Homeland Security

Tactical Shifts in the Terror Profile
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Issue Vol. 23.4 Oct-Dec 2008 | Date : 08 Oct , 2011

From June 08, India has been victim of a new phase of terrorism and enhanced ISI activities. This spurt in ISI sponsored terrorism was presumably initiated by Lt Gen Nadeem Taj to divert attention from former President Musharraf’s mounting problems at home. The design entailed a deliberate escalation of tensions in J&K and a new phase of terror in the rest of India. The key characteristics of this renewed phase of terror are as under:-

 The tactical effect of the Fence was felt in terms of serious degrades in the level of infiltration. This implied that the terrorists could not recoup or make up their serious losses, and the decline was sharp and steep.

  • The ISI is now trying to build in the element of deniability in its operations by reducing the emphasis on high profile Tanzeems like the LET and JEM and relying instead on local Tanzeems with localized narratives (like the Indian Mujahideen). These do not use RDX or Plastic Explosives but use local materials like Ammonium Nitrate and Hydrogen Peroxide to cause a series of low intensity explosions that generate mass casualties. These terrorist operations therefore have a negligible logistical footprint and virtually no electronic signatures. Very high levels of human intelligence are needed to counter such sophisticated operations and these have caught the Indian Agencies by surprise.
  • In J&K the ISI has changed its modus operandi and is now trying to change the focus of its operations from terrorist depredations to mass agitations on the Palestinian Intifada model. These agitations (as during the Amarnath Land Agitation) are primarily based on communal mobilization that exploits the Friday mosque congregations to pull huge crowds.

The sudden change in tactics and methodology seem to have taken our Intelligence and Security agencies by surprise. It would therefore be useful to examine the genesis of this new phase of terrorism in some detail.

Brief Historical Overview: Terrorism in J&K

The ISI had initiated the Proxy war in J&K in 1989-90. This campaign can be categorized in three main phases

  • The Azadi Phase (1990-1995) The ISI had raised, trained and equipped the JKLF to initiate terrorism in the Valley. The JKLF based its struggle on the slogans of Azadi. By 1993, the JKLF had taken serious losses. It tried to find safe sanctuaries in the remote areas of Doda and Kishtwar to survive. By 1995 the JKLF was wiped out. A number of its cadres were turned around as ‘Ikhwanis’ or counter-insurgents. In 1996, Assembly and Lok Sabha Elections were held in J&K which restored political legitimacy to the state.

There is an amazing lack of concern in our media for the human rights of the victims of terrorism who are routinely killed in bomb blasts and IED explosions. These poor Indians die unsung.

  • The Jihadi Phase (1996-2005) Pakistan now dumped the JKLF for it did not trust its agenda of Azadi. It had in the meanwhile raised a whole set of Jihadi Tanzeems like the Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkut Ul Ansar and Harkat Ul Jihad-E-Islami and pushed them into the Valley in a major way to launch struggle for the aecession of Kashmir to Pakistan. The ISI felt that the Kashmiri cadres could not stand up to the Indian Army and hence sent in a large number of Afghan, Pakistani and other Foreign Terrorists from its Afghan Jihad Corpus. It tried to widen the arc of instability to South of the Pir Panjal and under its Operation Balakote, it tried to spread Jihadi insurgency in the districts of Rajouri, Poonch and Udhampur. Concerted counte- terrorist operations, however, inflicted serious levels of attrition on the HM and allied Tanzeems. Pakistan now sent in the LET and JEM. Their training camps had been moved out of POK to the Afghanistan / Pakistan border but with the overthrow of the Taliban these were 9/11and brought back to POK. All these Tanzeems had suffered serious attrition as India raised more Rashtriya Rifles formations and increased force levels to counter the new Tanzeems and the widening of the arc of terrorism in J&K. The Kargil intrusions were designed to internationalize the Kashmir issue as a nuclear flash point and take the pressure off the Tanzeems by drawing the Indian Army away towards the LC and the border. This gave the Tanzeems a reprieve in the hinterland and a chance to revive their sagging fortunes. Counter-terrorist Operations were re-intensified and heavy losses inflicted on the Terrorist ranks in the years 2000 and 2001. By 2002 a positive degree of control had been achieved and, manifestly free and fair Assembly Elections were held in J&K under international media glare. The National Conference was defeated at the hustings and a PPP- Congress Coalition came to power. There was a widespread feeling of elation and empowerment amongst the people. This duly elected govt was virtually de-legitimized when a dialogue was started (under Western pressure) with the Hurriyat, which had refused to take part in the elections.The intention was to engage all parties to the dispute. However, over a period of time, this engagement of the Hurriyat and other secessionist elements appears to have delegitimized the electoral process and given the mistaken but wide spread impression that the elected state Govt would perhaps be replaced by the Hurriyat as the real representatives of the state.
  • The Third Phase: Impact of the Fence A careful appraisal of the situation indicated that though very heavy attrition had been inflicted on terrorist Tanzeems, the constant Pakistani endeavour was to send in terrorist replacements and regenerate their force levels in J&K. To end this regeneration syndrome it was decided to build the LC Fence at huge cost. Views were initially divided, as it was felt that the heavy snow precipitation would damage the fence and lead to reccurring costs. However, all the Indian Army’s engineer resources were mustered and the fencing was completed in a record time. It proved to be a key turning point in J&K.

