Saturday, June 30, 2012




One should avoid over-playing  the so-called geo-strategic significance of Saudi counter-terrorism co-operation with India in the wake of the arrest of Zabiuddin Ansari aka Abu Jundal aka Abu Jindal aka Abu Hamza by the Saudi authorities and his transfer to Indian custody to face interrogation and prosecution in connection with his suspected role as one of the main co-conspirators of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai by the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET).

2. The transfer of Ansari by the Saudi authorities to Indian custody despite his posing as a Pakistani national and despite reported objection from the Pakistani authorities is a significant turning point in Saudi counter-terrorism co-operation with India despite risks of its impact on its relations with Pakistan and unhappiness in the Indian Muslim community.

3. It would be wishful-thinking to attribute this to the self-assumed increasing geo-strategic importance of India and the role that India could play vis-à-vis Iran.

4. Despite the Saudi authorities taking a step that could displease Pakistan, the arrest and transfer to India of Ansari do not mean a dilution of Pakistan’s geo-strategic importance for Saudi Arabia. Pakistan continues to be as important to Saudi Arabia as before.

5. Pakistan holds the Sunni A-bomb which Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Sunni world might need if Iran acquires a Shia bomb. In times of trouble, the Saudi royal family has depended  on the Pakistan Army for its protection. What Pakistan can do to protect Saudi nationals and interests, either against Iran or against terrorism, India can never do. To nurse illusions of a geo-strategic estrangement between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would be unwise.

6.What the arrest and transfer of Ansari indicates is a change in the Saudi attitude to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and not to Pakistan as a State. Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, the Amir of the LET, has  maintained good relations with the Saudi royal family. He used to describe Saudi Arabia as the best Islamic State though not an ideal Islamic State. While supporting the activities of Al Qaeda in the Af-Pak region, he had refrained from supporting its activities in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

7. In return for this, Saudi Arabia had allowed the LET to maintain an office in Saudi territory since the early 1990s. This office used to recruit Indian Muslims  from among the pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia. The members of the Muslim Defence Force of Tamil Nadu unearthed by the Tamil Nadu Police in 2002 had been won over and motivated by a representative of the LET based in Saudi Arabia. The LET had also played an active role in helping the Saudi intelligence in recruiting, training  and sending jihadi volunteers to  Bosnia to fight against the Serb security forces.

8.Till the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, the Saudi attitude to the LET was relaxed and co-operative somewhat to the detriment of India. The capability for spectacular acts of mass casualty terrorism demonstrated by the LET in Mumbai and subsequent reports in the US of the LET emerging as a collaborator and clone of Al Qaeda have caused concerns in Saudi Arabia over the dangers of the LET acting as the Trojan Horse of Al Qaeda at a time when the Saudi authorities have succeeded in crushing Al Qaeda in their territory.

9. The welcome Saudi co-operation with India also reflects their concerns over the radicalisation of the Indian and Pakistani communities  working and living in  Saudi Arabia by the LET. The Saudi counter-terrorism co-operation with India indicates their concern over the LET presence in their territory, but this would not have any significant impact on their State-to-State relations with Pakistan, which is the third largest Sunni country of the world.

10. Unless Saudi Arabia develops its own independent nuclear capability, Pakistan’s Sunni bomb would be indispensable for it to deter Iran’s Shia nuclear adventurism. Let there be no wishful-thinking about it in Indian policy-making circles and public opinion.

11. While Saudi Arabia has evidently started marking its distance from the LET, it has not shown any signs of marking its distance from the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which has an independent presence in Saudi territory, reportedly motivated by C.A.M.Basheer, the Muslim from Kerala who was the founding-president of the SIMI. While action against Pakistan-motivated LET cadres might not  cause much unhappiness in the Indian Muslim community, action against SIMI activists with no evidence of links with Pakistan might. This should explain the seeming Saudi ambivalence towards the SIMI.

12. In the Ansari case, one sees the beginning of a convergence of counter-terrorism concerns between the intelligence and security agencies of India and Saudi Arabia with possible US blessing because of the US interest in acting against the LET terrorists who killed six US nationals in Mumbai. New Delhi should welcome and hail this without embarrassing the Saudi authorities and causing them discomfiture in the eyes of the Muslim world and the Indian Muslims.

13. We must understand the Saudi ambivalence towards the SIMI and avoid irritating them on this issue. Let the co-operation develop at the present pace, at a pace that is comfortable to the Saudi authorities. ( 1-7-12)

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

Friday, June 29, 2012



The investigation into the Malegaon blast of 2008 is getting murkier and murkier.

