Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla

There is a basic flaw in the anti-Naxal operations being undertaken by the security forces. There is a clear lack of aim and no clarity on standard operating procedures (SOPs) resulting in Dantewada-like disasters. Headlines Today accessed the E.N. Rammohan report on the Dantewada massacre, and even to a layman it is unbelievable how the 81-member CRPF company moved around like headless chicken for three days before finally being slaughtered.

There is a crisis in command. The Director General of CRPF needs to do some serious soul-searching. If this is how his men are going to fight the Naxals they'd better pack their bags and leave. Not just the officers on the ground, what was the CRPF brass doing? What was their plan B, their contingency plans for an ambush-like situation? If they had not factored in an ambush, they were not doing their basic job right.

Headlines Today's Ashish Khetan travelled to the forests in Dantewada where the encounter took place. He spoke to his sources on the ground and also in the Ministry of Home Affairs. It was shocking that the CRPF patrol did not even follow the SOPs.
While they left the camp at 7 pm on April 4, they did not enter the forest as tasked. Instead they camped a few hundred metres outside their base. This indicates their fear of entering the jungle they were tasked to dominate.

Camped inside village

The CRPF personnel violated the patrol plan and entered village Mukram, 4 kilometres from their Chintalnar camp. They asked villagers for cots, utensils to cook and a goat for meat. As per their SOPs they were supposed to maintain secrecy and not mingle with local villagers or stay at any location for long.

This was a big mistake. By camping just outside their camp, they displayed a total lack of seriousness of approach. By asking the villagers to bring cots to sleep in, utensils to cook food and a goat for meat, the CRPF team behaved like an 'occupation army'. Not a lean mean war machine out to neutralise Maoist guerrillas. They were just marking time - in the bargain - the better trained, armed and motivated Maoists found time to plan their operation annihilation.

Lost wireless set during patrolling

The CRPF personnel botched the patrolling operation at every stage. Such was the level of fear and demoralisation that they did not even follow the set plan for area domination.

The CRPF personnel did not follow the laid out plan for patrolling. They entered another housing cluster at Tadmetla. A CRPF officer lost his wireless set here. The personnel looked for the set but gave it up midway.

Returned to same village at night

Ignoring the grid references for the patrol, the CRPF patrol party returned to Mukram village and camped at the Chintalnar Ashram for school children 4 kilometres away. Again a violation of norms.

Did not dominate high ground

The CRPF patrol party patrolled the same area for more than 24 hours, giving ample time to the Maoists to follow their movement and plan an ambush. This is exactly what the Maoists did on April 6. They ambushed the 82-member CRPF patrol at Tadmetla and killed 76 personnel.

Maoist training, strategy and operations

Maoist literature seized by the security forces indicates their high level of military training and tactics. Consider this:

1. How to launch an offensive on a security forces patrol party. How company of Maoist guerrillas (100-120 men) will split into three platoons (25-30 men each) and attack from flanks…how a reserve platoon of Maoists will launch a deception attack…and then the main party will hit from the rear…how another platoon will be in place to beat back any rescue operation mounted by the security forces.

2. How the Maoists will disengage from operations if outnumbered, re-group and then launch another offensive.

3. How to plant IEDs and trigger them at an appropriate time to inflict maximum damage and disappear into the jungles and then regroup at a pre-appointed place.

4. There are several such training maps and sketches that talk of how sections (10 men) will loot weapons and reach the reserve platoon and secure the flanks to beat back counter attacks.

And this is exactly what the Maoists did during the four-hour long offensive in Dantewada. They took the high ground, launched an ambush with military precision, attacking the security forces from three sides. The jawans ran in one direction for cover. That is where the Maoists had apparently placed guns on tree tops and opened fire, cutting down the jawans.

Two Maoist platoons were in place to beat back the CRPF rescue operation. They triggered a landmine to ensure mine protected vehicles could also not reach the troops.

Maoist air defence and attack plans

Even as the Centre and the states debate the use of airpower, the Maoists already have a air defence and counterattack plan in place.
From aiming at rotor blades to bring down a chopper, the Maoist air defence training manual says engage helicopters with small arms when they are hovering or moving slowly. Also aim at the hub of the rotor so that the bullet or the debris falls into the engine that will bring the chopper down.

Using natural camouflage and total radio silence is also a part of the passive air defence taught to the guerrillas.

Naxals are also being trained to fix light machine guns on treetops to be used as anti-aircraft guns for low-flying helicopters.

