SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Crimes Bureau’: New Digits in the Alphabet Soup
Once again, a major terrorist incident – this time in Jaipur – has set off a strident and polarised national political debate on ‘counter-terrorism policy’, with parties and leaders pulling out the same tired old rabbits from their tattered hats. One of these proposals has caught particular attention, having been articulated, for the first time, by the Prime Minister – though the Union Home Minister assures us that this has been under discussion for more than 20 years; this is the prospect of setting up a Federal Crimes Bureau (FCB) to look into a particular set of crimes, identified by their complexity, gravity or dispersal across State boundaries, including terrorism.
This has enthusiastically been seized upon by most commentators and, in principal, the concept of federal crimes and a federal agency to deal with them appears to be impeccable. The arguments in support of this proposal – and the failure of the proposal in the face of the apparent obduracy and cussedness of the States – has been widely documented over the past days, and will not detain us here.
The issue at hand is that the proposal to create a new setup for federal crimes reflects an approach that remains fragmented, divorced from the realities of the acute institutional deficits and near collapse that afflict existing state organisations, and the inability to comprehend – leave alone cope with – the sheer diversity of terrorist activities and operations, of which the occasional attack is only the most dramatic of many manifestations.
The FCB proposal has resurfaced urgently out of concerns over the continued and persistent failure to ‘solve’ virtually all the major terrorist incidents of the past three years, and on the grounds that the States ‘botched’ investigations, or were not able to efficiently pursue leads beyond their own territorial jurisdictions. The FCB, duly empowered and ‘naturally’ reflecting an efficiency far superior to various provincial units, it is argued, would be far more effective in investigating these trans-State crimes, and in hunting down terrorists and bringing them to book. If evidence is necessary, look at the long history of successes of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
This is a pattern reasoning that has been recurrent in the creation or conceptualisation of a number of other institutions set up over the past years, blindly imitating foreign – and particularly US – models. In the security context, two examples come immediately to mind: the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Department of Net Assessment. Both these have proven to be non-starters, marred by a confusion of mandates and severe deficits in manpower – including the lack of suitable manpower within the limited contingents sanctioned – and in resource allocation. The National Security Guard is another case in point. Set up as far back as in 1984 to engage in high risk counter-hijacking and counter-terrorist operations, it has been able to establish a substantial infrastructure for training and research, an excellent pool of trained manpower, and particular expertise and a database on improvised explosive devices. Nevertheless, its utility has remained severely limited – indeed, peripheral – within the counter-terrorism efforts in the country, essentially as a consequence of deficiencies in conception and design, which saw the country’s elite counter-terrorism group located at a single, centralized establishment, with acute limitation on rapid transportation to the points of engagement – the areas of terrorist threat or attack.
The reality is, there is already a multiplicity of agencies concerned with intelligence gathering, investigation and enforcement relating to various aspects of terrorist activity, and this abundance of institutions has combined with an acute paucity of resources in each, compounded by severe difficulties of coordination and sharing of intelligence between these, and tremendous duplication of functions and consequent waste of already scarce resources. This multiplicity of agencies concerned with intelligence gathering itself suggests a significant problem of coordination, intelligence sharing and focused response strategies.
An unpublished review by this writer of the state’s capacities to monitor hawala and other illegal financial operations by terrorists revealed, for instance, that there were at least fifteen central agencies variously charged with financial intelligence monitoring and enforcement across the country. Each of these agencies was under-resourced and struggling to maintain a modicum of efficiency in executing a fraction of its mandate.
Adding FCB to the existing alphabet soup of intelligence, investigative and enforcement agencies does not hold any promise of a unique or efficient solution to the current crisis of terrorism, unless there is a complete and uncharacteristic reversal of the country’s recent history of institution building. At best, another shell organisation, overburdened by an ambitious (and largely imitative) mandate, but deprived of the means to secure its objectives, would be set up, creating a new drain on national resources. Building up such an organisation would take years, if not decades, and it would, at least initially, scavenge its manpower from other existing and hard-pressed security, intelligence and enforcement organisations
This, however, is not the only argument against the FCB. A simple ‘crime investigation’ model envisaged for the projected Federal agency certainly would not work with terrorism – though such an agency may (as existing state and central agencies sometimes do) succeed in solving the occasional terrorist crime. Terrorism is a continuous and complex activity involving persistent networks, and effective counter-terrorist action cannot be reduced to the task of investigation – however efficient – after an attack. There is a necessary integrity of preventive, intelligence and investigative functions in counter-terrorism. Given the complex linkages and the diversity of criminal, collusive and subversive operations – encompassing the entire gamut of financial, violent and political crimes – that underpin terrorism, and the unique threat these activities now constitute for the security and integrity of the country, intelligence, investigation, and enforcement can no longer be treated in isolation. Effective counter-terrorism involves the tracking and evidentiary documentation of a wide range of continuous subversive and criminal activities that only periodically manifest themselves in the theatre of a bomb blast or other terrorist attack. According to recent disclosures, UK’s internal intelligence agency, MI5, for instance, created dossiers on over 8,000 ‘at risk’ individuals – those who, by belief, conduct or association, appeared especially vulnerable to extremist mobilisation – in addition to the surveillance and investigation of 1,600 suspects believed to be involved in 200 terrorist networks and 30 ‘active plots’. This is the scale and scope of counter-terrorism intelligence and investigative operations under a single Central Agency in a country as small as the UK.
What, then, of a federal agency to tackle terrorism and other crimes envisaged under the jurisdiction of the proposed FCB? The solution lies in taking the most suitable among existing central agencies, expanding its mandate and legislative cover, and drastically augmenting its resource complement.
Inevitably, a turf war will break out the moment such a proposal is articulated. Advocates supporting the Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) can be expected to make persuasive cases as to why either of these is best suited for the task (and the concomitant augmentation of power and resources), and even more persuasive cases why the other agency is particularly unsuited.
Within a purely investigative context, the CBI would appear to be a strong possible candidate for the undertaking. Despite the severe, and in may cases extremely valid criticisms of the CBI on its record of investigations, and particularly its politicisation (a criticism that would apply, equally, to virtually every agency of Government today), the fact remains, the CBI is the country’s premier investigative agency.
As already stated, however, a purely investigative model has little relevance in the context of the Centre’s counter-terrorism role, and the necessary functions a proposed Central Agency would be required to perform if it is to deal with the wide range of tasks – with both internal and external dimensions – that are necessary if the limitations of State agencies are to be overcome in dealing with this trans-State and trans-national challenge.
Within the limited spectrum of existing agencies, it would appear that the IB has the most proximate resemblance in functions to those that would be required by a proposed Federal Agency for Counter-Terrorism. It has nation-wide intelligence operations and has created a very substantial data bank of intelligence on terrorist organisations and individuals (although its national database project has virtually stalled for lack of resources and clarity of purpose). Crucially, while the IB is not an investigative agency, a number of States credit very significant investigative breakthroughs in major cases of terrorism to IB cooperation and support. The IB is, of course, tremendously hamstrung by gaping deficits in manpower, capacities and resources, and is not even – at the present stage – capable of effectively fulfilling its present mandate. A massive revamp, expansion and upgradation of the IB has long been on the cards, and the capacities and functions that are necessary for the efficient operation of this organisation overlap profoundly with those that would be assigned to the proposed Federal Agency.
This line of evolution also makes greater sense within the context of prevailing and fractious Centre-State relations. Cooperation – and not conflict – with States is necessary, and the IB has been operating in continuous collaboration with State agencies on the issue of terrorism (no doubt, with some conflict and mutual dissatisfaction), and this mechanism needs to be deepened and strengthened, even as the IB’s mandate is formally augmented.
Crucially, the reality is that the States are so deeply concerned about the problem that, if the capacities, technical resources and expertise were created in a Central Agency, they would be eager to seek and secure its cooperation in resolving cases of terrorism and in effectively countering the networks and support structures of terrorism – unless political confrontations are engineered over the issue jurisdiction, or politically partisan allegations of failure or bias undermine cooperation between Central and State agencies.
Amidst rising tensions in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and in the wake of a vicious terrorist attack in Jaipur by suspected Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorists, which killed 80 persons, India’s External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and his Pakistani counterpart, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, met at Islamabad on May 21, 2008, to review the progress made in the Fourth Round of India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue. The meeting produced little of substance, but generated a flood of ‘diplomatese’ on ‘important bilateral achievements’ of the past, including:
The Ministers exchanged views on the issue of J&K and agreed to continue discussions to ‘build on convergences and narrow down divergences’. They also agreed to continue with the implementation of Cross-Line of Control (LoC) CBMs with a view to enhancing interaction and cooperation across the LoC. The two Foreign Secretaries will launch the Fifth Round of the Composite Dialogue in New Delhi in July 2008.
Clearly, the fourth round of the ‘Composite Dialogue’ was no different from the earlier rounds and, while pro forma diplomatic platitudes were naturally voiced in the Joint Statement released at the end of what is increasingly becoming a practiced ritual, there was little sense of any forward movement.
