SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Searching for Order in Waziristan
Despite the deployment of an estimated 80,000 troops along the Afghan border in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the situation is far from stable in the region that is crucial to Islamabad and Washington. This was confirmed in the preceding week, when at least 40 persons died in a welter of violence. At least 14 people were killed and 50 others sustained injuries when a bomb exploded on December 8 at a market in the Jandola town of South Waziristan. On the same day, beheaded bodies of two Frontier Corps personnel were discovered near Wana, headquarters of South Waziristan. The two were among four soldiers abducted on December 6. In the adjacent North Waziristan, violence erupted on December 6 when local Taliban cadre clashed with a group of bandits and 21 persons were killed in the subsequent clashes. In macabre fashion, the Taliban also reportedly strung up the bodies of five dead bandits and displayed one head on a pole.
Notwithstanding several military operations in the area and Islamabad’s claim that the situation is under control, official statistics for the year 2005 (till September 1) indicated that 300 civilians had been killed and about 800 injured while the number of dead army personnel was more than 250 and more than 600 have been injured. The sheer volume of incidents of violence in Waziristan during 2005 has been high, with the South Asia Terrorism Portal (based on a daily monitoring of Pakistan’s English media) recording 112, although, given the erratic reportage and Islamabad’s understated accounts, the actual numbers could be much higher. Geographically, the violence that was earlier confined to South Waziristan has currently spread to North Waziristan and could extend to other areas, especially the North West Frontier Province. Much of the recent violence and subversion, it bears mention, has occurred in the background of a change of Corps Commanders in Peshawar, with Lt. Gen. Muhammad Hamid Khan replacing Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain on September 23.
The death toll in FATA during 2005 is also, without doubt, linked to developments in Afghanistan. Fatalities across the border in the current year, according to open sources, have been the highest since the Global War on Terror (GWOT) began, with at least 1,500 persons, including 84 American troops, killed. Last year, the death toll was about 850. Clearly, American and Afghan forces have failed to control the violence on their side of the border, particularly in the Khost, Paktia, Zabul and Paktika provinces.
In FATA, terrorists, primarily foreign elements supported by local collaborators, have successfully targeted pro-government tribal leaders, journalists and other civilians, apart from the Pakistan Army. While initial estimates mentioned an estimated 600 Taliban/Al Qaeda operatives hiding in FATA, recent official statements claim that the figure has dropped to 100-150. If this were actually the case, there could be little justification for the presence of the at least 80,000 troops in the area, or explanation for the continuously rising trends in fatalities.
Recent operations demonstrate that the Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives remain in possession of, or have access to, sophisticated arms and ammunition. Thus, for instance, on September 13, 2005, troops seized a large cache of explosives and ammunition after raiding a madrassa (seminary) near Miranshah in North Waziristan, which was being run by a relative of Taliban ‘commander’ Jalaluddin Haqqani. 21 people, including 11 foreigners, were arrested during the raid. "We have recovered 15 truckloads of ammunition and weapons from there," Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain disclosed after the raid. Confirming access to weapon supplies, Gul Mohammed, a ‘commander’ for the Jaish-e-Muslimeen (Army of Muslims), a splinter group of the Taliban, told the Christian Science Monitor, "Both the Taliban and Jaish have weapons and arsenal which were being piled up in the past several decades; we have enough for centuries to come."
Pakistan, within whose territory the Taliban and Al Qaeda have regrouped rather well, says that it has killed 353 militants in its border areas between March 2004 and September 2005. Some 175 of these were reportedly foreigners, including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens and Arabs. Among the notables whose presence has been reported in the area is Tahir Yuldashev of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Awami National Party leader, Lateef Afridi, claimed on TV in the third week of September 2005 that, in the last great congregation arranged by Yuldashev in the wilderness of Waziristan, some members of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal Government in Peshawar were also present.
Further confirmation of the presence of ‘high-value’ targets in FATA emerged when authorities claimed that Egyptian Abu Hamza Rabia, who reportedly commanded Al Qaeda’s international operations, and four others were killed when bomb-making material stored at their hideout detonated accidentally on December 2. Subsequent news reports, however, suggested that he was killed in a U.S. missile attack, and local residents reportedly found at least two pieces of shrapnel at the blast scene inscribed with identification details of the Hellfire missile, which is carried by the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned, remote-controlled Predator aircraft. Pakistani journalist Hayatullah Khan, who reported that Rabia was killed by a US missile and took photographs of the fragments of the weapon, was subsequently abducted by ‘unidentified gunmen’. Islamabad, responsive to domestic public opinion, has denied that U.S. drone aircraft had carried out missile strikes within its territory in the past and Washington has, not surprisingly, refused to comment. The presence of U.S. drones, incidentally, has been reported in the FATA before. Thus, in the first week of May 2005, Al Qaeda operative Haitham al-Yemeni was killed by a missile fired from an unmanned Central Intelligence Agency-operated drone at Toorikhel in North Waziristan. Again, US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan killed at least 24 terrorists and destroyed two vehicles in a missile attack in the Lawara Mandi area of North Waziristan on July 14.
