SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The Lal Masjid – Jamia Hafsa crisis, which has been six slow months in the making, finally came to a boil on July 3, 2007, when militant students tried to grab a property near the mosque and were confronted by the Security Forces. An armed engagement followed, and subsequent Army operations to blow away the boundary walls of the Complex have resulted in intermittent exchanges of fire. Official sources maintain a total of 20 killed – including a Lieutenant Colonel of the Special Services Group on Sunday, July 8 – though Abdul Rashid ‘Ghazi’, the leader of the ‘resistance’ inside the Mosque, claims that over 335 of his students (including 310 women) have been killed inside the Complex by Army fire.
In what appear to be disturbing connected developments, three Chinese men were shot dead and a fourth was critically wounded on July 8, in Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where the victims had set up a small unit to manufacture three-wheel auto rickshaws. Significantly, there had been widespread speculation that the military action against the Lal Masjid – Jamia Hafsa Complex had been taken under Chinese (and, of course, American) pressure, after six Chinese women and one man, among nine persons, were abducted by militant students of the Seminary on June 23, 2007, on allegations of running a brothel under the guise of a massage centre. All the abductees were subsequently released, but China had, in fact, on June 27, officially asked Pakistan to step up its protection of Chinese workers in the country.
In another related development, President Pervez Musharraf’s plane was shot at on July 6, 2007, when it was taking off from the military airfield at Chaklala in Rawalpindi. A machine gun and two artillery weapons were subsequently recovered from the roof of a house nearby, though officials initially denied there had been an assassination attempt. The firing on the plane, in any event, had been wide off target.
A number of violent incidents and protests have also occurred across the country after the initiation of the Lal Masjid operation by the Army, and there are indications that these could escalate. The Karkoram Highway was blockaded at various places in the Mansehra and Abottabad Districts of the NWFP; in Quetta, activists of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI, Fazlur Rehman faction) held demonstrations protesting the ‘attack’ on Lal Masjid; at Khairpur in the Punjab, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and JUI activists forced a shut-down on the town; in Lahore, students of the Jamia Asharfia held demonstration on the main Ferozpur Road; and in Okara, students of the Jamia Masjid forced shopkeepers to down shutters in protest. There have also been several attacks against security forces. On July 4, a suicide attack on a military convoy near Mir Ali in North Waziristan killed at least 11 persons, including six soldiers. On the same day, six persons, including two policemen, were also killed in three separate attacks by religious extremists in Swat District. Militant groups in Swat had earlier warned of ‘serious repercussions’ in case the Government took action against the Lal Masjid – Jamia Hafsa complex. On July 9, tens of thousands of tribesmen, including hundreds of masked militants wielding assault rifles, led by Maulana Faqir Mohammad, a cleric on Islamabad’s wanted list, demonstrated in Bajaur in FATA, raising violent slogans and calling for "Death to Musharraf".
Official sources have now claimed that eight "high value terrorists" were "holed up" inside the Lal Masjid, while one had already been killed there. These terrorists, Religious Affairs Minister Ejazul Haq asserted, without disclosing their identities, were "far more dangerous and harmful than Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives." Haq asserted that the militants were from the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami, had taken control of the complex, and were "holding children and Ghazi hostage". Significantly, President Musharraf had claimed, on June 29, that militants from the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and al Qaeda were hiding in the Lal Masjid Complex.
