Monday, January 18, 2010




A swarm attack is a commando-style attack involving multiple targets and/ or multile modus operandi----that is a mix of the use of hand-held weapons and explosives. Since the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 26 to 29,2008, which was itself a major swarm attack, there have been seven more---- four in Kabul, Kandahar and Khost in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban and three in Lahore possibly by the Pakistani Taliban.

2. These attacks---particularly those in Kabul--- have had common features----a mix of the suicidal (fedayeen ) and suicide terrorism, facilitated by good intelligence at the disposal of the Taliban, a mix of suicide bombers on foot and vehicle-borne suicide bombers, fierce motivation, ability to stand and fight till death without losing courage, audacity in planning and execution and the ability to keep the planning a secret from governmental agencies.

3. The seventh commando-style swarm attack in Kabul on January 18,2010, on a number of governmental establishments, including the residence of President Hamid Karzai, and some private establishments too has creditably been beaten back by the Afghan Security forces. They were initially taken by surprise by the attacks, which reportedly involved about 20 terrorists---- 10 more than in Mumbai--- but they managed to recover fast and neutralise the surviving members of the Taliban group that attacked. The operation----involving the initial surprise attack by the Taliban and the counter-attack by the Afghan security forces---- which began at 9-35 AM was over before sunset.

4.There are two ways of analysing the attacks. One way of analysis would be to focus on the questions :were they timed to coincide with the swearing-in of some of his Ministers by President Karzai, the coming visit of Mr.Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, to this region and the international conference on Afghanistan in London on January 28,2010.

5. The second way would be to pose to ourselves the question---what do these attacks portend for the future? From the point of view of the future, certain ominous aspects need to be highlighted. The first is that the two Talibans---with the possible help of Al Qaeda based in North Waziristan---- have trained multiple swarm commando teams, which are available with them for swarm attacks of a strategic nature. The second is that their expertise in commando-style attacks continues to improve. The third is the possibility that Al Qaeda might, through the Talibans---- use a swarm style commando attack for overcoming physical security in a nuclear establishment----if not for getting hold of nuclear weapons or material, at least for creating mass panic.

6. Since March last year, I have been repeatedly writing about the commando-style swarm attacks, which have been taking place with persistent frequency in this region, meaning Pakistan, Afghanistan and India too and the importance of studying them from the professional angle and strengthening our preventive capability to counter them through enhanced multi-layer physical security in sensitive establishmens and our rapid action capability to neutralise them if the terrorists do succeed in attacking by surprise.

7. The latest attack in Kabul once again underlines the importance of these measures.I would like to repeat again what I have been saying and writing in the past: We should not live in a make-believe world thinking that these things happen only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but they can't happen in India. They can.

8. Annexed are two of my articles of last March on this subject. ( 19-1-10)

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


How Secure Is Pakistan's Nuclear Arsenal From A Commando-Style Attack? (March 6,2009)

B. Raman

How secure is Pakistan's nuclear arsenal from a commando-style attack by jihadi terrorists operating from sanctuaries inside Pakistan?

2. That is the question which should be worrying security experts all over the world as they learn with horror----based on visual evidence from closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras and oral evidence from members of the Sri Lankan cricket team and the British match umpires and referees--- how the 12 or so terrorists who attacked the SL cricket team had the Liberty Square of Lahore at their disposal for about 30 minutes and walked away after the attack without the least fear of being chased and caught either by the security forces or the public.

3. It was as if they were walking away from a golf green after a game of golf---unhurried, unconcerned and totally relaxed..

4. Seven police officers, who were in the escort party of the convoy, died in the exchange of fire. Their bravery must be acknowledged and saluted. But how about the dozens of other police officers, who were supposed to be on route security to prevent an ambush of the convoy? The British match officials have said that not a policeman was to be seen on the road. This, despite the Presidential-scale security reportedly promised by President Asif Ali Zardari to the SL team.

5. How about the staff of the police station located near the Square? Why didn't they rush out and confront the terrorists? How about the police vehicles, which were supposed to be on patrol along the route to look out for suspicious movements and characters? How about the rapid response commando teams, which were supposed to be there in the stadium and at the LIberty Square, which was known as a vulnerable point since all vehicular movements had to slow down there?

6. They just disappeared or were not posted at all. In all the CCTV footage, the only sign of police one sees is a police vehicle crossing a terrorist and not taking any action as if it was crossing a normal pedestrian.

7. How about the road blocks all over Lahore which were supposed to have been put up after a terrorist strike to prevent the terrorists from getting away?

8. Many compelling questions arise as one gets details of what happened and what did not happen in Lahore on March 3, 2009? Were there insiders in the security establishment, who had played a role in the conspiracy? Were there accomplices or jihadi sympathisers in the security establishment, who facilitated the terrorist strike? Do the political and military leaders of Pakistan realise the total security vacuum in their country, which has made it a safehaven to jihadi terrorists from all over the world, who are able to operate at will without any fear of the consequences?

9. It has become a cliche to say that the Pakistani leaders are in a denial mode. So was former President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia till the Bali terrorist strike of October, 2002. Thereafter, she realised the gravity of the situation and made amends for her past negligence. So was former President Begum Khalida Zia of Bangladesh till the the nearly 400 synchronised explosions organised by the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen (JUM) in August, 2005. Thereafter, she realised the gravity of the situation and acted against the JUM.

10. Pakistan has been the scene of repeated terrorist strikes and the spawning ground of jihadi terrorism of various hues directed against other countries since 1981. Till today, neither the political nor the military leaders of Pakistan are prepared to admit this. After the Lahore attack on the SL team, Ilyas Khan, of the Islamabad Bureau of the British Broadcasting Corporation, reported as follows the same day: "Militant attacks in all parts of the world have been investigated and solved, but Pakistan is yet to solve even one out of the hundreds of attacks it has suffered since the 1980s."

11. In every major terrorist strike of Pakistan, there was evidence of insider involvement. Some junior officers of the Pakistani Air Force were found to have been involved in the conspiracy to kill former President Pervez Musharraf at Rawalpindi in December, 2003. The investigation brought out the startling fact that the conspirators had met in the staff quarters of one of the PAF officers in a PAF complex in the Islamabad-Rawalpindi area to finalise their attack.

12. Before and after the unsuccessful terrorist strike on her at Karachi on October 18, 2007, Benazir Bhutto had alleged that Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the Amir of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), and some serving and retired officers of the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were involved in the conspiracy to kill her. Saifullah was detained for some weeks for interrogation, but thereafter released without any action being taken against him. No action was taken against the officers named by her. Not even a formal enquiry.

13. After addressing a public meeting at Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, she left for her home in her car. Neither the police escort party nor Rehman Malik, the present Internal Security Adviser, who was at that time the co-ordinator of her physical security, followed her. They left for home by a different route after the meeting was over. Benazir was shot dead as her car came out of the ground. Malik and other officers came to know only after they reached home that she had been shot dead.

14. One can go on giving such instances, which show a total lack of control over the security establishment, which has become a law unto itself and disturbing indicators of the extent and depth of penetration of the security set-up by the jihadi terrorists. Many countries in the world, including India, are badly affected by terrorism. In many countries of the world, including India, there are inefficiencies and inadequacies in the counter-terrorism apparatus. But in no country of the world is the security establishment so badly penetrated by the jihadi terrorists as it is in Pakistan.

15. The Pakistani leaders not only refuse to admit this. Even more alarming, they live in a world of self-delusion which makes them think that all these realities are the figments of imagination of others ill-disposed towards them.

16. If this is the real state of affairs, one has very valid reasons to worry about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Pakistani political and military leaders repeatedly assure the international community that their nuclear arsenal has tight physical security and that no terrorist can penetrate it and get hold of nuclear weapons or material. After seeing what has happened in Lahore, the international community cannot afford to accept the Pakistani assurances at their face value. It must subject the physical security of the arsenal to greater scrutiny by independent outside experts. Even if this is done, a 100 per cent security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal cannot be assured so long as the terrorist safehavens and infrastructure in Pakistan are not removed. Pakistan must be forced to do so through international pressure.

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


Need For Urgent Relook At Our Physical Security ( March 7,2009) ( )

B. Raman

In our preoccupation with what is happening and what could happen in Pakistan, we should not overlook the urgent need for having a relook at our physical security architecture in sensitive establishments such as the nuclear establishments, oil refineries, gas production infrastructure, road, rail and air transport, critical information infrastructure etc. As I have emphasised repeatedly in the past, physical security is the most important component of counter-terrorism. If it is strong, a terrorist attack can be thwarted even if the intelligence agencies fail. If it is weak, even the best of intelligence may not be able to thwart a terrorist attack. In both India and Pakistan, we have a weak culture of physical security. The main reason why the US has been able thus far to prevent a repeat of 9/11 is the strengthening of the physical security apparatus by the newly-created Department of Homeland Security.

2. What happened at Mumbai, Kabul and Lahore---namely, commando-style surprise attacks by small groups of well-trained terrorists wielding lethal hand-held weapons--- could happen again in India. We should not think that only Pakistan is vulnerable to such attacks. We too are vulnerable as demonstrated so tragically at Mumbai. Our security architecture may not be as bad as that of Pakistan, but Mumbai clearly showed that it is not as good as it should be.

3. There is an urgent need for two actions. Firstly, an audit of the physical security measures at all sensitive establishments----whether run by the Government or the private sector ---- in order to determine whether any physical security enhancements are called for. There is a need for dividing all sensitive establishments into two categories-----those where a single-layer of physical security would be enough and those where a double or multiple-layer of physical security would be necessary . The idea of a double or multiple-layer of physical security is that even if the terrorists manage to beat the outside gate or perimeter security, they will not have a free run of the establishment due to a second or more layers of armed physical security. To counter determined terrorists such as those one saw at Mumbai, Kabul and Lahore a single-layer of physical security may not be sufficient in sensitive establishments.

