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October - November 2006

Political News

India's Bitter Harvest - Home Grown Terrorists Supported by the Neighbour

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

The seven remote-controlled bomb blasts on the crowded commuter railway network in Bombay on July 11, 2006 killed at least 200 innocent men, women and children and injured and maimed hundreds of others. It was a gruesome act of terror. The survivors of the horror were unanimous in their opinion: the perpetrators of such outrage seem to have no conscience, they have lost their humanity. To such criticism, the stock answer from the masterminds of terror is that in an ongoing war against an infidel nation such collateral damage is unavoidable and justified.

It was more than a mere coincidence that the terror attacks in Bombay were almost identical in their modus operandi and in the use of particular types of explosives with those employed on the rail networks in Madrid and London, which killed 191 and 52 respectively. Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the Madrid and London bombings of 2005. Although neither Al Qaeda nor its associate terror organisation, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, claimed direct responsibility for the Bombay bomb blasts, persuasive circumstantial evidence and weighty intelligence information point the finger of suspicion to their unseen hands operating from the soil of Pakistan in planning and executing the attacks.

According to reports, Al Qaeda has established operational bases in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in the recent past in Muzaffarabad, Chilla, Shinidari, Mandhol, Rawalakot. These are sighted as the fountainheads of newly formatted terrorist activities in India. Sources indicate that Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and its parent body Jamaat-ud-Dawa led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, Jaish-e-Muhammad led by Masood Azhar and Hizbul Mujahideen led by Syed Salahuddin, also leader of United Jihad Council, between them are currently running about 60 training camps in the centres mentioned above. These are in addition to the bases in Skardu, Gilgit, Kagan, Rawalpindi, Kotli, Chakothi, Hazara, Murree, Khapali, Komri and so on. These terror camps also serve as launch pads for infiltration into India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a soft-natured man who is an economist, not a politician, is not given to talking tough. This time round however he broke free from his usual style and took a stand against terror. After visiting the scenes of crime and the injured in the hospitals in Bombay on July 14, 2006 he made a fighting statement, choked with emotion. He said: “We must recognise that the terrorists are trying to spread their tentacles across the country. We are also certain that these terror modules are instigated, inspired and supported by elements across the border without which they cannot act with such devastating effect. They clearly want to destroy our growing economic strength, destroy our unity, and provoke communal incidents. We cannot allow this to happen. The time has come for us to crack down and destroy all these anti-national elements. We shall leave no stone unturned. I reiterate, no stone unturned, in ensuring that terrorist elements in India are neutralised and smashed”. Quite appropriately bowing to the overwhelming sentiment of the nation, he decided to suspend the peace talks with Pakistan. Where is the peace and what is there to talk about? As usual, Pakistan on its part has denied involvement in the terror attacks in Bombay or elsewhere in India, except moral and diplomatic support to what it calls the freedom fighters.

One would hope that before the Prime Minister made his statement in Bombay, he must have done his homework thoroughly taking note of the fact that Pakistan is not a pushover, nor are its powerful alliance partners and friends likely to let Islamabad down if a confrontation becomes unavoidable.

The Prime Minister was not alone in making a strong statement against mounting cross-border terrorism. Pranab Mukherjee, the Defence Minister addressing the armed forces on the eve of the Independence Day celebrations said that infiltration of terrorists from across the borders is going on “non-stop” and accused Pakistan of supporting them. He added “We have information about the involvement of Pakistan-supported terrorists in the Mumbai bomb blasts”. He quoted reports of American spy satellites taking photographs of terror camps in Pakistan where training is being provided.

President A.P.J Abdul Kalam in his broadcast to the nation on August 14, 2006 warned that “ the challenges to peace from across our geographical borders and the constant threat of low-intensity proxy war require a comprehensive strategy to ensure India‘s security ”. He said he would suggest to the Government a National Campaign to Eradicate Terrorism and the formulation of a Citizens Security Bill to ensure comprehensive national security.

The chorus of concerns expressed by the top leaders of the nation are an indication of the seriousness of the security situation.

It must be noted, however, that after allowing so much latitude and for so long to the terror modules in setting up bases and consolidating their strongholds, bowed by the political dynamics of corrupt vote bank politics, the promised crackdown at this late hour may have the potential of back-firing and turning into a nightmare. The sleeper cells have already transformed themselves from a local area to a wide area network with cross border terror links.

