Sunday, May 10, 2009



The campaign in Tamil Nadu for the elections to the Lok Sabha, which comes to an end on May 11,2009, saw copious shedding of crocodile tears not only for the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils, but also for the cause of a separate Tamil homeland as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) of M. Karunanidhi put it or for the cause of an independent Tamil Eelam as the Anna DMK of J.Jayalalitha and other Tamil parties put it.

2. Of the various parties contesting the elections, only the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress (I) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), which are national and not regional parties, made a distinction between support for the plight of the Tamils and support for the cause of Tamil Eelam. They desisted from supporting the latter.

3. There has been a certain hypocrisy in the stand of both the DMK and the ADMK. The DMK, which in the past had made no secret of its sympathies for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its leader Prabakaran, had at the same time refrained from supporting the demand for a Tamil Eelam. It had always given the impression of supporting the stand of the Government of India of canvassing for the political and economic rights of the Tamils in a unified, but not unitary Sri Lanka.

4.The ADMK had in the past strongly opposed the LTTE and Prabakaran as well as their demand for an independent Tamil Eelam. Jayalalitha’s abrupt volte face on this subject during the course of the election campaign and her coming out in support of the totally unwise suggestion for sending the Indian Army to the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka for facilitating the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam came as a total surprise. Taken aback by the change in her stand, Karunanidhi, who has shown a lack of consistency and lucidity on the Tamil issue for over a year now, came out with his own support for a Tamil homeland without explaining what he meant. The Sri Lankan Tamils already have a homeland in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. The question is what should be the constitutional status of this homeland. Should it become an independent Tamil Eelam as demanded by the LTTE or should it become a largely autonomous state of a federal Sri Lanka as demanded by other Sri Lankan Tamil parties and as supported by the Government of India since the days of Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister?

5. How can Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi come out in support of an independent Tamil Eelam or a homeland for the Tamils when none of the Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka except the LTTE has supported such a demand? Even the LTTE is now a party in its death rattle. The knee-jerk reactions on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue among the regional parties of Tamil Nadu and their vying with one another in showing whose heart bleeds more for the Sri Lankan Tamils and their cause show a calculation by all these parties that in the absence of any other major political issue of interest to the nation in general and to Tamil Nadu in particular during the just-ending election campaign the exploitation of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue might provide the magic wand to electrify the voters and get their support. Whether their calculation proves right or wrong, only the results will show on May 16,2009. But one has to note that outside the screeching headlines of the Tamil media, one has not seen any major outpouring of public support for any of the Tamil parties on the Tamil Eelam issue.

6.One gets an impression that the Tamils of Tamil Nadu are more concerned about their own plight than over the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils----caused by the rotten state of the infrastructure, frequent electricity shut-downs under the pretext of maintenance pauses, an administration which activates itself only a few weeks before the elections and then forgets the voters for four years, the political dynasty syndrome and a group of DMK Ministers in the Cabinet of Dr.Manmohan Singh who conducted themselves for four years as if India is Tamil Nadu and Tamil Nadu is India and as if Tamil Nadu is DMK and DMK is Tamil Nadu. The DMK Ministers held very important portfolios in New Delhi, but how many non-Tamil citizens of India had heard of them or seen them?

7. There are three aspects to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue:

(a). The humanitarian plight of the Sri Lankan Tamil civilians in the Northern and Eastern Provinces due to the ruthless use of air strikes by the Sri Lankan Air Force in the Tamil areas for the last three years and the use of multi-barrel rockets and artillery pieces given by Pakistan and due to the recent brutal use of the Tamil civilians by the LTTE as human shields in order to ward off its final collapse and maintain its political relevance after having lost its military capabilities. The Government of Dr.Manmohan Singh and all political parties----national or regional--- failed deplorably all these months to condemn the use of air strikes and heavy artillery of Pakistani- make against the Tamil civilians. The humanitarian problem did not start yesterday. It started three years ago when the Sri Lankan Armed Forces brought their aircraft and Pakistani-origin artillery into action, but not a single political party in India thought it fit to condemn it. They have suddenly become aware of the humanitarian plight of the Tamils a few weeks before the elections. If this is not hypocrisy and political opportunism, what then is it?

