S-400 deal a setback for US efforts to isolate Russia: Stephen Tankel

pic: http://www.wespeaknews.com

New Delhi, Oct 10: India and Russia recently inked the 5 billion US dollar deal to procure Moscow’s most advance air defence system, the S-400 Triumf.

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BRICS declaration, a diplomatic win for India: Stephen Tankel

Photo courtesy: carnegieendowment.org

For India it was a diplomatic win at the BRICS summit following a declaration on terror groups including those operating with the blessings of Pakistan. The question now is whether China would go that extra mile and advise Pakistan to clamp down on terror groups operating on its soil.

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ISI mole in India agency- “Not surprised”

NYT2008112822242898CIndia has often blamed the United States of America for the lack of proper cooperation in terms of Intelligence sharing prior to the 26/11 attack. Today with claims being made about David Headley using an Indian agent code named Honey Bee, the doubts become stronger.

Stephen Tankel, the author of Storming the World Stage, the story of  Lashkar-e-Tayiba is also a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, where his research focuses on insurgency, terrorism, and the evolution of nonstate armed groups. He tells rediff.com in this interview that Washington clearly recognizes the Lashkar as a problem. He also goes on to add that it would not shock him to find out that the ISI had recruited an Indian agent for the 26/11 attack.

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“Snowden should be extradited to the US”

pic: www.wespeaknews.com
pic: http://www.wespeaknews.com

PRISM has raked up a very interesting issue- Privacy vs security. While there are pro and against arguments, the fact remains that all of us have to learn how to live with it.

Stephen Tankel, assistant professor at American University and a non resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment in the South Asia Program who focuses on insurgency, terrorism and security issues in South Asia, and U.S. policy says it is good that security vs privacy is being debated. In this interview with rediff.com, Tankel says the issue of PRISM is, or should be, part of a larger debate about how we balance security and privacy. Continue reading ““Snowden should be extradited to the US””

I doubt action will be taken against Hafiz Saeed

Ajmal Kasab was hanged finally today and the big question on everyones mind is whether the masters of this Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist would also be brought to justice. If the likes of Hafiz Saeed or Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi are to be brought to justice then it would entirely depend on Pakistan as those persons are facing trial in that country.

Stephen Tankel, the author of the book, Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba says that it is very unlikely that Hafiz Saeed may be brought to justice by Pakistan. In this chat with rediff.com, Tankel says that Kasab may have been hanged and a message sent across, but the question of Saeed being hanged is unlikely. Continue reading “I doubt action will be taken against Hafiz Saeed”

Jundal was part of the Lashkar’s 1996 plan

In the year 1996, Lashkar-e-Tayiba chief, Hafiz Saeed had said openly at Muridke, Pakistan that if they succeed in even making one percent of the Indian Muslims radical then they would have an army of 1 crore to carry out attacks on India. Abu Jundal the man in the control room who gave out instructions with absolutely no remorse which resulted in the killing of over a 100 people in the 26/11 attack is an example of what Hafiz Saeed was speaking about.

Security analysts are of the firm belief that Jundal was radicalised with an intention of carrying out a huge attack on Indian soil. While his catch may have brought out a plethora of information, it however would not change anything in the Pakistani set up.
C D Sahay, former Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing and Stephen Tankel, author of the book, “ Storming the world state- The story of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba who is also a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discuss with rediff.com the importance of getting an Abu Jundal and what it changes for India when it deals with Pakistan.

Sahay is of the view that nabbing a Jundal would not change anything in Pakistan and their approach towards terrorism being carried out on Indian soil. Terrorism is like a business an industry in Pakistan and there are many such players and the nabbing of one Jundal would not get them into a mode of admitting their role in acts of terror. Jundal is one of the many Indians who was motivated and recruited for the 26/11 attack. He was part of the control room because he was from India, he knows the places and the Indian psyche and he was better familiar. Moreover having a couple of Indians in the attack would also mean that the finger pointing towards Pakistan is less since they could always turn around and say that there were Indians involved in the attack as well.

Stephen Tankel says that the fact that he was arrested by the Saudis and then deported to India, despite what I understand were significant protests by Pakistan, is significant. While it’s by no means the end to Pakistan’s close alliance with Saudi Arabia, it does indicate that alliance is not ironclad. Similar, while it is by no means a sign that the Gulf is no longer a place from which Indian and Pakistani militants, this arrest and those that may follow could make some militants think twice before operating there.