2. From the available reports of the investigation made so far, two things are clear. Firstly, the blast was not carried out by any jihadi organisation. It was carried out by some Hindus who wanted to teach a lesson to the Muslim community for the involvement of some Muslims in acts of terrorism in different parts of India. Secondly, the suspected Hindus belonged to a Hindu organisation called Abhinav Bharat.

3.One aspect that  has remained unclear and is becoming murkier and murkier is the role of Lt.Col.Prasad Purohit, described in sections of the media as a serving officer of the Military Intelligence. It is not clear whether he  was serving at the time of his arrest in the Directorate-General of Military Intelligence (DGMI), which comes under the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) or in the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which comes under the chief of the Integrated Defence Staff.

4.Lt.Col.Purohit was arrested  by the anti-Terrorism Squad of the Mumbai Police as a fellow-conspirator and accomplice of the arrested Hindus of the Abhinav Bharat. One was under the impression that the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has reportedly taken over the investigation on the orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India, has been enquiring into the suspected role of Lt.Col.Purohit as a fellow-conspirator and accomplice of the suspects from the Abhinav Bharat. There has reportedly  been a separate in-house enquiry by the Army not into the facts of the blast, but into the facts of the role of Purohit in the blast.

5. According to a report disseminated by the NDTV on June 29,2012, Purohit has denied before the in-house enquiry that he was a fellow-conspirator or accomplice. He has reportedly claimed that, in his capacity as a military intelligence officer, he was trying to penetrate the Abhinav Bharat to collect intelligence about its activities with the knowledge of his bosses in the military intelligence whom he had kept informed.

6. The NDTV has also carried on its web site a detailed report on this subject written by its correspondent Shri Nitin Gokhale.A copy of his report as carried by the NDTV web site is annexed.

7. Shri Gokhale has stated as follows in his report:

“Many (during the in-house probe) said that he (Purohit) was actually an infiltrator and not a conspirator, who had been assigned to collect evidence and details of right-wing terror groups.

“From the very beginning, Lt Col Purohit has claimed that he had kept his bosses informed of his activities which included attending meetings of the Abhinav Bharat.

“But if the officer was operating on behalf of the military, the Army has to figure out why his tip-offs on rising right-wing extremism in areas like Nashik, Malegaon were not shared with other agencies.”

8. If what Shri Gokhale has reported is correct, it becomes evident that the military intelligence ---whether it is the DGMI or the DIA--- has been collecting intelligence about the activities of Indian citizens belonging to certain organisations in Indian territory not affected by insurgency of any kind by penetrating their organisations.

9. The military intelligence is authorised to collect tactical intelligence through human and technical means in areas where the Army has a counter-insurgency role as in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East. In areas where it has no counter-insurgency role, it is not permissible for the military intelligence to collect intelligence through any means---particularly through the penetration of Indian organisations run by Indian citizens.

10. Only the Intelligence Bureau of the Government of India and the intelligence wings of the State Police are authorised to run such operations . Even the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) is not empowered to do so. I do not know whether such powers have been given to the NIA under its charter.

11. It appears to me that the military intelligence has so far avoided coming to the defence of Purohit in the case under investigation previously by the Mumbai Police and now by the NIA due to worries that if it did so, it could amount to its admitting its illegal actions in mounting intelligence operations against Indian citizens by penetrating Indian organisations.

12. We face very serious internal security threats due to insurgency and terrorism and Pakistan’s role in them. One of the reasons for our not being able to deal with them effectively is inadequate intelligence. There is a need for strengthening  our intelligence capabilities.

13. At the same time, certain legal limits to intelligence collection have to be laid down. If everybody starts collecting intelligence inside the country we will become no different from authoritarian countries.

14.If what Purohit claims is correct, it is evident that the military intelligence has been unauthorisedly running clandestine penetration operations against Indian citizens in Indian territory. This matter needs to be enquired into in detail and such rogue operations, if proved to be correct, need to be stopped. The Government should clearly reiterate the charters of different intelligence agencies and make it clear that strong action would be taken against agencies that undertake unauthorised operations against Indian citizens. ( 30-6-12)

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


New Delhi: The Indian Army appears to be caught in the cross-hairs of a big new controversy - in 2008, it may have acted too quickly in accepting that a serving military intelligence officer, Lt Col Prasad Purohit, was linked to a right-wing terror group.

In 2008, a bomb exploded on a Friday evening near a mosque in the town of Malegaon, killing six people. One month later, the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) in Maharashtra said a group of Hindu right-wing radicals was to blame. Lt Col Purohit, who was posted in Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh, and was undergoing an Arabic Language course, was accused and arrested. 

