SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Irrespective of its dramatis personae, Pakistan will continue to remain the "epicentre of global instability", and its unfortunate reality is that every new ‘solution’ will bring with it new and potentially greater problems. Evidence of this was available on October 18, 2007, when at least 143 people died and more than 550 were wounded in two suicide attacks that targeted Benazir Bhutto’s triumphal homecoming parade, as the former Prime Minister and chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) wound her way in an open truck through massive crowds in the streets of Karachi.
No official determination has been made thus far regarding the group responsible for the terrorist attacks. More interestingly, no claim of responsibility has been made so far. But there are crucial indications that her return from exile has contributed further to an ominous state of play in Pakistan, with state agencies, chief ministers and the ubiquitous Islamist extremists possibly executing dubious roles. At a Press Conference at her residence, Bilawal House, on October 19, Bhutto claimed that ‘three people’ were responsible for the attack, though she has not disclosed their names so far. According to The News, they are Arbab Ghulam Rahim, Chief Minister of Sindh, Chaudhry Perwez Elahi, Chief Minister of Punjab, and Brigadier (retired) Ejaz Shah, Director General of the Intelligence Bureau. Worse, though she did not directly blame the Musharraf regime for the attack, she did not absolve it entirely, declaring: "I suspect that some individuals in the Government may have been involved in the attack." The former premier disclosed that an unnamed "brotherly country" had informed her in advance about the suicide attacks. She added, further, that the ruling Muttahida Quami Movement would have been blamed for the assassination attempt. Benazir also claimed that her sources had informed her that Police commandoes would be used for the next assassination attempt near Bilawal House or in Larkana, her hometown. "They will attack me in the guise of rival party activists and then any rival party may be blamed for that attack," she said. Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, has already blamed a Pakistani intelligence agency for the attacks. "We blame one intelligence agency and we demand action against it... it is not done by militants, it is done by that intelligence agency," Zardari told a private television channel. Further, Nabeel Gabool, a PPP member declared, "This is an act of terrorism, not done by any terrorist but an act of terrorism done by the Government."
In fairness, it is useful to note that every single security protocol was breached by Bhutto and her party enthusiasts. The bullet proof shield was put aside, and numberless party workers, supporters and media persons simply clambered on to the truck to catch a glimpse of her, to shake her hand, or to try to get a quick ‘sound bite’. Moreover, given the prior threats and assessments of the high probability of attack, the sagacity of the triumphal parade is itself in question. As Bhutto’s niece and political opponent, Fatima Bhutto, expressed it, Benazir bears responsibility for the deaths in the attack, since she exposed her followers and security personnel to danger for her own "personal theatre". "She insisted on this grand show, she bears a responsibility for these deaths and for these injuries", she said.
On their part, some officials have said the suicide attacks may have been the work of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Sindh Home Secretary, Brigadier(Retd.) Ghulam Mohammed Mohatarem, was quoted as stating that the attack bore the hallmarks of militants linked to the Waziristan-based Taliban ‘commander’ Baitullah Mehsud and al Qaeda. An unnamed official of the Sindh Government cited intelligence reports that three suicide bombers linked to Mehsud were in Karachi. However, Baitullah, who was earlier accused of threatening Benazir with suicide attacks on her return from exile, denied his involvement in the assassination attempt. Isa Khan, a close aide of Baitullah, told The News from an undisclosed location that "Baitullah Mehsud asked me to issue a statement on his behalf and deny the involvement of his men in the Karachi blasts… We can't even think of killing innocent people."
There are various elements in Pakistan who are opposed to Benazir Bhutto’s return to the political centre-stage. While Benazir is the only opposition leader who supported the military operations on the Red Mosque in Islamabad earlier this year, she is on record as having stated that she would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to question al Qaeda-linked nuclear scientist Dr A. Q. Khan. While her presence as a Musharraf ally had already invited vicious disapproval from the jihadi elements, it is now certain that elements within the Government, both at the federal and provincial levels, and some state agencies, including elements within the Army, also intend to liquidate her. On October 16, Benazir reportedly stated that she fears for her life from the hands of the jihadi elements in the Army and retired army officers. Mohammed Shehzad writes in the Pakistan Media Monitor that "she has unnecessarily antagonized the jihadis as well as the rightwing elements in the society and establishment. In fact, she is provoking the rightwing to kill her." Benazir Bhutto is widely perceived to be a pro-Western leader who is looking to either create and sustain a moderate constituency within Pakistan, or to consolidate the anti-Musharraf platform. Crucial is also the timing of her homecoming: she returns when Pakistan is at a tipping point and at a time when President Musharraf’s grip is at its weakest since he seized power in a bloodless coup eight years ago. All of this translates into a vast ensemble of adversaries.