Nevertheless, viewed purely in terms of fatalities, the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has now crossed the threshold from a high-intensity to a low-intensity level. For the first time since 1990 (when they were 1,177) fatalities in this terrorism-wracked State in 2007 – at 777 – fell below the ’high intensity conflict’ mark of a thousand deaths. In 2008 (till May 25), 192 persons, including 140 militants and 26 civilians have been killed. At their peak in 2001, fatalities had risen to 4,507. Evidently, 2007 is a watershed year for J&K, bringing tremendous respite to its people. Figures for 2007 and early trends in 2008 reconfirm the continuously decline in terrorist violence in the State since the peak of 2001. According to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, the fatality index in 2007 decreased by 30.38 percent in comparison to 2006. While there was a substantial decrease in civilian fatalities (164 in 2007 as against 349 in 2006) and those of the militants (492 in 2007 as against 599 in 2006), there was a relatively smaller decline in Security Force (SF) fatalities (121 in 2007 as against 168 in 2006).
On the ground, both in J&K and in the jihadi sphere in Pakistan, there is some indication that the militant groups and their handlers in Islamabad are now gradually seeking to reverse this outbreak of ‘peace’. And while there is no direct link between the cease-fire violation and the serial bomb blasts in Jaipur on May 13, any increase in violence is unlikely to be limited to J&K. There is now sufficient indication that Pakistan-based militant groups could be preparing for a renewed offensive against India and could orchestrate attacks on wide variety of soft targets across the country.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, however, declared that his Government was ready for a "grand reconciliation" with India through dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues "with self-respect and dignity." On the ground, nevertheless, it is a different story. In just ten days, Pakistani troops opened unprovoked machine gun and mortar fire across the LoC on three occasions: in the Samba Sector on May 9; at Tangdhar on May 14, and in the Poonch Sector, on May 19, with one Indian soldier killed in the last incident. Exercising enormous restraint, the Indian side withheld return fire. Nevertheless, the ceasefire violations were rightly described as "worrisome" by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh These were the first major violations of the cease-fire by Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC), which has been in force since December 2003. Nevertheless, infiltration across the LoC and international border has been a continuous – albeit depleted – flow throughout the period of the cease fire.
The diminished violence in J&K does not indicate any necessary dilution of Pakistani objectives, or decline in the capacity for terrorism, and there are clear indications that the infrastructure that supports and sustains the Kashmir jihad remains intact in Pakistan. Even presently, more than 400 militants are reportedly stationed in launching pads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), ready to infiltrate through the LoC to step up violence in the State, defence sources disclosed on April 13. Official sources indicated that at least 52 terrorist training camps are still in operation, including 30 in Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, and the rest in PoK. At least one-third of these camps are known to be ‘fully active’ at any given point of time. There are currently around 1,200 militants ‘active’ in J&K. Security agencies believe that current militant activity is also considerably linked to the mainstream political scenario, with the forthcoming Legislative Assembly elections. Nearly one hundred militants are believed to have infiltrated into the Gurez and Lolab Valley in Bandipora-Kupwara belt in the preceding five weeks, sources indicated on April 9. Six to eight groups – with as many as 10 to 20 militants in each group – are reported to have successfully crossed the LoC and landed in the Gurez and Lolab Valley in Bandipora and Kupwara Districts, since March 1, 2008.
The decrease in violence in J&K is certainly not due to any change in intent, but is rather the consequence of "changes in capacities and compulsions in Pakistan." The multiplicity of crises in Pakistan has diluted Islamabad’s capacities to sustain past levels of terrorism in J&K – "particularly since a large proportion of troops had to be pulled back from the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border for deployment in increasingly violent theatres in Balochistan, NWFP [North West Frontier Province] and the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]… Pakistan’s creeping implosion has undermined the establishment’s capabilities to sustain the ’proxy war’ against India at earlier levels." On a more general level, the decline in violence since 9/11 can be attributed to Pakistan’s domestic compulsions, the ongoing peace process, the American pressure on Islamabad and the successes of the counter-insurgency grid in J&K. Official sources indicate that the ratio of SFs to terrorists killed has seen an upward trend from 1:3.6 in 2006 to 1:4.3 in 2007 – a clear indication that the counter-insurgency grid is working well.
The India-Pakistan peace process remains, in substantial measure, tactical rather than substantive, with Pakistan in particular treating the negotiations as a parallel instrument to terrorism, to exert pressure on India. Further, the hiatus between the rival positions on Kashmir is unbridgeable, and it is unsurprising, consequently, that the two sides are yet to commence substantive discussions on this issue. The restoration of communication links, people-to-people exchanges, Track Two diplomacy and a range of CBMs have all gone smoothly and have largely been successful. However, the bottom-line is that, even though the varied CBMs currently operational between the two countries have strengthened processes of 'emotional enlistment', they do not, in any measure, alter India's and Pakistan's stated positions on the Kashmir issue. They do little, consequently, to change the fundamentals of the conflict in and over Kashmir.
