September 19, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/ B Raman

We will face increased terrorism from jehadi groups

B Raman served as additional secretary at the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external espionage agency, and headed the counter-terrorism division at RAW for more than a decade till his retirement in 1994.

After retirement, he has been engaged in writing columns for various newspapers and magazines, including and India Abroad, and lecturing at various institutions.

The man, widely considered to be India's leading expert on jehad, spoke to Shobha Warrier in Madras.

India has suffered at the hands of terrorists, but we could not get the attention of the world. Now that America has become a target, do you think the Western world will be more receptive to our suffering?

I do expect there will be a change in their attitude. They will take much stronger action but whether they will accept our contention about terrorism is doubtful. That is because all nations decide on the threats to the lives of their own citizens. They are not so concerned about the threats to the lives of citizens in other countries.

In the past, we had the same problem. When there was terrorism in Punjab from 1980 to 1985, no intelligence agency of any Western country was prepared to accept our contention that the organisations in Punjab were terrorist organisations. In 1985, about 200 people were killed in the Kanishka explosion; the majority of passengers who perished were Canadians. When they found that (Canadian) Sikhs were responsible, there was tremendous pressure on them in their country. They then accepted India's point of view.

In the case of Kashmir, till 1992, they were not prepared to accept that there was terrorism in Kashmir. In 1992, terrorists killed someone from a group of Israeli tourists and kidnapped another. So, there was pressure from the Jewish community in the United States, and they admitted that there was a possibility of terrorism in Kashmir. Even then, they had some reservations.

Over a period of time, the attitude of the Western world has been changing depending on the threats they themselves face. Now, after this huge incident where thousands of people have been killed, I suppose they will be a little more receptive to some of our arguments. To think they will be totally supportive of us from now on is not correct.

Do you expect India and the US will come together to fight terrorism?

Immediately after the shocking incidents, everybody is expressing solidarity but I do not know whether this will continue because our memories tend to be short. Every country will look at terrorism from its own selfish point of view. It is only natural. Like, it is our first priority to protect our nationals, it is America's first priority to protect Americans. But there will be little more solidarity than what you have seen in the past and they will be a little more receptive to us on the role of Pakistan.

In America, there are a lot of think tanks close to the Bush administration and they play an important role in policy making. One of the most important is the Heritage Foundation located in Washington DC. Last year, they issued a paper on Afghanistan, Taleban, etc. They expressed the view that the Taleban is a creation of Pakistan and there was conclusive evidence of Pakistan's involvement with the Taleban and Osama bin Laden. They said the Americans should issue a warning to Pakistan to cooperate with America in arresting bin Laden and moderating the activities of the Taleban. If they didn't cooperate, (it said) America should declare Pakistan a State that sponsored terrorism and target the Taleban leadership.

The Bush administration is following this policy. 'Unless you cooperate, we will declare you a State that sponsors terrorism.' So, there is a lot of pressure on Pakistan now. I have my doubts to what extent the Taleban will cooperate. Ultimately, Pakistan will be in a dilemma.

I think in the future America will listen to some of our concerns. They will be a little more positive. But about America co-operating with us totally… I keep my fingers crossed.

Do you expect the US to use our military bases to fight the Taleban at some stage?

I don't think our government will allow it. It will be unwise. There will be co-operation in exchanging intelligence, meetings of experts, and if they want some investigation here.

Actually, they don't need a base in India. Because they have got their ships all over. So, they can attack from their ships, from the sea. If they were to attack Afghanistan from the Arabian sea, they could warn Pakistan. I don't think America will ask for a base here.

Will President Bush's war against terrorism lead to more terrorism because of America's aggressive posture? Do you expect America to eradicate terrorism?

I think there is going to be a period where there will be intensification of terrorism. For example, Osama bin Laden has a very wide network all over the world -- Saudi Arabia, Yemen, America, Canada, etc. Otherwise, they would not have been able to organise an operation of this magnitude. Only a small group lives with bin Laden in Afghanistan, but a majority of them are scattered all over the world. He has united a dozen Islamic terrorist organisations.

So, even if America captures Osama bin Laden, terrorism is not going to vanish because his network is very wide. They will retaliate against America if he is caught.

With one single operation, America will not be able to control terrorism. There will be series of attacks and counter-attacks which will continue for at least two or three years. Ultimately, America will prevail but it is not going to be a simple operation where they capture Osama bin Laden and take him to the US.

I agree the one country that can put a stop to terrorism is the USA.

