28 January, 2010

Islamic Fundamentalism in Central Asia: Possibility or Paranoia?

Published in Global Politician on 27 Jan (http://www.globalpolitician.com/26194-central-asia)
In 2009, the world strategic community was mostly concerned with the ‘Af-Pak’ hot spot. In 2010, the trend is most unlikely to change, although new flashpoints like Yemen, Somalia and North Africa are likely to emerge in the geopolitical horizon.

But one very challenging aspect to the theoretical circles shall be the contemplation on the repercussions of the Af-Pak conflict on the Central Asian Republics (CAR). A couple of plausible reasons, among other things, may be posited for this future scenario.

First, a slow and silent revolution which pertains to Islamic religious
upthrust, is being staged in some nation-states of Central Asia: especially, in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Second, and more important, is the opening up of the countries of the region, apart from Turkmenistan to the influx of American logistics for the war against terror in Af-Pak.

To make matters clear, it must be stated that the International Crisis Group, in its update briefing issued on 15 December 2009, reported on the steady growth of Islamic proselytizers inside the prison-cells of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The data from the prisons of other states was insufficient to draw any logical inference, though the number of jailed Islamists was higher in those nations. Moreover, the said report also talks about the strong influence that the Islamists have over the prison-inmates, even petty criminals coming under their sway.

Against this backdrop, USA is embarking on a new rail and road network through Central Asia and Russia in order to reach the zone of conflict in Af-Pak. Till date; America used the routes emanating from the Pakistani port of Karachi and thereby supplied support materials to its troops in Afghanistan. The beefed up insurgency in Pakistan under the aegis of Al Qaeda and its local franchisee Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is definitely the major factor to have pushed the U.S. to search for alternative and rather peaceful avenues.

The fresh transit routes are collectively called by the U.S. Central Command as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). It has three components: the northern, the southern and the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan pathway. The northern part of the NDN, starting from the Latvian port of Riga connects Afghanistan via Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. On the other hand, the southern stream of NDN, originating at the Georgian port of Poti completely bypasses Russia and reaches Afghanistan through the terrains of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; through the Caspian Sea.

Thus it is probably evident that the Central Asian states are being drawn into the war against terror through their acquiescence in providing access to ‘non-lethal goods’ to reach the war-torn Afghanistan. By the middle of 2009, leaving apart Turkmenistan, the other four Central Asian states went into agreements with U.S.A. in order to be a part of NDN.

Presently, Islam is not the state religion in the CAR and the internal political structures are secular and sovereign. During the pre-1991 Soviet period, religion was at the backburner; being totally separated from politics. Even after the demise of the ‘Communist Umbrella’, religion was not allowed to take over the polity. Still, there are certain inherent institutional bottlenecks in these countries which do not augur well.

And nonetheless, there may be negative spin-offs from the crackdown that the governments of these nation-states employ to thwart any rise of fundamentalism. Even, peaceful preaching is reproached and proselytizers are incarcerated. On top of this; rampant corruption, poor governance and a dilapidated jail system in the CAR portend aggrandizement of Islamic Extremism.

In this regard, three main Islamist groups having a considerable base need to be mentioned. They are, in order of importance; the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ). Amongst these, the HuT seems to be the deadliest, at least in a long term scenario, though they advocate peaceful means of attaining an Islamic State.

The IMU commenced its activities in Uzbekistan but now has relocated to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. It suffered a jolt when its leader Tokhir Yuldashev was eliminated by a U.S. drone attack in August 2009. Presently, they are fighting alongside the TTP, against the Pakistani military at FATA. It is reported that its new leadership is desirous of taking the fight back to the CAR and overthrow the democratic regimes there.

In these circumstances, it may be a distinct possibility that the Al Qaeda and its local arms try to disrupt the CAR, more so because of the NDN. The fertile ground to launch their ideology and war may be provided by the mass mobilization achieved by HuT; consequent alienation of those ‘aligned masses’ from the mainstream due to repressive policies of the respective regimes of the CAR and the underpinning of violence provided by militant groups like IMU.

A stable CAR is not only a pre-requisite for the American led NATO forces, but an imperative for the security and stability of South Asia and Middle East. Keeping in view the past history of the CAR, it seems difficult for the extremists to make inroads, though occasional terror-strikes may be in the offing. And the frequency of such attacks may inflate in the near future.

In fact, the Taliban has arrived in close proximity to the border areas of the CAR as they have surged in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan (to the south of the Tajikistan border). They were also sighted near the borders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2009.