According to a report datelined New Delhi July 24, 2006, M.K. Narayanan, the National Security Advisor sent an advisory note to the Chief Ministers of States to take “suitable prophylactic steps” to contain the growing depth of terror in the country, especially of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. The NSC came out with two security policy documents called “Global reach of Jihadi groups” and “Activities of Jihadi Groups within India”. The security documents highlighted that “the Jihadis are now operating more aggressively under the ISI directions to disintegrate India with the previously Kashmir-centric approach having widened to acquire an all-India dimension.” The all-India character has been made possible by “increased networking with groups within India leading to a multiplication of capabilities of core terror groups, particularly the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba”.

A disturbing pattern of hostility has emerged out of the series of terror attacks like the Diwali bomb blast in Sarojini Nagar Market in New Delhi, the attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, the outrage in the temple towns of Ayodhya and Varanasi, the thwarted strike at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, the unending insurgency in J and K and many other such outrages all over the country .

Whether India should helplessly stand there and get mauled by a “Failing State” is a question that has begun agitating the minds of most Indians. It was a sign of the times that the people of Bombay resented patronising by the TV channels and the newspapers eulogising their so-called spirit of resilience. The citizens of suburban Bombay have no alternative but to go to work on a daily basis taking the trains to the city. It is a question of their livelihood. The people want their safety and security to be guaranteed by the government. They want action against the terrorists. They want the government to act tough rather than communalising terror, pussyfooting around the murderers.

Although not an easy decision to make, the example of Israel’s do-or-die war against the Hezbollah in Lebanon in July 2006 was quoted in the context as a model not to be clapped out of court without a thought. Israel’s example may not be suitable for India. Tel Aviv wanted to destroy Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in the region, which explains why such massive bombing of Lebanon was ordered by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert but the UN Security Council Resolution imposing cease fire in Lebanon on August 14, 2006 left Israel’s military objective half-finished. One is reminded of India ordering a premature ceasefire in Kashmir in 1948 following an UN Security Council Resolution. It left the Kashmir problem festering for 60 years and 82,000 dead in cross-border terror attacks on India .

There can be no two opinions that Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah in the battlefields of Lebanon has remained inconclusive. It must be matter of concern to the Israeli Defence Forces that its fighters could not drain the swamp. Forget it that the UN will succeed in disarming the Hezbollah fighters. In fact it will regroup speedily with help pouring particularly from Iran. Conflict with the Hamas will intensify too. Israel must therefore be prepared to face a two-pronged war in its backyard in the near future. Hezbollah is already claiming that it was the victor in the recent war with Israel. There are celebrations in progress in the Arab Street echoing the Sunni euphoria of 1989 when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. Iran would now intensify its insurgency in Iraq to force the Coalition Occupation Forces to leave as quickly as possible. Once this is achieved, the ongoing Shia triumphalism will become unstoppable.

Will it be prudent for India to push the idea of “hot pursuits” across the international borders too far? Some observers believe that such precipitate action may open the doors for a possible full-fledged conventional war breaking out. Others are not so alarmist. Who is right and what are the ground realities?

Pakistan has pursued a policy of running its proxy war against India for the last 15 years, yet no one has ever thought of adding a nuclear dimension to it. During the Kargil War, when Pakistan was already nuclear-armed, they had warned India of a possible nuclear war breaking out if New Delhi tried to widen the war. It turned out to be an empty threat. Kargil was retaken by India. Although an aggressor, Pakistan suffered the loss of 3,500 lives while India lost 500 soldiers. Take the alternative scenario. Why should there be the fear of a nuclear exchange if the tables are turned? Hawks have argued that too much caution may be the hallmark of a soft state.

General William Westmoreland of the US Army during the Vietnam War had propounded the theory of “limited conventional wars” between proxies of the nuclear powers as also between the nuclear powers themselves. It is possible to wage conventional wars, as indeed conducting “retaliatory low-intensity wars” under dire circumstances, without having to cross the nuclear threshold.

Having said that, I am not suggesting for a moment that India should go all-out for a shooting war with Pakistan. Far from it. There are alternative ways of taking tough action through other means. If India can withstand pressures from the international community to the contrary, suspending the peace talks may turn out to be a convincing first step. It should not end there. To wage war or even to take an uncompromising stand against a perennial tormentor, it needs a steely political will, which India has to muster resolutely to be meaningful. Even a conventional war can spell enormous damage to the economy, which the nation cannot even afford to contemplate. Make no mistake Pakistan too, despite the bravado of its military men, will do everything to avoid risking the military option. Predictably Pakistan will increase its peace decibels which may make India look militarist in nature.

