Lahore ‘Cricket’ attack may mark a shift in Pakistan

4 03 2009

Source: Asia Times

By Syed Saleem Shahzad, March 04, 2009.

KARACHI – Pakistan might recently have signed peace deals with militants in its tribal areas, including with vehement anti-establishment Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, but militants on Tuesday staged a brazen attack in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province and the second-largest city in the country.

The attack by 12 heavily armed gunmen on a convoy escorted by police transporting Sri Lankan cricketers to a match against Pakistan has set off alarm bells in the capital Islamabad that militants are now taking their battle into major urban centres.

At least five people died and six of the cricketers were injured in a 25-minute battle in which militants wearing backpacks and carrying AK-47s, rockets and grenades fought police. The assailants then all fled. The Sri Lankan cricketers have called off their tour and are heading home immediately.

The attack bore some similarity to that of 10 well-armed gunmen, also with backpacks, who rampaged through Mumbai in India last November, killing 140 people. They were later found to have connections to the banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“This was a planned terrorist attack. They had heavy weapons,” Salman Taseer, who heads the provincial government as governor of Punjab, was reported as saying. “These were the same methods and the same sort of people as hit Mumbai.”

Numerous Pakistani analysts have been quick to point a finger at India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for staging what they say is a tit-for-tat attack on Tuesday, although there is been no official announcement in this connection.

A press attache at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Islamabad thought it highly unlikely that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who a waging a bloody separatist war in Sri Lanka, had anything to do with Tuesday’s events.

Rather, judging by what was shown on Pakistani television, the attack is the hallmark of those that were waged by militants (many of them Punjabi) against Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir up until a few years ago. They were trained by the Indian cell of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

In 2005-06, these militants joined forces with the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan resistance after Pakistan closed down their training camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, a move that changed the dynamics of the war theater in the region. Beside the Mumbai attack, Tuesday’s assault was similar to the storming of the Serena Hotel in the Afghan capital of Kabul in January 2008 and the unsuccessful July 2008 attack on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. In all of these incidents, the attackers abandoned their weapons and quickly melted into a thickly populated area of the city where, apparently, they were whisked away by waiting colleagues.

Retired Lieutenant General Hamid Nawaz, a former interim minister the Interior and a close aide of former president General Pervez Musharraf, commented to Asia Times Online, “This proves that striking peace deals [with militants] will not serve any purpose and there is a need to handle them with iron hands. I blame the government for negligence.

“Providing a single elite police commando bus was not enough. They should have been provided VIP [very important people] security like the state provides for governors and chief ministers. Traffic should have been blocked on their route,” Nawaz said.

Former Pakistani cricketer Zaheer Abbas said, “I am not a politician to comment on who was behind it, but it has damaged Pakistani cricket very badly. I don’t understand why anybody would target Sri Lankans because they don’t have any role in the region. There might be some forces who want to damage the cause of Pakistan and Pakistani cricket.”

Possible attackers

Pakistani analysts, including retired General Hamid Gul, who is a former head of the ISI, blame India’s RAW.

However, there is no precedence for RAW having the capability to carry out such attacks in Pakistan. Its operations in Pakistan have been of two kinds, according to the records of Pakistani security agencies, documented in files and books narrated by their retired officials:

Small bomb blasts in urban centres.

The use of Indophile political parties such as the Awami League in 1970, the Pashtun sub-nationalist Awami National Party, the Baloch separatist group the Baloch Libration Army and the Muttehida Quami Movement.

However, these parties were always used in a limited political context. For creating a law-and-order situation in the country, RAW has always used bomb blasts and other small-level sabotage activities. It has never had the capacity, like the ISI had in India, to use armed groups to carry out guerrilla activities in Pakistan.

More pertinent is to view Tuesday’s attack in the context of the peace deals in the Swat Valley and the tribal areas which have stopped the fighting between ethnic Pashtun-dominated militants and the Pakistani army.

Prior to the signing of the deals, the matter of the release of militants who did not belong to the Swat area was raised, that is, non-Pashtun militants. These included Maulana Abdul Aziz, who was apprehended while trying to flee the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad in July 2007.

However, after deciding on the level of compensation packages for the families of militants killed or injured by the security forces and other matters related to Swat and the tribal areas, the matter of non-Pashtun militants was deferred and the peace agreements were signed.

In effect, non-Pashtun militants have been ignored and the attack in Lahore could be a bloody message to the government that the “Punjabi militants” have the capacity to cripple urban centres at any time and place of their choosing.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com






THE TERRORIST – Weaponary

31 12 2008

Source: India today

AK-47 and variants

The terrorist operation in Mumbai was a confluence of time-tested tactics, ruthless ingenuity and accessories

The terrorist operation in Mumbai was a confluence of time-tested tactics, ruthless ingenuity and accessories

The weapon,patented by Mikhail Kalashnikov in the year of India’s independence is available for as little as Rs 5,000, or the cost of a midlevel mobile phone, in Peshawar.

