SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
On September 5, 2006, Taliban leaders in North Waziristan signed a ‘peace agreement’ with the Government, promising to halt cross-border movement and stop attacks on Government installations and security forces.
three-page agreement was signed by seven militants on
behalf of the Taliban shura (advisory council)
and by the Political Agent of North Waziristan, Dr.
Fakhr-i-Alam, who signed on behalf of the Government.
The seven representatives of militant groups included
Mohammad Azad, Saif Ullah, Ahmad Shah Jehan, Azmat Ali,
Meer Sharaf, Eid Niaz and Hafiz Mir Hamza. Apart from
over 500 tribal leaders and clerics, the ceremony was
attended by the General Officer Commanding for the Southern
Regions, Maj. Gen. Syed Azhar Ali Shah, who later reportedly
embraced the militants.
An unnamed spokesperson of the militants said that the Jirga had assured them that the Government would pay them PKR 10 million if it failed to hand over the weapons and vehicles it had seized during various military operations. According to the signatories, the agreement would lead to peace and stability in the beleaguered region, help in restoring the centuries-old tribal system, and facilitate a troop withdrawal. The Khasadar force is reported to have taken control of the check posts vacated by the SFs after the accord.
Much violence preceded this deal. According to open source information monitored by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, during January 1, 2005-August 31, 2006, 846 people, including 181 civilians and 176 soldiers, were killed; given Islamabad's understated accounts, the suppression of the Press and erratic reportage, the actual numbers could be much higher. It is necessary to reiterate that the local Taliban are in effective control of most of Waziristan, on the Pakistan-Afghan border. What they had already achieved on the ground has now been officially acknowledged.
For the record, this is the third accord that Islamabad has reached with the Taliban-led militants since military operations commenced in July 2002. The first agreement, known as the Shakai deal, in 2004, failed to end violence and eventually collapsed after Nek Muhammad, whose ‘surrender’ in April 2004 was a widely publicized event, turned his back on the Army and was eventually neutralised in a targeted missile attack on June 17, 2004. A second effort also failed after the agreement signed in February 2005 with the influential Mehsud tribe broke down after Abdullah Mehsud, a Taliban-aligned leader closely linked to the Binoria seminary in Karachi, reneged on the deal and reverted to violence.
Given the past trajectory of inconclusive treaties dominated by lack of definite guarantees, the current truce appears to be headed in the same direction. While it is true that the guns have fallen silent since July 2006, pledges that the Taliban militia would not cross into Afghanistan for terrorist strikes and would also not provide safe havens for foreign militants in Waziristan, are open to scrutiny. And there is no guarantee that militants not on board would abstain from cross-border incursions or attacks on Pakistanis within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Former FATA security chief Brig. (retd.) Mehmood Shah has described the agreement as ‘weaker’ than the earlier accords, and notes, “The Taliban’s pledges are no more than a general statement that they will not do this and that.”
The moot point is that the Taliban has secured immense gains from this present pact. In more ways than one, it is a signal that the Pakistan Army has failed in its quest for a military victory. When operations were launched against the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine in the FATA in 2002, the Army, under enormous pressure from the US, was convinced that a military victory was essential. Four years down the line, it is the proponents of a violent jihad who have achieved strategic success. In the past few days, detained Taliban operatives have been released (more than 130), their arms and ammunition is to be returned and more importantly, they will now have full freedom of movement and activities across Waziristan. Even a cursory reading of the accord indicates that the Government has caved into the demands of the Taliban, a manifest retreat for the state.
Such a retreat also clears the way for a geographical spread of Talibanisation beyond FATA and into the settled Districts of the adjoining North West Frontier Province. In the immediate past, incidents involving Islamist extremists have been reported from areas like Bannu, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan. Countering Islamist extremism is not only about bringing order in Waziristan but also about checking the spread of militancy to the rest of the country, something which may be greatly endangered now.