Phase Change in J&K

The creation of the Fence in J&K in 2004/05 had not just entailed the erection of a physical obstacle but also an electronic wall of sorts. The large scale employment of Hand Held Thermal Imagers (HHTIs) ahead of the Fence, had served to raise the attrition levels for infiltration. It had been Pakistan’s constant endeavor to continue to push in terrorists each year in summer to make up for the attrition inflicted by the Indian Army as also turn over its Tanzeem cadres for rest and relief. The erection of the Fence and the widespread use of Night Vision devices severely curtailed Pakistan’s ability to infiltrate or exfiltrate terrorists or provide any meaningful degree of logistics support. A distinct drop was encountered in the availability of ammunition and this had lowered terrorist morale.

Editor’s Pick

Op Sarp Vinash In the Maoist dogma, every revolution needs a secure base area – where the guerilla/ insurgents can fall back for rest, refit and training. A major such base area had come up in the remote Hill Kaka area south of the Pir Panjal in the Rajouri, Poonch district. It lay at the convergence of a number of infiltration routes and was an ideal staging post for terrorists entering the Valley. From this sanctuary the terrorists used to control the population in Rajouri and Poonch. Operation Sarp vinash destroyed this insurgent base area. The operation was a major turning point in the counter-terrorist campaign and struck a major blow to the Tanzeems operating in the Rajouri Poonch area south of the Pir Panjal.

The erection of the Fence and the widespread use of Night Vision devices severely curtailed Pakistans ability to infiltrate or exfiltrate terrorists or provide any meaningful degree of logistics support.

The tactical effect of the Fence was felt in terms of serious degrades in the level of infiltration. This implied that the terrorists could not recoup or make up their serious losses, and the decline was sharp and steep. Concerted mopping up operations were launched in the wake of SarpVinash and concerted command and control attrition caused serious disruption and demoralization in terrorist ranks south of the Pir Panjals. By the end of 2005 there was an 80 percent drop in the levels of terrorist activities and near normalcy was restored.

The Fence was, however, disrupted in sections north of the Pir Panjal due to heavy snow precipitation. The ISI now focused its infiltration efforts North of the Pir Panjal. Bandipore (North of Srinagar) is a remote area that lies at the convergence of a number of routes of infiltration and was being turned into a Hill Kaka like remote sanctuary by the terrorists. It was from here that they exercised control of their cadres in Srinagar, which is the key center of Gravity of the counter-terrorist Battle in J&K. However it was handed over to the relatively inexperienced CRPF. This did lead to a slow down in the counter-terrorist campaign north of the Pir Panjal. The PPP State Govt. was keen to project an image of total normalcy and put lot of pressure to slow down operations.

Their training camps had been moved out of POK to the Afghanistan / Pakistan border but with the overthrow of the Taliban these were 9/11and brought back to POK.

A slew of Human Rights accusations were now levelled against the Security Forces which were quite demoralizing for the rank and file. The simple fact is that the Indian Army is one of the few Armies in the World that does not use fighters, bombers, tanks or artillery to support its counter-terrorist operations. The contrast between how operations are conducted in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and even by the Pakistani Army in FATA and NWFP is striking. Well over 93 per cent of the human rights violation allegations against the Army, when investigated by National Human Rights Commission, have been found to be false and fabricated. Where human rights concern for the terrorists (unfortunately not for the victims) stem from genuine compassion, these are to be welcomed and encouraged. However, when these are part of a deliberately orchestrated design by the over-ground elements to slow down operations, demoralize the Security Forces, and put them on the back foot, these must be seen as such and not be allowed to unduly hamper legitimate operations. There is an amazing lack of concern in our media for the human rights of the victims of terrorism who are routinely killed in bomb blasts and IED explosions. These poor Indians die unsung. The concern for the human rights of the terrorists is, however, reaching bizarre levels. It is one of the major reasons why India is becoming such a soft target for terrorist depredations.

