Saturday, July 19, 2008




The Neo Taliban of Afghanistan has demonstrated a dual capability---- as a terrorist organization specializing in suicide terrorism and as a conventional guerilla force capable of conventional set-piece battles involving attack-stand-and fight tactics.

2. Its capability as a terrorist organization has remained unimpaired for the last two years. So far this year, it has already committed 73 acts of suicide terrorism as compared to 137 during the whole of last year.

3. Its acts of suicide terrorism are almost as numerous as those witnessed in Iraq, but not as deadly due to the poor training of the suicide bombers.

4. It demonstrated its capability for set-piece conventional battles involving the engagement of large forces during the fighting season of 2006-07. The Taliban units engaged in many of those battles in Afghan territory were trained, motivated and led by Mulla Dadullah.

5.The death of Mulla Dadullah in Afghan territory in an incident in May,2007, impaired its conventional capability. It faced difficulty in finding a suitable replacement for him. This had an impact on the ground situation during the summer of 2007. The much-threatened (by the Taliban) and much-dreaded (by the NATO forces) summer offensive did not materialize.

6. As the NATO commanders were hoping that the tide has started turning against the Taliban, it is showing signs of a second resurgence of its conventional prowess. One has already seen two instances of this. The first was its audacious attack on the Kandahar prison on June 13,2008, during which it took the NATO and Afghan National Army (ANA) forces totally by surprise and rescued about 400 imprisoned Taliban cadres and took them away in motor vehicles without being intercepted by the Canadian forces deployed for the security of this area.

7. The second instance was on July 13,2008, when an estimated 200 jihadi fighters , who had taken shelter, without being detected, in a village called Wanat in the Kunnar province in Eastern Afghanistan managed to attack and over-run an outpost jointly manned by US and ANA forces, after killing nine US soldiers. The US has since vacated this indefensible area, which has reportedly been occupied by the jihadi fighters.

8.What should be worrying is not the occupation of this area by the jihadis, but their ability to keep their movement, assembling in the village and preparations for the attack a secret and the tenacity with which they reportedly fought despite the US outpost calling for air strikes to disperse them.

9.The identity of the fighters and their commander is not yet certain. The Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Gulbuddin Heckmatyar’s Hizbe Islami and Al Qaeda are known to be active in this area-----with greater activity by the Hizbe Islami than others. There have also been reports from tribal sources in Pakistan that the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), which has been operating in tandem with Maulana Fazlullah’s Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), has now moved some of its trained cadres to the Kunnar province to fight along with the Hizbe Islami. However, the JEM is essentially a terrorist organization with very little conventional capability.

10.The kind of conventional capability, which was exhibited during the 2006-07 fighting season and is being exhibited now, could come only from either serving or retired Pashtun soldiers of the Pakistani and Afghan armies and those trained by them.

11. In a report carried by it on July 18,2008, the “Financial Times” of London has quoted Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that the July 13’s “well co-ordinated” attack by hundreds of insurgents against a US military outpost near the border with Pakistan demonstrated that the enemy in Afghanistan had “grown bolder, more sophisticated, and more diverse”.

12. He added: “We’re seeing a greater number of insurgents and foreign fighters flowing across the border with Pakistan, unmolested and unhindered. We simply must all do a better job of policing the border region and eliminating the safe havens, which serve today as launching pads for attacks on coalition forces.”

13. An agency report carried by the “News” of Pakistan on July 17,2008, has quoted Admiral Mullen as further saying as follows: “The group that launched the attack trained in safe havens in Pakistan. We see this threat accelerating, almost becoming a syndicate of different groups who heretofore had not worked closely together.”

14. Till recently, Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), another Uzbek group, were content with keeping their role confined to training the jihadis of the Taliban, the various Pakistani organizations and volunteers from outside. They were not participating in actual battles due to their small number, which they wanted to conserve for operations outside this region. There have been reports that their number has now been bolstered by the arrival of not only experienced fighters from Iraq, but also fresh recruits from the Central Asian Republics, Chechnya and Turks and members of the Uighur diaspora from Turkey.

15. The Pentagon is reported to have ordered an enquiry into the July 13 fiasco in order to establish the identity of the jihadi forces which attacked the outpost, how the outpost was taken by surprise and how the intelligence agencies failed to detect the movement and assembling of the jihadis near the outpost. It has been reported that the jihadis managed to plan and carry out the attack within two days of the outpost being set up.

