Friday, December 26, 2008


(' India Today", the weekly published from New Delhi had forwarded some questions from its readers for my comments. Their questions and my answers are reproduced below)

Terrorism is not a new threat. One man's terrorist is another man's soldier. It is a sorry excuse, but that is what is happening. Why don't we have a special agency to counter such threats and attacks and do we need another Mumbai to happen before we really wake up?


Terrorism is a highly politicised crime. That is why there is no international consensus on what is terrorism. This enables states like Pakistan, which use terrorism, to escape the consequences of their sponsoring and using terrorism to achieve their strategic objective. I have been arguing in many national and international conferences since 2004 that instead of trying to define terrorism, we must define what is an act of terrorism and then designate organisations, which indulge in such acts, as terrorist organisations and States, which support them, as State-sponsors of terrorism. Unfortunately, there has not been much support for my view----not even in India..

India has been a victim of indigenous terrorism without external sponsorship as well as terrorism externally sponsored----from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Before 1979, we were also victims of tribal insurgencies in the North-East supported by China, which is no longer supporting them after 1979. One of the reasons why Indira Gandhi decided to support the independence movement in the then East Pakistan was because the ISI was giving sanctuaries to the terrorists and insurgents in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) from where threy were operating in North-East India. The creation of Bangladesh ended this sponsorship in 1971, but it was revived by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh after the assasasination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1975. We are still struggling to cope with it.

One of the lessons of the post-World War history of State-Sponsored terrorism is that it never ends unless the guilty state is made to pay a prohibitive price. STASI, the East German intelligence service, was behind much of the ideological terrorism in West Europe. The collapse of communism in East Germany and the end of STASI brought an end to this terrorism. The intelligence services of Libya and Syria were behind much of the West Asian terrorism and the Carlos group, then living in Damascus, played a role in helping ideological groups in West Europe. The US bombing of Libya in 1986, the strong US action against Syria, which was declared a State-sponsor of terrorism, and against the Sudan, where Carlos shifted from Damascus, and the prosecution and jailing, under US pressure, of two Libyan intelligence officers for their complicity in the bombing of a Pan Am plane off Lockerbie on the Irish coast in 1988 brought an end to state-sponsorship of terrorism by Libya and Sudan. Syria has stopped sponsoring terrorism against the US, but continues to do so against Israel.

There are any number of UN resolutions and international declarationas declaring state-sponsored terrorism as amounting to indirect aggression against the victim state. Unfortunately, there has been no political will in India to make Pakistan and Bangladesh pay a heavy price for their sponsorship of terrorism against India. Once a firm decision based on a national consensus is taken that the time has come to make Pakistan and Bangladesh pay a price, the question as to which organisation should do it and how will be sorted out. The problem is not that we don't have an appropriate organisation, but we don't have the will to act against Pakistan and Bangladesh. Our policy of "kabi garam, kabi naram" (Sometimes hot, sometimes soft) towards these two countries is encouraging them not to change their ways.


Cannot a terrorist be attacked with a capsule, instead of a bullet, having substance like anesthesia inside it, that can burst and release the gas within a specified area (i.e.,surrounding that target) when hit on a target so as to make a person unconscious immediately (within its influence). This will help in nabbing the terrorist alive. 2) Cannot RDX (or any other such substance) sensor be developed and placed in places like car parking, etc. Alarm/siren can be set when someone places such substances in that area.


Some years ago, when the Chechen terrorists raided a Moscow theatre and took all the spectators hostages, the Russian counter-terrorism agencies reportedly had a gas piped into the theatre through the central heating system, in order to disorient the terrorists and weaken their reflexes. They then raided the theatre, killed the terrorists and freed the hostages. Many hostages were also killed ---- some due to their intolerance to the gas and some in the exchange of firing. Vladimir Putin, the then Russian President, strongly defended the counter-terrorism agencies from criticism from human rights organisations, for using such unconventional methods. In India, counter-terrorism agencies are not even thinking of such new ways because they do not have the confidence that the Government and the public will support them if there are civilian fatalities as a result of the methods used by them. They, therefore, continue to use conventional methods.

We must do a thorough post-mortem of how we dealt with the terrorists in the Taj Mahal Hotel, the Oberoi/Trident Hotels and in the Narriman House in order to see how effective were the methods used and whether we could use new methods in future. Unless we do such exercises, we will never improve our methods of dealing with terrorism. Unfortunately, our culture is against enquiries due to a mistaken fear that enquiries could demoralise the counter-terrorism community. This is totally wrong.

Over the years, the terrorists all over the world have been shifting to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They are using less and less sophisticated explosives such as RDX and more and more ordinarily available and easily procurable substances such as nitrogenous fertilisers, some cosmetics items of women etc for fabricating IEDs. In 1993, fertilisers were used for bombing the New York World Trade Centre by an international jihadi group. Other terrorists started emulating it. Following this, most counter-terrorism agencies in the world have prescribed a permit system for farmers and kitchen-gardeners needing fertilisers. Shops selling fertilisers are required to report suspicious purchases.They have also persuaded fertiliser manufacturers to reduce the nitrogen content so that the fertiliser cannot be used as an explosive.Even though fertilisers are being increasingly used by terrorists in India for the last five years, we have not yet taken any effective action against the misuse of fertilisers. However, we are now following Western restrictions against women carrying certain cosmetic items on board aircraft.

Anti-explosives check----whether against RDX or other explosives--- is very weak in India. We cannot afford to have costly anti-explosives check in every public place, but we must identify vulnerable areas where such checks must be there, whatever be the expenses.


Why we wait our neighbour to take action against the terrorist, who are their own children and nourished by that government only? Why can't we take lessons from Israel's MOSAD when we know who are the culprits?


I totally agree with you that we must take action instead of depending on the US or other members of the international community to do so. Every country is interested in protecting the lives and property of only its own citizens. This is natural. It is the responsibility of the Government of India and the States to protect the lives and property of our nationals. There are many good things we can learn from the Isrelis such as their passion for up-to-date data bases, all their agencies countering terrorism acting as a single team without ego clashes, turf battles and the tendency to pass the buck, public support for their counter-terrorism agencies, high investments in research & development of new technologies for counter-terrorism etc. At the same time, some other methods employed by them such as over-militarisation of counter-terrorism will prove counter-productive in a pluralistic, multi-religious state such as India. We have produced many good intelligence bureaucrats, but we have produced very few good intelligence professionals. Our counter-terrorism experts tend to be over-simplistic and superficial in their expertise, are not innovative and try to deal with technology savvy modern terrorism with methods and thinking which are not equally modern. The terrorists in India tend to be more nodern and innovative in their thinking than the counter-terrorism agencies,. Increasing their numbers and budgets alone will not produce results unless, simultaneously, there is also a change in their thinking and methods.


Pakistan has refused to hand over any of the 20 wanted terrorists. Is RAW capable enough in terms of it's assets inside Pakistan and otherwise, so as to carry out extraction of any such individuals? Besides, is RAW well informed regarding the Pakistani establishments and tribal militant outfits functioning in Pakistan, as informed well enough to take them down? Is it true that RAW assets have deteriorated in Pakistan in the last 2 decades or so?


For understandable reasons, I will avoid specific answers. Over the years, there has been a general deterioration in the performance of the R&AW due to frictions among senior officers, the resulting ego clashes inside the organisation, decline in professionalism, increase in carrerism etc. It has produced very few counter-terrorism experts. Its investments in building data-bases and research and development of modern counter-terrorism technologies is very little. Over-secrecy comes in the way of active interaction with the world of science and technology and IT experts. The continued adherence to the principle of promotion on the basis of seniority with professionalism and competence playing a very limited role has led to its becoming a mediocre organisation. When it was formed in September 1968, Indira Gandhi had declared the post of the head of the organisation as an ex-cadre post----- meaning the Prime Minister can bring any competent person as the head----irrespective of seniority or whether he is an insider or outsider. This provision has been used twice----once by A.B.Vajpayee and the second time by Dr.Manmohan Singh--- to bring outsiders as the head when they felt that the organisation had no insider competent enough to be its head. There is an urgent need to induct more counter-terrorism experts from the Intelligence Bureau, the State Police and the Army into the R&AW and make one of them the chief. Indira Gandhi had wanted the R&AW---like the MOSSAD of Israel and the CIA of the US--- to be an intelligence collection agency as well as an action-oriented agency. Since 1997, it has become a purely intelligence collection agency. It has very little capability for action. This state of affairs has to be reversed.


Why can not we launch covert operations in Pakistan by using the Afghan base? We have heard ARC has the capability to take pictures of anything having 3 ft or more dimension. Why can't we track down Dawood and Masood Azhars and teach them a lesson?


No comments for understandable reasons.


Do we have right to file the case against Pakistan in international court ? The court should impose the heavy penalty on Pakistan so that next time, they will take care.


We have the right, but nothing will come out of it. The US had two Libyan intelligence officers tried by an international court and sentenced to life imprisonment. They were jailed for their role in blowing up the Pan Am plane in 1988. It also forced Libya to pay huge compensation to the relatives of all the passengers of the plane who were killed. India does not have that kind of international clout.