There is considerable commotion about the R&AW and IB warnings of threat to South India by the LeT off the coast of Sri Lanka. Last year, Daniel Benjamin, US Ambassador at Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism had stated that LeT was a threat to South Asia. Concurrently, Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Foundation was more direct in pointing out, “The only reasonable objectives for the United States is the permanent evisceration of LeT and other vicious South Asian terrorist groups – with Pakistani cooperation if possible, but without it if necessary.” But the question remains whether the US would want to do so in the first place, especially in case of the LeT who it never targeted and will continue not to target unless mainland US is threatened. The US-Pakistan understanding that US drone strikes would not target the LeT is no more a secret. Moreover, US-Saudi Arabia relations, as well as Chinese support, have ensured that Pakistan remains untouched, retaining its pre-eminence as the frontline Sunni Muslim terrorist state replete with nuclear weapons as the vanguard of global jihad, both US and China believing that their countries would not be affected.
Ironically, the Popular Front of India (PFI) is still not included in the banned list of terrorist organisations in India because of regional politics.
Coming back to the threat to South India, the LeT threat should have been envisaged years back. First, the LeT was raised specifically to target India not J&K alone. Second, MK Dhar, former Joint Director, Intelligence Bureau wrote in his book ‘Open Secrets – India’s Intelligence Unveiled’ that way back in 1992-93, the process of transplanting armed modules in the heartland of India by Pakistan had started takingcognisable shape and that some of these cells were identified in ten different states spanning the length and breadth of India including the states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra, and that volunteers from all these states were being sent to Pakistan for training with Mujahidin, Taliban and Al Qaeda. It is but natural that these transplanted armed modules had elements of LeT, if not fully comprising LeT cadres. Third, most importantly, media reports citing R&AW and IB sources have been bringing out that the Kerala Headquartered Popular Front of India (PFI) that picked up arms against the Indian State four years back was formed on behest of Al Qaeda and LeT, whose footprints have been in Kerala since long. Two years back, four of the LeT trained PFI cadres were apprehended in Kupwara, in Northern Kashmir, trying to cross over to POK. Ironically, the PFI is still not included in the banned list of terrorist organisations in India because of regional politics.
It is no secret that while the IPKF was fighting in Sri Lanka, the then government of Tamil Nadu was labeling the Indian Army “Traitors”. There were no state officials to receive the soldiers when the IPKF eventually pulled out. This is another example of regional politics overshadowing counterterrorism efforts. Not for very different reasons the recently released feature film ‘Madras Café’ is banned in Tamil Nadu. It is well known that it was the ISI that organised the training in mines/IEDs/explosives for the core group of Indian Maoists through the LTTE that the Maoists are using to good effect. This would have not been possible without some supporting elements embedded in South India. The fact that terrorists during 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks had some links, however small, within India is apparent. While interlinking of terrorist organisations nationally, regionally and globally is known, the ISI-LeT-Al Qaeda-Taliban links are well established and proven. In the heydays of the LTTE, Al Qaeda is known to have sent a batch of their cadres for training with the sea wing of the LTTE. This training enabled Al Qaeda in mounting the attack on USS Cole. Why would the LeT-Al Qaeda not then nurture their LeT links and establish launch pads in Northern Sri Lanka?
…it was brought out that weapons are coming in by sea, mostly off the Andhra coast to augment the Maoist arsenal.
The terrorist attack during 26/11 was mounted by sea, the warning for which had reportedly come earlier but the significance of which was lost out somewhere along the line. As per intelligence reports, Al Qaeda had actually planned such an attack couple of months earlier against Manhattan including targeting the UN headquarters but the CIA reportedly got wind of it having infiltrated Al Qaeda. The expertise with Al Qaeda-LeT to mount such attacks by sea already exists and training must be in full swing as part of the ‘Karachi Project’ under aegis of ISI though Pakistan denies existence of this project. Additionally, ISI-LeT links with Somali pirates and availability of their trawlers and boats aside from numerous other vessels floating in the waters makes movement easy. The fact that considerable drugs are coming into India by sea is also known, protected by the underworld and drug mafia. In a recent seminar on Maoist insurgency, it was brought out that weapons are coming in by sea, mostly off the Andhra coast to augment the Maoist arsenal.
But then while assessing the terrorist threat to South India by sea, it would be a mistake to only look at Sri Lanka and Karachi. Maldivian Defence Forces are increasingly concerned about the radicalisation of their country. Maldivian youth have been frequenting Pakistan for training with LeT since 2005, drugs have been flowing in, there are very visible signs of radicalisation on the streets and there is no guessing how many arms are coming in illegally through porous borders from the waters surrounding the island nation. Radical groups have been vocal in recent years. President Waheed’s silent coup was undertaken with the help of Islamic radicals, not that the former President does not seek support from all population including radicals. More significantly, former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem was vocal in saying, “What we had was a military coup backed by religious extremists. There is a strong influence of Islamic fundamentalists in the country and they will get stronger…. These groups are funded from abroad. This threat is not only to us, but the rest of the world as well.” Of concern should also be the anti-India wave that is being fanned by Islamist radicals, possibly orchestrated from Islamabad. Vulnerability of Maldives lies in its 77,000 plus foreign employees and 33,000 plus illegal migrants – an ideal setting for infiltration by Al Qaeda, LeT and other terrorist organisations, which would have happened in certain measure already, with potential terrorists havens facilitated by over 1000 uninhabited islands.
We are unlikely to get any external support besides sporadic intelligence inputs.
LeT threat to South India, therefore, is from off the coast of Sri Lanka, off the coast of Maldives and from within India – a triple whammy manipulated by Pakistan. We are unlikely to get any external support besides sporadic intelligence inputs. There is no alternative but to fight the scourge ourselves. Unless we can rectify our vital asymmetric disadvantage vis-à-vis Pakistan and China in terms of sub conventional capabilities that we have ironically permitted to enlarge, we are unlikely to be able to cope with such threats. This is the reality of the 21st Century that India needs to realise.