Naxals are also being trained to lob grenades at helipads and fire at helicopters when they come in to land and take-off. Four such attacks have already been carried out in the past two years.
Neutralise top leaders

The counter Maoist forces need to improve their intelligence gathering abilities. Some of the top IB officers are now heading forces in the region and they need to pinpoint the location of Ganpathy, Kishenji, Kosa, Nambala Kesav and Kisan Da among others. A entire sector of CRPF and state police will not be able to locate them. It is shocking that the media reaches Kishenji each time but the state police and other forces are still unable to locate him. This despite the best technology available with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Pinpoint the location of these commanders and neutralise them. The movement will be directionless. But don't rest on your laurels. Before the second-rung leadership can completely take over, neutralise them. Then the guerrillas will move around like headless chicken and will be easier to pick.
But this would require a national resolve. It is hard to believe that the Maoists who seriously started arming themselves only in 2001 are today too powerful for the state to handle. It appears that the state - or elements within the state - is happy to let the situation continue the way it is.

Poverty helps politicians and both bureaucrats and the police benefit from additional funds - being pumped into states in the name of development and counter-insurgency operations.

Learn from the army

I don't buy the logic that you don't use the army against your own people. This is the most flawed argument. Are Kashmiris not our own people? Just to name a few: Are Nagas, Manipuris, Assamese, Punjabis not our own people? Yet we have used the army extensively in all these states. The army runs the counter-insurgency and jungle warfare school in Vairangte. Use their training and tactics. Fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla. And you shall win. Behave like an occupation army and you will be like the Romans taking on the Gauls. Bound to lose. Wake up before it is too late. It is now or never.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


