SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Get to the Basics
The facts themselves are fairly simple. On the evening of Tuesday, May 13, 2008, a coordinated series of eight explosions of low to medium intensity occurred across six locations in the crowded walled city of Jaipur. The targets included two Hanuman Temples (on a Tuesday, the day dedicated to the Hindu god, Hanuman, devotees were packed in large numbers at these temples). According to the State’s Home Minister, Gulab Chand Kataria, the eventual toll stood at 80 dead and more than 150 injured. A ninth unexploded device was subsequently recovered from the Chandpole area, where another blast had already occurred, and provided significant leads to investigators.
It was immediately apparent that the attacks were part of an extended series of Islamist terrorist attacks that have occurred, with sickening regularity, at intervals ranging between one and four months, for the past years, and that have been executed by one or various combinations of more than one of four principal groups – the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI)
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was quickly set up, and as with cases in the past, apparent breakthroughs were initially rapid. Descriptions of some of the perpetrators quickly yielded composite sketches of seven suspects, and one of these was potentially identified as ‘Shameem’, an associate of the HuJI militant, Maulana Mohammad Waliullah, currently in jail for providing logistical support to the strike team in the Varanasi serial blasts of March 2006. The SIT worked quickly, in coordination with investigators in Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, to push the leads forward.
If the record of the past is a guide, however, these leads will just as quickly disappear into a wilderness of doubts and suspicions pointing relentlessly to sources across the border. The decentralised and dispersed patterns of operation adopted and progressively refined by Islamist terrorist, with their command centres in Pakistan and Bangladesh, over the past three years, give little hope of bringing the guilty to justice.
The tragedy of the Jaipur blasts – as with virtually every major terrorist outrage in India – is infinitely compounded by the utter obtuseness, the manifest incomprehension and the pervasive disorder and confusion that attend official responses. Despite an experience with terrorism that has extended over decades, it is evident that the state and its agencies are yet to establish even the most basic protocols of response – at least minimally for the securing of the incident location and the ordered and humane transport of the injured and dead. Each new incident sees seriously injured people being picked up and carried around without basic aides such as even rudimentary stretchers, in a manner that can only intensify the trauma of their wounds, and that may, in many cases, reduce the chances of lives being saved.
Worse, a frenzied electronic media appears to have pressured, indeed, panicked, high state officials to issue a continuous slew of unverified and often contradictory observations that could only have added to public confusion and anger. Among these, of course, was the very early and obviously premature observation that RDX had been used in the serial blasts in Jaipur – a claim articulated by senior Police officials and subsequently and authoritatively repeated by the State’s Home Minister and the Union Minister of State for Home. Visual examination of the sites, however, was far more consistent with a low or medium intensity blast and while traces of RDX – used as an accelerator – may be consistent with such an explosion, RDX almost certainly was not the principal explosive used. This appears to have been confirmed by subsequent forensic examination.
Government agencies undermined their own credibility, moreover, in almost immediately pinning the responsibility for the blasts on the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI). This claim may, of course, eventually be confirmed – HuJI is certainly high on the list of suspect organisations, and the course of the initial investigation appears to reinforce these suspicions. But informed speculation is best left to people outside the institutions of the state. The Police and the Government need to deal with what has already been established as fact on the basis of verified evidence. Regrettably, the state’s agencies are yet to learn to deal with an aggressive, ill-informed and often hysterical media, and invariably succumb to the pressure to disclose every line of investigation – each of which is then reported as incontrovertible ‘fact’ by the media.
The complete elimination of the risk of soft-target terrorism is, of course, nigh impossible. There are, nevertheless, a significant range of measures that can, on the one hand, mitigate such risk and, on the other, ensure that our incident responses display a far greater measure of coherence and efficiency than has been visible in the unending series of terrorist strikes over the past years, most recently culminating in the attacks in Jaipur. The political executive charged with overseeing the nation’s security does not, however, display any great awareness of these measures.
Over the first days after the incident, in the incessantly televised discussions on the imperatives of response, various political leaders, both at the Centre and in the State, gave the impression that a ‘failure of intelligence’ was principally to be blamed – a cry eagerly taken up by the media – and that they thought that the challenge was simply a matter of ‘improving coordination’ between Delhi and Jaipur and ‘better sharing of intelligence’. This was the only apparently coherent formulation that emerged from the extended and shrill television debates after the blasts. This was reinforced at the highest level when National Security Advisor (NSA) M.K. Narayanan sought to put an end to the finger-pointing between Centre and State, squarely blaming the country’s intelligence agencies for their failure to "see the Jaipur blasts coming", adding, "Why have they been unable to identify sleeper cells and why don't state agencies co-operate with the Intelligence Bureau?"
