Uniting Against Terror in South Asia

Uniting Against Terror in South Asia
August 2003

For long, intelligence analysts have taken the stand that the center of gravity of terrorism shifted from Middle East and Europe to Asia-Pacific at the end of the Cold War era. With little modification it can be assumed that the epicenter of terror now is in Asia, where the focus of the global terrorism appears to have shifted, finding its bloodiest manifestations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. The month of August was particularly singular which saw death and destruction in Jakarta in Indonesia, Mumbai in India, killings in Tripura and resurgence of Maoist militancy in Nepal after the group abruptly declared end to ceasefire. In Bangladesh too, some regrouping of terrorists and terror groups were reported. The incidents have as much rattled the campaign managers of the US led war on terror as the governments across Asia. The strategy of the terrorists however, is old and there is nothing to indicate that the recent strikes had any new message except perpetuating the reign of terror for perverted purposes. Car bombs and suicide bombers have been the hackneyed methodology used by terrorists all over the world to undertake spectacular strikes, get the media mileage and keep the show going for them. This happened in Bali, Kenya, Karachi, Riyadh, Moscow, Jerusalem and several other cities after Al Qaeda’s spectacular air-show on post-September 11, 2001 period, and one does not know where the terrorists would strike next time. In fact, it is precisely this unpredictability about the timing, the target and the venue of the attacks which makes terrorism what it is. [1]

The Indian Independence Day eve brutal killing of 30 non-tribal people by the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) would over-shadow the killings in Jakarta in Marriott hotel bombings the same month earlier. By repeatedly choosing soft targets for attack, in the latest instance two predominantly Scheduled Caste hamlets, the Tigers have sent out the message that terror will remain the sole means for achieving their awful project of ethnic cleansing, that is the expulsion of the overwhelming Bengali majority from Tripura. Among those massacred on August 14 were 13 women and six children. After the February 2003 Assembly election swept the Left Front back to power a third time, the Tigers and another secessionist-terrorist outfit, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), have stepped up attacks on the villages bordering Bangladesh in West Tripura. Three aspects of the present situation in the Northeast are extremely worrying. For the first time, nine extremist organizations, including the ATTF, NLFT (Biswamohan Group) and the United Liberation Front of Asom, gave a joint call for the boycott of Independence Day celebrations across the region. Secondly, in the run-up to August 15, 2003, the two Tripura extremist organizations carried out a series of murderous attacks spread over four days on both unarmed people and security personnel. Thirdly, there is a continuing use of a large number of terrorist camps across the 850 km India-Bangladesh border relevant to the State. [2]

On 24 August, two powerful bomb blasts, with explosives concealed in two taxis in crowded areas of the city of Mumbai killed at least 50 people and injured over 150. Nine bombings in as many months has left almost a 100 people dead, and some 200 injured and put Mumbai in the midst the longest-running terror offensive any major Indian city has ever encountered. Bombs have gone off with alarming regularity in trains, buses and marketplaces. The object of these attacks is to intimidate civil society, and to illustrate the vulnerability of the city, the Indian state, and all they stand for. Though no group claimed responsibility for the blasts, two terrorist groups- Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) and the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) were believed to be behind these bombings.[3] After Mohammad Saqib Abdul Hamid Nachan surrendered in April in a Mumbai courtroom, the Mumbai Police was led to believe that the network of terror in the city has been neutralized along with the arrests of 11 others including Imran Rehman Khan, who was deported from the United Arab Emirates where he had fled after the first attack. Now it appears that that the arrested bomb-makers were just part of a large pool of trained terrorists. The terror offensive seems linked, furthermore, to a vicious cycle of communal terror and counter-terror.[4] According to police Mumbai, in recent months, has become a happy hunting ground of Pakistan-based jehadi organizations, which rely on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) for local logistical support, sources tracking terrorist outfits in India told Hindustan Times on Tuesday. Senior officials said Monday’s twin blasts were part of a pattern set by the Lashkar-SIMI combine, which also included the dreaded Jamiat ehle Hadith. While the last two comprise foreigners, it is SIMI volunteers who carry out their plans.[5] Interestingly an Indian daily, The Asian Age, reported on Wednesday that a Bangladeshi man, Moin Khan, an ISI agent settled at Cox’s Bazar, was assigned to execute the Mumbai operation by ISI linchpin in Bangladesh K H Inayat Puri living in Dhaka.

Predictably the blasts triggered an international outcry. US President Bush expressed sympathy for the loss of life, calling the blasts “cold blooded murder,” and said that India has a friend in the US in the fight against terror. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also expressed outrage over the twin car blasts. A Russian foreign ministry statement said: “The terrorist acts in Mumbai once more highlight the need for close unity of all the members of the world community in combating the global scourge of international terrorism.” [6]