(b). The cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils, who have always been the objective allies of India. The Sri Lankan Tamil cause, which has the support of all Tamil parties in Sri Lanka, relates to a modification of the present unitary state of Sri Lanka in order to make it a genuine federal State in which the equal rights and dignity of the Tamils in the federal State are guaranteed. This cause had enjoyed the active support of Rajiv Gandhi when he was the Prime Minister. Many Tamils in Tamil Nadu, including this writer, had a legitimate grievance that as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh deviated from the traditional policy of Congress (I) and failed to articulate energetically the Government of India’s support for this. His silence and ambivalent comments----if at all when he made some rare comments on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue--- were interpreted by the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Sinhalese extremists in the Sri Lankan Armed Forces as indicating that the Government of India no longer supported the Tamil cause as strongly as it did under Rajiv Gandhi and that it could ride rough-shod over the rights of the Tamils without having to worry about any adverse reactions from New Delhi.

(C ). The cause of an independent Tamil Eelam. The LTTE is the only Tamil organization in Sri Lanka which supports it. Other Tamil parties don’t. Under Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister, the Congress (I) gave the impression of supporting it, but Rajiv Gandhi wisely removed this impression and came out against an independent Tamil Eelam and in favour of a federal Sri Lanka with the Tamils enjoying equal rights with the Sinhalese. After the expected death of the LTTE, this would have been a dead issue in Sri Lanka, but attempts are being made in Tamil Nadu to give a fresh lease of life to this issue purely out of electoral calculations and not out of any genuine interest in the future of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

8. Despite all that has happened till now, India still has many friends in Sri Lanka--- among the Sinhalese as well as the Tamils. There are many on both sides of the political spectrum in Sri Lanka who understand and do not misinterpret India’s interest in the future of the Tamils in view of the likely impact of the Sri Lankan Tamil problem on the Indian Tamils in Tamil Nadu. Based on this, the Manmohan Sigh Government could have worked out a comprehensive strategy for the future which would have convinced the Sri Lankan Tamils that India continued to care for them and would have, at the same time, reassured the Sinhalese that India did not wish ill of them and Sri Lanka.

9. The Manmohan Singh Government failed to work out such a strategy. Nobody knows what exactly is his strategy on Sri Lanka. ( 11-5-2009)

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




Mas Selamat Kastari, said to be a leader of the Singapore branch of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), who escaped from a high security detention centre of Singapore on February 27,2008, and had remained undetected since then, is reported to have been traced by the Malaysian police after he had remained in hiding for nearly 14 months and re-arrested. According to media reports quoting the authorities of Singapore and Malaysia, he was found and re-arrested on April 1,2009, in Johor Bahru in Malaysia.

2.In a statement issued on May 8,2009, Singapore's Home Affairs Ministry said: "Mas Selamat has been arrested by the Malaysian Special Branch (MSB) in a joint operation between the MSB and the Internal Security Department (ISD)." Wong Kan Seng, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister, who is also in charge of Home Affairs, told the media that the news of the arrest was not announced earlier in the interest of operational secrecy.

3. The Malaysian authorities apparently took the precaution of not announcing his re-arrest in order not to alert other members of the JI,who are still in hiding and for whom they are searching. Moreover, a premature announcement of the arrest might have enabled the JI to destroy evidence relating to the movements and activities of Mas Selamat Kastari since his escape from detention.

4. According to Wong as quoted in the local media, Mas Selamat had swam across the Straits of Johor using an improvised flotation device to escape from the north shore of Singapore after he escaped from the detention centre last year. According to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, information about the re-arrest of Mas Selamat on April 1 was first conveyed by the Malaysian authorities to Wong and then he himself was informed by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on April 11,2009, when the two met at Pattaya in Thailand prior to the abandoned ASEAN summit. The summit was abandoned due to disturbances caused by the supporters of former Thai Prime MinisterThaksin Shinawatra.Prime Minister Lee said that the Singapore authorities had honoured a Malaysian request to keep the information a secret, but the decision to announce it was made after the "Straits Times" had come to know of the re-arrest and started making enquiries about it on May 7.

5. The Malaysian authorities have not announced how and where they managed to trace him and the circumstances under which he was re-arrested. All that is certain till now is that he is still under the custody of the Malaysian Police who are still interrogating him. It is evident from the available details that his re-arrest was made possible by human intelligence derived from the interrogation of some other suspected JI members arrested recently and not from technical intelligence.He was apparently observing communications security.It is reasonable to presume that the Singapore authorities would also be involved in the interrogation. The involvement could be either by deputing a Singapore officer to personally participate in the interrogation or by sending a list of questions of interest to the Singapore authorities for being used by the Malaysian team interrogating him.

