India Combats Complex Web of Pakistani-Supported Terror Cells
Counter-Terror Aid and Timely Assistance After Kargil Clashes
Paved Way for Close Israeli Ties
Diplomats and scholars of international relations the world over recognize an economically vibrant India as a regional power and a legitimate player on the global stage. They also acknowledge that the nuclear-tinged standoff with Pakistan and the continuous attacks by Islamist separatists supported by Pakistan threaten to undo all New Delhi's gains. More than 35,000 people have died as a result of Kashmiri violence since 1990. But salvation in the war on terror may be arriving from a seemingly unlikely source; one embroiled in its own war against terrorists - Israel.
It is 2,500 miles from Jerusalem to New Delhi but you would not know it judging by the strong commercial and defense ties developing between the two democracies. During Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's early September 2003 visit to India, the first for an Israeli prime minister since the two nations established full diplomatic relations in 1992, Sharon proposed India and Israel work together to combat terror, saying to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the assembled media: "Today, Israel and India are embattled democracies and sharing values and the challenge of terrorism. United in our quest for life, liberty and peace, our joint determination to fight for these values can inspire our hope for a better future for our people."
Sharon's visit caps a period of unprecedented growth in Indo-Israeli relations. While relations were indeed more than lukewarm at the birth of official ties in 1992, they heated up when India's Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in March 1998 and grew warmer still after the 1999 artillery duels between Pakistani and Indian militaries in the mountainous border area close to the Indian town of Kargil. The performance of the Indian military was found wanting and, according to press reports, Israel rushed to provide needed military technologies to New Delhi. Since Kargil, ties between the two nations produced a booming defense trade and rising commercial ties. Since 1994, Indo-Israeli civilian trade has risen from some $250 million annually to $1.5 billion today with Indian purchases of Israeli defense products estimated as high as $900 million annually.
Sharon's comments come at an opportune time. Islamic terrorism in the disputed Kashmir and Jammu regions has been steadily rising in the past few months. In March 2003, 24 Hindus in Kashmir were massacred, including 11 women and two children. In the same month, a terrorist attack in Udhampur, a city in the disputed region in northern India, killed 11 policemen and wounded 30. On September 5, 2003, militants shot and killed pro-India politician Mohammad Ismail in Kashmir. Currently, about two dozen armed militant groups claim to be operating inside Indian-administered Kashmir. Most of the groups are part of an alliance known as the United Jihad Council (UJC), which is headquartered in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Many of the militants were trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and madrasas, or Muslim seminaries, alongside al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
There are three main terrorist groups operating in Kashmir: Harakat ul-Mujahedeen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Harakat ul-Mujahedeen, or "Islamic Freedom Fighters' Group," was established in the mid 1980s and was first based in Pakistan. It moved its base to Afghanistan in the 1990s, and today it has as many as several thousand armed militants in Pakistan and Kashmir. The group has also carried out terrorist activities in Burma, Tajikistan, and Bosnia. Lashkar-e-Taiba, or "Army of the Pure," was founded in 1993 and is the military wing of the well-funded Pakistani Islamist organization Markaz-ad-Dawa-wal-Irshad, which recruited volunteers to fight alongside the Taliban. Jaish-e-Muhammad, or "Army of Muhammad," was established in 2000 by a Pakistani cleric named Maulana Masood Azhar. Today, Jaish's membership is estimated at around a few hundred.
Kashmir is no longer the sole operating area target of Islamic separatist terrorists. On August 25, two coordinated bomb blasts killed 52 people and injured another 148 in Mumbai, India's financial capital formerly known as Bombay. Since that day, there have been at least three more incidents involving terrorists and Indian police forces, resulting in over ten people dead.
In the past five years, more than 250 terrorist cells have been discovered and disrupted in India outside Kashmir and Jammu. Hundreds of terrorists are arrested and thousands of kilograms of explosives are seized each year, reported Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management. In addition, Sahni noted in his article, "A Tide of Terror," which appeared in Outlook India, Sept. 1, 2003, that General Hamid Gul, former Director General of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), recently boasted, in private conversations, that this agency had established at least another 300 operational cells across India. Gul also reportedly said that these cells could be activated at any time and had been given the responsibility of recruiting locals sympathetic to the cause.
Indian forces continue anti-terrorist operations. The army is currently prosecuting Operation Sarp Vanish, or "Crush the Serpent," against militant hideouts in Indian border regions, as noted by Rahul Bedi in "India Uncovers Militant Bases in Kashmir," that appeared in the August 2003 issue of Jane's Intelligence Review. The first phase of the operation began in late January with the construction of three helipads in the mountainous Surankote area, at heights of over 3,000 meters. The second phase, which took place in April, included establishing forward bases in the area and discouraging the nomadic tribesmen of Gujjar and Bakrawal from returning to the area. In late April, the third phase was initiated when the Indian Army launched an assault on the entrenched militants, killing 13 and arresting three. At least 250 insurgents then fled the area. The final stage, which began in May and is continuing presently, is focused on searching for more militants in the surrounding areas and carrying out operations for their removal. So far, the operation has been relatively successful; the Indian army has killed additional militants in encounters within the region.
Another stumbling block is the suspected connections between the terrorists, the Taliban, and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). Although Pakistan denies that any members of the police forces are allied with these groups, evidence continues to arise to the contrary. Early this summer, American soldiers patrolling southeast Afghanistan encountered small units of Taliban fighters. Among them were discovered to be three Pakistani army officers. The ISI has not confirmed whether the men were representatives of their agency, and because of this the repercussions are unclear. Because the ISI was one of the Taliban's main supporters, many of the lower-echelon officers are believed to remain in contact with the Taliban and those who the Taliban supports - namely Islamic terror groups.
Although the terrorists' main focus is Kashmir and the disputed areas, it is easy for a few activists to commit terror acts in India, according to Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia program at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). "These groups definitely have the ability to act in India, because only a small number of people are needed to cross the border and carry out terrorist activity." In addition, Schaffer said, "it is highly likely that the organizations carrying out these acts have been at one time or another in contact with groups that may be affiliated with Inter-Services Intelligence." According to Hussain Haqqani, a former advisor to Pakistani prime ministers Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Nawaz Sharif, and Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani officials admit to being sympathetic to jehadis in Afghanistan and Kashmir, but they argue that sympathy is not the same as active support. CSIS's Schaffer explained that, "in general, the Pakistani government has given orders to the organizations to keep their heads down, but those instructions are not always followed."
Haqqani, currently a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also based in Washington, said pressure on Pakistan is increasing. "The Pakistani argument is mainly that since these groups are targeting mainly military institutions, what is going on cannot be defined as 'terror.' However, attacks on non-military institutions are on the rise, and India is increasingly dissatisfied with this argument." Another possible argument for the attacks in India is that there are many disgruntled Indian Muslims who are carrying out the attacks themselves. There are an estimated 150 million Muslims living in India - more than in Islamic Pakistan and every other country in the world outside of Indonesia. "If this is true, though," said Hussain, "there is speculation as to where these Indian Muslims got their training. The Indian government alleges they have been trained in Pakistan by militant groups there, and there are theories that training takes place in these Muslim microcosms that exist within cities in India, as well."
Pakistani officials may be doing something about the problem, though. According to "Is Pakistan a Friend or Foe?" a September 21, 2003 Time magazine article by Tim McGirk, the Pakistani army is taking measures against officers who are deemed to be too religious-minded. Those officers who are considered fanatic are covertly pushed into dead-end or non-sensitive jobs. In addition, a soldier now needs permission from his commanding officer to grow a beard.
Haqqani doubts that the ISI is officially involved in any of the activity. "At least some officers in the Inter-Services Intelligence still believe in the cause of the militant groups, but there is no way for the ISI to monitor the actions of its members outside the workplace or keep track of every person's affiliation." Haqqani, who served as the Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and was Pakistan's ambassador to Sri Lanka from 1992-1993, explained there is a benign explanation for the corruption within the ISI as well as a malignant one. "Some people believe that it is impossible for the top officials within the ISI to monitor everything, and others believe Musharraf himself is fully aware and spearheading this 'rogue campaign' within his own intelligence community."
Editorial Assistant Jess Altschul contributed to this article.