Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mumbai - 26/11

Calm, albeit uneasy, seems to have descended on Mumbai after it was witness to an unprecedented carnage perpetrated by a group of fidayeens (suicide) in the up-market area of South Mumbai from 26th November to the morning of 29th November 2008. The mayhem left about 190 dead and nearly 250 people injured. Amongst those killed were high ranking officers of the Mumbai Police and several other security personnel from the Mumbai police, National Security Guards (NSG), scores of foreigners and ordinary civilians. The terrorists struck at five places – Leopold Café at Colaba, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Station (CST for short; formerly known as Victoria Terminus), the Taj Hotel, Colaba, Oberoi-Trident, Nariman Point and Nariman House (renamed Chabad House) at Colaba which housed the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Community Centre. The terrorists also placed bombs in two taxis which exploded at Wadi Bunder and Vile Parle respectively.

The terrorist attacks started with several news channels reporting gunfire exchanged at Colaba (South Mumbai) around 2115 hours. (This later turned out to be the first reported attack on Leopold Café, where the first casualties occurred). Thereafter news started coming in of firing at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus Station explosions inside the headquarters of the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) which is located opposite CST, firing at Cama Hospital adjacent to the Metropolitan Magistrates’ Courts close to the BMC and later farther end of the road near the Metro Cinema. Later it was revealed that the firing at all these places, namely at CST to Metro junction, were the handiwork of the two terrorists. And it appears it was these two who were responsible not only for the large number of civilian casualties but also for the deaths of the top police officers as well as various ranks who with hand guns and rifles tried to take on these terrorists. At around the same time a group of terrorists had started indiscriminate firing at two of the premier five-star hotels – Oberoi-Trident and Taj located at Nariman Point and Colaba, near the Gateway of India respectively. Little did the world and the residents of Mumbai realize that this battle with hardcore fidayeens would involve 477 commandos from the elite National Security Guards (NSG), 400 policemen, one unit of the Navy’s elite marine commandos (MARCOS), 6 army columns and would take 60 hours to reach conclusion.

While the two terrorists who went berserk firing indiscriminately from CST to Metro Cinema (where they killed the chief of ATS and two senior police officers) and thereafter towards Girgaum Chowpatty where they were neutralized by a police team (one was killed in the encounter and the other Ajmal Amir Kasab, was taken alive though injured. Incidentally he was the only terrorist caught alive in the entire episode that unfolded in Mumbai). This drama on the streets lasted only for a few hours. It was the long haul at the two hotels and at Nariman House where Jewish families from Israel were taken as hostages that traumatized Mumbai. By late night of 26th November it was apparent that the attack was no ordinary terrorist strike but a meticulously fidayeen operation executed out by a group of highly motivated and trained foot soldiers from across the border in Pakistan. (The on-going investigations clearly point to the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET)[1] and the Pakistani military in the terrorist strike). This attack was a typical case of urban guerilla warfare at its best. The attackers it turned out were heavily armed with AK-47 assault rifles with seemingly endless rounds of ammunitions, Chinese hand-grenades, plastic explosives, small arms and ration in the form of dry fruits to last them for several days.

Investigations reveal that the Lashkar men got into an Indian fishing trawler that had either been arranged or hijacked for this purpose just before entering Indian territorial waters. Having monitored Coast Guard patrols closely, sources said, a mother ship (Pakistani vessel Al Hussaini) dropped them off in small boats from where they moved into an Indian fishing trawler (MV Kuber) to avoid detection. Once they reached close to the alighting point, they lowered themselves again into smaller boats arranged for them locally and then split into at least two groups for the attacks. The terrorists thus embarked in Karachi and either halted at Porbander (Gujarat) or off the coast of Porbander headed to Mumbai on MV Kuber. [Intelligence sources said that at least one of the boats used to carry out the attack was Kuber, a private Indian fishing boat from Porbandar in Gujarat. Kuber was found abandoned some five nautical miles off the Mumbai coast].

In the aftermath of the terrorist strike there has been an outpouring of emotions ranging from grief to anger and frustration in Mumbai and various cities of India. People in large numbers gathered to protest not only the shortcomings of the government and the politicians but also to impress on society that action was needed to tackle this menace. Heads have rolled with the Home Minister and Maharashtra’s Chief Minister and his deputy resigning within a few days of the attacks.

However, it must be pointed out that public anger and other varying emotions which were displayed on the streets of Mumbai and elsewhere cannot provide quick-fix solutions to the kind of terror that India is facing today.

The aim of this paper is a dispassionate and objective analysis of the shortcomings and the formulation of a strategy to combat terror.
First and foremost the terrorist strike in Mumbai was no ordinary terror strike. It was unique in that multiple locations, carefully chosen were targeted to cause maximum damage as well as impact. Instead of one or more bombings at distinct sites, the Mumbai attackers struck throughout the city using military tactics. Secondly, the choice of targets was also exclusive; all located in up-market South Mumbai (the five star hotels like Oberoi-Trident or Taj or the Leopold Café, a watering hole frequented by foreigners). The choice of the CST Railway Station was to cause fear and panic among the local populace and publicity for the jihadi cause. The Nariman House at Colaba was targeted primarily because it housed Jewish/Israeli families. The targets were selected for their visibility, (with the exception of Nariman House) impact, lax security, easy accessibility, hostage taking, and to find convenient fortifications to counter police action.

This choice of the fidayeens’ target particularly the Nariman House gives an indication as to the extent of planning that went into the execution of the terror strike. It must be remembered that though the Jews and in particular Israelis are vulnerable to terror strike the world over, little did anyone realize that Nariman House would be a terror target. It must be pointed out that even locals were not aware of the existence of a Jewish Centre till 26/11. This leads one to believe that a detailed recce (reconnaissance) had been carried out of all the targets in Mumbai much prior to 26/11. Considering the magnitude of the operation and the choice of targets, it can reasonably be assumed that more than the 10 member suicide squad, who were accounted for, may have been part of this operation.

