It didn’t start in 1988

A brief review of Praveen Swami’s “India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in Kashmir, 1947-2004“, first published in the November 2008 issue of Pragati

A retired senior police officer complained to Bahukutumbi Raman, a former intelligence officer and prolific commentator, that intelligence agencies and police show a greater readiness to share their information with Praveen Swami, than with each other. And that “we all wait for his columns in The Hindu to know what information other agencies and the police of other States have.” That is as much an indictment of the internal security set-up as it is a compliment to Mr Swami. Those familiar with Mr Swami’s reportage will know that some of India’s best writings on terrorism and internal security come from his MacBook.

So it is a mystery why the publishers of India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The covert war in Kashmir, 1947-2004, a book Mr Swami wrote in 2006 did not adequately market it in India at a price that ordinary readers could afford. The paperback edition is now available in bookstores, but you won’t know it until you ask for it. (Update: It’s a little more widely available now). That’s a real shame because Secret Jihad is the one book on the issue in Jammu & Kashmir that everyone should read.

If it reads like a spy thriller, it is because it is one. In just over 200 pages of engaging prose, Mr Swami demonstrates that contrary to what most people think (and India’s median age is around twenty-five) the troubles in Jammu & Kashmir didn’t start in the late 1980s, after an infamously rigged election. Rather, as the introduction to the book says “a welter of jihadist groups waged a sustained campaign against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir from the outset, after the Partition of India.” Mr Swami’s narrative takes the reader back to the days of the Master Cell and Al- Fatah—entities that appear quaint by today’s standards—and their subsequent evolution into and inspiration of terrorist organisations that exist in contemporary times.

Similarly, Mr Swami reveals the now-in, now-out relationship of the state’s major political parties with Islamist and Kashmiri-nationalist ideologies, and the reader arrives at the inevitable conclusion that for all the paeans celebrating Kashmiriyat, secularism has always been less than skin-deep in Kashmiri separatist politics.
To the extent Secret Jihad relies on sources from within India’s internal security establishment, it largely illuminates only one side of the war. Mr Swami admits this himself, conceding that Pakistan’s secret archives, if they exist at all, are necessary to improve the completeness of the account. But even so, Mr Swami’s book joins Chandrashekar Dasgupta’s War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48 as an indispensable book for anyone seeking a well-researched and readable account of the Kashmir issue. Secret Jihad ends in 2004 but the secret jihad continues. An updated edition, or better still, a sequel, is in order.

Related Link: Saurabh Chandra has a brief history of events, in today’s DNA. 

What’s worse than being attacked by jihadi terrorists?

…receiving bizarre emails from them

The ‘Indian Mujahideen’ have sent an email, from a UK domain, claiming responsibility for carrying out the attacks in Jaipur. They have provided enough details, including the chassis number of one bicycle and video clips of others, that suggest that it’s not a hoax.

So what else do they have to say?

“India should stop supporting the US in the international arena, “and if you do continue then get ready to face more attacks at other important tourist places…

Jaipur has been chosen to blow up your tourism structure….

…this is a clear warning to you (the US and the UK)…Don’t send your people to India and if you do so then you people will be welcomed by our suicide attackers.” [IE]

First, the principal demand is too general to be credible. It appears more like a fashionable, polemical justification of the attacks rather than an attempt to put up political demands.

Second, a group that calls itself the ‘Indian Mujahideen’ refers to India’s ‘tourism structure’ in the second person. Freudian slip?

Third, the location and timing of the bombings clearly were meant to kill local people (although a certain famous Australian hanging out in hundreds of miles away in Goa was duly scared). So trying to warn the United States and Britain by killing Indians is a rather indirect way of going about it, especially because al-Qaeda related outfits have preferred more direct methods.

The email message may well have come from the real perpetrators but is almost certainly designed to mislead public opinion. Those with the capacity to carry out coordinated bombings should also be smart enough to know that such attacks can’t imaginably cause broad changes in foreign policy. The claim that this was an attack on the tourism industry would have been more credible if tourists or foreigners were the principal targets. In all likelihood, therefore, the content of this email is a red herring.

