INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR—PAPER NO.445
The address of the Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh, to the Governors’ conference at New Delhi on September 17,2008, contains a number of important pronouncements relating to the fight against terrorism. These pronouncements taken together amount to an attempt by the Government, which is almost at the end of its term before the general elections are due, to come out of the denial mode into which it had kept itself confined since it came to office in 2004.
2.While refuting allegations from the critics that the Government was soft on terrorism, the Prime Minister admitted that there had been intelligence failures and that in addition to the continuing threats from jihadi terrorists infiltrated from Pakistan, the nation is now finding itself confronted with a new dimension of the threat posed by more Indian nationals gravitating to the ranks of the jihadis.
3. A point, which was not mentioned by the Prime Minister, but which needs to be underlined is that the phenomenon of home-grown jihadis is not new to India. We had faced a serious threat of home-grown jihadis from the Al Umma of Tamil Nadu after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. Al Umma spread death and destruction across Tamil Nadu between 1993 and 1999 including the orchestrated serial blasts in Coimbatore in February,1998. Al Umma was almost a hundred per cent home-grown movement with no links to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or to the global jihad waged by Al Qaeda and its Pakistani associates. The threat from Al Umma was largely neutralized by the effective action taken by the Tamil Nadu Police after the Coimbatore blasts.
4. Between the end of the Kargil conflict with Pakistan towards the end of 1999 and November,2007, we saw a new wave of jihadi terrorist strikes outside Jammu & Kashmir involving either the ISI-sponsored Pakistani organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) or a mix of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian elements. While the Pakistani and Bangladeshi elements in this mix largely belonged to the LET and the HUJI, the Indian elements came largely from the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) plus a few with no previous affiliation to any organization. These groups thought and acted tactically as well as strategically.
5.Tactically, they viewed their operations as meant to retaliate against the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the anti-Muslim incidents in Gujarat in 2002 after the massacre of some Hindu pilgrims traveling by a train by some Muslim fanatics at Godhra. Strategically, they viewed them as part of the global jihad being waged by the International Islamic Front (IIF) under the leadership of Al Qaeda for achieving an Islamic Caliphate and putting an end to the presence and influence of the US in the Islamic world.
6. What we have been seeing across India since November last year is a revival of the Al Umma phenomenon of reprisal terrorism with the tactical objective of wreaking vengeance against the society as a whole and the Governments in New Delhi and different States for the alleged wrongs done to the Indian Muslims. These elements have been operating under the name of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and deny vehemently in their propaganda any foreign links either with the ISI or with the Pakistani organizations. They have till now not given any indication of any strategic objective. They just want to kill and desire to demonstrate their ability to kill wherever and whenever they want.
7. All the suspected perpetrators arrested till now in Ahmedabad, Jaipur and other places in connection with the serial blasts for which the IM has claimed responsibility are Indian Muslims. This need not mean that there is no hidden foreign involvement either of Pakistani organizations or of Al Qaeda. The fact that till now they have not been talking and acting strategically does not mean that they do not consider themselves as part of the global jihad being waged under the leadership of Al Qaeda.
8. One significant difference needs to be noted in the modus operandi of the Pakistan-sponsored jihadi organizations and the IM. Under instructions from the ISI, Pakistani organizations generally do not claim responsibility for attacks on civilians. They claim responsibility only for the attacks on the security forces. Like Al Qaeda, the IM admits its responsibility for targeted attacks on civilians and proclaims such attacks as part of its policy. Al Qaeda admitted its responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US and lionized the terrorists, who attacked the London public transportation system in July,2005. There have been other instances of Al Qaeda openly proclaiming its responsibility for attacks on civilians.
9. The new dimension of the threat as stated by the Prime Minister has made him concede the need to enhance the powers of the police through special laws where necessary and to set up a special central agency to investigate and prosecute terrorism-related cases.
10. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s pronouncements, which indicate a change in the Government’s thinking and strategy, have come hardly a few months before the elections. His critics would, therefore, suspect that his pronouncements were more an electoral ploy than the result of a genuine change of conviction as to how to fight terrorism.
11.Moreover, even if he is able to counter successfully suspicions of an electoral ploy, the concretization of his pronouncements through the drafting and enactment of appropriate laws and introducing the necessary changes in the counter-terrorism architecture will take at least a year. This is not something that can be done overnight. The Lok Sabha is about to enter the lame duck mode and the opposition will try its best not to give the Government any credit for bringing about the necessary changes.
12.In this context, what is important is an urgent short-term plan to identify the brains behind the self-styled IM and neutralize them before they spread further death and destruction. As I have been pointing out repeatedly, this is a pan-Indian threat not confined to a single State and hence calls for a pan-Indian response. It is important to make the Police in all the States where the blasts have already taken place carry out their investigations in an integrated manner through an appropriate short-term mechanism, which would not require any major change in the existing laws.
13. We have had three examples of successful investigations and prosecution. The first was the investigation into the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE in 1991. In view of its ramifications extending to more than one State and its external linkages, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), then headed by Vijaykaran, an officer of the Intelligence Bureau, was asked to take over the investigation through a special task force headed by D.R.Kartikeyan.
14. The second was the investigation into the Mumbai serial blasts of March,1993. Here the investigation was done by the Mumbai Police with the CBI handling the external ramifications. Narasimha Rao, the then Prime Minister, set up a co-ordination committee headed by S.B.Chavan, the then Home Minister, to co-ordinate the investigation on a day-to-day basis. Rajesh Pilot, the then Minister of State for Internal Security, played a live wire role in this co-ordination. Narasimha Rao closely monitored the work of this committee, by periodically chairing the meetings himself.
15. The third was the investigation into the terrorist strikes in Tamil Nadu. This was done in a very creditable manner by the Tamil Nadu Police through its own resources.
16. The serial blasts, which the country has been facing since November 2007, are more complicated. While the Police officers of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Delhi have been doing excellent work through their resources, the final results in terms of identification, neutralization and prosecution may not be quite satisfactory in the absence of a continuous and effective central role. How to achieve this has to be decided by the Prime Minister quickly in consultation with the Chief Ministers of the targeted States.
17. Political and electoral considerations should not be allowed to come in the way of time-bound action to put a stop to these serial blasts.
18. If these blasts continue in this manner with the police and the intelligence agencies being perceived not only by our public, but also by foreign Governments and investors as helpless, it could come in the way of our efforts to invite more foreign investment. The foreign investors have till now shown signs of continuing confidence in the capability of our Police and security agencies to prevail over the terrorists sooner than later. But, if such incidents continue at regular intervals, this confidence could be shaken.
19. The time for action is now, not tomorrow, which may be too late.(18-9-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )