SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Jharkhand: Paralysis and Drift
Another official ‘assessment’ of the Maoist challenge was placed on record in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) on August 14, 2007, and the data tabled suggests a marginal rise in violent incidents by the Naxalites across the country, up to 971 in the first seven months of 2007, as against 967 incidents in the corresponding period of 2006. Fatalities, however, dropped to 431, as against 491 recorded over the same period in 2006. Lest we take quick succour from this, it is useful to note that the drop in fatalities is the result of fewer killings of civilians by the Maoists – down to 266 till July 2007, as against 390 between January and July 2006. Security Forces’ [SFs] fatalities, however, mounted dramatically, from 101 till July 2006, to 165 till July 2007.
While placing his assessment before Parliament, the Union Home Minister cautioned against drawing quick conclusions on the basis of the available data alone, as "statistics made available are creating wrong impression" – and he is correct on this count, though not necessarily for the reasons he advances. As in the past, the Government has sought to underplay the Maoist threat, arguing that "if an incident occurs in some part of the State, it doesn’t mean the entire State is affected." Quibbles about data alone – or, indeed, about the appropriate categories of data, whether these should be the 182 Districts out of 625 in the country or 400 Police Station jurisdictions out of about 8,000, as the Home Minister would rather have it – are insufficient basis for an assessment. It is comparative trends and an understanding of the ground situation, including capacity building in both the State and rebel organisations, as well as an understanding of the entire gamut of ongoing insurgent and counter-insurgency activities. Despite the Government’s projected sanguinity, an examination of these factors gives insufficient cause for satisfaction.
Two startling elements emerge from the all-India data on Maoist-related fatalities available for the January-July period. First, SF fatalities till July 2007, at 165, already exceed total fatalities for the whole of 2006, at 157. Second, Maoist fatalities in the January-July period dropped dramatically from 244 in 2006 to 132 in 2007. It must be clear from this where precisely the initiative currently lies. Fatality trends, including the declining civilian fatalities, are decisions overwhelmingly imposed by the Maoists, with the State principally trapped in a passive or reactive role.
This broad assessment is borne out by the specifics of the situation prevailing in Jharkhand, which the MHA’s assessment described as one of the new problem areas (along with Orissa and Bihar). MHA data indicates a rise in violent incidents, up to 259 in January-July 2007, as against 191 in the corresponding months of the preceding year. ‘Deaths’, essentially civilian and SF fatalities, were, however, down marginally, from 75 to 71. There are some encouraging elements in the latest trends within the State, and 2007 witnessed just five SF fatalities, against 31 in January-July 2006. Maoist fatalities over the same period increased from 23 to 30. A look at the trends over the preceding five years, however, indicates patterns of sustained violence, with fatalities in Jharkhand consistently above 125 in each year, and arbitrary variations in the totals.
It is to the data – however partial – on capacities, capabilities and intentions, that one must turn for a more reliable assessment. 21 of Jharkhand’s 22 Districts are currently afflicted by Maoist activity, with 12 of these falling into the ‘highly affected’ category, another four ‘moderately affected’, and five marginally ‘affected’. Official estimates of ‘hardcore’ armed cadres suggest a tripling of numbers from about 100 to over 300 over the 2005-2007 period, and a tremendous expansion of mass mobilisation activities across the State, creating a wider ‘militia’ and sympathiser base. Indeed, Jharkhand has witnessed repeated ‘swarming’ operations, with several hundred Maoists orchestrated single attacks. The first of these occurred on November 11, 2005, when over a hundred Maoist cadres attacked a Home Guards Training Centre at Pachamba in the Giridih District, and shot dead five persons, injured another 16, and looted 183 rifles, two pistols and 2500 cartridges. Year 2007 has already seen three such attacks.
February 5, 2007: A civilian was killed and two others injured, when an estimated 200 Maoist cadres attacked an SF picket at Lawalong in the Chatra District. The Maoists retreated into the forest areas after a three-hour encounter.
April 6, 2007: Six people, including two security force personnel, were killed when an armed group of approximately 300 CPI-Maoist cadres attacked the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) camp and the adjoining Gandhinagar police station building in the Bokaro thermal power city area of Bokaro District.
August 6, 2007: Over a hundred Maoists attacked the Chainpur Police Station in the Gumla District late at night. However, the Maoists retreated without inflicting significant damage in the face of stiff SF resistance.
