Tag Archives: Insurgency

Kasab’s death is a chance for India to give up its Mumbai investigation

The hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is a good PR result for the Indian justice system, but does nothing to improve India’s security and makes it even less likely that the masterminds of the attack will be brought to justice. That may work in the government’s favour.

India’s judicial system is a lumbering beast – trials can take years to reach their conclusion amid a backlog estimated at around 30 million cases. India retains the death penalty, but mostly because no one wants to appear weak by calling for its abolition. Only one execution has been carried out in the past 15 years (a former security guard hanged in 2004 for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl).

So with a trial that clocked in at just over three years, and a sentence that was carried out just six months later, the case certainly stands out. The president rejected his mercy plea on 5 November and he was secretly hanged in Pune jail on Wednesday. A token offer was made for Pakistan to reclaim the body, which will no doubt be ignored.

For once, the government looks decisive and got results. The anniversary of the Mumbai attacks is usually an occasion for the media to rake over the many embarrassing failures of the police and authorities at the time. As Sandipan Deb pointed out in Mint today, carrying out the execution just a few days before the fourth anniversary is a good way to deflect some of that criticism. We might even forget about the National Counter-Terrorism Centre and other much-needed security reforms that were repeatedly promised and never delivered.

The execution was primarily about revenge. Many were today disappointed that the hanging didn’t take place in a public square, perhaps hoping for some kind of communal hysteria – tearing his body to pieces, smearing his blood on their faces and urinating on the mutilated corpse. Certainly, it had nothing to do with the official justification behind executions that they act as a deterrent to future offenders. As many people have pointed out on social media today, Kasab went into this operation hoping to die, as will any future jihadists of his kind.

There is also the question of how this affects the broader investigation into the attacks. Kasab had probably provided as much information on their planning as he was ever likely to divulge. Nonetheless, his death closes off forever the one source of living knowledge in Indian custody.

In a way, this may prove useful to the Indian government. Its attempts to pressure the Pakistan government into co-operating with the investigation have made barely any progress, and this has hampered the broader peace negotiations that resumed in 2011. India is desperate to move beyond the endless bickering with its difficult neighbour. It wants normal trade relations, security in Kashmir, and the chance to engage with Afghanistan without fear of triggering a proxy war. It must be clear to the Indian government that they will never get a satisfactory response from Pakistan in bringing to justice the plotters of the Mumbai attacks. At some point, a line will have to be drawn in the sand, and that starts by burying the painful reminder that was sat in a Pune cell.

Civilians Killed In Latest Naxal Attack

Another major attack by the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, just six weeks after the massacre of 76 police officers in the same district. The figures are not certain, but an estimated 35 people died when the Maoists blew up a private passenger bus on a highway in the Dantewada district. Initial reports say that over a dozen special police officers (SPOs) were among the civilians on the bus when it was blown 20 feet in the air. Around 15 more people are in critical condition in hospital. The SPOs are believed to be part of the Koya Commando unit, specialising in anti-Maoist operations.

The attack is notable for taking civilian lives. Although it is likely to have been specifically targeting the SPOs, the willingness to take collateral civilian lives underlines the ruthless turn the Maoists are taking in Chhattisgarh. They risk further alienating the local population if they move towards indiscriminate acts of terrorism. Their millenarian worldview allows them to justify such violence against civilians as an unfortunate by-product of the glorious revolution, but few outside the party will agree with them.

However, given the almost complete lack of governance in these remote areas, the Maoists have a distinct advantage in being able to coerce locals into supporting them, since they are the only effective form of authority around. They combine this with several carrots, such as more equitable land distribution, protection from police brutality and exploitation by state officials, and ensuring better prices for forest produce.

Add to this the geographical advantages of operating across 39,000 km2 region, 60% of which is dense jungle, and it is clear that further attacks along these lines are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The question is whether the Maoists are pushing their luck. By attacking civilians, they are forcing the government to start taking the problem seriously.

A workable model of counterinsurgency exists, which was applied in Andhra Pradesh in the 1990s, which has contained the problem in that state to a much greater extent than in other areas. Here’s a breakdown of that strategy from the Deccan Chronicle:

* A ban was imposed on the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and its front organisations like Radical Students’ Union and Progressive Democratic Students’ Union to check activities like bandhs and to stop fresh recruitment.

* A new legislation, Public Security Act, cut off the nexus between Naxals and their sympathisers in the affected villages.

* Intensive development of interior areas, particularly of roads and communications, was undertaken.

* A solution was sought to the various issues raised by extremists through a special cell functioning in the chief minister’s office.

* Employment was promoted in a big way. There was, in fact, a special focus on employing tribals in good numbers in all government departments, particularly the police, to give them a greater sense of participation in governance.

* Procurement of forest produce was taken away from forest contractors and entrusted with government corporations, thereby cutting off the flow of funds to extremists.

* A rehabilitation policy for those extremists wanting to leave the movement was put into action.

* Perception management, or counter-propaganda, through well-trained cultural troupes was undertaken.

The Chhattisgarh government is not yet in a position to apply a similar strategy effectively, but increased inter-state cooperation – including the use of the specialist anti-Naxal Greyhounds force from Andhra Pradesh in other areas – could start creating problems for the Maoists. Of course, the key consequence in the short term will be an increase in violent incidents and civilian casualties.

My Bad: Hosein Probably Not a ’99 Hijacker

As usual, things are never as cut-and-dried as the press would like them to be. Most news reports – and this blog – stated that Belal Hosein, the jihadist captured in Bangladesh, was a key figure in the 1999 Indian Airlines hijacking. Today, Praveen Swami in The Hindu says that he was probably not involved in that particular plot. Although he claimed he was shortly after the incident and Dhaka was a staging post for the operation, no Bangladeshis were directly involved according to the intelligence report of 2000. Swami has excellent contacts in the intelligence services, so he’s a pretty good person to listen to.