Within the broad context of Pakistan’s troubled politics, current levels of violence in the wake of the Lal Masjid – Jamia Hafsa operation are far from exceptional. Indeed, in all aspects, the militant challenge appears unequal; even contemptible. Despite boasts of ‘hundreds of suicide bombers’, the ‘Lal Masjid brigade’ has responded rather tamely, with not a single suicide attack, and over 1,221 surrenders. The big-talking head of the Masjid, Abdul Aziz, who claimed to derive his mandate from the Prophet Muhammad appearing in his dreams and who had repeatedly exhorted his followers to embrace shahadat (martyrdom), was caught in humiliating circumstances, trying to slink out of the military cordon in a woman’s burqa (full body veil). Indeed, at a purely military level, overcoming the resistance in the Seminary Complex would be a pushover for the Army, were it not for concerns about the loss of innocent lives. The essentially military challenge at Lal Masjid is insignificant, as the radical Islamist former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief, Hamid Gul, notes, Aziz and Ghazi "are traditional clerics and not jihadis." In any event, after the death of a senior officer the Army cannot be expected to be in a particularly forgiving mood. Moreover, despite the slow build-up of the crisis, and its eventual provocation by the militant Lal Masjid students themselves, it is abundantly clear that Ghazi had not prepared his followers for a direct and protracted confrontation with the Army. While a few small arms and possibly some explosives are clearly in the possession of the militants – effective weapons to breach the siege or to deliver explosive loads at spatially distanced targets are evidently lacking.
But it is not here that the principal danger lies. With crisis following crisis in thick succession, everything – even a so-called ‘assassination attempt’ on Musharraf which was, at best, ludicrous, with no significant danger to the President at any time – weakens him and destabilizes his regime. The unstable equilibria that the Pakistani state had established with various non-democratic power-players, including tribal chieftans, radical Islamists, Islamist terrorists and the Army’s political proxies, are rapidly crumbling in an accelerating progression of emergencies, and the Islamists are now seeking to violently renegotiate the distribution of national political power. In all possible outcomes other than the most violent and enveloping oppression – and even this, at best, would be a temporary evasion – Musharraf will be the inevitable loser. Structurally, Pakistan is now poised for a radical reconfiguration of power equations and any measures to forcibly prevent this from happening can only be transient and potentially counterproductive.
These pressures converge with the wide spectrum of other political forces – including the ‘secular’ democratic formations – that are seeking greater democracy and an end to Musharraf’s role as Army Chief after the November 2007 Presidential elections. Simultaneously, the judiciary is engaged in a major bid for the reassertion of its authority and independence, engineered through the confrontation over the dismissal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry – a confrontation that, many believe, puts Musharraf bid to retain his uniform directly at risk.
For Musharraf and the Army, however, no measure of greater devolution is acceptable, not only in view of the Army’s perceived ‘obligations’ of national security and reconstruction, but because of the enormous accumulation of what Ayesha Siddiqa has described as "illegal military capital", and the Army’s tremendous financial interests in every aspect of national administration and commerce. Siddiqa, in her book Military Inc., notes that, "The military’s power allows it to define its economic interests and exploit public and private sector resources, a behaviour that increases the organisation’s appetite for power." Musharraf will accept no dilution of power unless it is forced on him – and the Army’s continued pre-eminence within the country makes such a coercive outcome unlikely in the foreseeable future.
There is, of course, an influential stream of opinion in Pakistan that suggests that the Lal Masjid crisis, like other crises before, has simply been orchestrated by the regime in order to conjure its dramatic and proximate ‘resolution’ – no doubt with the loss of some expendable lives – that would help cement Musharraf’s crumbling image as a bastion against Islamist extremism and the Talibanisation of national politics. There is some inconclusive evidence that the crisis may have been collusively orchestrated by elements within the establishment and the intelligence services, and the fact that the crisis was permitted to fester and, indeed, to cyclically escalate, from the first incidents – the takeover of a public library by women students of the Jamia Hafsa – in January 2007, gives some credence to such an assessment. As with virtually every aspect of politics in Pakistan, there are contradictory elements in play, underlining the complex relationships between the jihadi elements within the country and the military leadership.
As with the strategy of ‘management’ of radicalism in the NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), however, this approach has inherent risks and limitations. While the Army remains committed to a nationalist perspective – albeit increasingly tainted with elements of the Islamist extremist and jihadi ideology – at least some of the jihadi groups go beyond the boundaries of the sarkari (officially sanctioned) ideology to embrace a puritan pan-Islamist dogma that rejects the primacy of nationalist or State interests. It has, till now, been possible to direct much of the fury of this radicalised Islamist terrorist element outwards – towards Afghanistan and India – but there is evidence of an increasing proportion of this rage turning inwards.