4. The second action required is to have a relook at our consequence management capabilities to deal with a situation should, despite revamped physical security, the terrorists manage to have access to sensitive establishments. The consequence management drill should take into account various issues such as control over media coverage, prevention of panic, minimisation of damage and lethality etc. It is important to associate the consequence management set-ups of the States with this exercise because it is ultimately they who would act as the protector of first resort through their consequence management capabilities till there is intervention by the consequence management community of the Govt. of India.

5. In Mumbai, the terrorists succeeded so dramatically because they targeted private establishments with no physical security measures except some anti-explosive capability. Since the security guards of these establishments were unarmed, they were helpless before the terrorists wielding sophisticated hand-held weapons. Once the terrorists managed to gain access to these establishments and take them under their control, the special intervention forces of the Govt. of India such as the National Security Guards (NSGs) found themselves unable to act fast enough without causing too many loss of lives.

6. Situated as we are in the sub-continental region where terrorism will continue to be a fact of life at least for another 10 years or more and keeping in view our ambition of emerging as a major economic power, we just cannot afford to take up the stand that the physical security of the private sector is its responsibility and that the Government's role will be limited to issuing periodic advisories regarding likely threats. The Government has to play a more proactive role in encouraging and helping at least establishments of a strategic nature such as those associated with the tourism industry, the information technology companies etc in improving their physical security. They already have some capability for checks for explosives, but the methods used by them are primitive and do not take into account dangers from suicide bombers and vehicle-borne suicide terrorists.

7. Their weakest capability----which is almost non-existent--- is in facing a commando-style surprise attack by small groups of terrorists with modern hand-held weapons. The only way of thwarting them is by having well-armed and well-trained guards. Do the present laws allow the employment of such guards? If not, should the laws be modified to permit them to employ such well-armed guards? Who is going to supervise their training and keep them under control to prevent the arms issued to them finding their way into the hands of terrorists? These are questions, which need urgent attention.

8. From the point of view of the physical security architecture. the distinction between the public and the private sector is disappearing. Many private companies are already in the fields of oil refining and gas exploration, production and transport. An increasing number of airports is now privately managed. We intend allowing private companies into the field of nuclear power production. The Government cannot evade the responsibility for ensuring that such private establishments have a high level of physical security. There is a need for a joint task force consisting of the representatives of the intelligence and security agencies and professional organisations of private industries such as the FICCI (Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries), the CII ( the Confederation of Indian Industries) etc as well as representatives of foreign business organisations to go into the question of physical security enhancements for private establishments of strategic significance.

9. Practically all major private establishments----Indian as well as foreign--- have their own physical security set-up. It is important for senior intelligence and security officials at the State and Central levels to regularly interact with them to exchange threat and vulnerability perceptions and ideas as to how to strengthen physical security.

10. In an important article titled "The Coming Swarm" in the "New York Times" of February 15,2009, which should be required reading for all our physical security experts, John Acquilla, who teaches in the special operations program at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey in California, wrote as follows: "It seems that a new “Mumbai model” of swarming, smaller-scale terrorist violence is emerging. The basic concept is that hitting several targets at once, even with just a few fighters at each site, can cause fits for elite counterterrorist forces that are often manpower-heavy, far away and organized to deal with only one crisis at a time. This approach certainly worked in Mumbai. The Indian security forces, many of which had to be flown in from New Delhi, simply had little ability to strike back at more than one site at a time. While it’s true that the assaults in Kabul seem to be echoes of Mumbai, the fact is that Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been using these sorts of swarm tactics for several years...... How are swarms to be countered? The simplest way is to create many more units able to respond to simultaneous, small-scale attacks and spread them around the country. This means jettisoning the idea of overwhelming force in favor of small units that are not “elite” but rather “good enough” to tangle with terrorist teams. In dealing with swarms, economizing on force is essential. ....For the defense of American cities against terrorist swarms, the key would be to use local police officers as the first line of defense instead of relying on the military. The first step would be to create lots of small counterterrorism posts throughout urban areas instead of keeping police officers in large, centralized precinct houses. This is consistent with existing notions of community-based policing...... At the federal level, we should stop thinking in terms of moving thousands of troops across the country and instead distribute small response units far more widely. Cities, states and Washington should work out clear rules in advance for using military forces in a counterterrorist role, to avoid any bickering or delay during a crisis. Reserve and National Guard units should train and field many more units able to take on small teams of terrorist gunmen and bombers. Think of them as latter-day Minutemen. Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen all responded to Qaeda attacks with similar “packetizing” initiatives involving the police and armed forces; and while that hasn’t eliminated swarm attacks, the terrorists have been far less effective and many lives have been saved."

11.Jihadi terrorism in India outside Jammu & Kashmir is essentially an urban phenomenon. We cannot use against it the techniques learnt by us in dealing with the insurgency in the North-East and with Maoist terrorism in Central India, which is essentially a rural phenomenon. We need a different system of response, which is comprehensive enough to cover all likely targets of strategic significance----whether in the Government or private sector.

12. Even if we do not create an independent Ministry of Internal Security, we should create a separate Department of Physical Security in the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is, inter alia, responsible for counter-terrorism, to act as the nodal agency for all physical security measures on the pattern of the Department of Homeland Security of the US. This newly-created department should interact continuously with its US counterpart to pick its brains and profit from its expertise and experience.

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