6. However close counter-terrorism co-operation between two countries may be, they do not immediately allow officers of another country to join in the interrogation. They prefer to get a questionnaire from the interested State and elicit answers to those questions. When the Americans arrested Hambali of the JI in Ayuthya in Thailand in August 2003, they did not allow the Indonesian police to join in the interrogation for a long time. Similarly, in the interrogation of arrested Al Qaeda suspects having knowledge of the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar in December,1999, the Americans avoided associating an Indian officer with the interrogation.

7. Such interrogation of a freshly-arrested or re-arrested terrorist suspect is generally done in three phases.The immediate first phase is devoted to finding out whether the arrested person had any knowledge of impending and imminent terrorist strikes and the identities of those involved in the planning for the strikes so that they could be arrested and the planned terrorist strike thwarted. The fact that there have been no subsequet arrests of a significant nature shows that Mas Selamat was apparently not aware of any impending and imminent strike.

8. The second phase will be devoted to re-tracing his movements and activities since the moment he escaped from the Singapore detention centre. This would help in establishing the identities of those who had helped him in escaping and crossing over and in protecting him after he crossed over. Terrorist organisations usually have two types of sleeper cells---- the operational cells which plan and carry out a terrorist strike and logistics cells which provide the back-up in the form of safe sanctuaries, collection of funds and materials required for the operation etc. The escape of Mas Selamat, his crossing over to Johore Baru and his remaining untraced for 14 months show clearly the presence of a trans-ASEAN network of JI logistics cells, which have not been unearthed by the local authorities so far. Was he remaining in Johore Baru all the time or was he travelling in the region? That should be a question of crucial interest.

9. The third phase will be devoted to establishing in detail how he escaped and remained undetected in order to identify security deficiencies in Singapore and Malaysia, which he exploited to escape and remain underground for 14 months. Two security deficiencies are obvious. The first deficiency arises from the fact that despite the security alert ordered by the Singapore Police he managed to swim across to Johore Baru. How did he get hold of his floatation device? Did he swim across immediately after his escape or did he remain in hiding with a sympathiser in Singapore for some days and cross over after the Police had reduced their alert? This is an important question. Answers to this would show whether there are still untraced logistics cells of the JI in Singapore.

10. The second deficiency arises from the fact that after crossing over he remained undetected by the Malaysian Police for 14 months.Malaysian media reports have alleged that he was arrested in a small Chinese majority town called Skudai in the Johore Baru area. How his arrival and presence there did not raise any suspicion for 14 months? In India, we have the system of village chowkidars (guards) started by the British Police before 1947. An important task of the chowkidar is to alert the police about the arrival of any suspicious person not belonging to the village. Does Malaysia have such a system since it was also under the British? If so, why this system failed?

11. The location and re-arrest of Mas Selamat speaks well of the efficiency and professionalism of the Internal Security Department of Singapore and of the Special Branch of the Malaysian Police. It also speaks disconcertingly of deficiencies in their security procedures of which the JI is aware and which Mas Selamat was able to exploit. (10-5-2009)

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



Mizoram in India's North-East is a peaceful and prosperous State. It has a total area of about 21087 sq.kms with 21 major hill ranges or peaks. A very difficult terrain for an army to carry out a successful counter-insurgency operation. Its population was estimated at 8,91,058 in 2001.

2.Mizoram was not a peaceful region before 1986. It was one of the most troubled regions of India. In February,1966, an ethnic separatist organisation called the Mizo National Front (MNF) overran the entire State in a series of simultaneous and surprise attacks and captured even Aizawl, its capital. The Indian Government and its security forces lost control of Mizoram almost as completely as the Pakistani security forces have now lost control of Swat, which has an area of only 1772 Sq.Kms with a population estimated at 1.5 million in 1998.

3. It took the Government of India and its security forces 20 years to reestablish the Government's writ over the State by making it clear to the MNF that violence would not pay and by reaching a political solution on the future of the Mizo people, which would enable them to remain a part of India with considerable political and economic rights.

4.The counter-insurgency operations carried out by the Indian security forces in Mizoram are considered a model for others to learn from and emulate. It has today India's leading counter-insurgency school and even the US sends its military officers to the school to learn from India's success in dealing with the insurgency.

5. The Swat District of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan came under the virtual total control of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in 2007. The hilly terrain in Swat is somewhat similar to that in Mizoram The area affected by the TNSM insurgency is much smaller than the affected area in Mizoram.

6. The MNF movement was an ethnic separatist movement. The TNSM movement is a religious fundamentalist movement. Apart from this, there was another major difference between Mizoram and Swat. The Mizos constituted a small number of people confined to Mizoram. They had to fight against the Indian security forces unaided by other non-Mizo tribal groups in the region. The tribals of Swat are part of the Pashtun tribe, which is spread over a vast area in the Pashtun belt across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. They are not fighting alone against the Pakistani security forces. They are supported by the Pashtuns in the surrounding areas.

