Author Archives: pragmatic13

Pragmatic: Lashkar-e-Taiba and ISI

Bloomberg reports that —

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said yesterday the group behind last week’s assault also carried out a 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, which authorities blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba. He didn’t mention the group by name.

It also goes on to talk about the well-known historical relationship between the LeT and the ISI.

An investigation of Lashkar may lead to the Pakistan army’s main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, because the ISI gave money and direction to the Islamist group as it conducted attacks in India in the 1990s, according to Husain Haqqani, a Boston University professor who is now Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington.

While most people in India perceive LeT as a terrorist group based in Pakistan, it is much more than that. Steve Coll recounts his personal experiences to decipher the reach of the LeT and its charity, Jamat-ed-Dawa, in The New Yorker —

Late in 2005, I travelled for The New Yorker to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to report on the earthquake that devastated the region. To facilitate international aid, the Pakistani government opened the region to journalists, creating a very rare opportunity to travel without escort and to poke around on the border. I was particularly interested in looking up Lashkar, which I had been following for many years. I made several visits to facilities run by its charity, called “Jamat-ud-Dawa,” which is today tolerated openly by the government of Pakistan but banned as a terrorist organization by the United States on the grounds that it is merely an alias for Lashkar.

In Muzuffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, Jamat had brought in a mobile surgical unit staffed by long-bearded doctors from Karachi and Lahore—very impressive young men, fluent in English, who offered a reminder that unlike, say, the Taliban, Lashkar draws some very talented people from urban professions. (With its hospitals, universities, and social-service wings, Lashkar is akin to Hezbollah or Hamas; it is a three-dimensional political and social movement with an armed wing, not merely a terrorist or paramilitary outfit.) As part of its earthquake relief work, Lashkar ferried supplies to remote villages isolated on the far side of the churning Neelum River, one of the two snow-fed canyon rivers that traverse the area. I asked to take a ride with its volunteers, and their media officer (yes, they have media officers) agreed.

We rode in a van to the river’s edge, scrambled down a rocky hillside and boarded one of Lashkar’s rubber pontoon boats, about fifteen feet long, with a large outboard motor—useful for carrying relief supplies, but not coincidentally, also useful for infiltrating militants into Indian-held Kashmir. It has long been an open secret, and a source of some hilarity among foreign correspondents, that under the guise of “humanitarian relief operations,” Lashkar practiced amphibious operations on a lake at its vast headquarters campus, outside Lahore. The events in Mumbai have taken the humor of these “humanitarian” rehearsals away. That day on the Neelum, I chatted with our thick-bearded captain in my very poor Arabic. He spoke Arabic as well—from his religious studies, he said, although he conceded, too, that he had travelled to Saudi Arabia, where it is well understood that Lashkar has raised money. I was also told that around the time of the earthquake they set up fund-raising operations in Britain, to tap the Pakistani diaspora there.

Earlier this year, I met with a Lashkar official in Lahore. We talked about how Jamat was getting along under international pressure. I took no notes and the conversation was intended for my informal guidance, but I came away with a number of impressions. On the one hand, the group’s bank accounts remain unmolested by the Pakistani government, which gives Lashkar quite a lot of running room; on the other, the group resents the accommodations reached between Pakistan’s government and the United States. Clearly, Lashkar knows what it must do to protect the Pakistan government from being exposed in the violent operations that Lashkar runs in Kashmir and elsewhere. For example, some of its younger volunteers wanted to join the fight with the Taliban in Western Pakistan and Afghanistan, my interlocutor said, and so Jamat had evolved an internal H.R. policy by which these young men would turn in their Jamat identity cards and go West “on their own time,” much as think tanks allow policy scholars to take leaves of absence to advise political campaigns.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief, portrays a conspiracy theory which believes that “several things went wrong within the ISI, which resulted in the Mumbai attacks”.

