B. Raman is an expert on security and anti-terrorism operations. He headed the Counter-Terrorism Division of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) for six years. He has been a member of various special task forces related to security and intelligence issues. An internationally acclaimed writer and lecturer, he regularly contributes articles to various national and international publications on security-related topics.
In this article, he tries to answer some of the questions he received from readers on the Mumbai terrorist strikes.
1. How strong is the evidence of the involvement of Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)?
It is very strong. The evidence collected till now is partly direct and partly circumstantial. The direct evidence has come from the interrogation of one of the perpetrators (Mohammad Ajmal Amir, son of Mohammad Amir Imam, of village Faridkot in the Okara District of Pakistan's Punjab), who has been arrested and who is under interrogation. He has given details of the entire conspiracy and the involvement of the LeT in it.
The circumstantial evidence has come from the interrogation of four Indian Muslims arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police in February, 2008, during their investigation of the terrorist attack on a camp of the Central Reserve Police Force in Rampur on January 1,2008. They had reportedly spoken of the plans of the LeT for future terrorist strikes, one of which was planned in Mumbai. One of them, Faheem Ahmed Ansari, was carrying a fake Pakistani passport and a list and maps of nine targets in southern Mumbai, including the Taj Mahal Hotel and other sites attacked on November 26, 2008. Some other circumstantial evidence has also come from technical intelligence reportedly collected by the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) in September, 2008, which spoke of the plans of the LeT to launch a sea-borne terrorist strike in Mumbai.
2.Were there only 10 terrorists involved?
That is what the Mumbai Police and the Maharashtra Government have been saying, apparently on the basis of the interrogation of the arrested perpetrator. The operation involved detailed intelligence collection, reconnoitring the places to be attacked and the final planning and execution. It is difficult to accept that the same 10 persons performed all these tasks. There must have been definitely more people in the conspiracy --- at least performing peripheral roles such as intelligence collection and reconnoitring.
3.What are your comments on the modus operandi used?
Jihadi terrorists indulge in acts of collective brutality and individualised brutality. The collective brutality is in the form of planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in public places, throwing hand-grenades into crowds etc. There is no face-to-face brutalisation. Individualised brutality is face-to-face brutalisation of targeted individuals.
Examples of individualised face-to-face brutality: the kidnapping and murder of Ravi Mhatre of the Indian Assistant High Commission in Birmingham by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in 1983, the kidnapping and murder of the vice-chancellor of the Srinagar University and two others by the JKLF in 1990, the kidnapping of some Western tourists by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) under the name of Al Faran in Kashmir in 1995 and slitting of the throat of one of them, the slitting of the throat of a young Hindu passenger of the Indian Airlines aircraft, which was hijacked by the HuM to Kandahar in December,1999, and the kidnapping and beheading of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, in Karachi in January-February,2002, in which the HuM, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JUM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) were reported to have been involved.
We had in the past seen instances of individualised brutality in J&K, but not in Indian territory outside J&K. There are many reports of individualised face-to-face brutality against Indian and Israeli nationals and other Jews. Reports of individualised brutality against Indian nationals have mainly come from the Taj Palace Hotel and against Israeli nationals and other Jews mainly from the Nariman House. While some Indian nationals in the Taj Palace Hotel were allegedly lined up and shot dead, Israelis and other Jewish persons in the Nariman House were allegedly tortured and killed in a savage manner. Of the six Americans killed, at least two seem to have been killed in a brutal manner not because they were Americans, but because they were Jewish, holding the dual nationality of the US and Israel. India's home-grown jihadis outside J&K have till now not come to notice for indulging in individualised brutality.
Slitting the throat of an infidel or of a Muslim apostate is a typical modus operandi of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Pakistani jihadi organisations. They do it not only to intimidate non-Muslims, but also as an act of religious sacrifice to Allah just as one slits the throat of a goat before Id.
4.The LeT is reported to have denied its involvement…
This does not mean anything. In fact, it is not the LeT which has denied involvement. It is the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), of which Prof Hafiz Mohd. Sayeed is the Amir, which has denied involvement. Indian and American intelligence professionals look upon the JuD as the political wing of the LeT. The Americans have included the LeT as well as the JuD in their list of terrorist organisations.
The Musharraf government, which banned the LeT as a terrorist organisation on January 15,2002, refused to ban the JuD on the ground that it has nothing to do with the LeT. In fact, it was the contention of the Musharraf government that the LeT had ceased to exist in Pakistan as a result of the actions taken by it and that what operated in India under the name of the LeT was a purely Indian organisation. However, even large sections of the Pakistani media have refused to accept the govt's contention and describe the JuD as the political wing of the LeT.
While the LeT sometimes accepts responsibility for successful strikes in J&K, it never claims responsibility for terrorist strikes in Indian territory outside J&K, lest it embarrass the Pakistan government.
5. An organisation called the Deccan Mujahideen (DM) is reported to have claimed responsibility in a message sent to the Indian media. Some reports say this message had originated from a computer in Pakistan?
The word Deccan refers to South India and was widely used during the Moghul and British rule. It is now rarely used in India, but in Pakistan it continues to be used widely. Many Pakistanis refer to the Indian Hyderbad as Hyderabad, Deccan, to distinguish it from Hyderabad in Sindh. After independence in 1947, the ruler of the state of Hyderabad, who was known as the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the ruler of the State of Junagadh in Gujarat, who was known as the Nawab of Junagadh, hesitated to join the Indian Federation. Jawaharlal Nehru, the then prime minister, sent the Army into Hyderabad to merge it with India. Junagadh also joined India without the need for using the Army there. Many pro-Pakistan Muslims from Hyderbad fled to Karachi and settled down there.
The LeT has long enjoyed some support from the descendents of some Muslims who migrated to Karachi from Hyderabad and Junagadh. It describes Hyderabad and Junagadh as Pakistani territory illegally occupied by India. One of its objectives is to liberate J&K, Hyderabad and Junagadh from what it describes as Hindu rule. It is possible that some of these Muslims originating from Hyderabad have been constituted by the LeT into an organisation called the Deccan Mujahideen and told to claim responsibility for the Mumbai terrorist strike.
The ISI and the LeT are known to adopt this modus operandi of asking someone else to claim responsibility in order to conceal their own involvement. During the Kargil conflict of 1999, the Pakistani Army shot down a plane of the Indian Air Force. The Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), an Indian terrorist orgnisation whose leader Syed Salahuddin is based in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the shooting down. Subsequently, the R&AW intercepted a telephone conversation between Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz, the then Chief of the General Staff (CGS), and Musharraf, who was then in Beijing. In that tape, which was released by the govt to the media, Aziz clearly said that the Army shot down the Indian aircraft and asked the HM to claim responsibility. Musharraf replied, "Very good."
6. Has there been the involvement of home-grown jihadis in the Mumbai terrorist strike?
Very likely. It is very difficult to carry out an operation of this nature by a group of Pakistanis without at least the logistic support of some Indian Muslims. India's home-grown jihadis fall into two groups. The first group consists of those who have joined the LeT and the HuJI and have been helping them. These are the fifth columnists in the Indian Muslim community. The second group consists of those calling themselves the Indian Mujahideen (IM), who maintain they have no links with the ISI or the Pakistani jihadi organisations. The IM was responsible for the serial explosions in many cities since November 2007. It has also claimed responsibility for the Mumbai suburban train blasts of July,2006. There is so far no evidence to show that the IM might have been involved in the Mumbai terrorist strike.
The involvement of the group of fifth columnists is a strong likelihood. This possibility was also corroborated by the interrogation of Faheem Ahmed Ansari.
7. What are the links of the LeT with Al Qaeda? Is there a possibility of the involvement of Al Qaeda in the Mumbai terrorist strike?
The LeT is a member of the International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed by Osama bin Laden in 1998. Abu Zubaidah, then projected as No 3 in Al Qaeda, was arrested from the house of an LeT operative in Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab in March, 2002.
In 2002, when the command and control of Al Qaeda was disrupted by the US military strikes in Afghanistan, the LeT took over the responsibility for the co-ordination of the operations of the IIF. Subsequently, suspected individual members of the LeT in the local Muslim communities were arrested in a number of countries and an LeT cell getting itself secretly trained in the US with the help of some local Muslims for operations in India was neutralised in the US.
A press note issued by the US Department of Treasury on October 16,2003, after designating Dawood Ibrahim as a global terrorist, said: "Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian crime lord, has found common cause with Al Qaida, sharing his smuggling routes with the terror syndicate and funding attacks by Islamic extremists aimed at destabilizing the Indian government. He is wanted in India for the 1993 Bombay Exchange bombings and is known to have financed the activities of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (Army of the Righteous), a group designated by the United States in October 2001 and banned by the Pakistani Government -- who also froze their assets -- in January 2002. Ibrahim's syndicate is involved in large-scale shipments of narcotics in the UK and Western Europe. The syndicate's smuggling routes from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa are shared with Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network. Successful routes established over recent years by Ibrahim's syndicate have been subsequently utilised by bin Laden. A financial arrangement was reportedly brokered to facilitate the latter's usage of these routes. In the late 1990s, Ibrahim travelled in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban. Ibrahim's syndicate has consistently aimed to destabilise the Indian Government through inciting riots, acts of terrorism and civil disobedience. He is currently wanted by India for the March 12,1993, Bombay Exchange bombings, which killed hundreds of Indians and injured over a thousand more. Information from as recent as Fall 2002, indicates that Ibrahim has financially supported Islamic militant groups working against India, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT). For example, this information indicates that Ibrahim has been helping finance increasing attacks in Gujarat by LET. " Read my article Dawood Ibrahim: The Global Terrorist
The meticulous planning and execution of the Mumbai strike and the targeting of Israelis and other Jews and the use of shocking brutality against them indicate strongly an Al Qaeda mind. The mind that planned and orchestrated was that of Al Qaeda's, but the hands that killed were of the LeT.
8. What about the involvement of the ISI?
The terrorist organisations operating from Pakistani territory fall into four groups: Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, which is mainly active in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban, which poses a threat to Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, and the LeT and other organisations, which are operating against India from sanctuaries in Pakistan. Pakistan has been acting only against the Pakistani Taliban known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and co-operating with the US against Al Qaeda. It has not taken any action against the Afghan Taliban and the anti-India organisations, which it looks upon as strategic assets to promote its national interests in Afghanistan and against India. It has not taken any action against their terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory.
There are two old definitions of what constitutes state sponsorship of terrorism given by George Shultz, the Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, and George Bush, the father of the present President, who was vice-president under Reagan. They gave these definitions after the terrorist strikes against the US Marines and the French commandoes in Beirut. They said that any state that provides sanctuaries or training or arms and ammunition, or funds or travel documents to terrorists is a state-sponsor of terrorism.
In subsequent years, the State Department clarified that these facilities must have been provided by the guilty state repeatedly. One or two isolated instances would not bring a state under this category. The LeT entered India via J&K in 1993. Before that it was active only in Afghanistan. Since 1993, it has been enjoying all these facilities in Pakistani territory with the co-operation or at least the connivance of the ISI. The accumulated evidence of nearly 15 years collected not only by the Indian intelligence, but also by the agencies of the US and many West European countries clearly shows the involvement of the ISI in propping up the LeT and using it against India. There is, therefore, enough evidence to act against it.
9. How about the denials of President Asif Ali Zardari? He has even denied that the arrested LeT perpetrator is a Pakistani?
This is nothing surprising. By his denials, Zardari has shown that he has the same reflexes as the previous Pakistani rulers. In 1999, regular Pakistani troops posing as militants infiltrated into Indian territory. The Indian Army killed many of them. The Pakistan Army refused to accept the dead bodies of its own soldiers and contended that they were Indian militants and not Pakistanis. It is immature on the part of us to expect that Zardari or any other Pakistani ruler would do a mea culpa.
10. How about suggestions for joint investigation emanating from the US and some sections of our own elite?
These, if accepted, would give an escape valve to Pakistan. After the Mumbai blasts of March, 1993, the US and China, independently of each other, proposed that the chiefs of the ISI and the R&AW meet secretly to discuss the Indian allegations of ISI involvement. Narasimha Rao, the then prime minister, rejected their suggestion. He had many reasons for doing so. One of his reasons was that the ISI would find out during these meetings what evidence the Indian Police had been able to collect and try to cover up its tracks.
11. Zardari says that India has not been able to produce any evidence against persons living in Pakistan whose arrest and handing-over it has been demanding.
The people, whose arrest and handing-over India has been demanding fall into four groups. In the first group are the Khalistanis, who hijacked Indian aircraft to Lahore. Pakistan terminated the hijackings and returned the aircraft, but refused to hand over the hijackers to India for trial. The hijackings were covered by the international media. The press conferences addressed by the hijackers were also covered. Pakistan did try Gajendra Singh, the hijacker of the Dal Khalsa. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to imprisonment, but he was allowed to spend the period in a gurudwara instead of in a jail. He used to meet and address the Sikh jathas visiting the Nankana Sahib in the Lahore area. When Pakistan was asked to re-arrest him and hand him over to India for trial in cases pending against him in Indian courts, it denied that he was in Pakistan.
