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U.S. hearings on the Lashkar-e-Taiba

Convergence of perceptions augurs well for Indo-US counter-terrorism cooperation.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing on June 12 on “Protecting the Homeland Against Mumbai-Style Attacks and the Threat from Lashkar-e-Taiba.”  As a precursor to the hearing, Peter King, chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, remarked that “The LeT is a terror proxy of Pakistan’s [ISI], which provides LeT with a safe haven and funding to train and prepare for terrorist attacks…”  Elected representatives of the U.S. would have hesitated in making such admissions even a decade ago, for fear of embarrassing Pakistan.

The LeT ceased to be an India-specific terror outfit after 26/11; its deliberate targeting of U.S., Western and Israeli citizens during the attacks in Mumbai meant that its orientation was now beyond targets only in India.  Thus, the convergence of common threat perceptions augurs well for Indo-U.S. cooperation on counter-terrorism and on the threats posed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba.  Salient excerpts from the USHOR testimonials follow.

Stephen Tankel on the LeT training Westerners:

LeT has long had a policy of training Westerners. The majority of them are members of the Pakistani and Kashmir diasporas in the U.K., but the group has been training Americans since 2000.

The first Americans known to have trained with LeT were from Virginia and were part of a coterie of would-be jihadists that ultimately became known as the Virginia Jihad Network. Sajid Mir, the commander in charge of overseas operatives, arranged for several of them to provide assistance to a British LeT operative who traveled to the U.S. on multiple occasions from 2002-2003 to procure military gear for the group.

Precisely what LeT or elements within it planned to do with this information is unknown, though they clearly were interested in both surveillance and expanding the group’s networks in the U.S. In 2005, two men from Atlanta Georgia with ties to the ‘Toronto 18’ as well as to a British Pakistani
who acted as a talent spotter for LeT identified possible targets for a terrorist attack in the U.S.

LeT has trained others living in America since then, none more famous than Daood Gilani, who took the name David Coleman Headley in 2006 to help facilitate his reconnaissance trips in Mumbai and elsewhere for the group. He joined LeT in February 2002, participating in the Daura-e-Suffa that month. In August 2002 he went through the Daura-e-Aama and then in April 2003 the Daura-e-Khasa, LeT’s three-month guerrilla warfare training program….

Given the benefits Headley provided to the group, it is reasonable to assume LeT may have increased its efforts to recruit and train other Westerners or to find ways for Pakistani members to acquire citizenship or residency in Western countries. [USHOR]

Christine Fair on the re-branding of the LeT as a charitable organization, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), and continued support from the Pakistani MJC:

To facilitate LeT’s pro-state message countering that of the various Deobandi organizations operating in Pakistan and against Pakistanis (e.g. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Pakistani Taliban), Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and the armed force’s Interservices Public Relations appear to direct Pakistani and international media to cover the ostensible relief efforts of JuD and its other alias, Falah Insaniat Foundation (e.g. during Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake and the 2010 monsoon-related flood). The media coverage of this humanitarian work seemed far in excess of the actual relief activities conducted. Subsequent research has shown that the organization did not provide the relief that the various media proclaimed. In essence, this media coverage handed the organization a public relations boon they did not deserve.

In survey work that my colleagues and I have conducted in Pakistan, we have found that the various state and non-state efforts to rebrand LeT as JuD in Pakistan have been successful. During survey pretesting in Pakistan in 2011, we found that Pakistani respondents viewed the two organizations as being quite distinct and engaging in different activities with the latter being seen more often as providing public services.

As I argued in 2011, this strategy is important. By fostering public support for the organization at home, the Pakistani state can resist pressure from the United States and others to work against the organization. Under these varied guises, LeT/JuD can continue to recruit, raise funds and support its message of jihad against the “external kuffar” such as the Indians, Americans, Israelis and so forth. The continued official investment in the organization and expanding public presence suggests that the Pakistani state is ever more dependent upon this proxy for both domestic and foreign policy requirements. [USHOR]

And finally, Jonah Blank:

On the issue of dealing with a Mumbai-style attack, one thing we can do is take a lesson from the citizens of both Mumbai and Boston. The reason the attacks in these cities were so jarring was that they stripped away the illusion of safety. A few weeks ago, however, the citizens of Boston confronted an unspeakable evil– not with panic but with quiet, rock-solid resolve. That’s what the citizens of Mumbai did in 2008– indeed, at leas t half a dozen times in recent years. Unfortunately, that is what other citizens, in the U.S. as well as elsewhere, will be called on to do in the future.

