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|February 5, 2002||
The Rediff Interview/B Raman
Well-known counter-terrorism expert B Raman was additional secretary in the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external espionage agency. Now director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai, he is a leading commentator on India's security concerns.
In a detailed interview with Ramesh Menon, Raman says that although Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has played his cards well, the Americans themselves are now questioning whether it is wise to trust him. Excerpts:
You have closely observed India's fight against terrorism. How do you see it now?
As far as terrorism emanating from Afghanistan is concerned, I think there could be some positive spin-offs for India. But I am apprehensive about terrorism created by Pakistan. For the first time, the US state department in its report on global patterns of terrorism documented the involvement of Pakistan in Kashmir. But as it fights the Taliban, the United States has now given massive financial assistance to Pakistan. Arms sales could also be resumed. We are seeing that they are more accommodative of the Pakistan point of view as far as Kashmir is concerned.
The United States never even acknowledged the massacres in Kashmir by Pakistan-trained militants as terrorism.
When Bill Clinton came here he got a lot of favourable publicity in the media. Both in India and Pakistan, he always referred to terrorism in India as acts of violence. When American nationals get attacked, it is acts of terrorism. He condemned violence against civilians in Kashmir. But he did not call it terrorism. But attacks where Americans were victims anywhere in the world were always classified as terrorism. But acts in Kashmir were always classified as acts of violence. We have to live with that.
But is it not time for India to act like a big and strong country and stop whining about the lack of support from the United States?
Pakistan waged a proxy war against India at no cost to itself. It is the jihadis who die. The Pakistan Army is not suffering. But it is our armymen who are getting killed or injured. We must wage a proxy war against Pakistan and make it clear that it cannot do this cost-free. They have to pay a cost. Just as it is making our security forces bleed, we can also make them bleed. Unless we do this, Pakistan will continue to make us bleed.
However, we should have done this long ago. But after September 11 -- even if we want to do it -- the international community will turn against us. They will see it as a hurdle created by us in their fight against terrorism.
For so many years, we could not take a decision. We talked of a proactive policy. But we were not clear what a proactive policy was.
We do not know how long the war against terrorism will continue. The main objective is to make the United States free from terrorism so that another September 11 does not happen.
There were glaring instances of how evidence of Pakistan's involvement in terrorism against India was consistently ignored by the United States all these years.
In 1992, when Narasimha Rao was prime minister, we gave the United States a detailed dossier of Pakistan's involvement in terrorism in Kashmir and Punjab. India wanted the US to declare Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism. Without studying it, they [the US] rejected it on the grounds that the Indian report was based on interrogation reports. They said it was well known that the Indian police used third-degree methods and so it could not be accepted.
But in mid-'92, five Israeli tourists were kidnapped in Srinagar and one was killed by Kashmiri terrorists. This created a furore among the Jewish lobby in the United States. Bush [Senior] was trying to contest the presidential election when the Jewish lobbies took it up. So the dossier was re-examined and the US said there was credible evidence of Pakistan sponsoring terrorism. They placed Pakistan on a watch list in '93 and later took it off.
When the Mumbai blasts took place in 1993, we had invited counter-terrorism experts to come to India and visit the spots to study the issue. The idea was that if we give a report, they would reject it saying we had an agenda against Pakistan. So India wanted experts from other countries to see things for themselves. India hoped they would go back and brief their countries on what the ISI was up to. The Austrians gave a certificate in writing that the hand grenade used by the terrorists in Mumbai were manufactured in the Pakistan Ordnance Factory with machine tools manufactured by an Austrian company.
The Austrians played straight. But the Americans found an unexploded chemical timer. They wanted to take it back to the United States. We said okay. The forensic department said this was part of a consignment, which the US had given to the Pakistan Army in the eighties. They gave an unsigned report in writing to us. So we pointed out to the US that their own forensic department had found the truth. But then US officials said it did not prove that the ISI had given the timer to the terrorists as in Pakistan there were lots of thefts and somebody must have stolen it, given it to a smuggler and the smuggler must have sold it to a terrorist. We remarked that the ISI would not give the timer to a terrorist in front of television cameras.
Now, the West is talking of a war against terrorism. They want to freeze the accounts of terrorists. On numerous occasions, India has given ample proof of how western money was seized from terrorists in India and how it was used. After we sent the details to the United States, for instance, it would ask us questions of where we seized it and from whom. So we would give all details and say that the terrorist was from an organisation like Babbar Khalsa [of the Khalistan movement]. Then, US officials would tell us that Babbar Khalsa was a terrorist organisation in India and not in the US. They always rejected India's evidence.
We have even told them to use their police officers to figure out how western money was used to commit terrorist acts. Then September 11 happened and they swung to freeze accounts of various terrorist organisations without any fresh evidence. The evidence they rejected before is being used now as their nationals have been killed.
Still, they are not ready to take punitive action against Pakistan.
The kidnap of a Romanian diplomat was one instance.
Liviu Radu, the Romanian diplomat, was kidnapped by the Khalistan Commando Force in October 1991. They demanded the release of some terrorists. The Indian government refused. So they kept him for many days. The Khalistan Commando Force thought it would get international publicity. But no one bothered. CNN did not even cover it.
One of the Khalistani terrorists based in Lahore rang up a terrorist based in the United States saying that the media was not interested as it was just a Romanian who was kidnapped. He said they should have kidnapped a French or American diplomat. The conversation was intercepted. The call showed that the Romanian was picked up as he had no security. The US then showed interest as they figured that their diplomat was in danger. The US is not bothered about anyone else. There are numerous examples like this.
How do you see Pakistan's new resolve to fight terrorism?
