India-US have several areas of cooperation against terrorism
The United States and India represent the world’s most powerful and largest democracies, with a combined population of nearly 1.5 billion people. Both are victims of Islamist terrorism. With a number of converging interests in central, south and south-east Asia and the Indo-Pacific regions, these countries have come together in a strategic partnership that is bound to get strengthened in future. Cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism has been a significant part of the partnership. Let us see how the two countries have responded to terrorism, and how they can cooperate with each other.
The United States has faced terrorist attacks within and outside the country. Some of the major attacks on outside US interests include the attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania by al Qaeda in 1998, killing more than 200 people, including Americans, triggering missile attacks on al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The warship USS Cole was attacked by al Qaeda in 2000, killing 17 US marines. While the attacks on the World Trade Centre by Ramzi Yousuf and that on the CIA Headquarters by Aimal Qazi in 1993 were major attacks, the most devastating one on US power was mounted by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, killing almost 3,000 people and bringing down the twin towers, symbols of American power.
A couple of months before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, President Obama said that he has no greater responsibility than protecting the American people. He further said, “Though there are many potential threats to our national security, it is the terrorist threat from al Qa’ida that has loomed largest in the decade since 11 September 2001. And yet today, we can say with growing confidence — and with certainty about the outcome — that we have put al Qa’ida on the path to defeat. With an unrelenting focus on the task at hand, and mindful of the challenges still ahead, we will not rest until that job is done.”
Steps taken by the United States following the 9/11 attacks include creation of the Homeland Security department within weeks of the attacks with the ‘primary responsibilities of protecting the territories of the United States and protectorates from, and responding to, terrorist attacks, man-made accidents, and natural disasters’, with about 170,000 staff and a budget of over 40 billion dollars. At current levels, the Homeland Security department has over 200,000 staff and a budget of nearly a 100 billion dollars. Earlier, a formal document outlining ‘National Strategy for Homeland Security’ describing in some detail the objectives and aspirations of this department was released. It brought under its umbrella about 22 departments that handled different aspects of American security.
Only the United States, as the sole super power of the world, could have pressured Pakistan to take a u-turn in Afghanistan, mount an attack on Afghanistan to throw out the Taliban, create human sources and technological intelligence to trace and take out al Qaeda leaders in drone attacks in north and south Waziristan, and eliminate Osama bin Laden in an operation in Abbotabad, in the heart of Pakistan, violating the sovereignty of that country. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency that looks after the internal security of the United States, is authorised to register and investigate a case, though the occurrence is outside the US, if an American citizen is killed or harmed. The FBI registered and investigated the Indian Airlines hijacking case and our own 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, as American citizens were targeted and/or killed in these attacks. Steve Coll’s book The Ghost Wars describes in some detail the projection of American power in the defence of its homeland — the colossal investment in funds and manpower notwithstanding.
Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, the United States Congress passed ‘The USA PATRIOT Act’ that was signed into law by President Bush. The title of the act is a ten letter acronym that stands for ‘Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001’. Though there were opponents of the new law, which was seen as too intrusive, both Democrats and Republicans combined to have it passed, and though the law had a sunset clause after four years, it continued to get passed, and recently, President Obama has given it a fresh lease of four years. It may be recalled that some of the hijackers of the 9/11 incidents had got into the United States months before the attacks in preparation for the attacks. Though the FBI was tracking some of them, and the CIA had inputs that they had entered the United States, these two premier agencies failed to cooperate and neutralise the threat.
US citizens were therefore less intolerant of the fact that their privacy was being invaded to strengthen national security through this stringent law.
The act enabled law enforcement agencies to
(a) search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records;
(b) eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States;
(c) expanded the secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and
(d) broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts.
However, inspite of the killing of Osam bin Laden, and the elimination of a number of al Qaeda leaders in drone attacks carried out in the badlands of Pakistan’s tribal areas with tacit Pakistani support, the United States believes it continues to face significant terrorist threat from al Qaeda, its affiliates and adherents. The killing of 13 US soldiers by Nidal Malik Hasan, an American Army officer in Fort Hood in November 2009 is ascribed to Anwar al-Awlaki, the fiery US born Yemeni preacher, who was leading al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Three of the 9/11 hijackers are suspected to have met Awlaki before the attacks and drawn inspiration from him. He was targeted and killed by the US, using Hellfire Missiles in Predator drones while going in a convoy in Yemen on 30 September 2011.