But this is profoundly misleading. The principal deficiency is not the inability to communicate and act on some abundant flow of intelligence, or to coordinate between various agencies, but rather the acute paucity of actionable intelligence, and severe deficits in the capacities for generating such intelligence, and for preventive action. While the State Government cannot be absolved of its own failure to generate credible intelligence on subversive and extremist activities within its jurisdiction, the Rajasthan Chief Minister was not wrong in suggesting that a large proportion of the Centre’s warnings relating to potential terrorist activity "are generally vague" and "more like weather reports."
While this would, on first sight, appear to confirm the NSA’s charges, and be a severe indictment of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the premier Central agency responsible for internal security intelligence-gathering, the truth is, it is in fact an indictment of the nation’s political executive under successive Governments. In terms of the sheer size of the country and its population, the IB’s material, technical and human resource capacities are nothing short of laughable. Sources indicate that the IB, for instance, has a bare 3,500 field personnel involved in intelligence gathering for this entire country of 1.2 billion souls, and only a fraction of these are focused on counter-terrorism. Various capacity deficits have been pointed out repeatedly by experts and Government Committees, but despite the continuous escalation of challenges to India’s internal security, Governments have failed to act to sufficiently augment capacities.
Much of this has been written before, but deserves reiteration, since it does not appear to have registered within policy circles. After the Kargil War in 1999, a comprehensive review of security and intelligence had been undertaken, and this included the work of the Girish Saxena Committee which examined the state of the country’s intelligence apparatus. The Saxena Committee’s report pointed to the gaping holes that existed in the country’s intelligence establishment, and had called for massive upgrading of technical, imaging, signal, electronic counter-intelligence capabilities, and a system-wide reform of conventional human-intelligence gathering. Every suggestion in the Report was accepted by the Group of Ministers (GoM), who released their recommendations in February 2001.
Nevertheless, the recommendations of the Report remain unimplemented, beyond a few symbolic changes. The Saxena Committee had, for instance, recommended the immediate recruitment of an additional 3,000 cadres in the Intelligence Bureau. This was in 2001, and till the present just 1,400 additional posts have been sanctioned, though the requirements would by now be substantially greater.
Another significant recommendation called for a ‘multi-agency set up’ to confront the challenges of terrorism, and this was, at least formally, implemented through the creation of two new wings under the IB – the Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and the Joint Task Force on Intelligence (JTFI). MAC was charged with collecting and coordinating terrorism-related information from across the country; the JTFI is responsible for passing on this information to the State Governments in real-time. Regrettably, both MAC and JTFI remain under-staffed, under-equipped and ineffective, with even basic issues relating to their administration unsettled. Their principal objective, the creation of a national terrorism database, has made little progress. The JTFI was also given the responsibility of upgrading counter-terrorism capabilities in the State Police Forces, as part of its mandate to improve intelligence-gathering across the country, but no actual programme of training or capacity enhancement has been initiated.
A critical aspect of existing intelligence gathering operations in India – one that constitutes both a strength and weakness – is that these continue to rely overwhelmingly on HUMINT, with the TECHINT component in urgent and drastic need for improvement. Difficulties of integration of intelligence, of professionalism, autonomy and, crucially, of modernization are acute and in many areas, the gap between capacities and needs is growing. India’s intelligence penetration is, consequently, severely inadequate, and is overwhelmingly limited to a thin coverage of urban areas and strategic locations, leaving vast hinterlands ‘uncovered’.
Crucially, the covert capacities of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) have been systematically dismantled over the past three decades under various political dispensations. The agency, today, has little penetration of the extremist groupings and their support structures in the establishment in Pakistan or in Bangladesh, and virtually no capacity to carry out ‘special operations’ abroad. Since virtually the entire command and control structure, as well as the mechanisms for ideological mobilisation, motivation and training are now located abroad, the progressive whittling down of R&AW’s operational capacities in these countries has consequences that are nothing short of disastrous.