As for Ansari’s (Jundal) importance, he was clearly a player in Lashkar and rose to a higher level than most Indian operatives could ever contemplate. He also appears to have been an important interface with members of India’s small jihadist movement. Thus, Ansari is likely able to provide significant insight into the inner workings of Lashkar, the Indian Mujahideen and the relationship between them as well as with their interactions with the ISI.

Sahay points out that after the Hizbul Mujahideen was incapable of delivering the goods in Kashmir to Zia-ul-Haq, there was the rise of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. It had a global agenda and have links with the Jihad factories across the world. Pakistan in the Lashkar saw a long term and dependable ally. They initially focused just on Jammu and Kashmir and in the days to come they realised that not enough attention was being attained by focusing only on the Valley which the people were getting fed up of. It was at this time in the year 1996 that the Lashkar decided to further its India agenda and that is when Saeed mentioned that radicalising one percent of the Indian Muslims would mean that having an army of a crore. This was the start of the big anti India agenda which they did with great deal of passion so that they could catch the eye of the ISI. It was operations such as these which led to birth of Abu Jundal. It was a brand factory that the Lashkar wanted to create and the making of Jundals is what they attained for so that they could give the Lashkar an Indian brand in the form of SIMI or the Indian Mujahideen.

Tankel points out that given the allegations Ansari was in the control room during the November 2008 attacks at the least he is in a prime position to confirm information already gleaned and possibly to provide additional insights into the planning and execution of the operation. As for whether that will have an impact on the Pakistani security establishment’s continued support for groups like Lashkar, I doubt this will force an about-face. But to the degree that the public evidence piles up and can make the current position more difficult to maintain, that’s a good thing.

After the arrest of Jundal Pakistan was quick to state that there were 40 more Indians in this attack. Sahay however feels that this is taking matters a bit too far. The ISI would not have involved more than a few people of Indian origin when they were planning an attack of this nature. There would have been very few people who would have been out of their control. Even during the 2006 train blasts, they engaged a minimum number of people required and all these persons were in a de-linked sort of format. The ISI is a “professional” and would have had serious reservations about permitting a Jundal to involve 40 persons in such an attack. The information would have leaked and to have more people in the core group would have meant that the information would have leaked.

The investigation from now onwards will be very crucial for India. If media reports are to be believed there is a turf war on between the states to get custody of Jundal. Information needs to be pieced together and it would not be fair to keep the police of any state out of this. The ATS must be given access since they were the first ones to probe the case. However it would be the NIA which would need to play the biggest role as it is a centralised agency and handling this case as well, Sahay further points out.

Extradition of Headley, capture of Saeed- It is a joke!

Stephen Tankel (pic credit-http://www.american.edu)

India saying that it is making efforts to extradite David Headley is nothing short of a sham. No matter what India may say about the extradition of David Headley it is a given that it is something that will not happen and that is thanks to the pre-deal that he has struck with the government in the United States of America.

Stephen Tankel author of the book, Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba who is also a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and assistant professor at American University says that it is just not helpful when Indian officials keep saying that they would seek the extradition of David Headley. Tankel who is in India to study Home Grown terror says in this interview with rediff.com that the issue of extradition is nothing but a non starter.

The pet subject with the United States of America today is David Headley and Tawwahur Rana. Your thoughts on the same.

Speaking of  Tawwahur Rana, some of us who followed the trial were a bit surprised he was convicted of providing material support to LeT, but not of any involvement in the 26/11 attack. But then gathering information and presenting evidence in court sufficient to secure a conviction are two different things. In terms of Headley, my understanding is he provided a significant amount of information in return for a plea arrangement to avoid either execution or extradition. I can understand why Indians feel they got a raw deal on this, though Headley’s hardly the first person to be offered a plea deal in return for information, a lot of which has been shared with India via the National Investigating Agency.

India however does expect still that Headley is extradited.
Indian officials can continue to assert they are making efforts to extradite David Headley, and they may well be doing so. But given that he made what I understand to be a legally binding plea arrangement with the U.S. to avoid extradition it’s difficult to imagine how he could be extradited.

What about seeking the extradition of Rana?

My understanding is he is currently appealing his convictions, so that complicates the issue at present. I can’t speak to how this will play out in the future, though my sense is that arranging extradition will prove elusive for the Indian authorities.

You have been in India nearly three weeks now and studying an important subject. How has it been so far?

A lot of my discussions have revolved around foreign policy and security and I’ve found the bureaucratic and political classes to be more open about these issues than in the past. To me, this is a healthy trend.

Speaking of foreign policy what does the United States have to realise about India’s position on various issues?
I’m struck by the increasing use of the term realist to describe how Indian policymakers are engaging internationally. To me, that’s in line with how the United States views the world, but it also means that US policymakers need to understand that  means India will act in its own national interest. Overall, my sense is cooperation is good across a number of areas and could become even deeper. But that does not mean there won’t be areas where the two countries diverge, which is something policymakers in both countries and especially the US will need to accept.

You were in Pakistan and now in India. What are the great challenges between these two countries?

From a security perspective, India’s greatest challenge at present is not a conventional conflict with either Pakistan or China. Rather, internal security issues pose perhaps the greatest challenge, though of course in the case of jihadist violence there are apparent links with Pakistan. But neither the Indian Mujahideen or the Naxalites, or any other internal security challenge for that matter, poses an existential threat for Pakistan. They are all manageable, though of course India is wise not to ignore them. More broadly, these internal security challenges are in some ways symptoms of wider challenges in the areas of governance and economic security, which India continues to confront.

Having spent last summer conducting research on the jihadist threat to Pakistan, I believe the threat there is more dire. I do not believe jihadists in Pakistan can overthrow the state or that they pose an existential problem in their own right. Rather, their existance, influence and a persistent level of violence makes it all the more difficult for Pakistan to confront a host of other pressing challenges.

There is much talk about the nexus between the Dawood Ibrahim gang of D Company and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. What did you make of this while you explored this subject?
I view this as an ad hoc alliance. Criminals like Dawood Ibrahim and those who work for him are interested primarily in material gain, and they likely would sell out an LeT operative or LeT plans if arrested in India. So his network may be used for running fake currency or smuggling arms, but I would not see this as a tight alliance.

So would you say that the 26/11 attack was a self contained attack?
Everything in the open source suggests this was planned and executed by people coming from Pakistan, but that does not mean there was not some indigenous support given either knowingly or unknowingly. There’s no evidence of this, but we just don’t know. However,  I would reiterate that what we do know points to LeT planning this in Pakistan and sending Pakistani operatives to conduct surveillance and the attack.

Sajid Mir? Mystery or for real?
He is a man with transnational interests. After the attacks in 2008 I did ask around about Mir. In Pakistan he was being referred to as a maulvi connected to the Ahl-e-Hadith movement who does not like Lashkar. There is another Sajid Mir and that’s who people meant. But this was not the guy I was looking for. No one seemed to know about Sajid Mir the LeT operative at the time, at least not anyone I could find who would speak about it. I was interested in him because of his involvement in attempted attacks earlier in the decade. But until 26/11 he did a very good job staying under the radar.

What about the Majors whose name cropped up during the investigation into the 26/11 attack?
Everything in the open source suggests they were ISI,but I have no additional information about them or where they are now. I would not expect the Pakistani security establishment to hand them over and it’s unlikely we’ll learn much more about them.

Hafiz Saeed and Osama Bin Laden are big names. How would you compare the two?
Saeed remains on-side as far as the security establishment is concerned. He travels relatively freely around Pakistan and lives in a nice house. When Laden was alive he was locked up in Abotabad. This is a big difference, and it impacts how far each of the two men were willing to push the envelope in terms. I’d also suggest that Saeed still has significant influence in LeT and is viewed as necessary to keep that group intact, so the likelihood of his being handed over is pretty slim. Doing so likely would also be seen as a major betrayal by the jihadi class in Pakistan.

Do you see the Lashkar going global?
It’s already expanded, though still remains influenced primarily by regional factors.  If the Afghan front declines post-2014 and Kashmir cannot be generated then there are questions as to where the Lashkar would go. Some in Lashkar might go global. Others might favor a further expansion of the jihad against India. And still others might look to deepen their involvement in politics in Pakistan.

Bounty on Saeed validates India’s claim on Lashkar

Photo courtesy: carnegieendowment.org

Is the bounty of ten million dollars against Lashkar-e-Tayiba boss Hafiz Saeed beneficial in nature for India? There are various aspects to this issue. India has on one hand welcomed this move by the United States of America, but the Indian intelligence is of the view that this announcement would not help us in the real sense as Pakistan would do everything in the book to protect the man who is India’s biggest headache.

