Saturday, May 23, 2009


Prabhakaran is dead. Baitullah Mehsud is not. And Naxals are a threat we are not even waking up to. Sri Lanka's war on LTTE will perhaps be a lesson in what not to do in a counter insurgency situation. I cannot imagine the Indian armed forces go after terrorists in either J&K or the north east in a similar manner. It is just not done. Except perhaps in Sri Lanka where the media and independent aid agencies were shut out to achieve the end - even if the collateral damage was immense and completely unacceptable in any civilized country.
My friends in the Sri Lankan security forces tell me Prabhakaran was no civilised man. He deserved to be killed at all cost. They recount how his 34 year reign of terror resulted in over 1,00,000 deaths - right from the time he killed the mayor of Jaffna and the `four-four-bravo' patrol ambush.
But Prabhakaran was a terrorist. The state cannot resort to terror to kill a terrorist. the state under no circumstances can justify the killing of thousands of innocent Tamils. Prabhakaran was a terrorist. So was Charles Antony who studied aeronautical engineering and helped rig the aircraft that launched an attack on the Katyunaike air base. The LTTE had earlier launched a ground attack on the Bhandaranayake international airport and destroyed 3 Airbus, 1 MiG 27, 2 Mi 17s - in all 11 aircraft of Sri Lanka on July 24, 01.
My Sri Lankan friends says Indians should be happy. They killed the man who was responsible for the death of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the killing of over 1,200 IPKF personnel. But how can we be happy when thousands of innocent Tamils have been killed, maimed or are now in a `Nazi' concentration camp like environment.
Of Course, Sri Lanka's determination and will to eliminate the Tiger at all cost needs to be appreciated. Here was a man who controlled almost one third of Sri Lankan territory. He struck at will. He perfected the concept of suicide attacks. He killed a president, a former prime minister (of India), a defence minister, a national security minister, tried to kill another president, an army chief. Prabhakaran was a man the country feared. Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajpakse, his brothers Gothbaya and Basil made it their personal agenda to ensure the LTTE was wiped out. they had the will and they did it.


Even if Taliban are as bad if not worse than the LTTE collateral damage will be unacceptable in Pakistan's war on terror. If Pakistan has to win this war, the way Sri Lanka did (at least they have killed the entire top leadership and broken the back of LTTE militarily) it has to show the same determination. If Pakistan has the will they will succeed. It took the Sri Lankan army three long years of sustained operations.

Sri Lankan army fought four wars with LTTE. Three ended in a stalemate, the fouth in LTTE defeat. What did the Sri Lankan army do. They doubled their strength militarily, got better training and weapons and then courtesy Colonel Karuna (Prabhakaran's trusted lieutenant who defected) they got great intelligence on LTTE's strengths and weaknesses. Then the Sri Lankan army launched a sustained tri services offensive. They kept their reverses a secret, told the world to climb a tree and went after Prabhakaran.

Is Pakistan willing to show the same commitment. Come what may - kill the terrorists and their leadership. At least in Pakistan's war the world is with them. For Sri Lanka it was a war for their survival. For Pakistan it soon will be. An all out war between the terrorists and the security forces. Pakistani security forces cannot afford to pull wool over the eyes of the international community.

Like the Sri Lankan army they need to go after the terrorist leadership - Baitullah Mehsud, Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and the other Taliban commanders and Al qaeda leaders. Once that is done can they focus on removing the reasons for terror. But first the terror commanders need to be eliminated.


Elections are over. the government has popular mandate and the focus as the prime minister has spelt out himself is internal security. the army appears in control of the situation both in J&K and the north east. The burning issue the nation is not waking up to is the Naxal threat - far more dangerous and lethal than the LTTE and the Taliban.


this is a cancer that is fast spreading. A corridor from Nepal down Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Bengal, Orissa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh down to Karnataka. The Red Corridor if exploited by the enemies of the country will explode. Neither our police nor our armed forces are geared for this war.

We all saw what happened when an ill-prepared and underequipped Indian army went to Sri Lanka to fight the LTTE. We lost over 1,200 soldiers and more than 3,000 were injured apart from Sri Lanka being called India's Vietnam. The naxal war should not be our Vietnam within. Look how naxals strike at will - the latest being the attack in Maharashtra where for the first time even women constables were not spared. My sources in the police tell me the naxal training, tactics and weapons are improving steadily. Apart from the weapons snatched and looted from police armoury, the naxals now have access to sophesticated automatic weapons from across the eastern borders in Bangladesh.


And this brings me to the last point - does India have the will to deal with the naxal issue. It is not a problem of one state or one director general of police. It is not a political problem. It is a national problem. We may love to criticise Pakistan for being soft on Taliban but how firm are we in tackling the Naxal issue. This is a cancer that will spread so fast that Sri Lanka's war on LTTE will look like picnic in comparison. This is a wake up call.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Ajmal Amir Kasab, the 21 year old butcher from Pakistan is killing us with a thousand cuts even today. Each time he laughs in court, cracks a joke or claps in glee looking at that Ak-47 automatic assault rifle that killed Assistant Sub Inspector Tukaram Omble and other innocent Mumbaikars my blood boils.


And then this news that you and I, the Indian tax payers will be paying Rs 2,500 per day to defend that terrorist makes me so angry. The trial may cost Rs 30 lakh or perhaps Rs one crore or more will depend on how long the trial lasts. And this is just the money paid to the counsel to defend him (why when the official allowance is Rs 900 per day). Think of the cost of security at Arthur Road jail, salary of the Judge, Special Public Prosecutor, the entire judicial apparatus involved and more important TIME loss.

It is not just the money. It is the sense of sheer frustration. The world saw this unrepentent terrorist spray bullets at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus on 26/11. There is CCTV footage, eye witness accounts and his confession made before a judicial magistrate.


He and Abu Ismail then hijacked a police vehicle, killed police officers (again there is an eye witness), then hijacked a Skoda (more eyewitnesses there), killed a brave police officer ASI Ombale (still more eyewitnesses). He may be charged with killing 166 people in Mumbai. But you can hang him only once. Whether he has killed one or 166 - he will die only once. Let's please not let him make a mockery of our judicial system and remain an undertrial for years and years.


There are over 1,000 witnesses in the 26/11 Mumbai attack case. The chargesheet runs in to 12,000 pages. We cannot go through the motion of giving him justice by examining all the witnesses, going over all the documents and then letting his lawyer cross examine every one and deny the motion of admission of all documents.

My lawyer friends tell me to examine a thousand witnesses even at the rate of two per day it will take several years to go through the motions. Then Saturday, sunday, national holidays. He will enjoy all of it. My colleagues who are covering the trial tell me he eats well (has put on weight) and in the court room he is very casual about the proceedings. He has to be reprimanded almost every day by learned judge ML Tahilyani. Despite a daily hearing the number of witnesses examined has barely reached two digits.

He is guilty. Hang him for God's sake. Don't let every terrorist think India is a great tourist destination for them. When we say Atithi Devo Bhav (treat guest like God) it does not apply to terrorists. Let's not forget that.

We are only going through motions of justice. Justice may be done to Kasab but this prolonged trial is injustice to all those who have suffered in Mumbai. There are those who say we have to show to the world we are a fair country. Do it in 30 days. Examine all the witnesses needed in one case and then punish him.

For God's sake try him for the murder of any one person. And hang him. He is rubbing salt on our wounds. Every day when we read he laughed in court, he demanded perfume, he wanted the money he came to India with, he cracked a joke with fellow undertrials, I think of the burning Taj, I hear the cries of the people that night and the days that followed and can smell death in the air all over again.

Why should I, and hundreds, thousands like me suffer because of a terrorist. Again and again.
Our judicial system is to defend the innocent. He is a terrorist. He should not be allowed to exploit the loopholes in our judicial system.