The Saxena Committee report remains, predictably, ‘secret’, and the entire set of its recommendations are not in the public domain. Secrecy – essential for the operation of intelligence agencies – has now become a shroud under which these very agencies are being stifled, and being denied the very capacities to act professionally and in the national interest, with no avenues of redress. A GoM had approved the Saxena Committee’s recommendations over seven years ago. It is time, at least, for another GoM to make a quick and objective appraisal of the implementation of these recommendations over this long interregnum, factor in the escalated threats and additional requirements, and specifically identify the bottlenecks that have prevented implementation over these long years, to the grievous detriment of national security.
Such deficits at the Centre are infinitely compounded by the infirmities of the Policing and Intelligence systems in the States. Peaceful States like Rajasthan are invariably caught off-guard by the first wave of terrorist attacks, because the Police and Intelligence apparatus is simply not trained or oriented to deal with such threats. In any event, India is enormously under-policed and Intelligence establishments in most State’s are, at best, rudimentary. The Police-population ratio for the whole country averages an abysmal 126 per 100,000 – a number that is grossly insufficient even to deal with basic policing, leave alone the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency activities that are becoming an increasing part of Police duties. Compare this with most Western countries – infinitely better ordered and more law abiding societies than this fractious nation – where this ratio normally ranges between 225 and 500 policemen per 100,000 population.
The Rajasthan Police is much worse off, with just 104 policemen per 100,000 population (as on December 31, 2006; Crime in India 2006, National Crime Records Bureau), well below the national average, and a police density (policemen per 100 square kilometres) of 19.1, as against a national average of 44.4. Police leadership deficits also afflict most States – and Rajasthan has a deficits of 31.8 per cent in the ranks of Director General, Additional Director General, Inspector General and Deputy Inspector General; 28 per cent in the ranks of Senior Superintendent of Police, Superintendent of Police, Additional Superintendent of Police and Deputy Superintendent of Police; and 19.6 per cent in the ranks of Inspector, Sub-Inspector and Assistant Sub-Inspector (as on December 31, 2006).
These quantitative deficits are vastly augmented by qualitative deficiencies in manpower profile, training, equipment, technical and technological aids, orientation and mandate, with a cumulative effect that leaves the bulk of the Indian Police Forces firmly rooted in the 19th rather than in the 21st Century.
None of this should be unknown to the national and State political executive. Nevertheless, despite committee after committee that has variously documented these shortcomings and recommended sweeping Police and Intelligence reforms over the decades, policing has been doggedly neglected (though policemen have been repeatedly denigrated and blamed) by regime after regime, securing fitful and fleeting attention in the aftermath of major terrorist incidents or security debacles, but quickly brushed under the carpet thereafter.
One thing is certain within this scenario of criminal political neglect – no amount of ‘cooperation’ and ‘coordination’ between Centre and States, and no number of new committees and conferences can diminish the risk of terrorist attack across India. Unless the structural infirmities and manpower and material deficits of India’s policing and intelligence systems are addressed, terrorist strikes will continue to occur with impunity, and our leaders will continue with their habitual fits of breast-beating and finger pointing.
the East: Challenges Ahead
The appointment of Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan, the leader of the Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) – the political wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) breakaway faction founded by ‘Colonel’ Karuna – as the first ever Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) on May 16, 2008, following the successful completion of the EPC Election held on May 10, marks the fulfilment of the Government of Sri Lanka’s well publicised commitment of establishing a democratic setup in the de-merged Eastern Province (EP).
The ‘liberation’ of the EP, which commenced with the Mavil Aru operation in July 2006 and culminated in the elimination of the LTTE from the entire region in July 2007, led to a process of ‘re-democratisation’ of the region, with local body elections held in the Batticaloa District on March 10, 2008. The EPC Election marked the completion of this process. Moreover, while reflecting the commitment of the Government to usher in democracy, the elections were also part of the process of consolidating the Government’s military gains by reinstalling structures of civil administration in the entire Province.
However, the Eastern imbroglio is far from over.
