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Why South India is jihadi target
B Raman
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January 04, 2006

The White House, the Pentagon and the headquarters of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency are reputed to be the best-protected establishments not only in the United States, but also in the whole world.

And yet, one morning in January 1993, Mir Aimal Kansi, a Pakistani national, drove to the headquarters of the CIA, waited in his car -- without being questioned by the security guards -- till the staff started arriving for their morning shift.

He got out of his car with a modern rifle and fired indiscriminately, killing two officers and injuring some others, got back into his car, drove to the airport, left for Pakistan and disappeared in the remote tribal areas of Pakistan.

It took the CIA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation months before he could be arrested, brought to trial in the US, convicted and executed.

It was a serious breach of physical security. Yet, the US media -- print as well as electronic -- covered it with a certain sense of balance and analysed professionally, without unnecessary sensationalism, as to how the breach occurred.

An in-house enquiry was held and the deficiencies in security identified and corrected. 

The media and terrorism analysts in the US conducted themselves with considerable professionalism and restraint and avoided sensationalising and over-dramatising the incident by projecting as if Washington had suddenly become a very insecure place.

Unwise sensationalising and over-dramatising a terrorist incident only amounts to playing into the hands of terrorists and provides, as Margaret Thatcher described when she was the British prime minister, oxygen to terrorism.

One has reasons to feel concerned over the way sections of our media -- more electronic than print -- and analysts have been going overboard in sensationalising and over-dramatising the action of a terrorist in gaining access to a conference of scientists at Bangalore on December 28, and opening fire on the scientists as they were coming out, killing one of them and injuring some others.

To stress the need for restraint and balance in analysing the gravity and implications of the incident is not to underestimate it. It is to emphasise the importance of seeing the incident in its proper perspective so that we draw the right lessons and protect ourselves better.

It is not as if South India has overnight become the preferred target of Pakistani terrorists, instigated and assisted by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.

It has been an important ISI target for many years because of the location there of many of our defence, nuclear and space establishments, information technology and other hi-tech industries and some of the most sacred places of Hinduism.

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It is very difficult for a foreign terrorist to operate in our territory without at least some local support for logistics and other purposes. Before 1992, such support was scarce in South India. The anger caused among some sections of the Muslim youth in South India by the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 created a fertile soil for the operation of the ISI-backed jihadi terrorists in the South.

The Babri Masjid demolition provided the oxygen to jihadi terrorism in many areas of India outside Jammu and Kashmir [Images], and particularly in the South. This is a ground reality which one cannot and should not play down.

The media has been analysing as to why the jihadi terrorists have been targeting South India. The right question to be asked is as to why the ISI has been targeting the South. It has not been targeting the South only since 1992. It has been doing so since 1981.

Before 1992, it had very little support from our Muslim community in the South. It, therefore, sought the help of the Khalistani terrorists for extending their acts of terrorism to the South.

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Take out from the archives of the intelligence community the interrogation report of Lal Singh alias Manjit Singh of the International Sikh Youth Federation, Canada [Images] -- who was arrested by the Gujarat police in 1992 -- and read it.

He had stated how the ISI was interested in organising an act of economic terrorism in Chennai and sent him to study the possibility of organising an explosion at the Chennai Stock Exchange. After visiting Chennai, he claimed to have told the ISI it was not possible.

The ISI has always had two kinds of clandestine operations in the South -- for the collection of intelligence from and about our sensitive establishments and for creating feelings of insecurity in the minds of foreign investors by stepping up acts of terrorism.

For creating feelings of insecurity in the minds of investors, it is not necessary that they should succeed only in attacking economic targets. Even if they succeed in organising a series of terrorist strikes in the big cities of the South, they could cause nervousness in the minds of businessmen, which could be detrimental to our economic progress.

The cop who warned of attack on Bangalore

To be successful in such operations, the ISI needs to plant sleeper cells in different parts of the South. A sleeper cell, in intelligence parlance, is one or more individuals sent to an area by an intelligence agency or a terrorist organisation, to familiarise himself/themselves with the local people and conditions and wait for a suitable opportunity to strike.

That the ISI, with the help of its surrogates such as the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Jaish-e-Mohammad has been setting up such sleeper cells in different parts of India outside J&K, including the South, is well known.

While the sleeper cells of the ISI's surrogates in North India are controlled by the ISI's headquarters in Pakistan through the Pakistani diplomatic missions in New Delhi and Kathmandu, those in the South are controlled through the Pakistani high commission in Colombo.

The Pakistani intelligence community has always had an active presence in Colombo for focusing on South India. In 2004, retired Colonel Bashir Wali, former director of Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, took over as the Pakistani high commissioner in Colombo. This is his second posting in Colombo. I had drawn attention to this and its implications in two articles.

The Pakistani jihadi organisations controlled by the ISI carry out their national agenda as laid out by the ISI as well as their own pan-Islamic religious agenda.

Lashkar man arrested for Bangalore attack

When they carry out their national agenda, they act at the behest of the ISI, which wants them to collect intelligence and destabilise the South. When they carry out their pan-Islamic religious agenda, they act at the behest of the International Islamic Front formed by Osama bin Laden in 1998, of which they are members.

The IIF wants to create an Islamic Caliphate across the Muslim world, or Ummah.

Our intelligence community and security agencies are well informed of the designs and activities of the ISI and its pan-Islamic surrogates in India as a whole, including the South.

The significant success of our agencies and the Delhi and Hyderabad police in detecting and neutralising many Lashkar and Harkat sleeper cells in 2005 is an indicator of our force's alertness and capability. At the same time, the success of the terrorists in organising terrorist strikes despite such detection and neutralisation is an indicator of deficiencies in the capability of the agencies.

2005 was a worrisome year in our counter-terrorism operations. Before 2005, we used to have an average of one successful pan-Islamic jihadi terrorist strike per annum in Indian territory outside J&K. In 2005, we had four -- at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh in July, at Hyderabad and Delhi in October and at Bangalore in December.

Either the targets attacked were of strategic significance -- the makeshift Hindu temple in Ayodhya, the headquarters of the police's Special Task Force in Hyderabad and the scientists in Bangalore -- or the occasion chosen was of significance -- on the eve of two important religious festivals in Delhi when shoppers were killed.

The terrorists succeeded in killing, but did not succeed in demoralising us or in driving a wedge between different sections of our pluralistic society.

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Despite this, the fact that the terrorists had four successes -- or near successes -- indicates gaps in our knowledge and capability.

Testifying before a US Congressional Committee last year, a senior US counter-terrorism expert was reported to have said: 'What worries me is that while we know what we know, we don't know what we don't know. As I go to bed at the end of the day, I keep worrying about the sleeper cells which may remain undetected.'

That is the dilemma of every intelligence and security official.

He or she does not know for certain what he or she does not know. In the intelligence and security profession, there will always be an element of the unknown. One can reduce it, but not eliminate it.

That is where the role of physical security comes in. Effective physical security ought to reasonably protect us against the known as well as the unknown.

Better intelligence collection -- human as well as technical -- better analysis, better co-ordination, better physical security and better follow-up action are the need of the hour.

How to achieve them? The time has come to think in terms of having a Joint Counter-Terrorism Centre in South India, staffed by experts posted from the police of all the four states and the central agencies.

B Raman

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