The unstable domestic scenario in Pakistan has had an impact on the Kashmir jihad, though it has not led to any change in the intent or the infrastructure that orchestrates violence. Addressing a conference in the PoK capital, Muzaffarabad, on April 21, 2008, the chief of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) and of the United Jihad Council (UJC), Mohammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, asked the new Pakistani Government to replace the "apologetic and one-sided policy of Musharraf with an aggressive policy that should be on parity basis." Demanding that 75 per cent of the PoK budget should be allocated for jihad, he said, "jihad is a duty and it is the only solution to the Kashmir dispute." Speaking on the eve of the Composite Dialogue process, Salahuddin said in Sialkot in Pakistan’s Punjab province, that the Hizb would wage "war in Islamabad and Lahore" if the "Kashmir liberation movement suffered due to the Pakistani rulers' cowardice, retreat and pro-India policies." Earlier, on March 19, 2008, Salahuddin had said Pakistan could not stop supporting the Kashmiri militant groups, adding that Pakistan has continuously been providing both military as well as political support to the Kashmiri militants.
Further, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, in Chakwal (Punjab province) on May 19, 2008, urged the Pakistani Government to "shun the policy of unilateral friendship and adopt a principled stand." Any solution to the Kashmir issue that was imposed on the Kashmiri people and went against their aspirations would not be acceptable to the Pakistani nation, he said. Earlier, on April 2, 2008, he had stated that a strong Pakistan cannot be realized until Kashmir becomes a part of Pakistan. While noting that the previous Government had caused irreparable damage to the Kashmir issue, he asked the new Government to restore the confidence and trust of Muslims by adopting Pakistan’s ‘principled stance’ on the Kashmir issue. Addressing a LeT meeting on March 1, 2008, in Muzaffarabad, Saeed announced that restrictions placed on jihadi operations would soon be lifted. Praveen Swami reports that the Lashkar war-machine is stirring.
Significantly, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) "has resumed direct funding of the Hizb, which was shut off under international pressure in 2006. Married cadre at the Hizb’s camps in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir are now receiving Rs.10,000 a month, up from Rs.5,200; single men Rs.8,000 against the Rs.4,200 on offer before the ISI funding was cut off."
Leaders of several militant groups operating in J&K, sources said, met in the garrison city of Rawalpindi in Pakistan on April 6, 2008, and vowed to continue their jihad. The meeting, organised by the Al-Badr Mujahideen at a mosque in Rawalpindi, was addressed by Syed Salahuddin, Al-Badr chief Bakht Zameen Khan and leaders of the LeT, Hizb-i-Islami-Kashmir and other militant groups. "The continuation of the jihad in Kashmir is linked with the survival of Pakistan," Salahuddin told the 500-strong gathering. Sources have indicated that, in recent months, shackles imposed on groups like the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are gradually being relaxed, the impact of which will be visible in the proximate future in J&K, which goes to polls later in the year.
Importantly, Prime Minister Gillani, while denouncing President Musharraf's proposals on Kashmir as "half-baked things" which "didn’t have the mandate of the Parliament," has stated that the "core issue" of Kashmir must be settled "in line with UN resolutions and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people." Implied here is Pakistan’s return to its more traditionalist position of a plebiscite. Furthermore, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, during a visit to forward locations near the LoC in March 2008, reaffirmed the commitment of the Pakistan Army to the Kashmir cause "in line with the aspirations of the nation."
While the militants seek to reverse President Musharraf’s "reluctant rupture with his one-time jihadist allies," J&K and the Indian hinterland could witness a significant resurgence of terrorist violence in the foreseeable future.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 19-25, 2008
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
HuJI marginalised, says Rapid Action Battalion Chief: On May 20, 2008, Hasan Mahmood Khandaker, Director General of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), said that the militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) had been marginalised following a crackdown. "Bangladesh banned the HuJI group years ago after it was banned in the United States and other countries as a top militant organisation," he said. He also stated that, "Dozens of HuJI activists in Bangladesh including their chief Mufti Abdul Hannan have been detained over the years. While we don’t rule out the existence of HuJI in Bangladesh, we can say their activity has been drastically controlled by the security agencies here." Hindustan Times, May 22, 2008.