The Army, without conducting an immediate court of inquiry, handed him over to the ATS. Later, it did order a court of inquiry but did not allow Lt Col Purohit to cross-examine witnesses.

Two years later, under orders from the Armed Forces Tribunal, the Army restarted the court of Inquiry.

Now, more than 50 army personnel have testified that the Army may have wrongly handed over Lt Col Purohit to the Anti-Terror Squad without conducting its own investigation. Lt Col Purohit, who has been in a jail in Taloja in Mumbai, was allowed to cross-examine witnesses in Mumbai.

Many said that he was actually an infiltrator and not a conspirator, who had been assigned to collect evidence and details of right-wing terror groups.

From the very beginning, Lt Col Purohit has claimed that he had kept his bosses informed of his activities which included attending meetings of the Abhinav Bharat.

But if the officer was operating on behalf of the military, the Army has to figure out why his tip-offs on rising right-wing extremism in areas like Nashik, Malegaon were not shared with other agencies.

There's also the issue of why the Army or civil agencies like the ATS did not hold its own investigation.

Lt Col Purohit has also accused a colonel in Military Intelligence of colluding with civilian intelligence agencies to detain him without any arrest warrant and torture him. The Colonel, Purohit says, wanted to score brownie points and earn award etc.
The Army, however, says the Colonel in question was officially deputed to liaise with civil agencies.



The State-controlled Xinhua news agency of China has disseminated the following report at 2-30 PM Indian Standard Time on June 29,2012:

“Flight GS7554, which took off at 1225 from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region's Hotan Airport to Urumqi, was hijacked ten minutes after its departure, according to news from the public security department of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Six scoundrels were controlled by flight crew and passengers. During the fight with scoundrels, some passengers and flight crew received minor injuries. The plane returned to Hotan Airport immediately after the hijack. The case is under investigation.”

2.The Agence France Presse (AFP) has quoted a spokesperson of the Xinjiang Government as alleging that the six persons who made the unsuccessful hijack attempt were Uighurs. She added: "For the moment, we don't know the purpose of the hijack. It's still under investigation. At least seven crew members and passengers were injured in the incident.”

3. The hijack attempt seems to have been made despite tightened security alerts in the Xinjiang province and particularly in the Capital Urumqi and in Hotan as a precaution against possible incidents on the occasion of the third anniversary of the July 5,2009, violent riots between Han Chinese and Uighurs that led to the death of an estimated 200 persons belonging to both the communities.

4. As part of the security alert, the authorities of the Public Security Bureau have been undertaking searches of houses of Uighurs for hidden anti-Government leaflets and weapons. They have also set up road barricades to search motor vehicles and to make identity checks. Despite this, the six Uighurs appear to have made their way to the airport and got into the aircraft.

5. It is not clear whether they carried any weapons or tried to overcome the crew physically without any weapons

6. There have recently reports of fresh anger in Xinjiang following action taken by the authorities to stop what the authorities describe as illegal Koran classes without the prior permission of the authorities. Twelve Muslim children were injured in Hotan when the police raided a premises where illegal Koran classes were allegedly being held.

7. While the Uighurs have been reduced to a minority by Han colonisation in the capital city of Urumqi, in the smaller towns the Uighurs are still in a majority. In Hotan, they  constitute about 97 per cent of the population.  (29-6-12)

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012




The Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), which had refrained from any major terrorist attack in India , including Jammu & Kashmir, after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, has been let loose again by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the post-26/11 curbs on its ground operations have been removed.

2. These curbs were imposed under international pressure after a number of foreign nationals, including US and Israeli citizens, were killed by it during its strikes in Mumbai. Following their deaths, the relatives of the Americans and Israelis killed had initiated legal action against the ISI and the LET in US courts for their role in the murder of their relatives. It is this legal action that led to the US announcement of a huge reward for evidence that could lead to the arrest and prosecution of Hazfiz Mohammad Sayeed, the Amir of the LET.

3. These curbs and the legal action initiated in US courts had led  to the LET suspending its operations outside the Pakistani territory. India and the other countries, except Afghanistan, were free of any major activity of the LET since 26/11.There was no evidence to indicate any direct involvement of the ISI and the LET in the terrorist strikes that had taken place in the Indian territory outside J&K since 26/11.