The Pakistani Angle

Investigations indicated the attack to be the handiwork of the dreaded Pak-based terrorist group the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). The LeT was formed in the Kunar povince of Afghanistan as the armed wing of the Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI), an Islamic fundamentalist organisation of the Ahle-Hadith sect in Pakistan. The MDI is based in Muridke, near Lahore. It has subsequently changed its name to Jama’at-ud-Da’wah and is headed by Prof. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who is also the amir of Lashkar-e-Taiba.The group has the complete backing of the Pakistani military. Pakistan however denies this allegation. However, the Indian government and many non-governmental think-tanks allege and rightly so, that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence is actively involved in training the members of this group in military skills as well as financing its activities directed against India. Pakistan vehemently denied that any of its citizens were involved in the Mumbai carnage. The Pakistani denial boomeranged when Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab confessed that he hailed from Faridkot, Pakistan and that he was instructed to cause mayhem. His father in an interview to a leading Pakistani daily the Dawn also admitted that the arrested terrorist was his son who had left home about four years back and the family had very little contact with him. Pakistan is also reported to have sought consular access for the arrested terrorist.

Intelligence

It has become a sort of fashion in this country to pin the blame on the intelligence agencies after almost every terrorist attack. This is because in the past several terrorist incidents in India, there was very little actionable intelligence that was available which could help the law enforcement agencies avert the strikes. However, in this particular case, on September 18, the R&AW intercepted a satellite phone conversation between a known LeT operative and an unknown person making refernce to an operation to be carried out targeting a hotel in Mumbai. September 24 intercept by R&AW identified the hotels – Taj, the Marriot, Land’s End and Sea Rock – considered for the attack. Thereafter, the CIA’s station chief also warned that terrorist might strike Mumbai that would come from the sea. The Intelligence Bureau (IB) also by its communication on November 19 warned Maharashtra government that Yusuf Muzamil (a.k.a. ‘Yusuf’ or as ‘Abu Gure’) a Muzaffarabad-based LeT operative and chief of operations had been in conversation with one HuJI operative identified as Yahhya for arranging foreign SIM cards for an operation. According to the Indian Express, internal inquiries into the Mumbai Terror attacks revealed that despite clear intelligence inputs the Coast Guard and the Navy failed to either spot or interdict Al Hussaini, the Pakistani ship that carried the Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists from an Indus creek in Azizabad near Karachi. And this took place at a time when warships and some IAF aircraft were participating in an annual exercise for the defence of Gujarat... Therefore it can be reasonably inferred that some actionable intelligence was provided to the government of Maharashtra as well as to the Navy and Coast Guard. The inaction on the part of the various agencies on the ground that there was no actionable intelligence does not appear to be tenable.

However, this is not to suggest that there are no shortcomings in the intelligence gathering abilities and assessment of information gathered on the part of our agencies. There are a host of problems which need to be addressed:

The single biggest problem which needs to be addressed expeditiously is not the lack of intelligence information but an unwillingness to share information and resources among the police and intelligence agencies. This is further compounded by the fact that we have far too many organizations, with separate command and control thereby making it impossible to hold any one entity responsible for the failure. The Kargil intrusion was a case in point. In the case of 26/11, there was quite a bit of actionable intelligence. However there was no proper assessment and hence very little action was taken at the ground level by the concerned agencies.

The second problem is that of coordination. The blame game that necessarily follows the lack of coordination between intelligence agencies bring to mind a satire about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. Our agencies work more or less in this manner.

The Kargil Committee Report observed: “The Committee has drawn attention to deficiencies in the present system of collection, reporting, collation and assessment of intelligence. There is no institutionalised mechanism for coordination or objective- oriented interaction between the agencies and consumers at different levels. Similarly, there is no mechanism for tasking the agencies, monitoring their performance and reviewing their records to evaluate their quality. Nor is there any oversight of the overall functioning of the agencies. These are all standard features elsewhere in the world. In the absence of such procedures, the Government and the nation do not know whether they are getting value for money. While taking note of recent steps to entrust the NSCS with some of these responsibilities the Committee recommends a thorough examination of the working of the intelligence system with a view to remedying these deficiencies.” Nearly a decade after Kargil nothing seems to have changed on the ground.

In India the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), headed by an all-powerful, politically-appointed National Security Advisor (NSA) is at the top of the intelligence pyramid. Intelligence gathering within the country is carried out by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) which functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) was carved out of the IB and formed as a ‘Wing’ of the Cabinet Secretariat in September 1968 for collection of external intelligence. R&AW's legal status is unusual; it is not an "Agency" but a "Wing" of the Cabinet Secretariat. Hence R&AW is not answerable to Parliament on any issue.

As per convention, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) under the Cabinet Secretariat is responsible for co-ordinating and analyzing intelligence activities between R&AW, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). In practice, however, the effectiveness of the JIC has been varied.

India's hi-tech spying agency, the National Technical Facilities Organisation (NTFO), now known as National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) is believed to be functioning under R&AW, although it remains autonomous to some degree. While the exact nature of the operations conducted by NTFO is classified, it is believed that it deals with research on imagery and communications using various platforms.

The Girish Saxena Committee which examined the state of the country’s intelligence apparatus recommended a ‘multi-agency set up’ to confront the challenges of terrorism, and this was, at least formally, implemented through the creation of two new wings under the IB – the Multi Agency Centre (MAC) and the Joint Task Force on Intelligence (JTFI). MAC was charged with collecting and coordinating terrorism-related information from across the country; the JTFI is responsible for passing on this information to the State Governments in real-time. Regrettably, both MAC and JTFI remain under-staffed, under-equipped and ineffective, with even basic issues relating to their administration unsettled. Their principal objective, the creation of a national terrorism database, has made little progress. The JTFI was also given the responsibility of upgrading counter-terrorism capabilities in the State Police Forces, as part of its mandate to improve intelligence-gathering across the country, but no actual programme of training or capacity enhancement has been initiated. The mission objective was to run an umbrella organization comprising state-level units called SMACs and the development of a national counter-terrorism database supported by state-level police-intelligence Joint Task Forces and inter-state Intelligence Support Teams. Conceived after the pattern of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center, the MAC was to be responsible for the joint analysis of intelligence flowing from different quarters and coordinating relevant follow-up actions.

