Home > Opinion
  print button email button

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The international terror lab


NEW DELHI -- The July 7 London bombings, suspected to be the handiwork of British citizens of Pakistani origin, should serve as a reminder that major acts of international terrorism have first been tried out by Islamists in India before being replicated in the West. Such acts include attacks on symbols of state authority, midair bombing of a commercial jetliner and coordinated strikes on a city transportation system.

India, in fact, is a sort of laboratory where major acts of terror are experimented. Once honed, the acts are then carried out in democracies elsewhere. The jihadist logic is that if India, the world's largest democracy, can be shaken, so can Western democracies.

This suggests that by paying close attention to evolving patterns of terrorism in India, the West may be in a position to anticipate or forestall terror strikes by being better prepared to deal with new terrorist methods.

With terror strikes against Indian targets not receiving the same international media coverage as attacks on Western entities, not many realize that India is a leading victim of international terrorism. Indeed, new methodology employed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's Office of Terrorism Analysis shows India with the dubious distinction of having the highest number of terrorist incidents.

Many in the world have heard about the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, but few know that it replicated the midair bombing over the Atlantic of an Air-India commercial flight from Canada in 1985. The same Air-India bombing technique was also used in the 1989 Libyan-orchestrated attack on a UTA jetliner, which blew up in midair over the Sahara.

The 1993 Bombay bombings have served as a model act of mass terror to jihadists across the world. Hundreds of people were killed inside high-rise buildings in Bombay in a terror campaign that targeted India's financial institutions in a bid to disrupt the economy.

The Bombay bombings, as the Indian defense minister recently said, were "eerily similar in modus operandi and targets to 9/11 in their synchronized, serial character and targeting of state and economic symbols."

Parallels have also emerged between the 1999 hijacking to Kandahar, Afghanistan, of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 and the 9/11 suicide hijackings in the United States, including the similar use of box-cutters and the terrorists' knowledge of cockpit systems. Long before the London and Madrid bombings, terrorists in India had staged coordinated attacks on city trains and buses.

While terrorists in the West continue to prefer "soft" targets, such as businesses, public facilities and tourist sites, the emerging patterns of terror in India show that Islamic extremists are progressing from hit-and-run attacks to daring, suicide assaults on heavily fortified military camps, government buildings and national emblems of power, such as Parliament and the 17th-century Red Fort.

On the eve of the London bombings, five gunmen suspected of belonging to a Pakistan-based terrorist group stormed one of India's most heavily guarded places -- a makeshift Hindu temple at a disputed religious site in Ayodhya -- and breached its security perimeter before being killed by paramilitary police.

If past parallels can be a guide, the West needs to brace up to the possibility of emboldened terrorists carrying out India-style frontal attacks on key economic, political and defense institutions.

India, however, has to blame itself for becoming a growing target of Islamic radicals. India's soft response to terrorism has only encouraged terrorists and their sponsors over the years.

If any state strikes deals with terrorists, it not only promotes stepped-up terrorism against its own interests but also creates problems for other nations. A classic case is India's ignominious caving in on Dec. 31, 1999, to the demands of hijackers holding passengers aboard an Indian commercial jetliner at the terrorists' lair, Kandahar.

It was a surrender unparalleled in modern world history: The Indian foreign minister personally chaperoned three jailed terrorists to freedom in a special aircraft, delivering them to their waiting comrades at Kandahar airport. This act, on the eve of the new millennium, capped a series of Indian mistakes and has exacted unending costs.

One freed terrorist hand-delivered by the Indian foreign minister is the suspected financier of Mohammed Atta, the alleged ringleader in the 9/11 strikes. Ahmed Omar Sheik, a British citizen of Pakistani descent, also orchestrated the 2002 kidnapping-murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.

The other two released men formed separate Pakistan-based terrorist groups that have since carried out numerous attacks in India, including the December 2001 strike on the Indian Parliament.

Exactly a decade before the Kandahar surrender, India spurred the rise of bloody terrorist violence in Kashmir by capitulating to the demands of abductors of the Indian interior minister's daughter.

Terrorists see India as a soft target because it imposes no costs on them and their sponsors. Although the problem of terrorism in India has worsened since the 1980s, it continues to be treated largely as a law-and-order issue.

Each time there is a major terrorist attack, New Delhi promises to send more security forces to the area. To treat terrorism as a law-and-order problem is to do what the terrorists want -- sap your strength. No amount of security can stop terrorism if the nation is reluctant to go after terrorist cells and networks and those that harbor terrorists.

No Americans have been killed by terrorists in the United States since after 9/11 because the U.S. military has gone after terrorists overseas, despite the Iraq invasion serving as a recruiting boon to the al-Qaeda.

India, by contrast, has suffered its biggest terrorist strikes since 9/11. This is because it lacks a strategy to counter threats from qualitatively escalating terrorism, other than to talk peace with Pakistan, still the main sanctuary of al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the private Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.


Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.