Unlike the Batticaloa polls there is no dispute over the legitimacy of the EPC election, as the main opposition United National Party (UNP) this time contested the polls in alliance with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). The UNP-SLMC alliance, however, reiterated their demand of disarming the TMVP before the elections, fearing violence. The UNP parliamentarian, Tissa Attanayake, speaking to the media on May 3, 2008, said that the UNP had already urged the Government to disarm all armed groups that do not have official right to carry weapons. "But the Government has not given any priority to this request, what it is up to is to win the election by force… This is a serious situation, we asked the Government to take immediate steps to disarm the armed groups…" Earlier, the Press Trust of India, in a report published on May 1, 2008, quoted another UNP Parliamentarian, Jayalath Jayewardene, as stating that the UNP was not merely depending on the Security Forces (SFs) for its protection, but "we are also having (sic) the protection of the common people and are risking our lives while campaigning".
Corroborating the claim that the TMVP still carries arms, former SLMC leader M.L.A.M. Hisbullah, who defected and joined the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) just before the Election, while showing confidence of gaining Pillayan’s support in governing the Eastern Province (as he was one of the two contenders for the post of Chief Minster), also stated, "I do not feel that Pillayan’s having an armed group under his command is a threat, or that it would hinder the development of the East if I am elected CM. I am confident that I would get Mr. Pillayan’s fullest cooperation and that we will be able to work together for the betterment of the Eastern people."
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), closely allied to the LTTE, which once again boycotted the elections, claiming that these would not be free and fair, however, was reported to have urged voters to vote for UNP.
There were, however, numerous reported incidents of rigging, impeding polling agents or political party representatives at the polling booths, and impersonations on the polling day. Several attacks on vehicles and persons were reported in the polling area. Two vehicles belonging to the staff of Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, Abdul Risath Bathiyutheen, were smashed in Trincomalee. UNP sources said that there had been serious cases of Election malpractices at 80 polling booths in Ampara, Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts, and accused the TMVP activists of stuffing ballot boxes in Batticaloa. However, Education Minister Susil Premajayantha, who was overseeing election activities in the Batticaloa District, said that the election was conducted peacefully, without any major incident, and denied allegations of election malpractices by the TMVP.
Meanwhile, the largest elections monitoring body in the country, People's Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL), which deployed over 2,500 election observers (including 20 foreign observers) and also joined by the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) and Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), stated that, despite some scattered incidents, the election was conducted in a free and fair manner. Kingsley Rodrigo, the head of PAFFREL disclosed that they received 83 complaints of voter intimidation by the TMVP on the polling day and added, "Some of the polling agents were chased off and they intimidated the voters and the voters were not allowed to cast their vote properly." CAFFE, however, claimed that the election "was not at all free and fair". CMEV recorded 64 incidents of violence on the polling day, of which 48 were classified as "major". Earlier, according to a May 10, 2008, report, PAFFREL had indicated that it had already received 85 complaints regarding election malpractices, but admitted that most were trivial in nature. In one of the serious incidents, unidentified assailants lobbed a hand grenade at the house of a candidate contesting from the Eeleawar Democratic Front, in the Pooncholai area of Batticaloa District on April 28. Three persons, including two women, inside the house sustained injuries due to the explosion. The candidate was, however, unharmed.
Reaffirming the belief that the LTTE had lost its base among the masses in the EP, the Tigers once again called for the poll boycott ‘showing apprehensions’ that the elections would not have been fair and free of violence. The LTTE also initiated a series of attacks just before the commencement of elections, to drive fear into the hearts of the voters. On the eve of the elections, on May 9, 11 persons, including two women, were killed and 29 others injured in a LTTE-triggered bomb blast at the City Cafe Hotel near the Ampara Clock Tower in Ampara town, despite the heavy presence of security forces. Further, at 2:15 am on Election Day, an LTTE suicide bomber blew himself up, sinking the 213-foot cargo ship MV Invincible, the A-520 logistic vessel that was moored at the Trincomalee harbour. The LTTE claimed their Sea Tigers (the sea wing of the LTTE) launched a pre-dawn attack while the ship was loaded with explosives to be transported for troops operating in the island's north. Reports also indicated that the Tigers fired seven mortar rounds into the village of Pannalagama in the Ampara district on May 10, wounding four civilians — including a 10 year-old.
Nevertheless, a total number of 591,676 (65.78 per cent) voters exercised their franchise, out of a total of 982,721 – a clear indication of the LTTE’s loss of control over the Province. A 20,000 strong security contingent was deployed to ensure security during the polls at 1,022 polling stations. Election Authorities had also taken steps to deploy more than 15,000 personnel on Election Day. Earlier, postal voting took place on April 28 and 29.
