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Two years later, we remain helpless against Pakistan

November 26, 2010 14:01 IST
Is India ready to confront another Lashkar attack, asks B Raman.

Since the 26/11 sea-borne terrorist strikes in Mumbai by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba, we have had three acts of suspected jihadi terrorism in Indian territory outside Jammu & Kashmir. Indians were also among the victims of a terrorist attack in Kabul.

The three attacks in Indian territory took place in Pune (about 10 fatalities) on February 13, in Bengaluru outside a cricket stadium on April 17 (17 injured) and in New Delhi on September 19 (two Taiwanese tourists injured).

According to Mumbai's Anti-Terrorism Squad, the Indian Mujahideen, which has links to the Lashkar, was responsible for the Pune attack. The IM was suspected in the Bengaluru incident, and it had also claimed responsibility for the Delhi attack.

The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack on February 26, in which there were 17 fatalities, six of them Indians. The attack was directed against a guest house for foreigners, and the Indians happened to be among the foreign customers.

All of these were conventional acts of terrorism with improvised explosive devices or hand-held weapons, which would not have required specialised training. There has been no commando-style complex attack like the one on 26/11, which required specialised training.

These attacks show that the Lashkar, controlled by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, and its affiliates in India such as the IM and the Students Islamic Movement of India continue to plan terrorist strikes against Indian targets despite the international surveillance on Lashkar's activities after the 26/11 strikes, which made the West realise that it is as dangerous as Al Qaeda.

A new source of threat to Indian targets has been the so-called 313 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri, allegedly a former commando of the US-trained Special Services Group of the Pakistan army, who now works closely with the Lashkar, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Al Qaeda.

Some reports, not yet confirmed, even describe him as a member of the shura (advisory council) of Al Qaeda. He is reportedly based in North Waziristan in Pakistan.

India continues to be as vulnerable as before 26/11 to possible terrorist strikes by these organisations and their affiliates. Among their other affiliates are Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Pakistani Taliban called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Post 26/11, Al Qaeda, an Arab terrorist group based in North Waziristan, has two major allies -- the Pashtun Taliban, which attacks Western targets, and the Punjabi Taliban, which focuses on Indian targets.

The Lashkar is in the forefront of the Punjabi Taliban. It guides and controls the activities of the IM and SIMI.

While India's vulnerability is as serious as before 26/11, there has been no act of mass casualty terrorism after 26/11. From this, it will be inadvisable to draw the conclusion that as a result of the revamping of the security apparatus by Home Minister P Chidambaram, our agencies now have the upper hand over the terrorists.

The Lashkar and other organisations have not been weakened. Their anti-Indian motivation remains strong. There has been no dilution in the ISI's support for them. Their training infrastructure in Pakistani territory is intact. Their propaganda against India continues to be virulent. They are looking for opportunities to plan and carry out more acts of mass casualty terrorism.

The failure of the United States to pressure Pakistan to arrest and prosecute the ISI officers named by David Coleman Headley of the Lashkar's Chicago cell as involved in the 26/11 attacks has strengthened the ISI's belief that so long as it cooperates with the US against anti-US terrorists, the US will continue to turn a blind eye to its use of the Lashkar brand of terrorists against India.

The lack of vigorous action by the US against Pakistan for its involvement in the 26/11 strikes and its disappointing cooperation with India in the Headley case have shown that any high expectations of US cooperation with India against terrorism of Pakistani origin would be an illusion.

We have to depend on our own intelligence and security capabilities in our battle against terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The revamping of the security apparatus by Chidambaram can be described as successful only if there is an increase in the flow of preventive intelligence, if there is better coordination among the various agencies and if follow-up action on the intelligence collected is effective.

There has been an improvement in physical security and inter-agency coordination as seen during the Commonwealth Games and US President Barack Obama's visit, but there have been very few instances of detection and neutralisation of sleeper cells of the Lashkar and its associates. This shows that the flow of intelligence is still inadequate.

The follow-up action on many new ideas floated by Chidambaram has been slow. He had spoken of the need for a separate ministry dealing exclusively with internal security. He had suggested bringing under his control all intelligence collection and follow-up action capabilities having a bearing on counter-terrorism -- whether such capabilities are in the Intelligence Bureau or in the Research & Analysis Wing or in the Aviation Research Centre or elsewhere.

He had also spoken of his plans to set up a National Counter-Terrorism Centre under his supervision, similar to what the US had set up after 9/11. One does not know what is the present stage of implementation of these ideas.

We continue to find ourselves helpless against Pakistan. The prosecution of Pakistan-based Lashkar conspirators by the Pakistani authorities has become a sham. The Lashkar and other anti-India organisations continue to be as active as ever from Pakistani territory.

We have been reduced to a state where we are pathetically dependent on the US to make Pakistan act. The US is disinclined to apply that kind of pressure.

We are faced with diminishing options against Pakistan. How to reverse this situation? This question should seriously engage the attention of our policy-makers. We have to work out a policy of incentives and disincentives to make Pakistan act.

Merely by repeating that we will not talk to Pakistan unless it winds up its terror machine is not leading us anywhere.

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B Raman