King taxable, while declaring Nepal as a secular state. While the power of this revived Parliament which was dissolved by the King in 2002, and whose term, in the normal course, would have expired in May 2004 to pass a mere resolution that altered fundamental provisions of the Constitution is uncertain, and the Constitutionality of these provisions debatable, there has been no immediate evidence of any resistance or reaction from a demoralized and discredited Palace. Supporters of the declaration, however, argue that the legitimacy of this Parliament now flows, not from the Constitution, but from the peoples movement.
That legitimacy, however, is neither unconditional, nor necessarily durable, and will come under increasing challenge if the conduct of the current dispensation is not seen as just and demonstrably productive. Regrettably, early days suggest that the democratic dispensation now in power is possibly somewhat lacking in democratic sensibilities and respect for the rule of law, and may quickly exhaust the wave of presently overwhelming public goodwill.
This appears to be the suggestion of the early days of the restored Parliament and the Seven Parties Alliance (SPA) Government, among the first of whose actions was the order for the arrest and detention, for a period of 90 days, of five Ministers of the predecessor regime for their role in suppressing anti-King protests. That order has now been held as illegal by Nepals Supreme Court, which, on June 4, 2006, directed the Government to immediately release three ex-Ministers who had separately filed habeas corpus petitions before the Court (the remaining two did not appeal their internment, and presently remain in jail). Another set of the SPA Governments decisions, based on the recommendations of a judicial commission set up to investigate the suppression of the peoples movement, that have a strong residual destabilizing potential is the decision to remove from office a number of senior Government officials, including three top police officers of the country, and a number of other senior police administrators. A similar recommendation for the removal of the Army Chief of Staff, General Pyar Jung Thapa, was, however, not acted upon (though early reports suggested that the Cabinet had suspended him as well), presumably for fear that the Army may prove somewhat more recalcitrant than the Police.
It is useful, within this context, to remember that the current democratic leadership in Nepal has an extended and disastrous record of administration and infighting, and is substantially responsible for the chaos that now prevails in the country. Unless it has radically re-educated itself over the past months, it can well be expected to discredit itself in the months to follow.
Moreover, as the King is swept into the sidelines, the ultimate winners in the churning process presently underway are the Maoists and not the Parliamentary parties or the present Government. The new dispensation at Kathmandu has allowed the Maoists to dictate terms and the Maoist roadmap to power is being substantially followed.
On May 13, 2006, the Communist Party of NepalMaoist ((CPN-Maoist) Chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal @ Prachanda, made public his Partys roadmap for dialogue with the Government. Its principal stages were:
A ceasefire had already been announced by the Government on May 3, and a 25-point Ceasefire code of conduct was agreed upon on May 26; a three member talks team was formed on both sides, and the first round of talks were held on May 26. Some 467 Maoist prisoners were released, including two senior leaders, Matrika Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar. Conceding these Maoist demands has been apparently painless on the part of the Government, but the next milestone in the roadmap has thrown up differences.
In a Press Statement on May 29, senior Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai reiterated the demand for immediate dissolution of the House of Representatives (HoR) and of the present Government and called for the formation of an Interim Government, and the replacement of the existing Constitution by an Interim Constitution. The political parties are unsurprisingly against such a move, as the dissolution of Parliament would mean losing the only vestiges of power that they have managed to secure over the years. Moreover, by refusing to concede this demand, the Government would seek to project itself as strong enough to resist Maoist pressures.
In a move that is bound to further increase friction, the Government has reportedly decided to revive the local governing bodies which were dissolved in 2002. Maoist negotiator Dina Nath Sharma has warned that "the ongoing peace talks would collapse altogether" if the Government went ahead with this move. "We are strongly opposed to the revival .If that happens, the talks may collapse altogether," he pronounced ominously. Local Development Minister Rajendra Pandey said the Maoist warning made the whole thing complicated.