The UPFA, which contested the polls in alliance with the TMVP, emerged victorious at the first ever Provincial Council Election in the East, securing 20 (18+2 bonus seats) out of 37 seats on offer – Ampara 14, Batticaloa 11 and Trincomalee 10 – while polling 52.21 per cent of the total votes. The UNP, with 42.38 per cent of votes, secured 15 seats; while the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil Democratic National Alliance secured one seat each. The UPFA won two out of the three districts, Batticaloa and Ampara, while the Trincomalee District went to the UNP. A record number of 1,342 candidates were in the fray from 18 political parties and 73 independent groups.
With these elections, the Government may have been able to ‘legitimize’ the TMVP, which still carries arms, by appointing Pillayan as the Chief Minster, in the hope that conditions would soon be created which would make the TMVP give up arms altogether. The Government’s intentions were clear when several ministers stated, on May 6, that the Pillayan group "came out of the jungle", but must not be forced back into the jungle. Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said that the two victims of election-related murders that have been reported so far were also Pillayan supporters. Consequently, he said, it was not the Pillayan group that committed violence but was subjected to violence. TMVP is an important player in President Mahinda Rajapakse’s scheme of operations in the Eastern Province, as he wants to partially devolve power from his ethnic Sinhala-dominated Government to ethnic Tamil allies in the East. The Government, which unilaterally pulled out of the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) with the LTTE in January, believes this will undermine the LTTE demands for a separate ethnic State and could provoke further splits in its ranks.
The new order in the EP will, however, be confronted with several intractable challenges. The province, which accounts for 16 percent of the total land mass of Sri Lanka and engulfs a multi-faceted environmentally rich 420-kilometre coastline, contributed less than five percent of national GDP during its occupation by the Tigers, according to Sri Lanka's Central Bank. After the final eviction of the LTTE from the Eastern Province in July 2007, the Government embarked on the Nagenahira Navodaya (Reawakening of the East) Programme, seeking $1.8 billion in aid to rebuild the province and bring investment and tourists to the region.
The Government has also embarked on a programme to re-settle refugees. On April 4, A. M. Razick, secretary to the Ministry of Re-settlement, disclosed that over 50,000 families displaced in clashes in the east during 2006 have now been resettled. This represents over 150,000 individuals. Over 8,000 families are yet to be resettled, he stated.
The Province houses all three major communities the Sinhalese (22.7 percent), Tamil (48 percent) and Muslims (28.2 percent) in substantial proportions, making it the most equally ethnically divided population. The acrimonious relations between these communities may destabilize the nascent democracy. Significantly, soon after Pillayan’s appointment as the Chief Minster, M.L.A.M. Hisbullah, describing the appointment as illegal, told BBC Sandeshaya that he and two other Muslim members would not support the ruling UPFA. He stated, further, "The President and the Government deceived not only me but also the whole Muslim community and the 12 Muslim ministers." Ensuring ethnic harmony will be a critical challenge, and is also necessary in order to counter the menace of terrorism, which is far from over.
The most important task before the EP Government, however, will be to ensure the safety and security for the common man. Terrorism related fatalities in the entire EP have, of course, witnessed a steep decline – from 1,782 in 2006, to 845 in 2007, and just 60 in 2008, till May 18, according to the data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management. Nevertheless, insecurity and fear remain pervasive. There have been almost daily occurrences of incidents of violence and evidence of a pervasive anarchy – abductions, disappearances, extortion and intimidation in the entire Eastern Province.
The scourge of LTTE terrorism is yet to be completely eliminated in the East and the outfit has the wherewithal to fight back. According to the SFs nearly 1,000 ex-LTTE militants are now living in the EP under close observation, and it is possible that the LTTE may reactivate some of these at some stage. Moreover, while they have lost the EP and appear to be engaged in a losing battle in the North, their capacities to carry out terrorist strikes even in the highly fortified capital, Colombo, time and again, could constitute a significant threat to the EPC Government as well.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 12-18, 2008
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
National Assembly polls in December 2008, says Chief Advisor: On May 12, 2008, Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed announced that the ninth parliamentary election would be held in the third week of December 2008. Addressing the nation, he also said the Government would either suspend or relax relevant provisions of the emergency power rules to create an environment congenial to electioneering. Besides, the caretaker Government would open a formal dialogue with the political parties on May 22. In the 26-minute speech broadcast on radio and television, Fakhruddin Ahmed also declared withdrawal of the countrywide ban on political activity with immediate effect. The Daily Star, May 13, 2008.