Benazir, who played a significantly dubious role in the events leading up to the sequel to Pervez Musharraf’s military presidency, will now be a key player in what she claims is "a transition towards democracy." In the Times of London, Benazir stated that she is carrying "a manuscript of a book" which is "a treatise on the reconciliation of the values of Islam and the West and a prescription for a moderate, modern Islam that marginalises extremists, returns the military from politics to their barracks, treats all citizens and especially women equally and selects its leaders by free and fair elections." But, her horrific homecoming has meant that the ‘democratic transition’ has come undone at the outset itself. ‘Transitions’, notwithstanding the American optimism, may not be enough to salvage the situation in Pakistan. A comprehensive transformation – and possibly not the one optimists in the country and abroad are hoping for – is gradually becoming an inevitability.
Political and terrorist violence remains incessant in Pakistan. In a certain sense, Pakistan's commercial capital, Karachi, reflects the spread of terrorism and political violence over the past eight years of President Musharraf’s rule. The capital of the Sindh province has, since the 1980s, been a focal point of tremendous sectarian strife between the majority Sunni and minority Shia Muslims. The metropolis has also been a safe haven for a melange of Islamist extremists linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban. There was an alleged assassination attempt on the life of President Pervez Musharraf here in September 2002, and US journalist Daniel Pearl was abducted and subsequently killed in Karachi in February 2002. Indian mafia don Dawood Ibrahim, the prime accused in the 1992 serial blasts in Mumbai, reportedly has a Karachi address (White House, near Saudi Mosque, Clifton), and it was in Karachi that many al Qaeda operatives, including Ramzi Binalshibh, have been arrested since 9/11. Abu Zubaydah, before his arrest from Faisalabad in March 2002, reportedly oversaw the establishment of al Qaeda cells in Karachi. The city also houses the Binoria mosque complex, which has long been the nerve centre of the military-jihadi enterprise. While Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai (assassinated on May 30, 2004) of Binoria is believed to have been a patron of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), one of his many infamous students, Maulana Masood Azhar, launched the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
The port-city, with a population of approximately 20 million and counting, has also seen crimes like abduction for ransom, car-jacking and armed robbery increase dramatically in recent years. According to sources, a substantial section of such crime is attributed to people with links to the various political and Islamist extremist groups. Indeed, an elaborate underground economy of terror exists in this city where everything is available – for a price. The multi-ethnic city – mini-Pakistan as it is called – regularly witnesses incidents of terrorist, sectarian, political and organized criminal violence. According to Institute for Conflict Management data, there have been 58 incidents of terrorist violence in 2004, 37 in 2005 107 in 2006 and 96 in 2007 (till October 20). There have also been six suicide attacks in Karachi since 2002. The city has also seen recurring violence targeting western interests. Karachi constitutes an expansive compass and space for radical Islam to flourish.
The city has, for long, been considered an extremely difficult place to police. The Police Force of 29,326 is relatively inadequate and the rapidly changing population profile as well as an intricate web of Islamist terrorist groups compounds the problems of enforcement. The much-beleaguered Karachi Police, according to a June 2004 estimate, was deployed at 2,223 mosques and Imambargahs, and 869 seminaries in the city. Besides, there is also substantial deployment at 103 foreign missions, 31 foreign food outlets, 205 vital installations, 84 temples, 213 churches, 99 multi-national companies and 227 petrol pumps. 100 police mobile vans and 7,000 police personnel are, moreover, engaged in ‘VIP duty’. That leaves precious little for the routine tasks of policing or for aggressive counter-terrorism operations.