A plan by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that had been in the pipelines for several months – even though official policy was to ditch it – saw what was to be a low-profile attack in Kashmir turn into the massive attacks on Mumbai last week. The original plan was highjacked by the Laskar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistani militant group that generally focussed on the Kashmir struggle, and al-Qaeda, resulting in the deaths of nearly 200 people in Mumbai.

…Under directives from Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kiani, who was then director general (DG) of the ISI, a low-profile plan was prepared to support Kashmiri militancy. That was normal, even in light of the peace process with India. Although Pakistan had closed down its major operations, it still provided some support to the militants so that the Kashmiri movement would not die down completely.

After Kiani was promoted to chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj was placed as DG of the ISI. The external section under him routinely executed the plan of Kiani and trained a few dozen LET militants near Mangla Dam (near the capital Islamabad). They were sent by sea to Gujrat, from where they had to travel to Kashmir to carry out operations.

Meanwhile, a major reshuffle in the ISI two months ago officially shelved this low-key plan as the country’s whole focus had shifted towards Pakistan’s tribal areas. The director of the external wing was also changed, placing the “game” in the hands of a low-level ISI forward section head (a major) and the LET’s commander-in-chief, Zakiur Rahman.

Zakiur was in Karachi for two months to personally oversee the plan. However, the militant networks in India and Bangladesh comprising the Harkat, which were now in al-Qaeda’s hands, tailored some changes. Instead of Kashmir, they planned to attack Mumbai, using their existent local networks, with Westerners and the Jewish community center as targets.

Zakiur and the ISI’s forward section in Karachi, completely disconnected from the top brass, approved the plan under which more than 10 men took Mumbai hostage for nearly three days and successfully established a reign of terror.

Indian authorities will be able to easily establish the role of the LeT and consequently, the ISI and the Pakistani army in perpetuating these terror attacks at Mumbai. The blasts at Indian embassy in Kabul had also shown that the ISI was behind them, as shown by the US intelligence agencies. Many in this country do not tire of portraying Mumbai terror attack as a watershed in India’s history, whereas the real watershed should have been the Kabul blasts. Why didn’t we move against the ISI and Pakistani state then, when we had the proof?

Although he has no control over the Pakistani army and the ISI, mealy-mouthed Zardari has already started backpedalling furiously.

Zardari also suggested no one found to be involved would be turned over to India.

“If we had the proof, we would try them in our courts, we would try them in our land and we would sentence them,” he said.


Pragmatic: Information operations versus physical operations

From Strategic Communication: A Primer [pdf]–

We typically design physical operations first, then craft supporting information operations to explain our actions. This is the reverse of al-Qaida’s approach. For all our professionalism, compared to the enemy’s, our public information is an afterthought. In military terms, for al-Qaida the ‘main effort’ is information; for us, information is a ‘supporting effort’.

~David Kilcullen, Countering the Terrorist Mentality, New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict

The physical operations in Mumbai might have ended after 60 hours of gunfights. But is India geared up to undertake sustained and proactive information operations against the enemy. It is the question that the Indian establishment needs to answer, when the media and the establishment — politicians, bureaucrats, corporates and even generals — feed off each other in an incestuous and self-serving relationship.

Perhaps it is time that the common man, more than the Indian state, also took a fresh look at the role and responsibility of the Indian media — print, electronic and new age. This consideration will be the key battle-winning-factor in winning this asymmetric war launched against Indians and the Indian state. Ponder!

Pragmatic: An open letter to Mr. Arun Singh

[Due to technical issues, Pragmatic Euphony and other blogs on the Indian National Interest have been off-air since today morning. Till the time we restore full service, PE and other INI blogs will continue here at their temporary home.]

Dear Mr. Arun Singh,

Although Indian media’s shrillness on trivial issues betrays the gravity of serious national concerns that they raise with the same stridency, one would have to agree with their alarmist tone today. These are tough times for the Indian state, the country and even though the government might not have officially notified it, the current situation would classify as a national emergency.

