Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Terrorists In Our Midst

The Terrorists In Our Midst

It is not just the external terrorists we have to worry about

The problem of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism faced by India in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and elsewhere has two aspects---internal and external.

The internal aspect relates to the terrorists infiltrated from Pakistan, who are already living in our midst and are waging a campaign of suicide terrorism in different parts of J&K and elsewhere.  The external aspect relates to the sustenance received by them from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and religious extremist parties.

Till 1993, the terrorist campaign  was being waged largely by indigenous Kashmiri groups, trained and armed by the ISI and Pakistan's religious parties.  Practically all these groups except the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) of the Jamaat-e-Islami have realised the futility of violence and their activities since 1993 are mainly confined to a political and propaganda campaign against the Govt. of India.

Post-1993, the terrorist campaign has almost totally passed into the hands of Pakistan-based organisations, with Pakistani office- bearers and cadres, many of them Punjabis.  Their training and logistics infrastructure was either in Pakistan or in Afghanistan.  Their set-up in Afghanistan has been destroyed by the US air strikes, but that in Pakistan is intact.

Such Pakistani organisations are essentially four in number--the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Al Badr. Of these, the first three are the most active.  The activities of the Al Badr are sporadic.

The split in the HUM after the release of Maulana Masood Azhar by the Government of India in December, 1999, to terminate the hijacking of an Indian Airlines (IA) aircraft and the consequent formation of the JEM by Azhar have led to the emergence of the JEM as the second most active organisation after the LET, with the HUM relegated to the third position.

All these three organisations have been in receipt of financial, training and arms assistance from their religious and intelligence mentors in Pakistan as well as from the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front For Jehad Against the US and Israel, of which they are members.

It is their interactions with the Al Qaeda, which inspired them to take to suicide terrorism in a big way since July 1999 and to redouble their efforts to expand their terrorism from J&K to New Delhi and other areas in India.

Since 1995, if not earlier, the LET has been expanding its presence to other parts of India such as New Delhi and Andhra Pradesh.  The HUM also had a capability for action outside J&K, which has now been inherited by the JEM.  The attack on the Indian Parliament House on December 13, 2001, was the first major operation mounted by the JEM outside J&K.

Since the second half of 1999, when suicide terrorism first made its appearance in J&K in a big way, there have been 46 incidents of suicide terrorism, of which only two were by Kashmiri organisations.  The remaining were by Pakistani organisations---the majority by the LET and a smaller number by the JEM.  Thirty of them were in 2001.

The success of these operations was partly due to our inadequacies in preventing infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan, in detecting their presence in our territory and smoking them out and in unearthing and dismantling their sleeper/support networks in India.

They would not be able to operate with success without some local support.  Even Kashmiri organisations, who have realised the futility of violence, empathise with these Pakistani organisations.  They either assist them clandestinely or refrain from assisting the security agencies in having them smoked out.

Ghazi Baba, alias Shabaz Khan, a Punjabi of Bhawalpur in Pakistani Punjab, who is stated to be the leader of the JEM in India, has reportedly been operating in India for at least two years now without being smoked out.  According to media accounts, the five Pakistani (JEM) terrorists who carried out the attacks on the Parliament House had also similarly been living in New Delhi for weeks, if not months, before they mounted the attack.

They had hired a flat, reportedly enrolled themselves in computer courses and managed to get hold of cellular phones without creating any suspicion about themselves in the eyes of the security agencies.  This shows how easy it is for a foreign mercenary to infiltrate into India, even into its capital, become a sleeper agent and mount a terrorist strike without alerting the security agencies to their presence.

This is what happened in the US too before September 11, 2001.  The ease with which the Al Qaeda suicide terrorists took up residence in the US, underwent flying training with wide-bodied aircraft despite their not being from any airline company and mounted a synchronised operation showed a shocking state of internal security or homeland security as the Americans call it.

The US has drawn the right lessons from the terrorists strike.  While waging its world-wide war against terrorism, it has simultaneously undertaken a thorough revamping of its homeland security set-up in order to strengthen intelligence collection and assessment, immigration and financial control, physical security checks etc in a co-ordinated and effective manner.

While the USA's spectacular external war against terrorism has kept the world engrossed, its internal "war" to set right matters back home has not received much attention in India.

India is right in intensifying pressure on Pakistan and the international community to put an end to Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism in Indian territory.  Its campaign is already yielding some results in the form of the US designation of the LET and the JEM as foreign terrorist organisations, arrests of their leaders by Pakistan, freezing of their accounts etc.

These actions, however gratifying, are not going to end terrorism.  The JEM, the LET and the HUM have already enough Pakistani cadres and weapons in India to be able to operate autonomously  at least for a couple of years more unless our internal security is strengthened.

The surviving cadres of these organisations returning from Afghanistan  are likely to be infiltrated by Pakistan into India in the coming months to add to the present strength of the sleepers already in our midst.  The freezing of bank accounts is a farce and is unlikely to affect terrorist operations.

Terrorists largely depend on clandestine money, mainly heroin money, for keeping their operations sustained.  Even if the US-led allies manage to end once for all the production and smuggling of fresh heroin from Afghanistan, there is enough heroin in Pakistan from previous years' production to keep terrorist activities sustained at least for two years.

The very important aspect of identifying the many weak points in our internal security apparatus and removing them in order to smoke out the terrorists already in our midst is not receiving the attention it urgently requires.

Putting a stop to Pakistani sponsorship is important.  Equally so is setting matters right in our internal security apparatus.

Unless and until we do this effectively, more December 13s are likely. 

(The writer is Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India)