Terrorism Versus South Asian Trio

24 02 2009
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

A South Asian task force against terrorism – is this an idea whose time has come?

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh seems to think it has. The task force was one of her election promises and, after winning a tidal vote to power, she has opened talks on it with two important visitors, India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher.

Few, however, can miss a familiar pattern in Dhaka’s moves in the matter. Election promises, as a rule, sound more enthusiastic than ensuing action on them. If Prime Minister Hasina is sounding far more cautious about the task force than during the poll campaign, official constraints are not the only obvious reason.

Even more obvious is an ironical fact that militates against formation of such a force by the South Asian countries concerned – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (with the Himalayan states of Nepal and Bhutan figuring only as occasional havens of terrorists and Sri Lanka harboring a different species of terrorism). The fact is that the three countries cannot agree more on terrorism, but cannot act less together against the threat.

Theoretically, conditions cannot be more congenial for action on the idea. The people have pronounced their verdicts against terrorism in all three countries in unambiguous terms. A notable result of the Pakistan elections to decide on the post-Musharraf dispensation was the rout of religion-based parties with a record of relations with fundamentalists and extremists, especially in the frontier provinces. In Bangladesh, the landslide victory for Hasina and her Awami League (AL) came with a lethal electoral blow to the Jamat-e-Islami (JeI), an ally of Begam Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and an accomplice of terrorist outfits.

The electorate in India won’t exactly spring a similar surprise with an anti-terrorist vote, though it has rejected the far right Bharatiya Janta Party’s anti-minority take on terrorism in a recent round of state-level elections. In the nearly three months since the terrorist strike in Mumbai, both the ruling Congress Party and the BJP have revealed an unstated bipartisan consensus on according prominence to such threats in their campaigns for the parliamentary elections due by May 2009.

Officially, too, the three countries profess anti-terrorist policies of a similarly high priority. Islamabad has repeatedly been at pains to remind the region and the world that the country’s democratic forces are a direct victim of terrorism, having lost Benazir Bhutto in a bomb blast. Dhaka makes a similar claim, with the grenade attack of 2004 on a Hasina rally among the oft-recalled instances of grisly terrorism. As for India, the Mumbai outrage of November 26, 2008, was only the latest in a long series of terrorist attacks on the nation and its successive governments.

The popular and official consensus among the three countries on terrorism, however, has not made coordinated action against it any easier in practice. On paper, India and Pakistan have in place a joint mechanism against terror, set up during the five-year old “peace process” as a response to past instances of extremist violence. Even a joint investigation of the Mumbai case, however, remains an impracticable idea, despite India’s “dossier” on the subject made available to Islamabad and Pakistan’s detailed response to it.

Domestic opposition would not allow further progress in the direction easily. Online tirades against “traitors” in the Islamabad establishment, who have reported findings of the official investigation about Pakistani links to Mumbai, represent only the tip of an iceberg. Experts on talk shows on Indian television channels compare cooperative investigation of the case with consultations over a house break-in with the burglar himself.

Pakistan’s investigators may not have pleased many in the Hasina dispensation by publicizing their finding about the possible involvement in Mumbai of the Harakat-ul-Jehad-al-Islam (HuJI) of Bangladesh. Dhaka, however, has concealed any displeasure over the finding. It has, actually, admitted the possibility. It is a safe bet, though, that this is going to be no prelude to any joint Pakistan-Bangladesh exercise on the issue.

Domestic political compulsions, again, are sure to derail any effort in this direction. The opposition BNP is not going to be a silent spectator of any investigation of India’s worst-ever terrorist strike involving Bangladesh. Nor is any Dhaka-Islamabad cooperation in the cards, even as the Hasina regime promises to hasten trials in cases of “war crimes,” committed during the Bangladesh war of 1971 by fundamentalist and other forces opposed to a break up of erstwhile Pakistan.

Hasina has, of course, discussed the task force with Mukherjee during his recent visit to Dhaka. Even before details of the proposal could be divulged, Khaleda and her party came out with strong disapproval of any arrangement that would let India use Bangladesh’s territory for fighting its own battles. The fear is that the task force may help India counter separatist movements on the border of Bangladesh in the name of fighting terrorism.

In theory again, all the three countries are anti-terror allies of the US. Richard Holbrooke, special US envoy for India and Pakistan, has stressed this in Islamabad and New Delhi, while Boucher has done so in Dhaka. The formulation, however, is extremely unlikely to help the speedy emergence of the proposed force. Experience has shown the extremely limited extent to which the alliance can be advanced in each of the three countries. Washington has not won the unqualified support of the allies for the main objective of its anti-terror war in the region.

Pakistan cannot possibly acquiesce on US drones’ attacks on Pashtun areas even if described as part of an all-out offensive against al-Qaeda. India cannot agree to any proposal for US peacemaking in Kashmir, peddled as a ploy to help Islamabad focus on the al-Qaeda terrain. And we do not quite know whether the Pentagon is really unhappy about a splinter of al-Qaeda shifting from the Pakistan-Afghan border to Bangladesh and surviving as the HuJI.

All told, the time for the task force may not be yet. The time will come only when the people of the three countries prevail over political forces with the stake in perpetuating regional tensions and conflicts. It will come only when South Asia chooses to counter terrorism for its own sake and not in the cause of a superpower as it is popularly perceived.

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A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of “Flashpoint” (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

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Pakistan Taleban in Bajaur truce

24 02 2009

Pakistani soldiers in the north-west

Pakistani soldiers launched an operation in Bajaur in August

Source: BBC News

A senior Taleban figure in Pakistan’s Bajaur district has announced a unilateral ceasefire.

Faqir Mohammad made the announcement in a radio speech.

Faqir Mohammad is thought to be the deputy of Baitullah Mehsud, who the Pakistani authorities say is the main Taleban commander in the region.

The military says it has seized the strategic Bachina heights in Bajaur and it remains to be seen whether it will agree to a ceasefire.

The military began its operation in Bajaur last August and has used it as proof of its commitment to tackle the Taleban in the restive north-west.

The truce move comes a week after a deal was signed between Pakistani officials and Taleban representatives to end an insurgency in the Swat region in return for the imposition of Sharia law.

Alliances

Faqir Mohammad said in his 30-minute speech: “We made this announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in the interest of Pakistan and our region.

“We advise our people not to take action against security forces.”

He stressed that “Pakistan is our country and the Pakistan army is our army”.

Tribal areas map

Faqir Mohammad said: “We don’t want to fight the army, but some elements have been creating misunderstandings between us.”

He said there were no foreign fighters in Bajaur.

“However, if we found any foreigners here, the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) would take action against them.”

He warned that if drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas continued “we will avenge them by attacking Western troops inside Afghanistan”.

The announcement comes a day after the security troops dislodged militants from the strategic Bachina heights.

Military action has been lessening in Bajaur with the capture of several strategic points by the military.

It also came two days after the head of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, announced a new strategic alliance with two important non-TTP groups in Waziristan.

One is led by Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and the other by Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan.

The announcement did not specifically mention the militants of Swat, Bajaur and Mohmand as forming a part of the new alliance.

The BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says many observers take this to mean that the Waziristan groups have decided to fend for themselves.

The Swat chapter of the TTP has already called a truce and the cleric, Sufi Muhammad, is brokering the peace talks between the Taleban and the government.

Our correspondent says observers believe some militants are on the retreat due to people’s war fatigue, the recent realignments within different groups in anticipation of the new US strategy in the region and increasing international pressure on Pakistan to eliminate militant sanctuaries.





The terror tree

24 02 2009

THE KINGPIN Abu Al-Qama

PoK-based chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba’s India operations. In his 50s.

THE second rung

Amir Raza Khan

Heads Indian Mujahideen, reports to Al-Qama. Was behind the Kolkata American Center attack of January 2002

Roshan Khan alias Riyaz Bhatkar

Former Fazl-ur-Rehman gangster, IM co-founder. Name cropped up in 7/11, Malegaon blasts probes

Mohd Sadiq Israr Sheikh (32)*

From Sanjarpur, Azamgarh; IM co-founder.

“Controlled” Delhi blasts. Worked as techie in Mumbai

NEXT IN LINE Atif Amin

Headed IM’s Delhi module; executed bombings in Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad. Was killed in Jamia encounter, reported to Sadiq

ASSOCIATES*

Afzal Mutalib Usmani (32)

Stole the 4 Navi Mumbai cars used in Ahmedabad, Surat

Mohd Zakir Sheikh (28)

Scrap dealer, helped plant Gujarat bombs

Mohd Arif Sheikh (28)

Mumbra electrician, built circuits used in Ahmedabad, Surat

Sheikh Mohd Ansar (31)

Software techie, cops probing if he hacked WiFi networks





Single-faith nation is an open invitation to Taliban

24 02 2009

Source: TOI

22 Feb 2009, 0000 hrs IST, M J Akbar

Breast-beating has its dangers. You could lacerate yourself while the assassin laughs all the way to the graveyard. The international lamentation
over the negotiated surrender of Swat in Pakistan to what might broadly be called the Taliban is high on moaning and low on illumination.