Can there be any Indian role envisaged in this context?

India surely can and strategically should, get involved in the building of infrastructure in the CAR, especially collaborate with U.S. in developing the road and rail network of Central Asia. It has already entrenched itself in Afghanistan and further involvement in the CAR would benefit it in the long run. The Indian ride shall not be smooth as Pakistan’s hypothesis of an ‘Indian encirclement’ will be a stronger case then and to what extent U.S.A. would allow Indian incursions remains a matter of speculation.

Nevertheless, if geopolitical considerations are shrugged off and geo-economics is given due weightage, then Greater Central Asia and South Asia as well as the world economy would stand to gain from such a collaborative venture.

The situation in Af-Pak is perilous and no wise brain will want the terrorism to spill-over to the neighbouring areas. But to contain the war within a strict geographical territory would require many ‘wise heads’. An extended ‘arc of conflict’ encompassing the CAR would be an enactment of the proverbial ‘domino effect’ and can spell doom for the region.

Thus Richard Holbrooke has rightly pointed out in his briefing at the Brookings Institution on 7 Jan 2010: “Without exception, every country in the region agrees that what’s happening in Afghanistan and in the border regions is of direct vital strategic interest to them as well, and I need to underscore that.”

Towards a Security Grid in South Asia

UPI Asia, 22 January 2010, http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2010/01/22/toward_a_security_grid_in_south_asia/9801/
Abstract : A common intelligence network has become hugely necessary for South Asia, if not for the whole globe. Keeping in mind the way global terrorism is taking shape and spreading its zones, the state-actors must set aside their differences.

President Obama’s decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan and at the same time to increase the drone attacks on the tribal areas of Pakistan might have assured many regarding the quick demise of the Taliban-Al Qaeda duo in the Af-Pak region. Nevertheless, the hardened terrorists have been equal to the task. And sometimes, they have been even better then the intelligence network of the US-led anti-insurgency machinery.

The spate of attacks, starting from Abdul Mutallab’s December 25 aircraft seizure to the urban warfare in Kabul on January 18, has surely awakened many from slumber. The strikes ranged from the failure of Abdul Mutallab to blow up the Detroit-bound airplane to the moderate success of the Taliban in invading Kabul. And in between, Jordanian double-agent al-Balawi’s surgical operation in the Khost province of Afghanistan made the CIA doubt its own intelligence.

Most of the analysts, security officers, diplomats and politicians were engrossed with the Pakistan Army’s ground offensive in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). White House too was indulged in pressurizing Pakistan’s military to act in a servile manner.
Focus on military operations in FATA and its adjoining areas were mainly necessary on four counts. First, the Pakistani Taliban faction (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) led by Hakeemullah Mehsud had stepped up its fearsome suicide attacks on major cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar and even the business hub Karachi. Moreover, ‘economic-crisis ridden’ Washington was eager to pass the buck to the Pakistanis who were alleged to have been bypassing the burden. Third, a decisive blow to the Taliban in Pakistan was essential to weaken Al Qaeda which draws its support base from the Taliban. And fourth, this time round, USA wanted to use Pakistan’s infantry to catch the elusive Bin Laden, whom they had failed to capture nine years ago at the cave complex of Tora Bora.
But the overemphasis on FATA was probably a tactical mistake as Al Qaeda and its franchisees have unfolded new ways of terrorizing the world. They have started targeting weak states like Yemen, started recruiting from new mass bases like Nigeria, Somalia and North Africa, and have commenced their assault on the aviation sector. Thus, a fresh strategy against terrorism is an imperative.

And it cannot be American-specific or Pakistan-centric. It needs to holistically connect all the countries of the world which have obvious geo-political concerns regarding the menace of terrorism, be it Islamic Fundamentalism or any domestic insurgency.

In this regard, a legitimate co-ordination between different Asian Intelligence agencies can be the first positive step. This becomes more expedient in the light of repeated intelligence failures that we are witnessing. In fact, an alliance amongst the American CIA, Pakistan’s ISI, India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and Israel’s Mossad may turn out to be a fruitful venture. With time, this common body may bring in its sway security agencies of other nation-states of South Asia, and if possible of other major Asian countries.

If the anarchists can thread alliances across borders, what stops nation-states from doing the same? Well, one may say that religious fanaticism is the binding factor for the Jihadis. But then can anyone answer what is in common between the Tamil insurgents of Sri Lanka and the Maoists of India? Is it religion or is it ideology?