The Mumbai attack had special meaning for me: I used to live in Mumbai, just a few blocks from the site of most of the attacks. I used to buy American newspapers from the Taj bookshop, stop by the Leopold Cafe for a cold beer, watch a movie at the Metro Cinema, take trains from the terminal that locals still call by its colonial-era initials of “VT.”

One of the victims of the Mumbai attack was a friend of mine. He was man without whom I wouldn’t have been able to conduct my ethnographic fieldwork. He was an elderly Muslim cleric, easily identifiable as such by his white beard and skullcap– but the gunmen still shot him at close range. [USHOR]

These admissions in earnest would have been unthinkable even a decade ago in a Congressional hearing.  The U.S. may be withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014, but its threat perceptions are rapidly converging with India’s.  This is important at a time when the Pakistani establishment appears to be pitting its frankensteins against each other.

 

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Urdunama: Jihad-e-Hind

As representatives of every political hue deliver speeches to seek the support of the Pakistani voter in the nation’s general elections scheduled for May, Lashkar-e-Tayiba’s ameer, Hafiz Saeed was out delivering firebrand speeches of his own as well.  Addressing the Jihad-e-Hind Conference on April 9, 2013 at LeT’s Muridke headquarters in Punjab, Hafiz Saeed declared a war on India and warned of attacks inside Indian territory.

He also blamed Pervez Musharraf for supporting the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan and acquiescing to drone attacks along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  This is the second time since February 2013 that Hafiz Saeed has publicly called for jihad against India, while taking comfort over having “vanquished the retreating forces of America and its allies.” Excerpts of his speech, as published by Nawa-i-Waqt, follow:

Pervez Musharraf must answer for his involvement in the Lal Masjid attacks and U.S. drone operations that have resulted in the deaths of 7 lakh Afghan and 30 lakh residents of the border areas.  One can only pity Musharraf given his current state of affairs, but Pakistan is yet to learn its lessons from his misplaced policies.  Even today in Islamabad, there are people like Musharraf who, instead criticizing the U.S., India and Israel, denounce the mujahideen for being involved in “terrorism” in Pakistan.

The U.S., India and Israel are playing a dangerous game in Balochistan.  They aim to capture Gwadar so that they can control strategic routes to the Gulf and West Asia.  India must be made to pay the price for its continued occupation of Kashmir.  Pakistan is yet to avenge the losses of East Pakistan, Hyderabad (Deccan) and Junagadh.  Pakistan must also avenge the attacks on the Samjhauta Express and Babri Masjid.

Our leaders in Islamabad plan to grant India MFN status, while the Indians are conspiring with Sindh nationalists to create a Sindhudesh to further dismember Pakistan.  India’s media does a good job in covering up India’s many sins, while Pakistan’s media has done nothing to expose them.  India’s list of crimes is very long indeed.  We have incontrovertible proof of the atrocities India has committed over the years.

There are some misguided people in Lahore who have been fooled into believing that the people of Indian Punjab and Pakistani Punjab share a similar culture.  These people must think long and hard on whether this is indeed true.  We build friendships with friends, not with enemies.  Is India really our friend?  It has illegally occupied our lands.  It dams our rivers to destroy our agriculture and turn Pakistan into an arid desert.

Let India pay attention: “jihad-e-Hind” — a war against India — will be launched.  This war will be contested inside Indian territory and no one can save it from annihilation.  Even the RSS and BJP cannot save India from its fate.  The mujahideen have taken on and defeated the Americans and their allies.  India’s fate will be no different.  [نوائے وقت]

Little wonder, then, that there are now jihad-e-Hind billboards in Pakistan’s cities.

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Blood on the rooftops

India and the West must reevaluate their positions on the continued persecution of minorities in Pakistan.

The attack on 150 Christian homes in Lahore’s Joseph Colony is the most recent in a series of attacks against minorities in Pakistan.  A mob of nearly 3,000 protestors pillaged through the community over alleged blasphemous remarks made by a Christian “sanitation worker” and set fire to homes and shops. Punjab police stood by and watched as the situation unfolded.  That no one died from this marauding rampage is less a consolation and more a miracle.  This image tells us a story of the anarchy that prevailed that day.

Two weeks ago in Karachi, a bomb ripped through a mainly-Shia community in Abbas Town. At least 45 people were killed and 150 wounded.  In the first two months of 2013, nearly 200 Shia were killed in Quetta in two separate bombings.  But the response from Pakistan’s leaders has been predictable.  The attacks in Quetta were a conspiracy.  The attack against the Christian community was also a conspiracy. There are no realities in Pakistan anymore; just conspiracies.

