Thursday, May 14, 2009

ANOTHER 26/11?



    For any Indian citizen, the possibility of another Mumbai-type terror attack taking place sometime in the future is just too real to ignore. This is so for two reasons: one, the kind of robust security architecture and systems that is needed to prevent such an attack is still not in place and are not likely to be there in the foreseeable future; two, and more importantly, not only does the source of such attacks – terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba – continue to operate with relative impunity inside Pakistan, but there has also been no change in the demonic mindset that planned, perpetrated and then provided protection to those responsible for executing such attacks. This is why when a highly regarded American expert warned of a serious risk of a repeat of the 26/11 type of an attack, it only reaffirmed the sense of foreboding that exists in the minds of many Indians.

Bruce Riedel, who chaired the task force for reviewing US war effort in Afghanistan that formulated the Af-Pak strategy, is not concerned so much about the possibility of another 26/11; he is more bothered about the impact that such an attack will have on the US military operations in Afghanistan which are increasingly getting tied up with the now-on, now-off sort of military operations being undertaken by the Pakistan army against the Taliban inside Pakistani territory. The Americans are of the view that Pakistan needs to redeploy the bulk of its army against the Islamist insurgents who now control vast swathes of Pakistani territory. This is possible only if Pakistan army gets over its fixation with India and focuses on the threat that the jihadist militias pose to the existence of the Pakistani state.

But Riedel fears that if the terrorists were to launch another spectacular attack on India, it could "would ratchet up tensions and make the Pakistani army even more determined to keep 80 percent of its manpower focused on India rather than on the threat posed by the internal jihadist problem". While Riedel acknowledges that the 'jihadist Frankenstein monster' was a creation of the Pakistan army, he says that now "the 'Frankenstein' (monster creates) the conditions for the [Pakistan] army to be focused on India." This is so partly because, as Riedel says, India's tolerance for terror attacks emanating from Pakistan is running dangerously low, and the next attack could see the dam of India's restraint burst. According to Riedel "They [jihadists] want the situation constantly boiling on the India-Pakistan front that diverts the Pakistani army away from them, providing them (Islamic militants) the conditions that allow for them to grow and fester in Pakistan".

There is really very little to disagree with in Riedel's prescient analysis of how the situation might develop in the event of another 26/11 type of attack. But where he goes wrong majorly is when he implicitly assumes that the Mumbai type attacks were the handiwork of jihadist terror groups that were operating without the knowledge or support of the state of Pakistan or any of its agencies. He also presumes that in order to relieve the pressure being put by the Pakistan army on them, the al Qaeda/Taliban will carry out a repeat of Mumbai.

There is by now ample evidence to prove that the 26/11 attacks were the handiwork of the LeT, which is a terror organisation that is very closely aligned with the Pakistani security services, especially the ISI. The LeT is perhaps the most 'obedient' and 'loyal' of all jihadist groups and has long served, and continues to serve, as the sword-arm of the ISI for conducting 'dirty operations' in India. Over the years the LeT has managed to develop an extensive network inside India and has brain-washed some Indian Muslim youth to carry out terror attacks outside Jammu and Kashmir. It is also true that the LeT has developed linkages with the al Qaeda and is part of an international jihadist movement. But it is doubtful if these links over-ride the LeT's role as an auxiliary unit of the ISI.

Notwithstanding the LeT's linkages with the al Qaeda and all its assets and network in India, it could not have carried out an operation like the Mumbai attacks without some sort of official patronage by the Pakistani intelligence agencies. It is one thing to smuggle in a couple of terrorists who carry out a low-level, low impact terror strike; but it is quite another thing to launch a micro-invasion by sending in multiple teams to carry out coordinated terror strikes in India's commercial capital. This is not possible without a level of planning and professional training that can only a state agency can give. Regardless of whether this support was the result of a breakdown of the command and control system of the ISI and the Pakistan army, or it came as part of an officially sanctioned operation, the fact remains that at least some elements of the Pakistani state structure were behind the wanton massacre of civilians in Mumbai.

This is a factor that acquires even greater salience when fears are expressed of another Mumbai-type assault on India. In all likelihood, if there is a repeat of 26/11, it will not be the handiwork of Taliban/al Qaeda, but that of the jihadist extensions of the Pakistan army. Of course, the al Qaeda/Taliban will be the biggest beneficiaries of such an attack. But they have neither the sort of network nor the wherewithal that will enable them to mount a Mumbai style terror attack in India. The only way these outfits can carry out such an operation is either with the direct assistance of elements inside the Pakistani security services or else with the support of jihadist groups operating as adjuncts of the Pakistani state.

The question is what will the Pakistani security services gain from undertaking a very dangerous operation that could either lead to war with India or, at the very least, create tensions on the border that will severely hamper the operations against the Taliban. There are four or five reasons that could explain such an adventure: one, damage India by making it appear to be an unsafe destination for trade, tourism, sporting events and what have you; two, using the resulting tensions between India and Pakistan to force the international community to get involved in seeking a solution to the Kashmir issue; three, a terror strike in India could be a diversionary tactic to shift global attention from Pakistan's western border to its eastern borders, thereby giving Pakistan wriggle room to either end or scale down military operations in the Western sector; four, to use tensions with India to unite an increasingly divided nation against an enemy on whom everyone agrees; and finally, to demonstrate the impotence of the Indian state in preventing such incidents, and it's inability to retaliate forcefully against such provocations.

The Americans know that the only way they can ensure that the Pakistan army stays focussed against the Islamist insurgents is by preventing any flare-up on the Indo-Pak border. This is going to be possible only when the Pakistan army if made to dismantle the entire infrastructure of jihadi terror that it seeks to use against India. No doubt, this will be a Herculean task. But it is also unavoidable if the US wants to win the War on Terror. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before another jihadist misadventure is launched against India. Only, next time India might hit back where it hurts, thereby unravelling the entire US game-plan in the Af-Pak region.


    <1260 Words>                    14th May, 2009



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