The GoM had recommended the setting up of MAC as an immediate answer to charges of "intelligence failure" during the 1999 Kargil conflict. According to the GoM's recommendations, for wider and faster accessibility of intelligence information, it was necessary to set up a National Intelligence Grid along with a National Memory Bank.

Five years after MAC was approved, it is today composed of a skeletal staff and five SMACs, using a database hosted on a bare-bones computer system designed in-house, with no real-time links to state police forces or other intelligence agencies. There is no sign of the development of the comprehensive database on terrorists on which the entire counter-terrorism information grid was to be built. Senior intelligence officials have pointed out that the interrogation reports of 16,000 Islamist terrorists caught between 1991 and 2005 could prove to be a goldmine of actionable intelligence. The interrogation report of the LeT operative Fahim Ansari by the UP police could have provided a wealth of information had this been made known to the police in Mumbai. It turned out that it was Ansari who did the recce of Mumbai’s targets for the fidayeens.

Paramilitary organizations like the Central Reserve Police Force and Border Security Force maintain their own intelligence units (G Branch) to support counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir and North-East.

Apart from the security agencies under the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are departments under the Ministry of Finance such as Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB), Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, etc. which deal with foreign exchange violations, hawala, money laundering, smuggling, tax evasion and crimes related to revenue.

At the bottom of the pyramid are the intelligence branches of the states police whose intelligence networks remain the primary source of information and main agency for implementing action on the ground.

In the aftermath of the recent terror attacks the government has proposed setting up of a National (or Federal) Investigation Agency to investigate and prosecute terror-related crimes. This is likely to be patterned on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It is anybody's guess as to how one more agency will help India to combat terror effectively.


India’s Response

Indian response must necessarily be formulated in the context of Indo-Pak relations. The terror strike clearly indicates the involvement of Pakistani elements, if not the political establishment directly. Though, it must be said that this attack could simply not have been possible without the tacit knowledge and blessings of the ISI and the military. India can now ill-afford to have knee-jerk reactions and half-measures in dealing with this growing menace.

Pakistan’s so-called crackdown on terrorist groups like the LeT and JeM within its borders hardly inspires confidence. The action which is seen to be taken under intense pressure from the US and the UN is at best half-hearted. This type of Pakistani action was seen after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. One can expect these leaders to be free within a couple of months of house arrest or detention and the organizations which came to be banned will probably begin operations under a new name. The Pakistani President has already rejected India’s demand for handing over the leaders of the LeT, and chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Masood Azhar to India for standing trial.

Democracies cannot successfully combat terror by DEMOCRATIC MEANS. There is no denying the fact that harshest measures are needed to counter terror of the jihadi type emanating from a Talibanized Pakistan. The US which is the largest democracy and Israel which happens to be one of the smallest democracies could not combat terror through democratic means. India cannot do so either. The acts of terror perpetrated from across the border are not isolated acts or sporadic in nature. They are part of a concerted effort to destroy India. It is war of attrition.

India in the present scenario has the following options to deal with the crisis emerging out of Pakistan’s intransigence and reluctance:

India has been successful in mobilizing international opinion against terrorism sponsored by Pakistan and operating from Pakistani soil. Pakistan stands isolated today at the UN with very little support except probably from the Chinese. In the immediate short run, coercive diplomacy and economic sanctions can make life difficult for Pakistan. However, the so-called non-state actors (read LeT, JeM and other terrorist groups) in conjunction with the nefarious ISI may still be able to function from within Pakistani territory.

Ø Suspend bilateral talks with Pakistan on all issues including Siachen Glacier.
Ø Recall its High Commissioner to Pakistan and downsize both its own mission at Islamabad and call Pakistan to downsize its mission as well.
Ø Impose travel restrictions by suspending issue of visas indefinitely to Pakistani nationals.
Ø Snap of air, road and rail links to and from Pakistan.
Ø Stop PIA flights over Indian territory.
Ø Suspend cultural and sporting ties with Pakistan

Military Option

Though under the circumstances, a military option seems unfeasible. It also seems improbable that India would take recourse to the use of force till it has exhausted all its other options. However, India can adopt an ambivalent policy of “no war-no peace”. This will keep Pakistan guessing about India’s military options.

If India were to look at the military option then the scenario changes drastically for India has to take into consideration the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power and any action of this nature run the risk of escalating into a full blown conflict with attendant nuclear dangers. According to Stratfor, Pakistan expects that the Indians might launch air strikes against Islamist training camps and bases in Pakistani-administered Kashmir. In Pakistan’s view, this is not a serious problem. Mounting air strikes against training camps is harder than it might seem. The only way to achieve anything in such a facility is with area destruction weapons — for instance, using B-52s to drop ordnance over very large areas. The targets are not amenable to strike aircraft, because the payload of such aircraft is too small. It would be tough for the Indians, who don’t have strategic bombers, to hit very much. Numerous camps exist, and the Islamists can afford to lose some. As an attack, it would be more symbolic than effective. Attacks on training camps sound more effective than they are. Concentrating troops on the border is impressive only if India is prepared for a massive land war, and a naval blockade has multiple complications.

India needs a military option that demonstrates will and capability and decisively hurts the Pakistani government, all without drawing India into a nuclear exchange or costly ground war. And its response must rise above the symbolic.”

The military option that India must consider is not war but measures short of war. Reprisal, for instance, under such special and compelling circumstances could be considered legitimate and justified under international law. “A reprisal is an act of SELF-HELP… by the injured state, responding—after an unsatisfied demand—to an act contrary to international law committed by the offending state….Its object is to effect REPARATION from the offending state for the offense or a return to legality by the avoidance of further offenses." [Naulilaa Case (Portugal v. Germany), 2 UN Reports Of International Arbitral Awards 1012 (Portuguese-German Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, 1928)] A reprisal is a form of self defense and can only be used as a last resort; it must be executed with the view of restoring a sense of equilibrium in international relations and ensuring future compliance with legal norms.

There has been a lot of debate over whether India should carry out covert operations across the border to neutralize terrorists and terror infrastructure. Though clandestine operations have the advantages of surprise, stealth and deniability, such operations are also fraught with the danger of escalating into a full blown war. The pre-requisite for successfully executing such operations is having considerable HUMINT capabilities inside Pakistan along with logistical facilities. India must develop these covert action capabilities in order to retaliate deep inside enemy lines if it wishes to deter 26/11 type attacks in the future. Till date India’s war on terror is being fought within Indian territory militarily and otherwise. India must strive to fight such wars on enemy soil in future.

This war on terror (sponsored by Pakistan) is India’s war alone. We cannot expect and should not expect others to fight this war for us.

At the time of this writing, Pakistan under pressure from the US and India responded by detaining Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed and certain leaders of the LeT. In the past too, Pakistan had temporarily detained certain leaders of the terrorist outfits based in Pakistan and released them after a few months. This “action” has been viewed with suspicion by India. At the same time Pakistan has also refused to hand over or extradite the 20 most wanted operating from Pakistan
[1] http://www.adl.org/terrorism/symbols/lashkaretaiba.asp Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistani-based Islamic terrorist organization, founded in 1986, seeks to drive out Indian security forces from the disputed Jammu and Kashmir regions of South Asia and establish an Islamic caliphate.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

LTTE – Is it the Beginning of the End?

Sri Lanka’s counter-insurgency campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) entered a critical phase with the Lankan army tightening the noose around the rebel capital of Kilinochchi. If this were to happen, the LTTE would be confined to Mullaitivu. According to analysts, the fall of Kilinochchi could be the precursor to the opening of the Elephant Pass, leading to the Jaffna Peninsula.

The latest success achieved by the Lankan army came in the form of the capture of the strategic village of Vannerikulam, west of Kilinochchi following a two-month long hard-fought battle.

On September 15, 2008 a fierce battle started in the area of Akkarayankulam, which is located in the proximity of Kilinochchi. Military's spokesman said SLA troops were now just 5.5 km (3.4 miles) away from the rebel headquarters at Kilinochchi. BBC sources on the ground said that civilians were fleeing Kilinochchi into areas to the east, and rebel fighters were also going in the same direction.

On October 17, 2008 SLA troops cut-off Mannar-Poonaryn (A-32) road north of Nachchikudha, thus effectively encircling Nachchikudha, which is the main remaining Sea Tiger stronghold on the northwestern coast of the Island[i].

Task Force 1 of the Sri Lankan army which had bypassed the rebel stronghold Nachikuda, captured Manniyankulam and Vanneikulam advance along the A32 route to Pooneryn. It is probable that the LTTE’s access to sea routes to Tamil Nadu from the northern Mannar coast may be severely impeded. However, the top leadership of the Tigers may still be able to sneak out through the Uppu Aru Lagoon or through the Piramanthan Aru to the Indian Ocean. The possibilities of escape are quite high considering the topography of the region.

According to the Sri Lankan newspaper, Daily News, (20th October 2008) fierce fighting was on in Akkarayankulam west on 19th October as the LTTE continued to launch counter attacks on the troops which were holding the massive earth bund west of Akkarayankulam tank as they were aware that the loss of this earth bund would result in the loss of the Akkarayan village also to the security forces.

Task Force I operating under the command of Brigadier Shavendra Silva in the Kilinochchi district moving towards Nachchikuda by afternoon of 19th October completed the task of capturing the earth bund from west of Pandiveddikulam to Akkarayan west, capturing one kilometre stretch of earth bund in the east of Vannerikulam.

With the capture of the one km stretch of earth bund in the east of Vannerikulam the Task Force I troops have fully captured the 10 kilometre stretch of earth bund between the west of Pandiveddikulam and towards the east of Vannerikulam.

Pandiveddikulam is located some 7 kilometres north east of Nachchikudha.

There is only a kilometre stretch of the earth bund west of Akkarayankulam to be captured by the 57 Division to take full control of the earth bund from west of Pandiveddikulam to Akkarayankulam.

The Task Force I troops continued their march towards the north of the earth bund capturing Adampamodai village which is located 10 Km north east of Nachchikudha by yesterday afternoon.

With the capture of the Adampamodai village Task Force I can launch attacks towards Pooneryn in the North, Kiranchi or Valaipadu in the West, Nachchikudha in the South or Kilinochchi in the East, as they are now operating in an area with access to all directions.

Factors responsible for the Tigers’ downfall

The single most important factor which dented the Tigers’ combat capability was the split between its northern and eastern wings. In March 2004, eastern province military commander, V. Muralitharan, a.k.a. Karuna, wrote two letters effectively formalising the rift. The first to the LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran requesting that the LTTE’s eastern wing be allowed to “function independently” and called for a separate administration structure in the eastern Batticaloa-Ampara districts. The second letter was addressed to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), which oversaw the ceasefire, calling for a separate truce arrangement with the Colombo government. The central LTTE leadership, based in the northern Wanni area, first attempted to downplay the crisis describing it as a “temporary” episode. But on March 6, leader of the political wing, late S. Thamilchelvan, announced that Muralitharan had been removed and replaced by his deputy, T. Ramesh, and that other Prabkakaran loyalists had been appointed to eastern regional posts. He declared that Muralitharan’s move had been “instigated by some malicious elements” opposed to “Tamil liberation struggle” and that he had acted “traitorously to the Tamil people.”

Thamilchelvan’s statement amounted to a virtual death sentence for Karuna and his men. Karuna, however, had an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 guerrilla fighters—about one third of the LTTE’s total military forces—under his control. Far from backing down, he moved quickly to consolidate his position in Batticaloa-Ampara districts.