A country that was proud of its intelligence network and security cover was caught unawares; they did not get a whiff of the meticulously planned terrorist operation.

Yes, it was a meticulously and intelligently planned operation. Osama bin Laden's advantage is he does not use modern technology. To communicate, he doesn't use telephones. He uses couriers or word of mouth. American intelligence agencies over a period of time have become totally dependant on gadgetry or technical intelligence. So, they have lost the capability to collect intelligence through human sources.

In the past, human sources were the most important, and technical intelligence was used to fill the gaps. Here is a group that does not use modern technology or gadgetry to pass information or communication. I am sure they will change their strategy now.

We have the same problem with our intelligence. We intercepted all the telephone conversations of (then Pakistan army chief Pervez) Musharraf when he went to Beijing, but we were not able to track the infiltrators in Kargil. Now, there is a realisation all over the world that intelligence agencies, because of their fascination for gadgetry, are neglecting human intelligence.

All those who appeared on various international television channels felt that most Islamic countries see America as the enemy of Islam. Many of them were of the opinion that hereafter, we will see a clash of civilizations: Islamic versus non-Islamic.

I feel it is a bit of over dramatisation. Eighty per cent of terrorism today is emanating from some members of Muslim communities in different countries. Out of that 80 per cent, 60 to 65 per cent are emanating from Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, it is more or less becoming Muslims versus the rest of the world. But you can't say it is a clash of civilisations.

Various Islamic terrorists organisations say their next target will be Israel and India.

Osama bin Laden is the head of his organisation, al-Qaeda based in Afghanistan. He is also head of the united front of various Islamic terrorist organisations, the International Islamic Front for Jehad against Israel and the USA. Then, they projected the USA and Israel only as enemies of the Islamic world.

Now, they are increasingly talking of India as their enemy. They don't like our cooperation with Israel in the intelligence and military fields. Even if we don't give the Americans facilities to launch attacks from here, there will be a lot of false propaganda from Pakistan. This will increase their anger against us. I think we will face increased terrorism from the jehadi groups.

Even America had no clue about the attack, so how prepared is India to face such terrorist activities?

There are different types of terrorist operations. One is a demand operation, like the Kandahar hijacking. Another type is the targeting of a strategic objective, like Pakistan organising terrorism because of their objective to get Kashmir. The third type of terrorist operation is to punish you. What they did in New York and Washington was punishing a country that was anti-Islam, anti-Taleban.

In the future, there will be more attacks on economic targets. For example, they might try to make India face a cruel choice between a setback to its economy or let go of Kashmir. Ultimately, public opinion on the Government of India would force it to let go of Kashmir so that they are able to save its economy. The Bombay blasts came about because of Pakistan's pressure on these groups to choose economic targets.

The jehadis say they wage a holy war against the enemies of Islam, and hence it is justifiable. They attacked America because they say America is against Muslims. Now America has declared a war, figuratively, against all countries that harbour terrorists. What is the difference between the jehadis and America?

For America, it will be a reaction to what these people are doing.

The jehadis justify themselves, saying they attack as a reaction to what the Americans are doing.

Americans are not justifying their action on religious grounds. The jehadis are trying to justify their actions on religious grounds: like Muslims are in danger, Islam is in danger. Like the Communists did not recognise the concept of a national border when it came to loyalty to their ideal, the jehadi organisations follow the same concept. They say their first loyalty is to religion and second loyalty to the country. A majority of Muslims don't accept this, but all the organisations in Pakistan are propagating this concept.

The jehadis consider it their religious duty to help Muslims who are suppressed anywhere in the world. That shows the quality of difference between the jehadis and the Americans; Americans do it purely because there is a threat to civilians, there is violation of international law, etc.

The Israelis go to Syria, Sudan, Lebanon, etc in hot pursuit. America is talking about bombing Kabul because Osama bin Laden lives in Afghanistan. Can India go to Pakistan occupied Kashmir and also to Karachi where Bombay blasts suspect Dawood Ibrahim lives?

Hot pursuit is meaningless in Kashmir because you do hot pursuit when the terrorists operate in a hit and run fashion. If they are based in PoK and from there they come to Kashmir and wage a battle, then you chase them. In Kashmir, a majority of terrorist activities are done by suicide bombers.

In Israel's case, among the West Asian countries, Israel is the only nuclear country, and here both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. So you have to be very careful what you do, and we have to do it in a clandestine manner. We can't do it openly. We can only have covert operations.

B Raman's photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

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