SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
In the evening of August 25, 2007, 44 persons were killed and another 54 were injured in twin blasts at a laser show at the Lumbini Park, and at the Gokul Chat eatery in the Kothi locality in Hyderabad.
Reacting on Television shortly thereafter, the Union Home Secretary, with suitable gravitas, informed the nation: "It is a terrorist strike" (the ignorant public was, perhaps, at risk of mistaking it for a humanitarian strike). Lest the profundity of this observation be lost on national audiences, the Union Minister for Home Affairs, for good measure, trotted out his own practiced cliché for all such occasions: "It is a dastardly act", he intoned.
Islamist terrorist attacks on soft targets have been occurring with a sickening regularity across India [outside Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and the Northeast], at intervals of roughly two to three months over the past years, and the August 25, 2007, twin bombing in Hyderabad falls squarely into this pattern.
Such attacks, however, are progressively becoming iconic manifestations of utterly senseless violence. This is terrorism without strategy, purpose or direction; a machine hurtling on, round and round, long after its driving mechanism has snapped out of joint. The succession of attacks over the past five years across India have secured no recognizable tactical or strategic terrorist objective, and, once the media storm after each incident dies out, leave little trace of impact on the administrative order, policing, or the lives of the common people. Apart from the tragic consequences for the direct victims of terrorism and their families (and they are, by definition, merely incidental to the terrorist objective), these attacks leave little trace behind, and, literally weeks, indeed, often days or hours, after the incident, the target areas return to a forgetful, if perverse, ‘normalcy’, as do local and national authorities. In terms of structural impact on national or local politics, governance and public intercourse, the consequences of the succession of incidents over the past years have been negligible. This factor has been the more pronounced as a result of the fact that, after the December 2001 attack on India’s Parliament, there has been no significant Islamist terrorist attack on a strategic target. Despite all the clamour about ‘intelligence’ and ‘security’ failures, the fact is, Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist groupings – principally the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HM) -, the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and their Indian collaborators, such as the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), have failed to strike at anything but the softest of soft targets outside J&K. Moreover, those killed have, with rare exception, been the poor – and their lives have little value for India’s elite, except when elections come around and the political parties are compelled, briefly, to solicit their votes.
Nevertheless, each terrorist attack provides the occasion for posturing and creating a little storm of uninformed ‘analysis’ in the national media teacup, as well as for a continuous sequence of motivated leaks from intelligence and investigative agencies. Hence, Central agencies leak the information that, since March 2007, they have known that eight kilograms of military grade explosives (RDX) were delivered to a HuJI operative in Hyderabad, but that "for its own reasons, the Congress Government in Andhra Pradesh did not allow the kinds of aggressive – and unpopular – policing that the Central Bureau of Investigation and city police felt were necessary to secure the city". It does not appear to be relevant to this critique that it was not military grade RDX, but locally available industrial explosives, that are known to have been used in the August 25 twin blasts; nor is it clear what kind of ‘aggressive policing’ would be required, either to find a little packet of eight kilograms of RDX, or to secure every potential soft target, in a city of 6.25 million. It is useful, in this context, to note, however, that at least six modules or cells of Pakistan-backed terrorists have been located and neutralized in Hyderabad since 2004, the last of these on April 1, 2007. Indeed, the very fact that Islamist terrorists have failed to target strategic locations, and have been forced to limit their attacks to the softest of locations, would suggest that policing and intelligence have been reasonably successful.
As for ‘securing the city’, that is, simply stated, an impossible task under existing conditions. For one, attacks are, overwhelmingly, no longer orchestrated by networks and cells established within the target city, and have progressively been transformed into synchronized multi-group operations coordinated by handlers located in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Individual members of these groups are simply directed by handlers to enter into evanescent and anonymous contact with members of other groups to provide specific materials and services: explosives, detonators, safe haven, bomb-making expertise, and local support, and most disappear without trace long before the attack. It is only the low grade cadres or mercenary elements charged with the ‘delivery’ of the explosive devices to target areas who are occasionally recognized by eyewitnesses and eventually arrested, but they have no idea of the broader participation in, and location or execution of the larger conspiracy. Significantly, the planning and preparation components are ordinarily located outside the (urban) target areas, in India’s vast and virtually un-policed mofussil and rural hinterland.
It is useful, in this context, to reiterate the truth that India’s cities cannot be ‘secured’ if its hinterlands remain entirely ‘unsecured’, and the fact that this is a thoroughly under-policed country . India has an average police to population ration of 122 policeman per 100,000 population. Most Western countries have ratios ranging getween 250 and 500 per 100,000, and the UN recommends a minimum norm of 1:450, or 222 per 100,000. Andhra Pradesh has a current ratio of just 98 per 100,000, and is also tackling (fairly effectively) a raging Maoist insurgency.
Deficiencies of capacity are also endemic in the intelligence agencies. While disaggregated data is unavailable, it is useful to recall that the Kargil Committee report had called for a tremendous augmentation of capacities, including manpower, a massive upgrading of technical, imaging, signal, electronic counter-intelligence and economic intelligence capabilities, and a system-wide reform of conventional human-intelligence gathering. Every suggestion in the Report was accepted by the Group of Ministers, who released their recommendations in February 2001. Most of the recommendations of the Report remain unimplemented, beyond a few symbolic changes. One of the recommendations called for 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 Intelligence Bureau (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. Augmenting HUMINT capacities has also lagged far behind requirements. In 2001, the Girish Saxena Committee had recommended at least an additional 3,000 cadres in the Intelligence Bureau. According to available information, till now, just 800 additional posts have been sanctioned, though the requirements would have expanded dramatically over the intervening years. As with the larger administrative apparatus in India, there has been a long, slow process of deterioration in the country’s intelligence and policing capabilities – perhaps not in absolute terms, but certainly in terms of capacities lagging well behind the magnitude and pace of emerging challenges.
At least certain policies intended to contain terrorism have proven counter-productive as well. Certainly, the April 2004 decision to ban the possession, sale and use of nitro-glycerin (NG)-based explosives throughout the country, in view of the widespread ‘leakage’ of these explosives from the mining sector to the Maoist insurgents, has resulted in an enormous dispersal of the manufacture and distribution of Class II (ammonium nitrate based) explosives. Just three manufacturing facilities were licensed to produce NG-based explosives prior to April 2004, and these were in the large scale sector. Within the first year after the ban came into effect, as many as 73 Class II explosives manufacturers, spread virtually across the country, were in existence, a large proportion created after the ban. The cost of setting up a manufacturing plant for Class II explosives is in the region of INR 20 million as against INR 400 to 500 million for a NG-based facility, and the former have virtually become a cottage industry. Many of the new units are located in utterly lawless areas of the country, including Bihar, or in areas dominated by Naxalites in States such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Significantly, these explosives are fairly easily available in formal and informal markets around mining areas, and are often bought even by ordinary folk, such as farmers who use them to frighten animals off their lands, or fisherman who use them to illegally blast fish out of the waters. Significantly, it is now suspected that it was precisely these explosives that were used in the latest terrorist strikes in Hyderabad.
The specifics of the twin blasts in Hyderabad are yet to be determined – and given the recent modus operandi of the Islamist terrorist groupings it is possible that, as with investigations into earlier blasts, inquiries will hit a dead end in this case as well. Crucially, however, if India is to devise effective counter-terrorism policies, strategies and tactics, the country’s leaders and intelligence and enforcement agencies will have to go beyond the current incident-led patterns of response and analysis, and address the tremendous capacity deficits that afflict every aspect of security and intelligence administration, policing and law and order management in the country. A strategy to exert pressure and impose costs on the external sponsors and supporters of terrorism, and capacities to implement such a strategy, are also necessary. If we are to ‘secure our cities’, our hinterlands cannot be abandoned to lawlessness, and our hostile neighbours to a policy of hopeful supplication.
