Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Pakistan: Who was behind the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team? Questions and Answers


The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

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I have received a number of questions from readers with reference to my article of March 3,2009, on the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. I answer some of them in this article.

Q.What are the similarities and differences when one compares the Lahore attack with the earlier terrorist attacks in Kabul on February 11,2009, and in Mumbai on November 26,2008?

A. There are two similarities: Firstly, the reversion to the old modus operandi of surprise attacks with hand-held weapons, including grenades. The reversion of jihadi terrorists to the old MO, which had been seen earlier in Iraq, Algeria and the Lebanon, is now being imitated in the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan region. Secondly, a skilful exploitation of publicity opportunities for giving the terrorists a larger than life size image and the Government a helpless image.

The Governments of India, Afghanistan and Pakistan looked clueless and helpless in the face of these attacks. The responses of all the three Governments were similar---- to focus on the external dimension and try to cover up the internal dimension of a major security failure, which facilitated the terrorist attacks.The differences are: Firstly,in Mumbai and Kabul there were well-synchronised multiple attacks, but in Lahore there was a single target with no synchronisation.

Secondly, in Mumbai one saw a mix of attacks on stationary (buildings) and moving targets ( common people in different parts of the city); in Kabul the attacks were on stationary targets (Government offices), but in Lahore the attack was on a moving target--- the convoy carrying the SL team to the stadium. Thirdly, neither in Mumbai nor in Kabul was an ambush involved, but Lahore was a typical urban ambush. Fourthly, in Mumbai and Kabul only hand-grenades were used, but in Lahore the terrorists also used rocket-propelled grenades. Fifthly, In Mumbai, all but one of the terrorists died.In Kabul, all the terrorists died. In Lahore, all of them managed to run away.

Q. What are the differences in the agendas of the terrorists in the three attacks?

A. In Mumbai, one saw a mix of an anti-Indian, an anti-Israel and an anti-Western agenda. The anti-Indian agenda was to discredit the Indian Government and its security apparatus in the eyes of the international community, including foreign businessmen.The anti-Israel and anti-Western agendas coincided with those of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In Kabul, one saw a mix of an anti-Karzai and anti-US agenda. It was meant to demonstrate the capability of the Taliban and pro-Taliban forces to strike at Government establishments in the capital despite all the physical security measures. In Lahore, reliable evidence is yet to come, but one can already see an anti-Government agenda marked by a desire to demonstrate the ability of the terrorists to strike wherever they wanted. Was there also an anti-US agenda of a retaliation for the increasing Predator strikes on terrorist hide-outs by the US in the tribal areas? Possibly, but not yet certain.

Q. Why the terrorists attacked the SL cricket team?

A.The attack gave them global publicity, which they would not have otherwise got. All the TV channels of the world kept showing repeatedly the visuals of the attack.

Q.Who could be the prime suspect?

A.Any of the terrorist organisations operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan----- foreign as well as Pakistani.

Q. What is the most typical of the MO in Lahore?

A. Frontal urban ambush on a moving, supposedly well-protected target.

Q.Which are the organisations in Pakistan which have this capability?

A. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), an off-shoot of the HUM, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), an anti-shia organisation, and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami(HUJI). Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan have carried out a number of suicide bombings through individual suicide bombers and vehicle-borne bombers in many towns including Lahore, but they have not so far carried out a frontal urban ambush.

Q. How about the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET)?

A. Since its formation in 1989, it has never carried out any act of terrorism in Pakistani territory---- against Pakistani or foreign nationals. All its acts of terrorism have been either in Indian or Afghan territory. It has not carried out till now an act of frontal urban ambush even in Indian territory.

Q. Does the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have a capability for mounting its own act of terrorism in Pakistani territory?

A. No. It does not have.

Q. Is it possible for the LTTE to act through Pakistani surrogates?

A. Yes. The closest ally of the LTTE in Pakistan is the HUM with which the LTTE has had a long history of relationship relating to arms supply and drug smuggling. I had given details in my earlier article.

Q. How about any contact of the LTTE with other organisations in Pakistan?

A. None has come to notice so far.

Q. How about any contacts of the LTTE with the LET?

A. No evidence. The LET has been trying to develop a presence in the Muslim community in the Eastern Province in Sri Lanka, which is strongly opposed to the LTTE. An LET-LTTE nexus seems unlikely.

Q. Why should the HUM attack the SL cricket team? The argument of a quid pro quo for past assistance by the LTTE given in your earlier article does not sound convincing?

A. At present, one is speculating without evidence.If it turns out that the HUM had a hand in it, either it might have carried it out at its own instance to express its continuing solidarity with the LTTE or at the instance of the LTTE, which has not been able to carry out any successful terrorist strike in Sri Lanka recently. As the LTTE is finally defeated and its terrorist infrastructure in Sri Lanka neutralised,it could try to keep the movement alive through acts of terrorism in foreign countries. Pro-LTTE members of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and the terrorist organisations of the world with which it has had fraternal ties such as the Hizbollah and the HUM would come in handy.

Q. The BBC has ruled out the possibility of either the direct or indirect involvement of the LTTE on the ground that many of the star SL cricketeers are Tamils and it would not want them killed.

A. The LTTE had killed a number of prominent Tamils of Sri Lanka, who had distinguished themselves in various fields. It has been using thousands of Tamil civilians as human shields to protect itself from final defeat.Why should it have qualms over the killing of Sri Lankan Tamil cricketeers? The LTTE is now a desperate organisation. It can do desperate things.

Q. What else is known of the HUM apart from its past contacts with the LTTE?

A. The HUM came to the notice of the Indian intelligence for the first time in 1993 when it supplied a consignment of arms and ammunition to the LTTE, which was loaded into an LTTE ship at Karachi with the complicity of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

It came to notice in Kashmir in 1995 when it kidnapped some Western tourists under the name Al Faran. It was after this that the US designated it as a foreign terrorist organisation in October,1997, under its then name of the Harkat-ul-Ansar. Fazlur Rahman Khalil, its Amir, was a founding member of Bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) for jihad against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed in 1998. He was also a co-signatory of bin Laden's first fatwa calling for a global jihad against the US and Israel.

When the US launched Cruise missile attacks on the suspected training camps of Al Qaeda in Afghan territory in August 1998, following the explosions outside the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, it was found subsequently that some of the camps destroyed were those of the HUM and not Al Qaeda.It organised the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar in December,1999. It was one the participants under the name HUM (Al Alami meaning international) in the kidnapping and murder of Daneil Pearl, the US journalist, in Karachi in January-February,2002.

Q.Shri P.Chidambaram, our Home Minister, has spoken very critically of the physical security provided to the SL team. Is he fair or justified?

A. No. In Mumbai, 16 police officers and 163 civilians died. In Lahore, seven police officers died, but there are no reports of any civilian fatalities. On their return to Colombo, the SL players have spoken appreciatively of the driver of the bus who stepped on the accelerator the moment the bus was sought to be ambushed and sped into the stadium leaving it to the police to confront the terrorists. This speaks well of their reflexes.

Q. What is the lesson coming out of Lahore?

A. Jihadi terrorism emanating from the sanctuaries in Pakistani terrirtory has assumed a pan-sub-continental dimension equally threatening all the countries of the sub-continent--- Afghanistan, Pakistan, , India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It is time these countries constitute a common counter-terrorism brains trust to deal with this threat jointly. Otherwise, they will continue bleeding separately.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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