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Terrorist threat to India after Afzal Guru’s hanging


Paper No. 5396                                         Dated 15-Feb-2013

By Col. R. Hariharan

[This is an updated summary of comments made by Col Hariharan on some of the questions raised in a TV discussion on February 11, 2013.]

Question: After the hanging of Afzal Guru, curfew has been imposed in Jammu and Kashmir and the situation is volatile. Will there be retaliatory strikes from the terrorist groups in J and K?

In J and K, the main terrorist threat is from Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) and its clone Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) and the Jaish e Mohammed (JeM) who have camps on the Pakistani side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). These two powerful non Kashmiri terror groups had a hand in the parliamentary attack carried out on Indian parliament in December 2001.  

Afzal Guru belonged to Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a Kashmiri outfit that was active in 1984. Guru was trained in Pak Occupied Kashmir by Pakistan army during his JKLF days. However he surrendered to the police in 1993 and settled in New Delhi after the JKLF split into Indian and POK factions. Ever since Pakistan changed track to sponsor non Kashmiri organizations like the LeT and the JeM, JKLF has been marginalized and at present its activity is mainly political. Guru was found guilty of colluding with LeT and JeM terrorists in carrying out their strikes on parliament.

When Guru was hanged, Yasin Malik, leader of JKLF, was in Pakistan to visit his family. He along with Amanullah Khan, leader of Pak JKLF observed a one-day fast in Pakistan to express their sympathies for Guru’s death. JuD leader Hafeez Muhammad Saeed, the godfather of LeT and archpriest of 26/11 attack, also visited them to show his solidarity.  Several Pak terror outfits including LeT and JeM have vowed to step up jihadi attacks in J and K to avenge Guru’s hanging. 

So there should be no doubt it would materialize sooner or later. They could use the latent feeling of frustration and anger among the youth in conjunction with popular sympathy evoked by the hanging of Guru to their advantage to carryout retaliatory attacks. I am sure security forces would have factored this aspect in their plans.

This could increase the scale of terrorist violence which has been subsiding in J and K since 2011. In 2012 a total of 117 people were killed (16 civilians, 17 troops and 84 terrorists) were killed in terror related violence as against 183 deaths in 2011 (including 34 civilians, 30 troops and 119 terrorists). 

As troops along the LAC have been put on high alert ever since the beheading two Indian jawans by infiltrators last month and J and K government have better control of the state than before, it will not be easy for terrorists infiltrate across the border to mountattacks.

So retaliatory terrorist strikes like the 26/11 LeT attacks in Mumbai could be carried out elsewhere also. Indigenous extremist outfits like Indian Mujahideen and the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which have links with Pak terrorist groups, could help Pak terror groups in such tasks. So it is essential our security forces continue to be vigilant not only in J and K but also in other vulnerable areas in the country. 

Considering that India-Pakistan relations have suffered a setback ever since the beheading incident, what would be the attitude of Pakistan government and the army to any terrorist attacks on India planned or launched from Pakistan?

Pakistan government is locked in a survival struggle ever since the ruling coalition ran into a confrontation with the judiciary and the army has become increasingly assertive.  But the biggest threat to Pakistan continues to be Jihadi terror attacks spearheaded by Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i- Taliban -TTP) and Al Qaeda terrorists. They have targeted Pak army installations as well as Shia population Pakistani; last year 325 Shias have been killed in such attacks. 

Even today (February 14) media reports say in nine people were killed in twin explosions in Northwestern tribal region of Orakzai. Pak air force strikes against militants in this region have killed six militants. Police killed six TTP militants when they attacked a police station in Frontier Region Bannu.

A meeting of Corps Commanders of Pak army is going on now to discuss the internal security situation. At the same time an all party conference of 27 Pak parties is also taking place where an offer from Pakistani Taliban to hold talks is being discussed. Earlier such an offer from TTP did not make headway as it did not want to surrender its arms.

Pakistan army’s main preoccupation at present appears to be to tackle terrorism in an unstable internal political environment. Chief of Army Staff General Afshaq Pervaiz Kayani in a speech has summed the situation saying “Today we are pitched against an amorphous enemy when the conventional threat has grown manifold….Increasingly complex external environment and our rather precarious internal dynamics have created a myriad of security challenges.” 

And there are expectations of striking a better equation with the U.S. after John Kerry assumed office as the U.S. Secretary of State. Pak military is expecting the U.S to pay $688 million of Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for the period June-November 2011 ($8.9 billion received so far from 2001 to May 2011).  This could be delayed if army gets tainted with any allegation of involvement in cross border terrorist strikes. 

Pakistan is hopeful of playing a bigger role in Afghanistan as U.S. forces are eased out. It had released 26 Taliban leaders to facilitate a rapprochement process in Afghanistan. In the medium term, Pak army also would like to come to terms with the Taliban to enhance its influence in Afghanistan. That would release some of its soldiers now deployed in combating terrorists. Pak army is poised to play a bigger role in Afghanistan after it signed an agreement with Afghan defence minister to train Afghan soldiers.

Given these considerations, sponsoring terror strikes in India does not sound plausible. However, it should not be forgotten that Pakistan is yet to take follow up action to arrest terrorists like Hafiz Saeed who were involved in 26/11 attacks. Though major terrorist outfits like  LeT, JuD and JeM are banned in Pakistan, they have been allowed to exist with impunity. It is equally good to remember that even during a spell of bonhomie, Kargil war was engineered. So from Indian point of view it is prudent to recognize such an option exists and Pak army may not hesitate to use it, as logic is not its strong suit.

(Col R Hariharan, a retired MI officer  is a strategic analyst associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group.