There is also clear indication of an abundance of weaponry among the Maoists, and a handful of seizures that have occurred in the State – while they will have directly diminished the supplies immediately available – are also useful indices of the sheer volume of arms and explosives available. Two major seizures have occurred in 2007, including one on January 23, when a consignment containing dismantled parts for arms, including assemblies for mortars, was seized from a private transport firm in Ranchi. It had been sent from Indore in Madhya Pradesh to the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist) ‘area commander’, Rajendra Oraon, in Ranchi. Again, on April 14, 2007, the Dumka District Police arrested a CPI-Maoist cadre and recovered 400 bags of explosives and 3,000 detonators from his possession.
The Maoists also have access to a profusion of land mines, which have been used to great effect on both tarred and un-tarred roads to target SF contingents. Landmine explosions have resulted in at least 170 SF fatalities since 2001, and a wide range of sophisticated devices have been used, including Claymore mines, camera flash, and mobile phone and radio signal detonation devices. Two ‘Technical Wings’ have also been set up in the State, for the North and the South Zone, on an expenditure of over INR Two million, and the sophistication of explosive devices, an increasing use of Information Technology tools, and the use of FM radio devices to intercept SF communications have been some of their achievements in the recent past.
Finances appear to be no constraint on Maoist activities in the State, and Jharkhand is believed to yield the largest single pool of Naxal revenues, at an estimated INR One billion per annum. It is Jharkhand’s tremendous Forest and Mineral wealth, and the powerful base of related industries, principally based in Bokaro and Jamshedpur, but increasingly branching out into other areas of the State, which provide a near limitless source of extorted revenues. The Central Golden Quadrilateral road building project provides another lucrative source, and extortion from common folk, including a levy of INR 10,000 per farmer across the State, add to liberal fund flows.
This, in fact, has become part of an incipient problem for the Maoists, and has resulted in desertions by a number of corrupt elements at the local leadership level, who have absconded with substantial amounts, as well as the formation of rival ‘Maoist’ groups within the State. Two splinters, the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC, Third Preparatory Committee) and the Jharkhand Liberation Tigers (JLT) are now engaged in a bloody turf war, both with the parent CPI-Maoist, and with each other. The TPC, formed in 2002, now claims to have expanded its organisation across the State, and has declared that its "main enemy is not the police machinery, but the CPI-Maoist." The JLT, which split from the CPI-Maoist in early 2007, has formations in the Palamu, Daltonganj and Latehar Districts, and is making progressive inroads into the CPI-Maoist stronghold in the Saranda Forest. Fire-fights between cadres of these various factions are now on the rise, resulting in mounting fatalities.
Notwithstanding these limited setbacks, the general assessment of Police and Intelligence sources in Jharkhand is that the Maoist threat is bound to rise dramatically, failing extremely determined action on part of the state. The withdrawal or absence of the institutions of civil governance across vast areas of the State, and endemic deficits in the response capacities of the Police and SFs have given the Maoists a stranglehold in interior forest and rural areas, where all symbols of democratic and civil administration have simply withered away. Politicians seldom venture into Maoist dominated areas, and the few who did have withdrawn in terror after the assassination of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha Member of Parliament, Sunil Mahto, on March 4, 2007, while he was witnessing a football match at the Bakuria Village in East Singhbhum District. The Panchayati Raj (Local Self Government) apparatus in Jharkhand is, in any event, moribund as a result of a court battle between Tribals and non-Tribals over seat quotas between, that have blocked Panchayat elections for almost three decades.
Some fitful efforts have, nevertheless, been made to address the Maoist challenge, and the State has made a Herculean effort to improve its abysmal police-population ratio, which stood at 74 per 100,000 in 2004 (as against a national average of 122/100,000) rising to 85 per 100,000 in 2005, and nearly doubling to nearly 164 per 100,000 in 2006 (according to Bureau of Police Research and Development data). This augmentation is, however, notional, and police sources indicate that the total recruitment between 2005-07 is a little over 16,000 men at the constabulary level. An additional two battalions of India Reserve Battalions are currently being raised. With a Force of 47,427 and a ratio of 85/100,000 in 2005, this cannot yield a police-population ratio of 164 per 100,000 in 2006 by any calculations. However, Police sources indicate that the previously high gap between sanctioned Force and Force in position, previously estimated at almost 30 per cent, has now been narrowed down to a frictional deficit of under 3,000 men, and orders for recruitment of this number are already in place.