Violence and instability in Karachi, which reportedly generates more than 60 per cent of Pakistan’s total revenue collection, has necessary national ramifications. The instability consequent upon terrorist violence adversely affects economic activity and dampens investor sentiment. A more dangerous facet of this escalating instability is that processes of radicalisation, which have been strengthened immensely under the Musharraf regime, will become further entrenched. As and when Benazir and Musharraf decide to operationalise their civil-military alliance against the extremist forces, they would attract extreme reprisals. It is ironical that the very radical forces that the two spawned – Benazir, at one time, referred to the Taliban as "my boys" – could now be the greatest threats to their very survival.
Every crisis pushes Pakistan dangerously close to the edge of failure. Husain Haqqani, a former adviser to Benazir Bhutto, notes that "Pakistan is not a failed state, but it's not a functioning state either… It's the in-between factor that makes it so unstable. People are at a loss to know how to deal with it." The diffusion of turmoil across the length and breadth of the country and the intensification of its multiple insurgencies show no signs of abating. There is a method in the madness of Islamist extremism and political violence in Pakistan, and this is constantly being reinforced, augmenting the already intolerable uncertainties for Pakistan as a nation.
Silences are often discomforting, precursors to uncontrollable storms. The present state of relative tranquillity in left-wing extremism (LWE) afflicted Bihar is uneasy, as the dip in levels of violence remains neither enforced nor accompanied by a growth in the capacities of the state and its instrumentalities.
Since 2004, both LWE incidents and related fatalities in Bihar have nosedived. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), 172 persons were killed in 323 incidents in 2004. While incidents declined to 186 and 107 in 2005 and 2006 respectively, fatalities fell off to 107 and 51 during the corresponding period. 39 fatalities have been reported in 2007 (till October 19), according to Institute for Conflict Management data. Bihar’s share in the overall LWE related fatalities in India has, consequently, decreased from a high of 26 percent in 2004 to a mere five percent in 2006, rising marginally to eight percent in 2007.
The Police in Bihar ascribes its ‘success’ to the neutralisation of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, including some of the outfit’s top ranking zonal and area commanders. In 2007, between January and March alone, 109 extremists, including 11 senior leaders, were arrested leading to what the police proclaimed as a "blunting of the ability to carry out subversive activities". [Estimates on armed Maoist cadres in Bihar vary between 1,000 and 2,500. In addition, there are 'hundreds' of overground workers, sympathisers and militia.] A further 15 cadres surrendered during the same period. Recently, on September 19, CPI-Maoist leader Tushar Kant Bhattacharya, chief of the outfit's ‘Triple U’ unit that operates in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Uttar (North) Bihar, was arrested from a rented house at Dujra locality in State capital Patna. A top ranking Naxalite (Maoist), Bhattacharya was an accused in a number of killings in the Karimnagar, Prakasam and Adilabad Districts of Andhra Pradesh between 1974 and 1980. A huge quantity of Maoist literature and explosives, as well as a pen drive and training equipment, were recovered from him.
While such achievements of the security forces are, indeed, laudable, it would be grossly premature and unwise to declare 'victory' in Bihar. The sheer and endemic lack of human development, a crumbling administrative machinery, and decaying infrastructure, have facilitated the spread of LWE in the State, which remains a critical centre for the Maoist strategic outreach. The State is a part of the group’s Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) or the projected ‘Red Corridor’ extending from Nepal, across India’s eastern board and culminating in Andhra Pradesh. Bihar, along with the Dandakaranya region and Jharkhand, also constitutes an extension of the Maoist ‘base area’, from which the strategy of the people’s war is planned, finalised and, often, executed.
The Maoist domination of vast expanses of Bihar’s territory is both well documented and officially confirmed. According to a March 2007 Bihar Police document, 30 of the State’s 38 Districts are currently affected by Maoist activities. Nine of these – Patna, Gaya, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Arwal, Kaimur, Rohtas, Nawada and Jamui – have been designated 'hyper-sensitive'. A further nine Districts, including Bhojpur, Muzzafarpur, Sitamarhi, Motihari, Darbhanga, Saharsa, Banka, Bagaha and Sheohar, fall into the 'sensitive' category, while the remaining 12 Districts are categorised 'less sensitive'. According to the Institute for Conflict Management’s database, Maoist activities – if not Maoist violence, in 2006 and 2007 (till October 20), has been reported from 32 Districts.