Stephen Tankel, author of the book, Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba who is also a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and assistant professor at American University says that the bounty announced validates India’s repeated assertions that LeT is a dangerous group and that Hafiz Saeed plays a strategic role in guiding it. In this interaction with rediff.com, Tankel also points out that whether the decision to offer a reward should have been made sooner, I think one needs to examine what the US hopes to accomplish.

Whether the decision has come late:

The decision to announce a bounty on Hafiz Saeed has been in the works for a number of months. As to whether the decision to offer a reward should have been made sooner, I think one needs to examine what the United States of America hopes to accomplish. Saeed is not difficult to locate. So the impetus for doing it aside, one possible objective was signalling the seriousness of US concerns to Pakistan and pressuring it to reign in Saeed (and through him LeT). This decision also might have been taken in an attempt to put pressure on the group directly. It’s hardly clear at this stage whether offering the reward will help accomplish these objectives and there are some potentially steep costs involved. So my sense is we’ll have to wait and see to determine whether the announcement should have been made and, if so, whether it should have been made sooner.

Will the death or capture of Hafiz Saeed weaken the Lashkar-e-Tayiba?

The truth is we just don’t know. Saeed has led the organization since it was founded as Markaz-al-Dawa-wal-Irshad in 1986. He’s been surrounded by the same leadership team, more or less, since then. So LeT has never had to deal with a major loss at the leadership level and therefore we really don’t have a sense of its resiliency. It’s tough to find anyone else with the same stature, so removing Saeed could weaken the group and possibly even fragment it. What LeT looks like without Saeed is one of the more difficult scenarios to play out, but one which I’d expect that officials in Pakistan, India, America and LeT devote some time to thinking about.

Should Zaki-ur-Rehman-Lakhvi have been included?

As you know, Lakhvi’s already in jail, so it would be difficult to imagine offering a reward for his capture. Granted he is still quasi-operational from jail and offering a reward for Saeed’s capture took many by surprise given that he is such a public figure.

How does India gain?

Certainly this validates India’s repeated assertions that LeT is a dangerous group and that Hafiz Saeed plays a strategic role in guiding it. Whether this will lead to any beneficial action at the operational level or to closer counter terrorism cooperation between India and Pakistan remains to be seen. Again, though, it’s no surprise that India welcomed this statement given the violence LeT has perpetrated against it or energy the energy New Delhi has put into making the case against both the group and Saeed.

Looking at our threats 3 years later

Three years have passed since India witnessed one of its worst terror attacks. While the National Investigating Agency tries to pile on the evidence in the case specific to David Headley and Tawwahur Rana, security agencies across the country find themselves being foxed by a new wave of terror-Uroganised Hell.
All agencies including the NIA which probes terror cases say that the biggest threat perception for India would be from within. Home grown terror which would be carried on smaller scales will continue to haunt the country. We do not dispute the fact that the Lashkar-E-Tayiba will look to launch bigger attacks. However there would be these smaller cases every now and then which would continue to cause an irritant to security forces. Radha Vinod Raju, former boss of the NIA too points out that such fringe groups would continue to trouble agencies thus making the job ahead very tough.
The Indian Mujahideen in particular which has been revamped as the Bullet 313 is capable enough to carry out smaller strikes even in their weakest form. Although they are lying low today, there continues to be splinter groups within the outfit which carry out individual attacks. In addition to this there has been some movement within this group which indicates they are trying to strenghthen themselves. Intelligence Bureau reports suggest that some members of the Student Islamic Movement of India have been moving into the I’m. This is largely because of the frustration of the ban. Many members feel that the government is being unfair towards them and the better way to hit back is to join the IM which is a clearly a destructive outfit.
While the threat from the IM would continue to haunt India, the other headache comes from the Babbar Khalsa International which has shown all signs of a major come back. Although the area of focus for the BKI would be mainly Punjab, the ISI has been coaxing them to widen their area of operation to New Delhi also. The recent Ambala haul is testimony to that fact. This outfit would however focus on hitting out using political reasons. Unlike the IM which carries out attacks on innocents, the BKI would be used for bigger operations such hostage crisis and political murders. The BKI which has been sheltered by the ISI too has insisted on such type of attacks since they do not want to divert from their original cause.
Security experts also do not downplay the threat by some Hindu groups in the days to come. The recent spate of investigations have sure put the breaks on them, but it is a threat that cannot be ruled out completely. Their attacks would however be retaliatory in nature, police and Intelligence sources point out.
The areas of concern in India in the days to come would be Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. The IB has sounded alerts regarding these states as they are considered to be the epicente of terror. A lot of movement especially by Islamic organisations have been found in these states and reports suggest that most of the modules are very much active in these parts of the country.
On the international front, the threat perception for India is largely from the Lashlar, Harkat-ul-Jihadi and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. The HuJI has been making moves and have had sucess to a certain extent. The investigations into the Delhi High Court blasts point towards HuJI. This outfit had warned of an attack at Delhi recently. Their modules are active mainly in Hyderabad, Delhi West Bengal and Kerala.
The biggest threat from over seas however is from the Lashkar. The ambitious Karachi project is something that continues to be a concern. Although Pakistan does claim that it is doing everything to curb terror, all reports from across the border show that the Karachi project which is a combine between Pakistani and Indian Home grown jihadis is on. Stephen Tankel, an expert on matters pertaining to this outfit pointed out that Lashkar is still India’s biggest enemy and the outfit could unleash fury.

