Originally Published 2011-05-10 00:00:00 Published on May 10, 2011
The most important lesson for India from the US operation on Osama bin Laden safehouse is that it should have a clear policy as to how to deal with the principal accused in the concerned case; how to deal with him or them.
Death of Osama bin Laden: The lessons for India
Osama Bin Laden’s end at the hands of the Special Forces of the United States in his hideout near Abbottabad in Pakistan has several lessons to learn for India.

Al-Qaida’s carefully planned operations leading to the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, resulting in the death of over 3000 persons, as also targeting of the Pentagon on the same day were the main events for which Osama’s terrorist outfit is remembered. The attack on the World Trade Centre was a shocking experience to the American people and the US establishment alike.

Since then the US had been working out ways and means of hunting down Osama. The Tora Bora mountain area between Afghanistan and Pakistan had been intensely bombed. There was no trace of Osama, and there were many theories of his escape to Afghanistan or beyond. In the nationwide broadcast of Obama on May 2, President Barack Obama told the Americans and others that soon after he assumed office he had directed intensification of the efforts to trace Osama and bring him to justice. CIA chief Leon Panetta intensified his efforts and eventually zeroed in on his whereabouts in the outskirts of Abbottabad , the garrison town of Pakistan, not far from Islamabad. The hideout of Osama was a specially constructed building with tall walls. It had no telephone or Internet connection.

Osama had a couple of couriers through whom he maintained links with the outside world. With the special forces stationed in Pakistan and the drones which operated from there, full coverage of the hideout of Osama was available. The strike was planned between the midnight and 3 a.m. on May 2, and two helicopters with special naval forces called Seals were dispatched and they completed the operations within 40 minutes. Osama himself was shot dead when he reportedly opened fire on the US forces.

As for the lessons to be learnt from the American operations leading to the death of Osama bin Laden, the most important one is to have a clear policy as to how to deal with the principal accused in the concerned case; how to deal with him or them.

But is India in a position to carry out an operation of this type? The answer is regrettably in the negative. India has been the victim of a series of attacks by terrorists and jihadi elements over the years. Among such incidents were the serial blasts carried out in Mumbai in 1993 by the henchmen of Dawood Ibrahim. These attacks were said to be in retaliation for the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992, and the entire operation in Mumbai was carried out under the direction of the ISI of Pakistan.

Dawood Ibrahim is known to be living in his own palatial quarters in Karachi, which is very much within the knowledge of Pakistan. He frequently visits Dubai and his name is also there on the list of international terrorists put out by the US. To the several demands over the years by India, Pakistan has blandly asserted that Dawood Ibrahim did not live in that country, and India had done nothing beyond making appeals. In a situation like this, what would be the reaction of a country like Israel if it were faced with a similar predicament? It would have sent out an expeditionary force by helicopter or any other means and nabbed or eliminated him.

The next case to be analysed was the attack on Parliament in 2001 by the Jaish-e-Mohammed, founded by Masood Azhar. In December 2001, the Parliament building was attacked resulting in the death of some security men. Among those who were arrested and prosecuted were Afzal Guru, whose death sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court. His execution is pending since his mercy petition to the President of India remains undisposed of. Apart from this, the A.B. Vajpayee government massed troops in the Northern Command in a show of force to Pakistan. It gave the impression that a limited attack against Pakistan as a punitive measure was imminent. However, international pressure came forth, resulting in the return of the amassed troops to their normal locations. Masood Azhar remains active in Pakistan and there is nothing India can do about it.

The attack on Mumbai on Nov 26, 2008, by LeT terrorists was the most serious of them all. Nearly 300 people were killed in this carefully planned attack by the LeT jihadis under the overall direction of the ISI. The evidence provided by David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana regarding the role of ISI in the attack on Mumbai has been recorded in a Chicago court in the US. Subsequently, the US included the ISI among the terrorist groups operating from Pakistan.

Ajmal Kasab, one of the Mumbai attackers captured alive, was sentenced to death by a Mumbai court after due trial. Several dossiers have been passed on to Pakistan on the case and full evidence had been provided regarding the role played by the ISI . US prosecutors had charged four Pakistanis, including Major Iqbal of the ISI, in connection with the Mumbai terrorist carnage. This list includes ISI commando Ilyas Kashmiri, a retired Pakistan military man, Abdur Rahman, Hashim Sayed and Tahawwur Hussain Rana.

LeT founder Hafiz Saeed remains active in Pakistan. At the last Kashmir Solidarity Day function, an annual feature in Pakistan, Hafiz Saeed spoke in favour of an all-out war against India over Kashmir. He said if even nuclear weapons should be used against India. Saeed has a big establishment at Muridke, on the outskirts of Lahore. In a situation like this, where Pakistan has taken no action against Saeed and other LeT activists who had played active role in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, does India have any other option apart from pressing for action during periodical meetings between the Secretaries of India and Pakistan and exchange of correspondence between the Foreign Ministers? The answer is regrettably in the negative.

Around 2005, Osama Bin Laden had his mansion constructed on the outskirts of Abbottabad with 18 ft. high walls, and he had prohibited telephone and Internet connections. It is difficult to believe that the Pakistan Army and its ISI did not know of Osama’s hideout in this palatial house during the past five years. The CIA chief said that it was difficult to believe that Osama did not have a supporting system during these five years and that Pakistan was not aware of the same. Pakistan was, therefore, not kept in the loop by the US when Operation Geronimo, as the Osama operation was called, was put into motion. Pakistan was informed only after the operation was over. President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan have since asserted that they did not know where Osama was living.

Taking into account all these factors, the Indian political establishment as well as the security agencies should revise their thinking and be realistic about facing problems which may emerge in the future with Pakistan.

Pakistan continues to assert that Kashmir remains the main problem between India and Pakistan. Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani has gone on record that his approach remains India-centric.

India should be realistic enough to understand that more attacks like the one on 26/11 on Mumbai by jihadi elements under the guidance of the ISI cannot be ruled out, and India should take all steps to anticipate them and take adequate preventive measures.

(The writer, a former Governor of UP and West Bengal, was the chief of the Intelligence Bureau. He is now an Advisor to Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Tribune

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