Wednesday, June 3, 2009



For the first time in April 2006, shortly after the visit of the then US President George Bush to India, Osama bin Laden projected the global jihad as being waged against a joint India-Israel-US plot against Islam. This theme was not repeated in his subsequent messages.

2. He has reverted to this theme in his latest audio message broadcast by Al Jazeera on June 3, 2009. The message focusses on the on-going operation of the Pakistan Army in the Swat Valley and the suffering caused by it to the people of the area, but it has been released by Al Qaeda to coincide with the arrival of President Barack Obama in Saudi Arabia from where he will be going to Egypt. Obama is expected to deliver a significant speech at the Cairo University , which is being billed in advance by US spokesmen as an important message of goodwill to the Islamic world.

3. Al Qaeda has released two messages coinciding with Obama's tour. The first by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's No.2, is totally focussed on Obama's visit. It is highly vituperative. Zawahiri, who is an Egyptian, denounces the leaders of Egypt as butchers and criminals. He uses language, which is virulently denunciatory.

4. The message of bin Laden is more balanced. He does not stoop to the level of his No.2. The main focus is not on Obama's tour, but on the on-going military operation in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province. He tries to project that Obama is no different from George Bush and that his policies towards the Muslims are full of hatred and are no different from those of Bush. He indirectly warns of the consequences of such policy. The warning is more general than specific. It cannot be interpreted as an indicator of a coming Al Qaeda strike against the US.

5. The message says: "U.S. policy in Pakistan has generated new seeds of hatred and revenge against America.Obama has ordered Zardari to prevent the people of Swat from implementing sharia law.....All this led to the displacement of about a million Muslim elders, women and children from their villages and homes. They became refugees in tents after they were honored in their own homes.This basically means that Obama and his administration put new seeds of hatred and revenge against America. The number of these seeds is the same as the number of those victims and refugees in Swat and the tribal area in northern and southern Waziristan.The American people need to prepare to only gain what those seeds bring up."

6. bin Laden has been very critical of President Asif Ali Zardari and Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). He accuses them of continuing to divert the army's main role from protecting the nation to fighting Islam and its followers and adds that the war is also hurting Pakistan's economy, endangering the country's religion and security and "fulfilling an American, Jewish and Indian plot."It further says: "Most of the Pakistani people reject this unjust war. Zardari did this in response to the ones paying him in the White House --not 10 per cent but multiple folds of that."

7.In this context, bin Laden says: "It is easy for India to subject the disassembled territories of Pakistan, one after another, for its own benefit, like the case of eastern Pakistan before, or even worse. This way, America eases its worry towards Pakistan's nuclear weapons."

8.Zawahiri's message accuses Obama of threatening to interfere in Pakistan to secure its nuclear weapons, "meaning he considers these weapons owned by America and under its control." What is sought to be conveyed to the Pakistani people by these two messages is that as a result of the co-operation of its rulers with the US, Pakistan stands in danger of losing its sovereignty not only over its territory, but also over its nuclear arsenal.

9. Why does bin Laden consider it necessary to place before the Pakistani people the spectre of an Indian role in the alleged US-Israeli conspiracy against Pakistan? He does not explain, but after carefully reading the message, one can see that he is hinting to the Pakistanis the danger of shifting Pakistani troops away from the Indian border, as suggested by the Obama Administration, in order to use them in the operations against the Pakistani Taliban.

10. Pro-Al Qaeda organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) are likely to interpret bin Laden's message as encouragement of another major terrorist strike in India, in the hope that the resulting fresh tension between India and Pakistan would make the Pakistan Army slow down its anti-Taliban operation.(4-6-09)

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


( Based on a talk delivered on March 28,2009, at a seminar at Guwahati organized by the Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies of Kolkata )


India faces three kinds of terrorism ---the indigenous by some sections of our own people, the foreign sponsored and the foreign-aided. The indigenous terrorism itself has different motives----political and religious as in the case of the terrorist groups in Jammu & Kashmir, purely religious as in the case of the jihadi terrorist groups operating outside J&K, ethnic as in the case of Assam and ideological and economic as in the case of the Maoist or Naxalite groups operating in the tribal belt of Central India.

2. Foreign-sponsored terrorism is mainly due to jihadi organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI ) and the Jaish-eMohammad (JEM) operating from Pakistani territory and the HUJI operating from Bangladesh. Their members are Pakistani or Bangladeshi nationals or other foreign Muslims and their activities in the Indian territory are sponsored by the intelligence agencies of these countries in order to serve their own purpose. The intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh have a common purpose of creating a polarization between the Muslim and Hindu communities in India. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has the additional purpose of forcing a change in the status quo in J&K through terrorism.

