Originally Published 2006-01-18 09:19:27 Published on Jan 18, 2006
Terrorism is rapidly striking deep roots in India, propelled in no less measure by external forces, namely Pakistan, and a few other countries that are willing to provide material support to agencies and forces inimical to India.
Target practice in the country
Terrorism is rapidly striking deep roots in India, propelled in no less measure by external forces, namely Pakistan, and a few other countries that are willing to provide material support to agencies and forces inimical to India.

This acknowledgement has become critically important given the emerging evidence of clandestine alliance between terrorist groups, businessmen and politicians, not only in Kashmir but also in other parts of the country.

A series of attacks in recent times, including the most recent one in Bangalore, the earlier one in Delhi just before Diwali, the assassination of a State Minister in Kashmir, the Ayodhya attack and several other small but no less significant terrorist incidents, seizures and arrests in different parts of the country are all a disturbing pointer to the new game plan being executed by terrorists and their anonymous masters.

From information available in the public domain, it is clear that terrorist groups and their handlers have been systematically infiltrating various sections of civil society, including the political establishment. A common thread in all the investigations being carried out by different police and intelligence organisations is the anonymous support base these groups have created across the country. This support base includes financial networks (mainly hawala), safe houses, arms and field assistance. Such bases are in existence in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Kerala.

Far more disturbing is the findings of a joint investigation carried out by the Intelligence Bureau and J&K police last year, which revealed that terrorists, mostly from Lashkar-e-toiba (LeT), have managed to find support among political parties. A Srinagar-based lawyer Shabbir Ahmad Bukhari, for instance, was arrested for providing photo-identification cards of Youth National Conference to three LeT operatives in Kashmir.

Similarly, Shakeel Ahmad Sofi, a member of the State Youth Congress, used party identification cards to help LeT activists transfer weapons and communication equipment through security cordons. He even managed to get an official accommodation citing terrorist threat to his life. Sofi, in fact, provided the Gypsy, fitted to look like an official vehicle, to the assassins of Abdul Gani Lone.

Early this month, the police tracked down a Peoples' Democratic Party councillor Abdul Waheed Dar and two other accomplices, one the husband of a Congress councillor, for helping a LeT suicide squad to plan an attempt on the life of former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Investigations revealed that Dar not only brought suicide bombers from Bandipore to carry out attacks in Srinagar, but also allowed his bank accounts to be used by terrorists to funnel funds.

Another significant fact is the ease with which terrorist groups find local support bases in India. It is well-known that Pakistan's ISI had been establishing sleeper cells in India since 1972. This exercise intensified after the Babri demolition with the ISI sleeper cells activated to help small groups of terrorists to carry out revenge attacks in different parts of the country.

Although the subsequent crackdown on these groups neutralised a significant number of such modules and their support bases, the Pakistan agency stepped up the activity after the Kargil war and Gujarat riots, spreading the network wider, beyond north India to south and eastern flanks of the country, exploiting the religious divide widened by the riots and the Government's pusillanimity in bringing the guilty to justice.

The operation was codenamed K2M with the objective of networking an alliance of various terrorist or religious extremist groups across India with financial and logistical support base in communities that remained below the radar of intelligence agencies.

The prevailing religious schism has created a parallel support base for terrorists to operate in areas like Delhi, Nalgonda (Andhra Pradesh) and Nagpada (Maharashtra). Investigations into incidents in Delhi in past years have shown terrorists have managed to rent houses in outlying residential colonies and keep a low-profile to avoid detection.

Most of these terrorists use cybercafes to communicate with their handlers and hawala channels to funnel funds. In fact, the flourishing hawala channels in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore have played a significant role in strengthening the terrorist support base in the country. Although there have been occasional crackdowns on hawala operators, especially after every terrorist incident, the State seems to be reluctant to deal with this issue head-on, primarily because of the impact it will have on politics and business in the country.

The hawala channel is used extensively by politicians and businessmen to channel funds illegally back and forth, both to avoid detection and save on taxes. It was chance discovery of a diary from a terrorist caught in Old Delhi that cracked open the nexus between politicians and terrorist groups in the hawala business. Although no one was convicted in the Jain Hawala case, the transactions remain one of the most reliable channels of transferring money. (In 1998, Interpol estimated the size of the world-wide hawala transactions to be over $680 billion). Not to be ignored is the fact that an amount of $100,000 was transferred to Mohammad Atta through such a channel by Dubai-based don Aftab Ansari on the directions of Jaish leader Syed Omar Sheikh.

There are other common features, too. These can be, for the sake of brevity, brought under two categories - areas of operation and possible targets. Anybody with a data-mining programme can do a quick analysis of the data available in the public domain and come up with a chart of places from where terrorists or their supporters have been caught. In Kashmir, for instance, Srinagar and Bandipore are two primary locations. In Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad and Nalgonda are high on the list. In Delhi, some of the outlying colonies have been sheltering terrorists ever since the Punjab militants in the mid-1980s realised security agencies found it difficult to track them down.

The Delhi Police can go a step further and easily conduct an area crime profile, identifying hawala operators. Instead of tapping phones of politicians, the agencies would do better by keeping phones, both landlines and mobiles, operating in Old Delhi (Fatehpuri, for instance) under close monitoring. There are quite a few operators in south Delhi as well. A similar exercise could be carried out to monitor guest houses and hostels (in Kotla Mubarakpur, for instance) where many terrorists are known to stay. The next set of profiling could be done for second hand vehicle dealers and mobile card sellers.

A similar exercise can be carried out to profile the possible targets of these terrorist groups. It does not require five-year studies to figure out that terrorist groups are likely to target the following: Metro in Delhi, the Stock Exchange or industrial houses in Mumbai, religious places like the new Akshardham temple in Delhi or Ayodhya, software companies in Hyderabad and Bangalore, economic and nuclear installations.

It will also not be wrong to assume that such activities would see a spurt during elections. The objective of these terrorist groups is to undo the economic boom in India. A handful of terrorists, supported and aided by inimical countries (Pakistan is not alone) can do the unthinkable. No Government must let this happen.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, January 18, 2006.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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