Worse, there is a chronic and unaddressed deficiency of officers at all levels. Despite the increase of 16,000 personnel at the constabulary level, there has been no recruitment at the Sub Inspector (SI) level. Indeed, the last recruitment at this level dates back to 1994 – before the formation of the State. An acute deficiency also exists at the highest levels of the Police Administration – the Indian Police Service (IPS) cadre – where just 70 of the sanctioned strength of 110 officers are available to the State, as a result of which dozens of Districts are headed by State Police Service Officers, while over 25 per cent of IPS posts are still lying vacant. A number of Police Stations in the worst affected areas of the State are headless and deficient of officers at the SI level. Police Stations, Posts and Pickets in rural and Maoist afflicted areas are appallingly maintained, and the Policemen’s Association President, Ram Kumar Singh, claims that many pickets are unfit "even for animals to stay". Certainly, many Police Stations and Posts are not sufficiently equipped and fortified to defend themselves against a determined Maoist assault.
Jharkhand’s record of utilisation of Centrally allocated funds for Police modernisation is also poor. According to the MHA, Jharkhand received INR 1.827 billion under the modernisation scheme between 2000 and 2006, but utilisation has been abysmal. In 2004-05, for instance, the utilisation of the INR 220 million released was a minuscule 7.33 per cent.
The deficiencies in Policing capacities are compounded by Administrative weaknesses. At the highest levels of administration, there are just 98 Indian Administrative Service officers in position, as against the 143 officers assigned to the State, of whom another 19 are on deputation in Delhi, and another 11 have submitted applications for transfer from the State. Unsurprisingly, the utilisation of Centrally allocated funds for various developmental schemes – which are intended to counter the Maoist onslaught at the social and political level as part of the national ‘two-pronged strategy’ – has been miserable. Reports indicate that the State has an unutilised balance of INR 2.4 billion allotted to it under the Backwards Districts Initiative (BDI) component of the Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana and other schemes to fill in the critical gaps in physical and social development. Under the BDI Scheme, an amount of INR 150 million per year is sanctioned for each Maoist affected District for three years. The State Government shares 25 percent of the expense on BDI. There have also been allegations of widespread corruption in the implementation of schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Interestingly, lack of finance has never been cited as a reason for the poor implementation of projects by the Jharkhand Government.
Despite tremendous capacity constraints, the Jharkhand Police does have a number of successes over the recent past, including arrests of senior Maoist leaders and a number of offensive operations in which Maoist cadres have been neutralised. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the Force is far from the capabilities that are necessary for an effective and comprehensive response in a State that has virtually its entire territory afflicted by some measure of Maoist activity, that is at the core of the Maoist strategy of consolidation, and at the heart of the proclaimed ‘Red Corridor’. Unless the political will to overcome the tremendous capacity deficits in the Forces, and in the Civil Administration, crystallizes, the dire projections of senior security professionals in the State can only be progressively realized.
That President Pervez Musharraf is currently facing his toughest challenge ever is now a given. While this may not be the end-game for the General, there is a vast churning process underway in Pakistan. Whilst the direction and outcome of this process remains uncertain, what is beyond doubt is that the balance of power in Pakistan has undergone, and will continue in the immediate future to undergo, a radical transformation. This will certainly lead to far-reaching changes in the political and security milieu of South Asia.
With his tenure nearing an end, his popularity at an all-time low, and challenges to his regime mounting, General Musharraf is currently attempting to engineer his re-election through a strategy based essentially on unprincipled alliances and the manipulation of Constitution.
Musharraf intends to secure re-election for another five years between mid-September and mid-October 2007. (His current term as Chief of Army Staff expires in November 2007 and elections to the National Assembly are scheduled to take place in January 2008.) He does not enjoy sufficient popular support to win a free and fair election, and the now activist Supreme Court could prevent ‘pre-rigging’ and rigging of the electoral process. Aware that the next Parliament may not re-elect him, Musharraf’s strategy is to push through his re-election with the current Legislature in place, where he enjoys a majority.
His nomination for re-election is, however, vulnerable to an adverse verdict from the Supreme Court. A constitutional amendment can, however, neutralize this risk, though this would require a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. He thus urgently needs backing for such a constitutional amendment, and also some assurance from the Opposition that there will be no street mobilization and countrywide civil unrest on the issue. It is within this scenario that the military regime is attempting to arrive at an alliance with the Pakistan Peoples Party, headed by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who, ironically, was exiled by Musharraf, under enveloping charges of corruption, after he came to power in the October 1999 coup d'etat.
The Musharraf-Benazir power sharing pact envisages, inter alia, the following:
Further, the 'King's Party', the Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid-e-Azam), or PML-Q, is reportedly negotiating for a separate deal with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Leader of the Opposition, whose own faction of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam is part of the Islamist alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). However, the MMA has not officially stated its position on the issue. Rehman, nevertheless, has admitted that he had been "offered the office of the Prime Minister in exchange for his support in the pre- and post-election period to President Pervez Musharraf."
