For the past two decades India has faced, virtually on its own, challenges posed by terrorism sponsored from across its borders. These challenges have arisen primarily because of the propensity of Pakistan’s rulers and particularly its military establishment to use radical Islamic Groups earlier involved in the “Jihad” against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, to unleash violence in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India. The propensity to use these groups in India was originally restricted to Pakistani territorial ambitions in Jammu and Kashmir. It, however, soon spread to acts of terrorism across India. The first major attack sponsored by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence in a Metropolitan City in India, was a series of bomb blasts triggered across Mumbai in March 1993. Interestingly, this attack came in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Centre bombing on February 26, 1993.
While the World Trade Centre bombing was executed by Al Qaeda terrorist Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the Mumbai bomb blasts were carried out by Indian Mafia Don Dawood Ebrahim, with logistical and arms support and instigation from the ISI. Ebrahim is now resident in Karachi and has been declared a fugitive by the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI, for his involvement in drug smuggling and his links with the Al Qaeda. The links between the perpetrators of the two 1993 terrorist attacks became clear when Osama bin Laden announced the formation of the “International Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders” in Kandahar in February 1998. This Front brought together the Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and radical Islamic groups from Chechnya and across the Arab world. Also affiliated with this Front were radical Pakistani groups like the Lashkar e Taiba and the Jaish e Mohammed.
These Pakistani groups, known to have close ties with the ISI, were and remain predominantly India centric, but have made common cause with the Taliban and Al Qaeda and have operated in Afghanistan also. Operation “Enduring Freedom” was launched in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It failed to destroy the constituents of Osama bin Laden’s international Islamic Front. The operation only succeeded in dispersing terrorist groups, with the Al Qaeda and its Chechen and Uzbek affiliates finding shelter in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the entire Taliban political leadership led by Mullah Omar shifting to Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province. The hardcore military cadres of the Afghan Taliban, under the leadership of military commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, now operate from the tribal agency of North Waziristan, in Pakistan. It is this Taliban leadership that has inflicted maximum casualties and damage on American led NATO forces in Afghanistan.
It is also this leadership that has been responsible for attacks on Indian construction teams and on the Indian Missions in Kabul and Kandahar, in Afghanistan. It is now known and privately acknowledged in Washington, Kabul and indeed across the world, that the Haqqani network functions with the assistance and support of Pakistan’s military establishment. Not surprisingly, the Chairman of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen recently asserted that the entire Pakistan- Afghanistan border region is “the epicentre of global terrorism” Almost immediately after the 9/11 terrorist strikes came the terrorist attack on India’s Parliament on December 13, 2001. The attack was planned and executed by the Pakistani terrorist group the Jaish e Mohammed. The attack on India’s Parliament escalated tensions and a dialogue was resumed between the two countries only after President Musharraf explicitly assured Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that “territory under Pakistan’s control” would not be used for terrorism against India.
While there were some terrorist attacks even after the assurance given by President Musharraf, in places like Ayodhya, Varanasi, Bengaluru and Mumbai, it was difficult to establish conclusively that the attacks were planned and executed by Pakistani Official Agencies, though there was evidence that the attacks were carried out by Indian assets of the ISI and supported from across the border. But, things worsened after the exit of President Musharraf and the establishment of a weak Government in Islamabad, led by President Zardari, confronted by an assertive Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who appears determined to revert to a policy of not only escalating terrorist strikes against India and attacking Indian interests in Afghanistan, but also in stepping up assistance to pro- Taliban groups in Afghanistan.
Even as Pakistan itself descends into increasing chaos, marked by religious intolerance and attempts to violently silence voices of moderation and overawe civil society groups calling for an end to extremism, it appears evident that under General Kayani’s stewardship, the Pakistan army is set to continue its policies of aiding extremist groups operating against US forces in Afghanistan and pledged to promoting terrorist violence against India. Despite protestations to the contrary, it is evident that the Pakistan military establishment will not allow the masterminds and planners of the Mumbai terrorist attack of December 26, 2008 to be brought to justice. The purveyors of hate against moderates within Pakistan are gaining ground and show no sign of relenting in their efforts to foster terrorism against India. They are equally determined to fan the flames of anti-Americanism across the Muslim world and work for the return of the Taliban to the portals of power in Afghanistan.
Diplomatically, India has sought to sensitise world opinion to the dangers posed by these developments within Pakistan. Much will depend on how the US and its allies who provide Pakistan with the bulk of it s economic military assistance respond. There is no sign that the international community has as yet devised coherent strategies on how to deal with the emerging situation. As far as India is concerned, it is not a question of whether, but when, the next terrorist attack, planned and executed from across its borders, occurs. Ever since the Mumbai terrorist outrage of 26/11 occurred, India has attempted to streamline its intelligence apparatus and sought to get State Police Forces and Central forces better equipped to expeditiously respond to terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, not all State Governments have equipped or trained their forces adequately. The need of the hour is to get the international community to persuade Pakistan’s military establishment that any future terrorist attack on India like the attack of 26/11 on Mumbai would have serious and unpredictable consequences.
—The author is a distinguished diplomat and he is on the advisory board of SWI