SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Once again, the fragility of dictatorships is on display in Pakistan. General Pervez Musharraf casually dismissed the Chief Justice of an often supine Supreme Court, expecting little more than a concealed ripple of resentment. Instead, he appears to have provoked a full-blown national crisis.
The unexpected intensity of opposition to this simple ‘administrative expedient’ disguises the tremendous reservoirs of public anger that have built up over Musharraf’s eight year’s of autocracy and his systematic, albeit covert, use of violent non-state proxies in a strategy of political management that has exploited, at once, the rhetoric and constituencies, both of the ‘war against terrorism’ and of Islamist extremism. Over the years, there has been a visible augmentation of the power of radical Islamist forces in the country, including dubious Musharraf proxies in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, as well as a progressive Talibanization that has now reached into the heart of Islamabad.
On May 12, 2007, Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi exploded in orchestrated violence when the sacked Chief Justice (CJ), Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, arrived in the city to attend a rally organised by High Court lawyers and opposition parties. Sensing a threat, the Musharraf regime resorted to the established device of using proxies in an effort to intimidate protestors, even as Chaudhry was detained at the Karachi Air Port and prevented from attending the rally. Armed cadres, principally believed to be drawn from the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) which heads the provincial Government in Sindh, and is a partner in the ruling Federal Coalition, received tacit state support as they went on a rampage in Karachi, attacking opposition party workers and media organisations, in violence that eventually left at least 42 dead and over 150 wounded. Babar Awan, a legislator from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), articulated widespread perceptions when he declared, "It was a state-sponsored massacre and the sitting regime is to be blamed for it." The All Parties Minorities Alliance (APMA) Chairman, Shahbaz Bhatti, similarly declared that the "Government deliberately stoked the violence against political parties." Numerous reports suggest that no effort was made to contain the rampaging mobs and, as an Associated Press report expressed it, "There was no sign of intervention from security forces, who authorities said were 15,000 strong in the city."
A call for a countrywide strike on May 14, 2007, has been issued by opposition parties to protest the violence in Karachi, and initial reports suggest that Karachi – with security forces under orders to shoot anyone involved in serious violence – has virtually shut down. The City’s Police Chief, Azhar Farooqi admitted, "The city is totally paralyzed. Shops are closed and very little public transport is on the roads. People are scared." Preliminary reports also suggest significant support for the strike from other cities and towns of Sindh, as well as in Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar.
Ominously, the second day of violence in Karachi saw the killings acquiring a sectarian and ethnic colour, with most attacks occurring in areas dominated by Pathans. Karachi has a long history of ethnic and sectarian violence and has also been a hotbed of Islamist extremist mobilisation. Armies of trained jihadis prepared in the port city’s proliferating madrassas have participated in the terrorist campaigns in Afghanistan and Indian Jammu & Kashmir, as well as in relentless sectarian warfare within the country. Year 2006 alone saw numerous acts of terrorist violence and activity in the city , the most prominent including three suicide attacks:
The troubles in Karachi come at a particularly bad time for Musharraf. He has promised presidential elections within two months – indeed, CJ Chaudhry’s summary dismissal was connected with the anticipation of his possible judicial obstruction of another Presidential term for Musharraf – and has already seen a steady erosion of his authority in his protracted standoff with the Talibanized cadres, including both male and female fidayeen, of the Lal Masjid–Jamia Hafsa, in Islamabad itself . The holding of a credible election within the declared timeframe (reiterated in Musharraf’s speech on May 12, 2007) is highly unlikely; on the other hand, Musharraf’s re-election by the present Parliament – an alternative escape route – would have little legitimacy either within the country or abroad, and can only further undermine his authority.
Islamabad’s difficulties and incapacity against the forces of radical Islam in other theatres are also deepening. Both military action and deal-making with extremist factions have failed to contain the crisis in Waziristan, and there is increasing evidence of "a clear dispersal of the violence linked to radical Islam across hitherto ‘peaceful’ areas. Violence and mobilization linked to Islamist extremists is now being increasingly reported from Swat, Nowshera, Tank, Peshawar, Hangu, Dera Ismail Khan, and other areas in the NWFP, Gujranwala and Multan in the Punjab province, many locations in Sindh province, and also from the national capital, Islamabad." Simmering sub-nationalist movements in Balochistan and in Gilgit-Baltistan add to the impression of a cumulative loss of control. Significantly, Pakistan witnessed more than a doubling of terrorism-related fatalities in 2006, at 1471 killed, as against 648 in 2005. The first four months of 2007 have already seen 706 killed, including 266 civilians, 59 Security Forces’ personnel and 381 terrorists/insurgents.