The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) is the other major player. Its leader Nawaz Sharif, also a former Prime Minister, was exiled to Saudi Arabia by Musharraf, and has now got a new lease of life after the Supreme Court ruled, on August 23, that he "can return to Pakistan unhindered." Sharif, however, remains bitterly opposed to General Musharraf and is expected to return to Pakistan on September 10.
Politically, Musharraf has alienated too many forces. There is an intense conflict between the executive and an increasingly activist judiciary, which is basking in its new found independence. Conscious of the current mood in the country, President Musharraf and his advisors are currently attempting to secure an arrangement that allows for the continuance of the military’s stranglehold, albeit with some modifications. There are many indicators of a Dictator cornered. For instance, Musharraf recently stated that "There is a need for forgiving and forgetting the past because of the present political scenario and for moving ahead."
While much about the various deals is informed speculation at the moment, there are some indications that the present scenario could abruptly translate into a plausible new Pakistani version of ‘democracy’. At the core would be a new National Assembly constituted through purportedly ‘free and fair’ general elections and Pervez Musharraf as an ‘elected’ civilian President. The Musharraf-Benazir pact could, according to noted analyst Ayesha Siddiqa,
Reports indicate that the Musharraf-Benazir negotiations are being facilitated by both Washington and London. The international community, it appears, is "still eager to give Musharraf the benefit of doubt." The West’s record of engineering flawed democracies across the globe has, however, been disastrous. And assuming that the deal goes through, the US will have to deal with two strong forces, adding to present complexities. On countering terrorism, Benazir, who has the dubious distinction of having actively engineered the formation of the Taliban though the Inter-Services Intelligence, on the one hand, and Musharraf, on the other, have wide differences. Moreover, unprincipled alliances like the ones currently being designed will not strengthen democracy in Pakistan. History has shown that such pacts have only helped to consolidate the military’s control over power.
Amidst all this wheeling and dealing, the security scenario continues to deteriorate. The intense conflict between the Pakistani state and forces of radical Islam and other anti-state actors is expanding continuously. Large tracts of Pakistan are now clearly afflicted by escalating violence. The daily reports of the incidence of insurgent and terrorist activities in Pakistan communicate the enormity of the trajectory of violence and instability that has been undermining the authority of the state in progressively widening areas of the country over the past years. 1,584 people, including 554 civilians, 287 soldiers and 743 militants, have died in 2007 (till August 31). The flag of extremist Islam is, thus, fluttering vigorously across Pakistan, even as the state gradually withers away.
Among the multiple insurgencies currently raging in Pakistan, the bloodiest is under way in Waziristan – and it is symbolic of the decline of the State. In 2007 (till August 24), approximately 755 people, including 94 civilians, 97 soldiers and 564 militants, have already been killed in 174 incidents, an unambiguous indication of the state of play in this most troubled region. The extent of the state’s retreat is visible in the latest incident when a small group of approximately 20 militants captured over 150 soldiers (some reports mention 300 soldiers) after intercepting a military convoy in the Momi Karam area of Luddah subdivision in South Waziristan on August 30, 2007. At the time of writing, the soldiers were still being held hostage. Zulfiqar Mehsud, a spokesman for Taliban ‘commander’ Baitullah Mehsud, has declared that, "Our foremost demand is the implementation of the Sararogha agreement [February 2005], which binds the Government to contain the movement of troops in South Waziristan."
President Musharraf’s options are manifestly diminishing, and there is much evidence currently indicating the stratagems of a cornered man. He could still survive and engineer another false democratic setup, increasingly tailored to suit the interests of his external patrons, through a combination of crass opportunism and realpolitik. But Pakistan is now clearly at a potential tipping point. Jugnu Mohsin, publisher of The Friday Times, aptly notes: "After a period of relative quiet, for the first time in a decade, we are back to the old question: it is not just whither Pakistan, but will Pakistan survive?"
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 27-September 2, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Terrorist attacks increasing in the North-east, says Union Government: According to a status paper on internal security of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) presented to the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) by Home Minister Shivraj Patil on August 29, 2007, the number of terrorist attacks in the Northeast has gone up in the current year. Till June 30, Assam witnessed a spurt in violence resulting in the killing of 156 civilians and 15 security force (SF) personnel. In the same period during 2006, Assam saw 181 incidents of terrorist violence in which 61 civilians and nine police personnel lost their lives. The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) alone was responsible for killing 124 civilians and seven SF personnel. Manipur registered 229 attacks till June 30, 2007, which claimed the lives of 72 civilians and 25 SF personnel. The corresponding figures for 2006 were 243 incidents and killing of 40 civilians and 15 SF personnel. In Nagaland, clashes between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the rival Khaplang faction (NSCN-K) claimed 116 lives as against 70 in the previous year. The civilian causalities rose to 24 from 17. Tripura reported 54 incidents, which resulted into killing of eight civilians and four SF personnel. In 2006, six civilians and five police personnel were killed during the same period. Daily Pioneer; August 30, 2007.
