SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Another succession of bomb blasts have momentarily interrupted the national slumber, this time in Ahmedabad in the Western State of Gujarat on July 26, and a day earlier in Bangalore in the Southern State of Karnataka – both States, incidentally or otherwise, ruled by the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Significantly, the last major serial blasts, on May 14, 2008, were in Jaipur in Rajasthan, another BJP-ruled State.
Seventeen explosions, occurring in rapid succession in a densely populated band along Eastern Ahmedabad, killed at least 46 persons, and injured more than a hundred – many of them critically, suggesting that the death toll could rise still further. The explosions occurred in areas of mixed populations, and included areas of high Muslim densities. No break-up of the religious distribution of victims is yet available, but it is clear that these would include a large proportion of Muslims. The ‘Indian Mujahiddeen’ – probably a front for a Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) combine – claimed responsibility for explosions in an email message sent out to media organisations minutes before the explosions. The email was traced back to an account held by an American corporate executive located in Mumbai, and initial reports suggest the account was probably hacked. The Indian Mujahiddeen has claimed responsibility for two earlier incidents – the serial blasts in court compounds in Faizabad, Lucknow and Varanasi on November 23, 2007; and the serial blasts in Jaipur on May 13, 2008. While investigations are far from conclusive in both these incidents, there is a wide range of corroborative evidence that suggests that both these incidents were orchestrated by cadres drawn from the HuJI and SIMI.
Two live bombs were also located and defused in Ahmedabad – while two vehicles loaded with explosive materials were recovered in Surat in South East Gujarat, some 294 kilometres from Ahmedabad, on July 27.
In Bangalore, a coordinated series of eight low intensity explosions killed one person and injured at least seven on July 25.
In their frenetic search for novelty, the media have discovered a ‘new sophistication’ in the serial blasts in Ahmedabad, and startling innovation in the fact that the attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad occurred on successive days. They also discovered the usual ‘prior warnings’ and ‘intelligence and police failures’. On their part, the Central and State Governments have called meetings of senior officials and made routine declarations of shock and expressed determination to confront terrorism.
All this is, of course, par for the course. The reality is, there is absolutely nothing new in the Bangalore and Ahmedabad serial blasts, other than elements of tactical detail – which largely remain to be uncovered by investigations. As for the greater ‘sophistication’ of the Ahmedabad serial blasts, this is nonsense. The real genius of the serial blasts over the past years has actually been the extraordinary simplicity of operations – relying on widely dispersed cadres, opportunistically drawn from different and often unconnected modules, and on locally procured explosives and materials – which make the task of tracing linkages backwards virtually impossible.
Every new terrorist attack invariably provokes a flurry of hysterical questions in the media: What new strategies, tactics, groups are involved? Why here? Why now? Why? Alongside, a partisan and often perverse political debate is momentarily reignited: Was NDA rule more effective than UPA rule? Is the present Government weak? Can we fight terrorism without POTA? Why is the President sitting on anti-terrorism laws in some States, when similar laws have received Presidential sanction in others?
But the principal question, invariably ignored, is: what has been done between the last set of major incidents and the one present, to diminish the likelihood of terrorist attacks? What is the measure and scope of capacity augmentation that has been realised? In all the discussions on ‘red alerts’ and ‘coordination committees’ and ‘beefing up responses’, this critical variable never comes up for discussion – because the answer would be an embarrassing, indeed, humiliating, ‘nothing whatsoever’.
In the wake of the Ahmedabad blasts, the Minister for Home Affairs, for the first time in the context of such attacks, demonstrated awareness of the fact that the country was severely under-policed and had meagre intelligence cover to deal with the challenge of terrorism. The reality is, India’s entire justice system – from the Thana to the Supreme Court – appears to be in a state of terminal sickness, incapable of imposing the law of the land, or of reacting to the rising challenges of violence and disorder in any timeframe that is relevant to counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency warfighting. This, and not the minutiae of the latest terrorist attack, is the critical issue confronting the country.