Belief in Gandhian principles of non-violence and the practice of a contorted form of political secularism and vote bank politics have made India look like a soft state. Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist, gave currency to the tag of a soft state for India in the sixties. He was probably right. Historically the one exception was the year 1971 when Indira Gandhi created Bangladesh. The unfortunate thing is that today the Indian State looks softer still. Habits die hard and it will not be easy to pull up the nation by its socks and transform it into hard state overnight. They say that if an elephant gets stuck in deep and thick mud even a frog does not miss an opportunity to kick it.

In the G-8 Summit in St Petersburg, Russia, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, invited as an observer, pleaded with the leaders of the most powerful industrialised democracies of the world to condemn Pakistan for the 7/11 acts of terrorism in Bombay and the synchronised attacks in Srinagar on the same day.

Ominously, President George W Bush remained silent on the subject. His middle level officer in the State Department Richard Baucher demanded evidence of Pakistan’s complicity before India implicates Islamabad. It would be wrong to describe the US indifference towards India in the present context as symptomatic of the failure of Indian diplomacy. It was in fact a serious let down, almost a betrayal, by the most powerful democratic nation in the world of one of its supposedly strategic partners, the largest and a vibrant democracy in the world at the time of its need. There could not have been a better example of providing oxygen to terrorism at a time when the victim nations are busy fighting their lone wars on terror.

The Sunday Time’s War Correspondent Christina Lamb’s report dated August 13, 2006 on the Airline Bomb Plot titled “Just whose side is Pakistan really on?” asks: “Is Pakistan an ally of the West in the war on terror or a haven for Jihadists?” After every terror outrage the State of Pakistan is in the spotlight, she argues. She goes on to assert that “For every budding suicide bomber all roads seem to lead to Pakistan”. She quotes an US intelligence agent saying “The moment I heard the first news about the airline plot, I knew it was matter of time until we heard the word Pakistan.” Whether it is 9/11, the Bali bombs, 7/7 and now this, Pakistan is always the connection. That’s gotta raise some questions.”

Ignoring all these signals, Richard Baucher of the US State Department challenged India to produce evidence before implicating Pakistan.

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that when Islamabad runs short of money, it comes out of hibernation and raises a hullabaloo with a fresh Al Qaeda terror threat against the West. Hot media headlines are followed by high profile police arrests. After a time gap, most of the suspects are released without charge. Some of them are said to be set-ups to serve a purpose. The hard working British Metropolitan Police and two of the world’s most efficient Security Services MI5 and MI6 get bad media coverage for alleged violation of the sacred human rights of the terrorists. When the situation calms down, President George W Bush in a grand gesture announces the sanction of something like $ 2 billion of tax payer’s money for America’s most trusted friend and ally Pakistan. The next scare has to wait till Pakistan has run out of its dollars from the last payment.

The terror scares from Pakistan are also carefully timed with the state of the opinion ratings of leaders like US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

It is amazing that neither Washington nor London have ever noticed that while Pakistan Government was responsible, reportedly for providing critical leads, which led to high-profile arrests of Al Qaeda “suspects” for at least 6 times since 9/11 of 2001, General Pervez Musharraf has never been criticised by the Islamists for playing such a “perfidious game” against their vital interests.

To fight its own war on terror a bit more effectively, there is a strong case for India to avoid criticising Israel in its own war on terror. India should have maintained tactical silence and let Israel know of its humanitarian concerns through diplomatic channels rather than gratuitously criticise her openly as on the issue of the bombing of the Hezbollah stronghold of Kana in Lebanon on July 31, 2006 where women and children were killed. It is sad that so many women and children died in Kana. What the Indians failed to notice however was that in the reports of war correspondents shown on world TV channels men were nowhere to be seen. The Hezbollah fighters had melted away elsewhere leaving their women and children to die in Israeli bombardment. Using women and children as human shield is not new in warfare. Such tactics help shaming the enemy but at what cost?

As it is becoming more and more obvious that India, in countering Pakistan’s proxy war, is not going to get much joy out of the US, New Delhi should seriously rethink its strategy for developing closer intelligence ties and operational co-operation with Tel Aviv. Let us be honest that India’s unacknowledged shortcoming is that it has a serious intelligence gap on the Pakistan front. A joint front with Israel should not be ruled out. Outsourcing some of India’s specialist human intelligence operations to resourceful Mossad may not be a bad idea.

Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence, the subversion specialists, according to updated intelligence assessments, have developed fresh strategies to mount devastating terror attacks on high-visibility targets in financial hubs and religious centres in India. Attacks in Mumbai and Varanasi are examples. A centralised operational command has been established with the Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba in the lead role while support roles have been given to Jaish-e-Muhammad and Hizbul Mujahideen. As cross-border infiltration of batches of well-trained terrorists is well underway and in fact mounting, sleeper modules established within such extremist organisations like Students Islamic Movement of India ( SIMI ) and elsewhere seem to have been activated. It is no coincidence that SIMI and the Taliban have one common feature. Both are extremist Islamic student organisations. Professionals have been roped in to give operations like the Bombay blasts a camouflage and a local flavour. Infrastructure for the flow of Arab petro-dollars through non-banking channels in the Middle East and the dispersal of operational control to certain neighbouring countries have been established and are functioning well.

What about the bigger picture? A new development in the world of Islam is taking shape. It is the irreversible split between Sunni Islam dominated by the fanatical Salafis and the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia and the Deobandis of Pakistan and India on one hand and Shia Islam led by Ayatollah-ruled Iran on the other hand. They have begun to regard themselves as two competing and antagonistic religions. Running battles in Pakistan between the Shias and Sunnis and the raging inter-denominational civil strife in Iraq, where in the month of July 2006 alone nearly 100 people died each day, have become a sad feature of life in these countries. The two sects of Islam seem to have locked horns in an intense power struggle (a) to win the argument for doctrinal purity (b) to extend their respective spheres of political influence beyond their traditional pockets and (c) achieve accretion of military power in a spirit of competitive hostility.

A bye-product of this denominational conflict is that Sunni Pakistan and Shia Iran have become competitors in achieving their geopolitical objectives on the fast track. So far Pakistan was in the lead. The inconclusive Israel-Hezbollah war has placed Iran in the lead for the first time. Tehran’s ambition to acquire the A-Bomb is more to impress the world of Islam than the rest of the world. If Pakistan, the bastion of Sunni power, can have a nuclear weapon, Iran, the citadel of Shiaism, should also have it too in a show of appearances and power play.

Iran has sensed that the introduction of democracy in Iraq by America has opened opportunities for the creation of a new Shia State in Southern Iraq. It is therefore strategically opportune to consolidate the expansion of its power and influence in the region. Like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba which has been built up as a strategic arm of Pakistan in its India operations and the Taliban to serve a similar function in Afghanistan, the Hezbollah has developed into a valuable asset as a strategic arm of Iran in Lebanon. When Mehmoud Ahmedinijad threatens to remove Israel from the map of the world, his confidence in achieving it is anchored in Hezbollah’s firepower, which Iran has been building for sometime. Syria’s President Assad has his origins in a Shia tribe. He has therefore been roped in as an alliance partner.

Israel’s failure to curb the power of the Hezbollah has helped Iran extending and consolidating its power and influence from the Caspian to the Mediterranean.

An interesting aspect of the Israeli war with the Hezbollah in July 2006 was that as intense Israeli bombing continued in Beirut and other parts of Southern Lebanon, the 22-member all-Sunni Arab League kept quiet and failed to extend Islamic solidarity to Shia Hezbollah. Support came later but only reluctantly.

As Saudi Arabia gets uncomfortable with the expansion of Iran’s power and influence, it is time too for Pakistan, an ally of Riyadh, to expand its own sphere of influence in Afghanistan and India, its two traditional domains of strategic ambition. If Pakistan makes a significant headway in India, Iran may also take a plunge to make its presence felt there too. India has the second largest Shia population after Iran. When US President George W Bush visited India in March 2006, noisy protest demonstrations were held in Hyderabad and Lucknow, the two main Shia dominated cities in India. Iran was said to have masterminded these political campaigns.

Keeping in mind what is happening on the ground in the wider world of Islam, one cannot rule out the possibility of a Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict breaking out in the heartland of India. Should that happen, hostile foreign powers would be ready to fish in troubled waters creating further instability in the land. India’s security dilemmas will be accentuated further and assume more sinister dimensions.

The one worrying feature that lies at the heart of militant Shiism and radical Sunni Islam in their ambition to achieve geopolitical primacy particularly in West Asia and South Asia is that both the competing ideologies are seeking to establish their dominance through bloodshed where dialogue and democracy have no place.

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