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Quickpost: Thoughts on Republic Day

What constitutes the most sacred duty of the government and citizens in a republic?

The meteoric rise of the Aam Admi Party in Delhi tells us that democracy is alive and well in India.  AAP rode on the wave of an anti-corruption sentiment and vanquished a hitherto well-entrenched Congress party from the seat of power in Delhi.  However, the party’s use of methods bordering on political vigilantism to address the legitimate concerns of the electorate tells us that while India the democracy is thriving, India the republic is hurting.

In the congress of developing nations, India distinguishes itself for its sustained commitment to pluralistic, democratic traditions.  At the same time however, the use of unconstitutional methods for seeking social, economic and political justice continues to be accepted.  The degree to which these methods are employed differentiates an unhealthy republic from a healthy one.

Many of us are familiar with B.R. Ambedkar’s concluding speech on the floor of the Constituent Assembly on achieving social and economic justice through methods provided by the Constitution of the land.  For any healthy, functioning republic, adherence to these methods is not just important, but essential.   The responsibility to ensure the adherence of constitutional methods, then, becomes the duty of both the government and citizens.

Indeed, as Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of the American Republic, explained in a letter in the Federalist Papers, it constitutes the “most sacred duty,” and is the greatest source of security to the republic:

If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws — the first growing out of the last. It is by this, in a great degree, that the rich and the powerful are to be restrained from enterprises against the common liberty — operated upon by the influence of a general sentiment by their interest in the principle, and by the obstacles which the habit it produces erects against innovation and encroachment. It is by this in a still greater degree, that caballers, intriguers and demagogues, are prevented from climbing on the shoulders of faction to the tempting seats of usurpation and tyranny.

Were it not that it might require too long a discussion, it would not be difficult to demonstrate that a large and well organized Republic can scarcely lose its liberty from any other cause than that of anarchy, to which a contempt of the laws is the high road.

But without entering into so wide a field it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this:  that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle the sustaining energy of a free government.

[Alexander Hamilton, Letter No. III in the American Daily Advertiser, August 28, 1794]

Let us hope this serves as food for thought as India celebrates its 65th Republic Day today.

 

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The field narrows, the noose tightens

Recent arrests point to welcome progress in the evolution of India’s counter-terror capabilities.

The capture of Yasin Bhatkal by Indian intelligence officials on Wednesday represents an important milestone in India’s counter-terrorism efforts. Yasin Bhatkal played a pivotal role in the Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad and other bomb blasts in India and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Indian citizens.  This article in the Indian Express summarizes the extent of his crimes against the country:

Yasin Bhatkal is wanted in at least eight cases in Maharashtra, of which four involve blasts or terror conspiracies. He is named as a wanted accused in the Mumbai blasts of July 13, 2011, as the bomb-planter in the 2010 blast at Pune’s German Bakery, where he was seen in CCTV footage, and as an accused in an aborted attempt (by Qateel Siddiqui, since dead) at planting a bomb at a temple in Pune. In August 2012, the state ATS named Yasin a wanted accused for a conspiracy to carry out blasts across the state.

He is also wanted in connection with a fake SIM card racket, the theft of two motorbikes for the 13/7 blasts, and will also be booked for the theft of cars from Navi Mumbai that were used to plant bombs in Ahmedabad and Surat.

[Himayat] Baig and Yasin allegedly carried the explosives to Pune in a series of  vehicles. “Yasin planted the bomb in a haversack at the bakery around 5 pm and triggered it with the help of a mobile triggering device at 6.50 pm,” the chargesheet says. Baig has been sentenced to death and has appealed in High Court.

Yasin Bhatkal was allegedly involved in the twin bomb blasts at Dilsukhnagar on February 21 this year, and those at Gokul Chat Bhandar and Lumbini Park in 2007. The AP anti-terror agency Octopus had filed three chargesheets in May and June 2009, named Yasin and the Bhatkal brothers. The NIA, which is investigating the 2013 blasts, is believed to have procured CCTV footage showing a man resembling Yasin carrying a bag in which the explosives may have been. [Indian Express]

Further interrogation of Yasin Bhatkal will provide law enforcement agencies in India with valuable insight into the Indian Mujahideen’s organization and structure, domestic and international support structures (including ties with SIMI, LeT and the ISI), training and sources of funding and inspiration.  These may in turn equip us to better combat terrorism in the country.

It is needless to say here that the threat of terrorism in India will not diminish merely as a result of Bhatkal’s arrest.  First, as far as we can tell, the IM, unlike the LeT for example, is a largely loosely-knit collection of disgruntled domestic actors with no real central command and control, supported though they may be from outside India.  Other IM key operatives Abdus Subhan and brothers Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal remain elusive.  These actors will continue to plan attacks against India and its interests.  Indian citizens continue to be recruited, both at home and abroad, to carry out attacks in India.

Second, the jihadi ideologues who nurture and sponsor the IM continue to operate with impunity from Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Until their ability to instruct and fund terrorism in India is significantly disrupted, the potential for attacks in India will not diminish.  It isn’t likely that this is about to happen; in fact, there is every indication that the military-jihadi complex in Pakistan intends to refocus its efforts on India once the U.S. winds down operations in Afghanistan.