To return to a theme that has been repeatedly – and apparently fruitlessly – taken up on SAIR, India has an abysmal Police-population ratio, at 126 per 100,000 (as against Western ratios that vary between 250 and over 500 per 100,000). Internationally, a ratio of at least 222 per 100,000 is recommended for peacetime policing. Significantly, Gujarat has a ratio of 152 per 100,000 (above the national average, but well below the minimum desired levels), while Karnataka has a ratio of just 92 per 100,000. Policing, moreover, is primitive across the country, in comparison to the technical and technological resources that have been committed to law enforcement in modern systems in the West. Crucially, present Police-population ratios are worked out against sanctioned posts, and, in many cases, these sanctions date back to the 1980s. There is, moreover, a 9.75 per cent deficit against sanctioned posts across the country, with some of the worst performing States registering deficits of up to 40 per cent against sanctioned strength. There is also a crisis of Police leadership, with up to 40 per cent deficits in some States in the top Indian Police Service (IPS) cadre. In this, however, both Gujarat and Karnataka are far from the worst performers. Gujarat has an overall deficit of 3.5 per cent against sanctioned posts, and a deficit of 5.4 per cent in the leadership posts in the ranks between Deputy Superintendent of Police and Director General of Police. Similarly, Karnataka has an overall 17.84 per cent deficit against sanctioned posts, and a deficit of 9.63 per cent in the ranks between Deputy Superintendent of Police and Director General of Police.
Despite all the talk of – and, indeed, investment in – ‘Police modernisation’, moreover, Security Forces in the country are barely scratching the surface of this process. Of course, replacing a World War I vintage .303 rifle with an SLR or AK series rifle, or a 16 kilo bullet-proof vest with an 8 kilo bullet proof vest, constitutes an incremental improvement – but this hardly brings the country’s Forces into the spectrum of ‘modern’ enforcement agencies. India’s Police and intelligence forces – with tiny exceptions – remain overwhelmingly under-manned, under-resourced and primitive in their day to day functioning. The wide range of technology tools that have been applied to scientific policing in the West are not even known to the larger proportion of leaders in the Police and security establishment – and would sound like science fiction to the rank and file. As has been repeatedly emphasised in the past , India has failed even to create a national database on crime and terrorism – despite a mandate to create such a database and supporting organisational structures, including the Multi-Agency Centre and the Joint Task Force on Intelligence in the Intelligence Bureau, that dates back to 2001.
All this is well known – or should be. There have been numerous and critical counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency successes across the country, and the tactics and strategies that have succeeded (or those that have failed) are again, well known – or should be. What needs to be done is neither a secret, nor rocket science. Yet, year after year, with major terrorist attacks executed virtually across the country, the national and State leaderships have failed to initiate effective responses and to build capacities virtually across the entire spectrum of what is needed.
Our political leaders strut about imagining India as a ‘world power’, but the reality is that we have a crumbling political and administrative system that looks good only in comparison to near-failed states such as Pakistan and Bangladesh in our neighbourhood. The most urgent question that India must ask itself, today, is: How does a country, which does not have the administrative and technical competence to construct a half-way decent road transport system in its capital city, evolve the capabilities to confront and neutralize one of the most insidious ideologies and complex movements of political violence in global history?
The gravest threat to India’s security is not Pakistan, not the Inter Services Intelligence, not terrorism, but the limitless acts of omission, the venality and the ineptitude of the political and administrative executive, and the complete absence of accountability in the top echelons of Government. Our greatest enemy is not only within – it has captured and blocks up the highest nodes of power and decision-making in the country.
Unless these endemic and structural infirmities are addressed, the terrorists will continue to operate with impunity across the length and breadth of India.
The good news from Nepal is that almost four months after elections for the Constituent Assembly (CA), and exactly two months since the abolition of Monarchy, the country finally has a new head of state, President Ram Baran Yadav. The bad news is, there is still no Government in place; past agreements have broken down; Constitution-writing has not even figured on the agenda yet; and things on the ground are sliding to the worse.