It is a new resolve. It is a tactical move. It is a move taken by Pervez Musharraf under duress. He was also getting worried about terrorist activity. The Americans told him point blank: Either you cooperate with us or we are just going to bomb Afghanistan. And also that in no circumstance would they allow missiles to fall into the hands of terrorists.
Musharraf has played his cards well.
Musharraf convinced the US that he can be depended upon. He has cunningly turned the situation in his favour. He managed to secure all the lollipops and economic assistance. He wants to preserve some of the strategic gains Pakistan got when the Taliban was in power. He also wants to preserve some of the important members of the Taliban. He has managed to create a wedge between the US and the Tajiks. India has been a strong supporter of the Tajiks and he did not want them to have a dominant position. He is playing his cards very carefully. So he has gained.
With air strikes you cannot destroy Al Qaeda. They need covert action to destroy Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. To do this, Pakistan is the wrong place as there is a lot of support in Pakistan for Osama.
The Tajiks want to get Osama and destroy Al Qaeda, but the United States is with Pakistan.
Americans themselves are questioning whether it is wise to trust Musharraf. And that the US is unnecessarily touchy about the feelings of Musharraf.
There is an increasing fear that Pakistan's nuclear technology is falling into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists as they have been quoted as saying that they have a right to the Pakistani nuclear bomb.
All these organisations, particularly the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which is active in Pakistan, have been saying that it is not only Pakistan's nuclear bomb, but one that belongs to the Islamic world. So they say that Pakistan cannot take any action which can put any restrictions on its nuclear missile capability like signing the CTBT without the consent of the Islamic world. Pakistan, it says, is holding the nuclear bomb in trust for the Islamic world. Whenever any Islamic country needs missiles or nuclear technology for the purpose of protecting Islam, Pakistan has a religious obligation to share it with them.
Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, a nuclear scientist who was handed over to the United States, had resigned when Nawaz Sharief was prime minister as he was planning to sign the CTBT. He had been in touch with the Taliban and also Osama bin Laden. Ostensibly, he was visiting bin Laden -- who had fruit orchards-- to advise him how to improve the yield. Americans are concerned with all this as Osama could acquire the technology from the scientists. Even if they smuggle radioactive material, they can create a scare in the United States.
It is a worrisome position not just for India, but the whole world. It is in the interests of the world that the terrorists are defeated.
How do you see the future of terrorism in India?
Security agencies cannot completely eliminate terrorism. In a counter-terrorist approach, we try and control the act of terrorism by neutralising it. But in a counter-terrorism approach we try to address the causes and find solutions. In Kashmir, we are using the counter-terrorist approach. This is the time to revive the political process, as that is the only way.
You were talking of this "Brain Trust" in Pakistan that is working to wage a communication war.
The Taliban is not acting independently. It is being advised. They had banned television, but they made very good use of television in their propaganda war, much better than CNN. Retired officers of the ISI are running the "brain trust" -- like Hamid Gul [former chief of the ISI]. It advised the Taliban on how to counter the Americans. It is likely that they are doing it with the knowledge of Musharraf. Osama is not critical of Musharraf at all. The Pakistani president is playing a double game. He calls himself a great survivor, as he is so good at playing a double game.
What is Pakistan's link to the drug trade and how is it financing terrorism?
Most of the poppy cultivation is now in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan, due to American pressure to stop cultivation. So Musharraf got all of them shifted out of his country. Poppy cultivation is being done by Afghan Pashtuns. But Pakistan controls the refineries.
Opium is being used by Pakistan to prevent the collapse of its economy. The annual foreign trade of Pakistan before September 11 never exceeded $1.5 billion. The surplus they had was less than $1 billion. Since 1990, they have borrowed around $38 billion. Out of that, $30 billion was for arms and ammunition. With an annual earning from foreign trade of around $1 billion from 1990 onwards, they prevented a collapse because of the heroin trade.
The Taliban shifted poppy cultivation from one area to another. The United States said earlier that it would give $100 million through UN organisations to farmers who gave up the cultivation of poppy. But the Taliban said the farmers were earning $12 billion annually with poppy cultivation and it was not acceptable. These $12 billion were going to Pakistan, as the Pakistanis owned the refineries. That is why its [Pakistan's] economy did not collapse. Army officers and military intelligence got rich in Pakistan. Heroin manufacturers, jihadi elements and the army have to be targeted to finish the drug trade as they support each other.
If there is such a strong vested interest, it sounds impossible.
It sounds impossible, but it has to be done. If you do not do it, you will have more September 11's.
How would you analyse the Indian response to fighting terrorism?
There is no Indian response. It is always ad hoc. Till today we do not have a well-worked-out counter-proxy war doctrine. We are hoping the US will come to our help, but that has not happened.
Now, we cannot go and bomb the camps. It is too late. The overt way is to support various dissident groups in Pakistan. Like the Shias fighting for a separate state. In PoK [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir], the assembly does not have full powers. No one can object to our support for dissident groups. But we are not doing it. There is no clear lucid policy. If we take action, it has to be consistent.
What is the challenge of counter-terrorism?
Counter-terrorism involves good intelligence machinery. If we have to prevent alienated sections from taking up terrorism, we need intelligence. There has to be excellent coordination. In the US various agencies work together under one roof as far as counter-terrorism is concerned. In India each division works independently. So action gets delayed.
Here, there is a lot of credit-grabbing. So sometimes, they work at counter purposes. The arms drop at Purulia was known to India before it happened, but they did not lay a trap on the ground. Human sources have to be developed over a period of time.
The only way of eliminating terrorism is a political approach. Mizoram is a good case of how the political approach was used to eliminate terrorism. Otherwise there will be an endless counter-terrorism approach and countries like Pakistan will exploit it.
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