7. It should not, therefore, be a matter of surprise that the Pakistani security forces have been facing considerable difficulties in countering their activities.The dimensions of the Mizo insurgency were much smaller as compared to the dimensions of the problem caused for the Pakistani security forces by the Pakistani Taliban called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), of which the TNSM is a part. Morewover, there was no sympathy for the Mizos in the Indian security forces fighting against them. There is considerable sympathy for the TNSM and the TTP among the Pakistani para-military forces.

8. Despite the much less serious dimensions of the Mizo insurgency, we took 20 years to prevail over it. It would be unreasonable to expect the Pakistani security forces to prevail over the TNSM and the TTP in a matter of months. The counter-insurgency operations---even if they are carried out sincerely by the Pakistani security forces--- are going to take a long time and there is no point for the international community in being impatient with Pakistan. The important point is the sincerity of the Pakistani security forces in wanting to defeat the Taliban and not the time taken by them for doing so. The international community is worried not by the time taken by the Pakistani security forces, but by the evidence of their insincerity. It finds it difficult to avoid the impression that the counter-insurgency operations against the the TNSM and the TTP are more shadow-boxing than real and that the heart of the Pakistani security forces is not in it.

9. At the time we carried out our counter-insurgency operations in Mizoram the international community was hardly interested in it. No nuclear factor was involved. There was no trans-national dimension of the problem except the Pakistani assistance to the MNF. There was no Al Qaeda waiting to exploit the situation to further its own agenda. We had a two-point strategy--- a campaign of attrition against the MNF and removing the MNF sanctuaries in the then East Pakistan by supporting the movement for an independent Bangladesh. The insurgency in Mizoram is a telling example of how an insurgent or terrorist movement withers away when it no longer has external sanctuaries and the covert support of intelligence organisations.

10. The circumstances in Pakistan today are totally different. The nuclear factor due to Pakistan having a nuclear capability of uncertain safety, the trans-national dimension of the Taliban phenomenon and its linkages with Al Qaeda have made the counter-insurgency operations against the TNSM and the TTP a matter of serious concern to the entire international community.

11. The perceived lack of seriousness and sincerity in the political and military leaderships of Pakistan in dealing with this problem have given rise to apocalyptic fears of what could happen in the coming months. These fears are natural, even if they ultimately turn out to be exaggerated as asserted by the Pakistani authorities.

12.It is important for the imternational community---particularly for the US which has a greater presence and influence in Pakistan than any other Western country--- to closely monitor the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist operations in Pakistan against the TTP, the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and other Punjabi terrorist organisations in order to ensure that Pakistan does what is expected of it by the international community.

13. How to monitor continuously without giving the impression that the US is interfering in Pakistan's internal security management and thereby adding to the anti-US anger in Pakistan? Spectacular shows, rich in photo opprtunities,such as the recent Zardari-Karzai-Obama summit are not the way. Such shows only add to the suspicions of Pakistanis and Afghans not well disposed to the US that the US is imposing on the Pakistani leadership counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategies designed to servre US and not Pakistani interests.

14. Officials of the Obama Administration have claimed that they have been able to convince the Pakistani leadership that it is the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which pose the threat to Pakistan and not India. They are hoping that as a result Pakistan will divert some of its forces from the Indian border to the Taliban-infected areas. This is good, if it turns out to be true, though I have my skepticism. Even if this comes about, that alone is not going to lead to more successful counter-insurgency operations.

15.Since the two countries became independent in 1947, the Indian Army has evolved into a multi-terrain, multi-target, multi-role army. The Pakistan Army has remained static in a single-terrain, single-target, single-role model. The Indian Army can fight against the Pakistan Army in the plains of Punjab and in the glaciers of Siachen, against the Chinese Army in the forbidding heights of the Himalayas and against insurgents and terrorists in the hills as well as the plains. The Pakistan Army feels comfortable only in the plains of Punjab. Outside the plains of Punjab, it feels like a fish out of water. It is unable to perceive the threats that could arise from insurgents, terrorists and other non-State actors with the same seriousness as India, the US and other countries do because the insurgents and terrorists have been its live-in companions.

16.To enable the Pakistani security forces acquire a multi-terrain, multi-target, multi-role capability is going to take years.There is going to be no quick end to the internal security problems faced by Pakistan.

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