Since July 15, 2007, when the Pakistani Taliban unilaterally terminated the 10-month old truce with the military regime, there has been a welter of violence in Waziristan. And despite the deployment of 90,000 troops along the Afghan border in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, a critical situation prevails in this region, which is vital to Islamabad, Kabul and Washington. Indeed, much of the progress in the ‘global war on terror’ would depend on how the action unfolds in what can increasingly be thought of as ‘ground zero’ in FATA.
The writ of the state has always been fragile in Waziristan and levels of violence have been continuously augmenting. Throughout 2005, 285 people, including 92 civilians and 158 terrorists, were killed in Waziristan in 165 incidents. In 2006, the death toll was 590, including 109 civilians, 144 soldiers and 337 terrorists, in 248 incidents. In 2007 (till August 24), approximately 746 people, including 94 civilians, 96 soldiers and 556 terrorists, have already been killed in 162 incidents, an unambiguous indication of the state of play in Pakistan’s most troubled region. At least 37 civilians, 52 soldiers and 157 terrorists have died after the truce broke down. Considering Islamabad's understated accounts, the suppression of the Press and erratic reportage, the actual numbers could, in fact, be much higher.
Across North Waziristan, military convoys are being attacked on a regular basis with sophisticated explosive devices and, worryingly for Islamabad, the incidence of frontal assaults on "military outposts by the militants numbering 50 or even more" are increasingly reported. Militants have already carried out at least six suicide attacks on military and other Government targets since the truce collapsed. While Government installations and military positions in Waziristan are already being targeted, it is believed that militants from the tribal areas could also carry out ‘revenge attacks’ in other parts of the country. Reports indicate that an extensive manhunt has been launched for a group of seven suicide bombers who left North Waziristan to target Government interests across the country. 60 militants are believed to have recently met at a madrassa (seminary)in the Dattakhel area of North Waziristan and tasked their ‘elder’, Maulana Ghanamzar, with preparing seven to eight individuals from Dattakhel for suicide missions.
Unsurprisingly, the fallout of spiralling violence in North Waziristan is being felt in neighbouring South Waziristan. After nearly two and a half years, militants attacked a military target at Dargai in South Waziristan on August 13, 2007. Earlier on August 9, sixteen Frontier Corps soldiers were abducted by the Taliban on Jandola-Sara Rogha road in South Waziristan. While one of the soldiers was killed, the militants have decided to release the others after a prisoners-swap deal with the Administration. Further, at least 19 militants and 12 soldiers were among 32 persons killed during clashes in South Waziristan on August 16-17. And on August 17, a suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden jeep into a military vehicle near Jandola in South Waziristan, killing himself and wounding five soldiers. Incidentally, this was the first ever suicide attack in South Waziristan. The militants in South Waziristan have declared that in future they would coordinate their activities with their brethren in North Waziristan and "come to each other's rescue in case of fresh military operations by the Pakistan Army, or by the US through its forces deployed in Afghanistan." A Taliban spokesman in the South declared that they did not want to be "overtaken by events once the Government launched fresh military operations in North Waziristan." Militants in the North and South, it needs mention, have had little operational co-ordination in the past.
There has also been a dispersal of extremism elsewhere in the FATA. Incidents and mobilisation activity have been reported from the Mohmand Agency, Bajaur Agency, and Khyber Agency.
The Taliban are now in effective control of most of Waziristan and, more crucially, have full freedom of movement and activities across the region. Their de facto control was officially acknowledged when the military regime signed an accord with them on September 5, 2006. As already stated, the September deal was dissolved unilaterally by the Taliban on July 15, 2007. The Musharraf regime had also signed a deal with the Taliban in April 2004 in South Waziristan, but that unravelled shortly thereafter, with its principal architect on the Taliban side, Nek Mohammad, turning renegade. With the virtual retreat of the state, Taliban/al Qaeda militants from a mélange of countries, including Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Arab world, have holed up in the region, which the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State John Gastright said "is a part of the country that has not been effectively governed since Alexander the Great was there."
The extent of state withdrawal is tangible. In fact, even during the truce period, senior officials seldom ventured into North Waziristan and reportedly never reviewed the state of play in the region. The administration virtually lives at the mercy of the militants and are unable to exercise any real authority. According to noted journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, "There are now few takers for the once prized jobs of political agents, assistant political agents, tehsildars (sub-district officials) and political moharrir (clerk). Civil servants in the near past offered bribes or used political influence to seek these jobs in tribal areas. Now they try to excuse themselves if posted in dangerous parts of FATA such as North Waziristan and South Waziristan." Another report, on July 29, 2007, noted: "In a letter to the Government that sounded more like a lamentation, a political agent stated that the khasadars (tribal police) had abandoned their duty without seeking his permission. All those appointed for 599 posts of the levies force had renounced their responsibilities and officers of the line departments had left their offices at the mercy of watchmen. Little wonder then that a line department office and a check-post are blown up every day. Junior tribal officers and moharrirs have not reported for work and tribal elders remain too scared to meet the political administration for fear of reprisal attacks from militants." So widespread is the fear that the Government, in the first week of August 2007, transferred cash for salaries of its employees to Miranshah, headquarters of North Waziristan, by a helicopter due to insecurity on the roads.
Immediately after the truce collapsed, Police and other Government employees in Miranshah stopped reporting for duty after receiving death threats from the militants. Ominously, some soldiers of the Frontier Corps (FC) are reportedly deserting the Force due to regular and violent attacks by the militants in the FATA. One FC soldier is reported to have stated that he had deserted from the Force days before his deployment to North Waziristan because he did not "want to fight his own people." Military spokesperson Major General Waheed Arshad, however, termed the desertions "insignificant incidents." FC is the first line of defence against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Waziristan.
And across the border in Afghanistan, coalition troops are also finding it difficult to control the rapid escalation in violence. The Taliban have regrouped rather well along the Afghan countryside, particularly in provinces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Consequently, violence is significant near the Pakistan border. Colonel Martin Schweitzer, the US Commander in the region stated on June 22, 2007, that the number of militants reported moving over the Afghan-Pakistan border has increased in recent months. Terrorist attacks in Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan where the U.S. military operates, rose 250 percent in May 2007 compared with May 2006, according to U.S. military sources. The burden of evidence so far suggests that the Taliban/al Qaeda have, in fact, been provided space by the military to operate in the Pakistani areas along the border.
While a debate on whether or not to bomb al Qaeda’s bases in Pakistan continues among policy makers in USA, Washington has clearly upped the ante on its counter-terrorism initiative with Pakistan. US authorities have reportedly pointed out locations of nine terrorist training camps in North Waziristan. They have also reportedly identified several new al Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials stated could possibly be training operatives for terrorist strikes against targets beyond Pakistan. Officials said that "both American and foreign intelligence services had collected evidence leading them to conclude that at least one of the camps in Pakistan might be training operatives capable of striking Western targets. A particular concern is that the camps are frequented by British citizens of Pakistani descent who travel to Pakistan on British passports." According to US officials, the training camps had "yet to reach the size and level of sophistication of the Qaeda camps established in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, but groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps and al Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature." Fran Townsend, President Bush’s Homeland Security Adviser, stated, "They've been able to take advantage of the agreement between President Musharraf and the tribal elders in the Federally Administrated Tribal Area to find safe haven, to train, to recruit."
Islamabad has been striving since 2002 to bring order to the lawless frontier. In more ways than one, it is a signal that the Pakistan Army has failed in its quest for a military victory. Even the strategy of cease-fires and intermittent truce has come to a nought. The Taliban consolidation and violence on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border can, consequently, be expected to continue to grow in the foreseeable future.
