Axis of terror

Published : Dec 19, 2008 00:00 IST

A foreign guest rescued from the Taj. The terrorists singled out Western and Israeli visitors.-PTI

A foreign guest rescued from the Taj. The terrorists singled out Western and Israeli visitors.-PTI

The Mumbai attack, many experts feel, is a mujahideen response to Indias special relationship with the U.S. and Israel.

THE scale and sophistication of the coordinated terror attack on Mumbai signals the resolve of mujahideen groups to up the ante against the Indian state. The Al Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, have in recent years clubbed India with the United States and Israel. Pakistan has faced the brunt of Al Qaeda-linked attacks in the past couple of years. The Al Qaeda leadership considers the government in Islamabad a quisling of Washington. Going by the opinion of experts that the Mumbai attack had the telltale marks of an Al Qaeda act, terrorism in the subcontinent is set to become even more lethal.

Western intelligence agencies have been expecting a spectacular attack of this scale for some time. The terrorist strike in Mumbai has drawn comparisons to the attack on Bali (Indonesia) in 2002. In both cases, European and American citizens were singled out. Attacks on this scale, according to experts on the subject, are only carried out in areas where the terror groups have sufficient local resources. The Mumbai attack has been described as the biggest since the targeting of the twin towers in New York in 2001.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his address to the nation, said that outsiders were responsible for carrying out the attacks and warned neighbours of consequences if they continued to allow terrorists to use their territory. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was more specific. He said that the terrorists had come from Pakistan. Even before the shooting subsided, India asked Pakistans Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief to come to New Delhi for discussions. Experts on the issue of terrorism say that blaming Pakistan will be a convenient option but such a move could once again raise tensions and derail the peace process. Recent terror attacks in major Pakistani cities have shown that Islamabad has failed to rein in domestic terror.

After the terror attack on the Indian Parliament building in 2001, the two countries almost went to war. Islamabad is already under tremendous pressure from the U.S., whose President-elect Barack Obama has said that he would send American troops into Pakistan for counter-terrorism operations. If New Delhi also threatens to do the same, a beleaguered Pakistan will be under even more pressure and the new civilian administration could be destabilised. Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced in the last week of November that the government was depoliticising the ISI by disbanding its political wing. Both Indian and Western security agencies have long held the ISI responsible for nurturing terror networks such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Indian officials have blamed the Lashkar for the Mumbai attacks although the organisation has vehemently denied any role.

Gilani said that both India and Pakistan were victims of terror and, as such, should work jointly to combat the menace. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quereshi, who was in New Delhi for talks with his Indian counterpart, said that India should not implicate any country before proper investigations were completed. He said the need of the hour was to strengthen further the anti-terror mechanism set up by both governments. Pakistan has offered to set up a permanent hotline and direct contact between the ISI and Indias Research and Analysis Wing.

The allegations are not one-sided. In the last week of November, unnamed Pakistani officials alleged that a plot was being hatched, with Indias backing, against Pakistans financial capital, Karachi. A report published in the Pakistani newspaper Daily Times quoted Pakistani sources as saying that the major chunk of Indias big aid package to Afghanistan was being diverted to destabilise Pakistan.

India received strong support from the West in the wake of the terror attacks in Mumbai. U.S. President George W. Bush and Obama were both quick to offer their condolences. Both of them used the Mumbai incidents to highlight the threat of global terrorism and justify the war on terrorism. Obamas spokesperson on security, Brooke Anderson, said that the Mumbai attacks demonstrate the grave and urgent threat of terrorism. She said that the U.S. would continue to strengthen its partnership with India and nations around the world to root out and destroy terrorist networks. Similar messages of solidarity came from all the capitals of the world.

Reports in the Israeli media suggest that Israeli officials were not happy with Indias handling of the hostage situation. Jerusalem Post, in a report, said that Israeli defence officials felt that the storming of the besieged areas by the Indian forces was premature. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, during his talks with National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan when the hostage siege was under way, offered Israeli expertise to end the crisis. The Indian government seems to have turned down the offer for high-profile security assistance. Incidentally, Israel trained Indias elite commando units.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israel has despatched a number of its intelligence officers to India to assist in analysing the terrorist plot.

