The vulnerability of the Indian coastal areas and islands of the Western Indian Ocean to the activities of al-Qaeda and Pakistan based terrorist groups became apparent following the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008, and it was discovered the these elements have been making efforts to establish new bases that can serve as a convenient springboard for launching attacks on the Indian coastal towns. The growing collaboration between the pirates of Somalia and the fundamentalist forces poses a threat not only to the commercial sea lanes but also to the islands which have a potential to serve as recruiting bases for al-Qaeda and its associates operating in this region.
Pakistan is trying to combat domestic terrorism, it is also providing facilities for training international terrorists.
Pakistan has been a permanent source of fundamentalist ideology for a long time, but now it has become a safe haven for Islamic fundamentalist groups of several varieties against whom its moderate society is fighting a losing battle. As the assassination of the Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer and the glorification of his assassin showed even the mainstream political parties support ultra conservative views. Although large segments of Pakistan society are not comfortable with the fundamental ideology but they have not been able to assert themselves because of the stranglehold of powerful armed groups over the majority of Pakistani population.
An expanded campaign of US Special forces across the Afghan- Pakistan borders into Pakistan’s tribal areas seems imminent, the plan if implemented would increase military activities of NATO inside Pakistan and provoke a backlash damaging US-NATO war efforts. Despite the risks US military and political planners seem to be making fervent attempts to push the proposal through as the date for the planned American withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches near.
Expansion of the Fundamentalist : Forces in the Western Indian Ocean
The growing collaboration between the pirates of Somalia and the fundamentalists and their surrogates in the western Indian Ocean poses a threat not only to the commercial sea lanes but also to the islands in this region, which have sizeable prospects as recruiting bases for al-Qaeda and its associates operating from Pakistan. Hijackings of ships are no longer just isolated incidents in the vicinity of the Lakshadweep Islands, where several acts of piracy and attempts to overawe the local population by fundamentalist groups have been witnessed for quite some time. Last December, the Indian navy apprehended a dhow with foreigners, including 15 Pakistani nationals, off Bitra Islands in the Lakshadweep archipelago.1
Pakistan has been a permanent source of fundamentalist ideology for a long time, but now it has become a safe haven for Islamic fundamentalist groups”¦
The vulnerability of the Indian coastal areas and islands to the activities of al-Qaeda became apparent following the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, and now it is well known that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) has been making forays to establish bases here as a convenient springboard for furthering its influence and launching attacks on the Indian mainland. The increasing infiltration of fundamentalist forces has added a new dangerous dimension to the threat to the entire western ocean region. The area of al-Qaeda’s expansion in the Minicoy Island in the close vicinity of the Maldives is causing concern to the Indian security establishment.
The strategic importance and location of the Lakshadweep Islands, situated about 200–400 kilometres away from the state of Kerala in the western Indian Ocean, is apparent. The archipelago comprises 36 islands, with a total area of only 32 square kilometres (sq. km.), and these islands cover almost 20,000 sq. km. of India’s territorial waters and approximately 400,000 sq. km. of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Of the 36 islands, only 10 are inhabited. According to the 2001 census, Lakshadweep has a population of 60,000 persons, 93 per cent of whom are indigenous—the majority being Sunni Muslims are prone to Wahabi influences. Since only 10 islands are inhabited in the Lakshadweep archipelago, it provides ample space for the establishment of hidden bases for terrorist groups. The proximity of Lakshadweep to Sri Lanka and Maldives, and busy shipping lanes, wide geographical spread and a predominantly Muslim population all make the archipelago attractive to al-Qaeda and Pakistan-based terrorist groups.2
Although large segments of Pakistan society are not comfortable with the fundamental ideology but they have not been able to assert themselves because of the stranglehold of powerful armed groups over the majority of Pakistani population.
Somali pirates are gradually expanding their area of operations from the Somali coast to the coasts of Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives, and the jihadis too are making persistent attempts to establish bases in these island nations; this increases the danger of fundamentalists’ expansion in the entire region. These islands could be used as safe havens or platforms by state and non-state actors to launch terrorist attacks on the western coast of India.
Rising tide of Islamic Fundamentalism in Pakistan
Pakistan has been a permanent source of the growth of fundamentalist ideas for a long time, but now it is a safe haven of Islamic fundamentalists of various hues, and its moderate society is fighting a losing battle against it. Pakistan government makes frequent statements highlighting its fight against terror, refuting the views that Pakistan is sponsoring or encouraging terrorist groups whose agenda is to launch attacks on India, U.S.–NATO forces in Afghanistan, selected European countries and the American mainland. The fact is that although Pakistan is trying to combat domestic terrorism, it is also providing facilities for training international terrorists. Although a large segment of Pakistan society wants to dispel terrorism of all varieties from its soil, it has not been able to assert itself or foster moderate ideas because of the stranglehold of powerful armed groups over the majority of Pakistani population and Pakistani politics. The most powerful among such groups is of course the Pakistan army, followed by religious fundamentalist groups of several varieties. These groups work in close cooperation with each other to corner national wealth and dominate the decision-making process in Pakistan. Although they have landed their country in an economic and political mess, given Pakistan’s India phobia and the bogey of “Islam in danger,” these powerful groups will continue to dominate Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies in the foreseeable future.
