May 17, 2002


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B Raman

Kaluchak and after

Thirty-four persons, many of them innocent civilians, including children, were killed in a savage suicide attack by three terrorists at Kaluchak near Jammu on May 14, 2002. A hitherto unknown terrorist organisation calling itself Al-Mansoorian and the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen have claimed responsibility.

The local police have managed to identify the three terrorists as Pakistani Punjabis. One of them hailed from Faislabad and the other two from Gujranwala. Faislabad is the place where 20 Al Qaeda terrorists, including Abu Zubaida -- stated to be number three in the Al Qaeda network -- were captured by Pakistani authorities, prodded by the USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation, on March 28, 2002, and handed over to the FBI for interrogation.

They had been given sanctuary in Faislabad by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, a Pakistani Punjabi organisation based at Muridke, near Lahore, which, along with the Jaish-e-Mohammed, another Pakistani Punjabi organisation based in Karachi's Binori madrassa, has been responsible for 33 suicide attacks in Jammu & Kashmir and New Delhi since mid-1999.

The Afghan war of the 1980s against Soviet troops gave birth to what came to be known as a crop of Afghan returnees -- mainly Arabs, Pakistanis and others, who had fought in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, they spread to other countries in the Islamic as well as non-Islamic world and created havoc through acts of terrorism. The old wave of international terrorism, which culminated in the strikes of September 11, 2001, came largely from this first crop of Afghan returnees.

The present US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan has given birth to a new crop of Afghan returnees -- consisting largely of trained Pakistanis belonging to terrorist organisations such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Al Fuqra, etc, who managed to survive the US air strikes and have returned to Pakistan.

There is a connecting thread running through the attacks on the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly and Parliament, the killing of security personnel guarding the American Centre at Kolkata, the Daniel Pearl murder, the grenade attack on a Protestant church in Islamabad, the suicide explosion in Karachi and the Kaluchak incident. All of them seem to have involved the dregs of the current war in Afghanistan.

These dregs belong to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi and Al Fuqra. They initially moved into the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies, Balochistan and the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, but have since reportedly spread across to other areas such as Sindh, Pakistani Punjab and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan).

The farce of a ban imposed by President Pervez Musharraf on the LeT, JeM, SSP and TNSM is still in force on paper, but most of those arrested have been released and many of the trained terrorist cadres of these organisations have been moved to PoK, including the Northern Areas, to which Musharraf has not extended the ban. Moreover, the ban does not apply to the HuM, HuJI and Al Fuqra.

A new organisation calling itself the Lashkar-e-Omar has come to notice since November last year. The origin of the name of LeO (Army of Omar) is not clear. Some reports say it is named after Mullah Mohammed Omar, amir of the Taliban, and consists of the dregs of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Pakistani jihadi organisations allied with Laden in the International Islamic Front who crossed over into Pakistan. According to other reports, it is named after Omar Sheikh and consists of handpicked cadres of the HuJI, JeM and LeT.

It was first noticed when it claimed responsibility for an attack on a group of Pakistani Christians praying in a church in Bahawalpur in Punjab, where Maulana Masood Azhar of the JeM lives. Subsequently, it was suspected in connection with a grenade attack on a group of Pakistani and foreign Christians praying in a church in Islamabad on March 17.

Omar Sheikh, currently undergoing trial in Hyderabad, Sindh, for his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, and Amjad Hussain Faruqui of the HuJI -- an absconding accused in the case -- were both closely linked with the LeO, whose cadres were trained in camps in Taliban-controlled territory. Before his surrender to a retired officer of the Inter-Services Intelligence in Lahore, Omar Sheikh used to head the Lahore office of Al Qaeda and visited Kandahar to meet Laden.

The News, a prestigious daily of Pakistan, reported that during his interrogation Omar Sheikh admitted to his involvement not only in the kidnapping of Pearl, but also in the above-mentioned attacks in Srinagar, New Delhi and Kolkata, but Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment denied this report and had the editor of the newspaper sacked.

The anger of these dregs, as seen from their propaganda, has been mainly directed at the USA, Israel and India. They are angry with the USA for the casualties inflicted on them in Afghanistan. Their anger against India is due to J&K as well as the Indian assistance to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. While the rest of the world abandoned the Northern Alliance after the capture of Kabul by the Taliban in September 1996, only India, Russia and some of the Central Asian republics continued to stand by it and assisted it in whatever way they could.

Another reason for their anger against India is its growing co-operation with USA in various fields, particularly the military field.