In September, Major General Avi Mizrahi, Officer Commanding, Ground Forces Command, went on an unscheduled trip to Kashmir to review the Indian Armys counter-insurgency policy in the Valley. Israel, which is Indias second biggest supplier of weaponry, is helping India in its counter-insurgency efforts. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is preparing a training plan in counter-insurgency for Indian troops. Under the proposed agreement, the IDF will send highly trained commandos to provide instruction in counter-terror and urban warfare.

The special relationship New Delhi has with Washington and Tel Aviv is not viewed favourably in much of the Islamic world. Israels occupation of Arab lands and Americas occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are the major factors responsible for the spurt in terrorism worldwide. The U.S. is simultaneously taking on Sunni radicals in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The random killing of civilians by American bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan has only inflamed passions in the region. The situation may get worse as Obama has pledged to increase the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan and pursue tougher counter-terrorism measures. India has been lending a helping hand in the Bush administrations war on terror. Cuban leader Fidel Castro, in one of his recent articles, said that the U.S. used the war on terror to interfere in the affairs of other countries while encouraging terrorism when it suited its national agenda. Obama, going by the views he expressed on the campaign trail, sees a connection between Afghanistan and Kashmir. Influential sections of the American establishment are of the opinion that a solution to the Kashmir dispute will help American security interests in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. They want India to observe restraint and not blame Pakistan for every terrorist incident. The Bush administration has been actively encouraging back-channel communication between India and Pakistan.

The tribal areas of Pakistan are the hotbed of Al Qaeda and Taliban activities. According to reports, even anti-India insurgent groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad have shifted base there. The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the Al Qaeda leadership, which was entrenched in the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided guidelines and financial help to all the insurgent groups based there. India is viewed as an ally of the U.S. by Islamic radicals.

Amr Musa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, said that terrorist acts aggravate the vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a personal note to Indias Prime Minister and President. He said that the death of a large number of Indian citizens is a cause of deep sorrow for the people of Iran. At the same time, he pointed out that the ugly phenomenon of terrorism had its roots in the unfair international order and the regional instability caused by outside interference and occupation. He was referring to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the consequent upsurge of terrorist activity on a global scale. U.S. counter-terrorism policy in Somalia has created an increasingly desperate security situation in the Horn of Africa. The audacious pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden is only one of the manifestations.

Terrorists who gained their expertise under American tutelage are now busy destabilising key regions in Asia. Al Qaeda-inspired terror networks carried out attacks in China just before the start of the Beijing Olympics; Kurdish terror groups have used northern Iraq as a staging point to launch attacks against Turkey and Iran; Al Qaeda-inspired Sunni fundamentalist groups, with roots in the Iraq conflict, have carried out suicide bombings in Syria and Lebanon.

Al Qaeda activists in Iraq have gained valuable experience in guerilla war and insurgency after America occupied that country in 2003. This experience, according to experts, has been put to good use in Afghanistan, Pakistan and now in India. A poll conducted recently by the University of Marylands Program on International Policy Attitudes in 23 countries showed that public opinion viewed U.S. actions against Al Qaeda as a failure. Three out of 10 respondents in countries that are allies of the U.S. believed that American actions had made Al Qaeda even stronger.

Robert A. Pape, a well-known American expert on terrorism and the author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, said after the London train bombings that the sustained presence of heavy American combat forces in Muslim countries is likely to increase the odds of the next September 11, 2001. He said that his research had shown that what 95 per cent of all suicide bombings around the world since 1980 had in common was not religion but a clear, strategic objective: to compel a modern democracy to withdraw military forces from a territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.

During a brief conversation, a terrorist holed up in the Jewish centre talked about the alleged atrocities being committed by Indian troops in Kashmir and Israeli forces against Palestinians.

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