There was an orchestrated outcry for withdrawing the Indian Army from J&K. even though a duly elected State Government had been put in place through manifestly free and fair elections, it was sidelined and deligitmised . The Hurriyat (which had refused to take part in the elections and test its popularity) was conferred an uncalled for legitimacy in the name of negotiating with all parties to the conflict and an impression was created that it was virtually a government in waiting. A simply uncalled for ‘Azadi euphoria’ was thereby generated and an impression created that the state was about to be handed over to the Hurriyat.

In the specific context of the Jihad that the ISI has been waging in the rest of India, it is now trying to ensure deniability by promoting local organizations

Despite these severe constraints, the Indian Security Forces were able to stabilize the situation. By 2006/07 the back of the Jihadi Tanzeems was largely broken. The Fence had proved to be a formidable obstacle and had seriously curtailed infiltration and logistics support. Without the ability to recuperate losses, the terrorist campaign could not be sustained in J&K. Near normalcy had returned. Over four lakh tourists had visited J&K in 2008, and some five lakh pilgrims had visited the Amarnath Shrine. Assembly Elections were due. Once these were conducted peacefully the Pakistani case would go by default.

The Intifida Phase Realising that the terrorist battle had been largely lost, the ISI tried to respond in several ways

  • The Pakistani Army staged over 30 firing incidents on the LC to provide fire cover for renewed attempts at infiltration. It thereby did its best to break  the ceasefire that had held since 2003. The intention was possibly to divert attention from President Musharraf’s serious problems as also to possibly create excuses in the east to slow down or call off its campaign against the Taliban in FATA and NWFP, west of the Indus.
  • The Intifada Agitation Phase In the Valley itself, it decided to switch tactics to try and launch a Palestinian Intifada type phase of mass agitation based on communal mobilization and over-hyping local issues. The Amarnath land transfer issue was blown out of all proportions. The intensity of emotions was raised to a feverish pitch by exploiting the economic fears of the fruit growers. This could easily have been countered by a well orchestrated air-lift of the fruits from the Valley. The administration was however taken by total surprise and virtually paralyzed.

The recent shifts in tactical and operating patterns of the ISI stem from the lessons learnt so far in the global war against terror.

Polarity of Emotions  Emotions in the Valley tend to be intense (but not deep). They are easily whipped up but can not be sustained for long periods. These were allowed to be played out initially. The Indian media unfortunately went into an over-drive and the likes of Arundhati Roy suggested openly that it was time to let J&K go. This was an uncalled for attack on the national will to hold on. National political will is the prime target of asymmetric warfare.

The hard work of nearly two decades was being allowed to go waste in J&K. What is needed is cooling of atavistic passions but the central issue is the need to hold firm and display the will to retain and safeguard Indian’s sovereignty at all costs. India has a population of 150 million Muslims. Their fore fathers had voted with their feet to stay on in secular India instead of migrating to a theocratic Pakistan. How can five million Muslims of the Kashmir Valley be permitted to secede on a purely communal agenda? What is at stake is a key issue of state ideology. To let Kashmir Valley go simply because of the shenanigans of the Hurriyat (and their fans like Arundhati Roy) would unravel the secular basis of this Republic. That such a step was even suggested is cause for amazement. The need of the hour for the Indian state is to hold firm and display the will and stamina to hold on and not loose on the negotiating table, the war that has been won on the battle fields. A good samaritan approach wherein the Indian state is prepared to negotiate with whosever is prepared to talk is fine.

The ISI has fully ingested its lessons of the earlier campaigns in J&K and the rest of India. What we are now witnessing is the effectiveness of the changed tactics.

However it can not and should not give the impression of rank capitulationism. The Indian approach of seeking a dialogue with the  Hurriyat and other anti national elements has unfortunately, delegitimized the electoral process and the given the impression that the Indian state is all set to capitulate to the demands of the secessionists. It is this that needlessly encourages the secessionist elements to fan delusions that Azadi is once again around the corner and one final round of street agitation will bring about what two decades of terror could not. That it will cause the Indian state to simply cave in is a preposterous thought .However that precisely was what the media cheerleaders of MS Arundhati Roy were trying to advocate – an abject and tame surrender of Indian sovereignty.

Tactical Shift in Rest of India 

Indigenizing the Jihad In the specific context of the Jihad that the ISI has been waging in the rest of India, it is now trying to ensure deniability by promoting local organizations which seem to draw their angst from purely local causes and have a highly localized narrative. Global Jihadi corporate organizations based in Pakistan are not viable any more in the current altered context hence the ISI’s support for local extremist organizations like the Indian Mujahideen.