The conventional narrative highlights the drastic and positive change in recent months and years. The war has ended. The elections went off peacefully. The Assembly is the most representative house in Nepal's history, with 33 percent women, 34 percent Madhesis and almost 38 percent ethnic groups. Monarchy has been abolished in what was visibly a seamless transition, with the former King now tucked away in the capital's outskirts.
But this is where the happy narrative hits a roadblock. For it ignores the imperfections of the peace process. There has been little discussion on how to transform the politico-military structure of the Maoists into a political party. The narrative ignores the gradual weakening of the state and growing economic crises. And it misses out on the present political impasse.
In the aftermath of the elections, the politics of consensus among the major forces has given way to the politics of numbers, leading to confrontation at the top. Normal competitive democratic processes are proving to be an obstacle to the consensual peace process. The Maoists emerged as the single largest force after the elections, but they have been unable to carve a consensus and form a Government. The other parties lost, but are pretending to have won by refusing to give way and insisting on an almost equal 'power sharing' deal with the former rebels. The Madhesi block, especially the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, with 52 seats, has emerged as the key tilting force in Nepali politics. Shifting alignments at the top have added to existing mistrust and made the task of forming a national government more difficult. And the ground situation is characterised by soft authoritarianism and semi-anarchy.
The election mandate was clearly for a Maoist-led consensus Government. The former rebels won the most seats, but were still short of a majority. Given that, prior to elections, all parties had committed themselves to work together irrespective of results, and the Interim Constitution formally stipulated that the politics of consensus should continue, it was hoped that they would come to an amicable compromise. But the shock election results upset calculations and derailed past agreements.
This stalemate primarily stems from differing interpretations of the election mandate, the internal tensions in all parties, and the widespread suspicions among mainstream parties and sections of civil society and the media that, once the Maoists come to power, it will be difficult to dislodge them. As a result, we are constantly witness to new demands and an appeal for 'power sharing'.
The Nepali Congress (NC) has found it hard to accept defeat and its status as a junior partner to the Maoists. For months after the polls, Girija Prasad Koirala was encouraged by sections of the state – the Army and the bureaucracy – to make a claim for the President’s post, as they saw him as the sole force capable of countering the Maoists. He calculated this was his final opportunity and, if he did not get the seat, he and his family would risk being marginalised from both national politics as well as his own party, where the Sher Bahadur Deuba faction has emerged stronger.
The Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) faces its most serious existential crisis. The UML leaders realise that the Maoists have captured the Left space in the country, while the NC will gradually become the rallying point for right-wing consolidation. In such a polarised atmosphere, the space for a centrist party that claims to be Communist is minimal. UML cadres are already shifting to the Maoists, albeit gradually. To keep their flock together and energise the party machinery, the new General Secretary, Jhalanath Khanal, set up a youth force on the lines of the Maoist Young Communist League (YCL). The party is also taking an anti-Madhesi line in order to win the support of the Pahadis and Tharus in the Tarai. The UML has continued to be ideologically unclear, while operationally it has swung from supporting the NC to becoming an ally of the Maoists, and then getting back to the NC.
The Madhesi parties have 82 seats in the house, with the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum as the largest force. They felt alienated when the three big parties – NC, UML, and the Maoists – continued their negotiations on power-sharing, while barely consulting them. To assert their presence, the Madhesi leaders obstructed CA proceedings for more than two weeks in early July, demanding that agreements signed with them be incorporated as a constitutional amendment. Madhesi parties are a conglomeration of leaders of different political backgrounds and ideological hues. While some former Left activists favour a tactical alliance with the Maoists, citing their similar positions on federalism and autonomy, others prefer a ‘democratic’ alliance with the NC claiming that, in the long-term, the Maoists are the key adversary.
For most part, the Maoists remained inflexible. Buoyed and secure in their electoral success, the former rebels did give into a demand by the other parties that they amend the Constitution in order to bring down the numbers required to oust a Government. But they took a firm stand opposing Koirala as President, realising that it would lead to another power centre. While others saw the head of state as balancing the Maoists, the latter conceived of the post as merely ceremonial and wanted a meek President who would play ball with them. The trust gap between the Maoists and other parties has only increased, because of the inconsistent statements of the Maoist top leadership.
What all this resulted in was a deadlock that lasted three months. Koirala asked for the presidency, the Maoists opposed it. The Maoists then weaned away the UML from the NC by offering it the presidency instead. Koirala had no choice but to withdraw. But differences cropped up between the Maoists and UML on who would become President. Jhalanath Khanal wanted to kick his predecessor Madhav Nepal up by making him the President, thus removing a potential rival in the party. The Maoists made it clear they would not accept Nepal as he had lost from two seats and insisted that the seat go to a person from a marginalised community. They went back to their original proposal to make veteran republican Madhesi leader Ram Raja Prasad Singh the head of state – they had pushed his name because he is sympathetic to them and also because the Madhesi parties would have no choice but to support him.
Though the two sides were engaged in intense consultations, the alliance broke down last week. The UML version, widespread in the Nepali media, is that India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) engineered a split in the Maoist-UML alliance because it was apprehensive of Left unity. As proof, they cite the presence of the RAW station chief at Prachanda’s house immediately before the alliance broke down. The Maoists admit they have been in touch with Indian ‘agents’ but rubbish the allegation. They claimed that UML’s unwillingness to opt for a name other than Madhav Nepal, and its insistence on key portfolios, led to a breakdown. A sullen UML went back to the NC.
The Maoists risked alienating the UML because they were confident about having the numbers in the house with the support of the MJF. In a sudden turn-around though, the MJF shifted loyalties and backed the NC-UML alliance. MJF leader Upendra Yadav claimed that the Maoists had refused to support his candidate as Vice President. The ‘Left-democratic’ alliance of the NC, UML, and MJF decided to back the NC candidate for President, the MJF candidate for Vice President, and the UML candidate for CA Chairman. This alliance has been successful, cornering all three seats.
So what we have now is a polarisation between political forces, with Maoists on one side and the key non-Maoist forces on the other. Most leaders in NC, UML and MJF have said that, though the alliance will continue, the Maoists have the first right to lead the Government, as that is the mandate of the election and they are willing to support it. Others in the alliance would rather keep the Maoists out. Koirala is reportedly still harbouring dreams of becoming PM and the Sher Bahadur Deuba faction – close to the US and the Army – is viscerally anti-Maoist. The conservative faction of the UML, led by K.P. Oli, has said that UML should get to head the Government; and some MJF leaders believe that they have a fair chance of taking the PM’s post if the Maoists can be kept out.
The Maoists have said formally that they will stay out of Government after their loss in the presidential election. But this is seen as an initial bargaining position to extract the best deal in terms of portfolios and get a guarantee that their Government would not be ousted in a few months. There are internal divisions in the Maoists too, with some arguing it would be more beneficial to stay out while others assert that it is their responsibility to head the Government.
Negotiations in Kathmandu are presently hovering around the contours of the next Government. The big question is whether it will be a non-Maoist formation, a Maoist minority Government, or a Maoist-led national unity Government.
Even as Kathmandu politics continues, there are worrying signs out in the Districts and villages. Soft authoritarianism and semi-anarchy seem to prevail in most parts of the country.
For one, the Maoists are consolidating legitimately, with no political opposition. They have substantive pockets of support, they have a coercive apparatus, they have a popular mandate, they are seen as agents of change by the marginalised, and sooner or later, they will have control of the state. In fact, the Police is already playing ball with Maoist activists in the Districts.
The other parties do not seem to have learnt from the debacle during the polls. They are not making the effort to revive their organisation, pick up popular issues, and challenge the Maoist project by raising a constructive agenda. Democracy faces danger not from the authoritarian impulses of the Maoists, but the lack of serious political opposition to them on the ground.
Instead of engaging in petty Kathmandu-centred politics, it would be far more useful for NC and UML leaders to go back to the Districts and figure out ways to revive their machinery. They prefer hiding under the pretext that Maoists do not allow other party workers to function. While this is undoubtedly true in some cases, it obscures the fact that it is more possible for the parties to go back to the villages now than it was three years back. It also shows the unwillingness and inability of these parties to stand up for their political principles, and use a sympathetic media and existing national and international human rights institutions to expand the democratic space. In the absence of motivation and direction from the top, the village level cadre decide that it makes more sense to be inert than confront the Maoists.
If the Maoists decide to stay out of Government, claiming they have lost the ‘moral right’ to lead it after the loss in the presidential polls, they will consolidate further in the countryside. They will monopolise the opposition space, while playing the 'victim card'. The Maoists will use their formidable organisation and propaganda machine to convey that they have been deprived of their right to lead the Government, while exposing the failure of the old faces in the new Government. They will be in the happy position of having power at the village level, numbers in the House to influence the Constitution-making exercise, but no responsibility in Government.
If the Maoists do join the Government, they will use state resources to expand the party organisation and cater to populist aspirations. A stark example is the way they used the ministries in the Interim Government to grow, while others used them to make money for personal purposes. The Maoists had control of the Local Development Ministry, thus taking control of the state apparatus on the ground; they were in charge of Physical Works, which allowed them to cater to infrastructure needs in a selective manner; the Ministry of Forests was used to collect resources for the party; the Ministry of Information gave them control of the state media; and the Ministry of Social Welfare allowed them to exert influence on International Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs) and the vast network of national non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Combine the ineptness, factionalism and corruption of the other parties with the ruthlessness and commitment of the former rebels, and it is clear that the Maoists will have virtual political hegemony in most parts of the country.
The other worrying sign is that of growing anarchy. There has been no Government at the top since April, leading to lack of redressal of the spiraling inflation and economic crises. The official budget has not been presented even though the new fiscal year has begun. There is a severe fuel shortage, especially in the capital, leading to serpentine queues in front of petrol pumps.
Street protests are the most frequently used mechanism of expressing grievances, bringing life in Kathmandu to a halt. In the past month, students have protested against textbook shortages or to demand concessions on public transport. Transporters have protested against fuel hike. Maoists and student organisations have recently got together to rebel against the Vice President Parmanand Jha taking oath in Hindi, accusing him of being anti-national.
The problem is not that various interest groups have grievances; the problem is that in the absence of a non-violent, democratic system to redress these grievances, streets become the site of all contestation. Blackmail becomes an accepted political tool. And the Government, in most cases, succumbs. The optimists may like to see this as the responsiveness of the system. But this is a vicious cycle, where the weak state shows it is unable to withstand any kind of pressure, becoming even more discredited in the process.
In recent weeks, there have been two rebellions in Police camps – one in the Armed Police Force and the other at a civilian Police post – in western Nepal. Junior Policemen rebelled against mistreatment by seniors, poor quality of food and bad pay. They held officers hostage and presented demands to the Government. In one case, the Government gave into all demands and only weeks later took some action against the rebelling cops. The signs of mutiny, even within the state security establishment, points to how crippled the state in Nepal is, and how badly the Police needs reform.
Anarchy is also manifested in the complete lawlessness in parts of the Tarai. There is no political direction to the bureaucracy. The Police do not act against crime because most criminals have political cover and the culture of impunity is rampant. The Police decide to share in the loot instead of enforcing law and order.
A critical few weeks lie ahead in Nepal. The shape of the new Government will have direct impact on the peace process, issues of governance, the state-Madhes gap, and whether the democratic space will expand or shrink on the ground.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
July 21-27, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Chief of PBCP-Red Flag faction killed in Nagoan: Chief of the Red-Flag faction of the Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP-Red Flag), Tutul aka Dr. Mizanur Rahman aka Rafikul Islam, was killed in an encounter between Police and extremists in Naogaon on July 27. According to the Police sources, a team of 80 Police personnel from Atrai, Raninagar and Sadar Police Stations cordoned off Kaligram Eidgah field at around 4:00 am (BST) after receiving a tip-off regarding a secret meeting of 50 to 60 armed extremists. Aminul Islam, Additional Superintendent of Police in Naogaon, said the militants subsequently opened fire on the Police. The Police also retaliated, but the militants managed to escape leaving behind one of their bullet-hit colleagues, who was later identified as Tutul. The Daily Star, July 28, 2008.