The reason for their anger against Israel is self-evident. But they feel that the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Hamas and Hizbollah are quite capable of resisting Israel through their own efforts and, therefore, see no need for any action against Israeli nationals and interests. Moreover, the PLO, Hamas and Hizbollah themselves do not want to have anything to do with Laden or these dregs.

Thus, they have been focussing their operations mainly against US and Indian nationals and interests. Their attack on the French was a surprise and the only way of explaining it is that they probably mistook the French for Americans.

General Pervez Musharraf has been following a two-pronged policy with regard to these dregs. He has been taking advantage of their redoubled anger against India. He has protected them against attacks by the US and British troops, either by not sharing pinpoint intelligence about their location or by avoiding co-operation in joint operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan. He has been acting against them in Pakistani territory only when forced by the US to do so, as in Faislabad.

At the same time, he has been embarrassed by their operations against US nationals on Pakistani territory and their attack on the French. His inability to persuade them to concentrate their operations only against India and to not attack Americans and other non-Indian targets could partly be attributed to the encouragement received from serving officers of the military-intelligence establishment.

According to some reports from Islamabad, even General Mohammed Yusuf, the vice-chief of army staff aggrieved by Musharraf retaining the post of army chief, is now siding with General Mohammed Aziz, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. It is said that out of about 30 lieutenant generals in the Pakistan Army, at least three (the third remains unidentified) have been critical of Musharraf's pro-US line.

Some sections of the senior and middle-level officers of the ISI (difficult to quantify their strength) also share this anti-Americanism and have avoided any action to stop the anti-US activities on Pakistani territory. Thus, India and the USA have a common interest in neutralising these dregs through joint covert actions.

In this connection, the following observations of this writer after the December 13 attack on Parliament remain as valid today as they were at the time they were made:

  • If air strikes and cross-border raids on training camps and safe havens could effectively end terrorism, Israel should have been free of foreign-sponsored terrorism today. The fact that even after 30 years of a macho counter-terrorism policy, Israeli blood continues to flow should show the ineffectiveness of its strategy.
  • For far too long, India has reacted too passively to Pakistan's use of terrorism as a low-cost covert weapon against us. We should have gone into a counter proxy war mode months, if not years, ago. Having failed to do so, in the moment of post-December 13 anger, we should not abruptly move from the extreme of passivity to the extreme of unthinking activism in the name of a graduated response.
  • The situation we face today is due to the long neglect of the need for a carefully worked out counter proxy war doctrine to be implemented consistently, intelligently and with determination. Now is the time for formulating such a doctrine and implementing it -- more covertly than overtly. A counter proxy war doctrine would provide space for both overt, correct state-to-state relations and simultaneously, covert undermining of the wielder of terrorism.
  • After the December 13 incident, which was a challenge to the Indian State, a graduated response to increase the pressure on Pakistan is necessary. But in working out the basket of overt diplomatic and economic options, we should avoid getting into a bind of exhausting non-military options too soon and unthinkingly, and finding ourselves facing a cruel choice of using the military option or losing face.
  • India is right in intensifying pressure on Pakistan and the international community to put an end to Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism on Indian territory. Its campaign is already yielding some results in the form of the US designation of the LeT and JeM as foreign terrorist organisations, arrests of their leaders by Pakistan, freezing of their accounts, etc.
  • These actions, however gratifying, are not going to end terrorism. The JeM, LeT and HuM already have enough Pakistani cadres and weapons in India to be able to operate autonomously at least for a couple of years more unless our internal security is strengthened.
  • Terrorists largely depend on clandestine money, mainly heroin money, for sustaining their operations. Even if the US-led allies manage to end once and for all the production and smuggling of fresh heroin from Afghanistan, there is enough heroin in Pakistan from previous years' production to keep terrorist activities sustained for at least two years.
  • The very important aspect of identifying the many weak points in our internal security apparatus and removing them in order to smoke out the terrorists already in our midst is not receiving the attention it urgently requires.
  • Putting a stop to Pakistani sponsorship is important. Equally important is setting matters right in our internal security apparatus. Unless and until we do this effectively, more episodes like December 13 are likely.
Persisting weaknesses in our internal security infrastructure as evidenced by the ease with which the terrorists have been repeatedly breaching the physical security arrangements by following the same modus operandi, and the lack of a counter proxy war policy through covert actions continue to be our weak points in dealing with Pakistan's proxy war.

B Raman was additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is now director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai.

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