3. Foreign-aided terrorism refers to indigenous terrorist groups receiving assistance in the form of training, financial assistance and arms and ammunition from the terrorist organizations and the intelligence services of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Examples would be the Khalistani terrorists who used to be active in Punjab and Delhi till 1995, the Kashmiri terrorist groups, the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the so-called Indian Mujahideen (IM) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Assisting them helps the purpose of creating instability in India and keeping the Indian security forces preoccupied with internal security problems.

4. There are two approaches to dealing with terrorism---- the counter-terrorist and the counter-terrorism approaches. The counter-terrorist approach deals with terrorism as a threat to national security and seeks to put out of action the terrorists, their leaders and organizations through the use of the security forces. The counter-terrorism approach treats terrorism as a phenomenon with many aspects----political, economic, social, religious etc--- in addition to having a security dimension. The counter-terrorism approach underlines that counter-terrorist methods will not be sufficient to deal with the threat effectively. In addition, the political, economic, social and other aspects have to be addressed simultaneously by the political leadership.

5. There is only one way of dealing with foreign-sponsored terrorist groups---- through counter-terrorist methods. Foreign nationals indulging in acts of terrorism in our territory have to be neutralized by the security forces without any mercy. The use of such terrorists by Pakistan and Bangladesh amounts to indirect aggression in our territory. There are two methods of dealing with foreign-sponsored terrorists-----passive defence and active defence. Passive defence refers to strengthening internal security measures in our own territory in order to make it almost impossible for Pakistani and Bangladeshi terrorists to operate in our territory. Active defence refers to our right to take our counter-terrorism operations to the territories of Pakistan and Bangladesh in order to pre-empt their plans for a terrorist strike in our territory.

6. Countries facing the menace of foreign-sponsored terrorism adopt a mix of passive defence and active defence methods. India follows a policy of only passive defence. The Indian political leadership is not prepared to consider active defence. Passive defence requires effective preventive capability. Active defence requires an effective and deniable retaliatory capability. We have not built for ourselves such a retaliatory capability. After the Mumbai terrorist strike of November 26-29,2008, many foreign terrorism experts have assessed that India may continue to face such strikes because it does not have either an effective preventive or retaliatory capability. This assessment needs to be taken seriously by our political leadership and policy-makers and appropriate correctives in our strategy introduced.

7. In the case of purely indigenous terrorism, effective physical security alone will not produce enduring results unless accompanied by appropriate political action to address the anger and grievances of the community from which the terrorists have arisen. Unaddressed anger is a common root cause of all terrorism--- whether ethnic, separatist, religious, jihadi or ideological. Even in the case of the indigenous terrorists, those who take to terrorism have to face the consequences of their action. At the same time, it is important to prevent the flow of new recruits to the terrorist organizations. This can be done only by identifying the causes of anger in the community and addressing them.

8. For many years, there has been an endless debate in the community of security analysts about the linkage between security and development in any counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency strategy. Without effective security, there cannot be satisfactory development. Without satisfactory development, there cannot be effective security. Hardline security analysts----who believe in the security first approach--- even argue that if large funds are sanctioned for development in the terrorism or insurgency affected areas much of the money might leak into the coffers of the terrorists or insurgents.

9. This is an unwise approach, which would be counter-productive. Fortunately, our political leaders have rejected the arguments of such hardline security experts. They have been trying to give simultaneous attention to requirements of security and development even at the risk of some of the funds allotted for development leaking to the terrorists or insurgents.

10. At the same time, the priorities tend to be misplaced. For example, in the Naxalism affected areas we tend to focus more on development packages for the affected areas. It is important to pay equal, if not more, attention to the development of the tribal areas not affected by Naxalism in order to demonstrate to people the dividends of observing law and order and keeping away from terrorists and insurgents.

11.In the North-East, there has been peace in Nagaland and Mizoram. Arunachal Pradesh has remained unaffected by insurgency. In Tripura, there has been a decrease in insurgency. We should have undertaken a crash programme for the economic development of these areas to provide a demonstration of a peace dividend for areas which have given up insurgency or for areas, which have remained away from insurgency. But the importance of this has not been realised by our policy-makers.

12. The third type of terrorism in which Pakistani and Bangladeshi terrorist organizations and intelligence services use our nationals for acts of terrorism calls for a nuanced approach. Just because some of our nationals are acting at the behest of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, we should not look upon the entire community with suspicion. Our aim should be to identify grievances---legitimate or otherwise---- in the community which are exploited by the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and try to address them.

13.There is no copybook on counter-terrorism, which can apply to all situations and to all kinds of terrorism. Our strategies should be tailor-made to suit different situations and to deal with different kinds of terrorism. There should be a fair balance between the requirements of security and development in strategies dealing with indigenous terrorism.

(The author 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: )