One of the clauses in the accord stipulates that foreigners living in the area will have to leave. However, the whole purpose of this provision is defeated, since the agreement also says “but those who cannot leave will be allowed to live peacefully, respecting the law of the land and the agreement.” It would be naïve to expect the foreigners – an euphemism for militants from a mélange of countries, including Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Arab world – whose numbers are believed to be in the hundreds, to vacate their safe havens. A majority of them, wanted in their home countries, have been holed up in Waziristan for years and it is highly unlikely that they would now leave. Sources indicate that, after the Shakai agreement in 2004, not a single foreigner left the region. The marginal reduction in their numbers since then is primarily due to the fact that many have gone ‘missing in action’. Further, the local Taliban have never acknowledged that foreign elements are present in the area. Indeed, after the accord was announced on September 5, 2006, a spokesman for the militants reiterated that there were no foreigners and that Islamabad had yet to provide any proof of their presence.
A reversal on the ban on carrying weapons (the deal merely says tribesmen will not carry heavy weapons) and allowing free movement also effectively means that the parallel administration that the local Taliban is running will be consolidated further. Reports indicate that groups of local Taliban regularly patrol the streets of Miranshah, headquarters of North Waziristan, to ensure that the people conform to the Taliban's rigid version of Islam. There has been a stream of reports in the past few months indicating that clerics were replacing chieftains in all committees in South Waziristan. The Taliban have reportedly opened recruiting offices in the Wana, Makeen and Barwend areas of South Waziristan. Moral policing and social edicts in Waziristan are reportedly now an accepted reality: shopkeepers are debarred from trading in music or films in any manner; barbers have been ordered not to shave beards; and women have been told not to go to the market or other public places.
With this accord, the status of the ‘miscreants’ killed during military operations has abruptly been transformed to ‘martyrs’ and the Government will pay compensation for casualties and property lost. Maulana Nek Zaman, a Member of the National Assembly and a key mediator, said the Government had released all tribesmen who were arrested during military operations and they would not be re-arrested. All vehicles, belongings and arms impounded will be returned to the tribesmen, he added. The writ of the state, clearly, does not prevail in the area.
The promise that there will be no cross-border infiltration into Afghanistan is, on all indications, not expected to hold. Even as the border is almost impracticable to effectively monitor, Islamabad also appears to be placing an undue amount of faith in the local Taliban, who will not think twice on reneging on their commitments under the cover of credible deniability – a long and entrenched tradition in Pakistan. While the porous Durand Line has its own complications vis-à-vis border management, a complete and sustained end to infiltration would also mean that Pakistan foregoes attempts to regain its strategic depth in Afghanistan. As of now, there are no indications of an end-game in Afghanistan and Islamabad is, consequently and at best, only looking for a momentary lull.
On a separate plane, the accord is also a lesser evil for the military regime. With more than 80,000 troops committed in FATA, and struggling to contain the fallout of the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti in the Balochistan province, Islamabad wants to narrow down the regions of strife.
The problem with procured surrenders and induced loyalties, however, is their capricious nature. There are far too many complexities within the local power centres and past experience has shown that loyalties change rapidly, though a temporary patriotism might easily be induced.
Significantly, no sooner had the ink dried on the accord, military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told ABC News that Osama bin Laden “would not be taken into custody” under the deal “as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen.” Questions on high-value targets are bound to sooner or later embarrass Islamabad, especially since it has now conceded the Taliban enormous space. And in the proximate future, a Hezbollah-like structure will crystallize, with the local Taliban militia controlling the ground and the non-militant leadership, drawn essentially from the tribal elders and seminaries, will administer. A diplomat aptly described the developments as akin to “putting the fox in charge of the hen house.”
Wheel of Fire
8, 2006, a Sri Lankan military contingent escorted a
group of national and international journalists through
the northeastern town of Sampur, guiding them right
through to the coast, demonstrating their absolute control
over an area, till recently considered a Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
stronghold. This exercise marked the culmination of
a series of fierce battles between troops and the LTTE
cadres over different pockets in the northern and eastern
part of the country. Sampur was one of these pockets
of intense conflict, and also the most crucial .