The footage was shocking. Syed Salahuddin, commander-in-chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen, flanked by two terrorists holding Kalashnikov rifles and ordering a group of terrorists to cross the Line of Control (LoC) and attack India.
This most certainly appeared to be a launch pad somewhere in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The words were full of hate and the orders were to kill and be killed. Salahuddin, a wanted terrorist in India, is an 'honoured guest' in Pakistan. He travels freely between Muzaffarabad and Islamabad.
"Go to India, wage Jihad. You will be fighting in the most inhospitable weather conditions. You will be killed there but your martyrdom will be supreme," screams Salahuddinin the visuals accessed exclusively by Headlines Today.
In the video, Salahuddin is seen indoctrinating his suicide attackers. They are armed to the teeth with rocket launchers and Kalashnikov rifles.
"The battlefield of Kashmir is no doubt the most difficult of all battlefields. That is why compared to others, the holy war (Jihad) in Kashmir will bear you the sweetest fruit," Salahuddin is seen in the video motivating his cadres before they cross the LoC.
He warns them of the might of the Indian army. He tells his terrorists they will be killed in Kashmir and that they would be fighting in the most inhospitable weather conditions and altitudes.
Highly placed sources told Headlines Today this is a very recent video - as recent as late January or early February 2010. Salahuddin is seen on video talking about the 21-year-old fight in J&K. "Recently on the 5th of February 2010, Kashmir Solidarity Day was observed across Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, where Salahuddin was quoted talking about the 21-year-long struggle in Kashmir," highly placed sources told Headlines Today.
This is not literature, Mr Salman Bashir"For the past 21-22 years, in the beautiful valleys and snow clad peaks of J&K, along the Dal Lake and Jhelum River, we have been fighting a war with the 7.5 lakh-strong Indian army," Salahuddin tells his band of suicide bombers.
Sources also tell Headlines Today that this video is in line with intelligence intercepts and warnings about expecting "one of the hottest summers ever" in J&K. Intelligence agencies have warned that terrorists across the LoC have been ordered to carry out a series of intensified spectacular terror strikes in J&K.
Bullets rang out at Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar, early on Tuesday morning. Within minutes, a CRPF jawan lay martyred. In a daring attack, a terrorist walked up to the jawan and shot him at close range before disappearing in the early morning crowd at Lal Chowk, popular among locals as 'Bomb Chowk'.
"Terrorists are now attacking security forces at least once a week. According to reports, Pakistan has reactivated training camps in PoK and infiltration figures are on a sharp upward curve," sources said. Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of Op Vayu Shakti in Pokhran last week, said: "Our real concern is the existence of terror camps intact across the border after the 26/11 attacks. There are 42 terror camps. And there has been no serious effort to dismantle these camps."
According to sources in the Jammu and Kashmir Police, the number of trained terrorists who crossed into Kashmir has risen dramatically by a hundred percent. "Sixty sneaked in during 2008 and that number doubled to 120 in 2009. The army and intelligence agencies are now estimating this to double once again in 2010," a top-ranking police officer told Headlines Today.
Sources also tell Headlines Today this is evidence of terrorists openly using Pakistani territory to launch terror attacks across the LoC into India. "Terrorists like Syed Salahuddin, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Illyas Kashmiri represent the terror troika openly operating out of Pakistan. Salahuddin has been leading the oldest group of terrorists. He is not confined to PoK and has a house even in Pakistan's capital Islamabad,'' the sources said.
Even as India prepares for one of the hottest summers ever in the counter-terror operations, attacks like the one at Lal Chowk and the recent ones at Tral and Sopore - where the army lost a special forces officer and an infantry officer - are proof of Pakistan's stepped up operations to spread terror across the LoC.
Pakistan's terror troikaThe civil establishment in Pakistan does not really matter. They parrot the lines given to them by the all powerful military establishment. And for the military establishment, Salahuddin, Hafiz Saeed and Illyas Kashmiri are strategic assets.
Pakistan has fought and lost four conventional wars to India. This proxy war is a win-win situation for the Pakistan army and the terror troika — Saeed, Salahuddin and Kashmiri — are generals of the Pakistan army fighting this proxy war.
From Saeed to Salahuddin, the terror masterminds misuse Islam to indoctrinate the terrorists. The Pakistan army is understood to be giving them better training, teaching them more advanced tactics and giving them better weapons to take on the security forces. This is apparent from the diverse tactics terrorists have used in J&K recently — a 72-hour stand-off in Sopore where Captain Devender Singh Jas and two other Para commandoes were martyred, the 30-hour stand-off in Tral where Captain Yadav was martyred and the hit-and-run attack in Lal Chowk, Srinagar.
Options for IndiaOne thing is clear. Whether you talk to Pakistan or not, terrorists armed, trained, funded and nurtured by the Pakistan army and ISI will continue to strike. The intensity may vary - from an occasional Mumbai 26/11-style attack to the more frequent Pune, Jaipur and Delhi serial blast-style attacks. This has been the history of Indo-Pak talks. The attack on Parliament and Mumbai may have forced our old, weak kneed and equally if not more weak-minded political leadership out of their slumber and threaten Pakistan with war. But both Pakistan and India know that our politicians lack the will and army the preparedness for war.
The world knows we lack a foreign policy, especially a Pakistan policy. They have a consistent policy to bleed us. Our prime ministers keep reading Urdu couplets, taking buses to Pakistan or selling out the country's interests at Sharm-el-Sheikh.
India clearly needs to set benchmarks and put it in public domain. If talks have to resume in the right earnest, Pakistan has to crack down on the forces hostile to India on Pakistani territory. If Pakistan is not even willing to do that, why even go through the charade of talks? Unless Hafiz Saeed, Syed Salahuddin and Illyas Kashmiri are put behind bars, it cannot be business as usual.
Chidambaram's litmus test for PakistanThe only hope in India's otherwise rather dismal political leadership is Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram. One feels safer with Chidambaram at the wheel. At least he is honestly trying to ensure that the security apparatus delivers.
Post-26/11, there has been a sea change in the style of functioning of security forces on ground, and at least the first steps have been taken to ensure there is accountability in the intelligence agencies.
Speaking at the India Today conclave 2010, Chidambaram asked Pakistan to walk the talk on terror. If Pakistan is actually serious about cracking down on terror, especially terror aimed at India, it should provide the voice samples of terrorist handlers who were guiding the terrorists during the Mumbai attacks. At least then there is hope that Pakistan is serious about fighting the cancer of terror.
If Pakistan does not do any of this and yet calls for resumption of composite dialogue and India agrees, we would once again be let down by our political and diplomatic leadership. Then only God help India. We cannot keep raising the bar and then do a low jump.


Hours after 30-year-old Faizal Shahzad, son of a retired air vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force, was arrested in the US, Pakistani authorities swung into action. Faizal's father-in-law and a friend were among the seven 'suspects' detained for questioning. Faizal's uncle retired as a major general in the frontier corps of the all powerful Pakistan army.

Contrast Pakistan's response to the failed terror attack at New York's Times Square with the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

India caught Ajmal Amir Kasab with a smoking gun. He confessed he was a Pakistani, named his parents, village, Lashkar-e-Tayeba trainers and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. Pakistan went into a denial mode. And to a large extent remains in denial even today.