Secondly, LTTE became increasingly isolated internationally. The US and Canada besides India declared it a terrorist organization making it extremely difficult for the Tigers to raise funds and procure arms for its campaign against the security forces. The assassinations of Tamil politicians and the indiscriminate use of violence made it virtually impossible for the international community to recognize it as a representative of the Lankan Tamils.

Thirdly, the Sri Lankan navy achieved unprecedented success in 2007 when it was able to sink a number of ships of the Eelam navy. (Read the Author’s The LTTE: On the Backfoot November 3, 2007) The naval operations had a big impact on the illegal arms shipment network.

Further the death of Anton Balsingham who was a political strategist and negotiator was a body blow to the separatists.

Sri Lanka also obtained necessary support from China, Pakistan and military hardware (read Kfir C-2 aircraft-6 Nos) from Israel in 2006 and radars from India and the US. Eelam War IV saw the Lankan navy and air force playing a more meaningful role in the war against Tamil terror.

In conclusion, it remains to be seen whether the rains in Sri Lanka will bog down the armed forces making it difficult for them to speed up operations. Any respite at this point of time will only enable the Tigers to carry out a tactical retreat and later regroup to fight another round another day.




[i] Wikipedia

Thursday, September 18, 2008

India's War on Terror

[At the time of writing of this post, the prime suspect and probably the most wanted in India for his role in the serial blasts in Ahmedabad and Delhi, Indian Mujahideen’s Abdul Subhan Qureshi alias Taufeeq Bilal is reported to have fled to Bangladesh via the Malda border. Such is the co-ordination (or the lack of it) between the various law-enforcing / security agencies of the country that in spite of keeping track of the suspect, he was not picked up].

Four blasts in five months. Major cities – Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi (And one failed attempt in Surat) have been targeted from May 2008 to September 2008 by a relatively little known Islamic fundamentalist group called the Indian Mujahideen. An expert rightly remarked that India had become a picnic spot of terrorists where they could gaily carry out their activities without fear of reprisals or punishments. In fact there is no deterrence. As a result India seems to have been rendered so vulnerable that Islamist terrorist groups merrily strike at will with increasing frequency and intensity. It is quite unthinkable for any rationale human being to fathom as to how a country which has been repeatedly ravaged by terrorism does not even have an anti-terror law. Thanks largely to our politicians, national security concerns have been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. Every time there is a big terror attack outside Jammu and Kashmir an oft heard remark is that it is time to get tough with organized terror. It is just a lip service to assuage the feelings of the common man who bears the brunt of these attacks. If we had really acted tough in 1993 after Mumbai was rocked by serial blasts, we would not have found ourselves in this predicament.

After every terrorist strike in India, a comparison is made with US and how even a country as large and powerful as the US was not immune to terror strikes. However, what is important to note is that post-9/11 there has been no incident of terrorism in mainland USA. This is primarily due to the fact that the US adopted some of the harshest measures apart from declaring an all out war on terror. The measures included enacting tough anti-terror legislation, incarcerating terror suspects captured in Afghanistan in Guantanamo Bay, etc.

India which has been a victim of Pak-sponsored jihadi terror, on the other hand, has had to its credit, two anti-terror laws (TADA and POTA) repealed. This is the sincerity with which India has been tackling the cancer of jihadi terror.

India’s policy on national security has always been a hostage to vote-bank politics. How else does one explain the support given by politicians like Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav to Students’ Islamic Union of India (SIMI) a banned terror outfit responsible for most of the recent terrorist strikes in India? Should not action be taken against these two leaders for openly supporting the revocation of ban on SIMI? Are these rogue politicians not as culpable as the ones who commit the dastardly acts of terror?

Jihadi terror’s root cause is Pakistan. So any measure initiated for containing terror within the country must be taken by keeping Pakistan and its closest terrorist ally Bangladesh in mind. For measures taken within the country will only address the symptom and not the disease.

At the time of writing this post, the country’s cabinet had not been able to come up with any concrete proposals to counter terror. The Government said “no” to a strong anti-terror law; rather it proposes tightening the provisions of the existing law. We continue to adopt the soft, laid-back approach to terror with of course some cosmetic changes like, more CCTV cameras in public places and raising the issue of cross-border terrorism with Pakistan.

Terrorism especially of the jihadi type can be countered only by ruthless measures not by lip service and cosmetic changes.

Firstly, there is an urgent need to cleanse the Home Ministry of nincompoop ministers – the boss Shivraj Patil, the serial dress changer who has had no clue how to tackle the terror menace and one subordinate Jaiswal attending inauguration function in his home constituency and the other, Ahmed defending his boss. No, there is nothing political about this. The continuance of this trio does not augur well for the nation’s security. The political leadership at its own peril and that of the country can permit these three gentlemen to function in their present capacity.

A policy of no compromise – India’s counter terror strategy has been compromised by successive governments by giving in to terrorists’ demands at various points of time. A strategy to counter organized terror cannot be subject to and subservient to narrow electoral politics and populist measures.

India lacks the political will and resolve to fight terror. After every terrorist strike all we get to see is political blame game; condemnation by ministers and politicians and compensation for the victims. On the ground there is very little progress in connection with the terror crimes. Otherwise how does one explain India’s inaction over the Indian Embassy bombing in Kabul? In the aftermath of the attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001, India mobilized its army on its Western borders but stopped short of going all out against Pakistan. All our initiatives have turned out to be half-hearted attempts. Contrast this with the US Special Forces action in Pakistan from across the Afghan border. India must gear up for attacking terror infrastructure in Pakistan or Bangladesh or elsewhere with all necessary means possible. Even if it means risking an all out confrontation.

Carrying out assassination and abduction of foreign nationals responsible for terrorist activities against India or its nationals and interests. So also to carry out sabotage and counter terrorist activities in enemy states to protect national interests.

Incarceration of known terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay type detention camps. And curtailing rights of the detainees.

Stepped up surveillance of madrassas and places of worship like Mosques.

These measures may not be easy to adopt or implement. However, India has not too many options excepting taking measures undemocratic and extra-judicial.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Finger Area: The Indian Response

China’s fresh claims on 2.1 sq. km “Finger Area” of Sikkim amounts to the re-opening of that portion of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which was considered settled. It also raises doubts about China’s sincerity in resolving the boundary issue. While the northernmost tip of Sikkim was always part of Indian Territory, the Army earlier used to send in only regular patrols and had a few traditional defensive positions in the area. The 'Finger Area', which falls north of Gyangyong in Sikkim and overlooks a valley known as the Sora Funnel, is considered a strong defensive position to ward off any move by China to enter the Sikkim plateau.

According to Beijing which has backed up its claims over the Finger Area by producing maps which it states are more accurate because the map is purported to have been plotted using advanced technology – It has been reported that the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was attempting to prove the authenticity of the claim by using GPS and other satellite-based navigational equipment.

India, instead of refuting Beijing’s claims and reiterating the validity of the 1924 Survey of India map on which it has been relying for backing its claim over the area, directed the Survey of India to carry out fresh survey of the region in northern Sikkim using latest methods to validate and verify Indian positions. While the Chinese conveyed threats through diplomatic channels to destroy the cairns in the area, the Indian External Affairs Ministry chose to adopt an over cautious line bordering on appeasement. This Indian move may well open a Pandora’s Box encouraging the Chinese to “create” more disputes along the LAC as well as harden its position on the issue of Tawang.

India can ill-afford to ignore the overt Chinese threats to resolve the present territorial claim militarily as well as its veiled threats over Tawang.

According to sources, the Army always had a permanent presence in the area and had constructed bunkers and temporary posts since 1962. The stone cairns, which China had threatened to destroy, had also been modified as defensive positions by the Army. The Kalimpong-based 27 Mountain Division is responsible for the defence of Northern Sikkim and the Finger Area. India proposes to set up two mountain divisions (about 30,000 troops) dedicated for Arunachal Pradesh, a fleet of medium lift helicopters to service these troops and three bases for Sukhois at Tezpur, Hashimara and Panagarh.

India needs to do more than setting up two divisions and a few bases. It needs to expeditiously improve the infrastructure of the entire North Eastern Region including building all weather roads not only for rapid troop deployment but also for the development of the entire region. India must also step up reconnaissance of the areas particularly where there have been increased Chinese military activities and incursions in order to avoid a “Kargil” in the eastern sector.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chinese Hand in the Finger Area - Flashpoint in Sikkim

In a move which took India by surprise, China laid claim to a small tract of land in North Sikkim, referred to as the “Finger Area” by the Indian Army and even threatened to demolish existing stone structures there. India has strongly rebutted these claims, lodged an official protest and barred Chinese troops from entering the area. The area is in the northernmost tip of Sikkim, north of a place called Gyangyong, and because it appears like a protruding finger on the map, it is referred to by the name Finger Area. This territory overlooks a strategically important valley known as the Sora Funnel. It contains several stone cairns, which are essentially heaps of stones that can be used for shelter.

The row began last year when Chinese troops started incursions in the area frequently — this year itself about 50 Chinese transgressions have been reported in this area — and then started building a road towards the end of the year that crossed this tract of land. The official Indian response as usual was muted. In the past too Chinese troops used to cross the area during patrolling. However, this was attributed to the general confusion that occurs during patrols along the Line of Actual Control. In many other areas, Indian troops, too, would cross Chinese territory for the same practical reasons like taking the shorter and negotiable route which may involve bit of transgression.

China seems to have upped the ante because of largely India’s knee-jerk reaction to Chinese incursions in the past one year. Further, though it openly appreciated India’s efforts to curb Tibetan activities within India during the height of the agitation China views Indian role in the Lhasa flare up with suspicion. The Indian body language in response to any Chinese action on either the Sikkim or Arunachal border appears to be weak. This naturally encouraged the Chinese to lay claims to the Finger Area.

Chinese intentions are suspect; there seems to be an effort to revive claims over Sikkim which is an integral part of India by creating tensions along the border. Earlier, China destroyed a makeshift bunker at Doka La near the Sino-Sikkim-Bhutan trijunction sources have said, was a Chinese effort to bring Sikkim back into the boundary controversy. India needs to beef up its ground forces all along the Chinese border but also its air force sending a strong signal to China warning against any misadventure. However, India again has chosen to downplay the incident as well as the Chinese threat in the area.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sino-Indian Border Dispute – A Perspective

The whole gamut of Sino-Indian relations have revolved around the unresolved boundary row between the two neighbours, culminating in the 1962 conflict. Years later there appeared to be a thaw in relations with trade ties between the two countries improving. However, the relations have been far from normal and India had more than adequate reasons to be suspicious of Chinese intentions and motives particularly in relation to the border issue.

It is necessary to delve into history in order to determine why resolution of this dispute has been difficult.

India and China have for long found it difficult to resolve the border dispute which has impeded normal ties between the two Asian giants for about four and half decades. The cause of the conflict in 1962 was a dispute over the sovereignty of the widely-separated Aksai Chin (in Kashmir) and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh border regions. Tawang district is located around latitude 27° 45’ N and longitude 90° 15’ E in North-West Arunachal Pradesh. Tawang was the scene of intense fighting during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. Chinese troops had then occupied Tawang and destroyed portions of the monastry. After the Chinese troops withdrew, Tawang was once again under Indian administration. Aksai Chin in Kashmir’s Ladakh region is the other disputed territory which is at present under the control of the Chinese. This article primarily focuses only on the disputed border area in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.