Despite occasional successes, Pakistani troops, with a fair measure of assistance from the U.S. military across the border in Afghanistan, have largely been unable to move out of their fortified positions to carry out area domination exercises, with the result that a large expanse of territory continues to remain under the influence of the Taliban-backed terrorists. In many places, the security forces have been pulled out and the offices of the political administration have also been moved to safer locations. President Musharraf’s operational strategy has been unable to garner little political support outside his own clique and local loyalties have vacillated between the two poles of violence – the Army and the militants. The state is, thus, clearly on a retreat in the absence of a clear strategy.
Islamabad’s policy in Waziristan remains a curious mixture of force, economic sanctions and political engagement. And none of these appears to be leading to order and stability in the region. In order to secure the loyalty of the tribes, some of whom easily identify with the idiom of money and procured engagement, the military has offered generous amounts to tribal leaders. While the authorities hitherto used to hand out construction contracts to tribal leaders as inducement, cash is now the preferred mode of enticement.
Securing the surrender of Taliban/Al Qaeda operatives has been a major part of the Army’s non-military strategy. On December 3, Maulana Ajab Noor, a former ‘commander’ against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s, along with hundreds of supporters, surrendered to the political administration and pledged allegiance to Islamabad. Earlier, 34 ‘wanted tribal militants’ had surrendered in Miranshah on November 28. In most of these cases, acquiescence has involved a pact among tribal elders, clerics and the political administration. The Government had also offered, on March 3, 2005, to buy weapons at market price from the tribesmen in South Waziristan, intending to purchase anti-aircraft guns, missiles, mortars, rocket launchers, landmines, hand-grenades, light machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles, according to the local administrator, Khan Bukhsh.
However, the problem with procured surrenders and induced loyalties is their capricious nature. There are far too many complexities within the local power centers and past trajectories have shown that loyalties change rapidly, though transient patriotism is easily induced. Maulana Sadiq Noor, described as a "key Al Qaeda facilitator", is not party to the latest surrender scenario, and the deal is consequently expected to be uncertain and the "newly loyal" tribesmen are bound to be at Noor’s mercy. And while Taliban associate Baitullah Mehsud surrendered on February 7, 2005, allegedly for a payment of PKR 20 million, Abdullah Mehsud, another Taliban-linked leader closely linked to the Binoria seminary in Karachi, remains at large. Earlier, Nek Muhammad, whose surrender in April 2004 was a widely publicized event, turned his back on the Army and eventually had to be neutralised with a missile on June 17, 2004.
Furthermore, an unambiguous lack of trust in Islamabad prevails in FATA, as in Balochistan and the Northern Areas. A tribal council in FATA declared in August 2005 that they "would not cooperate with the authorities either in maintaining law and order or in the implementation of development work as the Government had repeatedly been breaking its promises." A list of pro-Government persons was reportedly circulated with a "warning that they would be eliminated unless they withdrew their support from the Government." Subsequently, many such persons, including former Senator Malik Faridullah, were assassinated.
A spin-off by default of the conflict in FATA is the Pakistan Army’s decision to build roads and develop communication networks in an area hitherto devoid of basic infrastructure. According to the envisaged plan, 26 roads with a length of 711 kilometers would be constructed. Army engineers are to construct 324 kilometers long roads in the Mehsud (tribe) areas and 153 kilometers in the Wazir (tribe) areas of South Waziristan and 234 km roads in North Waziristan.
The truth, however, remains that the Pakistani state has little effective presence in FATA, and the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan are nowhere close to governance or stability. Survival depends largely on the will of outlaws, who operate within the realms either of radicalism or of bribery. General Musharraf made a passionate plea fo an "Islamic renaissance" at the Third Extraordinary Summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Mecca last week. But large parts of his own country are a far cry from a modicum of civilization or order.
The revelations by a national weekly quoting a confidential submission by Army Chief J.J. Singh to the Union Government accusing the Manipur Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, of contributing a sum of INR 15 million to two militant organisations operating in the State revives the persistent question of political collusion and infirmity in the history of insurgency in the State. The Chief Minister has, of course, denied the charges, and these are still to be independently validated. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that serious differences have cropped up between the Army and the political establishment in the State, and that this will undermine the effectiveness and direction of counter-insurgency operations.
According to the Army report, Chief Minister Singh, in March 2005, contributed INR five million to the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and a further INR 10 million to the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF), the political wing of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in June 2005. The Army, as evidence, has produced two receipts, allegedly issued by these groups, acknowledging the contribution by the Chief Minister.