The AK-47 and its variants—the largest produced weapon in history—are the weapons of choice for terrorists.

It is rugged, compact and effective and boasts of a very high rate of fire. Can fire after being dragged through mud or soaked in water. The Chinese clone, the Type-56 which in an Indianism is called the AK-56, varies only slightly from the Russian original.

This is one of the most proliferated weapons. It takes months of training and thousand of rounds of practice to be able to wield this weapon with ease. A seasoned terrorist, for a speedy reload, always tapes a spare magazine to his AK-47.

Rucksack

From the four fidayeen who attacked Parliament to Kasab and his group, the ubiquitous haversack—stuffed with arms, ammunition and yes, dry fruits—has been the carrier of choice.

COMMUNICATION

Rapid advances in technology have given terrorists secure communication.

Satellite Phone
For close to a decade the satellite phone has been di rigueur for terrorists operating in India. It is similar to a cellular telephone, except that it bounces its signal off orbiting satellites and offers users hassle-free communication across the globe. After Indian intelligence agencies started monitoring satphones—remember General Musharraf’s self-congratulatory conversation with his deputy—terrorists kept scaling the technology ladder. First, the senior brass, now the lower ranks too, of the Lashkare-Toiba (LeT) use Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) phones—the equivalent of 3G mobile phones which India cannot intercept. BGAN service provider Inmarsat’s gateway is located in the UK which again makes it difficult to access intercepts.

Blackberry
Terrorists at the Taj kept in touch with their Karachi handlers through Blackberries just because it uses 256-bit encryption technology, which is difficult to crack. Even its Canadabased makers claim they cannot decode mails sent using their technology.

Grameen phone
Bangladesh’s Grameen phone made technology accessible to the common man. Based on a non-standard GSM technology which cannot be monitored, the poor man’s phone is in use by the ULFA and NSCN, becoming a major headache for Indian agencies.

Internet telephony
The voice over internet protocol (VOIP) phone which too cannot be monitored uses technology like Skype and allows internet telephony.

EXPLOSIVES

ARGES 84 grenades
During the 1979-88 Afghan war, the CIA and ISI concealed the origin of weaponry used against the Soviets by hand-filing ordnance factory stamps off millions of cartridges. But terrorists who operate in India blithely carry ARGES 84 grenades bearing the stamp of Pakistan Ordnance Factories, Wah. Can be thrown up to 50 m and has a kill radius of 5 m.

Improvised Explosive Devices
The Devil’s Seed is slang for landmines but could be used for the IEDs used in blasts recently in India as well. The IEDs used by the Indian Mujahideen resemble Claymore mines used by the military. Packed with RDX, ammonium nitrate and steel ball bearings, these can cause mayhem in marketplaces and commuter transport. Can be fitted into cars or pipes and triggered using phones.

NAVIGATION

Global Positioning System
Through a network of 32 satellites, a user can tell his exact location on the surface of the earth. Invaluable for the terrorist who wants to navigate undetected over the sea using ‘way points’—a series of fixed coordinates—or by land across the Line of Control.Amobilephone sized GPS receiver costs only around Rs 10,000.

Google Earth
Most places on earth,especially cities are rendered in fine detail by commercial satellite imagery that makes up the Google Earth library.Used routinely by terrorists, including the Mumbai killers, to study the ‘lay of the land’, recce targets and study approaches to them.

Steganographs
Messages hidden in pictures which can be deciphered only by a person who has the key. India does not have the capability to decipher these.Just two weeks before 26/11, intelligence agencies had come across a picture of Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of Pakistan, with a hidden message. Till date, they have not been able to decipher it.





Who killed Swami Lakshmanananda?

29 08 2008

August 28, 2008 17:38 IST
source: Rediff.com

Who killed Swami Lakshmanananda?

Not the Maoists, everyone except some senior state government authorities maintain.

Even the top brass of the state police say it is improbable that Maoists were responsible for the murder of the Swami and four others at his remote ashram in Orissa’s Kandhamal district on Saturday night. A senior state police officer said the modus operandi of the murders do not provide substantial evidence that the Maoists may be involved.