Rather, it is a sheer tactical measure. So, if the rebels may unite on a militaristic issue, the Asian state actors too can forge a coherent ‘Security Grid’ under the auspices of CIA.
And, in that business, the states must not act in a selfish manner. Rather, they need to disseminate information pertaining to each other’s interests, howsoever insignificant it may be to its own security calculus. Thus, discovery of a militant camp on Bangladeshi soil pertaining to India’s North-East needs to be reported without delay as it has the potential of inflicting incalculable harm not only to India, but in future even to Bangladesh. And this very fact should be comprehended by policy-makers.

Along similar lines, the leftist insurgency in India cannot be undermined by USA or Israel. The present ‘war against terror’ cannot be a ‘selected war against anti-American terrorists’; rather it should live up to its proper meaning.

Presently, South Asia stands to be the most vulnerable zone and the den of the Taliban-Qaeda duo. Hence, the nations of South Asia shall have to come forward to set an example.

It requires no guessing to predict that the most troublesome partner in such a coalition would be the ISI. With its ‘childhood enemy’ India as a party to the coalition, ISI may find it suffocating to assert itself.
Moreover, in an ‘extended grid’, the prospect of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel working in tandem shall be too much to expect in the New Year.
Skeptics and critics would argue that the fate of such a ‘Security Grid’ would be same as of SAARC. But the presence of USA in the network might just tilt the balance towards equilibrium; at least as far as Indo-Pak scuffle is concerned.

But, to achieve the above, the nation-states of Asia need to break the paranoid outlook regarding their neighbours and appreciate the greater danger of terrorism. Unless that is done; a terror-free Asia, and hence a terror-free world, would be a utopian concept in the coming decades.

Jinnah’s Tottering Pakistan


On a discursive note; 25 December happens to be the birthday of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), the Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader) of Pakistan. And the present Zardari-Gilani government had the onus of exhibiting his birthplace to the public on that very day. Amusingly, the funds required to renovate his residence did not reach the project officials and the work that was stopped since July 2008 could not be resumed. Thus Wazir Mansion at Karachi, Jinnah’s birthplace, remained closed to the public on his birth anniversary 1.

Bludgeoning Jinnah’s vision of a pure pan-Islamic Pakistan (Land of the Pure), the Shia religious processions on the eve of Ashura (a mourning to commemorate the death of Prophet’s grandson Imam Hussein at the hands of the Caliph Yazid at Karbala in present Iraq in c 680 AD) were repeatedly attacked by terror groups in the comparatively calm city of Karachi between 26 to 28 December 2.
Security has nosedived over the last two and a half years in Pakistan, where militant attacks have consumed more than 2,700 people since July 2007 3. Moreover, the country is being pulverized under Washington’s peremptory writs to engage in the frontline war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Pakistan needs a tracheotomy.

In the following sections, this article would attempt to find an interconnection between Pakistan’s present predicaments and its roots of historical formation: examine the causality between the two events, or rather ‘series of events’.

Prologue to Pakistan

When Baba-e-Qaum (Father of the Nation) Muhammad Ali Jinnah asserted his demand for a separate nation on 23 March 1940 at the Lahore session of the Muslim League 4, did he have an iota of cognition what the future nation-state would be like? In fact, he did not even mention the word “Pakistan” in the Lahore resolution though the word had already been coined by another ‘stalwart’ Rahmat Ali almost seven years ago when he published a 4-page pamphlet at Cambridge in January 1933, bearing the appellation: “Now or Never: Are we to live or perish forever?” 5. But achieving a separate nation for the sub-continent’s Muslims was indeed Jinnah’s political tour de force.

Actually, the then Muslim intelligentsia wanted to break the psychological yoke of Hindu domination and consequent extermination. Hence, they encouraged the paroxysms of the ordinary Muslims who were co-habiting with their Hindu counterparts for centuries in a ‘more-or-less’ conducive socio-political atmosphere. One obvious reason for this healthy situation was the very fact that the rulers of most part of the sub-continent were Muslims. But the bonhomie between the two religious groups could not be totally undermined keeping in view the manner in which they joined hands to uproot the British Raj in the First War of India’s Independence in 1857 6.