Unfortunately, Ibobi Singh is not alone, and there is a long list of politicians, including Chief Ministers, who have been similarly accused of buying – or attempting to buy – peace with the militants. In the late 1980s, the then Manipur Governor, General K.V. Krishna Rao, accused Chief Minister Rishang Keishing of contributing INR three million to the coffers of the then undivided National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). Keishing’s linkages with the militants found mention in the report of another State Governor, General V.K. Nayyar who accused him as well as another senior politician of the State, R.K. Dorendro of financing the NSCN. In December 2000, the Union Government had asked the Manipur Government to investigate the alleged links of at least five State Minister’s with militant groups. It had provided evidence that some of these Ministers had not only contributed funds to the groups, but had also participated in the funerals of militants killed in encounters and had provided militants with official vehicles.
In militancy-ridden Manipur, buying peace with the militants is a common practice and is seen simply as a strategy of survival. The nexus between politicians and militants, seen partly as fallout and partly as cause of the protracted conflict, is even more common. As former Manipur Governor Ved Marwah expressed it, "There are hardly any politicians in Manipur of any stature who do not have links with the insurgent groups."
Seen from the other side, the 15 active militant groups operating in the State have minimal access to external funding, even though the small arms, explosives and narcotics trade provides a limited trickle of resource. As a result, most of the outfits remain dependent on extortion for their operations. Unlike neighbouring Tripura, only handful of cases of abductions for ransom take place in Manipur, but the extortion mechanism in the State remains all-pervasive and a substantial portion of the money is collected through ‘voluntary contributions’ induced by an omni-present threat, and such ‘contributions’ cover several Government Departments as well, at least some of which have been known to make ‘standard deductions’ from their budgets to meet their ‘obligations’ towards the insurgents.
However, while there is nothing astonishing about Ibobi Singh’s payoff to the militants, the Army’s report to the Centre and its leakage to the Press have brought the schism between the political class in the State and the Security Forces out into the open. The Army and the political leadership in Manipur have long been known to hold and voice diametrically opposite views on the issue of counter-insurgency. The Army – whose presence in the State has not been particularly successful, and has been marred by several allegations of human rights violation – insists that its operations are hampered by the linkages between politicians and the militants. Politicians, on the other hand, have harped on a ‘political solution’ to the problem of insurgency, and insist that the Army’s ‘high-handed’ approach has undermined the possibilities of such a solution.
These differences had come to a head on August 12, 2004, with the Chief Minister’s 2004, unilateral decision, in the face of strong resistance from the Army, to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from seven assembly segments in the greater Imphal area, subsequent to the custodial killing of Manorama Devi. The Army continues to voice its opinion in favour of the re-imposition of the Act. Speaking on November 11, 2005, at Imphal, the GOC Eastern Command, Lieutenant General Arvind Sharma, advised the State Government to re-impose the act citing an escalation of militant activities "where the Disturbed Areas Act has been withdrawn." [The Disturbed Areas Act is an enabling legislation under which the AFSPA become operational in areas designated ‘disturbed’. Absent such a designation, the AFSPA is automatically suspended.]
The relations between the State political leadership and the Army came under further strain after the Army suspended operations against eight Kuki militant groups in September 2005. An announcement to this effect was made by the Union Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Imphal on September 22. The State Government, however, saw little logic in this move, which, it claimed, ascribed undue importance to the highly fragmented Kuki groups. Reiterating this position, the Chief Minister had declared that, while the Army was free to declare a ceasefire against the Kuki groups, the State Police would continue their operations against these outfits.
While the rest of the Northeastern States have shown significant signs of recovery from the multiple and decades-long militant movements that afflict the region, Manipur continues to be affected by a high degree of insurgent and terrorist violence. During the current year (as of December 5) out of the 663 insurgency-related fatalities reported in the Northeastern States, 310 (46.8 per cent) have occurred in Manipur alone. The enormity of these numbers becomes evident in view of the fact that the State accounts for just 6.3 per cent of the population, and 8.52 per cent of the land mass of the Northeastern region. State Government control in a majority of Manipur’s nine districts remains nominal, most civil administrative institutions have collapsed, and developmental work is at a standstill. Within such a scenario, a lack of harmony between the political leadership and the Security Forces is bound to have serious ramifications for the effectiveness of counter-insurgency operations, and this can only further strengthen the militant groups.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) continues to maintain a practiced silence on these developments, clearly reflecting a continuous and resolute lethargy, and a lack of will. The Centre evidently believes that inaction could be the best policy under the circumstances, and finds itself constrained not to disturb the ‘political stability’ in the State, known for its fly-by-night opportunistic politicians. Before Ibobi Singh took over as the Chief Minister in June 2001, Manipur had created an unenviable record of sorts for political instability. Between 1990 and 2001, the State was ruled by seven chief ministers with varying tenures ranging from three months (Radhabinod Koijam) to about two years (Rishang Keishing).
