Homeland Security

26/11 and Hijacking of India’s War Room
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 13 Jun , 2016

The heritage wing of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower aflame, November 26. (Photograph: Uttam Ghosh/rediff.com)

The ‘Murree Hijacking’ is a classic case of strategic deception by Pakistan. Strategic deception is very much part of conventional warfare exercised in a manner to lull the enemy into confidence, trust and obfuscation of the objective of war. Surprise is another facet of war, employed once forces are joined. Military history is replete with instances of some extraordinary and ingenious methods of strategic deception. But this would be the first time that a nation-state has used strategic deception in support of terrorist attack by non-state actors. 26/11 therefore constitutes an act of war.

Pakistan partially succeeded in paralyzing the internal security command and control apparatus of India during the crucial hours of attack.

A nine member high level team comprising MHA officials and other security agencies, led by no less than the then Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta was in Pakistan, when Mumbai was attacked by the LeT terrorists with direct involvement of Pakistan military-intelligence establishment. The team had arrived in Islamabad on 24 November 2008 and was to return two days later, i.e. 26 November. Surreptitiously, the hospitality was extended by an extra day. It involved a night stay in the salubrious environment of Murree, a hill station, 60 km northeast of Islamabad. Reports suggest that the Pakistani authorities ensured that the team was incommunicado in that location when Mumbai came under attack.

Some of the critical members of India’s security apparatus required for taking key decisions during the attack were at Murree. These included the Union Home Secretary, the Joint Secretary – Internal Security, the Director – Internal Security, besides others, whose designations and identities cannot be disclosed for reasons of security and secrecy. Nevertheless, one senior official was included in the team at a very late stage and that too at the behest of a senior minister. It was this official, who is believed to have persuaded the Home Secretary and others to accept the extended hospitality. One important member of the team probably smelt the rat and returned from Islamabad citing pressing engagements at home. It is the same official, who was hounded for the stand he took in Ishrat Jahan case.

Pakistan partially succeeded in paralyzing the internal security command and control apparatus of India during the crucial hours of attack. The desperation on part of Pakistan as well as certain segments in India, to ensure the success of 26/11 attack, the least to say, is intriguing. The question that why Pakistan wanted to portray the attack as an act of so-called ‘Hindu terror’ has also not so far evoked any satisfactory official answer. On the contrary, some politicians of the then ruling dispensation in India were on overdrive to prove 26/11 as an act of Hindu Terror. The attempt to facilitate 26/11 was thus at the highest levels, but floundered at the lower levels once AjmalKasab was caught alive.

Strategic deception is very much part of conventional warfare exercised in a manner to lull the enemy into confidence, trust and obfuscation of the objective of war.

Such harmony between the perpetrator and the victim is without historical precedence.

The ‘Murree Hijacking’ is a classic case of strategic deception by Pakistan. Strategic deception is very much part of conventional warfare exercised in a manner to lull the enemy into confidence, trust and obfuscation of the objective of war. Surprise is another facet of war, employed once forces are joined. Military history is replete with instances of some extraordinary and ingenious methods of strategic deception. But this would be the first time that a nation-state has used strategic deception in support of terrorist attack by non-state actors. 26/11 therefore constitutes an act of war. In 1978, when Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on a visit as Foreign Minister, China attacked Vietnam. This was construed as a diplomatic humiliation to the visiting dignitary. The ‘Murree Hijacking’ surpasses that humiliation and treachery by leaps.

The very process of ‘composite dialogue’ with India was used by Pakistan to achieve strategic deception to facilitate 26/11. What would have lulled the Indian establishment is the fact that this was fifth such meeting being held alternately in India and Pakistan. It was reminiscent of the manner in which India was disarmed by Pakistan during Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit before the Kargil conflict. That too was strategic deception. The attack on Pathankot by the JeM was also strategic deception utilizing the shadow of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impromptu visit to Pakistan. It is quite possible that this so-called impromptu visit was to preempt a much larger and sinister plan by Pakistan.

These revelations regarding the ‘charm hijacking’ of the Indian officials, who should have formed part of the war room in the critical hours of 26/11 attack forbear some unique and important lessons for the security planners in India.

First and foremost, it compels us to revise our opinion about the existence of a political class or a population segment vying for peace in India. Remember, this strategic deception could not have been possible without the active involvement of the ruling political dispensation, i.e. the Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP), considered to be more accommodative to India than the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) or Tehreek-e-Insaf.

Pakistan’s strategic deception not only has territorial objectives, but it is overwhelmingly religious in motivation, design and intent.

Second, notwithstanding the posturing of political parties or Operation Zarb-e-Azb or National Action Plan, the political class is as supportive of the anti-India jihadi organizations as the Pakistan military intelligence establishment. Recently, in a BBC interview, Pakistan’s Punjab Law Minister Rana Sananullah said that the Pakistan government cannot proceed against terror groups like JuD and JeM, as the ‘State itself remained involved with them’.

Third, the liberal secular class in Pakistan is on the verge of extinction. As per one report, in the 60s and 70s in the universities of Pakistan, more than 80 percent of the students were inclined towards liberalism and secularism, now more than 90 percent are for implementation of Shariat.

Fourth, in case of India, Pakistan’s strategic deception not only has territorial objectives, but it is overwhelmingly religious in motivation, design and intent.

The final and the most important aspect of the revelations is that Pakistan’s core military philosophy is the use of jihadi organizations or non-state actors imbued and indoctrinated with religious fanaticism to serve as the cutting-edge of the military. In the last few years, it has been seen that the military has been increasingly deployed for internal security operations, and cross-border operations have been left to the ISI and its affiliated jihadi organizations. The Pakistan military now fancies itself, as the guardian of the nation rather than protector of the country and its democracy, however skewed it may be. After the recent drone-killing of Afghan-Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in Pakistan’s hinterland, Raheel Sharif directly sought a meeting with the US Ambassador David Hale to express his angst against the US action. He raised issues of sovereignty, which Pakistan military can hardly defend vis-à-vis the US.  Again in May this year, the Army Chief met the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and discussed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

If these officials coming from various bureaucratic backgrounds were sensitized to this new form of warfare, such an incident would have never occurred.

The assessment therefore is that the Pakistan military has propelled itself to the stratosphere of being the sole arbitrator of the country’s geopolitical and strategic journey. It also includes nuclear strategy. Nuclear weapons, it reckons provide the necessary umbrella to pursue the proxy war or sub-conventional war strategy with impunity. It has demonstrated that the Khakhi is precious but jihadis are expendable.

The military has made it abundantly clear that the proxy war and its cutting edge, i.e. the jihadi organizations need all kinds of state support necessary for conventional warfare, most necessarily strategic deception for facilitation and deniability.

India must realize the entire import and gamut of the proxy war. In this war, internal security operations seamlessly extend to external security facets. Mere emphasis on internal security would create situations like the hijacking of the entire group of decision makers responsible for internal security. If these officials coming from various bureaucratic backgrounds were sensitized to this new form of warfare, such an incident would have never occurred. This composite dialogue in Islamabad was held at a time when India in the preceding years had been subjected to unremitting terrorist attacks from the Pakistani soil. There was no window for the bonhomie that resulted in Murree trip.

Bureaucrats, the police and the central armed police forces have been increasingly acquiring all the trappings of the armed forces without developing the sensitivity, mindset and requisite professional culture. If such war room hijacking had taken place with the military in any country, the ignominy would have been unimaginable. The punishment would also have been exemplary. Why should then this team, which otherwise would have fancied itself as the ‘war room’ not be held accountable for being hijacked by the enemy.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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3 thoughts on “26/11 and Hijacking of India’s War Room

  1. Incredibly, the Almighty is with this Nation. Live catch of Ajmal has destroyed the plans of then rulers to crush Hindu forces for ever. In 1948 the killing of MK Gandhi gave golden chance to Congress to suppress Hindus who were angry at the maiming, mutilation of Hindus and corpses in the trains coming from newly created state. To prevent manifestation of anger against own sins, the supporters of Muslim League were tempted to stay back to be captive voters of Congress with promise to pursue the agenda of Muslim League in the name of secularism. The “war criminals” of Murrie need to be court marshalled.

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