It is very likely that this disciplined and motivated assault on the minorities of Pakistan will continue.  There has been a deliberate attempt to portray this violence as a “sectarian conflict.”  But those who do so fail to recognize that a conflict requires two willing participants.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — the terrorist outfit of the Ahl-e-Sunnat-wa-al-Jamaat (ASWJ) —  which claimed responsibility for the attacks in Quetta is based in the badlands of south Punjab, where the writ of the PML(N), rather than that of the PPP, holds sway.  The LeJ has very recently made it clear (اردو) that its mission is “the abolition of this impure sect and people, the Shia and the Shia-Hazaras from every city, every town, every village and every nook and cranny of Pakistan.”  And yet, the Pakistani state can (will) do nothing about the violence carried out against its citizens in its own sovereign territory.

Article upon article has been written arguing that Pakistan is a failed state.  But Pakistan today is not a failed state as much as it is a failed idea.  Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision is invalidated with each mounting attack on sectarian and religious minorities in Pakistan.  It remains invalidated by the preservation of legal cover though the likes of the Hudood and XX Ordinances which allow for the perpetuation of the “cleansing operation” currently under way in the Land of the Pure.

Jinnah’s Pakistan has ceased to exist.  What we have now instead is a different project, whose odious objectives should be amply clear to everyone.  Under this new project, anyone who is not of a particular identity favored by the state will be systematically eradicated.  The Hindus that remained in Pakistan after Partition have always had to endure the agony of a state-mandated program of intimidation, subjugation and extermination.  However, the implementation of this new project means that the Shia and Ahmedis are also wajib ul-qatal (fit to be killed).

What is left of this failed experiment is a state in our immediate neighborhood with a population of 180 million having no capacity or willingness to protect its minorities.  But how does one provide for the security of those persecuted?  If the state has decided that it is unable and/or unwilling to do so, it presents an ethical dilemma to India and the West.  But more importantly, it also presents a security dilemma to India.  India cannot afford to have a Bangladesh-like scenario on both its eastern and western boundaries.

Members of the Shia and Ahmadiyya communities who are financially capable of seeking better lives in the Gulf or the West will migrate, or have already done so.  Persecuted Hindus will seek refuge in India without going through the rigors of its convoluted immigration process. India will most likely turn a blind eye to their presence in the country if they choose not to return to Pakistan.  But what happens to the vast majority of Pakistan’s minorities, who on account of being systematically persecuted and ostracized, lack the financial means to escape their daily horrors?

It has perhaps been politically judicious thus far for the West to not press Pakistan hard enough on the issue of its treatment of minorities.  An opportunity to correct these wrongs exists after the U.S. and its allies extricate themselves from their entanglements in 2014.  Human rights NGOs and news media from the West and India must be encouraged to increase their coverage of abuses against minorities in Pakistan.  Additionally for India, this presents an opportunity to reevaluate and streamline its immigration policy and to formalize a legal framework to grant asylum to persecuted individuals in its neighborhood.

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Damned lies and statistics

On Aakar Patel’s attempts to convince us that terror has decreased under the UPA.

When I read Aakar Patel’s op-ed in Pakistan’s Express Tribune on the “successes” of the Manmohan Singh government in combating terrorism, I was reminded of a Sherlock Holmes quote about yielding to the “temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data.”  Except that in this case, the data wasn’t insufficient as much as it was either ignored or used out of context.

Mr. Patel writes:

Under Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, terrorism has decreased in India and Indians have become safer.

….It is correct to say that Indian citizens are as safe as the citizens of Europe and America against Islamist terrorism. You would think that a performance so demonstrably successful would earn Manmohan and his team applause. Instead, we have the inane commentaries that issue from a media that is convinced the Congress is doing something wrong here. [Express Tribune]

To support this very grand conclusion, Mr. Patel cites the South Asian Terrorism Portal’s (SATP’s) figures on the declining number of deaths from terrorism from 2005 (3,259) to 2012 (804).

This is great, except that it doesn’t prove that “terrorism in India has decreased.” If it proves anything, it is that fewer people have died from terrorism (but more on that and J&K later).  An examination of the actual number of instances of terror tell us another story altogether.  According to SATP data, the breakdown of the instances of terrorism outside of J&K and the Northeast is as follows:

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
1 3 4 5 0 3 3 5 7 1 5 4 2 1

 

Thus, available data indicates that the number of instances of terror in India have not varied significantly during either the tenures of the NDA or UPA governments between 2000 and 2013 (barring a few anomalies).  Terrorism, therefore, has not decreased.

