Sunday, November 16, 2008



(This article incorporates my extempore remarks and subsequent interventions during a four-day conference on terrorism held at Tokyo from November 11 to 14,2008, under the joint auspices of the Institute of Defence Analyses (IDA) of Washington DC and the Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society (RISTEX) of the Japan Science and Technology Agency)

Insurgents seek territorial control and try to establish the paraphernalia of a State such as an Army with professional ranks, an administrative set-up in the territory controlled by them etc. They fight like a conventional army in classical set-piece formations as well as like a guerilla army.This requires a large cadre strength.

2. Terrorists, on the other hand, avoid territorial control and the paraphernalia of a State. They use unconventional methods of struggle. The avoidance of territorial control and State paraphernalia enables them to spread death and destruction with a small cadre strength organised into penetration-proof cells. The smaller the strength of a terrorist organisation, the more difficult for the intelligence agencies to penetrate it.

3. Insurgent organisations prefer a hierarchial structure with a pyramid similar to that of the State.Terrorists prefer a cellular structure with no pyramid like organisation.

4. In the past, the world saw organisations, which either operated as insurgents or as terrorists. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka, which came into existence in the early 1980s, was one of the earliest instances of an organisation combining in itself the insurgent and terrorist capabilities and structures. Other subsequent examples are the Talibans of Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Maoists of India and Nepal.

5.Dealing with such organisations with dual structures and capabilities requires a two-in-one strategy on the part of the State actor--- a counter-insurgency strategy to meet the conventional capability of the non-State actor and a counter-terrorism strategy to meet the unconventional threat posed by them----with both the strategies enmeshed appropriately.It is the failure of the US to devise such a two-in-one strategy, which should explain the difficulties faced by it in countering the Taliban and Al Qaeda. So too in the case of the Pakistan Armed Forces.So too in the case of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in countering the LTTE and of the Indian security forces in countering the Maoists in Central India.

6. Jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory outside Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) is essentially an urban phenomenon.The terrrorists in J&K and the Maoists continue to use a mix of hand-held weapons and explosives---- hand-held weapons for their conventional strikes and explosives for their unconventional strikes. The jihadi terrorists operating in other parts of India have largely shifted from the conventional hand-held weapons to the unconventional improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In recent years, about 90 per cent of jihadi terrorist strikes in the Indian territory outside J&K were carried out with IEDs and in only 10 per cent of the cases were hand-held weapons used.

7. Dealing with terrorists using IEDs requires a different kind of technique than with terrorists using hand-held weapons.Unfortunately, in India, adequate attention has not been paid to acquiring a knowledge of explosives, creating an awareness of them in the general public so that it remains on guard against them in public places and evolving appropriate physical security and protection techniques. There is still an excessive preoccupation with small arms and ammunition and inadequate attention to explosives. Since 9/11, dozens of seminars have been held and much money spent for studying and discussions on how to deal with the proliferation of small arms and ammunition. Very little has been done for similar studies and discussions on the proliferation of explosives and day-to-day material, which could be easily converted into explosives.

8. Improving one's capability to deal with IEDs requires a close interaction between the world of counter-terrorism and the world of science and technology. It requires considerable investment in research related to improving one's capability to deal with IEDs. Interest in this subject is lacking in the Indian State---- in the counter-terrorism community as well as in the scientific community. No sustained effort has been made to promote research to find out whether it would be possible to devise a way of remotely de-activating an IED carried by a suicide bomber on his person or in a vehicle.

9.A study of the large number of instances of suicide terrorism in Pakistan since July,2007, would show that in many cases the Pakistani Police correctly suspected the terrorists of carrying IEDs on their person.When they stopped the suspect to question or search him, he blew himself up causing a large number of casualties. The availability of an appropriate technology for remote de-activation might have prevented this. India is not yet facing suicide or suicidal terrorism outside J&K, but it should be prepared to deal with them effectively if they make their appearance.

10. Whenever I pose this question of the possible development of a technology for remote de-activation, I get a reply from Indian as well as American scientists that this won't be possible.We should not take no for an answer from a skeptic scientific community. If a man can visit the moon and send probes to Mars, I find it difficult to accept that we cannot devise a technology for the remote de-activation of an IED carried by a suicide bomber.

11.The wave of serial blasts carried out by some jihadi terrorists identified as the Indian Mujahideen (IM) since November,2007, has received considerable attention from counter-terrorism communities all over the world. I am not yet convinced that there is a single organisation calling itself the IM operating under a common command and control.The Indian Police in the States, which had witnessed the serial blasts, have successfully identified many of the individual perpetrators and arrested them, but they still do not have an idea of the contours of the IM. Is it a single organisation or a united front of many autonomous groups motivated by local anger in different areas identifying themselves as the Indian Mujahideen just as in the 1980s different Afghan groups headed by Gulbuddin Heckmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Ahmed Shah Masood and others identified themselves collectively as the Afghan Mujajhideen?I am inclined to feel for the present that the new crop of home-grawn jihadis from the Indian Muslim community has been following the Afghan pattern of different groups projecting a common identity.

12.India has not been a stranger to the phenomenon of home-grown jihadis. Al Ummah, which was active in Tamil Nadu in the 1990s, was nothing but a 100 per cent home-grown jihadi organisation.But Al Ummah and other home-grown jihadis of the past had no strategic thinking. They were essentially tactical, retaliatory groups, which indulged in reprisal terrorism due to the anger of the moment.But the new crop of home-grown jihadis from the Indian Muslim community active since 2006 is not just a reprisal group. It has a strategic thinking and is inspired not only by local grievances, but also by external, pan-Islamic factors.It talks of a clash of civilisations between the Muslims and the so-called infidels in the Indian territory.

13.It is going to take time for the Indian Police and other counter-terrorism forces to understand the full ramifications of this phenomenon and come to grips with it . I am confident they will. Counter-terrorism requires enormous patience and painstaking work. There is no MacCounter-terrorism.

14.Co-operation between India and the US in counter-terrorism has improved since 9/11. There have been interactions at various levels on areas of concern---- maritime terrorism, cyber terrorism, terrorism involving possible use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) material etc, but the co-operation tends to be more tactical than strategic. Tactical counter-terrorism co-operation is important to deal with day-to-day threats, but a strategic dialogue is important to visualise medium and long-term threats and to prepare oneself to meet them.When terrorist organisations are thinking more and more strategically, we continue to be preoccupied with today with little thought to tomorrow and the day after.

15.The most visible improvement in Indo-US co-operation is with reference to maritime counter-terrorism in South-East Asia. India's positive response to a US request in 2003 to escort US naval ships transiting the Malacca Strait on their way to the Arabian Sea and its participation in regular exercises with the US Navy---bilaterally as well as multilaterally in association with the Navies of Singapore, Japan and Australia are examples worth mentioning.The US wants India to play an active anti-piracy role in the Malacca Strait and in the seas to the East of India.

16. Japan too---- at its own initiative as well as at the encouragement of the US--- has been welcoming Indian cooperation in maritime counter-terrorism. This was highlighted by the agreement on Indo-Japanese security co-operation signed during the recent visit of our Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh to Tokyo.

17.The co-operation between India and the US in enforcing the provisions of the Container Security Initiative (CSI) has been highly satisfactory. There seems to be some disappointment in the US over the Indian reservations about the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). India has never hesitated to search ships touching its ports if they are suspected of indulging in WMD proliferation. The reported search of a North Korean ship in a port on India's West Coast some years ago and the seizure of some of its suspicious contents is an example of the Indian determination not to allow foreign ships indulging in proliferation to touch Indian ports.Another good example is the instance reported in the US media recently about India, at the US request, not allowing a North Korean aircraft flying to Iran or Syia to overfly Indian territory after touching down at Rangoon.

18.There are misgivings in India over the wisdom of boarding commercial ships in the high seas and searching them or forcing commercial ships into ports for a similar search on the basis of information collected by the US intelligence.Human intelligence collected by the US agencies are of low accuracy. This has been seen in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. According to a recent compilation of Pakistan's Ministry of the Interior, only one-fourth of the US intelligence reports prove to be correct. Three-fourths prove to be incorrect. When actions such as Predator strikes are launched on the basis of inaccurate reports, they worsen the ground situation. If actions such as searching ships on the high seas or forcing them to an Indian port are undertaken on the basis of incorrect US intelligence reports, the consequences could be negative for India's relations with other States. India's reservations over the PSI are, therefore, well-founded and should be understood by the US.

19. After the Al Qaeda strikes in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in August,1998, the US Congress had appointed a committee headed by Paul Bremer to report, inter alia, on how to improve the capability of the US intelligence to collect intelligence about the attempts of terrorist organisations to acquire a WMD capability for possible use. The committee had identified only Al Qaeda as an organisation advocating the use of WMD material and trying to acquire a capability for it. In addition, it had drawn attention to the LTTE having in its possession an unknown quantity of pottasium cyanide for issue to its cadres and pointed out that if this cyanide could be mixed with a strong acid, the resulting cyanide gas could kill a large number of people. It categorised the LTTE as an organisation having a limited chemical warfare capability, but not advocating its use. This position remains unaltered.

20. The possibility of jihadi terrorists acquiring a dirty bomb capability from Pakistan remains worrisome.While the US seems to be satisfied with the security of Pakistan's nuclear establishments, there are question marks over the security of the transport of nuclear material frpom one establishment to another inside Pakistan. There ought to be similar concerns over the security of the nuclear waste stored in the North-West Frontier Province, where the activities of the Pakistani Taliban have been on the increase.

21. In 2002, the Pakistani authorities, at the instance of the US, had detained two retired nuclear scientists---- Sultan Bashiruddin Mohammad and Abdul Majid---- on suspicion of having contacts with Osama bin Laden. They admitted having met him, but insisted that the meeting was purely in connection with the work of a humanitarian relief organisation founded by them and had nothing to do with any nuclear help to Al Qaeda. Subsequently, some Pakistani scientists were found to have been associated with A.Q.Khan in his nuclear proliferation activities. This showed the presence of black sheep inside Pakistan's nuclear community, who need close watch.

22. The Pakistani authorities continue to evade Indian requests for the arrest and handing-over of Dawood Ibrahim, the mafia leader living in Karachi, who is wanted in India for orchestrating the Mumbai blasts of March,1993. This, despite the fact that the US Department of Treasury had informed the UN Security Council on October 16,2003, that his organisation was helping Al Qaeda in various ways, including clandestine shipping of material. The ships and boats at his disposal should be available to Al Qaeda for any clandestine transport of WMD material.

23. India has been greatly concerned over the increase in the activities of pirates in the seas to the West of India----particularly off the Somali coast. The bulk of India's foreign trade and practically its entire energy supplies pass through the seas to the West of India. Threats from pirates and terrorists with a sea-faring capability operating from this region can damage the Indian economy.Recently, a Japanese ship with largely Indian crew was hijacked by Somali-based pirates who reportedly demanded a huge ransom. Due to a shortage of Japanese seamen, Japanese commercial ships have been recruiting Indian seamen. Protecting them from pirates becomes an important responsibility. The Government of India has, therefore, decided to devote more attention to this region without affecting the Navy's present capability in the seas to the East of India. A permanent anti-piracy patrol with one ship having helicopters on board has been started. It has been reported that its protection will be available only for Indian ships and foreign ships having largely an Indian crew.

24.The likely impact of the present economic crisis on the terrorism ground situation and on the counter-terrorism capabilities of States need to be closely monitored. The severe economic difficulties of Pakistan could add to the ranks of the terrorists due to the growing unemployment and prove detrimental to the already unsatisfactory counter-terrorism capabilities of its security forces. Any decrease in the US and Chinese cash flow to Pakistan could further aggravate the situation. Even in India, Bangladesh and other countries of the South and the South-East Asian region, large-scale unemployment of skilled workers could provide a new reservoir for recruitment by Al Qaeda and others. This should be a matter of concern to the intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies.

25.The comfort level between the political leaderships of India and the US was quite high under the Bush administration. This facilitated the multi-dimensional growth in bilateral strategic ties.Will Barrack Obama be able to sustain this comfort level? India is keeping its fingers crossed. (17-11-08)

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