46 persons killed and more than 100 others injured in 17 blasts in Ahmedabad: Approximately 46 persons were killed and more than 100 others injured in serial bomb blasts in Ahmedabad, capital of Gujarat, in the evening of July 26. The attack occurred near the trauma centre of the Government Civil Hospital, where at least 25 people, including two doctors, were killed. There were 17 blasts in 10 different areas and all, except the minority-dominated Sarkhej and Juhapura, were in the eastern parts of the old city area. Most of the blasts occurred in crowded and congested points like traffic circles, near a Hanuman temple or near bus stops. The first blast was reported from the Hatkeshwar locality in the Maninagar area at 6.38 pm (IST). Thereafter bombs went off at 7 other places – Bapunagar, Narol, Ishanpur, Saraspur, Sarangpur, Raipur, Sarkhej, Juhaapura – all within the next five to seven minutes. About 40 minutes after the first round of blasts, bombs went off near the Trauma Centre of the Civil Hospital and the main portico of the L.G. General Hospital in Maninagar, even as the injured were being rushed to the hospitals. About an hour later, three more blasts were reported from Maninagar and surrounding areas.
The bombs were planted on old cycles apparently to avoid being identified. The preliminary reports from the sites indicated that gelatine rods in Tiffin boxes or in cloth bags with timers and tied to cycles were left behind in crowded areas, possibly minutes before the blasts.
Meanwhile, in a 14-page manifesto e-mailed to the media minutes before the serial bombings, an organisation calling itself the "Indian Mujahideen (IM)" claimed responsibility for the Ahmedabad attacks. Titled "The Rise of Jihad", the manifesto says the bombings were carried out to avenge the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat. "In the light of the injustice and wrongs on the Muslims of Gujarat," it says, "we advance our jihad and call all our brethren under it to unite and answer these irresolute kafireen [infidels] of India." It warned of future attacks, complaining that the Police "disturbed us by arresting, imprisoning, and torturing our brothers in the name of SIMI [Students Islamic Movement of India]." In a similar document sent minutes before serial bomb strikes in Jaipur (Rajasthan) in May, 2008, the IM had said such bombings were intended "to clearly give our message to Kuffar-e-Hind [the infidels of India] that if Islam and Muslims in this country are not safe then the light of your safety will also go off very soon." Near-identical language had been earlier used by the IM in a document e-mailed to television stations minutes before the bombing of three trial-court buildings in Uttar Pradesh in November 2007. In its e-mail, the IM said it was retaliating against "wounds given by the idol worshipers of India." The Hindu, July 27, 2008.
Woman killed and seven persons injured in serial blasts in Bangalore: A woman was killed and seven persons injured in a series of eight low-intensity blasts on July 25, 2008 in Bangalore, capital of Karnataka. The explosions were reported within 45 minutes from 1.15 pm (IST). The first explosion occurred at a bus stop near the Madivala Check Post, off the busy Hosur Road, around 1.15 pm. Sudha Ravi, who was waiting for a bus with her husband, was killed on the spot, while two persons were injured. Two more explosives went off in the adjoining Adugodi area, injuring three persons. Similar low-intensity explosions were reported from three places on Mysore Road and at two spots in the heart of the city — near the Mallya Hospital and near the Rashtriya Military School on the Langford Road. At Adugodi, the explosives were planted behind a telephone junction box near a commercial complex under construction and another near a storm water drain. On Mysore Road, the explosives were placed under a power supply transformer near a mall; one near a storm water drain; and the third near a car showroom next to the Regional Transport Office.