Actually after the death of Aurangzeb (the last Mughal emperor), the decline of the Mughal empire set in 1707 which slowly but surely fostered the growth of local kingdoms. The sub-continent, after a period of five centuries of Turko-Mongol rule, was offering an opportunity to the Marathas, Sikhs and Jats (non-Muslim sects); not to mention the European infiltration. The consequent loss of prestige of the Muslim theocracy and nobility led the religious elite to search for political boulevards in expressing their anguish. The 1857 revolt was one: quite secular in nature, whereas the other had communal undertones.

Marring the beautiful socio-religious landscape of the mid nineteenth century was the emergence, in the background, of the dark clouds of ‘Wahabism’. It was a concept originally propounded by Abdul Wahab of Arabia (1703-92). He desired to rejuvenate Islam and to restore the socio-political order to the days of the Prophet. The idea was generated in the sub-continent by the Delhi saint Shah Waliullah (1704-63) who wanted to create ‘dar-ul-Islam’ (Land of Islam), even with the help of marauding invaders like Ahmad Shah Abdali of Afghanistan.

Though the Wahabis were well-organized and carried on their struggle for almost four decades under the able leaderships of Waliullah and later Syed Ahmad Brelvi (1786-1831), first against the Sikhs and thereafter against the Imperial Raj, they finally capitulated under the iron hand of the Raj in the 1870s. Interestingly, the Wahabis physically ensconced themselves in today’s North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) region of Pakistan with their headquarters near Peshawar (capital of NWFP).
But the flavour of Wahabism transcended territorial and temporal limits and re-emerged with the Goebbelsian demagogy of the later-day so-called elite Muslim ‘nationalist’ leaders like Sir (Dr.) Muhammad Iqbal, Z.A. Suleri and F.M. Durrani. It might be that Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of the Aligarh University (in present India), engaged in verbal duels with the Wahabis or received ‘fatwas’ (decrees by the Theocrats), but at the end of the day wanted a Islamic state after the British withdrawal from the sub-continent 7.

Thus, just after assuming power as Pakistan’s Governor-General, Jinnah’s plea to regard religion as a personal matter, not a state matter, was utterly disregarded by the rowdy ruffians as it made no sense to their logic and understanding since the call defied Jinnah’s own ‘diabolical diatribe’ once heaped against the other nationality, i.e. the Hindus.
Pakistan’s problems, ab initio
Naturally, the nascent nation-state of Pakistan was submerged under the influx of refugees from India and had to muster infrastructural strength; establishing political institutions was a sine-qua-non for the realization of those.

The most immediate problem was the continued presence of a Congress government in the NWFP, a government effective at the grassroots level and popular. As a matter of fact, the NWFP Congress boycotted the referendum for partition which helped the Muslim League win a marginal majority to join Pakistan. Led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his Khudai-i-Khitmatgars (Servants of God), this group was often referred to as the Red Shirts after the attire of its members.
Pakistan also had to establish its legitimacy against a possible challenge from Afghanistan. Kabul made the emotional claim of “Pakhtunistan”, based on the ethnic unity of tribes straddling the Durand Line 8. However, Pakistan upheld the treaties Britain had signed with Afghanistan and refused to discuss the validity of the Durand Line as the international border with Afghanistan. This resulted in a diplomatic and commercial fracas.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Jinnah passed away on 11 September 1948, barely thirteen months after independence and the mantle passed on to Liaqat Ali Khan, who tried to frame a Constitutional Government based on the British model. But the bottlenecks were manifold. First, he had to deal with the question of the autonomy of the provinces. Second, the aspect of the Bengali-dominated East Pakistan had to be dealt with; which was separated by about 1,600 km of Indian landmass. And finally, the issue of the role of Islam had to be resolved.

Commencement of Military Domination

The ‘series of discontinuous catastrophic events’ commenced with the assassination of Liaqat Ali at Rawalpindi in October 1951. And this was the period when a plethora of political parties started surfacing in both East and West Pakistan with the Muslim League gradually loosing relevance. Furthermore, this was the time when the military started to intervene in politics when in March 1951, Major General Mohammad Akbar Khan, chief of the general staff, was arrested along with fourteen other officers on charges of plotting a coup d’etat. This was termed the Rawalpindi Conspiracy. The connivers were tried and sentenced to incarceration 9.
Amidst the usurpation of state power by bureaucratic-elites and the lawyer-turned politicos, Pakistan was bestowed with a Constitution in 1956. Nevertheless, it failed to hold its forte against the onslaught of the military-ulema (theologian) nexus that developed over the years: the foremost manifestation of which came through the regime of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88).