Abdul Rashid Ghazi has sought to protract the standoff at the Lal Masjid, calling for the suspension of the military operation pending a judicial determination of any alleged wrongdoing by him. At the time of writing, however, reports suggested that a high-level meeting convened by Musharraf was hammering out the details of a final military strategy to end the confrontation. A military ‘victory’ may give Musharraf some immediate relief, partially restoring his sagging image in the international media and community, and aiding his projection as Pakistan’s last bulwark against extremism and terrorism. But slow processes of attrition are working against Musharraf and there has been a steady loss of both domestic and international legitimacy for his regime. The build-up in the Lal Masjid complex contributed to this loss of legitimacy for over six months; a violent resolution of the crisis will do nothing to restore such legitimacy. It is only through the augmenting use of force and the ambivalent and precarious manipulation of jihadi sentiments that the Musharraf regime will continue to retain its grip over power in Pakistan.
Maoist Citadel in Malkangiri
Maoist violence in Orissa has largely been a spillover from neighbouring States. Sharing borders with deeply Maoist-afflicted States like Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, Orissa has found itself constrained in dealing with the armed rebels as they progressively extend their areas of operations. While 15 of Orissa’s 30 Districts have, over the years, witnessed Maoist violence and mobilization, it is the border Districts which have been the worst affected.
Orissa’s southern-most District, Malkangiri shares its southern and eastern borders with Visakhapatnam, East Godavari and Khammam Districts of Andhra Pradesh, while in the west it is bordered by Chhattisgarh’s Bastar District. Only its northern border retains a link with the State through the Koraput District. Spread over an area of 5,791 square kilometres, nearly 52 percent of the District is forested. The hilly terrain of the Eastern Ghats and the dense forests running through the District accentuate its remoteness and inaccessibility.
On May 1, 2007, State Home Secretary T.K. Mishra disclosed that 39 extremists, 38 police personnel and 37 civilians were killed in Orissa over the preceding seven years. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), a total of 23 fatalities were recorded in 2006, compared to 17 fatalities in 2005, eight in 2004, and 16 in 2003. While the MHA does not provide District-wise break-ups of fatalities, according to the Institute for Conflict Management database, nine fatalities were reported from Malkangiri in 2006, as against five in 2005. In 2007 (till June 30), out of a total of 18 fatalities recorded in Orissa, Malkangiri alone accounts for nine. The District has already recorded the following significant incidents in 2007:
Malkangiri District comes under the jurisdiction of the Andhra-Orissa Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC), which was formed by the erstwhile People’s War Group (now CPI-Maoist) in 2001. Maoists in Malkangiri work in close coordination with their comrades from across the borders in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and also receive instructions from the senior command concentrated in these States – now principally in Chhattisgarh. In March 2007, it was reported that 100 hardcore armed Maoists from Chhattisgarh had sneaked into the bordering Malkangiri and Koraput Districts of Orissa. A red alert was sounded in the tribal pockets of these Districts when Police received intelligence inputs from the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh that armed Maoists were moving towards Malkangiri and Jeypore subdivision in Koraput. Official sources in Malkangiri informed SAIR that the Maoists move constantly across the borders in groups that consist of up to 300-400 members.
The Maoists function through their dalams (squads), and those operating in Malkangiri currently include the Kalimela dalam, the Poplur dalam, the Motu dalam, the Jhanjavati dalam, and the Korkonda dalam, among others. The leaders of a dalam are rotated or transferred cyclically to other dalams in different locations in order to evade the Police. These dalams recruit locals and send them to the various Maoist training centres in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.. According to official sources, the Maoists in Malkangiri carry a range of modern weapons including AK-47s, LMGs and SLRs, in addition to pistols and .303 rifles. In addition, cadres receive specialised training in the use of landmines, grenades and bombs including a range of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Intelligence sources indicate that the Maoists are now using high-power jammers and filters to block mobile and wireless services in the Naxalite zones.
The retreat of the State administration is evident from the impact of periodic strike calls given by the Maoists in the area. On May 21, the Maoist’s AOBSZC called for a week-long strike (from May 21 to 27) in the border Districts of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, protesting against alleged Police excesses in tribal areas and fake encounters in the Naxalite zones. The strike was total in the Malkangiri District. Normal traffic in and outside areas bordering Malkangiri, Kalimela, Chitrakonda and MV-79 areas was badly affected. Similarly, on June 26, protesting against the formation of Special Economic Zones in the country, Maoists began a two-day economic blockade in Orissa. They obstructed roads leading to Kalimela, Motu and other villages in Malkangiri by felling trees and placing huge boulders on the roads. Normal traffic was severely disrupted, in spite of claims to the contrary by the District administration.
Opium cultivation has emerged as a major source of income for the Maoists in Malkangiri. Hundreds of acres in the District, especially areas in Chitrakonda and Kalimela, have been covered under ganja (marijuana) crops, with poor tribal farmers are lured by the Maoists into this illegal cultivation with a promise of better returns. A single plant fetches as much as INR 200 for the cultivator, and according to one estimate, a plantation on about half an acre can fetch more than INR 50,000, which is far more lucrative than any other form of agricultural activity in the region. According to reports, over 10,000 quintals of ganja are produced in the Kalimela and Chitrakonda areas each year. Cultivation is maintained round the year in the Maoist-affected tribal pockets of Janvai, Pepermetla, Poplur, Maligudaodia and Manamkonda. From the Malkangiri District, ganja is exported to nearby townships in Orissa including Bolangir, Sambalpur and Rourkela, from where it is reportedly transported onwards to Nepal and Pakistan.
CRPF personnel are the mainstay of anti-Maoist operations in Malkangiri and are supported by the regular Police, personnel of the Orissa State Armed Police, the Special Operation Group and the 1st India Reserve Battalion. In May 2007, Police in the Malkangiri District started a poster campaign highlighting atrocities by the Maoists and details of a Government package for surrendered extremists. The hoardings also reiterated the Government’s commitment to protect surrendered Maoists.
On June 28, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, speaking in the State Legislative Assembly, claimed that the situation relating to Left Wing extremism in Orissa is better than that in the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This, however, can at best provide cold comfort. With dense and hilly forests, a large body of trained cadres, with supporters among the local tribals and a helping hand from across the State’s borders, Maoists have found it rather easy to create a serious challenge for the Security Forces and have converted Districts like Malkangiri into safe areas for their activities. Intermittent counter-Maoist operations and a weak surrender policy have proven entirely insufficient to contain this challenge, and the situation can only worsen, unless a dramatic augmentation of capacities and operations is witnessed in the District, and the enveloping area in the State and across its boundaries.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
July 2-8, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Engineer from Bangalore drove flaming jeep involved in Glasgow terrorist attack: Two days after the suspected role of two cousins, Sabeel Ahmed and Mohammad Haneef, both from Bangalore, capital of Karnataka in south India, in the foiled car bombings in London was ascertained, it has now emerged that the man who drove the flaming jeep into Glasgow airport on June 30, 2007, is Sabeel’s elder brother Kafeel Ahmed. Kafeel, an aeronautical engineer with a PhD from UK, is lying in hospital with 90 per cent burns. He set himself ablaze after the fuel canister-laden Cherokee Jeep used for the attack crashed into barriers outside the airport. While security agencies in London have not established the identity of the man they had pulled out of the flaming jeep, sources in Bangalore confirmed that the man was Kafeel Ahmed. Kafeel is also suspected to be the chief designer of the car bombs which were defused by London police in the crowded Haymarket (near Picadilly) area. He was a doctoral researcher at the Anglia Polytechnic University in the department of design and technology.