There is a symmetrical irony. Benazir Bhutto handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban. Her husband Asif Zardari might have laid the foundation stone of Talibanistan inside Pakistan by accepting Sufi Mohammad’s Tehrik-e-Nifz-e-Shariat Mohammadi as the law for the former princely state of Swat. This demand was first heard in November 1994, the month in which Kandahar fell to the Taliban.

Many questions demand answers. The Pakistani army has an estimated strength of 12,000 in the region of Swat. Why was it unable, or unwilling, to subdue an insurgent force of some 3,000? The Pakistani army is not a pushover. Why was it pushed over in Swat? Is the Pakistani soldier increasingly unwilling to confront an ideology it implicitly sympathises with? How much of such sympathy is shared by the middle-ranking officer, who entered the force during the seminal leadership of General Zia ul Haq? To what extent has Ziaism become the secret doctrine of sections of the Pakistani forces?

What price will Pakistan’s polity pay as the last civilian hope degenerates into a national heartbreak? The legacy of Benazir, the charismatic romantic, has been usurped by a semi-literate authoritarian who has seized executive power through a virtual coup against his own government. Zardari was elected to a ceremonial office, not an executive one. His principal achievement so far has been to make the era of Pervez Musharraf seem like a golden age. If she had been in charge, Benazir may have been able to mobilise her country’s youth by lifting the economy and offering a liberal horizon. Zardari’s ineffectual rule, wafting along compromise and mismanagement, can only create the space for a theocratic impulse that has been waiting to find its moment ever since Pakistan was born. Musharraf doubled the GDP of an insecure economy. Under Zardari, Pakistan is dwindling into a “basket case”, a term Henry Kissinger coined for the eastern half of united Pakistan. While Bangladesh is leaving that stigma behind, Pakistan is entering the vortex of the begging bowl.

Military chaos opened the door for the Taliban in Kabul. Could economic chaos open the door in Islamabad? Has Pakistan begun to realise that faith-based nationalism is not synonymous with peace?

The Frontier and North Punjab, the principal catchment areas of the Taliban, have had a Muslim majority for perhaps a thousand years. It is not widely known that Mahmud of Ghazni’s territories extended to what is roughly the line of the Indo-Pak border today. (This fact is not lost on terrorists who want to use Pakistan as a base from which to launch assaults on the heart of India.) But this area was never a single-faith entity. Hindus and later Sikhs created, along with Muslims, a dynamic shared culture that blossomed through partnership. The presence of the other also became an antidote to puritanism of any hue. The region was ruled successively by Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. No ruler, not even Ghazni, drove Hindus and Sikhs out. It was only after 1947 that the region became a single-faith hegemony, and from that point a breeding ground for theocratic militancy.

The power of a minority is rarely acknowledged by those who seek to turn it into an enemy. A minority is the yeast that enables the national flour to rise. Hindus and Sikhs were the yeast of the North West Frontier and Pakistani Punjab just as much as Indian Muslims are the yeast of Hindu-majority India. Their existence was a daily lesson in co-existence. Their absence has shifted the gears of social evolution and driven the people into rancid and arid territory.

Will the answers be more optimistic than the questions? That too remains a question.





Swat violence reveals fallacy of peace deal

24 02 2009

23 Feb 2009,
Source: ET
NEW DELHI: External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee has said that Pakistan’s ceasefire deal with the Taliban was a matter of concern for India.
“No compromise should be made with terrorist organisations such as the Taliban,” Mr Mukherjee said.

The dangers of accepting the spurious “good Taliban and bad Taliban” was evident on Sunday when militants kidnapped the top government administrator and six of his guards in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley.

The development is worrying for India as security establishment maintains that Islamabad’s decision to cede geographical and ideological space to extremists could have dangerous consequences to the neigbourhood.

Reports from Mingora said the abduction was a major blow to efforts to restore peace. Pakistani authorities had on last Monday struck a deal with Islamists to restore Sharia law in an effort to pacify Swat, a valley where the Pakistan military has failed to put down a Taliban uprising.

Last Sunday, Islamist militants had announced a 10-day ceasefire in the valley as a “goodwill gesture” towards the peace talks. Those who view Pakistan’s decision with concern are of the view that the agreement will only strengthen the militants and could result in another sanctuary for al Qaida and the Taliban.

The development could force the US to rethink its line on the “peace deal”. Although secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the “activities of extremists poses a threat”, the US administration sought more time to study the “agreed upon language” of the deal.

Acting state department spokesman Gordon Duguid had said that Washington was in touch with the government in Pakistan and discussing the issue. “We’ll wait and see what their fuller explanation is for us,” he had said.