A senior police officer friend of mine in Mumbai said we are becoming like the eunuchs protecting the harem of the Mughals, with a sword in our arm, thinking we are brave. If we are actually brave, let us use our might to bring the terror masterminds to book. Zakiur Rehman Lakvi, Hafiz Mohammad Syed and the ISI bosses without whose help this operation would have been impossible. That would be a real trial. This is just a feeble effort to make ourselves feel better.

the world will not think much of us even if we prolong the trial for 10 years and then let him go through the motions in Supreme Court and then wait for the President to confirm it. He might just become another Afzal Guru. An election issue. The US has called India a weak country with archaic laws and poor investigation skills - unable to deal with terror. Let us not let them have the satisfaction of saying we told you so.

I hope the first task of the new Lok Sabha is to ensure no terrorist can misuse our judicial system. Ever!

Monday, May 11, 2009


The helicopter shuddered as a sudden gust of wind threatened to slam it against the sheer rockface. The pilots, both young officers of the Indian Air Force were trying to land at a small helipad carved out of the jagged peaks at 13,000 feet in north Kashmir.

With the rotors still whirring one of the pilots leaned back and opened the door signalling for us - my camera man and I - to jump out and run straight towards the officers waiting for us. Do not run towards the rear - the tail rotor is almost invisible, he had cautioned earlier. We jumped out as a gust of icy wind almost took my breath away.
But this was an exclusive we were not going to miss. Access to the `conflict zone,' in north Kashmir. Intelligence agencies had warned about ``mass infiltration.'' Early warning posts were talking about increased movement or `hulchul' in military parlance across the line of control. Sources were talking about terrorists having assembled across the line of control north of Pir Panjal planning section and platoon level (groups betweeen 10 and 30) infiltration.

And the second fortnight of March had been terrible. Two major infiltrations in Gurez and Drangyari Kupwara areas. What was worse, one officer Major Mohit Sharma and seven other ranks of the elite one para special forces had been killed in the encounter with terrorists.

Not just any soldiers. These were special forces. And that too 1 Para. Army Commander's own. Our aim was to show to our viewers the area where the operations were taking place. Also to see how terrorists had infiltrated and that too in such large numbers - 120 in all, the army admitted but only 31 combatants. the rest the army claimed were porters and guides.

On the army's grid map Sadhna pass did not look all that menacing nor did the entire Shamsabari range. But on ground this was as bad if not worse than Kargil, where I had covered the conflict in 1999.

Now the army is well deployed here in north Kashmir. But like in Kargil it were the nullahs and passes where ambushes were laid, traditional infiltration routes guarded and patrolled. The terrorists used the treacherous high altitude avalanche prone mountains to infiltrate.

Caught off guard again ? Initially yes! 120 men cannot sneak across the line of control undetected. Somewhere the systems failed completely. Foot patrolling, anti infiltration obstacle system (the 12 feet high fence was completely buried in snow), sensors, helicopter reconaissance all failed. But sources say there was intelligence available and ambushes were laid. So what happened ?

Apparently, the Lashkar-e-Taiba guide sent by Abu Saad, the Rajwar lashkar commander to get the new group and reinforcements lost his way. This was a blessing in disguise for the terrorists. They evaded the army's elaborate trap. But the army tracked them. At Drang Yari `contact' happened just before dawn. The army `let them have it'. But under cover of darkness the group split and melted. This was on March 20. The same night special forces commandoes including the team led by Major Mohit Sharma of the 1 Para SF were helidropped `behind enemy lines.'

But unknown to the army, the terrorists were watching the entire helidrop operations. The brave major and his team were hunting the terrorists. The terrorists had the advantage of height. They were well hidden behind rocks. Suddenly the hunter was the hunted. The brave major and his team are learnt to have put up a fierce firefight. But the terrorists had the advantage of height, element of surprise and cover.