The email came out of the same cybercafe outside New Delhi that was used to claim responsibility for the earlier attacks on Varanasi. That shows a level of brazenness. In November 2007, the ‘Indian Mujahideen’ claimed that they were retaliating against the injustice to Muslims in India, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat riots; and also because lawyers beat up the suspects. The ‘Indian Mujahideen’, if it is to be taken at its word, appears to be a rather confused organisation.

Behind the timing of the Jaipur bombings

Why did terrorists carry out attacks in Jaipur yesterday?

Some hypotheses:

1. It’s just part of a long series. They struck when they were ready. Tactically, they set the bombs off on a day and at a time when they would do maximum damage. The venues were chosen to have another go at the “communal fabric”. The weakness of this argument is that by now, everyone knows that they are attempting to spark the communal tinder, and hence, are unlikely to allow it to spark.

2. Like B Raman has argued, the bombing was related to the tenth anniversary of Pokhran-II. That’s why they chose Rajasthan state. This was their way of sending a message that “you might have nukes, but you can’t stop us”. Such a message would be strategically pointless, because everyone knows that. Just like everyone knows that nuclear weapons have not stopped Naxalites, rapists, snatch thieves or drug smugglers either.

3. The bombing is related to the coming round of foreign minister level talks between India and Pakistan, scheduled for next week. It is aimed at disrupting the ‘peace process’. This works to the Pakistan’s disadvantage though, putting Islamabad on the defensive. (Going one level deeper, this might be the ISI’s way to put pressure on the uppity civilian government). But terrorists should surely know that India is unlikely to call off the talks, the prevailing mantra being “we won’t let terrorists disrupt the peace process”.

4. The bombing is related to elections in India. Al Qaeda, for instance, did this at Madrid. But the blasts are too far away from any election to make an electoral difference.

5. It’s back to the bad old days of Pakistan: border firing, infiltration in Jammu & Kashmir, escalation of jihad elsewhere in India. The new civilian government is the good cop and has plausible deniability, and the ISI/Army establishment is the bad cop. It’s a plausible explanation, but it’s a bit too early for this routine to start. One possible explanation is that Pervez Musharraf is demonstrating his usefulness. And he needs to demonstrate his usefulness to Washington for reasons of job security.

6. From an entirely different angle: they were meant to disrupt Indian Premier League cricket. It has already spooked Shane Warne, who plays for Rajasthan, was hundreds of miles away in Goa when the bombings occurred, but is considering the “real option of getting on the plane and getting out of here”.

7. SIMI and its related outfits were demonstrating that despite recent arrests of some of their leading operatives, their organisation and capabilities are intact.

Any more?

Update: Praveen Swami’s report supports hypothesis five

Jaipur attacked

And the fork in the road

A series of bomb blasts killed 80 people in Jaipur. According to the Times of India this is the 21st attack by Islamist terrorists in the last three years.

Here’s what it means: that we will just have to ‘live’ with this new threat to life. Or that we will take the battle to the terrorists.

On Pakistani passports

Cross-border terrorism, directed northwards

The terrorists were travelling on Pakistani passports. They may have been locals, but trained in jihadi training camps across the border. The mastermind is suspected to be a Pakistani national. The plan was to bring down an commercial airliner flying from the restive separatist region to the national capital by igniting gasoline hidden in soft-drink cans.

Sounds familiar? Well, this is the story of China Southern Airlines flight CZ6901 from Urumqi in Xinjiang to Beijing. The two terrorists on flight were arrested when they failed to set the bombs off, and were overpowered by the crew. And according to some reports the Pakistani national who masterminded this plot is at large. According to others, the third was arrested in a week and has confessed to the crime.

China has not officially revealed the link to Pakistan, perhaps not to unnecessarily embarrass its ally in public. It does not need to. General Musharraf is perhaps already sweating. A crackdown against jihadis is on the cards. It’s not as if Pakistan’s new prime minister needed this.

Related Link: A Chinese journalist’s account of eyewitness accounts and censorship. (via Violent Eclipse)