In the second group are Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, who are wanted for trial in India in connection with the March, 1993, Mumbai blasts. The evidence against Dawood Ibrahim has been produced not only by the Indian intelligence, but also by the US intelligence as could be seen from the press release dated October 16,2003 of the US Treasury Department.
The third group consists of terrorists from J&K operating from Pakistani territory such as Syed Salahuddin, the Amir of the HM. The fourth group consists of Pakistani nationals such as Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Hafiz Mohd Sayeed, the Amir of the JuD etc. Pakistan's stand has been consistent, whoever might be the ruler. In the case of the Indian nationals in the first two groups, it denies their very presence in Pakistani territory even though sections of the Pakistani media have been reporting about their presence and activities in Pakistani territory. In the case of the Kashmiris in the third group, it denies that they are Indian nationals and projects them as freedom fighters and not as terrorists. In the case of the Pakistanis in the fourth group, it says that India has not been able to produce any evidence against them.
Since India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, there has not been a single criminal case involving a Muslim in which it has extended mutual legal assistance to India ---- whether it was a case of terrorism, robbery, cattle-lifting, narcotics smuggling, rape or even child sex. It has had no hesitation in handing over nearly 200 Muslims suspected by the US as Al Qaeda members to the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US without following the due process of law, but it has never handed over a single Muslim criminal to India for trial.
Even in the case of the US, it avoids handing over persons whose interrogation might bring out their links with the ISI. A typical example is the case of the accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case. Another typical example is that of Dawood Ibrahim. The ISI is worried that his interrogation outside Pakistan might bring out his involvement in the nuclear proliferation activities of Pakistan.
12. How about the role of the Pakistan Army?
There are two defining characteristics of the mindset of the Pakistan Army. It thinks that its nuclear and missile capabilities have given it a psychological parity with India and will enable it to continue to indulge in terrorism against India without fear of a retaliation by India. It thinks that the Indian policy-makers are not prepared to take the risk of a military option for fear of provoking a nuclear confrontation. It has also convinced itself that the US will not allow India to choose a military option due to the same fear of a nuclear confrontation. It thinks that its strategic position and its role as the so-called frontline state in the US-led war against Al Qaeda will guarantee that the West will not exercise too much pressure on it to respond to Indian concerns. This mindset has to be changed through appropriate actions by India.
13. Is a military option available to India?
Yes. We should not paralyse ourselves into inaction through fears of a nuclear confrontation if we choose the military option. By doing so, we should be confirming Pakistan's thinking that its nuclear capability will protect it against any Indian retaliation. However, this is not the time for a military confrontation when nearly 50,000 NATO troops are fighting against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and when more US troops are expected to go there when Barack Obama takes over as the US President. A military confrontation between India and Pakistan could come in the way of the movement of supplies for the NATO forces from Karachi. It could hamper the war against terrorism in the Pashtun tribal belt. We might lose whatever little support we have from the US and other NATO countries. If the worst comes to the worst, we may have to use the military option if and when the time for it comes. It has not yet come.
14. You talk of the covert action option? What do you mean by it?
One of the definitions of a covert action is a deniable para-military or para-diplomatic action against an adversary --- whether it is a state actor or a foreign-based non-State actor --- when traditional military or diplomatic options are considered as not feasible or not advisable. It is an unconventional option to meet an unconventional threat from terrorists and a state sponsoring terrorism. The US and Israel have reserved to themselves through public declarations the right to use unconventional covert options if left with no other alternative. Other countries believe in this option, but have not publicly admitted it.
15. Is not covert action immoral? Will we not be stooping to the same level as Pakistan?
By saying we should use the covert action option, one does not mean that we should indulge in actions against the Pakistani people which would amount to terrorism. There could be a wide choice of covert actions to convey a message to Pakistan that the use of terrorism against India will be counter-productive. The objective of the covert action should be limited to neutralising the LET and its capabilities in Pakistani territory. During the election campaign, Obama said that he would be willing to consider actions against Al Qaeda in Pakistani territory if he concluded that Pakistan is either unwilling or unable to deal with Al Qaeda. We should have a similar policy with regard to the LeT. (7-12-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com)