He argues that the arrest is more important as evidence of the inter-linkages between militant groups across South Asia, and the continuing – perhaps growing – threat to India. Hosein is thought to be part of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) in Bangladesh, which has close ties to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan. Intelligence officers say the JMB were involved in the foiled plot to bomb US and Indian embassies in Dhaka late last year. According to Swami, the group was in the advanced stages of a plot to strike targets within India.

Also, the International Crisis Group has just released a pretty comprehensive report on the JMB.

Hijacker Jacked, Tiger Caged, Nagas Negotiated

Plenty of action on India’s counter-terrorist front today, offering an insight into just how diverse and complex are the security challenges the country faces.

In Indo-Pakistan jihad nexus news, it appears the Bangladesh secret service, the Rapid Action Brigade, have nabbed a key figure behind the hijacking of flight IC-814 on Christmas Eve 1999. The plane was hijacked by five Pakistanis who flew it to Kandahar in Afghanistan and demanded that India release 3 Islamist militants, which they duly did. The whole incident was a disaster for India, with one passenger being killed, the hijackers all getting away, and the militants they released going on to become big name horror-shows in the terrorist world. Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, already famous for kidnapping the daughter of the Indian home minister in 1989, went back to Kashmir to use his newly minted status to recruit jihadists. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was later linked to the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl.  And Maulana Masood Azhar went on to found Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of the groups blamed for the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of all-out war. If ever evidence was needed for the not-dealing-with-terrorists rule, then this incident was surely it.

In northeast insurgency news, the prime minister himself has been meeting with Naga rebels to see if they can find some compromise between full autonomy and increased regional powers. After 50 years, you would think the government had made its point that national borders are non-negotiable, but when fights last this long, they tend to have a momentum of their own. Nonetheless, the involvement of the prime minister himself suggests these talks are pretty serious and the rebels at an advanced stage towards chucking in the violence.

And over in good ol’ Blighty, the cops have tracked down Tiger Hanif, who has been on the run for some 17 years for his part in a bomb attack in Gujarat during the horrible sectarian riots that were going on there in 1993. His life had apparently quietened down a bit since then, as the police found him working in a grocery shop.

All pretty good news for the Indians for once. Co-operation not just from militants in Nagaland, but also from their old allies in the UK and most promisingly, continued assistance from their new friends in Bangladesh. It has been a good year for relations with Dhaka, who helped capture top ULFA insurgents and signed a bunch of co-operation deals in January. I’m sure Delhi wishes that all news days were like this.

Sui-Glide Bombers

India spends a great deal of time being tensed for another terrorist attack but there has been some serious tightening of late, with a slew of reports in recent months letting everyone know they will all be blown up in some way or another very soon.

Clearly, the threat is real. India experienced a 2009 free from Pakistan-sourced terrorism (although plenty of Maoist and separatist violence), but Pakistan’s failure to effectively clamp down on militants in its midst means there are plenty of people itching for another high-profile attack. Today, security was heightened at airports amid claims that Lashkar-e-Toiba was planning to hit an airline, and just a few days ago arrested militant Amjad Khwaja, of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islam, told interrogators something similar.

But is it just me catching a waft of the ridiculous about today’s other big announcement: that LeT militants have bought 50 paragliders in Germany for use in a suicide attack. I know we live in an age where terrorists are forced to resort to shoving the explosives in their underpants or even up their arse, but there is something just a little bit silly about picturing these guys learning how to paraglide, especially since the only paragliding instructors I’ve met have been irritating Live-for-the-Rush hippies. On the other hand, if they can get hold of someone like Patrick Swayze in Point Break, then they might be on to something…

[I’m ready to eat my words – assymetric enemies are nothing if not speedy innovators, after all]

India and Bangladesh Put it in Writing

Bangladesh and India have signed a series of treaties on extradition and cross-border security that formalise the improved relationship enjoyed between the two since prime minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in late 2008. The past year has seen her Awami-led government crack down on militants which use Bangladesh as a base to attack targets in India, particularly insurgents in the northeast of the country, such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).

Arms seized at Chittagong, Bangladesh on their way to ULFA militants

The turn-around has been profound – Bangladesh has been a vital sanctuary for militants for much of the past two decades, but throughout 2008, the government snatched and handed over several key militants, including Arabinda Rajkhowa, Sasha Chaudhary and Chitraban Hazarika, three of ULFA’s top leaders. Undaunted by the fact he’s the only ULFA leader still at large, army commander Paresh Barua told reporters last week that the organisation would continue to fight against “illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.” For all their talk about ethnic sovereignty, what these separatists really hate is immigrants. Of course, Bangladeshis aren’t so bad when they are allowing you to use their country as a sanctuary, but I suppose that’s somehow different.

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When the Next Pakistan Attack on India Comes…

The Council on Foreign Relations has a decent analysis of what might happen if another terrorist strike hits India from Pakistan-based militants (which is an ever-present fear in the Indian media), and what the US can do about it. Since I’ve been complaining about the fact that Indo-Pak relations have been taken out of Afghan strategy, this seems very timely to me.

The paper rightly sees the US as constrained in its options – neither side likes outside interference on this issue. Pakistan is indebted to US for military and financial assistance, but it also knows how crucial a role it plays for the US in its battle against militants on the AfPak border. CFR therefore calls for quiet backchannel diplomacy aimed at opening up new lines of communication between the two sides and ensuring they know the risks of any escalation in diplomatic, financial and existential terms.

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