In a revealing testimony, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s counter-terrorism division, John S Pistole to US Senate Committee on Government Affairs on ‘Terrorism Financing: Origination, Organization and Prevention’. said that they have “traced the origin of the funding of 9/11 to financial accounts in Pakistan, where high-ranking and well-known Al-Qaeda operatives played a major role in moving the money forward, eventually into the hands of the hijackers located in the US”. However, Pistole did not specify how those accounts in Pakistan were funded. The FBI has estimated that the September 11 attacks cost between $175,000 and $250,000. That money, which paid for flight training, travel and other expenses, reportedly flowed to the hijackers through associates in Germany and the United Arab Emirates. Those associates reported to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who managed much of the planning for the attacks from Pakistan. [7] There were much speculation as was inevitable, especially in India where it was widely believed that terrorist elements within Pakistan, in collaboration with the ISI and the Pakistani Army, were deeply involved in 9/11 attacks and that these facts were known to the American and Indian intelligence agencies long before the FBI or the Senate investigations into 9/11 could even begin. Apparently one of the fund raisers was Syed Omar Sheikh convicted in the Daniel Pearl Murder case, who used his contact in India, Aftab Ansari, a don from Mumbai to collect funds from a kidnapping of a Kolkata tycoon, Partho Pratim Burman. Omar gave about $ 100,000 to Mohammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers. Atta returned $ 15,600 through hawala channels a few days before he dive-bombed the WTC towers in Manhattan. The money was wired to a bank in Karachi, from where it was withdrawn through three ATM withdrawals within two days of the attack. The person who withdrew the money was Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi.[8]

In this context too, the concern of some of the US law makers including Frank Pallone, Jim McDermott, Gary Ackerman, Joseph Crowley, Tom Lantos, Harold Ford, Melvin Watt, Robert Wexler, Barbara Lee, Adams Schiff, Howard Berman, Edward Markey, Ellen Tauscher, Robert Matsui and Shefley Berkley (all Democrats) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican).

is worth mentioning. In message to President Bush, they have insisted upon Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir before it gets any more economic aid. “It is not enough to move terrorist camps from Pakistani-occupied-Kashmir to the Punjab: the camps, and the groups, must be dismantled, the terrorist financial networks must be eliminated and the terrorists must be arrested and prosecuted, not merely put under house arrest or other informal detention. It is also time, however, to dismantle the terrorist networks that threaten Pakistan’s internal stability and engage in terrorism across the Line of Control in Kashmir “ they said in a joint letter to the President, copies of which were made available to media. According to them, Pakistan presented the US with a plethora of policy challenges concerning nuclear non-proliferation, terrorism and democratization and on each of these Musharraf should demonstrate real progress beyond the verbal commitments he had made. On non-proliferation, they expected Musharraf to keep his word to Secretary of State Colin Powell that there would be no more dealings between Pakistan and North Korea on weapons of mass destruction and missile technology.[9]

From the beginning of the US led war on Terror, with its special focus on South Asia, the nations in the neighborhood have been in a game of one-upmanship and mud slinging, though prudence would dictate that all cooperate in the larger interest. The urgency for this cooperation was emphasized by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In an interview in Kabul for the BBC’s Asia Today programme, he underscored the need for Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism together. “What is important for us in this region, especially for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is to fight terrorism together, to fight it in earnest, to fight it in truth and to finish this menace.” [10] The importance of coordination was also underscored in the joint statement issued at the conclusion of two-day meeting of the US-India Defence Policy Group (DPG). Voicing concern over the possibility of weapons of mass destruction falling in the hands of terrorists, India and the United States have pledged to work to secure peace in South Asia and also chalked out a number of measures to enhance their defence cooperation, reports PTI. “Global terrorism, state sponsors of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are the key threats to international peace and security. US and India are drawn together in an effort to deal with these new circumstances.” Washington also signed an Anti-terrorism Agreement (ATA) with Nepal on April 25 this year with a view to enhance the anti-terrorism skill of friendly countries “by providing training and equipment necessary to deter and counter terrorist threats in response to several terrorist incidents throughout the world.”[11]

South Asia and the governments therein must come to terms that terrorism is no more confined to few pockets as was in Kashmir, Northeast India, Sri Lanka’s east or in few cities in Pakistan. Nor is it being orchestrated by familiar groups or familiar persons. The region now confronts the grim phenomenon — the expansion of terror networks into the heart of the cities across the countries As with the case with modern terrorism the terror in South Asia has become amorphous or faceless. A very disturbing trend has been the changing profile of the terrorists such as the ones like Jalees Ansari- a doctor and Mohammed Abdul Mateen signalling the fact that the terror networks had expanded from the underworld to embrace a section of the middle-class. There is also ample apprehension that like the suicide bombers of Hamas, Bombay’s terrorists may have already derailed a fragile peace process involving India and Pakistan.[12]

There was however, optimism in what Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali said about the recent spate of terrorist attacks that such acts can not stop the progress towards talks with India as Islamabad is committed to continuing the dialogue for peace and that the terrorists will fail in their designs to create misunderstanding between Pakistan and India.[13]

[1] Terror in Asia, The Sentinel, 11 August 2003

[2] Terrorism in Tripura (Editorial) The Hindu, 18 August 2003

[3] Behind the terrorist strikes, The Hindu, 26 August 2003

[4] A vicious cycle of terror, counter-terror The Hindu, 26 August 2003

[5] Lashkar plans, SIMI strikes, The Hindustan Times, 27 August 2003

[6] The Hindustan Times, 27 August 2003

[7] The Hindustan Times, 1 August 2003

[8] Wilson John, 9/11: The Pakistan connection, The Pioneer,

[9] Vasantha Arora, US lawmakers want Pakistan to end Kashmir terror, Indo-Asian News Service, Washington, 1 August 2003

[10] Dawn, 2 August 2003

[11] The Kathmandu Post (Nepal), 16 August 2003

[12] Islamist Terror Comes to India’s Streets, Wall Street Journal August 27, 2003

[13] The Hindustan Times, 30 August 2003
Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya