India sets sights on Pakistani camps
NEW DELHI - Following the Mumbai attacks last week, it is emerging that India intends to take the "war on terror" to the next level - specifically, by taking out militant training camps that India believes dot Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
A senior official in India's Home Ministry told Asia Times Online that a decision had been made at the highest levels that India will be directly involved in "annihilating" some of the terror infrastructure and personnel based in Pakistan.
Although fraught with risk, "hot pursuit" has been debated in India for some time. The Mumbai strikes, which claimed the lives of nearly 200 people, may have supplied the impetus needed for action.
According to the official, who declined to be named, these operations will essentially be covert to prevent an all-out war between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Officially, India may continue to deny such actions, all the while taking the battle to the terrorists.
Elite armed naval, air and army forces, backed by intelligence agencies, will be involved. The operation could eventually cover border areas along Punjab such as Multan, where some of the Mumbai attackers are believed to have been recruited.
The coastal belt along Karachi to Gwadar will also be under active Indian surveillance.
Bangladesh, another fertile ground of al-Qaeda activities, will also be within the ambit of such actions, according to the official.
The latest moves by India were conveyed to United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she was in New Delhi this week.
Washington, it appears, does not have a problem with India's intentions as long as it is ensured that there will be no full-fledged conflagration between India and Pakistan. The US also wants to make sure Pakistan's army maintains its presence, even if limited, on the western frontier with Afghanistan.
It seems, at least for now, that India will keep the US informed about any armed operations. Still, it is not necessary that all military actions be conveyed to Washington.
New Delhi, too, is averse to any escalated war with Pakistan. Such a scenario would play into the hands of terrorists and would shatter the peace process which until now has been met with broad support in both countries.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it clear that open war with Pakistan would set India's emerging economy back by at least two decades.
According to official sources, Indian security agencies facing the flak after the Mumbai carnage have impressed on leaders that the only way to repulse repeated militant attacks is to strike at the roots of terror in Pakistan. The alternative, sources say, would be remaining a "sitting duck".
Officials have said that a vast country such as India, with porous coastal and land borders, simply does not have the security apparatus, funds or personnel to guard against the meticulous jihadi terror machine.
Further, it is thought that anti-terror strikes will "bleed" militants, forcing them to protect their immediate interests rather than plotting more attacks. This could mean that Indian operations in Pakistan will be a long-drawn affair.
New Delhi has already set up a anti-terror federal agency with independent funding and personnel drawn from diverse security agencies.
India's new Home Minister, P Chidambaram, is known for his tough approach. New Delhi also ensured that National Security Advisor M K Narayanan managed to retain his job amid calls for his sacking after the Mumbai attacks.
Narayanan, who enjoys the confidence of Manmohan and Chidambaram, is well versed with Indian security structures and is expected to provide bureaucratic leadership.
India will also seek out Israel to help implement secret sorties into Pakistan. It is hoped that Israel will also assist in setting up an elaborate intelligence network specifically aimed at neutralizing terror activities.
New Delhi considers Tel Aviv to be a partner in the fight against terrorism, and the latter has been more than willing to lend a helping hand, including past undercover security operations in Indian-administered Kashmir.
So far, most intelligence-gathering from Pakistan has been aimed at monitoring the activities of the armed forces.
Pakistani armed forces, at the instance of the US, are focused on the western tribal fronts and the Taliban. New Delhi is of the opinion that a well-organized terror network in Pakistan has trained its resources on India.
Over time, India has managed to collect information - including maps, topography and details about training camps and terrorist activities - in Pakistan.
New Delhi knows that despite his strident rhetoric, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's hands are tied and that he will not move much beyond harsh words.
Zardari's flip-flop over the visit of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief to India is an indication that he does not enjoy full control, according to officials. The last thing Zardari wants is further extremist backlash against his family after the assassination of his wife, the former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto.
New Delhi believes there are rogue and entrenched elements within the ISI and Pakistani army that are pursuing an agenda beyond the control of the current political leadership.
Meanwhile, Indian, US, British and Israeli security officials continue to interrogate Ajmal Amir Kasab, the fidayeen (suicide) Mumbai attacker caught alive.
Sources say that Ajmal exists at the bottom of a complex terror chain. As such, his usefulness will likely not extend past revealing logistics about the Mumbai attacks. So far, he has only confirmed what was already known about the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) terror group and its masterminds.
Indian investigators have said that Ajmal has undergone advanced LET training, including marine warfare.
Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist and also WSN Editor India. He can be reached at [email protected])