Indian Mujahideen (IM)

The Indian Mujahideen is an offshoot of the SIMI. Mazbul Haq of the SIMI wanted to adopt the route of political activism. Safdar Nagori had broken away from this organization and formed the IM. His right hand men were Bashir and Abdur Subhom Quereshi @ Tauquir (a software expert from Mumbai). After Nagori’s arrest, Bashir became the Jimmewar and Tauquir became the Ansar or General Secretary of the IM.

The ISI seems to have closely analysed its own experience in the South Asian context and has made logical adjustments.

Training Camps In the year 2007 a series of training camps were held in various forest locations in India where Pakistani trained activists imparted training to the IM cadres in the manufacture Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) from locally available material like Ammonium Nitrate (used in fertilizers) and Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) for mass casualty actions. Though not as powerful as Service RDX or Plastic Explosives, these, when used in multiple strikes, could create mayhem and panic. Non use of RDX or Plastic Explosives obviated the need for logistics support networks from across the border and ensured deniability for the ISI. Camps were held in the year 2007/08 as under:-

  • Apr 07 Three camps were held at Castle Rock near Hubli.
  • Aug 07 One camp held at Dharwad District near Karnatak.
  • Nov 07 Camp held at Charol near Indore.
  • Dec 07 Camp at Nagaman jungles in Kerala
  • Jan 08 Camp in Pawagarh jungles near Vadodra.

Instead of camps run by Jihadi Tanzeems in Afghanistan or POK, these camps are being organized in remote jungles within Indian territory. The entire enterprise is far more sophisticated and professional and in text book covert action style, ensures deniability by using local agents and localized narratives. Tracing their antecedents and support back to the ISI will be increasingly difficult because the logistical footprint of AK-47s, RDX and Plastic Explosives or other sophisticated equipment is simply not there. What is even more significant is that there are no electronic signatures. These new set of terrorists do not use citizen band radio sets, or even cellular phones but make sophisticated use of the Inter net or just face to face communications. The lessons learnt by Al Quaida in the last few years are fully evident in the new modus operandi of the IM. We are now dealing with a new phase of Jihadi terrorism in India. It has not happened overnight but was for one year in the making. The ISI has fully ingested its lessons of the earlier campaigns in J&K and the rest of India. What we are now witnessing is the effectiveness of the changed tactics.

Editor’s Pick

The former Jihadi triumphalism has now been replaced by a far more sophisticated professionalism. Our Intelligence agencies will increasingly have to place far greater reliance on human intelligence and monitoring the Internet and change their tactics to respond to this new genre of terrorism with a home grown veneer.

Intifada Phase in J&K The recent shifts in tactical and operating patterns of the ISI stem from the lessons learnt so far in the global war against terror. The ISI seems to have closely analysed its own experience in the South Asian context and has made logical adjustments.

Though heavy snowfall caused seasonal damage to the fencing north of the Pir Panjal, it could not reduce the tactical efficacy of the Night Vision equipment.

In J&K, the terrorists tactical rhythm was totally disrupted by the Fence and associated transparency measures which, created a mini revolution in tactical affairs and severely curtailed infiltration. Though heavy snowfall caused seasonal damage to the fencing north of the Pir Panjal, it could not reduce the tactical efficacy of the Night Vision equipment. As such the ISI realized that the Terrorist Tanzeems had more or less lost the battle.

This has led to a deft shift in tactical emphasis. Obviously the Tanzeems themselves have been closely studying the Iraqi, Hamas and Palestinian models. The Tehrik0-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e- Muhammad (TNSM) of the NWFP thus engaged itself in a big way in relief and rehabilitation work in the wake of the earthquake in POK. This was mirrored on the Hamas model in Lebanon. In J&K per se, what we are witnessing is a clear shift in strategy from armed insurrection to an Intifada style mass mobilization and large scale agitation. These are patently based upon communal mobilization and use Friday prayer congregations to effect such mobilization and generate mass hysteria by blowing local emotive causes out of all proportion. These tend to exploit the emotional volatility of the Kashmiri population. From the psychological standpoint emotions in Kashmir tend to be intense. However this emotional intensity can not be sustained for long durations (as opposed to emotional depth phenomenon which can smolder for decades). What a secular state must prevent firmly is a blatant communalization of the agenda. What is at stake in J&K is the very ideological basis of the Indian state. There can be no compromise on this vital issue.

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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

Maj Gen GD Bakshi, (Retd)

is a war Veteran and Strategic Analyst.

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2 thoughts on “Tactical Shifts in the Terror Profile

  1. The write up gives an insight of the grave condition that has troubled the Indian citizens for more than two decades. I am astounded that there’s no other comment available. Are we so much busy going through other things that the real trouble doesn’t troubles us.

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