Pakistan ready for "grand reconciliation" with India through dialogue to resolve outstanding issues: Pakistan on May 21, 2008, agreed with India to push for an improvement in bilateral economic relations simultaneously with efforts to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. At the end of talks with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi declared that his Government was ready for a "grand reconciliation" with India through dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues "with self-respect and dignity." Both sides strongly reaffirmed that they would not permit terrorism to impede the peace process and, in a joint statement, "re-emphasised the need for effective steps for the complete elimination of this menace." The statement said the two Ministers reaffirmed the importance of the cease-fire, in place since November 2003, and the commitment of both sides to safeguard it. The countries also signed an agreement on consular access to prisoners, an important step in ensuring the early release of nationals of the two countries from each other’s jails after they have completed their sentence. Pakistan agreed that terrorism was a "common menace" and promised to work with India in combating the problem as Mukherjee and Qureshi held wide-ranging talks covering various issues, including Siachen, Sir Creek and cross-LoC Confidence Building Measures. The Hindu; Daily Excelsior, May 22, 2008.
Next al Qaeda attack on the US to come from FATA, says US general: A top American general on May 22, 2008, endorsed a US intelligence assessment that the next 9/11-type attack on US soil would come from al Qaeda bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan, but urged the United States to increase its security assistance to the country to help it deal with the threat. General David Petraeus, a top US military commander nominated to lead the Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "Clearly, Al Qaeda’s senior leadership has been strengthened in the FATA, even as their main effort still is assessed to be in Iraq by them, as well as by us. But the organisation of an attack, if you will, would likely come from the FATA." Dawn, May 23, 2008.
Government signs peace agreement with militants in Swat: The Taliban militants operating under the command of Maulana Fazlullah in the Swat District on May 21, 2008, signed a 16-point peace agreement with the Awami National Party (ANP)-led NWFP Government and agreed to disbanding the militia, while denouncing and renouncing suicide attacks and stopping attacks on the security forces and Government installations. The Taliban were represented by their spokesman Muslim Khan, Ali Bakht, Maulana Muhammad Amin, Mehmood Khan and Nisar Khan, while the Government team consisted of senior ministers Bashir Bilour and Rahimdad Khan, NWFP Environment Minister Wajid Ali Khan, ANP provincial President Afrasiyab Khattak and legislator Shamshir Ali. After the talks that continued for eight-and-a-half hours, Bashir Bilour announced that both the sides had signed a 16-point peace agreement and hoped that now there would be peace in the Swat Valley. Talking to reporters, a member of the Taliban negotiating team, Ali Bakht, said the Government would release 200 militants in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, Geo News reported Major General Athar Abbas as stating that the Army would not oppose the peace deal. The News, May 22, 2008.
146 LTTE militants and 22 civilians among 190 persons killed during the week: 146 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants, 22 soldiers and 22 civilians were among 190 persons killed in separate incidents between May 18 and May 24, 2008. At least 26 LTTE militants and five soldiers were killed as the troops foiled two attempts by the militants to capture the Security Forces’ (SFs) defence line at Nedunkandal in the Mannar District on May 18. Elsewhere, the SFs captured a LTTE bunker line at Kurukkandai killing seven militants. Four soldiers were also killed in the clash while three others sustained injuries in the incident. Another three soldiers went missing during the clash. On the same day, the troops killed 10 militants during clashes in the Navakkulam, Marudhakulam, Palamoddai, Mundipurippu and Kallikulam areas of Vavuniya District. 14 LTTE militants were killed and five others injured during an encounter with the troops in the Periyamadu area of Vavuniya District on May 20. On May 21, 17 LTTE militants were killed and 26 others injured during clashes with the troops in the areas north of Janakapura and Kiriibbanwewa in the Vavuniya District. On May 22, 11 LTTE militants were killed during clashes with the troops in the Janakapura, Kokkuthuduvai, Kiriibbanwewa and surrounding areas of Welioya in the Vavuniya District. 16 civilians, including six children, were killed in a Sri Lanka Army (SLA) Deep Penetration Unit (DPU)-triggered claymore mine explosion targeting a Hiace van returning from Muzhangkaavil Hospital to Kilinochchi on the Murikandi – Akkaraayan Road at around 2:15pm on May 23, claimed pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net. Earlier, the Assistant Director of Fisheries in Mannar, J.G.Jujin, and another civilian were killed when a DPU triggered claymore mine explosion targeted an ambulance of the Kilinochchi hospital at Muzhangkaavil at around at 8:00 am. The SLA, however, denied its involvement and stated that the areas where the attack allegedly occurred lay about 100 kilometres away from the northern-most Omanthai Entry/Exit point and defence lines under the Government control in Vavuniya. Sri Lanka Army; Daily News; Colombo Page, May 19-26, 2008.
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