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The Laskhkar today

It was three years back when India witnessed one of its worst attacks on its soil. Although every person in India knew that an outfit such as the Lashkar-e-Tayiba was dangerous the 26/11 attack just went on to show how they could carry out such a perfectly coordinated attack.

A lot has changed in terms of the world’s approach in fighting terrorism. But the bigger question has anything changed within the Lashkar-e-Tayiba? A latest dossier on the outfit shows that it is subdued, but speaking of its capabilities, there is really nothing that has changed. Top leaders of the groups such as Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi are behind bars, but they are very much operational. Even today they are viewed as freedom fighters in Pakistan and even the ISI will not let them down despite any pressure from any quarter of the world.

A lot has been spoken about the Lashkar going global, but the fact remains that India will be its biggest target always. The dossier further points out that this outfit does have the capabilities of staging an attack at any corner of the world, but has been intentionally told to lie low due to immense heat. However the bigger issue is the growing factionalism within the Lashkar which is being seen as a concern for India. Stephen Tankel, the author of the book, “Storming the World Stage- The Story of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba,” pointed out in an interview with rediff.com points out the same. He says that there is growing factionalism within the Lashkar today and this could be dangerous as it may spin out of control.

Indian intelligence agencies too raise a similar concern. They say that it is becoming difficult for the ISI to control its operatives in the Lashkar. The war in Afghanistan and also the death of Osama Bin Laden have raised the emotions a great deal. There are questions being asked about why they have been told to lie low when their brothers in Afghanistan need them. The ISI does support their cause, but are worried that if these operatives are allowed to function on their own then it would be doom for their blue eyed outfit.

Earlier when Lakhvi was arrested and kept in jail, he was told to lie low. While Saeed continues to remain the inspirational figure for the Lashkar cadres, it is Lakhvi with whom they have more of an attachment. In fact he is called chacha by all the cadres of the Lashkar. The growing factionalism did make the ISI desperate as they did realize that they were missing an inspirational figure. 8 months after the 26/11 attack the ISI did try to make a change in the leadership. However this temporary measure fell flat on their face as none of the cadres were even ready to fall in line. This is when the ISI decided to permit Lakhvi to operate the Lashkar from behind bars. A western intelligence report too confirmed that this man was operating with the help of a cell from behind bars.

This infact has helped the Lashkar a great deal and the problem of growing factionalism has reduced when compared to what it used to be a couple of months back.

The ISI does realize that a person like Lakhvi is more important for the Lashkar when compared to Saeed. Hafiz Saeed is a good speaker and he can motivate a crowd. However when it comes to hardcore operations, it would be Lakhvi would have to take the lead since he connects better with the cadres.

The IB points out that the top leadership of the Lashkar continues to remain intact and as long as this is the case, there is no problem what so ever for this outfit.

In so far as the Indian operation, the Lashkar will continue to support the concept of home grown terror. They would want destability in India constantly and would come into the picture only for a big operation such as 26/11. It was very evident what they did with the Indian Mujahideen a couple of years back when the outfit launched back to back attacks. This infact kept Indian agencies so busy dealing on their home turf that in the bargain they completely forgot about the external enemy which used this destability as a launch pad to stage the 26/11 attack.