Despite an expanding ensemble of internal problems, there does not appear to be a sufficient determination at Islamabad, to make the necessary changes in policy and strategic objectives that must precede effective action against Islamist extremism. Worse, as Stephen Cohen notes, "The great danger is that this time around, Pakistan may not have the internal resources to manage its own rescue."
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 20-26, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
44 persons killed and 50 injured in twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad: At least 44 people, including five women, were killed and 50 others injured in twin bomb blasts at the crowded Lumbini Park near the State secretariat and Gokul Chat, a popular eatery in the Kothi locality, in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, on August 25-evening. Hours after the blasts, the police recovered a live bomb from Dilsukhnagar area and later defused it. Preliminary evidence indicates that an explosive commonly used as a replacement for dynamite sticks in quarries, Neogel 90, with ammonium nitrate as its key ingredient, was used in the explosions. The Hindu; Times of India; Indian Express, August 26-27, 2007.
Violence declining in Jammu and Kashmir: The Union Home Ministry disclosed on August 21, 2007, that violence in Jammu and Kashmir has been declining over the last three years. "The number of terrorist-related violent incidents has come down by 16 per cent in 2006 as compared to 2005 and by 33 per cent in 2007 (till July) over the corresponding period of 2006," Union Minister of State for Home, Sriprakash Jaiswal, disclosed in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament). The Minister said that during 2007 (till July) 68 security force (SF) personnel had been killed, against 151 in 2006 and 189 in 2005. He also disclosed that infiltration figures had increased slightly as compared to the corresponding period of 2006. While 256 cases of infiltration were reported till June 30, 2007, the figure was 245 to the corresponding period in 2006. Giving details of infiltration cases recorded in the months of April and May over the past three years, Jaiswal said the trend has seen a marginal increase, Kashmir Times reported. While it was 77 during these two months, when the snow starts melting, in 2005, it increased to 103 in 2006 and has now touched 150 in 2007. PIB, August 21, 2007.
Government nationalises seven Royal family palaces: A cabinet meeting on August 23, 2007, decided to nationalise seven royal palaces – Narayanhiti Royal Palace, the Hanumandhoka Palace, the Patan Palace, the Bhaktapur Palace, Gorakha Palace, Lamjung Palace and Nuwakot Palace – along with a total of 1,533 ropanies of land [1 ropani = 5476 sq. ft] the palaces occupy. The meeting also decided to freeze the bank accounts of King Gyanendra, Queen Komal and Crown Prince Paras and to stop transfer of money from the late King Birendra and late Queen Aishwarya. The Himalayan Times; Nepal News, August 24, 2007.
Ten security force personnel killed in two suicide attacks in NWFP: Four police personnel were killed and two others wounded in a suicide attack on a police van in the mountainous Shangla District of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on August 26, 2007. It was reportedly the first-ever terrorist incident in the Shangla District. Earlier, six soldiers died and 18 persons were injured on August 20, when a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a checkpoint on Kurram Road in the Hangu District. A woman is reported to have died when SFs opened indiscriminate fire after the incident. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. The News, August 27, 2007. Daily Times, August 21, 2007.
Seven soldiers killed in two suicide attacks in North Waziristan: Seven soldiers were killed and 12 others wounded on August 24, 2007, in North Waziristan in two suicide bombings targeting the same Pakistan Army convoy at two different places. One of the suicide bombers rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into the military convoy at Qamar Picket near the Mir Ali town, killing five soldiers and injuring 10 others. The same convoy, which had come from Bannu in the North West Frontier Province and was on its way to Razmak, was attacked once more when it proceeded further. Another suicide bomber riding a vehicle struck the convoy near Asadkhel village on the road to Razmak, killing two soldiers and injuring two others. Military officials later stated that two militants were killed in retaliatory firing. The News, August 25, 2007.