India under siege due to terror

Posted in India | 27-Mar-09 | Author: Siddharth Srivastava

"Indian intelligence sources estimate that 55% of the approximately 4,000 terrorists currently operating in India are foreigners, primarily Pakistanis. The…
"Indian intelligence sources estimate that 55% of the approximately 4,000 terrorists currently operating in India are foreigners, primarily Pakistanis. The security agencies and the defense establishment cannot be blamed in isolation of the political leadership that has failed to revamp India's security apparatus effectively."
Following the brazen Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 in which nearly 200 people died India's political, security and social landscape will never remain the same.

Many say that India is in the midst of one of its ugliest phase of terror attacks, wherein soft targets such as crowded market places, luxury hotels, temples and mosques have been targeted to kill innocent people.

A series of bomb strikes over the recent past in cities across India, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Varanasi have killed and maimed thousands.

These have ranged from heightened defense preparedness against neighbor Pakistan, exposure of India's weak intelligence and internal security structure and for the first time in independent India, the emergence of Hindu terror groups as a reaction to jehadi militancy.

Terror Groups

The Islamist fundamentalist organizations that are the gravest threat to India are the Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Hizbul-Mujahiddeen (HuM), Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and IM.

Indian intelligence sources estimate that 55% of the approximately 4,000 terrorists currently operating in India are foreigners, primarily Pakistanis, sprinkling of other nationals from Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The LeT or the Army of the Pure is the most potent of the militant groups, is the terrorist arm of the Markaz-ud-Dawa-Wal-Irshad, with its headquarters at Muridke in Pakistan.

With a specialized 'suicide' cadre called fidayeens, the militant group undertakes high-risk missions that have included the November Mumbai strikes.

Formed in 1989 Pakistan's official ISI, Inter Services Intelligence, has funded and instructed this group, during the 1990s, to target Hindus in Indian Jammu & Kashmir and train Muslim extremists.

Following 9/11 attacks in America LeT was labeled as a terrorist group and banned.

LeT is suspected of involvement in the December 2001 attack on Indian Parliament in New Delhi, the 2006 Mumbai local train bombings, and the February 2007 blast of the Indo-Pak peace train Samjhauta Express, apart from the 26/11 strikes in Mumbai.

There is also increasing evidence now that Islamic terror cells are increasingly home grown and bred in India itself, with support from existing foreign groups.

The Indian government has accused SIMI, of connections with LeT and the Mumbai blasts and other terror strikes.

Global militant groups have also zeroed in on local Indian elements, under the umbrella of a new outfit called Indian Mujahideen (IM) or orchestrated sudden bold attacks such as in Mumbai via the sea route.

The Delhi bombings last year have been claimed by the IM, a little-known Islamist militant group, which sent an online warning by hacking into the email address of a Mumbai based private firm.

The IM has claimed responsibility for blasts in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Jaipur in the last years.

Indian intelligence and security agencies say that the IM is derived from elements in the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and LeT, with the local banned SIMI being a party.

The IM came into national focus for the first time in November 2007, following bomb blasts in three trial courts in Uttar Pradesh, a large central Indian state with a sizeable Muslim population.

Emergence of Hindu Terror

Hindu radicalism and ultra-nationalist right wing activism are terms familiar to followers of Indian politics, with national political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) inclined to such thinking.

However, the tones have taken a dangerous turn with talk of emergence of 'Hindu terrorism' and pan India militant Hindu network to avenge Islamic fundamentalism and jehadi terrorist attacks in the country.

Contrary to usual assertions by Indian security agencies about Muslim terror outfits leading militancy in the country, it has emerged that some of the recent bomb blasts in India could have been the handiwork of anti-Muslim Hindutva outfits out to seek revenge.

These findings also resolve a bit of the riddle about Muslim worshippers and mosques being attacked in India, especially in the past 2-3 years.

The word Hindutva has been coined to apply to those who believe that India as a nation should follow laws and principles, cultural, social and religious, of majority Hindu rule, the pre-dominant religion.

The most virulent form of such belief was unleashed in the state of Gujarat wherein the state under BJP chief minister Narender Modi backed attacks on Muslims by Hindu rioters, in which thousands died.

"The November Mumbai attacks have shaken a bit of India's stupor a bit of India's regarding internal security"
"The November Mumbai attacks have shaken a bit of India's stupor a bit of India's regarding internal security"
The new twist to the terror attacks have come about with the arrests over the last week of Hindu women activists and others on charges of plotting bombings aimed at killing Muslims in at least two states.

The police have arrested 36-year old Pragya Singh Thakur, a sadhvi (ascetic) known to be closely associated with radical Hindu groups, along with two male counterparts, on charges of orchestrating powerful bombs in Malegaon (a town in western state Maharashtra) and another Modasa town (in Gujarat).

Both attacks were directed at Muslim gatherings during Ramadan in the month of September last year.

Further, Maharashtra's Anti Terrorism Squad has also detained five other Hindus, including four men and a woman.

The men include three retired Army men, including of the rank of Major. At least one was reportedly involved in training in bomb making, thus establishing a link between terrorism and ex-servicemen.

All, including Pragya, are reported to be associated with radical Hindu outfits such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, that keep close connections with the BJP.