Pakistan’s Dilemma

Among other things, two issues maintained (or jeopardized?) the vitality of Pakistan in the last 60 years or at least provided oxygen for its survival. One, the irredentist claims pertaining to the Kashmir of its ‘childhood enemy’ India; and two, the Military-Jihadi connection and the overarching influence of the secret services wing Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In the process, Pakistan vacillated in a tortuous dilemma between the two extremities of being the “Land of the Pure” viz. Land of Islam and a “modern nation-state”.

Be it Ayub Khan of the 1950s or Pervez Musharraf of the 1990s or even the present military dispensation within the cloak of the ‘petticoat government’, Pakistan remained and still remains a mosaic of corruption punctuated by Madrasa-based theocratical dogmas; invariably placing the country in an anachronistic mode. Moreover, even a numbskull can fathom that the possibility of Pakistan being a ‘failed state’ is fraught with imminent dangers for the world community at large.
Perennial enmity with India forced Pakistan to embark on the peregrinations of Western Block during the Cold War era (1945-91). The acrimony with India was the paramount reason behind its active role in propping up the Madrasa-based Talibans (students).
History kept on evolving, however Pakistan clung to it.
With more than two-thirds of the population living under the poverty line, with the majority of the women still ‘un-emancipated’ and with large swathes of the landmass under the active sway of the Islamic fundamentalists who have created ‘state within a state’, Pakistan is definitely tottering to its fall.

Are we envisaging another dismemberment of Pakistan on the same lines of the 1971 formation of present-day Bangladesh? Ideologue Rahmat Ali spoke of “Bangistan” (United Bengal comprising today’s Bangladesh and the province of West Bengal in India), “Haidersitan” (the then princely state of Hyderabad before its accession to India) on a promising note, but they appeared to be ‘chimera’ at that period. Are we to see Balochistan, Punjab and ‘Pakhtunistan’ as independent nation-states or Pakistan as a truly federal state with the residuary powers with the provinces? Or do we envisage the more deadly scenario of the fundamentalists taking over a nuclear-Pakistan?

Can the military live to see another day? Whatever be it, presently the military is trying to prove its mettle, not only to Washington, but also to Pakistan’s citizenry so as to bring back the law and order situation on track. Vivisection of the country shall be avoided till USA is present in neighbouring Afghanistan, but what happens after its withdrawal? Shall there be a Mahdi 10 (redeemer) or a re-incarnated Jinnah to act as a saviour?


A necropsy is not completely unwarranted in this context.

Categorised by Mountbatten as ‘a psychopathic case’ and by Gandhi as ‘a maniac’, Jinnah proclaimed Pakistan in 1947 with the apparent declaration of “L’etat c’est moi” (I am the State).

Therein lay the seeds of the ‘botched situation’ which Pakistan faces today.

Jinnah’s Muslim League was so top heavy and so engrossed in inflaming passions to garner authority and territorial assignments that it failed to incorporate institutionalization and concomitant democratization. On top of that, the indelible imprint of the Bangladeshi scar ‘coerced’ the military to search for a ‘paramour’ in the Jihadi network.
Jinnah’s political base was never in today’s Pakistan; rather it was in today’s India! He used to control the League through commands. The Muslim League did not fare well in elections till 1946. The lackadaisical approach of the regional Muslim parties contributed to its success to a definite degree. Nonetheless, the League’s malicious harangue against the Congress and the cry of ‘Islam in danger’ worked wonders, albeit for the time being. When the enemy was no more, the goal was obscure. The obduracy and intransigence of Jinnah and other League leaders was good enough to form Pakistan but not to keep the country embonpoint.

The offshoots of such a policy are glaringly obvious today.
Unless the Pakistani State apparatus assumes the configuration of the “Leviathan” 11 and separates itself from the ecclesiastical; unless the civil society stands upright and unless the common man asserts himself, Hobbesian state of nature 12 looms large on the Pakistani horizon.
The then leadership of the Congress also cannot deny the burden of opprobrium. Probably, a séance has to be organized.

References/End Notes
1: Quaid’s birthplace remains inaccessible, Friday 25 December 2009, DAWN.COM
2: Suicide attack on Ashura procession kills 33 in Karachi, Tuesday 29 December 2009, DAWN.COM
3: Karachi Blast Suicide Attack, Monday 28 December 2009, THECURRENTAFFAIRS.COM
4: Anita Inder Singh, The Partition of India, National Book Trust, India, 2006, p. 29
5: H D Sharma, 100 Great Lives, Rupa & Co., 2006, p. 81
6: A civil-military rebellion erupted in mainly Northern part of the sub-continent (Awadh province) on 10 May 1857 at Meerut, presently in the Uttar Pradesh province in India. Nationalist Historians have termed it as the First War of Independence.
7: H D Sharma, 100 Great Lives, Rupa & Co., 2006, p. 287
8: A G Noorani, The Durand Line, Saturday 26 December 2009, DAWN.COM
9: Pakistan, Constitutional Beginnings, Library of Congress Country Studies, US Department of the Army
10: Muslims believe the Mahdi will rid the world of error, injustice and tyranny
11: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) conveyed the image of the state as the supreme power by portraying it as a Leviathan, a gigantic sea monster. He attributed such largeness to the state due to the sovereignty associated with the modern day state.
12: Hobbes’ state of nature is that of anarchy and disorder

15 January, 2010

Hakeemullah: Dead or Alive?

PESHAWAR: Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan have released an audio tape of Hakeemullah Mehsud as reports emerged that the TTP chief had been injured in a fresh drone attack, DawnNews reported.

The audio recording was allegedly made Friday and sent to media outlets by unnamed Taliban militants in which the group's leader says he is alive.

The message comes after missiles from unmanned US aircraft pounded the northwest tribal belt on Thursday killing at least 15 militants, with some security officials saying Mehsud was among the dead.

In the recording, Mehsud accused the government of using the media as a propaganda tool against the Taliban.

“Sometimes they (the government) launch a propaganda about my martyrdom through the media and sometimes they say that the operation has been completed in South Waziristan. This can never happen,” Mehsud said.

He was referring to military operations against Taliban strongholds launched last year in the lawless tribal district of South Waziristan.

"I am telling the nation that drone strikes are against Pakistan's sovereignty and the rulers will be responsible for any drastic step taken by the Taliban in retaliation," said Mehsud.

Reporters familiar with Mehsud said the voice appeared to be his, but there was no mention of dates or the specific strike alleged to have killed him.

Mehsud assumed leadership of the group blamed for the deaths of thousands of people in attacks in Pakistan after his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike in August last year.

Rumours also surfaced in October last year that Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed, prompting the militant chief to put out a number of statements denying his demise.

There was no way to independently confirm whether the message released Friday was recorded before or after Thursday's strike.(courtesy-DAWN)

13 January, 2010

Uneasy Calm at Nayagarh

The following piece is part of a Book titled : "Naxalism: Issues and Concerns". It was a solicited article.

It was probably any other day at Nayagarh. People were carrying on their daily chores as usual. Workers returned to home at dusk. Hardly the children or the aged or the women folk were aware of the thunderbolt that was going to strike the area, or did they know ? Whatever it was, the upshot is that the night of 15th February, 2008 remains a memorable one for the Nayagarh-ites and would continue to be so. Not unlike any commercial thriller, the Maoists pillaged the Police stations in the area, looted a huge cache of arms and ammunition and also killed the Assistant Sub-Inspector Dandapani Mishra. They had arrived in large numbers, about 500-600 in total, in trucks and on motorcycles.

Now in what way is this assault of the Maoists unique that it requires a threadbare analysis ? Moreover, keeping in mind the plethora of attacks they have had launched over the past five years, this one at Nayagarh might not be that pertinent to be ascribed so much importance; especially, after such dramatic events like that in Koraput in 2004 or the Jehanabad jail break in 2005. Agreed that such events or even the assassination bid on Chandrababu Naidu would be considered notches up in terms of intensity or ferocity, but the issue which warrants special attention here is the proliferation of the Maoists in the interior of Orissa.

And that has to be given due recognition. It is a fact that the Red Corridor passes through Orissa, but the border districts like Gajapati, Rayagada, Koraput and Malkanagiri in the south and Deogarh, Sundargarh, Jharsuguda and Sambalpur in the north are mostly affected. Penetrating so deep into the heartland not only speaks volumes of the military success of the Maoists but also signify their expanding socio-political network in the region. Moreover, the casual approach of the local administration along with the failure of their espionage system have to be held responsible for this ominous incident.

Starting from the deadly mine attack on the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu in 2003, the Maoists have thus come far in terms of their reach and military prowess. Or it may be that they are trying to create a notion in the mind of the administration regarding their penetrative abilities by embarking on sudden guerilla attacks on towns away from their core areas. Nevertheless, the Nayagarh event was startling and it was one among the series of such field actions of the Maoists which they are carrying out with élan since the camaraderie that they achieved after the unification of the two erstwhile warring factions : Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and People’s War Group (PWG) in late 2004; a decisive moment in the history of the Naxalite movement in India.

It all began in March 1967 with a young share-cropper Bigul Kisan, in the Naxalbari area being attacked by armed goons of the local jotedar when he had gone to till the land after having a judicial order. Oppression was thwarted by arms, autocracy of the landlord-bourgeoisie nexus was bludgeoned by a unified band of tribal-peasants : invigorated by the fiery speeches of the cult-figure Charu Mazumdar. Since then, the movement has seen several ups and downs, bitter internecine showdowns, severe State repressions as well as splits, mergers and a Mega-merger. But the central theme of the Naxalites has remained almost the same. They have viewed independent India as a multi-national country and supported the right of nationalities to self-determination, including secession. Moreover, they have clearly stated that the ruling bourgeoisie is comprador, Indian independence was fake, and that India has a semi-colonial and semi-feudal status. Thus, in order to establish a people’s government in India, Mao Zedong’s guerilla warfare tactics have to be employed and a protracted armed agrarian revolution is the only feasible solution in this regard.

Coming back to Nayagarh on the eventful night of 15th February, it would hardly be necessary to solve intricate mathematical equations to predict the future security calculus of the region. Nayagarh is strategically close to the pilgrim site of Puri in the south-east and the capital Bhubaneswar in the north-east. In fact, it was carved out of the Puri district itself in 1995. Thus a full-scale Maoist offensive on Nayagarh would act as an apparition for the nearby districts. Moreover, the incident can also have a debilitating effect on the influx of tourists to Puri. Furthermore, attacks of this class can stem the inflow of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in future. Given the predilection of the Maoists against foreign capital and POSCO’s venture at Paradip, a port barely 120 km by road from Bhubaneswar; such a hypothesis cannot be ruled out. Apart from these, it is noteworthy that the civilian casualty was remarkably low (only one civilian was killed in the crossfire). The Naxalites, as they entered the area, kept on warning the locals regarding the coming tussle and requested them to stay indoors. The modus-operandi is similar to what they had adopted in such mass operations elsewhere. This goes to show that the Maoists are trying to establish themselves as an organization against the oppressive State machinery and not against the masses. They are determined to remove the ‘terrorist’ tag. Also, it is natural that a closer contact with the masses would help the Maoists to engineer the economy of the area. The sugarcane cultivation in the region may be the focal point of attraction for the Maoists.

Hence the state and the Union administration have started to act in unison to weed out the menace before it assumes cyclopean proportions. Indeed they have to, before it becomes too late. But to only consider the Maoist problem as an administrative hindrance would be myopic. Unless the tribals and peasants are properly empowered, the Naxalite problem would persist. The top rebel leader Sabyasachi Panda : the chief architect of Maoism in Orissa since 1996, belongs to the town. Well, he has a number of admirers in the political circles of Orissa !! Before Sabyasachi Panda of Nayagarh establishes himself in the annals of Indian History as a legendary figure, the administration has to assert itself, though not in the manner of “Salwa Judum“ in Chattisgarh. Till then, an uneasy calm prevails at Nayagarh and in Orissa.


06 January, 2010

India on the Brink of a Major Showdown

The following article of mine has been published today in News Blaze

The apparition of 1967 is haunting India yet again, and this time on a far more serious scale. The then 'Naxals' are now being termed as 'Maoists'. Only the nomenclature has changed, but the essence of the problem remains. The genesis of the armed resistance in 1967 was in the 'Naxalbari' village of the eastern province of West Bengal. At that juncture, the movement was temporarily curbed by the 'state apparatus'. What the Indian authorities and policy-makers failed to address, was not the 'law and order' problem but the development and empowerment issues (or the lack of those) at the grass-root level which helped form the backbone of the movement.

Any insurgency sustains itself by feeding on the population. In this case too, the Maoists are doing it no differently. The 'protracted people's war' which was thought to have fizzled out in the early 1970s with the mass arrests of the top brass and the consequent demoralization and innumerable schisms within the party structure of the Naxals, raised its serpentine head in 2004 with the unification of the erstwhile Peoples War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). Since then, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) has 'upped the ante' and extended their dominions to penetrate large swathes of the Indian landmass. Presently, about 200 of the total 600 districts in India are under the 'Maoist Influence'. The area basically stretches from the Indo-Nepal border in the north to the southern part of the subcontinent; cutting across several provinces in its trajectory.