It is not just the local bodies issue that has complicated matters. The Maoist machinery continues to operate in its usual manner, though without explicit violence, but retaining its fullest capacities for violence. Reports of massive extortion by the Maoists continue to pour in from different parts of the country. Amid huge extortion threats by the Maoist trade union wing, the All Nepal Trade Union Federation (ANTUF), one of the largest joint venture companies in the country, Dabur Nepal Pvt. closed down its manufacturing unit at Rampur Tokani of Bara District between May 18 and 21. A report from Dolakha district said that Maoists are continuing with the collection of forced taxes from various Government and non-government organizations. A meeting of Maoist District-level government leaders also passed a proposal to this effect in May 2006, and made it mandatory for International NGOs and Government organizations to register with their party. Similarly, the Maoists have extorted sums of money, ranging from NPR 10,000 to NPR 150,000, from local businessmen at Phidim, District headquarters of Panchthar. In Biratnagar, the Maoists have intensified their donation collection campaign, saying that they need money for staging a democratic peoples' assembly at Biratnagar. Maoist District Secretary, Sushil, speaking at a Press Conference in Biratnagar on May 15 said the Maoist cadres have been urging people to provide donation willingly. A daily newspaper obtained copies of a letter sent by the chief of the CPN-Maoist Special Central Command, Anant, on May 14, instructing over a dozen private banks to give NPR 2.5 million each as donation. The letter, which was, however, not sent to the two Government-run banks, the Nepal Bank Limited and the Rastriya Banijya Bank, asked for financial support from the private banks to help push the peoples movement to a new high.
Matters came to a boil in Birgunj, when traders and industries shut down operations following demands from the ANTUF. The President of the Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Bijay Sarawagi, declared, We cant pay taxes both to the Government and Maoists. His Vice President Sushil Mittal added, cadres of the Federation (ANTUF) enter the factory premises forcibly, organize mass meetings and even manhandle promoters and senior officials. Industries simply cannot continue operation in such a situation. Operations were restarted only after the ANTUF and BCCI signed an eleven-point agreement on May 23.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister K. P. Sharma Oli has expressed alarm at these various developments: While the government has been expressing its firm commitment to the six-point agenda endorsed by the seven-party alliance and to the 12-point understanding reached with the Maoists to restore peace, what sort of negotiations do the Maoists want by continuing their extortions, intimidations and recruitment for their militia? He added that armed Maoists in combat attire were intimidating people, extorting one million rupees from the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) District level cadres and forcing them to attend Maoist functions.
Irrespective of any agreements with the SPA or the present Government, however, extortion and intimidation will remain an essential part of Maoist activities through any phase of negotiations. Maintaining an army requires funds, and the Maoists have no intention of disbanding theirs. According to a 2004 study based on direct interviews with Maoist fighters, it costed Rs. 17,000 annually to provide one armed guerrilla with clothes and other basic necessities. During the hostilities in early 2002, a former Maoist district commander had estimated that the Maoists needed to spend about Rs. 10 million every month to keep the war going. Any impediment to their systems of revolutionary taxation, would mean dismantling their army, which would simply destroy the very basis of their power and their negotiating strength. If the talks fail to yield what they expect, the Maoists have time and again demonstrated, the option of a return to the ways of war will be kept open. A warning to this effect was sounded during a mass meeting at Chakari in Makwanpur District on May 29, when Prachanda declared that a violent storm of protests would sweep the country in case the talks fail.
The manifest Maoist disregard for the 25-point Ceasefire Code of Conduct was also visible when armed Maoist cadres turned out in military combat gear to exhibit their military tactics at Prakashpur in Sunsari District on May 29, 2006. This display violated the clauses of the ceasefire code of conduct which read: Both sides shall refrain from mobilizing, displaying and using armed forces that would spread terror among the people and Both sides shall not be present in combat dress while organising public meet, gathering, conference, ceremony or political activities.
The Maoists are evidently, and will remain, unwilling to give up arms. A call for United Nations involvement in cease-fire monitoring, assistance in decommissioning of Maoist arms and witnessing of the ongoing Government-Maoist talks has, consequently, gained momentum within the Nepali establishment and some sections of the international community, though, officially, the current Government continues to reject UN mediation as unnecessary.
The Maoists, of course, have expressed themselves in favour of UN intervention in the past, though they have maintained a measure of ambiguity on the issue since the advent of the SPA Government, with the Partys chief negotiator, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, declaring that the Maoists would adopt a flexible policy and not a rigid one in this regard. The UN option, in any event, may well be a recipe for further confusion and potential disaster, given the organizations spotty record in Rwanda, the Balkans and Sudan. Further, third party intervention is no guarantee that the rebel army and militia would disarm, as is demonstrated in the case of Sri Lanka, where the presence of Nordic monitors has failed to ensure that the rebels giving up arms and terrorist activities, or in the case of Northern Ireland, where de-commissioning of weapons continues to be a sore point.