After the Karachi violence, Ijaz Hussain, an Islamabad-based political analyst noted, "Pakistan is heading towards disaster and President Musharraf is responsible." With a continuous erosion of his international image as well as his domestic legitimacy, Musharraf’s old ways of coping appear to be reaching their limits. The crisis over the sacked CJ and the associated violence in Karachi is crystallizing into a nationwide confrontation between the regime and its various proxies, on the one hand, and an increasingly – though possibly opportunistically – united opposition, on the other, imposing sever limits on the efficacy of repressive state responses and covert intimidation through terrorist proxies. Musharraf may, of course, be able to battle his way out of the current crisis – he has described the controversies over the ‘suspended’ CJ as a "temporary irritant". But he will emerge significantly weakened by his self-inflicted wounds, and the vultures will certainly begin circling more closely in the wake his present predicament.
In recent months, members of the hitherto unknown Young Communist League (YCL) have emerged as a crucial front organisation for the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist). While the CPN-Maoist, which has joined the Interim Government, prepares for the elections to the Constituent Assembly, its YCL affiliate engages in abduction, extortion, looting and a range of intimidatory crimes. Indeed, the YCL is now perceived as a dreaded gang with the capacity to assault any one on the street, abduct people from their homes and issue threats to people while demanding money from them.
YCL was formed by the CPN–Maoist at some point (there is no definite information on the year of its creation) during the ‘people’s war’ as an affiliate to provide support and energy to the ‘revolution’. As the party’s youth wing, its role was to "organise youth, be involved in events, conduct political awareness, and take part in development work as volunteers." Once the CPN-Maoist was proscribed, the YCL was also forced to go underground. After the April 2006 Jana Andolan (People’s Movement) and the subsequent over-ground role of the insurgents, the CPN-Maoist decided to revive the YCL.
Ganeshman Pun, chairman of the YCL, reveals that the League was reactivated in November 2006. According to him, the YCL "is a fusion of the Party’s military and political character, and it is composed of PLA members who have an interest in politics."
In February 2007, the YCL held its First National Convention in the capital Kathmandu, which was inaugurated by none other than the CPN-Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda. The Convention formed a 45-member new Central Committee with Ganeshman Pun as its Chairman, Uma Bhujel as its vice-chairman, Dileep Kumar Prajapati as General Secretary, R. P. Sharma as Secretary and Bhagwat Baduwal as Treasurer. Each of these leaders is a hard core member of the CPN-Maoist and has been appointed to the YCL in order to evade inclusion in the mechanisms for the management of arms and armies by the United Nations. Nanda Kishore Pun, the Maoist Central Committee member and ‘deputy commander’ of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in an interview to Nepali Times conceded, "It is true that at present some commanders have been sent to the YCL. They are individuals who were previously active in the YCL and have experience."
A brief review of the identities of the office bearers of the resurrected YCL provides an interesting picture of the organisation and some idea of its intent and objectives. Ganeshman Pun is a senior Maoist cadre and was the ‘Commissar’ of the Parivarthan Memorial Ninth Brigade of the PLA. Uma Bhujel is a PLA ‘section commander’ famous for leading a successful jailbreak in Gorkha on March 31, 2001, along with five of her associates. Dileep Kumar Prajapati and Bhagwat Baduwal are top ranking commanders in the PLA. Another Central Committee member, Chandra Bahadur Thapa aka Comrade Sagar, who is in charge of YCL’s Kathmandu region, is a former ‘battalion commander’ of the Dinesh-Ramji Samiti Brigade. Senior YCL leader, Sabitri Gurung, is a ‘deputy battalion commander’ of the PLA. Most of the YCL members are combatants who the CPN-Maoist did not want confined in the cantonments under the regulation of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). YCL also includes an unspecified number of child soldiers who are not eligible for registration as per the UNMIN standards, as well as a large number of cadres who were recruited by the Maoists during the cease-fire period, with the assurance that they would be inducted into the National Army.
YCL leaders claim that their cadres are unarmed young men without any formal military training and they do not carry guns nor have they any expertise in exploding grenades and bombs. However, it is now widely known that YCL cadres receive extensive training in unarmed combat. Moreover, members who have experience of fighting during the insurgency are trained by the CPN–M, and are familiar with the use of sophisticated weapons. YCL cadres openly carry knives, sticks, iron bars and other improvised weapons and swagger around the countryside and the Kathmandu region without fear or restriction. Reports indicate that the YCL "is a group of highly trained commandos of the Maoists who instead of being sent to the cantonments have been deliberately kept into the open by the party high command to meet exigencies."