Although, the LTTE campaign of claymore mine explosions and suicide attacks targeting security forces increased dramatically in this period, matters came to a boil with the Mawilaru anicut (irrigation channel) dispute. The dispute commenced on July 20, 2006, when civilians living in the Government-controlled Kallar area complained that water had been cut off from an irrigation canal that flows through territory controlled by the Tigers. The Government accused the LTTE of deliberately closing down the sluice gates at Mawilaru, denying water to 15,000 families and 30,000 acres of paddy land in the Seruwila, Muttur and Ichchalampattu areas of the Trincomalee District. ‘Operation Watershed’, launched by the Government on July 26 to open the sluice gates, met with considerable resistance from the LTTE. Although ground troops, with support from airforce jets, managed to open the sluice gates on August 8, the LTTE opened up fronts in other areas.
On August 1, 18 soldiers were killed when the bus they were traveling in was caught in a Claymore mine attack on the access road to the Kallar canal. On the same day, at least five Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) personnel were killed and 30 others sustained injuries when LTTE cadres fired artillery at the Trincomalee naval base. Further, the SLN reportedly repulsed a LTTE attempt to destroy a troop carrier transporting 854 unarmed military personnel when it was returning from Kankesanthurai harbour and entering the mouth of Trincomalee harbour.
Simultaneously, on August 1, the LTTE launched attacks on three Sri Lankan Army (SLA) camps and the Muslim-majority Muttur town, killing at least five military personnel and one civilian, while injuring more than 30 others. Military sources said LTTE cadres attacked with mortars and artillery at Army camps in Kattaparichchan, Gandhinagar, and Palathoppur and the Muttur town. The LTTE claimed that Gandhinagar and Palathoppur localities were captured, and four detachments of the Army at Kattaparichchan, Palathoppur, Pachchanoor and Mahindapura were overrun. LTTE units then entered Muttur town and reached the jetty linking Muttur with Trincomalee town across the Koddiyar Bay. Following the clashes that occurred in the Muttur town and its vicinity, close to 40,000 residents were displaced. On August 5, the Army claimed that the LTTE beat a hasty retreat in the face of an intense military operation. SLA sources claimed that, in the course of the operation, 152 cadres of the LTTE were killed. However, the LTTE asserted that the withdrawal of its cadres from the strategic town came after they had accomplished ‘military objectives’, which were never specified.
On August 11, the LTTE opened another front in the northern Jaffna District, attempting to overrun the Army's Forward Defense Line (FDL). According to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission’s (SLMM) Weekly Report, 7-13 August 2006,
Even as the armed forces managed to wrest the initiative in the Mavilaru dispute, in Muttur town and in Jaffna, the Trincomalee harbour continued to be vulnerable under constant shelling by LTTE artillery and mortar shells from the Sampur area. Some of the major incidents of shelling included:
Sampur has been a crucial town for both the Government and the LTTE, for it lies on the southern side of Trincomalee Bay, directly opposite the major Trincomalee Port and Naval Base, providing the LTTE the opportunity to set up artillery formations and bomb the area at will. Strategic analyst Amantha Perera notes,
2003, the Sri Lankan Army lodged a complaint with the
SLMM accusing the Tigers of setting up a new camp at
Manirasakulam on the south western side of the Bay.
The SLMM inquiry ruled that the camp was within 600
meters of Government-controlled areas and should be
dismantled. The LTTE ignored the ruling.
The Trincomalee Harbour is also of critical importance to the national economy. Forty percent of the oil filling stations in Sri Lanka are operated by the Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) and the fuel supplies of the LIOC are stored at the Oil Tank Farm at China Bay near the Trincomalee Harbour.
Further, Sri Lanka’s total wheat flour requirements are supplied by the Prima Flour Milling factory in Trincomalee. The silos and buildings of the Prima factory on the bay of the Trincomalee harbour are viable targets for LTTE long-range weaponry. International shipping lines transporting wheat flour have, in the past, voiced reservations due to the threat on Trincomalee Harbour. In addition, the Harbour also has several other industrial facilities such as the cement processing plant of the Tokyo Cement Company.
Regaining Sampur was, consequently, a rising imperative as hostilities recommenced, and the battle to regain the strategic town was launched by the military on August 28, with ground troops painstakingly de-mining the region, under Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) air cover. By September 3, troops had managed to regain some parts of Sampur region, even as, by then, the LTTE had reportedly removed its artillery from Sampur to safer places in the Vaharai-Verugal area of Batticaloa district. Thereafter, on September 4, LTTE military spokesman Rasiah Ilantheriyan announced that their troops were “tactically withdrawing” from the Sampur town.
For the military, one of the crucial elements in the success stories of the battles has been the effective operational use of SLAF fighter aircrafts. According to security analysts, the SLAF was, in the past, not a willing player in the conflict, primarily due to losses suffered under LTTE missile fire. On April 28, 1995, the LTTE had used a missile to bring down an Avro at the Palaly Airbase in Jaffna, killing 50 officers and men during Eelam War III. In August the same year, an AN-32 transport aircraft was shot down, again by a missile.
The LTTE, over the years, has been constantly upgrading its weaponry with a focused approach to thwart any future SLAF involvement. Part of the plan was the reported development of an airstrip at Iranamadu and attempts to assemble twin engine propeller driven aircraft. The LTTE is also in possession of SA7 surface-to-air missiles, which were used to down the SLAF transport planes earlier. However, the SA7 missiles are considered to have a shorter shelf life and limited speed, range and altitude, rendering them ineffective against fast moving fighter aircraft. The result was the enormously effective use of fighter jets by Colombo, as a few examples demonstrate:
attempt at acquiring a better version of the SA7 missiles
was thwarted on August 19, 2006, when thirteen suspects
with close links to the rebels were arrested in Long
Island, New York, after three of them traveled from
Canada to New York in an attempt to finalize a $900,000
deal to buy SA18 surface-to-air missiles, missile launchers,
AK-47s and training services from what turned out to
be an undercover police official. Reports indicate that
the undercover agent allegedly discussed selling weapons
with one of the suspects to shoot down the Kfir Israeli-made
jets used by the SLAF.
The LTTE might have suffered a setback or, in its own language, have ‘tactically withdrawn’ from some areas, but its lethality cannot be ignored as history has proven time and again. The outfit continues to have the wherewithal to hit back strongly, as clearly witnessed in the September 10 attack by LTTE cadres on SF positions in the Muhamalai area of the Jaffna peninsula, leaving 28 soldiers dead. More crucially, the Tigers have the capacity to carry out operations even at the country’s heart, Colombo.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
September 4-10, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
persons killed and 65 injured in three bomb explosions
in Maharashtra: On September 8, 2006, forty people
were killed and 65 others sustained injuries in three
bomb explosions at Malegaon town in the Nashik district
of Maharashtra. The first explosion occurred outside
the Bada Kabristan, a burial ground at the heart of
the old city. The area near the burial ground was crowded
with people who had gathered to offer prayers on the
occasion of Shab-e-Baraat (night of salvation). The
second explosion took place near a mosque while the
third occurred at Mushawarat Chowk. The explosives reportedly
had been rigged to bicycles. No group has claimed responsibility
for the blasts thus far. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh
described the blasts as "a terrorist act" but said he
did not know who was responsible.
DNA India, September 9, 2006.
Prime Minister warns of further intensification of terrorist violence: Speaking at the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security in New Delhi on September 5, 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said intelligence agencies had warned of a further intensification of terrorist violence with the possibility of more Fidayeen (suicide squad) attacks. He said that use of suicide bombers; attacks on economic and religious targets and targeting of vital installations, including nuclear establishments and Army camps, were very much on the agenda of terrorist outfits. The Prime Minister also said intelligence reports had suggested that terrorist modules and "sleeper cells" existed in some of the urban areas. Stressing upon the need to have greater alertness by the States and local intelligence agencies as also the police, who have a locational advantage, the Prime Minister said that unless the "beat constable" was brought into the vortex of the counter-terrorist strategy, the capacity to pre-empt future attacks would be severely limited. Times of India, September 6, 2006.
13 districts affected by Maoist activity in Karnataka, says Chief Minister: Speaking at the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security in New Delhi on September 5, 2006, the Karnataka Chief Minister, H.D. Kumaraswamy, disclosed that 13 districts had been affected by left-wing extremism and there were about 200 Maoist cadres with 60 operating in two or three armed groups in the Malnad region. He further said, "They have automatic weapons, 8 mm rifles, IED (improvised explosive device) and hand grenades, and have also two-way VHF communication equipment,'' adding, several initiatives had been taken by the Government to tackle the danger posed by the Maoists and an anti-Maoist force had been set up with 543 personnel and located at Udupi in the Malnad area. The Hindu, September 6, 2006.