According to police sources, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) fitted to timer devices were used in all the explosions. Preliminary investigations revealed that ammonium nitrate, bolts and nuts and cement chips were packed into the devices. Sources in the National Bomb Data Centre said the IEDs were almost identical to the ones used in the explosions at the Mecca Masjid, Gokul Chat and the Lumbini Park in Hyderabad, and in the court blasts in Lucknow and Hubli. Though the Police have not ruled out the involvement of terrorist groups, Bangalore Police Commissioner Shankar M. Bidari told journalists that "miscreants" had triggered the blasts to "disrupt the peace" in the city. Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, after an emergency Cabinet meeting, announced that no "hard core terrorist group" was involved in the blasts which, he claimed, were carried out to "malign" the Government. The Hindu, July 26, 2008.
Dialogue process with Pakistan is under strain, says Indian Foreign Secretary: the fifth round of the India-Pakistan composite dialogue on peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir and other Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon told reporters in New Delhi on July 21, 2008 that "the composite dialogue process was under stress". Menon said the ongoing investigations into the recent Kabul Embassy blast had revealed the hand of "elements in Pakistan". Speaking to the media after meeting his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, Menon said the dialogue process had come "under strain" because in the "recent past several events have vitiated ties" and some of the leaders in Pakistan had reverted to the "old polemics". "This sequence of events culminated in July 7 [Kabul Embassy blast]. All our information in the ongoing investigation, which still has to continue, points to elements in Pakistan behind the blast." He described the cease-fire as "under stress" but both sides agreed that it must be "maintained and continued." Interacting with the media later in the evening, Bashir said his Indian counterpart had not given any evidence and described the charge of a Pakistani hand in the Kabul Embassy blast as "baseless" and "made first elsewhere" (he later said it was made by National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan). Bashir reportedly cautioned against treating Islamabad as "on probation" since "we don’t have to prove our credentials to anybody. Pakistan is not the epicentre of terrorism. Please understand that." He added that "It is imperative to refrain from the blame game. Pakistan was among the first to condemn the Kabul attack. I asked India to provide intelligence or evidence." The Hindu ; Daily Excelsior, July 22, 2008.
Ram Baran Yadav of the Nepali Congress elected as the first President: The Nepali Congress (NC) candidate Dr. Ram Baran Yadav was elected as the first President of republican Nepal, securing a comfortable majority in the presidential election held on July 21, 2008. Constituent Assembly (CA) acting chairman K.B. Gurung announced in the CA meeting that Yadav had been elected President by winning a simple majority. Yadav bagged 308 votes, while his rival, Ram Raja Prasad Singh, who was supported by the CPN-Maoist, ended up with 282 votes. Yadav was supported by the CPN-UML, Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), CPN-ML, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, CPN-United, Rastriya Janamorcha, Rastriya Janashakti Party and a few other small parties. A total of 590 votes were cast in the run-off poll on July 21, which was conducted as none of the candidates had reached the required number of 298 in the July 19 election, in which the MJF candidate, Parmananda Jha, was elected Vice President. Nepal News, July 22, 2008.
Government reverses decision on placing ISI under interior ministry’s control: On July 27, the Government reversed its decision to place the country’s external intelligence agency – the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division. The Press Information Department had issued a memorandum late on July 26 stating that the ISI and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) have been placed under the Interior Division’s control. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led Government, however, later ‘clarified’ the earlier notification, saying the ISI would continue to operate at the Prime Minister’s discretion. Under the new notification, the ISI will continue to perform its functions under the Prime Minister. It said: "The said notification only re-emphasises more co-ordination between the Ministry of Interior and the ISI in relation to the war on terror and internal security." However, the Government stood by its decision to place the IB under the Interior Division. Dawn; Daily Times, July 28, 2008.