4. While refraining from any ground actions outside Pakistan, the LET appears to have resumed its recruitment, fund collection and motivational activities for nearly a year. This has become evident from reports regarding the activities of Zabiuddin Ansari aka Abu Jundal aka Abu  Jindal akla Abu Hamza, a Muslim of Indian origin from Maharashtra, in Saudi Arabia.

5. He was one of the six co-conspirators of the LET and had helped the LET leadership in organising and executing the 26/11 strikes. He was supposed to have been in jail in Pakistan since February 2009 facing prosecution before an Anti-Terrorism court for his involvement in the 26/11 strikes.His arrest in Saudi Arabia and transfer to India last week by the Saudi authorities indicate that he had managed to go to Saudi Arabia a year ago and had resumed his activities there as the LET representative in Saudi Arabia for making recruitment from amongst Pakistanis and Indian Muslims living there. He used to do this job even before 26/11 and had resumed it last year after coming out of Pakistan.

6. The resumption of his activities from Saudi territory speak of the likelihood of plans for a fresh terrorist strike by the LET. In view of the steep deterioration in Pakistan’s relations with the US, pressures from Washington DC no longer have the desired effect on the ISI, which continues to help the LET as well as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network despite repeated US admonitions to curb their activities.

7. The undoubted dilution of the US influence over the ISI and the relaxation of the curbs imposed by the ISI on the anti-India activities of the LET, as evidenced from the resumption of the activities of Ansari in Saudi Arabia, indicate fresh dangers of the possibility of a major terrorist strike by the LET against India with the blessings of the ISI.

8. The confusing reports from Islamabad regarding the snafu over a pardon reportedly issued by President Asif Ali Zardari to Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national awaiting the execution of a death sentence for 20 years, also indicate the kind of pressure which the LET is able to exercise on the civilian leadership. Sarabjit Singh  had been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court on a charge of being an R&AW agent, but he had been repeatedly appealing against the sentence.

9.On June 26,2012, spokesmen of the President’s office had indicated that the President had decided to commute his death sentence to one of life imprisonment which could pave the way for his pardon and return to his family in India. His reported decision was widely welcomed as a humanitarian gesture in India and was hailed during prime-time TV debates.

10. It has been reported by “the Hindu” correspondent in Islamabad that the reported  decision of Zardari to pardon Sarabjit Singh was  strongly criticised by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), the political wing of the LET, as a shameful act at a time when Ajmal Kasab, the lone LET survivor of the 26/11 strikes, was under a death sentence in Mumbai.

11. Zardari seems to have blinked under the criticism of these organisations and possibly also from the Army and the ISI. His spokesmen have sought to give the impression that no pardon had been issued by Zardari to Sarabjit and that the media had confused a release order issued by the Govt in respect of Surjit Singh, another Indian languishing in Pakistani jail, as indicating an impending release of Sarabjit Singh.

12. The contention of the Presidential spokesman that the  confusion was created by the media in India and Pakistan has not carried conviction with many analysts in both the countries. The snafu indicates  a possible  weakening of the position of Zardari and his decreasing ability to withstand pressure from the Army, the ISI and the LET in matters relating to India.

13. The LET’s ability to dictate terms to the Government has been demonstrated once again. Encouraged by its re-enhanced influence  and the backing of the Army and the ISI, it is to be expected that the LET will redouble its efforts for another terrorist strike in India.

14.The decision of the Saudi authorities to transfer Ansari to Indian custody unmindful of the unhappiness of Pakistan will be seen in Pakistan as a blow to its much-flaunted relationship with Saudi Arabia. Zardari is likely to be blamed by the Army and the LET for the failure to dissuade Saudi Arabia from transferring Ansari to Indian custody. It will come as a surprise and shock to  the fundamentalist organisations in Pakistan and Indian Muslim organisations such as the Students Islamic Movement of India and the Indian Mujahideen which had in the past maintained close interactions with sympathetic elements in Saudi Arabia.

15. The ISI and the LET will be determined to demonstrate that the action of Saudi Arabia will not weaken their anti-India motivation by orchestrating a fresh terrorist strike against India.

16.The interrogation of Ansari by the Indian authorities should focus on ascertaining the present thinking and the future plans of the ISI and the LET. The other members of the Indian Muslim community, who were in contact with the LET, the ISI and David Headley, of the Chicago cell of the LET, should be quickly identified with Ansari’s help and arrested. Questioning him regarding what role he played  in connection with the 26/11 strikes can be taken up later on.

17. Our counter-terrorism mindset continues to be influenced by the “Fix ISI” reflex. It should instead be influenced by the “Counter And Neutralise ISI” mindset. ( 27-6-12)

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