On its part, Pakistan has been claiming that a section of the Taliban can be won over by this decision. But if the abduction and the lawlessness in Swat is anything to go by, the Taliban is determined to take control of the Valley and extend its reach to other regions.





86 pc naxal attacks in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa

24 02 2009

Source: PTI

New Delhi : Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa together account for about 86 per cent of incidents of naxal violence and casualties, both civilian and security personnel, in the country.

In the 1,591 incidents in the country in 2008, the number being slightly higher than those in the previous year, 231 security personnel and 490 civilians were killed, Home Ministry sources said.

Chhattisgarh accounted for the highest number of 620 incidents, followed by Jharkhand (484), Bihar (164) and Orissa (103), they said.

In Chhattisgarh, 85 security personnel and 157 civilians lost their lives in naxal violence in 2008, while in Jharkhand the corresponding figures were 38 policemen and 169 civilians.

Bihar accounted for the deaths of 21 security men and 52 civilians and for Orissa the respective figures were 73 security personnel and 28 civilians.

In fact, this year’s figures available till first week of this month show that 53 incidents of naxal violence have already taken place in Chhattisgarh, followed by 48 in Jharkhand, 17 in Bihar and 10 in Orissa. Maharashtra has accounted for 15 incidents, including the most daring one in Gadchiroli early this month in which 15 policemen were killed.

Besides the four worst-affected States, naxal violence has been reported from Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, the sources said.

The total casualties of security forces in 2008 was 231, which was five less than the toll in 2007. Likewise, 490 civilians were killed in naxal attacks in 2008, compared to 460 the previous year.

While 199 naxalites were killed in police operations last year, the figure for 2007 was 141, they said.

Referring to the spurt in naxal violence in Gadchiroli district, a senior official said that the maoists operating in Chhattisgarh were reported to be moving to new areas.

“CPI (Maoists) cadres move from one state to another. Such movement of Maoist cadres usually takes place in the adjoining areas of the states affected by naxal problem,” the official said.

He said such movements underline the need for joint operations — a suggestion mooted at a recent meeting of Chief Ministers of affected States chaired by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

The naxal Wing in the Home Ministry is monitoring on a regular basis the training being imparted to state police and para-military forces in counter-insurgency and jungle warfare. The Centre has sanctioned 10 Commando Battalions for Resolute Action (CoBRA) as a specialised anti-maoist force.





100-day anti-terror plan gets green signal

24 02 2009

Source: Indian Express , India
Maneesh Chhibber
Posted: Feb 23, 2009 at 0323 hrs IST

New Delhi: A 100-DAY plan to make the country a safer place is ready and sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) say P Chidambaram has already ordered its implementation. The go-ahead was given at a high-level meeting chaired by him on Friday.

The plan was one of the first things that Chidambaram told bureaucrats to work upon after assuming charge as Home Minister of the country, after the Mumbai Terror attacks. His lead probably came from the speech of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a conference of state police chiefs recently, in which he suggested a 100-day plan to develop an integrated mechanism to fight terrorism and Naxalism.

The Indian Express was provided exclusive access to the blueprint of what is the biggest-ever exercise undertaken by the MHA to counter terrorism and give more firepower to the forces and other agencies.

Among other things, the plan aims to secure the country’s porous borders, make the state and central police forces better equipped to counter foreign terrorists and Naxalites, construct more roads along the India-China and India-Pakistan borders, develop more integrated border check-posts and immigration checks posts, fully activate the newly set-up National Investigation Agency by May 31, amend the Official Secrets Act, launch more operations in Naxalite-affected areas, operationalise the four new National Security Guard hubs and provide more personnel and better arms to the CRPF and SSB.

Under the plan, the scheme for flood-lights for 2,840 km of Indo-Bangladesh border would be completed by January 20, 2012. This, the ministry, hopes would help check inflow of illegal Bangladeshis.

The ministry is also seeking the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for constructing 509 border outposts — 383 on the Indo-Bangladesh border and 126 on the Indo-Pakistan border.

To secure the coasts, the MHA plan provides for inducting the first batch of 24 interceptor boats by April. These would include 12 boats each of 12 tonne and five tonne capacity. Sources said the ministry had already started working on updating the standard operating procedure (SOP) for terrorist outrage under its crisis management plan. As part of this revamp, it also intends to upgrade the MHA control room.

To counter Naxalism, the ministry is reviewing its guidelines for incentives for surrender and rehabilitation of Naxalites under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme. It has also decided to include the Khunti and Ramgarh districts of Jharkhand in this scheme. Anti-Naxal operations have already been launched in Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) and Kanker (Chhattisgarh).