16. The US forces should re-examine their present policy of setting up thinly-manned outposts in apparently indefensible areas. They only hand over a seemingly spectacular victory on a platter to the jihadis. They should reverse this tactics and inveigle the jihadis into setting up their presence in such areas and then attack and kill them with superior force. The objective in such isolated areas should be not territorial control, but inflicting heavy attrition on the jihadis.

17.The jihadi battles presently going on in Pakistan’s tribal belt and in Afghanistan have serious security implications for India. Mehsuds, Wazirs and Afridis were the tribals used by the Pakistan Army in 1947-48 to capture what is now called the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). The Pakistan Army again used them before and during the war of 1965. Zia-ul-Haq used them for suppressing a Shia revolt in Gilgit in 1988.

18. President Bush often says with some validity that if the US troops withdraw from Iraq without defeating Al Qaeda, the Arab terrorists now operating in Iraq could move over to Europe and the US and step up terrorism.

19. If the US and other NATO forces fail to prevail over the jihadis in the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal belt, these tribals, fresh from their victories in that region, would move over to Kashmir to resume their jihad against India. What we are now seeing in Kashmir is the beginning of the end of one phase of the jihad involving jihadis of the 1980s vintage. We might see the beginning of a new phase involving better-trained and better-motivated jihadis of the latest stock. (20-7-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and ,presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.E-mail: )



The suicide car bomb blast outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008, was meant to convey a message to India----thus far and no further in assisting the Hamid Karzai Government.

2.One has to painstakingly collect evidence to identify the originators of the message, but one can even now make a reasonable surmise of their identity. It could have originated only from the Pakistan-backed and Al Qaeda-trained Taliban, which has been acting in tandem with the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Heckmatyar, and the Government of Pakistan itself acting through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

3.India is in Afghanistan not to fight against jihadi terrorism. It is there to help the legally-elected Afghan Government and people recover from over two decades of continuous strife and put them back on the road to economic recovery, better governance and a better quality of life for the people.

4.But the Taliban and Pakistan do not look at it that way. The Taliban looks on the Indian presence as no different from the presence of the US and other NATO forces--- meant to strengthen the influence of the “infidels” and propagate the ideals of a liberal democracy, which are seen by it as anti-Islam.

5.Pakistan looks upon it as meant to revive the historic relationship between the people of India and Afghanistan to the detriment of the Pakistani interests and influence built up over two decades of jihad----initially against the Soviet presence and now against the Western presence.

6.The Taliban and Pakistan see a convergence of interests and objectives between the two in resisting what they view as the growing Indian presence.

7. There is a convergence of interests and objectives between the Governments of Afghanistan and India too, namely, to resist the spread of religious extremism in this region and the use of the extremist forces by the ISI to destabilise the two countries.

8.The Kabul blast marked the opening of a second front by the Taliban at the instigation of the ISI. Its first front has been against the US and other NATO forces. Its newly-opened second front is against Indian nationals and interests in Afghanistan.

9.The Taliban owes its recovery from the post-9/11 set-back suffered by it during the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom to the protection and patronage extended to it by the ISI. It had its survivors and fresh recruits re-motivated, re-trained and re-armed in Pakistani sanctuaries with the complicity of serving ISI officers and the active assistance of retired officers.

10.It has staged a remarkable come-back since 2005 and has been able to make the US and other NATO forces bleed continuously since then. The US committed a mistake of viewing its on-going war against Al Qaeda and the fight against a resurgent Taliban as two different ball games. So long as Pakistan was collaborating with it against Al Qaeda, it closed its eyes to the ISI’s role in the resurgence of the Taliban.

11.Only now, after six months of mounting NATO casualties in Afghanistan is the realization slowly dawning on the US and other NATO powers that they cannot defeat Al Qaeda without defeating the Taliban and that they cannot prevent the return of the Taliban without acting against its mentor and protector.

12.To realise past mistakes is one thing and to devise new policy options free of the mistakes is another. In an election year, re-crafting new policy options has been a slow process. Moreover, the desire to make Pakistan change without hurting it continues to be a strong motivating factor in US policy-making. Pakistan continues to take advantage of this ambivalence of US policy-makers and strategic thinkers to continue with its policy of seeming action against the Taliban and actual nursing of it.

13.The impact of the Western ambivalence can be seen in Western perceptions of the Pakistani use of the Taliban to counter the Indian presence in Afghanistan. Deplorable, but understandable. That has been the underlying American thinking----whether in Governmental or non-Governmental circles.

14.The West realizes the benign role which India has been playing in Afghanistan. At the same time, it is unable to rid its policy-making of the malign influence of Pakistan, which sees Afghanistan as in its sphere of influence where India has no business to be active.

15.Under these circumstances, the second front opened by the Taliban at the nudging of the ISI against India would continue to be a major preoccupation of our policy makers. We should not allow the tragic death of our officers in Kabul to induce second-thoughts on our policy in Afghanistan. The policy is right and to the mutual benefit of the two countries and in the long-term interests of the region.

16.Our ability to press ahead with our policy will depend on our ability to protect our nationals deputed to Afghanistan to carry forward our policy. Their protection is the joint responsibility of the two Governments.

17.How to strengthen the protective security for our nationals and establishments in Afghanistan? This is a question, which deserves the immediate attention of the leaders and the security bureaucracies of the two countries.

18. Protective security alone is not sufficient. It has to be combined with a deterrent capability. The deterrent capability comes from our proclaimed willingness and ability to switch from the mode of passive defence to one of active defence.

19. When terrorists sponsored by another State and operating from sanctuaries in that State attack your nationals and interests , you have the right of self-defence---which can be passive or active. In passive defence, you confine your retaliatory action to your own territory. In active defence, you take the retaliatory action to the territory of the State from where the terrorists are operating, if left with no other way of deterring further acts of terrorism. The US and Israel have a publicly proclaimed doctrine of active defence against State sponsors of terrorism posing a threat to their nationals and interests. The US doctrine was enunciated by George Shultz, the then Secretary of State in the Ronald Reagan Administration, in a public speech after the attack on the US Marines in Beirut in 1983. Many other States have a similar doctrine, but it is not publicly admitted.

20. The doctrine of active defence followed by the US and Israel is applicable whether their nationals and interests are attacked in their homeland or in third countries by terrorists sponsored by a State. Reagan ordered the bombing of terrorist training camps in Libya in 1986 after terrorists sponsored by Libya killed some American soldiers in a West Berlin discotheque. Similarly, Israel has retaliated when its nationals were killed in West Europe.

21. India has had in the past a covert action capability which had been used in active defence in foreign territory for the protection of its nationals and interests, but it never had a publicly proclaimed doctrine of active defence through covert actions for the protection of its nationals and interests from terrorists sponsored by another State.

22. The recent comments of M.K.Narayanan, the National Security Adviser, about evidence being available regarding the involvement of the ISI in the Kabul blast and India’s readiness to go into the active defence mode should it become necessary is the first publicly proclaimed doctrine of active defence since 1947. It is similar in principle to the Shultz doctrine, but not as detailed.

23. While Narayanan’s public proclamation has to be welcomed, it has one important deficiency. It is Pakistan specific and thus does not allow for flexibility. The US and Israeli doctrines are applicable to any State, which uses terrorists against their nationals and interests. Their doctrines do not refer to any country by name. Our nationals and interests face threats from terrorists sheltered and sponsored by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Any doctrine should, therefore, be capable of being applied to both the countries, if necessary, and convey a clear message to them.

24. Publicly proclaiming a doctrine is the easiest part of active defence. The more difficult part is the creation of the required capability for active defence through covert actions. In the past----before 1997--- we had the capability which had served us well, but we did not feel the need for a publicly-proclaimed doctrine. Now, we have a publicly-proclaimed doctrine, but one does not know how good is our capability to enforce this doctrine should it become necessary. Creating or re-creating such a capability and keeping it in a permanent state of readiness to move into the active mode is the next immediate priority. We must have a small core of capability, which is permanent whether we intend using it or not, with a provision for its rapid expansion when the time for action comes.

25. I had made a detailed analysis of active defence through covert actions in my book titled “Intelligence---Past, Present& Future” published by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi in 2001. (19-7-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, E-mail: )