The next morning over a dozen army teams fanned out. They hunted the terrorists, killing 25 in all over a period of the next 10 days. Six terrorists were killed in an avalanche but so were eight soldiers.

The recoveries were huge - 13,000 rounds of AK ammunition, one RPG, 25 AK-47 rifles, hundreds of grenades, 32 kgs of explosives. The terrorists were extremely `well kitted' and trained to fight and survive in high altitudes. Multi layered high altitude clothing, snow boots, detailed six grid maps, GPS, satellite phones, radio sets...the works. All pointing towards the direct involvement of Pakistani security forces.

But there are very important lessons here for the army. While it is good, troops are now heli-dropped to deal with terrorists at high altitudes (imagine climbing for 9 hours at 12,000 feet and then fighting) it has to be back to the basics. High altitude jungle warfare training, tracking and evasive tactics - the basics need to be second nature. We cannot afford to lose even a single soldier in this war against terror. We cannot afford to be trapped in terror's Chakra Vyuh.

The army also needs to ensure better back up. Heliborne fire power is a must. It is nobody's point that the army is not looking after its soldiers. But the army needs to do much more. The Generals are Generals because they are now meant to fight battles in South Block and ensure the fighting force gets the best back up money can buy.

It is a war out there. It will only get worse as the snows melt. For the army it is hunting season. But the hunter must not become the hunted. EVER!


Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari says Pakistan does not see India as a threat. Great!
But the 1.5 billion dollar a year question is what does General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the all powerful chief of the army staff think.

Does he also think India is not a threat. Will there be a change in the training of future generations of Pakistan army officers at the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul. Will the training now change to fighting the Taliban they trained, armed and guided all along. If not, these are mere words meant for a western audience.

Ultimately Asif Ali Zardari does not call the shots in Pakistan. Neither does prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. They may say so. But that is because General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani lets them. Ultimately General Kayani and the army he commands decide who is Pakistan's friend, enemy or `strategic ally' . India or the Taliban.

From being called the terror epicentre of the world to having all the ingredients of an `international migrane' Pakistan is under tremendous pressure to `crack down' on the cancer of terror. Pakistan army has started yet another operations. Actually the third operation against Taliban.

The first two ended as failures because of lack of will to fight a `strategic ally.' The third is under an international microscope. Asif Ali Zardari is in the US looking for that 1.5 billion dollars a year aid. But US president Barack Obama has made it clear there are no blank cheques anymore. So this Operation Black Thunder is Pakistan trying to earn the money. But is Pakistan seriously trying ?

US secretary defence Robert Gates says Pakistan does not have the capability to fight terror. But does Pakistan have the will ? That's the bigger question. Capabilities can be acquired. But the will has to come from within. Officers of the Pakistan army may have trained at the Military Academy in Kakul but they fought shoulder to shoulder with the Taliban militia against the Soviets. They killed and braved bullets together. That bond formed during war. Is the international pressure enough to break that bond ?

If Operation Black Thunder is a face saving operation it is bound to fail, like the earlier two operations. If it is a real operation for the ``survival of Pakistan'' as both the President and the prime minister claim, then more transparency is required. On May 8th Zardari said about 145 `nasties' had been killed. In less than 72 hours his internal security minister Rahman Malik claimed 700 militants had been killed. Where are the bodies ? Is this just propaganda ?

Pakistan can ill afford to let the Taliban get away this time. Cancer cannot be treated with asprin and half hearted military operations are just like asprin. Temporary relief but the disease strikes back with a vengence.

Rahman Malik also said operations should be over soon. That again should have alarm bells ringing in the international security establishment. Anti-terrorist operations are a long drawn affair - they last years and years. And the problem needs to be addressed not just militarily. A three-week-long or a month long operation will not cure the Taliban cancer. This is a wake up call not just for Pakistan but even for the United States.

To get the maximum bang for their buck, the US will have to keep a hawkeye on the Pakistan army and its operations against the Taliban.