Serial bomb blasts kill 80 persons and injure over 150 others in Jaipur: At least 80 persons were killed and over 150 wounded, when eight serial bomb blasts were triggered at Johari Bazaar, Hanuman temple, Hawa Mahal, Badi Chaupad, Tripolia Bazaar and Chandpole in Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, in the evening of May 13. The first blast took place at 7.20pm (IST) in the crowded Johari Bazaar and within 15 minutes another seven blasts occurred in adjoining areas in the walled city area – near the Hanuman temple, which was reportedly crowded with devotees, near Hawa Mahal, at Badi Chaupad, Tripolia Bazaar and Chandpole. "We have information that 80 people have died," Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria was quoted by AFP as stating.
Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, in Jaipur on May 14, pointed to the sophisticated nature of the timer devices used to trigger the explosions, and said an international terrorist group could be behind the operation. She, however, did not name any group. Noting the deadly nature of the devices, she said, "The bombs had ball-bearings which worked like small missiles."
Meanwhile, an e-mail by an outfit known as Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the serial blasts. The e-mail, which was sent on May 14 to various television channels, has given the frame number (129489) of the bicycle which was planted at Choti Chaupad near Kotwali in Jaipur. The frame number of a bicycle recovered by the Rajasthan Police from the spot is the same, official sources said, adding that the e-mail was written on May 14 from a cyber cafe in Sahibabad in the outskirts of the national capital, New Delhi. The e-mail id used was "guru_alhindi_jaipur@yahoo.Co.Uk", the sources said. The e-mail said India should stop supporting the US in the international arena, "and if you do continue then get ready to face more attacks at other important tourist places...". The Hindu; Times of India, May 14-16, 2008.
Cease-fire violation by Pakistan in north Kashmir: For the second time in less than a week, Pakistani troops opened unprovoked fire on an Indian border post at Tangdhar in northern Kashmir in a development which was described as "worrisome" by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The violation of the five-year-old cease-fire was taken up by the Director General of Military Operations through the hotline. Using heavy machine guns and mortars, Pakistani troops targeted a forward Indian post in the Tangdhar area raking it with 50 to 60 rounds on May 14, Army sources said, adding that this was not covering fire for any attempt to push in terrorists and it was targeted straight at the Indian post. "There was no casualty," an Army spokesman said adding that Indian Forces had exercised "extreme restraint" and had not opened retaliatory fire. These are the first major violations of the cease-fire by the Pakistani troops on Line of Control, which has been in force since December 2003. In Islamabad, however, a Pakistani military spokesman denied that its troops had fired at the Indian post. Daily Excelsior, May 15, 2008.
Maoists set May 27 as deadline for King Gyanendra to leave Narayanhiti Palace: The CPN-Maoist chairman Prachanda said that he has sent a message to King Gyanendra, suggesting that he leave the Narayanhiti Palace by May 27, 2008, a day before the first sitting of the Constituent Assembly (CA) formally abolishes monarchy and declares the country a republic. Prachanda also warned that the King could face a forceful eviction from the palace if he refused to quit voluntarily. "We have advised him to live like a commoner or else we will have to use force to kick him out," Prachanda said on May 13. Nepal News, May 14, 2008.
Five soldiers among 13 persons killed in suicide attack in NWFP: Thirteen persons, including five soldiers, were killed and 23 others, including 11 soldiers, sustained injuries in a suicide attack at the Punjab Regiment Centre (PRC) market in the Cantonment area of Mardan on May 18. Security officials said the bomber was around 22 years old and detonated the bomb when stopped from entering a bakery at the PRC market. Provincial Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, Bashir Ahmad Bilour, said it was a suicide attack that might be in retaliation to the recent US air strikes in the Bajaur Agency of the FATA. The Tehrik-i-Taliban in Darra Adamkhel claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesman said the militants had asked the Government to stop military operations and pull out the security forces from Darra Adamkhel. He said the attacks would continue till the operation was called off. The PRC is reportedly a base for troops involved in operations against militants in the tribal region. Dawn; The News, May 19, 2008.