May I take this opportunity to recount what you told Shekhar Gupta in an interview a couple of years back–

I draw a distinction between a political emergency and a national emergency. If there is an emergency concerning India I am always available. But as far as politics is concerned, it is best left to those who know it best… I have one regret — that we have not, in respect to our interests, defence and the security of India, attempted to go into any depth in the requirement of change…

It is not only the internal security that is in a mess today. The civil-military relations are strained to a point never witnessed before in this country. The armed forces feel that they have been shoddily treated while the civilian bureaucracy and political masters have formed an impression that the defence services are overreaching their jurisdiction. There is a distinct lack of effort to resolve these tenuous matters of national and internal security — the two are so closely intertwined that it would be pointless to create a dividing line between them.

There were many newsreports yesterday, later disproved by the ensuing events, that the National Security Advisor had also tendered his resignation. If those reports were true, then they would have needed a suitable replacement. You wish to stay away from politics [your view— “politics is basically a game played by politicians largely in self-interest, although the outward excuse or elaboration is always in terms of the nation, the state, the people, especially the poor”] and your wisdom, experience and competence [although you very humbly do not “claim any monopoly on competence or wisdom”] can not be allowed to be frittered away. You are ideally suited to be the National Security Advsior in these troubled times and most countrymen would resonate this plea for you to take over this onerous responsibility.

The despondent and cynical mood among large sections of our society is a poor reflection on the rambling and lackadaisical approach of our leaders today. Your credentials as a “brilliant civilian administrator and planner“, with a passion for and tremendous insight on matters of defence and national security, are unquestioned. Your reports on Defence Expenditure [which is still marked as Secret] and Restructuring National Security [as part of the GoM report after the Kargil Review Committee recommendations] are references for any student of Indian national security; although the major recommendations contained in those reports still await implementation.

At this point in time, allow me to quote two other portions from your interview

It is lack of leadership. There is no question in my mind that politicians must lead by example, not by consensus, not by discussion.

If the vision is there, the politics will fall into place…

The nation today needs vision and leadership on these matters of grave national importance. The country bemoans lack of effective institutions, but institutions are built by leaders and visionaries. There is no one better suited to junk the archaic systems, procedures, processes and concepts that hold back our national security institutions and replace them with modern institutions suited for a twenty-first century India.

Barring a few short stints as guest lecturers and a couple of years at the South Block for specific tasks, you have stayed  in the salubrious climes of Kumaon for nearly 20 years now. My co-bloggers at the INI believe in what they call the Distance from Delhi factor — staying away from the political machinations and power-games in Delhi allows the distant observer to have a rather dispassionate and clearheaded view of the situation. In that sense, you are truly blessed of being in an unique position — of being an insider and an outsider at the same time, trusted by the armed forces and respected by the bureaucrats, the media and the intelligentsia.

In the United States, Barack Obama has set a wonderful example by retaining Robert Gates as his Secretary of Defence. A nation at war needs continuity and India is today a nation at war, engaged in fighting an asymmetric war. The nation goes to polls in another five months time and the electoral politics is going to render the gravitative issues of national security and internal security ineffectual and inefficacious. You are a bipartisan person who has worked with most of the Congress leaders in your earlier stint as a minister and also worked alongside most top BJP leaders during your assignment with the NDA government. If both the political formations agree to your candidature for the National Security Advisor, then you are ideally suited to continue into the next administration and provide continuity on matters of national and internal security. That is what this nation needs in these times of political acrimony.

I do not know whether Dr. Manmohan Singh has the wisdom and the boldness of vision to pick up the telephone and place a call to you in Binsar (near Almora). However Mr. Advani and Mr. Jaswant Singh could probably take this opportunity to advise the Prime Minister to initiate that telephone call. That would be truly an act of political unity in national interest and not merely a symbolic one.

I hope that you will respond favourably to that telephone call, if and when it comes, and the advantages of “hindsight, age, greater wisdom and more experience” will allow you to steer the nation through these turbulent waters.

Yours sincerely etc.