Wednesday, June 22, 2011



Pakistan’s post-Abbottabad sulking and partly-real, partly-manufactured anti-US anger have had no impact on President Barack Obama’s counter-sanctuary emphasis in his counter-terrorism strategy.

2. It was this counter-sanctuary emphasis that enabled the successful extermination of Osama bin Laden on May 2,2011, by US naval commandos raiding his house clandestinely at Abbottabad and the successes scored by the Drone (pilotless planes of the CIA) strikes against other medium and high-value targets of Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan’s jihadi belt--- wherever that belt is located, in the tribal areas or outside.

3.The counter-sanctuary operations which were confined to the tribal belt till May 2, have been extended beyond unilaterally. A future repeat of this extension to areas outside the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) cannot be ruled out if necessary to wipe out the surviving remnants of the high-value leadership of Al Qaeda.

4. This message—loud and clear---had repeatedly come out of Washington DC since May 2 and it came out again in Mr.Obama’s address to the American people on June 23 outlining his plan for a de-surge in Afghanistan, which would involve the withdrawal --- in two instalments of 10,000 and 23,000 troops--- of the reinforcements that he had sent to Afghanistan in 2009. The de-surge would start next month and would be completed by election time next year.

5. The planned de-surge is based on a less pessimistic assessment of the counter-insurgency situation on the ground in Afghanistan. The peak in pessimism seen in 2009 has given way to the first signs of hope---though not optimism--- that the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda has started moving gradually in the direction desired by the US.

6. In Afghanistan, the Taliban has not yet been defeated, but has been contained. It has been made amenable to enter the process of negotiation. Al Qaeda, its ally, has suffered such serious attrition in Pakistan that its usefulness as an ally has diminished. Al Qaeda and its affiliates do not seem to be in a position to reverse the tide and recover their balance.

7.The threats from the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda & Co have been contained. From a phase of containment, the US policy has moved into a phase of elimination of the threat which does not require the engagement of the same level of forces as till now.

8. Mr.Obama’s less pessimistic assessment of the counter-insurgency ground situation in Afghanistan is accompanied by a realistic assessment of the counter-terrorism ground situation in the jihadi belt of Pakistan. The belt remains. The irrational jihadi ardour remains. The insincerity of the Pakistani political and military establishment in dealing with jihadi terrorism remains. The sanctuaries remain. The suspicions regarding Pakistani official complicity with the terrorist remnants remain.

9. How to deal with this complex ground situation in Pakistan’s jihadi belt? Victory is not yet in sight in the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, but there are hopes of victory. The scene on the ground is no longer one of unmitigated gloom as it was since the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland.

10. How to translate these seeming hopes into durable reality? Will they concretise into reality or turn out to be another chimera? The answer to this question has to come from the jihadi belt of Pakistan. It has to come from the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army. It has to come from the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It has to come from the confused political and military leadership of Pakistan, which continues to live in a make-believe world of its own imaginary creation thinking and hoping that the importance of Pakistan’s strategic location and value will once again prevail in the US geostrategic calculations and that it can reverse its tide of gloom.

11. Mr.Obama has taken care to discourage the illusions of the Pakistani leadership. He said in his address to his people: “ Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan. No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region. We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments. For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.”

12. It is a strong message that India has every reason to welcome. There is more stick than carrots in the message. There are more admonitions than lollipops in the message. India should keep discreetly nudging the US to keep translating the message into reality without relenting periodically as the US has been wont to do. That will be in the interest of both the US and India.

13. Can Pakistan change? Can Pakistan be made to change? The answers to those questions lie in New Delhi and Washington DC and nowhere else in the world. (23-6-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )


Question: What is a bug?

ANSWER:A bug is a device for the clandestine recording of a conversation or a discussion. It differs from telephone interception which is about overhearing and/or clandestinely recording a conversation over a telephone. Bugging of a personal face-to-face conversation can be done inside a room or a conference hall or in a means of transport. One would recall how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had bugged the car of Tahawur Hussain Rana of the Chicago Cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in order to clandestinely record his conversations with David Coleman Headley while they were travelling in the car together.

Q: How many kinds of bugging are there?

A: Two--- permanent and temporary or opportunistic. Permanent bugging is done all the 24 hours inside the offices of your adversary or competitor. Temporary or opportunistic bugging is done to clandestinely record a conversation or discussion or the proceedings of a meeting when one has advance information that such a discussion is going to take place.