Police in Brisbane, Australia, arrested Ahmed’s cousin, Mohammad Haneef, as he attempted to board a flight to Bangalore via Kuala Lumpur. Dr. Haneef had worked in the U.K. with Dr. Sabeel Ahmed until 2007, when he accepted a position at Brisbane’s Gold Coast Hospital and traveled to Australia on a skilled-worker visa issued by the Queensland Health Department. The Hindu; Times of India, July 6, 2007.
Home Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan conclude in New Delhi: Responding to New Delhi’s concern over terrorism and the activities of Indian fugitives sheltered in Pakistan, India and Pakistan on July 4, 2007, agreed to take effective measures to combat terrorism. In a joint statement signed after the fourth round of Home Secretary level talks in New Delhi between India and Pakistan on Terrorism and Drug Trafficking, the two sides strongly condemned all acts of terrorism and underlined the imperative for effective and sustained measures against terrorist activity in either country. The talks also agreed to enhance cooperation between India’s Central Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan in the areas of human trafficking, illegal immigration and counterfeit currency. The Indian delegation represented by Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta and Pakistani side headed by Secretary in the Interior Ministry Syed Kamal Shah, agreed that all fishermen will be released by August 14-15, 2007. It was also agreed that fishing boats in each other’s custody will also be released. Daily Excelsior, July 5, 2007.
Standoff between militants and troops at Lal Masjid continues: While the standoff between Lal Masjid militants and security forces in Islamabad entered the seventh day, a Special Services Group Commander, Lt-Col Haroon Islam, was killed by the militants on July 8, 2007. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz reportedly presided over a high-level security meeting at which he reiterated the Government’s position that the militants must release all hostages, lay down their weapons and submit before the law. Earlier, at least 19 people were killed and around 150 injured in a daylong shootout between the seminary students and security force personnel near the mosque on July 3. The administration confirmed that a journalist, one soldier of the para-military Rangers, a businessman, seminary students and bystanders were among the dead. The shootout commenced at around 11am after students of the Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Fareedia, madrassas (seminaries) affiliated to the Lal Masjid, marched towards the nearby Environment Ministry building and a security picket outside it. Dawn; Daily Times; Jang, July 4-9, 2007.
President Pervez Musharraf escapes assassination attempt in Rawalpindi: President Pervez Musharraf escaped an assassination attempt on July 6-morning when around 36 rounds fired at his aircraft from a submachine gun in Rawalpindi missed their target. Police said that General Musharraf’s aircraft took off from the Chaklala airbase for flood-hit areas of Balochistan and Sindh at around 10:15 am (PST) and came under fire soon thereafter. The rounds were fired by a sub machinegun 10.62 installed on the roof of a two-storey house, Fazal Manzil, in Asghar Mall close to the Islamabad Airport and the Chaklala Airbase. Security force personnel subsequently seized a submachine gun, two anti-aircraft guns with tripods and two satellite antennas and arrested the house owner, Muhammad Sharif. Neighbours said that three bearded men, a woman and two children used to live in the house, but none of them were present when the troops reached there. The Inter-Services Public Relations Director General, Major General Waheed Arshad, while denying the attack said, "The President was not in the aircraft which was targeted. I have no details about the incident as investigations are underway." Daily Times, July 7, 2007.
11 people killed in suicide attack in North Waziristan: 11 people, including six security force (SF) personnel, died in a suicide attack on a caravan of SFs in North Waziristan on July 4, 2007. The caravan was going to Bannu in the North West Frontier Province from Miranshah, headquarters of North Waziristan when a suicide attacker rammed his explosive-laden car with the caravan near Mir Ali. Four SF personnel and a child passer-by died on the spot while two soldiers and three passers-by succumbed to injuries at a hospital. The suicide attacker also was killed. Jang, July 5, 2007.