The reality in Bihar, in spite of the dip in violence, is that the security forces are yet to come to grips with the character, nuances and scale of the Maoist threat, and have been repeatedly overwhelmed by 'surprise' attacks. At least six such attacks involving people’s militia have been reported in 2007 (till October 20) from Khagaria, Rohtas, Munger, Sheohar, Gaya and Jamui Districts. The very basic capacities required to contain the Maoist threat are simply absent, and the understanding of Maoist strategies, both of mobilisation and of protracted war, are severely deficient in the state Police and political leadership. The approach within the security establishment remains defensive, leaving the initiative almost entirely in Maoist hands.
This was more than evident in the effortlessness with which the Maoists implemented a ‘general strike’ across Bihar (in addition to Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh) on September 23, protesting against the arrest of their leader, Tushar Kant Bhattacharya. The strike was announced two days in advance, and subsequently involved attacks on two Police Stations, at Amas and Barachatti in the Gaya District, and the setting ablaze of fourteen vehicles, including a passenger bus in the Amas and Barachatti areas. Three persons, including one policeman, were killed in the violence. Several trains passing through the state suspended their operations fearing attacks. National highways in the Gaya, Aurangabad and Rohtas Districts were altogether deserted, as private buses and trucks stayed off the roads. The State Police Chief, incidentally, had prepared his forces to deal with the eventuality with a directive to all the Police Stations to be especially vigilant and to carry out intensive patrolling of vital installations, including railway stations and Government buildings.
LWE in India has traditionally exploited each State’s inability to dominate its geographical area and has carved out its own zones of safety. Consequently, the expansion of the State’s authority into the zones of Maoist dominance is necessary to reduce rebel capacities. This is the strategy that has brought success in Andhra Pradesh. Bihar, on the other hand, displays neither the will nor the capacities to replicate the Andhra model. Not only is Bihar’s police to population ratio a meagre 60 per 100,000 (2006 estimate) compared to the national average of 142, the State has consistently faltered in implementing schemes to improve the quality and capacities of its Forces.
A May 2006 report by the Bihar Police Association stated that the amount allocated for Police modernisation remained unspent, even as over 300 Police Stations, 92 Police pickets and over hundred town outposts located in extremist-hit Districts were without boundary walls and minimum infrastructures. The degree to which the integrity of Police functioning had been undermined was further illustrated by an affidavit filed by the Police Headquarters in the Patna High Court in May 2006, which revealed that over 740 policemen in Bihar, from constables to Superintendents, were facing criminal cases that include charges of dacoity, murder, rape and extortion.
The state of affairs has witnessed little improvement since. In September 2007, the Superintendent of Police (SP) of one LWE afflicted District was quoted as having stated, "This Government promised Police modernisation. So far nothing has been done. Police Stations continue to be in miserable shape and our jawans continue to live in sub-human conditions. How can you goad them to fight criminals with courage?" The Bihar Government is yet to provide bullet-proof vehicles, high-frequency wireless sets, night-vision devices and anti-landmine vehicles to Police personnel in the LWE affected Districts. Similarly, the number of personnel to have completed the "anti-extremist tactics course" designed to fight LWE remains miniscule. The quality of arms available with Police personnel is yet to achieve a level of satisfactory sophistication, compared to those available with the Maoist cadres.
Worse still, the neglect of its Police personnel by the State administration appears to be systemic, and is an overt and misguided prejudice in favour of interventions by the central para-military forces (CPMFs) and the military. Intermittent Maoist attacks have thus been followed by the usual demands for more CPMF companies, over and above the 23 companies presently deployed. Additionally, since April 2006, Bihar, in a bid to tide over its dependence on the CPMFs and to fill up the void of trained personnel, raised the 5000-strong State Auxiliary Police (SAP), comprising retired Army personnel to contain Maoist violence, and has deployed them in sensitive Districts. The SAP, widely considered the brainchild of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has since expanded to include another 11,500 personnel.