Militants release Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan after 97 days in captivity: Militants released Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, on May 16, after holding him in captivity for 97 days. His release came after protracted negotiations between the Government and militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, with tribal leaders acting as mediators. Azizuddin was handed over to the military authorities in Razmak in North Waziristan, from where he was flown to the Army’s brigade headquarters at Zari Noor for debriefing. Azizuddin had been abducted from the Khyber Agency on February 11 while on his way to Kabul. An unnamed official claimed that Azizuddin’s captors released him as a goodwill gesture following the prisoners’ swap between the militants and the authorities and the military pullout from the Mehsud part of South Waziristan. "There has been no ransom paid and no special prisoner exchange in this case," he said. Some sources, however, claimed that the Government had not only paid $2.5 million for his release, but also agreed to release three associates of the detained Taliban commander Mansoor Dadullah. Dawn, May 18, 2008.
Troop pullout from South Waziristan begins: The withdrawal of the security forces (SFs) has started from areas of Spain Kai, Ghazai and Kot Kai in South Waziristan. Confirming reports of the pullout on May 16, 2008, the political administration of South Waziristan said the troops were being deployed in areas of Jandola Qilla and other locations. But a Government official said the military was being relocated to positions from where it would be easy for them to re-occupy the vacated positions within four hours of any incident. The troop withdrawal was a key commitment made by the Government for reaching a peace agreement with the militants and came after the two sides had exchanged prisoners over the preceding three days. Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas, however, said that the troops were not being withdrawn but being relocated and readjusted to allow displaced people to return to their homes. Dawn; The News, May 17, 2008.
12 militants killed in suspected US drone attack at Damadola in FATA: At least 12 militants, including some foreigners, were killed on May 14, 2008, in a suspected United States missile strike on two houses in the Damadola area of Bajaur Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Two missiles, apparently fired by a US drone aircraft, demolished a house and a compound used by suspected al Qaeda militants, an unnamed official told AFP. Residents said they saw drones flying in the area beforehand, AP reported. They said that Taliban militants cordoned off the site soon after the attack. Taliban spokesman Maulana Omar told Daily Times that ‘commander’ Maulana Obaidullah’s house had been targeted. He said most of the house’s residents, including women and children, were killed. However, military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said that there was no Army in the area and he had no knowledge of any missile strike. Daily Times, May 15, 2008.
141 LTTE militants and 18 soldiers among 165 persons killed during the week: 141 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants, 18 soldiers and six civilians were among 165 persons killed in separate incidents between May 10 and May 18, 2008. 10 militants were killed during clashes with the troops in the Palamoddai, Palampiddi and Periyamadu areas of Vavuniya District on May 11. Approximately 14 LTTE cadres were killed during clashes in the areas north of Janakapura, Kiriibbanwewa and Welioya in Vavuniya District on May 14. 18 militants were killed by the troops in the Vairapuliyankulam, Vilakkavatti Kulam, Palampiddi, Periyamadu and Palamoddai areas of Vavuniya District on May 15. One soldier was also killed in these clashes. Further, on May 16, 13 persons, including nine solders, were killed and 95 others were injured as a LTTE suicide bomber on a motorcycle laden with explosives rammed into a bus carrying police officers around 12.05 pm at the Colombo Fort. Also, the troops captured Palampiddi junction in the Mannar District on May 17 and have so far recovered the dead bodies of 13 militants from the area. The Palampiddi junction, is a strategically important connection between Vedithalthivu in the northwest, Madhu in the south, Mullikulam in the southeast and Nedunkandal in the northeast. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Colombo Page, May 12-18, 2008.
Pillayan appointed the first Eastern Province Chief Minister: President Mahinda Rajapakse, on May 16, 2008, appointed S. Chandrakanthan a.k.a. Pillayan as the first Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC). Pillayan and other elected members of the EPC took oath at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo. The new Chief Minister, who is also leader of the Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) – the political wing of the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) breakaway faction founded by ‘Colonel’ Karuna, won the most preferential votes from the Batticaloa District in the EPC election held on May 10, 2008. The TMVP contested the election under the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance, which secured a majority in the provincial council. During his election campaign, Pillayan had highlighted that it was the Tamil people that suffered most in the decades-old conflict and it would consequently be favourable for them to have a Tamil Chief Minister who understood their problems better. He also requested social acceptance and support for his party to remain in mainstream politics, to which he said they had resorted in good faith, renouncing terrorism. Colombo Page, May 17, 2008.
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