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Pune terror attacks

Challenge the infrastructure where it stands

Nine dead, several injured in an IED triggered explosion in Pune last night.  By Home Secretary Pillai’s account, the IED was placed in an unattended packet, which exploded when a waiter tried to open it. The attacks come just weeks after Lashar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed issued specific threats to the cities of New Delhi, Kanpur and Pune in a February 5, 2010 Yaum-e-Yakjehti Kashmir speech in Lahore.  Indeed, Pune was also one of several Indian cities recceed by David Coleman Headley.

The attacks also come at a time when India and Pakistan are scheduled to begin their first round of talks at the Foreign Secretary level, starting February 25.  The talks were offered by India at the prodding of Washington, which wants to be seen as being sensitive to Pakistan’s India-paranoia, as US begins its largest military operations against the Taliban since 2001 in Marja.

So what must India’s response be?

Much can be done, both as an immediate response to the attacks as well as from the standpoint of expunging the notion that India is incapable of challenging the infrastructure that supports such attacks.  Pragmatic Euphony’s excellent post details how India should lay out short- medium- and long-term goals vis-a-vis Pakistan.  In the here and now, India must mitigate the threat of immediate attacks in other Indian cities and soothe public apprehension and anger. It must also carry out a full investigation of the attack, identify the perpetrators and bring those under its jurisdiction to book.

Equally important, India must also ensure that talks with Pakistan continue as planned.  The idea is one that many will scoff at, but consider this: despite public statements that indicate otherwise, Pakistan is not keen on talks with India.  Talking to India denies Pakistan from invoking the convenient “beast on the east” schpeel that today finds more resonance in the Obama Administration than it ever did during Bush 43’s reign.

Hence the even more vocal “help Pakistan solve Kashmir and it will return the favor in Afghanistan” (or alternatively, “help Pakistan solve Kashmir so that they can dedicate more troops to the Pak-Afghan border“) jabber from the American intelligentsia.  India is vested in a successful US/ISAF operation in Marja and if talking to Pakistan can help tweak perceptions, it must do so.

Moving forward, India must develop the capability to challenge the infrastructure that continues to support attacks on Indian soil.  Today, those who plan, finance and otherwise support terrorism against India are as smug as they are cozy, knowing India is incapable of challenging them in their own backyard — a heavy price the country is now paying for ill-advised policy shifts made by a fractious coalition in 1997. These ill-advised policy changes need to be reversed immediately.  This will only happen if Manmohan Singh’s government stops playing the perennial apologist, provides the funding, training, technology and resources necessary to impose heavy costs on terror infrastructure operating outside Indian territory.

The alternative to this is to continue to absorb ceaseless body blows and mutter away about surgical strikes and our patience not being inexhaustible.  So what will it be?

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Indian Embassy Attack in Kabul

Limited Indian military deployment: the time is nigh

The suicide attack on Thursday was the second such attack on the Indian Embassy in the past fifteen months in Kabul.  The attack claimed the lives of seventeen, including the two Afghan policemen who attempted to deter the bomb-laden vehicle from breaching the compound.

Similar to the last attack on the Indian Embassy that left 60 dead last year, the footprint the terror consortium of the Jalaluddin Haqqani network, Taliban and ISI is clear.  Earlier this month, Gen Stanley McChrystal stated in a leaked assessment, that growing Indian involvement in Afghanistan would encourage Pakistani “countermeasures”.  More recently, former CIA Islamabad station chief Bob Grenier stated at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee deposition that the close relationship between New Delhi and Kabul “literally drives [Pakistan] crazy”.

This comes at a time of considerable disquiet in Pakistan. The Kerry-Lugar Bill has met with vociferous disapproval, initially from the media, and later from the Pakistani Corps Commanders’ Conference. The disapproval is based on the belief that some provisions — including India-specific terror clauses — impinge on Pakistan’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government (and military) must clarify how these clauses violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Specifically, Pakistan must articulate whether it believes that allowing its soil to be used to plan, organize and execute acts of terror against India is an exercise of its soverign right.

So, was the attack on the Indian Embassy meant to demonstrate Pakistan’s open defiance of Kerry-Lugar? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, if enlightenment hasn’t dawned on the Indian government now, it never will.  Pakistan will continue to use such “countermeasures” because it knows it can do so without eliciting a military response from India.  And increasing Indian involvement in the development of Afghanistan only increases the number of potential targets for the terror consortium.

Today, India’s ambitions in Afghanistan are not commensurate with the level of protection it is willing to provide to protect its interests.  “Soft power” is an important element of state diplomacy, but when not backed up by a credible intent to defend, paints a picture of a state that is benign, diffident, weak-willed and apprehensive.

India must stop outsourcing its intelligence and security needs in Afghanistan to other countries.  It must do what it has to do to protect its interests, its citizens and its friends.  Hitherto, India received inputs mostly from Afghan and other intelligence agencies.  It is time for India to upgrade its intelligence capability in Afghanistan; additional emphasis must also be placed on better intelligence coordination between Afghan, Indian and other foreign intelligence agencies.

Serious thought must be given to an Indian military deployment in Afghanistan.  However, for India to get bogged down fighting an insurgency would be counter-productive and would risk squandering the goodwill of the government and people of Afghanistan.

Therefore, India needs to think along the lines of a limited military deployment in Afghanistan and one with a mandate to protect its citizens and interests in that country.  This is India’s own “countermeasure”.  India has invested over a $1.2 billion in Afghanistan; Indians from all walks of life — doctors, engineers, teachers and security professionals — attempt to secure the future of Afghanistan and its people.  However, the security provided to these very individuals is either nonexistent or found wanting.

A deployment with limited mandate presents undeniable risks.  The possibility of the lines between India’s defensive deployment and the larger US/ISAF COIN operation being blurred, the risk of Indian troops becoming targets for the Taliban, Haqqani and ISI consortium and loss of goodwill in Kabul do exist.

However, the alternative to this arrangement is the status quo — India’s current posture.  As things stand today, a Pakistani attack on Indian citizens, property and interests in Afghanistan goes unchallenged.  Not much is ever done by way of a response, apart from registering the customary “our patience is not inexhaustible” complaint with the US and holding back on dialog with Pakistan.

The choices before India are stark: either it believes that Indian property, investment and lives are worth sacrificing for the greater goal of strategic partnership with Afghanistan, or it accepts that Indian security cover is essential to protect those who undertake the perilous, yet noble journey of rebuilding a war ravaged nation and spreading the goodwill of India and its people in that part of the world.  Time is running out, and India must decide soon.  What is it going to be, Mr. Prime Minister?

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Lalgarh and beyond

Since returning to power earlier this year, the UPA has been painting the Maoists as India’s greatest internal security threat.  What started out in Lalgarh as a protest movement against police excesses morphed into an armed popular uprising, thanks to the machinations of the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) and the CPI (Maoist).  The frontier regions of West Mindapore district were engulfed in a state of virtual People’s War; the Maoists wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Chairman would have been proud.

The glare of national media, as well as rumblings in New Delhi resulted in the ensuing counterinsurgency operation, which effectively began on June 18.  Lalgarh was retaken by local police, with the aid of the BSF, CPRF and paramilitary units by the end of day 3 of the operation. That the Maoists were able to exert control over Lalgarh in the first place is an indictment of the flippant, almost collusive approach to the problem by the ruling CPI(M).

This should come as no surprise: the CPI(M) is an ideologically bankrupt entity that has driven the two states where it has held power — Kerala and West Bengal — into virtual economic bankruptcy.  Prakash Karat and his ilk do an excellent job at effusively marketing their non-ideology, and taking potshots at other political parties, but when it comes to brass tacks, there is a virtual paralysis in decision making.

However, singling out the CPI(M) for the mess would be unfair.  Other prolific actors, such as the Trinamool Congress (TC) have played a very significant part in perpetuating the Maoist menace in the hinterland.  Ajai Sahni writes of a law and order/moral vacuum that provided an ideal festering ground for Maoist indoctrination and expansion:

Other players have, of course, been critical — the (TC) principal among the veritable armies of ‘useful idiots’ who have been taken along. The backdrop of this increasing ‘joint front activity’ has been augmenting violence and a consolidation of the Maoist presence across West Bengal — something the Communist Party of India — Marxist (CPI-M) state government has sought consistently to deny, underplay and cover up.

CPI(M)’s wishy-washiness when it came to declaring the Maoists as a “terrorist” organization makes one question whether or not they capable of acting in good faith with the interests of the nation at heart.  The need to declare the Maoists “terrorists” was dismissed with the excuse that they (the Maoists) needed to be countered “administratively”.  That’s rich, coming from a party that has left behind a trail of unmitigated administrative disasters in West Bengal and Kerala.

What the UPA must do upon the cessation of military operations is to ensure that there is a mechanism to redress the grievances of the local tribes.  Police excesses and human rights violations must be investigated, and those guilty of excesses must be brought to book.  A distinction must be made between the adivasis and the Maoists, who, for all intents and purposes had no stake in the anti-police agitation but the desire to indoctrinate and recruit tribals for their cause.

The law and order vacuum that allowed the Maoists to establish control over the 17 villages must be plugged.  The capabilities of security forces in the area need to be significantly enhanced, if only to act as a deterrent against any future contemplations of armed popular uprisings in the area.  B. Raman cautions that in doing so, the UPA needs to formulate strategies baring in mind the differences between Maoist terrorism and jihadi terrorism:

Firstly, the Maoist terrorism is an almost totally rural phenomenon, whereas jihadi terrorism is a largely urban phenomenon. Secondly, Maoist terrorism is a totally indigenous phenomenon motivated by domestic grievances and a domestic political agenda….Jihadi terrorism is a cross border threat to national security. Maoist terrorism is not.

The jihadis increasingly attack soft targets. The Maoists don’t. They mainly attack police stations, police lines, camps and arms storage depots of para-military forces in order to demoralise the security forces and capture their arms and ammunition. The repeated success of the Maoists in mounting large-scale surprise attacks on such hard targets speaks of the poor state of rural policing and intelligence set-up and the equally poor state of physical security.

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