Q. How are the bugging devices concealed?

A. Inside the walls of a building under construction, inside an ash tray, inside a cigarette lighter, in the false bottom of a flower vase or a table lamp or a tea or coffee pot, inside a landline telephone instrument, on the ceilings of a room etc. Bugging devices planted inside the false bottom of a tea or coffee pot could be used only for temporary or opportunistic purposes. Others can be used as permanent or opportunistic devices. Where a device is used for a temporary purpose, it has to be activated clandestinely before a conversation starts. A bugging device is a miniaturised transmitting device, which transmits the conversation to a control room outside where it is clandestinely recorded. Miniature cassette recorders are also used for temporary bugging. There, the question of transmission to an outside controller does not arise, but one has to change the cassette from time to time. That is why in the intelligence profession, one suspects that a person has a concealed recording device if he frequently goes to the wash room.

Q:How are the bugging devices fitted? What kind of adhesive is used in case of temporary devices?

A: Generally, a cello tape or a chewing gum depending on when or where it is used. Other adhesives can also be used. The most important requirement in choosing the adhesive is that it should be something normally used and hence will not create suspicion.

Q: How are bugs detected?

A: Manually through physical checking of walls and ceilings and other objects normally used for concealing a bug and through electronic sweeps. The electronic sweep is the most effective. A hand-held device is used to search the room. It gives a warning signal when there is a clandestine transmitting device anywhere in the room. Generally, offices and residences of all Ministers holding sensitive portfolios should be swept electronically at regular intervals. Whenever our PM travels abroad, an advance team from the intelligence agencies travels ahead of him, takes possession of his room, subjects it to electronic sweeping and then keeps the room under its control till the PM leaves.

Q: Who does the anti-bug sweeping?

A: The Intelligence Bureau (IB), which has trained anti-bug experts with modern equipment for sweeping.

Q: Do any of the financial intelligence agencies coming under the control of the Finance Ministry have an anti-bug sweeping capability?

A: They did not have at least till 2000.Whether they have acquired this capability subsequently, I would not know.

Q: Do the allegations regarding the bugging of the office and conference rooms of Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the Finance Minister, in the North Block sound credible?

A: Circumstantially yes if one takes into account the important position occupied by him in the Cabinet, his important role involving sensitive discussions in his office on many sensitive issues of a political nature and the suspicion that there are question marks over his head in the Congress (I) leadership. Technically, it would depend on where the adhesive material was found. If it was found at places easily visible to the naked eye, then the allegations may not be correct. If the adhesive was found at places not easily visible to the naked eye, the allegation will acquire some credibility.

Q: The media has reported that the sweeping was done by a team of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT). If true, what does this imply?

A:Normally, such sweepings are done by the IB. It is possible that one of the financial intelligence units under the control of the CBDT now has this capability and does routine sweeping as a precaution. If so, it is quite logical for the CBDT team to have done the sweeping on its own as part of its routine. No suspicion in such a case. It is also possible that the FM suspected bugging by the IB and hence asked the CBDT team to do the sweep. In which case, it is intriguing as to why his suspicion against the IB.

Q:Who would have had the motive to target him for bugging?

A: Suspicious elements in his party, suspicious elements in the Government, individual personalities under investigation for corruption, corporate houses under investigation, corporate houses and foreign Governments trying to collect financial intelligence.

Q.How they might have got the bugging done?

A: Suspicious elements in the party and the Government through the intelligence agencies (many agencies now have this capability).Others through private detective agencies.

Q: The IB is reported to have ruled out any bugging and claimed that the adhesive material found was only chewing gum, implying that someone interested in chewing gum might have pasted it against the wall after using it.

A: Normally, the IB is the final authority in such matters. Its findings are accepted by the Government. If the FM had suspected that the IB was bugging his office, the IB’s findings should not be the last word on the subject.

Q: Will the truth be ever known?

A: Unlikely. It is too late. Suspicions will linger in the minds of the FM as well as the public.

Q: What are the lessons for the future?

A: Entrust such enquiries to agencies not having any responsibility to prevent bugging. Have time-bound enquiries. Keep a tighter control over the access of private detective agencies to such sensitive offices. (22-6-11)

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