Here are the facts of the murder after preliminary investigations:

  • On Saturday, the ashram was celebrating Janmashtami, when around dinner time, a group of 30-40 armed assailants surrounded the place.
  • Eyewitnesses said about four of the assailants carried AK-47s and many others had country made revolvers.
  • Two of the four home guards stationed for security had gone to eat and only two of them were guarding the premises.
  • The assailants tied down the two guards, and gagged them.
  • They then sought out the Swamiji within the premises and opened fire on him.
  • The recovered bullets show they were from an AK-47, the police said.
  • The assailants then warned the guards not to raise an alarm and fled the scene.

Within minutes of the reaching the crime scene, the district authorities made a statement saying it was suspected Maoists who killed the Swami.

“Isn’t it far fetched? District authorities blaming a particular outfit within minutes of arriving at a crime scene?” asked Ashok Sahu, a retired IPS officer, who specialises in left wing extremism.

There are two reasons given as to why the state could have taken the Maoist line. The first is obvious, observers say.

“In December 2007, the area witnesses some of the bloodiest violence Orissa has even seen after the Swami was attacked by Christians. The state might have wanted to avert a repeat of the communal clashes and therefore could have pinned the blame on the Maoists,” one of them said.

Sahu said there could be more to the government’s action than this.

“Elections are coming in a matter of months. The state has failed miserably in tackling the Maoist insurgency. A government that has been terrorised by the Maoists may in turn be trying to terrorise the people in the name of the Maoists” he said.

Why are so many people ready to debunk the government’s Maoist attack theory so readily? The main reason is modus operandi of the execution.

“The central committee authorises the killings and the outfit issues statements owning up to the murders they commit. So many days after the murder, there has been no statement from the Maoists,” a senior police officer said.

Sahu points out the following: “The five attackers who the locals caught and handed over to the police are not Maoists. They are from the region.

“Moreover, I see no reason why the Maoists will spare the policemen on duty. They would have killed them. Then, there are the leaflets that were thrown around the ashram in a very amateurish way. The Maoists are very organised. If somebody is carrying an AK-47 he must be at least a commander. And if there are four commanders to marshal the mob, there wouldn’t have been indiscriminate firing like what we saw. And last but not the least, I have never heard or seen Maoists wear masks and hoods.

“They see themselves as revolutionaries. They never care about whether they are seen or not. In fact, I would say, they would very much want to be seen,” Sahu said.

Then, the most important question? Did the Swami’s activities in the jungle in any way make him an enemy of the Maoists? “Chances are very less. He was working for the welfare of the tribal people and against forced conversions in the region. There is nothing that suggests the Maoists would see him as a class enemy,” a senior officer said.

A local outfit, the Hindu Jagran Manch said the Swami had mentioned to an office bearer that some Maoists had joined him in a program he had organsied for the tribal people. “One day last year, I was talking to the Swami on phone, and that time there was a lot of concern about his security. So, he said, don’t you people worry. The Maoists are not a threat to me. In fact some of them are here with me,” said Lakshmikanth Das, an officer bearer of the HJM.

But do these factors clearly rule out the role of the Maoists? It is tricky, say many experts who have been following left wing extremism. “The best way this could be phrased is: ‘We do not rule out the involvement of the Maoists’.” Sahu said.

There are many reasons why the experts are undecided. “After the December 2007 clashes, even the Hindu outfits agreed that the Maoists are working in tandem with militant Christian outfits,”

Sahu agreed: “A lot of Maoists were converts to Christianity and were involved in the December violence. But this attack does not look like their work,” Sahu said.

The Maoists have long claimed that most of Orissa falls under the ‘liberated zone’. Kandhamal district with its desnse forest cover is a haven for them. In fact, the police had claimed that the recent attack on a police party in Nayagarh, where the Maoists dealt a spectacular blow to the Orissa police, was planned and coordinated from Kandhamal.

If not the Maoists, who could have killed the Swami? The needle of suspicion swings towards the militant Christian outfits. “Let’s face it, said Sahu, “even in times when the Maoist-militant Christian nexus was a possibility, there were numerous attacks and attempts on the Swami’s life.”

“There is a high possibility that this is the handiwork of militant Christian outfits. How they got such sophisticated weapons is something for the government to figure out,” said Sahu.

“The government’s responsibility to bring those responsible to book increases when you take into account the fact that the Swami received an anonymous threat only a week before he was killed. The local SP did not even register a case after the Swami lodged a formal complaint. They have to answer a lot of questions or this issue will snowball into a bigger issue than the December violence,” Das concluded.

The onus now rests on the government, which has been boxed in from almost all sides.

It has been shown up with regards to tackling Maoists, with consecutive attacks. It’s inadequacy in putting a lid on communal tension in Kandhamal have been exposed by the on-going violence in the district. And with elections looming, how it tackles the current crisis will go a long way in deciding its political future.