9/11 anniversary: little respite for India from terrorism (Comment)

September 11th, 2010 - 11:33 am ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram By Amulya Ganguli
On the ninth anniversary of 9/11 (Sep 11), which marked the chilling climax of the Age of Terrorism, there is both good and bad news for India.

The good news is that there hasn’t been any major terrorist attack after the Mumbai massacre of Nov 26, 2008. Only the German Bakery blast in Pune last February shattered the peace of more than a year.

This relative calm shows that either the terrorist groups based in Pakistan, which Islamabad likes to describe as “non-state actors”, are unable to penetrate the more effective security cordon put in place by Home Minister P. Chidambaram or that Washington’s warnings to Pakistan after the Mumbai attack, delivered personally by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has had a deterrent effect. Or that the jehadis in what has come to be known as the AfPak region are reassessing their tactics.

That they had done so earlier was evident when they switched from setting off bombs in trains and market places to launching a frontal assault on India’s financial capital. If, earlier, the bombs were planted by small groups, including Indian collaborators, the Mumbai attack was the handiwork of Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) “from start to finish”, as Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said.

This disclosure constitutes the bad news, for there is little doubt that the sponsors of terror in Pakistan are still around and perhaps planning their next move. They may also be engaged in working out the details of their next attack on the US - one of which nearly succeeded last June when Faisal Shahzad’s bomb failed to explode in New York’s Times Square.

But the difference is that while the terrorists targeting the US or Europe are mostly on their own, especially the Al Qaeda, the India-centric jehadis like the Lashkar-e-Taiba seem to have the direct backing of ISI and the Pakistan Army. Nor is this support provided by rogue elements in these two outfits, but has an institutional basis. As much is clear from the belief that Pakistan regards some of these terror groups, such as the one linked with the Haqqanis, as its “strategic assets”.

What is more, Pakistan’s civilian leadership, which heads a nominal democracy, is either unable or unwilling to prevent the army-ISI-jehadi nexus so far as India is concerned. The danger is that once America and the NATO withdraw from Afghanistan, these “strategic assets” will be able to establish themselves in Afghanistan, which Pakistan regards as a place of strategic retreat in the event of a war with India.

Given the nihilistic mindset of the jehadis, evident from the last will and testament of a 16-year-old boy quoted in Newsweek, where he says that he expects to meet his “beloved brothers in the company of virgins” after his death, India can expect no respite in the foreseeable future from these psychotic groups. Since they have been brainwashed into welcoming their own death while on a mission to kill infidels, only a foolproof security and intelligence network can stop them from entering India.

Although the security set-up seems to have improved under Chidambaram after the long period of laxity under his predecessor in the home ministry, Shivraj Patil, no one can guarantee that it is impenetrable.

While assessing the threat faced by India, it is necessary to realise that there is a difference between 9/11 and 26/11, which is how the Mumbai carnage is known in India. The jehadi animus against America is based on the campaigns by fiery Islamic clerics that the US is engaged in a virtual crusade against Muslims as can be seen from its stand in Palestine and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If Al Qaeda, which is the prime mover of this anti-US and anti-West jehad, attracts mercenaries from all over the world, the reason is perhaps the malignant spell cast on the gullible by Osama bin Laden. According to a Newsweek report, a “training” centre in South Waziristan in Pakistan has among its recruits Chechens, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Saudis, Syrians, Turks, Afghans, Algerians and even Germans, one of whom is of European origin and two others of Arabic and Turkish extraction.

The India-centric outfits like the Lashkar, however, comprise mainly Pakistanis and their objective is to bleed India with a thousand cuts, as the phrase goes, mainly to avenge Pakistan’s defeat in 1971 by seizing Kashmir. Unlike Al Qaeda’s anti-Americanism, which is some kind of religious war, Lashkar’s anti-Indian offensive is political in nature and linked to the history of the subcontinent.

Apart from Al Qaeda, Lashkar and a host of others, there is also the Tehrik-e-Taliban comprising Pakistanis who target their own country because they want to replace the present establishment modelled on the West with a pure Islamic regime. Hence its suicide missions against army and civilian targets in Pakistan and also minorities like the Shias.

None of these are large organisations in terms of numbers. According to Michael Leiter, director of the US Counterterrorism Centre, hard core Al Qaeda elements are around 300. But their advantage is the ability to enlist volunteers for their suicide missions in a region known for its poverty and extreme backwardness in terms of education and with no concept of democracy or liberalism.

If the Pakistan Army was serious about eliminating these groups, it might have been able to do that as the Saudi Arabians and Egyptians have done. But by fighting only Tehrik-e-Taliban while sustaining Lashkar, the Pakistan Army has effectively undermined the war on terrorism which began with America’s attack on Afghanistan after 9/11. There is no way, therefore, for India to rest easy.

(11.09.2010-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

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