While the injection of this significant number of retired military personnel has secured some initial success against the Maoists, it’s promise against the rebels’ strategy of mobilisation and warfare is limited. It is understood that the Maoists defined their strategy of response during a three-day meeting, between September 29 and October 1, 2007, in the Malkangiri District of Orissa, and this is to rely increasingly on ‘lightening strikes’ directed against the Police and Government establishments. There are further indications that the Maoists are engaged in a massive effort of mass mobilisation and recruitment in reaction to the limited and transient depletion of cadres and in the leadership.
The Andhra Pradesh success against LWE has demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, that it is possible to defeat LWE violence by augmenting the capacities of the State Police Force, and by aggressive operations in Maoist dominated territories. Such measures, when accompanied by some efficiency of administration, fund utilisation and implementation of development projects in LWE affected areas, delivers enduring blows against extremist capacities. In contrast, Bihar has consistently faltered both in creating Force capacities and in carrying out basic administrative and developmental activities. Notwithstanding brief interludes of relative tranquillity, it does not seem likely that the Maoist advances will be significantly or permanently reversed in this State, unless there are fundamental changes in both counter-insurgent strategy and governance.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
October 15-21, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Pakistan trying to revive Sikh extremism in Punjab, says National Security Advisor: On October 16, 2007, the National Security Advisor (NSA) M. K. Narayanan stated that attempts have been made in Pakistan to revive Sikh extremism in (Indian) Punjab. On board Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s aircraft, Narayanan disclosed that, "There has been a manifest attempt in Pakistan to build up a radical Sikh environment. Sporadic blasts were creating sensation, but the desired effect of sustained tension was not working. We had intelligence about four to six months back that a lot of effort was going into attempts to foment militancy." He further said, "We have also seen signs of resuscitation of militant groups in Canada, US and Germany." The NSA, however, ruled out any links between the recent series of explosions. "There is no connection between the blasts in Ludhiana, Ajmer and Mecca Masjid (Hyderabad), other than the fact that the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence)’s involvement is suspected, that is the common link", Narayanan disclosed. Indian Express, October 17, 2007.
Northern Areas to have elected local governments: President Pervez Musharraf on October 20, 2007, approved a draft empowerment package for the Northern Areas, giving enhanced political, administrative and financial powers to a region currently administered by the Federal Government. The package envisages law-making powers for the Northern Areas Legislative Council. At present the areas are governed by the Chief Secretary who, as a representative of the Federal Government, enjoys unbridled powers and the Deputy Chief Executive, as head of the Northern Areas Legislative Council, works under the directives of the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas. Under the Legal Framework Order, the Federal Government would devolve its powers to District Governments to be set up through elections in the six Districts of the Northern Areas – Gilgit, Ghanche, Gizer, Skardu, Astore and Diamer. Dawn, October 21, 2007.
143 persons killed in twin suicide blasts at Benazir Bhutto’s rally in Karachi: Suicide bombings in a crowd welcoming former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto killed 143 persons and injured approximately 550 others on October 18-night in Karachi. Two explosions struck near a truck carrying Benazir, but she was not injured and was hurried to her house. Police officer Raja Umer Khitab said evidence at the incident site suggested it was a suicide bombing. Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said. "This was an act of terrorism targeting Benazir Bhutto and aimed at sabotaging the democratic process… We suspect these were suicide bombings because any pre-planted or timed device would have been prevented by jammers attached to security vehicles." The two explosions occurred a minute apart shortly after midnight near Karsaz bridge close to the vehicle Benazir Bhutto was traveling in, at the head of a procession of hundreds of thousands of Pakistan People’s Party supporters who had flooded the streets of Karachi to welcome their leader on her return from eight years in self-imposed exile. Earlier, Benazir Bhutto landed at the Karachi airport around 1.45 in the afternoon. Daily Times; The News; Dawn, October 19, 2007.
LTTE linked to al Qaeda and United Liberation Front of Asom, says Foreign Minister: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is linked to outfits like al Qaeda, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in India, the Afghan Mujahideen and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), said Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. "It (LTTE) has the ability to contribute to copy-cat terrorism through its suicide bomb technology, acts of maritime terrorism and nascent air strike capability," he said, while addressing the International Conference on Countering Terrorism in Colombo on October 19, 2007. PTI, October 20, 2007.