Cease-fire accord signed in Hangu district of NWFP: A grand jirga (a large congress), representing the Taliban, and Kohat’s regional coordination officer, who represented the authorities, signed a cease-fire agreement on July 24, 2008 and decided to resolve through talks all disputes arising out of the military operation in Hangu District. The jirga held a meeting with the Orakzai Agency’s Political Agent, Kamran Zeb, and informed him that the Taliban would be allowed to stay in the tribal area on condition that they would stop meddling in affairs of state and refrain from imposing their own laws and punishments. Member of National Assembly, Pir Haider Ali Shah, said concerns of both sides would be discussed at various levels from time to time and disputes would be resolved for restoration of normalcy in the region. "The first priority of the jirga will be to get hostages released from the custody of Taliban and to free their three high-profile comrades out of the seven arrested from Doaba," he said, adding that "the next step will be to ask the military to withdraw from the area if Taliban give assurance that they will not challenge the writ of the Government again". Dawn, July 25, 2008.
267 LTTE militants and 17 soldiers among 288 persons killed during the week: 267 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants, 17 soldiers and four civilians were among 288 persons killed in separate incidents between July 21 and July 27, 2008. 14 LTTE militants were killed by the security forces (SFs) as clashes erupted between the two sides in the areas north of Omanthe, Vedamakilam, Pungantalvamadu, Parappukkal, north of Navvi and Palamoddai in Vavuniya District on July 20. During another clash between the two sides in the Iluppakadaweli area of Mannar District, the troops killed 13 militants. On July 21, 24 militants were killed and 15 others injured as the troops attacked LTTE camps in the Murunkaiyadippudi area of Mannar District. During clashes between the two sides in the Kalawilan, Cheddapiddikulam and Pandiyankulam areas in Mannar and Palamoddai, Madam and north of Navvi in Vavuniya, the SFs killed 10 LTTE militants. One soldier was also killed and five others were wounded in these clashes. 22 Black Tigers [cadres of the suicide wing of the LTTE] were killed when Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) fighter jets carried out an air attack in the Mullaitivu area targeting an LTTE training centre in the Udayarkattikkulam area on July 22. Another 12 militants were killed and about 30 injured as the SFs attacked the outfit’s Murunkaiyadippudi camp in Mannar District. 23 LTTE militants were killed during clashes with the troops in the Eelamaruttankulam, Pungntharumadu and Nauvi areas of Mannar District and north of Janakapura and Kiriibbanwewa in the Vavuniya District on July 23. At least eight of them died when the troops attacked the outfit’s bunkers in the Nauvi and Kiriibbanwewa areas. While four soldiers were also killed during the clashes in Nauvi and south of Kalvilan, 10 others were reported injured in these clashes. The troops advancing towards the Mullaitivu District captured the Vavunikkulam Tank, killing at least 55 LTTE militants on July 24-25. On the same day, 13 militants were killed and 42 others injured during encounters with the troops in the Pandiyankulam, Navakkulam, Navvi, north of Janakapura and Kiriibbanwewa areas of Vavuniya District. Three soldiers were killed while 13 others sustained injuries during these encounters. Further, at least 16 militants were killed during clashes with the troops in the Pandiyankalli, north of Oddankulam, Palamoddai and Navvi areas of Vavuniya District on July 25. Eight soldiers were also reported killed while 10 others sustained injuries during these clashes. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Colombo Page, July 22-28, 2008.
LTTE announces unilateral cease-fire during SAARC summit: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on July 21, 2008, announced that they would observe a unilateral cease-fire during the period of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit from July 26 to August 4. The outfit’s political wing said, in a Press Statement issued from Wanni, that, "As a sign of this goodwill, our movement is glad to inform that it will observe a unilateral cease-fire that is devoid of military actions during the period of the SAARC Conference from 26th July to 4th August and give our cooperation for the success of the Conference. At the same time if the occupying Sinhala Forces, disrespecting our goodwill gesture of our people and our nation, carry out any offensives, our movement will be forced to take defensive actions." However, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told Parliament on July 22 that the Government would not enter into any agreement with the LTTE, although they have declared a unilateral truce during the SAARC summit. The Minister said the Government will continue with the measures taken against the LTTE so far. Daily News, July 23&22, 2008.