Having been caught flatfooted by the international community as a supporter of international terrorism, the Pakistan army and its collaborators have changed their tactics and terrorist training areas have been dispersed to many parts of the globe, although Pakistan army and ISI still remain their mentors and supporters. The blame is generally passed on to al-Qaeda, which though now much diminished in stature is still a name to throw counter-terrorist forces off the course. Led by strife-torn states of Iraq and Yemen many African countries are now emerging as new powerful bases for fundamentalist organisations. It is indeed now become a clash of ideologies that is not going to fade away easily.
“¦intrusions by American or NATO forces have led to escalation of tension between Pakistan and America.
A man from Stockholm, who spent some time in West Asia, was found to be responsible for the multiple blasts in central Stockholm in December 2010 that also killed him; this brought the danger right in the open. Ten minutes before the first explosion, Swedish news agency TT received an e-mail from an individual, addressed to the Swedish Security Service (SAPO), which warned of the impending attacks. In this e-mail, the suicide bomber claimed he was carrying out an act of jihad. The e-mail called on other jihadists in Sweden and Europe to come forward to attack the infidels to take revenge for Sweden’s role in the war in Afghanistan and Sweden’s silence over the caricatures of Prophet Mohammed published by Swedish artist Lars Vilks.3 The lenient asylum laws and relatively open immigration policies of Sweden, in comparison with other European states, makes Sweden an easier target but the other European countries under imminent jihadi threats are UK, Italy Germany and France. Various recent Jihadi attacks make it quite evident that the threats issued by them from time to time are no empty threats. This attack in Sweden was perhaps one of the few attacks where no one groomed and trained on Pakistan soil was found involved, showing the establishment of a new base area of jihadi groups nearer Europe.
US Special Operations in Pakistan-Afghanistan
An expanded campaign of US Special Operations ground operations across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas seems to be imminent; though a risky venture it seems unavoidable due to the growing disappointment with Pakistan’s efforts to confront militants in their north-western tribal belt. The plan if implemented would escalate military activities of NATO inside Pakistan and provoke a backlash damaging U.S.–Pakistan relations. The proposal has not yet been approved, but military and political leaders seem to be making fervent attempts to push it through as the date for the planned American withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches near. Despite the risks, many American military commanders feel that Special Operations are unavoidable under the circumstances. Announcing the results of a review of the strategy in Afghanistan, some US officials said they were considering expanded American operations to deal with threats inside Pakistan, without giving specifics details of the area of operations.
“In interviews in Washington and Kabul, American officials said that officers were drawing up plans to begin ground operations to capture or kill leaders from the Taliban and the Haqqani network. American officers say they are particularly eager to capture, as opposed to kill, militant leaders, who they say can offer intelligence to guide future operations.”4
Since September last, U.S. spy agencies have carried out more than 50 drone attacks in North Waziristan, compared with only 60 strikes in the preceding eight months. It has been reported that a militia called the Paktika Defense Force crossed the border into Pakistan and carried out a variety of covert activities in many parts of the country. In a raid, the Paktika militia attacked and destroyed a Taliban ammunition depot and returned to base, in most CIA-backed raids targeted compounds were, however, only a few miles inside Pakistani territory.
American commandos had carried out a raid in Pakistans tribal areas and killed several insurgents, there was outrage among Pakistans leaders and warnings were given to the American army not to try and enter Pakistan again.
The Paktika Defense Force is one of the six CIA-trained Afghan militias that serve as a special operations force against insurgents in Afghanistan; it is reported that this militia, based near Khost, was recently deployed in the mountains along the Pakistan border and where it spent the winter trying to intercept the Taliban movement. It is believed so far this force has proved effective.5
In the past, intrusions by American or NATO forces have led to escalation of tension between Pakistan and America. For example, when an American military helicopter killed a group of Pakistani soldiers during a flight over the border in pursuit of militants, it created a furore in Pakistan and for sometime Pakistan closed down American military supply routes across Pakistan–Afghan borders. Several trucks carrying fuel for U.S. forces were also set on fire at the border by unknown insurgents. The reaction only stopped once the American officials publicly apologised.
Earlier in September 2008, when American commandos had carried out a raid in Pakistan’s tribal areas and killed several insurgents, there was outrage among Pakistan’s leaders and warnings were given to the American army not to try and enter Pakistan again.6
Notes and References
- Pushpita Das. “Need to secure the Lakshadweep Islands.” , <http://idsa.in/idsacomments/NeedtosecuretheLakshadweepIslands_pdas_131210>. 13 December 2010.
- Stratfor. “Suicide Attack in Stockholm and Grassroots Jihad.” 11 December 2010. <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20101211-suicide-bomber-sent-warning-prior-stockholm-blast-0>.
- Mark Mazzetti reporting from Washington; Dexter Filkins from Kabul, Afghanistan; and Eric Schmitt reporting from Washington. “U_S_ Military Seeks to Expand Raids in Pakistan.” 20 December 2010. New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/world/asia/21intel.html>.