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We are in this alone

Two years after 26/11, India is still dependent on the US to make Pakistan act against terror groups. It's time we evolved measures to protect ourselves, writes B Raman.

india Updated: Nov 26, 2010 12:00 IST

Since the 26/11 sea-borne terrorist strikes in Mumbai by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), we have had three acts of suspected jihadi terrorism on the Indian territory outside Jammu and Kashmir. Indians were also among the victims of a terrorist attack in Kabul.

The three attacks, all in 2010, took place in Pune (about 10 fatalities) on February 13, in Bangalore outside a cricket stadium on April 17 (17 injured) and in Delhi on September 19 (two Taiwanese tourists injured). According to the Mumbai’s Anti-Terrorism Squad, the Indian Mujahideen (IM), which has links to the LeT, was responsible for the Pune attack. The IM was suspected in the Bangalore incident. It had also claimed responsibility for the Delhi attack. The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack on February 26, which killed six Indians.

All of these were conventional acts of terrorism with improvised explosive devices or hand-held weapons, which would not have required specialised training. There has been no commando-style complex attack like the one on 26/11, which required specialised training. These attacks show that the LeT, controlled by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and its affiliates in India such as the IM and the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) continue to plan terrorist strikes against Indian targets despite the international surveillance of the LeT post-26/11, when the West realised that the group is as dangerous as al-Qaeda.

A new source of threat to Indian targets has been the so-called 313 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri, allegedly a former commando of the US-trained Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army, who now works closely with the LeT, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) and al-Qaeda. Some reports, not yet confirmed, even describe him as a member of the shura (advisory council) of al-Qaeda. He is reportedly based in North Waziristan in Pakistan.

India continues to be vulnerable to possible terrorist strikes by these organisations and their affiliates. Among their other affiliates are the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and the Pakistani Taliban called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Al-Qaeda now has two major allies — the Pashtun Taliban, which attacks Western targets and the Punjabi Taliban, which focuses on Indian targets. The LeT is in the forefront of the Punjabi Taliban. While India’s vulnerability is as serious as before, there has been no act of mass casualty terrorism after 26/11. However, it will be inadvisable to draw the conclusion that as a result of the revamping of the security apparatus by home minister P Chidambaram, our agencies now have the upper hand over the terrorists.

The LeT and other organisations have not been weakened. Their anti-India motivation remains strong. There has been no dilution in the ISI’s support for them. Their training infrastructure in Pakistani territory is intact. Their propaganda against India continues to be virulent. They are looking for opportunities to plan and carry out more acts of mass casualty terrorism.

The failure of the US to pressure Pakistan to arrest and prosecute the ISI officers named by David Coleman Headley has strengthened the ISI’s belief that as long as it co-operates with the US, the latter will continue to turn a blind eye to its use of the LeT terrorists against India.

The lack of vigorous action by the US against Pakistan for its involvement in the 26/11 strikes and its disappointing cooperation with India in the Headley case have shown that any high expectations of US cooperation with India against terrorism of Pakistani origin would be an illusion.

We have to depend on our own intelligence and security capabilities in this battle. The revamping of the security apparatus can be described as successful only if there is an increase in the flow of preventive intelligence, better co-ordination among the various agencies and effective follow-up action on the intelligence collected.

There has been an improvement in physical security and inter-agency coordination as seen during the Commonwealth Games and US President Barack Obama's visit, but there have been very few instances of detection and neutralisation of sleeper cells of the LeT and its associates. This shows that the flow of intelligence is still inadequate.

The follow-up action on many new ideas floated by Chidambaram has been slow, including the need for a separate ministry dealing with internal security, bringing under his control all intelligence-collection and follow-up action capabilities having a bearing on counter-terrorism — whether in the Intelligence Bureau, the Research & Analysis Wing, the Aviation Research Centre or elsewhere. He had also spoken of his plans to set up a National Counter-Terrorism Centre under his supervision, similar to what the US had set up after 9/11. One does not know what is the present stage of implementation of these ideas.

The prosecution of the Lashkar conspirators by the Pakistani authorities has become a sham. We have been reduced to a state where we are pathetically dependent on the US to make Pakistan act. The US is disinclined to apply that kind of pressure.

We are faced with diminishing options against Pakistan. How to reverse this situation is a question that should seriously engage the attention of our policy-makers. We have to work out a policy of incentives and disincentives to make Pakistan act. Merely by repeating that we will not talk to Pakistan unless it winds up its terror machine is not leading us anywhere.

B Raman is former additional secretary, cabinet secretariat, Government of India. The views expressed by the author are personal.