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Why there could be a surge in jihadi terrorism

B Raman
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December 16, 2008
The pressure on Pakistan from the US and other Western countries to act firmly against the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and its political wing the Jammat-ud-Dawa is quite strong not only because of their anxiety to prevent an Indian military retaliation for the Mumbai terrorist attacks, but also because of the anger in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora in the West over the brutal massacre of eight Israeli nationals -- two them with dual US nationality -- and a Jewish person from Mexico by the terrorists in Mumbai.

The concerns of Western businessmen, with interests in India, over the security of their life and property have also contributed to the Western pressure on Pakistan, which is more intense this time than it was after the attack on the Indian Parliament launched by the Lashkar and the Jaish-e-Mohammad on December 13, 2001.

Under this pressure, Pakistan has ostensibly acted against the JuD, through measures such as placing its chief Mohammad Sayeed under house arrest, arresting some cadres at senior, middle and junior levels, freezing the bank accounts of the organisation etc.

Interestingly, it has attributed its actions to the decision of the anti-terrorism committee of the United Nations Security Council to designate the JuD as a terrorist organisation and blacklist four of its top leaders including Sayeed.

It has sought to avoid adding to the anti-government anger in the pro-jihadi sections of its population by creating an impression that its actions were dictated by the decision of the Security Council's anti-terrorism committee, which the government was bound to obey, and not by US pressure. Despite this, its actions are seen by these sections as due to Indian and US pressure and not just due to the UN designation.

This has added to the anti-Indian and anti-US anger in these sections, comparable to the anti-Chinese and anti-US anger after the commando action in Islamabad's Lal Masjid from July 10 to 13 last year, which was seen by the pro-Al Qaeda jihadis as dictated by Chinese and American pressure on Pervez Musharraf [Images], the then president and army chief.

One should, therefore, be prepared for a further surge in jihadi terrorist attacks on Indian nationals and interests as well as on Western and Israeli nationals and interests. The attacks on Indian and Western nationals and interests could be in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as in Indian territory. The attacks on Israeli nationals and interests could be in Indian territory.

The attacks on Indian nationals and interests could be not only from the remnants of the Lashkar and the Jaish, which have evaded arrest in Pakistan, but also from their supporters and sympathisers in India and Bangladesh. The Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, which was not banned by Musharraf in January, 2002, and its branch in Bangladesh known as HuJI-B, has also a presence in a number of states in India having illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

It is likely that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has not so far joined the anti-Indian jihad and has focused its operations against the US and Pakistani forces, may do so now in solidarity with the JuD and the Lashkar. Another danger would be from the Jundullahs (Soldiers of Allah), who are lone-wolf jihadis without any organisational affiliation. Many of them have taken to suicide or suicidal terrorism in Pakistan after the commando action on the Lal Masjid and have shown a capability for attacking high-value and hard targets, including in Islamabad [Images] and Rawalpindi.

The danger of a further surge in jihadi terrorism against Indian nationals and interests in the coming months, if not weeks, would call for immediate measures for strengthening the physical security in all metro cities, namely, Delhi [Images], Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad as well as in Goa [Images], which has been a favourite destination for Israeli tourists.

The government should immediately carry out tailor-made terrorism prevention and incident management drills for each metro city, clearly identifying who will be responsible for leadership and co-ordination. A similar drill should be prepared for the government of India. The drill should cover aspects like incident management, media management, management of relatives, public management, coordination between the state affected and the Centre etc.

The measures, which the government of India proposes to take such as the creation of a national agency for the investigation of terrorism-related cases with a pan-Indian dimension, additional powers for the police, creating a rapid response capability in the police in important states, the creation of a coastal command etc are strategic measures which would take at least one to two years to mature. Till then, enforcement of immediate preventive measures of a tactical nature would be necessary in consultation with the states of Delhi, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Goa.

The Government of India should immediately undertake a vulnerability assessment to identify areas and establishments, which would require immediate attention and initiate the necessary additional security measures with the presently available human and technical resources. Among immediate measures required would be intensification and strengthening of police patrolling, intensification of inquiries about visitors of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin in hotels, inns, guest houses and other places, watch on areas of concentration of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

India has been attacked by jihadi terrorists -- home-grown as well as of Pakistani origin --for many years. Despite this, the international business community with interests in India had confidence in the capability of the Indian counter-terrorism machinery to prevail over them and in their ability to protect the lives and property of foreign business executives working and living in India. In justification of their continuing confidence in the Indian counter-terrorism machinery, they remembered the successful record of India in dealing with the insurgency in the north-east, Khalistani terrorism in Punjab, the Al Ummah terrorism in Tamil Nadu and even in controlling the jihadi terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir [Images].

That confidence has been shaken after the Mumbai strikes. This can be seen in the advisories being issued by private risk assessment consultancy groups to their business clients. The image of an India that can in the fight against terrorism is slowly giving way to an image of an India that probably can't. This negative image of India, which has started emerging, can be reversed by determined tactical action to prevent any more acts of catastrophic terrorism and strategic measures to bring India in step with the Western countries in strengthening its counter-terrorism machinery.

The Mumbai attacks caused only 185 fatalities. Despite this, it was catastrophic in terms of the damage it has caused to the external image of India's political leadership and professional national security managers. One more November 26 in any city with a large population of foreign businessmen and the present nervousness can turn into panic.

The Government of India has been in a denial and cover-up modes since it came to office in 2004. As a result of the November 26 attacks, it is slowly coming out of its denial mode, but it continues to be in a cover-up mode as could be seen from its reluctance to order a detailed inquiry by a commission, enjoying the confidence of Parliament and the public, into the sins of commission and omission, which facilitated the November 26 attacks by the Lashkar and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. Without such an inquiry, whose findings should be available to the public, including the business community, we will find it difficult to regain the confidence of the public and the business community.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the main Opposition party, which hopes to come to power after the forthcoming parliamentary election, has also been in a denial mode of its own. It is refusing to acknowledge that there are pockets of anger among Indian Muslim youth due to perceptions of the unfairness of the Indian system towards them. This anger has been inducing some of them to assist organisations like the Lashkar and the Jaish in their terrorist attacks on Indian territory and some others to wage their own jihad in Indian colours in the name of the so-called Indian Mujahideen [Images].

Dealing with the internal dimensions of jihad is as important as dealing with the external dimensions. While the external dimensions have started receiving attention, the internal dimensions are sought to be pushed under the carpet. Anyone, who persists in drawing attention to the internal dimensions is sought to be ridiculed or vilified or projected as an apologist for the jihadis. Such an approach would be counter-productive and will ultimately weaken our fight against the external dimensions.

For four years, we dithered over the proposal to set up a national agency to investigate terrorism cases with a pan-Indian dimension. In our post-Mumbai haste to set it up, we should not repeat the mistakes we committed while creating the National Security Guard by making it over-centralised with no regional presence. The proposed national agency to investigate pan-Indian terrorism cases should not similarly become an over-centralised agency.

When terrorists strike, the first to reach the scene and start the investigation is the staff of the police station in whose jurisdiction the offence was committed. This should remain so. The police station should register the offence, start the investigation and keep it going till the national agency decides to take it over. This 'first to start the investigation' role of the local police should not be diluted or supplanted by the proposed national agency.

B Raman
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