This was a CIA operation. His targeting and elimination had been approved by President Obama, though it led to a lot of criticism due to his US origins.
There were close escapes for the US when the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalib, who also reportedly drew inspiration from Awlaki, was caught with a bomb worn in his underwear flying in the Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Michigan on 25 December 2009, though there were intelligence inputs about the youngster which were missed. Similarly Faisal Shahzad, an American of Pakistani origin, after training with the Pak-Taliban in Waziristan, almost succeeded in blasting an old Nissan Pathfinder after making and fitting a bomb in this car and parking it at the Times Square in New York on 1 May 2010. This was fortuitously discovered when smoke started coming out of the car, and passers-by alerted the police.
Thus, while the United States has taken strong measures to counter terrorist threats directed against it by al Qaeda, spending billions of dollars, the threats to the US from the terror outfit, its affiliates and adherents persists. But what is good about the US is the unity across the political spectrum when it comes to defending the country and its core values.
India has been a victim of terrorism from the early Eighties. While Khalistani terrorism spilled over from Punjab into Delhi and some other parts of India, it was mostly confined to the Punjab. Indian security forces, ably spearheaded by the Punjab Police, were successful in brutally putting it down. India has suffered terrorist attacks in parts of Northeast, but this has been within manageable limits, with some of the insurgent groups coming forward to negotiate peace with the government, and then subsequently joining the mainstream.
The Naxalites have mobilised tribals in large swathes of the country, especially in central India, mainly due to poor governance in these areas, and have also indulged in terror tactics to discredit the government and retain their hold over the tribals. While this is a major threat, it can be tackled with appropriate strategies. But it is the jihadi terror, inspired by a hostile neighbour that has now targeted different parts of India that poses substantial danger to the country. They have even targeted Indians and the Indian embassy in Afghanistan.
India has lost thousands of lives in terrorist attacks in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, the northeast and in other parts of the country. We lost a serving Prime Minister to the bullets of her own security guards and a former Prime Minister to the LTTE’s human bomb.
We created a Special Protection Group, with statutory powers, for the protection of Rajiv Gandhi, who was then the Prime Minister, but the SPG was not there to protect him when he was brutally assassinated by the LTTE’s suicide bomber because he was not the Prime Minister at that time, and SPG cover was available only to serving Prime Ministers!
Now even former prime ministers get SPG cover! We created anti-terrorism laws, first the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities Prevention Act and then the Prevention of Terrorism Act, but due to indiscriminate and mindless application of these draconian laws, had to withdraw them in the face of criticism.
In December 1999, India had to release three terrorists, including Azhar Masood and Sheikh Omar, in exchange for the hijacked Indian Airlines aircraft with over a hundred passengers. India’s Parliament was attacked by terrorists of the Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad, formed by Azhar Masood after his release and though we mobilised our troops on Pakistan’s border, they were able to wriggle out of the situation, with the United States, eager to retain Pakistan’s support in their operations in Afghanistan, and worried about the conflict between the nuclear neighbours getting out of hand, bringing pressure on India to be patient.
The 26/11 attacks mounted by the LeT in Mumbai wrote a new chapter in urban terrorism, with terrorists holding India’s financial capital to ransom for about 60 hours in full view of the world. The time taken by the NSG to land in Mumbai from Delhi, and then mount the counter attack, the total un-preparedness of the Mumbai police to handle the terrorists in spite of sufficient warning from the intelligence agencies, thanks to the American alerts, and the final tally of over a 160 deaths of innocents showed us in very poor light indeed. Though till then the Indian states had been opposing creation of a central agency to fight terrorism, the 26/11 attacks enabled the central government to create a statutory agency, the National Investigation Agency with mandate to take over, without the consent of the state government, any terrrorist case for investigation. This was done without amending the Constitution, though police is a state subject. This is therefore a weak law, and is bound to be challenged by states in the Supreme Court if it is applied indisriminately. Probably because of this, the central government did not transfer the Pune German bakery blast case of February 2010 and the July 2011 serial blasts of Mumbai to the NIA, though the NIA was created precisely to investigate such type of offences.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, was amended to define terrorism, and include special procedures to strengthen the investigating agencies for tackling terrorist cases. But this has not prevented the Indian Mujahideen, consisting of SIMI cadres and other radicalised Indian Muslim youth, trained in Pakistan, from indulging in terrorist acts, providing deniability to Pakistan. Pakistan has been exploiting fault lines in our polity, where the Muslim minority feels marginalised, insecure and threatened, because we have failed to address the issues! Steps have been taken to strengthen coastal security, but it will take some time before the various state and central agencies mesh together and put up a united front against terrorist intruders from the sea.