Mr. Patel would have been right if he suggested that fewer people have died in terror strikes in mainland India since 2005, but even this cannot be presented devoid of context.  Mr. Patel failed to indicate that the nature of the terror threat was evolving.  India and Pakistan have made two attempts at rekindling a “peace process” during the statistical period (in 2002 and 2009).  During these periods, there was a concerted attempt by Pakistan to appear to “play nice” with India, which meant that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)’s involvement in terror in India needed to be obfuscated.

Local terror groups, proteges of the military-jihadi complex, were thus needed to maintain the pressure on India. Beginning in 2003, local terror groups began assuming operational control over some attacks in India.  But misguided individuals or groups in India neither had the financial nor technical resources needed to carry out the sort of attacks that the LeT or JeM were capable of.  While the LeT and JeM attacks were sophisticated, including the use of fidayeen (having been provided facilities and professional training financed by Pakistan) groups like SIMI and the Indian Mujahideen have been capable of far less.  Attacks against India by local terror groups have been confined to IEDs and low-yield remote-controlled bomb blasts.Thus, there was a qualitative shift in the nature of terror being inflicted upon India beginning in 2003.

This has been the dominant pattern since the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.  By their very nature, these attacks inflict fewer casualties than those orchestrated by Pakistan-based groups. Thus, fewer people dying from terrorist attacks isn’t a credit to the performance of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government;  it is merely a reflection of a qualitative change in the nature of terror India is currently battling.

A word on Jammu & Kashmir, since Mr. Patel apparently suggests  that there have been fewer instances of terror in J&K since the UPA took over.  This is true, but needs to be presented in the context of a larger theme.  The insurgency in J&K is dying a slow and inevitable death.  The Pakistanis recognize this as much as the Indians.  The number of casualties as a result of terror has been consistently decreasing since 2001. The 9/11 and 13/12 attacks, combined with U.S. pressure on terror financing channels have effectively ensured that the insurgency in J&K is on its last legs.  This trend would have held regardless of whether the UPA or the NDA was in power.

But Mr. Patel’s embarrassing lack of research is most evident when he suggests that “figures under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) excluded all Maoist violence because that wasn’t compiled under ‘terrorism’ till 2004, when Singh came to power.”

Since he doesn’t provide support for his statement, we can only assume that he arrived at such a conclusion based on a note in SATP’s website which says “Data Till 2004 does not include Fatalities in Left-wing Extremism.”  But this just means that SATP’s data on Maoist terror is incomplete, not the Government of India’s!  In fact, official data on left-wing terror casualties has existed since at least 2000, when the BJP-led coalition was in power.  A cursory review of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Annual Report 2003-2004 (pg. 41) would have indicated as much to Mr. Patel, but it should already be clear by now that Mr. Patel was not on a fact-finding mission.

Which brings us back to Mr. Patel’s point that terrorism has decreased and India is safer under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s terms in office.  Even if we are to accept that there were fewer instances of terrorism — which they weren’t, as shown in the table above — it is ludicrous to say that India is safer today (forget being as safe as the U.S. and Western Europe, as he suggests!)  The infrastructure for terror continues to exist in Pakistan.  We know from news reports that the intent to hurt India remains undiminished.  We also know that local infrastructure for terror — however nascent — is being developed to challenge the state.

India’s ability to address these threats is hindered by a crippled internal security apparatus.  State and Central internal security agencies are experiencing systemic institutional atrophy.  The NIA — the UPA’s solution to our woes after 26/11 — hasn’t solved a terror case since 2009. Communication and coordination between various Central and State intelligence and police forces is poor.  Even worse, Centre-State mistrust on issues of national security has increased during the tenure of the UPA, to the extent that critical progress on the NCTC and NATGRID has stalled.  None of these reflect too well on Mr. Patel’s theory of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s “demonstrably successful” performance in making India safer.

Ultimately, the question is this: given what we know about the state of India’s internal security infrastructure, can we afford to take comfort in the various data points being bandied around by Mr. Patel?  That he may prefer the UPA and Dr. Singh over the BJP and its allies is understandable insofar as it is one’s personal choice.  But cherry-picking data points and drawing broad and inaccurate conclusions on an issue as important as national security merely to better market his party of choice is both irresponsible and dangerous.

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