Despite the enormous optimism that has swept across Nepal in the wake of the peoples victory and the restoration of Parliament, the equation of power within the country remains immensely unstable. The King appears, presently, to have been emasculated, but just weeks ago, that was the visible condition of the now-triumphant SPA. The democratic parties appear to be abruptly more potent, but their power is substantially an illusion based on fickle popular perceptions. The Maoists appear to be accommodating of the democratic spirit, but continue to consolidate their political base and military capacities. Unless the Maoists are completely disarmed, and the political parties secure greater constitutional legitimacy and administrative control over the entire country, the current roadmap for peace may well be a short detour on the larger Maoist roadmap for protracted war.
The Additional District and Sessions Judge of Jhalakathi, Reza Tarik Ahmed, on May 29, 2006, sentenced seven militants of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) including the outfits chief Abdur Rahman, his second-in-command Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai [also the chief of Islamist militant group, the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB)] to death for their involvement in the November 14, 2005, suicide attack that killed two judges in Jhalakathi. The others ordered to walk the gallows are the groups Majlis-e-Shura (its highest decision-making body) members Ataur Rahman Sunny, Abdul Awal and Khaled Saifullah, suicide bomber Iftekhar Hasan Al Mamun (who was critically injured in the attack, but survived) and Asad-ur-Rahman Arif, a second suicide cadre who escaped from the scene, and remains at large.
On May 4, State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar had said that the Government had achieved satisfactory success in combating militancy in the country. He claimed that law enforcers had seized 'almost all the explosives' in the possession of the banned militant groups, and also that the Government had succeeded in blocking the militants' sources of funding.
The Governments achievements in curbing the rise of militancy in the country, which had threatened to spiral out of control towards the latter part of 2005, appear creditable. In addition to over 500 ordinary foot soldiers of the JMB, Security Force (SF) operations have managed to arrest all seven members of the Majlis-e-Shura. Security forces, especially the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), seemed to be conducting themselves with a far greater degree of autonomy than ever before, as they combed through large stretches of the country in search of the militants. The Government had also arrested Asadullah Galib, Ameer (Chief) of the AHAB and Mufti Hannan, Ameer of the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-BD) in 2005 and resisted enormous pressures from significant quarters to release them.
Given that the JMB militants could organize nearly 500 explosions targeting 63 of the countrys 64 Districts on August 17, 2005, and had also managed to execute four suicide attacks targeting the judiciary thereafter, the sudden demise or significant neutralization of the JMB-JMJB combine is certainly mysterious. Much had been written about their extensive network of cadres, sympathizers and a group of 2000 suicide bombers, as well as a nexus with international terror networks such as the Al Qaeda. The collapse of the groups within eight months of the August 15 blasts (the last of the Shura member, Khaled Saifullah was arrested on April 26, 2006) suggests an efficiency of intelligence and operation that militates against the groups free operation over the two preceding years.
The collapse of the JMB and the JMJB, at least, may have much to do with their basic character and their failure to construct grassroot and institutional support structures within a wide population base. At least in the case of the JMB, the group was dominated by a single, with three out of seven shura members drawn from one family. Absent the support of formations within the ruling alliance which appears to have evaporated after the August attacks and ensuing suicide bombings JMB-JMJB simply disintegrated.
The Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), a coalition partner in the present Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led Government, with an avowed agenda of establishing an Islamic State in the country, found an ideal vehicle for its growth in militant Islamist groups. The agenda of the madrassa (seminary) teacher and the Jamaats rokon (member), Abdur Rahman, and the Bengali teacher, Siddiqul Islam, drew from and matched perfectly with that of the Jamaat, which hoped to benefit from the dramatic orchestration of violence. In fact, the Jamaats support-base had registered a steady decline over the years, from 12.3 per cent in the 1991 General Elections, down to 8.61 per cent in 1996, and further, to 4.31 per cent in 2001. The fact that the leadership and cadres of most of Bangladeshs Islamist militant groups shared a Jamaat or a Shibir (Islami Chhatra Shibir, JeIs student wing) past was an added advantage. And the BNP, under the garb of the limitations of coalitional politics, acted deaf and dumb hoping that the Islamists would help check an incipient left-wing extremist movement as well as the opposition Awami League. Thus, both the Jamaat and the BNP rejected the very existence of the Islamist groups as a figment of a motivated imagination till the August 2005 blasts. Under a regime of benign neglect, the Islamist militants carried out a systemic campaign against the sarbaharas and also formulated grandiose plans for an Islamic State, with the bureaucracy and police either providing implicit support or looking the other way. The Islamists appeared, consequently, to be implementing a commonly agreed agenda.