Osama bin Laden not to be arrested if found in the country, says military spokesperson: Military regime spokesperson Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan is reported to have told ABC News on September 6, 2006, that if Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan, he "would not be taken into custody as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen." Sultan also said it was "hair-splitting" to speculate whether troops would be sent in if bin Laden was found in North Waziristan. However, the Foreign Office termed as ‘gross misreporting’ a statement attributed to Sultan. Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said “In response to a question, Maj-Gen Sultan stated that foreigners settled in the area would be allowed to stay there on the condition that they lived peacefully and abided by law. At no stage during the conversation he said that this was applicable to Osama bin Laden.” Dawn, September 7, 2006.
Taliban sign peace agreement with Government in North Waziristan: Taliban militants signed a peace agreement with the Government on September 5, 2006, pledging not to launch cross-border attacks in Afghanistan and not to shelter foreign militants. The Taliban had been observing a unilateral cease-fire since June 2006. Taliban representative Azad Khan and North Waziristan Political Agent Fakhar-i-Alam signed the agreement in Miranshah, in the presence of army commander Major General Azhar Ali Shah. “Misunderstandings between the administration and Taliban led to unpleasant moments, but we are happy that a new beginning starts today,” parliamentarian Maulana Nek Zaman of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal said at the ceremony, witnessed by around 500 people. A 10-member committee of tribal elders, clerics and administration officials was set up to monitor the progress and implementation of the agreement, a Government statement read.
Under the agreement, the Taliban accepted the Government demand that cross-border attacks would not be launched nor foreign militants sheltered. They also agreed not to attack Government buildings or security forces, and not to conduct “target killings” of Government servants, tribal elders and journalists. In return, the Government agreed to stop air and ground operations; return all weapons and other material seized during operations; restore privileges of tribesmen; and remove all check-posts. Daily Times, September 6, 2006.
150 persons killed in continuing clashes in Jaffna: At least 150 persons, including 28 soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army, were killed in continuing battles between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the Forward Defence Lines (FDLs) in the northern sector of Jaffna peninsula in the past 24 hours. According to the military, clashes ensued after LTTE cadres fired a barrage of artillery shells and mortars at the security forces. "Troops, while tactically neutralising the LTTE threat, retaliated strongly to the continuous enemy fire and pushed their advance back after breaking into their positions to neutralise their firepower. Troops soon silenced their fire positions located in their FDLs", the army said in a statement. "Troops successfully continued with the offensive against the terrorists. Amidst the explosions and fighting with the terrorists, 28 valiant soldiers laid down their lives while defending their territory", the statement added. Quoting unnamed sources, the military said at least 115 LTTE cadres were killed in the operations. The Hindu, September 11, 2006.
LTTE order three months' compulsory combat training for children: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leadership has ordered three months of compulsory combat training for Ordinary and Advanced Level students in Sri Lanka's North and East and also rejected sending more cadres to the East. Director General of the Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalle, in a statement said that school children were ordered to undergo weapons and combat training before they sit for their exams. “According to the LTTE leader’s directive, students prior to their exams must undergo training in weapons and the use of explosives for suicide missions from youth training camps established in Jaffna, Madhagal, Kilali, Kilinochchi, Periya Paranthan, Mullaitivu, Iranamadu, Adampan and Sencholai. According to Tamil media, all these camps had been opened by Prabhakaran himself,” the statement said. Colombo Page, September 11, 2006.
Military takes control of Sampur town in Trincomalee district: The Sri Lankan military claimed that it had taken control of the strategically crucial town of Sampur in the Trincomalee district on September 4, 2006. The military backed by air support had launched an offensive to take control of Sampur over a week ago to halt attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the strategic port of Trincomalee harbour and the naval base. Defence spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella said the troops met very little resistance when they moved into the town. He said the entire harbour mouth, including several sea bases of the LTTE, was now in military control. Ground troops reportedly entered Sampur on September 4-afternoon and started conducting clearing operations to neutralize land mines and explosive devices planted by the LTTE. Colombo Page, September 5, 2006.