But from Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik to foot-in-the-mouth Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Pakistan's ambassador to the US Hussein Haqqani, everybody is bending over backwards to assure the US that strictest possible action will be taken against the plotters of the Times Square attack.


There is a lesson here for India's Pakistan policy planners. In the US, national security and national interest are supreme. From President Barack Obama downwards, the focus is on ensuring safety of US citizens. They are answerable for every failure.

In India despite the loss of 166 precious lives, despite knowing that state actors were involved in plotting mayhem in India, despite knowing that the jihad factories are still churning out more Kasabs, the prime minister extends his hand of friendship.

Ujjwal Nikam, the special public prosecutor in the court of special judge M.L. Tahaliyani described Kasab as a snake, a demon and a killing machine. Kasab is just a product of the jihad factory where other snakes, demons and killing machines are being prepared. What is the prime minister doing to ensure that factory is shut down?

What is Shiv Shankar Menon, the national security advisor spearheading the 'talk to Pakistan initiative' doing to ensure that the CEO of the terror factory - Hafiz Saeed - is arrested and prosecuted?

Meeting of hands does not mean anything...hearts should meet. That is not possible when one heart is so full of poison. Unless India sticks to its stand of no further movement on any issue till the terror factories are shut down and its CEO, staff and products are locked up, Pakistan will continue to bite that extended hand of friendship with impunity.

Why should Pakistan crack down on the jihad factory aimed at India? It has India back on the negotiating table without even paying lip service to cracking down on terror. The US has the power to ostracize Pakistan. The US has the power to inflict costs on Pakistan. India lacks that power.

Questions are being asked in the US if the country was getting its money's worth from Pakistan. A country living on US dole, plotting to launch more terror attacks across the US. In the US, its intelligence agencies too are in the line of fire - why was Faizal not on the terror radar and more importantly how did he manage to board the aircraft to the UAE despite being on the no-fly list? Taxpayers in the US are demanding answers.


In India losing the life of a dozen people every month to terrorists in J&K or even across the country is considered "acceptable". So the loss of a young army captain and a jawan in Bandipora on May 5 is a part of 'acceptable' damage. That is really sad commentary on the state of the nation.

In India questioning the motives of the prime minister or his NSA are considered anti-national. With the Opposition in a perpetual state of disarray, the government is able to get away with murder.

Let India learn a few lessons from the US. They interact directly with the Pakistan army - the real wielders of power in the country. We in India keep harping on talking to civilians who have to get back to the army to take their orders.

The main focus of the prime minister and his NSA should be to take the Opposition into confidence and carve out a clear Pakistan policy. Let India have a national policy on Pakistan. Come rain, some shine India will not deviate from that policy. That let be a rational policy keeping India's national interest in mind.

If the government of the day in its wisdom has decided to talk to Pakistan, let the ground rules be settled. Terror and talks do not go together. Let our intelligence agencies be held accountable. Get credible evidence of the terror factories, hand them over to Pakistan. See if the jihad factories are shut down and those spreading terror in India put behind bars.

If that does not happen, talking for the sake of talking will never make Indians safe. Let us learn from the US - national security above all. The world will listen.


Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani delivered a landmark verdict on Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab in a packed courtroom at Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail. This is one story I have followed very closely. On November 26, 2008 I had just finished anchoring at 9.30 pm when the first flash came - shooting at Leopold. Was this gang war? We broke the regular show and dived into breaking news. The next flash - automatic weapons used, AK-47s and grenades hurled. This was most certainly a terror attack. Moments later, shooting at VT (Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus), a blast in a taxi at Ville Parle. It was unending...shooting at the Oberoi Trident and the Taj and then at Nariman House.
A.N. Roy, then director general of police, Maharashtra, told me on a 'live phono' that this was most certainly a very well organised terror attack and asked our channel to request people watching TV to stay where they were and not venture out on the streets. Leave the roads open for emergency services.
The young reporters and camerapersons of Headlines Today and Aaj Tak braved bullets to get us live shots of the terror attack. The entire team fanned out across the affected areas, capturing events on the ground, speaking to sources and piecing together the nightmare that was unfolding live. The killing of Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar came as another extremely rude shock. Just hours earlier, our western India bureau chief Sahil Joshi had interviewed him.
Sahil was returning from the police commissioner's office at VT and was on his way to Andheri when he got a call about firing in Colaba. Principal correspondent Ariz Chandra was at TV Today's Nariman Point office with senior camerman Raju Inamdar. He also heard about the firing at Oberoi Hotel - barely 2 minutes of walking distance from our office. They rushed there. They heard the gunfire and saw the injured being taken by the police in a van. Raju Inamdar rushed to Cafe Leopold in Colaba.
Our guest coordinator Muqtar Sheikh called Sahil and said his relatives had heard blasts at the CST. Reports came in of firing at the station too. Most reporters were on their way home. They rushed back. Principal Correspondent Vidya rushed to Metro Cinema. Rajesh Kumar went to the CST. Aditya Aman rushed to Taj. Vivek Bhat rushed to cover the Vile Parle taxi blast. Cameraman Kiran and Virendra Singh Ghunawat went to the Nariman House. Our outdoor broadcasting vans were placed at the Oberoi, Taj and CST.
Rahul Kanwal, our executive Editor, and I anchored till after 3 that night. The studio was live through the night. At 5 am on 27th November, I rushed to the airport. Sabina Sehgal Saikia's brother Nikhil and husband Shantanu were on the same flight. Sabina was at the Taj. We were all tense. At 8 when we landed, our entire team from Delhi fanned out to different attack spots.
I rushed to the Oberoi Hotel - a childhood friend of mine in the security forces was engaged in the anti-terror operations. The picture he painted was scary. He said they were facing trained commandos. The 'enemy' knew the training, tactics and standard operating procedures of the security forces.
Late that night I moved to cover the Nariman House operations where the NSG commandos launched a heli-borne operation at dawn. Over the next 60 hours, we reported from the historic Gateway of India (Taj Hotel), CST, Oberoi, Nariman House and from the homes and hospitals across the city. India had been attacked.
I was back in Mumbai on the first anniversary of the terror attacks. Was Maximum City safer? Had we learnt our lessons? What were Mumbaikars saying? And then again back in the city for the verdict. Reporting from dawn till past midnight on the verdict and then the death sentence.
Sense of closure?In the past decade or so, I have covered almost every major terror strike in the country...The stench of burnt flesh, limbs strewn around, crying faces, mangled shops, cars and scared people are etched in my mind. The terror attack at the Ahmedabad civil hospital was horrifying but nothing was as horrible as the Mumbai terror attacks.
The death sentence for Kasab is a significant step but in no way gives a sense of closure - to the victims of 26/11, their families and next of kin or even to people like us who covered the attacks and the trial.
Our weak-kneed leaders and the equally weak resolve of our entire political leadership leave much to be desired for. In 2005, Afzal Guru was convicted by the Supreme Court of India for his role in the attack on the temple of Indian democracy - the Parliament. Yet the terrorist remains on death row for over five years. Neither the BJP nor the Congress has shown urgency to display a brave and united face to combat terror. This is not only sad but downright disgusting. Politics over terror.
There is a genuine fear that politics will take over even Kasab's case. Some 'jhola-wallahs' will stand up for their five minutes of fame and put a spoke in the wheels of justice. Even the learned judge M.L. Tahaliyani feared that Kasab should not be allowed to live because there is a history in this country of a Kandhar-like hijack. The same could be repeated...this time for the release of Kasab. A prominent politician could be kidnapped or their kin could be abducted, and like in the case of Rubiya Saeed the government will release terrorists.
After all, the life and safety of the common man means nothing in India.
Show resolve, hang KasabThe real sense of closure will come when India hangs Kasab. The judiciary in this country is held in very high esteem and looked up to for guidance. Let the High Court and Supreme Court decide Kasab's case in record time. Hear it on a daily basis and deliver their verdict. And then let the government of the day at the Centre and in Maharashtra show the same speed in advising the President of India on the issue. Let Kasab jump the queue and meet his fate. Every day that Kasab, the lives of innocent Indians are endangered. If the government shows signs of delay, the government will also have blood on its hands.
Nail the CEOs of jihad factoriesHafiz Mohammad Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Illyas Kashmiri, Dawood Ibrahim and the CEOs of the jihad factories in Pakistan are still active and plotting more terror attacks on innocent Indians.
Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Chennai, Hyderabad...the entire nation is on the terror crosshairs. Indian interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world are also threatened.
The government should focus on taking out the CEOs of the jihad factories by overt and covert means. Talk to Pakistan but ensure India is never attacked again. Show a firm resolve and tackle terror as a national aim. The government owes it to the nation.