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The rise of fiscal terror

Sudhir Saxena was a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi
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  • March 25, 2005

    By targetting the IT industry, terrorists are revealing that the Indian economy may increasingly be their target

    The elimination of the Delhi based Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) cell on 6 March 2005, could possibly indicate a new trend in Pakistan-based terror operations in India. Preliminary reports indicate that these terrorists were intending to strike against the Indian Military Academy (IMA) and the IT infrastructure especially in Bangalore using the network of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). A couple of issues emerge from the episode. First, is this an indication of widening of the area of operations by the LeT and similar groups away from Jammu and Kashmir and North India to relatively un-touched peninsular India? Secondly, do the plans of the captured terrorist suggest a change in the nature of targets from tactical to strategic, indicating increasing complexity of conceptual planning and hence institutional involvement?

    Jammu and Kashmir is undergoing a rather harsh and prolonged winter snow fall season. Like the tsunami, unpredictable mother nature seems to have purged any possibility of an escalation of terrorist activity. Further, the Indo-Pak Composite Dialogue Process (CDP) process (agreed to in January 2004) has shrunk the political space for high-intensity, high-frequency terror operations. It is quite possible that the political and geo-climactic factors may have forced the terrorists to shift areas of operation southwards and if possible perform a repeat of the 12/13 attack on the Parliament. Though, there have been sporadic incidents involving J&K terrorist (like LeT) operating in areas like Hyderabad, the phenomenon could not be termed as wide spread, possibly due to logistical reasons. The planned future intentions of the LeT cell captured in Delhi may indicate just such a spread.

    The choice of targets certainly raises a new warning. It is known that the IT industry has been one of the success stories contributing to the growing vitality of the Indian economy. The amount of RDX captured (10.5 kgs along with detonators) provides clues to the nature and explosive power of the planned operation. However, a pertinent question needs to be answered - was blowing up few buildings of the Polaris company the only aim of the now failed operation, or was there a larger objective? A strike against a leading IT company and its aftermath would have no doubt lead to many tactical counter-operational and intelligence measures. But it would have also left a certain wariness in the investor market, particularly in the FDI sector, which is very sensitive about security of its assets give the experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and certain African locations. A planned strike at IMA, Dehradun is indicative of similar operations by the Zarqawi group in Iraq.

    As a first choice, the facts point towards the culprit state actor - Pakistan. The Delhi police has claimed that with the capture of Pakistani nationals along with incriminating documents, passports, the operation provides direct evidence of Pakistani involvement in country wide terrorist activity. Recent media reports also indicate a relative increase in the arrests of Pakistani spies in Delhi and other areas of strategic importance. The information being traded by these enemy agents cover a range of issues of national security importance including defence installations, industrial infrastructure, R&D institutions etc. It seems that despite the Indo-Pak dialogue, increasing people-to-people contact, cricket matches and CBMs, Pakistani intelligence agencies and/or Pakistan leadership does not intend to lose that vital strategic advantage gained through terror leverages mustered over the decades. From their point of view it sounds to be a logical and viable state-craft option.

    To extend the analysis, if one partially absolves Musharraf’s Pakistan of an all out covert war in the current context, involvement of a larger terrorist entity like the Al Qaeda with rogue Pakistani support seems to be the second probability. Traditionally, analysts have believed that India does not appear high on the Al Qaeda’s priority list. Possibly, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Gaza, West Bank and the USA remain the priority targets. An increasing pressure in North West Pakistan by the US and Pakistani agencies (under duress), may be forcing Al Qaeda hierarchy to look for other alternatives as an operational exigency. It is known that Nepal and Bangladesh have been comfortable hiding places for terrorists for some time now.

    However, Nepal with its current political crisis and Bangladesh with its politico-religious configuration of governance have invited increasing international scrutiny. Bangladesh has actually started responding to the Indian pressure to clean-up its territory of terrorist elements. This could be uncomfortable for the terrorist entities either residing in these countries or operating from their soil. It needs little elaboration that Pakistani agencies are also under ‘‘friendly’’ obligation to rehabilitate these old associates in a productive manner.

    In the past Al Qaeda had possibly left J&K to its junior partners like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Hizbul and Harkat variants. However, under the present circumstances, the ‘‘big guys’’ may be deciding to drop-in and take charge of operations in India, though not directly. This may explain the strategic target selection by the terrorist captured in Delhi. It is known that Al Qaeda had developed an elaborate strategy of purging the US economy through various complicated ‘‘fiscal attacks’’ ranging from disrupting fund supplies to targeting banking infrastructure and stock market mechanism. Was something similar under planning in case of the LeT cadres operating out of Delhi?

    It does seems obvious that in both scenarios, the first beneficiary of such a wide planned terror act will be Pakistan. As a secondary effect, Al Qaeda gains will be at present limited to the larger jihadi success in the region. It is natural to be alarmist in threat assessment and probably safer as well, but given the past history of the involvement of Pakistan backed terror syndicates in attacking the Indian state and society, it is difficult to ignore the aforementioned possibilities. We may not have the colour code threat indicators as yet, but the terror bar seems to be showing spikes and presumably the Indian security establishment would have raised these concerns with Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Delhi.