The core issue:
The status of Tibet is central to the border dispute for the simple reason that for two millennia, there never was a border between India and China. Lt Cmdr Calvin James Bernard of the US Navy in his paper titled “China-India Border War (1962)” stated that the roots of the conflict goes back to the 18th century, when both China and British India asserted claims to desolate, remote mountain areas between China and India. Military expeditions, intrigue and unproductive diplomatic exchanges marked decades of relations between the two countries. Rather than resolving the border issue, Chinese and British Indian actions only set the stage for conflict.
According to Mohan Guruswamy, the roots of India’s problem with China go back a couple of centuries when Emperor Napoleon and Tsar Alexander met in July 1807. As the Russian empire began its eastward expansion, which many felt would culminate in the conquest of India, there was a shadow contest for political ascendancy between the British and Russian empires. The Russians’ desire for an empire and a warm water port did not diminish and so the game continued. The British response to meet the Russian threat was to establish a forward defensive line in the northern region so that a Russian thrust could be halted well before the plains of Hindustan. This called for making Afghanistan and Tibet into buffer states and for fixing suitable and convenient borders with these states. In other words, British India did not have a border with China.

It is only in October 1950, when Communist China’s troops entered Tibet to 'liberate' the Roof of the Word that suddenly India acquired a new neighbour. Tibet was always a buffer between the Chinese and the British Empire. In 1914 at Simla an agreement came to be signed between the Dalai Lama's Representative and Sir Henry McMahon to define the border between Tibet and India. The McMahon Line came into being. The border agreement was arrived at bilaterally during the tripartite Convention between British India, China and Tibet. Though the Chinese subsequently refused to ratify the Convention, they did not object to the bilateral accord between Delhi and Lhasa. The Chinese were more concerned by the demarcation of their border with Eastern Tibet. The Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (or Chou-en-lai) convinced Nehru that the British were 'imperialists' and therefore all treaties or agreements signed by them were 'imperialist treaties.' The inference drawn by the clever Chinese premier was that the McMahon line was an imperialist creation and therefore not acceptable by New China: The Chinese Premier conveniently presumed and told India's ambassador to China K N Panikkar that India had no intention of claiming special rights arising from the unequal treaties of the past. Nehru while concurring that the British were imperialists could not follow Zhou's conclusion on the McMahon Line. However, he did not want to raise the issue first. Since nothing was heard from the Chinese side about the issue of the frontier, Nehru deduced that McMahon Line was a foregone conclusion.

In 1954 the Panchsheel Agreement (known as Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India) came to be signed between the two countries. This agreement too was silent about the border.

The Chinese Premier Zhou did not bring up the topic of the border till the end of the fifties. And by that time it was a bit too late for India as the Aksai Chin was fully in possession of the Liberation Army. The Chinese stand was unequivocal that it had never accepted the McMahon line and NEFA belonged to them.

Zhou's visit to India in 1960 was followed by several rounds of detailed discussions which were held between June and December. While India presented detailed maps and documents proving its claims, the Chinese hardly gave any evidence of their 'possessions.'

Could India have averted the 1962 War?
Thus by failing to negotiate with the Chinese on the border through the fifties, India lost the opportunity to settle the contentious issue once and for all. According to Col. (retd) Anil Athale, another opportunity (which was missed by India) to avoid the conflict came in December 1960 when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made a brief stopover in Delhi. Under the so-called 'Krishna Menon Plan' it was mooted that India would lease the Aksai Chin area to China and in return the Chinese would lease the strategic (from the Indian point of view) Chumbi valley that is like a dagger pointed at the line of communication with Assam and the Northeast. This would have been a very fair deal as the Aksai Chin area, besides being strategically useless to India, was also very difficult to defend. But it is believed that under the pressure from the right wing of the Congress and fear of vociferous opposition, Nehru rejected it. It is difficult to say now whether the course of history would have been different had India gone ahead with this proposal.

The border war of October 1962:
The war itself was limited both in terms of place and time duration. Fighting started on 10th October 1962 and ended on 20th November 1962. The cease-fire came into effect at 0000 on 21st November 1962. Actual fighting was limited to 3 distinct areas, namely Walong, Tawang and Aksai Chin.

Post 1962

Nathu La: September 1967
In 1965, two significant events took place on the Sino-Indian border. The first was the warning issued to India about Chinese sheep not being allowed to graze on their side of the border by India. This happened in September 1965 when the Indo-Pak war was simmering on India’s western border.

At the same time, in September-December 1965, the PLA sent probing missions on the entire Sikkim-Tibet border. According to one account, there were seven border intrusions on the Sikkim-Tibet border between September 7 and December 12, 1965, involving the PLA. In all these border incursions, the Indian side responded “firmly” without provoking the other. Though details of casualties of these PLA border incursions are not reported, there were reports indicating that the PLA suffered “heavy” casualties against “moderate” loss by India.

Two years later, in September 1967, in spite of their setbacks in 1965, the PLA launched a direct attack on the lndian armed forces at Nathu La, on the Sikkim-Tibet border. The six-day “border skirmishes” from September 7-8 to 13, 1967, had all the elements of a high drama, including exchange of heavy artillery fire, and the PLA soldiers tried to cross the border in large numbers. Again the attack was repulsed at all points by the Indian troops.

The Sumdorong Chu Incident: June - October 1986
In 1986 China decided to flex its muscles again with India. In mid-1986, it came to the notice of India that the PLA had built a helipad at Wandung in Sumdorong Chu Valley referred to as Sangduoluo He in the Chinese media in Arunachal Pradesh. India reacted swiftly and the PLA had an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the India Army in Sumdorong Chu Valley of Arunchal Pradesh in August 1986. After a week of tense moments both sides mutually agreed to withdraw their forces inside their respective territories and create a no man’s land.

In August '87, Indian and Chinese troops moved their respective posts slightly apart in the Sumdorong Chu Valley, following a meeting of the field commanders. During the 8th round of border talks on November '87, it was decided to upgrade the talks from the bureaucratic to the political level. Following then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China in 1988, a Joint Working Group (JWG) was set up to discuss, among other things, the alignment of the LAC. In 1993, an agreement was inked between the foreign ministers of the two countries on the reduction of troops along the LAC. This was possibly first of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). It was decided to pull back from respective forward check posts in the Sumdorong Chu Valley from a situation of "close confrontation" and in 1994, the Indian External Affairs Ministry described the situation as one of "close proximity" where the respective posts were 50-100 yards apart. Following the JWG meeting in April 1995, the two sides agreed to a simultaneous withdrawal of their troops from the four border posts - two Indian and two Chinese - in the Sumdorong Chu Valley. As of June 1999, the valley was unoccupied by either the Indian army or Chinese, and their respective posts in the area were close to a kilometre apart [18].

