A year has gone by since Mumbai was attacked by the Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Tayiba. Following this attack India put a lot of pressure on Pakistan to shut down terror factories in their country. Several arrests and releases were carried out of Lashkar militants and Pakistan claimed that they have been able to deal with the problem to a large extent.
The big question now is whether the threat of terror in India has come down or does it still loom large. What plans do outfits such as the Lashkar have on their mind and how do you think they would try and attack India once again.
We spoke to security experts and officers in the Intelligence Bureau to assess the situation in India and what sort of threat the country faces still.
According to security experts the terror factories in Pakistan are still very much open and they are constantly trying to destablise India. Ajith B Doval, former Chief of the Intelligence Bureau points out, “ threat from the terrorists depends on their intentions, capabilities and the opportunities they can seize. Larger the space that these variables provide, the more varied and higher the level of threat. As the strategic intention of the terrorists is to destabilise India, which they consider necessary to establish supremacy of Islam, their tactical objectives stretch from targeting senior national leaders, destroying country’s vital installations, striking at economic targets to bleed its economy arousing religious passions and shaking faith of the people in the ability of the government in protecting them by wanton depredations leading to mass killings. Fortunately, the capabilities of terrorists fall far short of their intentions. However, they are still sufficiently high to inflict unacceptable losses against inadequately defended soft targets. Considering their present capabilities, they can target busy public places, centres of economic activity, tourist spots, infrastructural facilities like those in power and communications sector, etc. Of late, they have also been trying to acquire skills to hit cyber critical infrastructure. What is a matter of serious concern is the consistent and perceptible increase in their capabilities.
Intelligence Bureau officials also point out that terrorist outfits have been constantly upgrading their skills. A senior IB officer points out that terrorists have undoubtedly upgraded their skills — particularly in leveraging and improvising commercially available technological aids to supports their operations. Their technology, communications, fabrication of Improvising Explosive Devices (IEDs), acquire use sophisticated weapon, obtain genuine or forged travel documents, ability to operate clandestinely using covers and alibis all have increased manifold. This has enabled them to inject higher degree of surprise, speed and deniability in their operations. However they can counter our security forces and out-smart them in any engagement. The situation in Pakistan is, however, qualitatively different. The terrain, tribal factor, local support, large-scale culture of violence among certain societies for centuries, weaponisation of the civil society, etc. make it an entirely different ball game. It is compounded by the dubious policy of the government – particularly its intelligence of selectively patronising and supporting different terrorist groups. They have been running with the hare and hunting with the hounds and working as the single most important factor in accretion of the striking capabilities of the terrorists.
Preventing terror post 26/11
K P S Raghuvanshi, Chief of the Mumbai Anti Terrorist Squad says that the scenario as of today is different. We are better equipped to fight terror when compared to a year back prior to the Mumbai attack. Forces have been upgraded and we are also working on a separate intelligence unit considering the fact that Mumbai is very high on the terror radar. However we need to keep upgrading since the opponent cannot be taken for granted. We have to be prepared for a surprise element that they may spring upon us.
A senior police official in Delhi who is part of the Anti terror team says that there needs to be proactive operations and intelligence will be a crucial aspect. We need to be constantly informed and upgraded about the new threats so that we can prepare ourselves accordingly.
Ajith Doval points out India has tried to strengthen its protective security regime to deny them tactical opportunities by hardening the targets. However, in a country of India’s size, vulnerabilities, limited resources and democratic freedoms, it is not possible to make all the potential targets impregnable. This leaves large gaps providing opportunities to the terrorists to take on soft targets. This will require high interdicting intelligence capability. This will also require greater technology support and strengthening of our emigration, border security, check on flow of illegal finances, action against gun runners and breaking collaborative networks of terrorists with underworld, drug traffickers and organised crime syndicates. I think this area still requires much greater strengthening through structural reorganisation, pumping additional resources and accretion in operational capabilities. Only a high proactive intelligence capability can keep the country ahead of the terrorists and surprise them before the strike, rather than chasing them after the event.
Biological warfare: This is an often spoken about threat by intelligence agencies and security ex This is an often spoken about threat by intelligence agencies and security experts. IB officials point out that while terror groups like the Lashkar have the capabilities of launching biological warfare, it is high likely that they may resort to this option immediately. The fact of the matter is that the Pakistan agencies such as the ISI and also the government machinery is not in favour of terror groups launching an attack of this nature. No terror group in Pakistan can independently launch biological warfare or use weapons of mass destruction against India unless and until there is a definitive nod from the government or the ISI. The IB says that it would be a whole other scenario if they even attempt using such methods against India. The consequences of such an attack would be severe since there is every chance of the international community isolating Pakistan in case they resort to such tactics. Doval points out that Pakistan will do everything under the sun to exercise necessary restraint and control over terrorist groups in order to restrain them from using WMD against India.
The Al-Qaeda threat and threat from foreigners:
Off late India has seen unexpected threat perceptions from both the Al-Qaeda and also from foreign nationals. It is only a clear indication that we are unaware of what sort of threat is looming large over us.
The IB says that the man to watch out for is Ilyas Kashmiri and unless and until we deal with him, he could prove to be a nuisance to India. He is the face of the Al-qaeda and there is talk of him taking over from Osama Bin Laden.
Security experts while speaking of the Al-Qaeda threat say that this outfit should be understood and dealt with as an ideological movement rather than a hierarchically structured terrorist outfit. Large number of Jihadi groups around the world draw inspiration from it, subscribe to its ideology and share their world view of enemies of Islam without any organisational alliance. The IB says that the threat to India from the
Al- Qaeda as an organization may not be very high but the ideology it subscribes to and methodology it follows can prove to be dangerous ever if a minuscule minority in the country starts subscribing or getting influenced by it. Moreover, there are many Pakistan-based organisations like Lashkar and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) which owe allegiance to it is and have been targeting India. Ilyas Kashmiri is operational chief of HUJI and till few years ago was a trusted operative of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). He served in the Pakistan elite Special Service Group and was trained with Pakistan’s Special Operation Unit by Britain’s Special Air Service. It was only on the bidding of the ISI that in the early 1990s, he was asked to join HUJI and build it up. He lost favour with the ISI after he turned down their request to join Jaish-e-Mohammad. Both ideologically and operationally he does constitute a potential threat as he is capable of mounting terrorist actions against India through his HUJI activists based in Bangladesh. In last few years he has come close to Al-Qaeda and undertaking operations on their behalf. As far as Brigade 313 is concerned, it is a loose coalition of five Jihadi outfits — Brigade 313 being one of them.
Speaking on the threat from foreign nationals, Doval points out that Lashkar has always maintained trans-national linkages with Jihadi organisations abroad and tried to raise recruits among people of Pakistani origin settled abroad, either as citizens or residents in those countries. It makes use of these foreign based human assets for many errands. Involvement of Lashkar activists have come to notice in many terrorist actions abroad including the London bombings of July 7, 2005. Its activists had been under scrutiny in many countries abroad — cases of David Hicks in Australia, Richard Reid and Dhiren Barot in UK are illustrative.