Third, India’s intelligence and state and central law enforcement agencies continue to suffer from a lack of resources (technical as well as human), funding and coordination.  These are structural challenges that need to be addressed to counter current and future threats to the country.

The good news for India is that Yasin Bhatkal’s arrest, as well as those of Abdul Karim TundaAbdul Sattar and Abu Hamza, tells us that India’s much-maligned intelligence and law enforcement agencies are slowly making progress in developing capacities to counter terrorism directed at India.  These arrests, taken together, point to a process now being in place, with the cooperation and assistance of foreign governments, to track and extradite individuals involved in terrorism in India. Thus, the immunity that terrorists once enjoyed merely by taking a flight out of India no longer appears to be guaranteed.  And this progress in the evolution of India’s counter-terrorism capabilities is welcome.

That some of these foreign governments that we now appear to have an understanding with would not want to be named works to the advantage of both the foreign governments and India.  Indeed, the lack of public acknowledgement of cooperating with India allows these foreign governments to protect sensitive relations with countries in our neighborhood. For India, the lack of full public disclosure also enables our intelligence agencies to protect sources and methods, allowing us to track and extradite other terrorist operatives absconding from India.  The field narrows, the noose tightens.

 

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The Delhi terror trail

Some thoughts on the HuJI & IM emails, and the on-going investigation.

Investigation into the heinous attack on the Delhi High Court that left 11 dead and several injured has begun.  At the center of this investigation are two emails alleged to have been sent by Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and, subsequently, by the Indian Mujahideen (IM).

The email alleged to have been sent by HuJI was via Gmail.  Based on this article by DNA, NIA and Delhi Police investigating the terrorist attack traced the email to a cybercafe in Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir.  The owner of the cybercafe, Mehmood Khawja and two others are reportedly being questioned.

A couple of important points need to be noted about the ongoing investigation.  First, Gmail is a free, web-based service provided by Google, whose mail servers reside in the U.S.  As such, these mail servers and the data they contain are subject to U.S. law. In the event that the Government of India would need access to any of this information, it would need to make a formal request, justifying its need to access a third party’s data, to Google via the U.S. government 1.  If this has indeed happened and has resulted in India obtaining data pertinent to this email, then it bodes very well for the Indo-US counter-terror cooperation.

This is especially impressive, since Indian investigators were able to gain access to the alleged HuJI mail account within the span of 3 hours (the email was sent 3 hours after the blast and investigators had access to the account’s password 3 hours subsequent to that, as indicated in DNA’s account).  Now, it is entirely also possible that Indian investigators were able to guess the account’s password, but the gut feeling of this blogger is that the explanation provided by NIA and Delhi Police stretches credulity.

Next, Toral Varia, journalist with Rediff has a good comparative analysis of the emails sent by HuJI and IM to ones previously sent by these groups.  The article points out discrepancies in typefacing and format — even spelling (the IM email misspelled mujahideen as “Muzahideen.”) — from threats previously received from these groups.  Therefore, it would appear that these emails were sent by people who may have not had prior knowledge about a pending attack on Delhi High Court.

It must be noted that Indian Mujahideen has sent as many as five emails claiming responsibilities for various attacks. All the emails were drafted with precision using PDF files, various fonts and colours, Urdu script, a proper signature, a well researched list of recipients, and sent minutes after a terror attack was executed. All the mails were signed by ‘Al ARBI.’

Content for the Indian Mujahideen mails was usually written in impeccable English, interspersed with the verses from the holy Koran, a picture of the Gujarat carnage, references to ‘atrocities on Muslims’ amongst other inflammatory literature.

However, one look at both the emails, that have been sent claiming and counter claiming responsibilities for Wednesday’s blast, and the first impression is that the mails have perhaps been sent by an amateur. [Rediff]

At the same time, it is also equally important to not discredit these leads based on prima facie evidence.  Unfortunately, some TV news anchors are dismissing these emails as “prank emails.” It would be dangerous to categorize them as such.  Now, the fact the senders of the HuJI email were traced down as quickly as they apparently were leads us to believe that the senders weren’t very technically adept.

Those who follow the modi operandi of jihadi groups know that the first rule that today’s terrorist learns is cyber cover and concealment.  This might possibly indicate that the senders of the email were either not very well trained, or not directly linked to the perpetrators of the attack.  However, this shouldn’t necessarily mean that these correspondences were “prank emails,” as the entire purpose of the emails might have been to deliberately mislead investigators.

Finally, we must recognize that we must give investigators the time and space to fully and thoroughly investigate the attack. Delhi Police has been (quite fairly) criticized for not learning from the lessons of the past and not taking the necessary precautionary measures to deter the attack.  We also know all too well that not one terror attack in India since 2005 has been resolved.  But at the same time, let’s not play judge, jury and executioner before we’ve given the NIA and DP the opportunity to investigate.  In this regard, the media should take it upon itself to play a more constructive role.

1 Some readers have brought Google’s “User Data Requirements” (LT vinay and @_g0nz0_) to my attention. It would appear that Google has established processes allowing governments to access private user data. Based on the language, it appears to be broad enough to access to email, without the involvement of the U.S. However, both GoI and Google would have to be astonishingly effective were the entire process, from request to receipt, accomplished within the span of 3 hours.

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