The role of the YCL is fairly evident in the following recent incidents:
May 9: YCL cadres killed an elderly man, identified as Bir Bahadur Kalakheti, near Khandbari in the Sankhuwasabha District.
May 6: YCL cadres seized ‘illegally imported’ mobile phones and electronic goods worth more than NR 30 million in Kathmandu. The goods include 1,415 mobile phone sets, 25 LCD monitors, 30 photocopier machines, 288 units of memory cards, 387 units of chargers and 265 units of earphones.
May 5: A group of YCL cadres set ablaze the Nepal Electricity Authority and Land Revenue Offices at Gulariya in the Bardiya District.
May 4: In the Phidim District, a group of about 15 YCL cadres assaulted two activists of the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and robbed them of NR 70,000 in cash and two tolas (about 23 grams) of gold.
May 2: Twenty-six persons, including 16 civilians, were injured when protesters led by the YCL clashed with personnel of the Armed Police Force (APF) at Sanoshree in the Bardiya District. YCL cadres earlier went on rampage demanding withdrawal of the security posts in the area.
May 1: Three APF personnel were injured in a clash with YCL cadres at Sanoshree in the Bardiya District. (YCL cadres have reportedly threatened to kill those aiding the Government for the deployment of the APF in Sanoshree).
April 22: YCL activists attacked K.C. Bikash, President of the Sunsari chapter of the Nepal Student Union – Democratic, in Kathmandu.
April 20: Seven YCL cadres intruded into the residence of a woman to rob her valuables in the Kappan area of Kathmandu.
April 13: Fifty YCL cadres attacked locals at Betali Bazaar in the Ramechhap District with pistols, knives, sticks and iron bars, injuring at least 50 persons.
March 26: A dozen local journalists from Itahari, an eastern city of Nepal, received death threats from Ritesh Shrestha of the YCL.
March 19: YCL cadres captured 25 ropanis (1 ropani = 5,476 square feet) of land and four houses of former Army Chief Sachchit Shumsher Rana at Laxmibazaar in the Gorkha District, and hoisted their party flag there.
March 17: In the Kavrepalanchowk District, YCL cadres abducted a civilian, identified as Suresh Malla.
One Nepalese commentator remarks, "leaders of the seven parties now in alliance have to collect enough courage to enter into their constituencies. The fact is that the leaders who should have been by now into their constituencies are stranded in Kathmandu for fear of being violently attacked by the YCL cadres of the Maoists."
In order to project an image of a ‘socially responsible’ group, the YCL also engages its cadres a number of symbolic activities such as cleaning localities, cleaning rivers and planting trees. On occasion, they have involved themselves in quasi-policing activities like traffic management, night patrolling, demolition of illegal houses, and the capture of alleged gangsters. Since these are integral responsibilities of the Government, the YCL intervention actually create additional law and order problems. However, backed as they are by the full might of the Maoists, YCL cadres openly challenge Government authorities, including the Police, and are progressively establishing a parallel authority and system.
YCL is active in a majority of Districts across Nepal. Their activity has been confirmed in Jhapa, Kavrepalanchowk, Ramecchap, Kathmandu, Bardiya, Morang, Phidim, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Rukum, Rolpa, Itahari, Sunsari and Sankhuwasabha Districts.
The explicit Maoist support to the YCL is evident. Suspecting the YCL of possessing weapons and detaining people, the Metropolitan Police on April 15, 2007, conducted a raid on YCL offices in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. The Police failed to recover anything from the sites, but a Parliamentary Party meeting of the CPN-Maoist immediately condemned the raids and asked the Government to stop such ‘undemocratic’ activities. The CPN-Maoist also asked Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to apologise before Parliament for the raids. The growing importance of the YCL for the Maoists is demonstrated through such reactions to an inconsequential Police raid.
Prachanda has announced that ‘reactionaries’ are trying to tag the YCL as a ‘terrorist’ group, though he has also admitted that "minor faults have been committed" by the organisation and that "we will try to rectify those shortcomings, time permitting." It has been reported, moreover, that senior Maoist leader and now Minister for Physical Training and Works, Hisila Yami, has emphasised ‘cooperation’ with YCL members in various activities of her Ministry.