Our investigation machinery is weak, and even cases like the attack on Parliament are mired in controversy due to unprofessional handling. Our forensic backing is weak — there aren’t enough experts or laboratories of world class. In the United States, some States have done away with capital punishment, but others have retained it. Those states that have retained capital punishment carry it out after all appeals of a convict have been disposed of, notwithstanding the number of years that he has awaited the execution. In our case, even in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, where the young political leader was most brutally assassinated by a foreign terrorist outfit with assistance of a few Indians, we are yet to carry out the execution of three of the convicts who have been sentenced to death, and whose appeals have all been disposed of. The Tamil Nadu Assembly, in an unprecedented move, has passed a resolution to commute the death sentences of the three convicts! And worst of all, our main political parties do not see eye to eye on national security issues, always trying to score political points with focus firmly on electoral politics!
But we have also made impressive gains though we have suffered at the hands of terrorists. With all their jihadis and scheming in the last over 20 years, Pakistan could not wrest an inch of Kashmir from India. The fidayeen attacks of the militants were blunted by our security forces in J&K, with the local police spearheading the counter attacks. The Punjab police and the J&K police have gained considerable experience and expertise in countering urban terrrorism. If the Mumbai police had their own special operations group like that in J&K, they could have tackled the LeT’s terrorists on 26/11 with far less collateral damage.
Indian intelligence agencies over a period of time have built up a formidable data base of intelligence about Islamist terrorists and their modus operandi. Thus, there is a lot that the United States and India can learn from each other’s experience in tackling terrorism.
According to Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation, “While the US and India engage closely on a host of issues — including defence, nuclear nonproliferation, and economic cooperation — the greatest potential benefit to each country’s national security is likely to come from the expansion of counterterrorism cooperation.” The United States can help India by sharing latest techniques in the field of investigation and forensic sciences, and sharing relevant intelligence that it is able to collect through its awesome technology which is later analysed by world class analysts.
The visit of Janet Napolitano, US Homeland Department secretary to New Delhi in May has laid a strong foundation for enhanced counter-terrorism cooperation between the two countries. Union home minister Chidambaram and secretary Napolitano launched the first-ever US–India Homeland Security Dialogue for enhanced ‘cooperation in countering terrorist threats, sharing information, protecting the global supply chain, combating illicit financing, enhancing cyber security, protecting critical security infrastructure, developing effective IED detection systems, and policing large cities’. Earlier US and Indian counter-terrorism cooperation was handled through the Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism, which had started meeting in 2000. Through this dialogue, India and the US exchanged information, training material, and methods related to interrupting terrorist financial networks, and have taken institutional and law enforcement steps to strengthen homeland security, border management and surveillance techniques, aviation security, and disaster management in the event of a terrorist incident involving weapons of mass destruction.
India is worried about the LeT’s activities in Pakistan directed against it. We believe that the Americans are not doing enough to get this outfit dismantled. But the Americans have their own concerns and problems with Pakistan. The LeT was widely known to be a proxy of the Pakistan military against India, but its global ambitions are gradually being understood. Several persons of Pakistani origin have been arrested and sentenced in the United States for conspiring with the LeT. David Headley alias Daoud Gilani, an American born to a Pakistani father and an American mother, collaborated with the LeT in preparing for their Mumbai attacks. Recently, a young Pakistani Jubair Ahmad, who had settled in the United States, was apprehended for uploading objectionable videos pertaining to LeT trainings and showing its patron, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed addressing crowds in Pakistan. The Pakistani was in touch with Saeed’s son, Talha Saeed, who was guiding him in preparing the video. As the US-India anti-terror cooperation deepens, both sides will gain insights into each others’ concerns, strengths and weaknesses, and strengthen each other. The bureaucracies of both countries have to quickly get rid of the mutual suspicions of the cold war era, and come together to wipe out terrorism from the world.
(The writer retired as the first chief of NIA. Earlier he was the additional director general of police, Jammu and Kashmir. He was also Vigilance Commissioner in Jammu & Kashmir)