Exploiting the 'Terror Threat'


India shares with Israel the dubious privilege of being the country with the longest continuing exposure to terrorism. Israel’s travails began after Ariel Sharon’s ill-considered 1982 decision to back the thuggish Gemayel brothers in Lebanon–Maronite Christians–in their blood soaked war against the Shiite leaders. India’s insurgency had its origins in 1977, when incoming Prime Minister Morarji Ranchhodji Desai took time off from his favoured drink (urine) to gut the country’s external intelligence agency, the Research & Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat.

During Desai’s two-year tenure, for reasons that have yet to be made public, almost all Indian networks in Pakistan were rolled up and more than 800 suspected or actual agents killed. While Desai himself was given Pakistan’s highest civilian award by a grateful General Zia, the Pakistan army launched its insurgency in Kashmir within weeks of Desai’s resignation in 1979.

A couple of days after the November 2008 Mumbai mass terror attack ended, basing my comments on what I had been briefed by those privy to intelligence gained from sweeps across Pakistan, I wrote a column for UPI Asia stating that the foot soldiers in the operation had been trained by serving officers of the Pakistan army (most seconded to the ISI),and had received logistical support from the armed forces of that country in their daring operation, which reduced India’s security agencies to helpless confusion for a full 17 hours after the attack exploded on TV screens.

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It has taken the arrest of David Coleman Headley to convince US spooks that their Indian counterparts were right on that one. The reason for the delay? The incestuous, heavily dependent relationship between the CIA, the DIA and their Pakistani counterparts meaning that what passes as US intelligence on the region is essentially, in many informed people’s view, manufactured within the Inter-Services Intelligence wing of the Pakistan armed forces.

Some days ago, for the umpteenth time, the US (quickly followed by the UK, Australia and Canada) issued a threat advisory warning of an ‘imminent’ weekend attack at one of a series of designated markets in New Delhi. By the time this entry appears, it will be known whether this advisory was accurate, or was another of the long line of India-specific advisories being issued by Western countries to their citizens in India.

Almost every year, meanwhile, Israel has issued a stern advisory warning its citizens against going to Goa, because of a ‘high probability of a terror strike’ against them. Cynics say that the reason for such warnings is the desire of the Israeli agencies to prevent young citizens (including in the armed forces) from dipping into the narcotics and other stimulants that Goa has to offer. They point out that thus far, the main risk facing Israelis–especially women–is the effort of some of the locals to seduce them, behaviour that many may consider objectionable, but which few would classify as a ‘terror threat’.

Fortified by the view of friends in the intelligence community that the latest–very explicit and alarming–advisory of the US, Canada, Australia and the UK is another fruit of the campaign of the ISI to discourage Western contact with India, this writer went to six malls and five of the areas considered as being at ‘imminent risk of a terror threat’ by the advisory during May 1 and 2. The crowds were at normal levels, and while the security checks at the gate were conducted more seriously than usually, visitors seemed unconcerned, including several obviously Western shoppers, who seemed to have far more courage than their governments.

The next few hours (since this has been written) will show if the sources that claim an ISI link to the frequent Western advisories is correct, or whether this time, the wolf actually appears on stage. Cynics here point out that the ISI would never compromise their own operations by leaking information about the attempt, which is why no terror attack in India involving Westerners has been preceded by an advisory.

Several policymakers in India, forced into public silence by the government’s policy of bending over backwards, forwards and sideways to talk nice to the West, point out that the attempted smudge given to India’s record against terrorism by the repeated terror advisories issued to citizens in India help the agenda of two neighbouring countries who seek to create a fear factor in Western minds about coming to India, a country that will soon have more English-speaking people than the US and the UK combined.

Ironically, while this is being written, there is wall to wall coverage on CNN of an attempted terror attack: on New York! Maybe New Delhi needs to issue a threat advisory of its own.

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