India’s New Terror Challenges

With just over a month for the third anniversary of Mumbai 26/11, terrorism in new forms is returning to haunt India’s security establishment. Inability of counter terrorism agencies to stay ahead of the web of threats spun by state supported non state actors as the Lashkar e Taiyyaba has already resulted in three major terrorist attacks in Pune in February last year, Mumbai and Delhi in succession in July and September respectively in 2011. Recovery of a car packed with explosives in Ambala a few hours drive from the National Capital this week was another reminder of forebodings ahead. The 7 September Delhi High Court blast and 13 July Mumbai serial blasts remain unresolved despite involving the high profile National Investigation Agency (NIA). 

India’s counter terrorism diplomacy is also under stress. That the Pakistani establishment is not serious about countering terrorism in India is evident with the lip service given by Ms Hina Rabbani Khar the Foreign Minister in her post India visit review to the National Assembly.

Yet the response of the state has been pithy looking at big ticket, long term solutions as NATGRID and Counter Terrorism Centres while neglecting intelligence and grass roots policing. The state has also failed to identify the subtle shift by Pakistani agencies and terrorist groups to foster indigenous terror cells in India and carry out attacks which cannot be attributed across the border. 

Thus it is stark reminders such as recovery of five kg of RDX, detonators and timers from a car parked at the Ambala Cantonment railway station that has brought the challenge of terror closer home to the national capital once more. Delhi is not new to terror strikes close to the Diwali festival having suffered tragedies in the past, that there has been no break through in the investigations in the Delhi High Court blasts has however shaken confidence of the public as well as the police with doubts been cast over possibility of further pain ahead.  Terrorist groups are particularly focused on such major festivals such as Diwali when the shopping is at peak and all markets overflowing with people thereby providing a good opportunity for targeting them and create fear on the festive occasion. 

Agencies are sensing a joint plot by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Babbar Khalsa International to target Delhi during the Diwali season. Even the usually reticent Defence Minister AK Antony called the Ambala plot as tip of the iceberg talking to media men on 15 October. Mr Antony said, "Ambala incident is a tip of iceberg. The present situation is very sensitive and delicate, and we have to be alert 24/7 along both the land borders and coastlines." The political leadership is also highlighting a, "sensitive and dangerous" neighbourhood and calling for extra vigil. Delhi, Mumbai and other metros of India were put on high alert on 14 October

The fortunate discovery of vehicle laden with explosives in Ambala near Delhi also led examination of expanded nature of threat in recent days to the metros. The success would have been greater if culprits had been nabbed by the police acting with greater patience and awaited for persons who were to claim the vehicle for it appears that this was a dead drop with one person parking the same and another not known to the first possibly picking it up and driving to the national capital to set up the attack. The car was bearing fake Haryana registration number and was likely to be a stolen one. This was presumably driven from Jammu and Kashmir by a cell and parked in Ambala Cantonment with another instructed to pick up the same and drive to Delhi. Here possibly a similar arrangement had been worked out for the Delhi cell to finally do the job of placing it in a vulnerable point to cause mayhem. This indicates sophisticated level of planning and selection of personnel to carry out the strike thereby highlighting the need for better surveillance and expanding intelligence profile.

The recovery of the vehicle also indicates intelligence is working but would have to be more proactive for terrorist groups are unlikely to relent with two attacks during the year already there is likely to be more pain in the days ahead unless there is increased vigilance. 

The involvement of terrorist groups from across the border, the LeT, Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab indicates a thriving nexus that continues to exist which has not been effectively neutralized over the years and may be activated in the days ahead. The Bangladesh trail is also leading to groups as the Islamic Chhatra Shibir (ICS) for alleged involvement in the September 7 Delhi High Court blast. The ISI is also reportedly indulging the Maoists who are spreading their foot print from Central India to the North East with links seen with the left oriented groups of Manipur such as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

India’s counter terrorism diplomacy is also under stress. That the Pakistani establishment is not serious about countering terrorism in India is evident with the lip service given by Ms Hina Rabbani Khar the Foreign Minister in her post India visit review to the National Assembly. A one liner at Para 11, “The Indian side reiterated concerns on terrorism and Mumbai trial case,” was all that Ms Khar had to report even though Mr Krishna her counter part gave an extensive review of discussion on terrorism during the talks to the Indian parliament. So how long the government can keep up the façade of with Islamabad remains to be seen?

India’s bête noire and favourite of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Lashkar E Taiyyaba is appearing in different forms making its presence felt through indigenous outfits thereby avoiding a trail leading to Islamabad.  This new template includes roping in criminal gangs as that led by Dawood Ibrahim based in Karachi, local terrorist groups as the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Babbar Khalsa and also linking with Bangladesh based Harkat ul Jihadi. The network is spread from Pakistan to Nepal, India and Bangladesh and is increasingly so complex that intelligence and investigation agencies have failed to identify culprits of terrorist attacks in the country for the past two years. 

Clearly the State will have to wake up to this new challenge and take measures to meet it head on before the ides of 2008 when the country was visited by a major terrorist attack each month once again haunts us.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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