Mounting international pressure and the threat of disruption of international aid, however, appear to have forced the Government to act against the Islamists, even as the Jamaat conveniently distanced itself from the JMB-JMJB brand of activities.
Whatever their source and motives, the current counter-terrorist operations in Bangladesh do represent a radical reorientation of policy, though it remains to be seen whether this trend represents a permanent reorientation of policy or a tactical shift under current circumstances. Much remains to be done if the entire Islamist militant base in Bangladesh is to be neutralized, including powerful steps to target the financial networks and foreign linkages that have been exploited in the past. A critical amendment to the existing Money Laundering Act is still to be passed and, despite substantial evidence that numerous madrassas were being used by the militants to further their agenda, no steps have yet been taken to regulate such institutions, which, according to one estimate, have burgeoned to over 64,000 across the country. While about 8,000 of these are under Government control, the rest are run by non-governmental organizations, with a substantial proportion under the aegis of, or controlled by, the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), AHAB, HuJI-BD, the JEI and its Islami Chhatra Shibir.
It is significant that, since the arrest of its ameer, Mufti Hannan, HuJI-BD has not been involved in any terrorist acts inside Bangladesh. However, the HuJI-BD presence in terrorist activities in India has seen a significant escalation over the past months, reflected in a number of arrests and seizures, but most dramatically in in the Varanasi blasts of March 7, 2006, and the suicide bombing at the office of the Police Special Task Force (STF) at Hyderabad on October 12, 2005, as well as some evidence of the organisations involvement in the October 29, 2005, New Delhi blasts in association with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).
Bangladesh has certainly achieved visible success against militancy at home, but its attitude towards the terrorists operating in the Indian northeast, as well as Islamist terrorists joining operations in different parts of the larger Indian mainland, continues to remain ambivalent. Here, again, however, there are early signs of a thaw in this direction as well. On May 24, in the first instance of its type, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) personnel handed over nine militants belonging to the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT)-Nayanbashi faction, to the authorities in Tripura. These militants had been lodged in a Bangladesh jail for two and a half years after their arrest in December 2003 from the Gourgopal area in Srimangal. Such incidents, however, are still the very rare exception, and been entirely overshadowed by repeated Bangladeshi denials of Indian claims and evidence of the presence of militants operating in Indias Northeast from Bangladeshi soil. Covert and overt alliances between such militant groupings and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) combine continue to flourish. Bangladesh has refused to deport the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) general secretary Anup Chetia to India after he ended his jail term there, and India gave a list of 172 insurgent camps to Bangladesh in 2005 only to have its claims dismissed by Bangladeshi authorities. There remain, consequently, grounds to suspect that Bangladesh continues to distinguish between categories of terrorists, and is not unwilling to continue its support to certain groups, even as it hunts down and neutralizes others.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 29 - June 04, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Three suspected Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists killed as police foil attack on RSS headquarters in Nagpur: Three terrorists were shot dead on June 1-morning during an abortive attempt to storm the headquarters of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu organization, at Nagpur in Maharashtra. Police said the terrorists, suspected to be Pakistani nationals from the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), attempted to drive a white Ambassador car, fitted with a red command-light, towards the building shortly before dawn. When guards at the perimeter of the three-level security cordon flagged down the car, its driver attempted to crash through the barriers. RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan and other top functionaries were not present in the building at the time of the attack. The Hindu, June 2, 2006.
Maoists kill 12 police personnel in landmine explosion in Jharkhand: At least 12 police personnel were killed when Communist Party of India-Moist (CPI-Maoist) cadres triggered a landmine explosion in the West Singhbhum district on June 1, 2006. Inspector General of Police (Operations), B.C. Verma, said in Ranchi that the proscribed CPI-Maoist triggered the blast between Thalkobad and Karmpada villages under Kiriburu police station when the security forces were returning from Thalkobad in a hired minibus after diffusing a landmine in a school. The Times of India, June 2, 2006.
21 cases of Maoist attacks on Railways in 2006: There have been 21 cases of Maoist attacks on trains, railway stations and other railways property during the current year, in which five lives were lost, the Upper House of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) was informed on May 18, 2006. Property worth INR 18.5 million was also damaged in these attacks, Minister of State for Railways R. Velu, said in a written reply. On the steps taken by the Government to check such attacks, he said "police" (including railways and village police) being a State subject, prevention of crime, registration of cases their investigation and maintenance of law and order in the railways is done by the State police. East Central Railway, East Coast Railway, South Central Railway, South Eastern Railway, Northeast Frontier Railway, Southeast Central Railway, Eastern Railway, Northern Railway and North East Railway are affected by the activities of Left Wing extremists/terrorists, he disclosed. Zee News, May 18, 2006
for immediate dissolution of the Parliament and Government:
The coordinator of the Maoist
talks team, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, reiterated the Maoist demand
for dissolution of the House of Representatives (HoR) and the
present Government, saying the HoR and the Government do not represent
the forces which were actively involved in the peoples movement.