A View from China:
According to a leading Chinese scholar on India Ma Jiali, China's claim to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh may only be a negotiating ploy. However, he added that the demand for Tawang might well be non-negotiable. According to Ma Jiali, the disputed area in Arunachal Pradesh is very large. Tawang was the birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso. The Tibetan people thus have very strong religious sentiments towards Tawang. It must be noted that in 1938, the Survey of India published a map of Tibet, which showed the Tawang tract as part of that country. Even the first edition of Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery Of India showed the Indo-Tibetan boundary as running at the foot of the hills. The Tibetans did not accept this 'annexation' of the Tawang tract and challenged the British attempts to expand their government into this area. But they tacitly accepted the rest of the McMahon demarcation. It is clear that, but for the Tawang tract, there is little basis for the Chinese claim on the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. According to other Chinese scholars, India should accept the Chinese view that McMahon Line was illegal and unacceptable and once it is done, the border settlement would be easy. Scholars have also warned that “substantial adjustments” would have to be made if the border issue between India and China is to be resolved. The hint here is towards major concessions by India on Tawang. As far as the other sector of dispute, namely, Aksai Chin is concerned the Aksai Chin road is strategically too important for the Chinese, as it is the only link between its two western provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang. Thus the question of relinquishing the occupation of this area does not arise. It is important to appreciate that there have been subtle changes in the Chinese position on the border dispute. At a point of time it was felt that the North-East was the bargaining chip or the ‘pressure’ for a de jure control of Aksai Chin. Today, while Aksai Chin has become non-negotiable, China seeks concessions from India on Tawang. The pressure on Tawang has been kept up by raking up issues of the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh and even Sikkim. China is in no hurry to resolve the issue. One reason could be the repeated incursions into Tawang could provide legitimacy to China for exercising de facto control over the territory. But at the core is also the assessment that the time for striking a deal with India is not now and when that would be would depend on how the mandarins assess the respective strengths of the two sides and whether China holds the upper hand.

Don’t ignore the Sun Yuxi factor:
Just a week ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to India in November 2006, Beijing's envoy to New Delhi Sun Yuxi claimed that Arunachal Pradesh was a Chinese territory.

“In our position the whole of what you call the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory, and Tawang (district) is only one place in it. We are claiming all of that—that's our position,” he told the news channel CNN-IBN just days ahead of the Chinese President’s visit to India.

Sun was the man who drove Beijing's policy of stirred up tensions along the border in Arunachal. From incursions into the state, to demolition of Indian army observation posts along the Bhutan border and objections to road building in Sikkim, Sun carried out his mission with a bullheadedness that drove South Block to silent fury and prompting them to demand the recall of the envoy.

The South Block was infuriated by Sun’s manipulation of the bilateral talks on border issue: from Aksai Chin in Ladakh to thousands of miles east in Arunachal, where India's insecurities ran the deepest.

The Indian government angrily rejected the statement, and a year later Sun was recalled. New Delhi conveyed to Beijing a message that unless Sun was recalled, the Indian Prime Minister would not send a final list of dates for his visit to China. The Prime Minister’s Office held its ground despite China’s initial refusal to concede. Delhi may seem to have been one up on the Chinese but it must be remembered that it could well be a case of two steps forward and one step backward. It is important to note that the envoy could not have taken a unilateral decision to claim the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh. Surely, there was some sort of official backing for him to make this provocative statement. Secondly, it took nearly a year for the Chinese to concede to the Indian demand for withdrawing him. Sun’s statement could very well be the unstated Chinese policy on the border issue. India can ill-afford to ignore the Sun Yuxi factor.

The Nation needs to know:
On the eve of the Indian Prime Minister’s recent visit to China, India’s External Affairs Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee candidly admitted in an interview to a TV news channel that Chinese incursions in the Tawang area of Arunachal Pradesh were taking place. He also added that though it was matter of concern, the incursions were not worrisome and that there was no reason to press panic buttons. The manner in which it was said gave the impression that it was China’s prerogative to intrude and India’s privilege to ignore it. This is only inference that can be drawn considering the fact that about 141 incursions had taken place in the past 12 months as of October 2007. It is quite disturbing as to why the government had chosen to play down the incursions. The interviewer also did not question the Hon’ble Minister about this. The incursions were highlighted by the MP from the area who repeatedly raised this issue in Parliament.

The Hon’ble Minister added that they (meaning the Indian government) took it up with the Chinese and that mechanisms were in place through which these types of problems were addressed. The nation is entitled to know, what are these mechanisms in the first place and if such mechanisms existed how effective have they been in dealing with the incursions.
According to B Raman, there have been recurring instances of innumerable border intrusions by the Chinese troops. Two of these incidents are of great concern. The first was an intrusion into Bhutan and the second was about the Chinese raising an objection to the construction of two military bunkers inside Indian territory in Sikkim.

Apart from the incursions which are regularly taking place, the Indian Army is also concerned about an all weather highway being laid by the Chinese towards the Jechepla Pass in Myanmar. The pass provides direct entry into Arunachal and other sensitive eastern states. Farther west in Tawang, similar concerns have been raised about the pace at which China's network of roads and highways is being laid close to the Line of Actual Control. The Indian Prime Minister, after his recent trip to China is convinced that the border talks will make headway. However, it remains to be seen how sincere are the Chinese in negotiating a settlement.
Sources: Articles by Lt. Col. (Retd) Anil Athale, Claude Arpi, Mohan Guruswamy published in Rediff.com, V Natarajan (Bharat Rakhshak), Sreedhar's "China Becoming a Superpower and India's Options", Lt. Cmdr Calvin James Bernard's paper - China-India Border War (1962), Wikipedia.