Indeed, this is perhaps the first time in post-independent India that Hindus have been arrested for plotting terror crimes targeted at Muslims.

Indian freedom fighters such as Bhagat Singh and Chadrashekar Azad led daring attacks on British rulers in pre-1947 colonial India. In the 80s and 90s India grappled with Sikh militancy.

In the current context, Hindu extremist outfits such as the Ranvir Sena in Bihar are known for their violent methods, but these are caste-driven and usually related to disputes over property.

The Maoists attacks in the country, especially in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, are also related to oppression by higher castes and exploitation by landlords.

Otherwise most right wing Hindu outfits are usually in news for strong arm actions on behaviors they consider alien to Indian culture and aping the west.

Generally such attacks create a disturbance and are of a nuisance value.

Bomb attacks against Muslims are a totally different ball game and are a result of a deep-seated angst and philosophy.

The BJP, clearly, has been in the back foot, caught between highlighting its pro-Hindutva strategy while not condoning terrorist violence.

India Ups Defense Ante

Post, 26/11-Mumbai, the conflict situation between India and Pakistan has meant the most frenetic period for the country's defense sector.

The list of military announcements, plans, acquisitions, expenditures, trials has been at a feverish pitch.

There is no doubt that India's defense modernization efforts, pegged at US$50 billion over the next five years are going to be high priority.

There is particular focus on building against the threat from Pakistan, with non-state players seen as potent danger.

After failing the first trial, the new version of the 290 km-range supersonic BrahMos cruise missile, apparently with ability to deliver nuclear warhead was successfully test fired in Rajasthan, early March.

BrahMos is an Indo-Russian joint venture. The BrahMos test was followed by the third successful missile intercept test in Orissa, as part of a plan to build a defense system against incoming ballistic missiles by 2010.

An effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) system is considered to be a key weapon in thwarting threats of rogue elements firing stolen nuclear tipped missiles at India from Pakistan or Bangladesh.

India has also been holding close talks with America to hasten the BMD deployment, post Mumbai.

The first BMD test was conducted in November 2006 and second in December 2007.

The above trials follow last months interim budget for the year 2009-2010 that raised defense expenditures by 34% from US$ 211 billion last year to US$ 283 billion in 2009-2010. The outlay includes nearly US$ 110 billion for capital expenditure.

The Army is expediting purchase of the latest generation Harop loitering weapon system or missile firing drone, Heron long-duration unmanned aerial vehicles, armored vehicles and Tangushka air defense systems.

New Delhi has also announced that the modernization of India's Navy will be put on fast track. An important component of this process with be building warships.

Defense minister A K Antony announced recently that India will soon become the fourth country in the world to build its own aircraft carrier or air defense ship (ADS) after the United States, Russia and France.

In a critical move, last month India also announced that its project to build three nuclear-powered submarines is nearing completion.

The project is part of India's US$3 billion plan to build five submarines and complete the triad of nuclear weapon launch capability from air, land and sea platforms.

Concomitantly India is developing submarine launched ballistic missiles which can be nuclear tipped if required.

Yet, no number of big arms can be effective against surreptitious fidayeen bombers using dingy boats to attack luxury hotels, as happened in Mumbai, unless India develops a sound internal security and intelligence framework.

Intelligence Failure

"Local level policing, the first bullwark against a sudden terror strike remains corrupt, ill-eqipped and badly trained"
"Local level policing, the first bullwark against a sudden terror strike remains corrupt, ill-eqipped and badly trained"
It is apparent that the Indian security networks have failed in detecting and preventing terror attacks.

Though security agencies claim that the situation can have been much worse had it not been for their preventive vigil and crack down, the existing situation does not inspire much confidence.

Local level policing, the first bulwark against a sudden terror strike remains corrupt, ill-equipped and badly trained.

In a more damning self-indictment National Security Advisor (NSA) M K Narayanan, who reports to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh directly, has blamed the intelligence agencies that he ironically leads, for not providing "actionable intelligence" on terror attacks.

The new home minister P Chidambaram has brought about some changes in the security structure in the recent past.

India has passed legislation establishing a National Intelligence Agency (NIA), much like America's FBI, to investigate threats or acts of terrorism.

An executive order to form a Multi-Agency-Center (MAC), a counterterrorism hub similar to CIA's National Counterterrorism Center has been issued by the federal home ministry.

Such a process has to continue over a period of time for effective results.


  • The security agencies and the defense establishment cannot be blamed in isolation of the political leadership that has failed to revamp India's security apparatus effectively.

  • The opposition BJP has been calling for the revocation of anti-terror laws such as Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) that has been scrapped by the Congress due to alleged human rights violations, especially against Muslims, that the party counts as its support base.

  • Yet, the problem is beyond just the laws --- the preventive mechanism is woefully inadequate while at the same time India, given its lax security structure, has become a fertile ground for terror groups to gain some cheap global publicity via easy to execute terror attacks.

  • Given the nature of global terror, there is no doubt that India will have to invest heavily on its security networks, including installing and use of latest technologies, arms and ammunition in order to take on militancy that has spread all over the country.

  • It is no small matter that following the September 11 attacks in America, no major terrorist incident has occurred due to a security clampdown, even if it inconveniences the common man.

  • The November Mumbai attacks have shaken a bit of India's stupor regarding internal security. But, there is a long way to go.