kill 12 security force personnel in Chhattisgarh:
At least 12 security force (SF) personnel were
killed in an ambush by the Communist Party of India-Maoist
(CPI-Maoist) cadres near Jagargunda Forest of the
Dantewada District on August 29, 2007. About 200
armed Maoists ambushed a convoy of the SF personnel
while it was en route to secure an area at Tarmekla
village in Jagargunda, where the Maoists had blocked
the construction of a road. "The team comprising
Chhattisgarh Armed Force, SPOs [Special Police Officers]
and cops was divided into two groups. The Maoists
hiding in the area ambushed the rear party and opened
fire on them," Director General of Police (DGP),
Vishwaranjan disclosed. While six police personnel
were wounded in the gun battle, the Maoists also
looted sophisticated weapons like AK-47s, SLRs and
.303 rifles. Times
of India, August 30, 2007.
Government and Madheshi Janaadhikar Forum reach a 22-point agreement: On August 30, 2007, the Government and Madheshi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) reached a 22-point agreement and the MJF, consequently, agreed to call off a planned strike. The Government agreed to the MJF’s demand for autonomy in a federal system of governance and restructuring the state keeping the country’s sovereignty, unity and regional integrity intact. The rights, nature and limitation of the autonomous federal state would be determined by the Constituent Assembly. The Government also agreed to immediately constitute a commission on restructuring the state, to immediately provide compensation to the families of those killed during the Madhesh movement and to provide relief and medical treatment to the injured. All the cases filed against the MJF leaders and cadres would be withdrawn. The state would ensure "balanced" and "proportional representation" of marginalised communities, Madheshi, indigenous nationalities, dalits (lower caste Hindus), women, backward communities, disabled, minorities and Muslims in all state structures. The Government has also agreed to give national recognition to the Madheshi language, culture and customs. The Himalayan Times; August 31, 2007.
150 soldiers abducted in South Waziristan: Militants in South Waziristan abducted around 150 Pakistan Army personnel and shifted them to their hideouts in the mountains on August 30, 2007. They reportedly laid siege to two Pakistan Army convoys which were on their way from Wana and Shakai to Ladha subdivision. Both the convoys comprised 16 vehicles in which around 150 soldiers were traveling. The militants accused the soldiers of violating the peace accord signed between the Government and Taliban on February 9, 2005, under which, security forces were to have withdrawn from the areas inhabited by the Mehsud tribesmen. However, military spokesperson Major General Waheed Arshad said "Sometimes soldiers cannot reach their destination in time due to either bad weather or other reasons… there is no suggestion of kidnapping or fighting." The News, August 31, 2007.
ISI still supports al Qaeda and Taliban, says former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto: Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has alleged that elements of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) "continue the alliance with both the Taliban and al Qaeda to this very day" on the premise that Pakistan’s security requires "strategic depth" in the shape of a friendly or pliant Afghanistan. In an interview to YaleGlobal, Bhutto said that the ISI was continuing to adhere to the old arrangement, "even if it means supporting fanatics." Daily Times, August 29, 2007.
547 civilians killed and 396 missing in Government-controlled areas in 2007: At least 547 civilians have been killed and 396 reported missing in the Government-controlled areas of Sri Lanka in the first half of 2007, revealed a report compiled by three civil society organizations – the Law and Society Trust, Civil Monitoring Commission and Free Media Movement. Tamils account for a large proportion of persons killed (70.7%), compared with 9.1 percent Sinhalese and 5.9 percent Muslims. "The gravity of this situation becomes even more pronounced when these statistics are looked at with the knowledge that Tamil people make up only 16 per cent of the total population" the report notes. Almost 90 percent of the victims are male, with women accounting for 9.7 percent of deaths. Jaffna is the worst affected district, with the highest number of killings and abductions reported. The District also heads the list in killings with 23.2 percent of total cases while it account for 49.5 percent of disappearances. Batticaloa, with 21.5 percent and Vavuniya with 21.3 percent, follow Jaffna in the number of killings. Colombo District comes second in abductions, accounting for 17.7 percent of the total cases. As with the killings, Tamils suffer disproportionately in terms of abductions too – 64.6 percent when compared with 3 percent Sinhalese and 3 percent Muslims, though the ethnicity of all victims has not been verified. Men represent nearly 98 percent of all missing persons, the report notes. Daily Mirror, August 31, 2007.