We want to see the dissolution of both as they do not truly
represent the forces which are still outside, Mahara said
at a press conference in the capital Kathmandu on June 1, 2006.
June 2, 2006.
United States President declares Dawood Ibrahim as Foreign Narcotics Kingpin: The Pakistan-based mafia don, Dawood Ibrahim, was declared by the United States as a Foreign Narcotics Kingpin and was denied access to the financial system and all trade and transactions involving companies and individuals of the country. The action was reportedly taken to break the nexus between drug traffickers and terrorists. A report stated, "The action underscores President Bushs determination to do every thing possible to pursue drug traffickers, undermine their operations, and end the suffering that trade in illicit drugs inflicts on Americans and other people around the world, as well as preventing drug traffickers from supporting terrorists." The report added that Dawood and his cartel are currently operating in India, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Besides Dawood, who is a prime accused in the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, sanctions were also imposed on two other global terrorists, Fahd Jamil Georges of Brazil and Ali Naway of Iran, and a drugs trafficking cartel of Mexico, Amezcus Contrearas Organisation. The Hindu, June 2, 2006.
Five soldiers killed in suicide attack in NWFP: At least five soldiers and two suicide bombers were killed and seven soldiers sustained injuries when a car laden with explosives rammed into a military vehicle in the Bakakhel area of Bannu in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on June 2, 2006. The Army convoy was reportedly proceeding from Mirali in North Waziristan to its base camp in the Bannu District when the attack occurred. Two suicide bombers banged their car into a military vehicle and destroyed it, an unnamed security official said. An official of the Inter-Services Public Relations, however, claimed that it was not a suicide attack and said two miscreants threw grenades on security forces, killing four soldiers and wounding 10 others. Had this been a suicide attack, it would have involved one bomber. Two suicide bombers involved in an attack doesnt make any sense, he claimed. Dawn, June 3, 2006.
India and Pakistan exchange lists of wanted criminals: Pakistan and India on May 30, 2006, exchanged lists of wanted criminals but did not hold any discussion on the matter. Syed Kamal Shah, Pakistans Interior Secretary, exchanged the list with V. K. Duggal, Indias Home Secretary, on the sidelines of the two-day talks between the two countries in Islamabad. The list given by Pakistan included 58 persons believed to be hiding in India. The Indian list contained 38 wanted criminals, including Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Mumbai serial blasts accused Dawood Ibrahim. Sources said the Indian Home Secretary also sought extradition of the five hijackers of an Indian aircraft which was hijacked from Nepal and taken to Kandahar in December 1999. India has said that Pakistani nationals Mohammad Ibrahim Athar Alvi, Zahoor Ibrahim Mistri, Shahid Akhtar Sayed, Shakir Mohammad and Azhar Yusuf were involved in the hijacking. Daily Times, May 31, 2006
European Union proscribes LTTE: The European Union (EU) officially added the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to its terrorist blacklist on May 31, 2006, effectively freezing the outfits assets across the 25-nation bloc and hindering its ability to raise money for its armed movement. The updated blacklist was published two days after EU ministers voted without debate to include the LTTE. The EU said in a statement, "The decision of the EU to list the LTTE should come as a surprise to nobody." The statement also said that the outfit had "systematically ignored" its warnings to give up their armed conflict on the Indian Ocean island, and commit to peace talks and added that the outfit still must "amend its violent course and return to peace talks." The statement added further that the EU would continue contacts with the group "where such contacts, in the pursuit of the peace process, may help to bring about a return to negotiations and an end to violence." Daily News, June 1, 2006.
LTTE kills 12 Sinhalese villagers in Trincomalee district: On May 30, 2006, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres killed 12 Sinhalese villagers working at an irrigation canal construction site in Omadiyamadu, close to the uncleared areas of Welikanda in Trincomalee District. Welikanda Police said the victims had gunshot wounds on their heads, while the Army Media unit spokesperson said that "the area is not demarcated so it is hard to say if this happened in uncleared areas or not". An eyewitness told police that 15 armed LTTE cadres tied the construction workers together and fired at them point blank range killing 12 on the spot. Daily News, May 31, 2006.
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