The absence of a coherent policy response at the Centre, and of a consistent counter-insurgency strategy in the State, combined with the political propensity for inaction, errors on the part of the Security Forces, and an ill-founded conviction that militancy can be controlled through unprincipled deals, have created an extremely favourable context of operation for the militants. Despite the unfortunate and worsening trajectory of developments over the past years, there seems no sign of an emerging pattern of response from any of the authorities that would suggest any foreseeable improvement in the situation or relief for the careworn people of Manipur.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
December 5-11, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
JMB suicide attack kills seven persons in Netrakona district: A suicide bomber of the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) riding a bicycle detonated himself in a crowd of people, killing six persons and injuring 46 others in front of Udichi's (cultural wing of the Communist Party of Bangladesh) office in the Netrakona district on December 8, 2005. While the suicide bomber and three persons were killed on the spot, three others succumbed to injuries on their way to the hospital. Police recovered a JMB leaflet from the incident site. The Daily Star, December 9, 2005.
Violent incidents in Northeast on the decline, says Minister of State for Home: The Minister of State for Home Affairs, Sriprakash Jaiswal, speaking in the Parliament on December 8, 2005, informed that 84 and 141 incidents of violence were reported during September and October 2005 respectively in the Northeast. He further said that fatalities among the civilians and security forces (SFs) have shown a decline till the end of October 2005 as compared to the corresponding period of 2004. He, however, said that the number of incidents of violence in Assam has risen in 2005 compared to last year, though the number of civilians killed is on a decline. Five SF personnel were killed in 2005 whereas 17 SF personnel were killed in 2004, he added. The Sentinel, December 9, 2005.
Maoist problem could be solved by dialogue, not with bullets, says Union Home Minister: Replying to a discussion in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) on national security on December 7, 2005, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil underlined the importance of dialogue in tackling left-wing extremist (also known as Naxalite/Maoist) violence in States. Dialogue, he said, was one of the methods to solve the issue. "They [the Naxalites] are our brothers and sisters. What is wrong if we call those who are born in India as our brothers and sisters? They could be angry, they could be misled. But one should not conclude that they should be tackled only with bullets,'' he said. At the same time, the Home Minister was confident that the Naxalite problem would not become an insurmountable problem for the Government. "Naxalite activity is on the increase, yet I would not say it has increased to an extent presented in the House. Not all districts mentioned are affected. One affected village or hamlet does not mean that the entire district is affected. The country is big and strong, it won't be cowed down by a few arms.'' The Hindu, December 8, 2005.
12 persons killed in bomb explosion in South Waziristan: At least 12 people were killed and 50 others sustained injuries in a powerful bomb explosion at Jandola Bazaar in the Tank tribal area of South Waziristan on December 8, 2005. Eyewitnesses said that a powerful bomb placed in a roadside hotel close to the Frontier Corps compound exploded at around 9.30am (PST). The explosion reportedly triggered a chain of small explosions in the adjoining arms shops and five of them were completely destroyed while several others were damaged. Dawn, December 9, 2005.
17 persons killed in clashes between Taliban and bandits in North Waziristan: At least 17 persons were killed on December 6-7 in clashes involving local Taliban cadre and bandits in North Waziristan. Confirming the loss of life and property in the clashes near Miranshah, North Waziristan Political Agent, Syed Zaheerul Islam, told The News that 17 people were killed and four were injured in fighting that began on December 6-evening and continued the whole night and the next day. He informed that four of the dead were Taliban cadres and 13 were bandits. He said eight houses, including those used by bandits for gambling and other activity, were destroyed and set ablaze by Taliban and their supporters. Neither the political administration nor the Pakistan Army deployed in North Waziristan, reportedly intervened to stop the clashes or arrest the people involved. Jang, December 8, 2005.
Suicide squads being formed to kill Shias in Northern Areas: Intelligence agencies have reportedly uncovered a plot by two banned groups to kill Shia members of the Legislative Council of the Northern Areas. Sources said that leaders of the Sunni outfits, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), had directed their operatives to form suicide squads to kill Shia members of the Legislative Council. The groups had asked their cadres in the Northern Areas to recruit women and children to the suicide squads. Clerics belonging to these groups had also contacted people in the earthquake-hit areas to convince them to send their children to seminaries in the Punjab province. In return, they offered to pay for the children’s education, boarding and lodging, the report said. Maulana Ghulam Kibriya of Rahim Yar Khan was assigned to arrange for these children’s admissions to seminaries in southern Punjab, said the report.Daily Times, December 6, 2005.
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