The headquarters of the guerrillas is in the dense forests of Central India, named Dandakaranya; which has historical connotations pertaining to the 'Ramayana era'(One of the Indian epics). Interestingly, the present United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government under Dr. Manmohan Singh came to the helm at New Delhi in 2004 itself but did not follow any well-coordinated policy of combating the 'Red Menace'. It was largely left to the individual provinces as 'Public Order' and 'Police' are exclusively under the jurisdiction of the provinces ('states') as per the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution. And this has been a major reason for the escalation of Maoist-related casualties in the country.

Furthermore, 'alienation' of the tribal population from the mainstream, failure of the government to address the basic livelihood issues of the forest-dwellers and treating the Maoist insurgency as merely a 'law and order' problem has taken the situation to more precarious levels.

Data from the Ministry of Home Affairs of India clearly show a gradual rise of the number of casualties due to Maoist insurgency since 2004. In fact in 2009, the ultras started venturing into territorial domains where previously they did not have a considerable mass-base. The June 2009 offensive by the insurgents at 'Lalgarh' in West Bengal was alarming as the said province had almost totally got rid of Maoism since the early 1970s due to the equitable land distribution schemes launched by the Marxist party which came to power through proper democratic elections.

Actually, indiscriminate bartering away of agrarian lands to corporate houses in the name of industrialization without creating an atmosphere of consensus amongst the peasants was the chief cause behind the 'recent resentment' of the rural populace. Moreover, lack of a proper credit and banking system in the Indian interiors leave the peasantry at the mercy of the moneylenders; which in turn aggravate their distress and lead to 'suicides'. And this disgruntlement engenders the Maoist doctrine.

Returning back to power in May 2009 for the second consecutive term, the UPA coalition had a formidable task to deal with; and that was to tackle the Left Wing Extremism which had emerged as the 'biggest internal security threat', even larger than the Kashmir imbroglio or the North-Eastern terrorism.

Hence, the much hyped "Operation Green Hunt" was launched in the Dantewada district of the Central Indian state of Chattisgarh in September 2009. The Union government was able to launch such a military offensive based on the premise that Entry 2A of List I in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution permits the Centre 'to deploy armed forces in the provinces'. In this venture, the Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMF) and the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) which is specially trained in jungle warfare are also likely to move into the later stages of the operation. The deployment of helicopters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) for transportation and rescue operations of troops is also being considered. The Gadchiroli district in the Western state of Maharashtra was the second place where the said operation was likely to have been unleashed in the first week of November.

In the face of vehement criticism by large sections of civil society and human rights groups against this military offensive, the Home Ministry has probably put a halt on the operation. Nevertheless, the tactical pressure seems to have worked as the Maoists have in a formal statement offered a ceasefire, but only if the government dropped its pre-condition that the ultras abjure violence.

And very recently, the Home Ministry has also proposed for dialogue with the ultras, dropping the pre-condition of laying down their arms.

On the other hand, there are reports of a covert alliance of the 'almost decimated' Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Maoists of India. If this fructifies, then the scenario would be more menacing for the Indian authorities. Actually the sagging LTTE may want to bolster their structure through a fresh base in South India, close to the Lankan landmass whereas the Maoists would seek to cash in on the 'land warfare expertise' of the LTTE. Also, the worldwide arms racket that the LTTE is very much aware of can be an option for the Maoists.

Recently, the Home Secretary of India, G K Pillai has suggested that 'small arms and ammunitions' from China are being smuggled into India to feed the Maoist rebels. This opens up a completely new dimension of the quandary. Not to forget, the ideological support that the Naxal movement enjoyed in its early days from Peking (Beijing). The disturbed 'political climate' between India and China might suffer another blow from this angle with Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh already generating controversy.

The solutions to this imbroglio are non-linear. Analysts and experts have opined that the Indian government needs to have 'unconditional' talk with the Maoists. Honest efforts have to be made on the part of the mainstream to bring the tribals within the 'social pale'. The huge tracts of land housing mineral resources need to be holistically dealt with. The government can broker a viable deal between the tribals and the corporate sector, with a 'win-win' situation for both. Basic facilities like job opportunities, education, health care and sanitation needs to be pumped into the tribal areas. But whatever be the policies and whether or not the government embarks on a military offensive, the wisdom has to prevail regarding minimizing the collateral damage because that is the basic tenet of 'counter-insurgency'. A 'cul-de-sac' has to be avoided at any logical cost.