There have been rising complaints from different quarters regarding the YCL cadres’ unruly behaviour. On May 3, 2007, the Nepali Congress Women’s Association submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister G.P. Koirala against excesses committed by the YCL. Nepali Congress General Secretary and the Minister for Peace and Reconstruction Ram Chandra Poudel has demanded the dismantling of the YCL. Senior Nepali Congress leader, Sujata Koirala, has alleged that that each YCL cadre possessed a weapon and they are being trained to capture booths during elections with the use of armed force. Responding to the growing pressure on him, Prime Minister Koirala declared that he would no longer tolerate the activities of the YCL, adding that the Government would consider taking ‘stern action’ against the outfit. This threat is yet to be translated into concrete initiatives.
The CPN-Maoist is now formally registered with the Election Commission as a political party, but has chosen to revive and sustain the YCL for obvious reasons. The reactivation of the YCL at this crucial juncture and the appointment of top Maoist commanders to the ‘youth wing’, is evidently part of the grand strategy to keep Maoist cadres outside the scope of UNMIN scrutiny and to use their energies to dominate the forthcoming elections. The YCL’s presence has created a fear psychosis in the minds of ordinary citizens who see no difference between the radical youth organisation and the Maoists.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 7-13, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia are free citizens, says interim government chief Fakhruddin Ahmed: Rejecting reports that his Government was putting curbs on the country's top politicians, the interim administration's chief Fakhruddin Ahmed said that both former Prime Ministers, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, were "free citizens" and could move in or go out of the country at will. "They are free citizens of the country... There is no question about that. Sheikh Hasina has come back... They may go abroad whenever they like," he told BBC. However, Daily Star has reported that the Interim Government on May 9 imposed a virtual restriction on the movement of former Prime Minister and Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina, only allowing a handful of her close relatives and some senior AL leaders to visit her at her Sudha Sadan residence in capital Dhaka. Intelligence sources said they have Government directives to bar everyone from meeting Hasina, except her 'close relatives'. Meanwhile, observing that his military-backed Government wanted to get rid of corruption, Ahmed said that he was committed to restoring democracy by the end of 2008, according to a BBC release. To a question on the role of the military, Ahmed said, "The military is certainly backing this Government, but let me point out that this Government was sworn in under a provision of the constitution of the country." Zee News; The Daily Star, May 10, 2007.
Lashkar-e-Toiba training women militants in Pakistan: The Union Government said on May 8, 2007, that the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) has been building up a women's cadre by imparting arms training to them at its camps in Pakistan. Available reports suggest that the LeT is running training camps in Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) for imparting arms training to its female cadres, Union Minister of State for Home, Sriprakash Jaiswal, told the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament). In a written answer, he said there was continued involvement of Pakistan and Pakistan-based terrorist outfits like the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) in terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India. "They were using and leveraging the existing infrastructure of terror in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and other parts of Pakistan," he said. Daily Excelsior, May 9, 2007.
42 people killed and more than 150 injured in Karachi violence: May 12, 2007, least 34 people were killed and more than 130 injured during street violence between supporters of President Pervez Musharraf and suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry in Pakistan's commercial capital Karachi. Groups of activists belonging to the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), a partner in the federal ruling coalition, and those of opposition parties supporting the suspended Chief Justice, fought pitched street battles using assault rifles in different parts of Karachi. Chaudhry, who arrived in Karachi to address a rally of High Court lawyers, was stranded at the airport and was asked by the local Government to avoid the meeting and return home. While lawyers accompanying him from Islamabad returned, the judge threatened to walk to the venue of the meeting. Late night, he, however, decided to return to Islamabad. The Government is reported to have ordered the paramilitary Rangers to shoot rioters on sight and imposed Section 144 as eight people were killed and nine persons injured on the second day of violence in Karachi, capital of Sindh province, on May 13. Daily Times, May 13 & 14, 2007.
Baloch insurgents can surrender or be totally wiped out, says President Musharraf: Security forces are on the verge of wiping out militant camps in Balochistan, President Pervez Musharraf said on May 10, 2007, while reiterating an amnesty offer for the insurgents. General Musharraf, on his visit to Sui in Balochistan, told a public rally that the government would not tolerate terrorism. He informed that the security forces had destroyed 65 ‘farari ['absconders' or insurgent] camps’ in Balochistan and the remaining three or four camps would be eliminated soon. "Only three to four rebel camps are left. We will wipe them out too," he said. Repeating an amnesty offer, General Musharraf said the Government would take no action against insurgents if they laid down their arms. "They are our brothers and sisters. I urge them to surrender their arms. No action will be taken against them if they do so," he said. "Give up weapons and terrorism; otherwise the law will take its course. We will not allow terrorism," he added. Daily Times, May 11, 2007.