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    South Asia
     May 15, 2008
India braces for surge in terror
By Sudha Ramachandran

BANGALORE - The serial blasts that killed 80 people and injured 200 in the western Indian city of Jaipur on Tuesday occurred less than a week after a major infiltration attempt by militants was thwarted on the international border with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir state.

That incident set off a heavy exchange of fire along the border, the first major flareup since an India-Pakistan ceasefire took effect in 2003.

Intelligence contacts have told Asia Times Online that while there is "no direct cause-effect link" between the incidents on the border and the Jaipur blasts, the former indicate that "infiltration from across the border in Pakistan will increase as summer

 

progresses and more attacks like the ones at Jaipur can be expected".

The contacts point out that in a week from now, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee goes to the Pakistani capital Islamabad for his first interaction with the new government there. The "composite dialogue" between the countries, in cold storage for several months, will be revived.

The possibility of elements in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) seeking to disrupt this process with terror attacks in India cannot be ruled out. The ISI is known to have acted in the past to weaken initiatives by democratic governments in Pakistan to normalize relations with India. Pakistan only ended nearly eight years of military rule with parliamentary elections in February.

Any surge in violence is unlikely to be restricted to Jammu and Kashmir. Over the past couple of years, jihadi groups have clearly indicated that their agenda extends across India. They have carried out attacks in places as far apart as Ajmer, Panipat, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Varanasi, Rampur, Lucknow, Delhi, Mumbai, Gandhinagar, Faizabad, Ayodhya, Malegaon and now Jaipur. There are now few states in India that have not fallen under the shadow of the jihadis.

In 2007, outside Jammu and Kashmir and the turbulent northeast and excluding deaths due to Maoist violence in the country, civilian deaths from terrorist attacks ran into several hundreds.

No terror outfit has so far claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blasts in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, although about a dozen suspects have been detained. Intelligence contacts say the needle of suspicion points to the Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), with Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) operatives providing the local logistical support.

The HuJI is a Bangladesh-based jihadi outfit and the LeT is Pakistan-based. Both have links with al-Qaeda and are constituents of the International Islamic Front, an umbrella organization founded by Osama bin Laden in 1998.

The string of eight blasts occurred on the 10th anniversary of India's nuclear tests at Pokhran, 500 kilometers from Jaipur. Noted terrorism expert B Raman said the "blasts could be to send across the message that India may have nuclear power, but you are powerless against terrorism".

The significance of the date notwithstanding, it does seem that the blasts were aimed at stirring communal trouble rather than sending out a message - there are a large number of Hindu temples in the vicinity of the attacks.

A curfew has been declared in parts of Jaipur to prevent the eruption of riots. The blast sites are close to the communally sensitive Ramganj area, which witnessed communal riots in 1992 following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by Hindu hardliners.

Although this is the first terrorist attack ever in Jaipur, Rajasthan is no stranger to terrorist activity. The state borders Pakistan. Consignments of cartridges, explosives and detonators have been interdicted in the past in the state. Intelligence sources say the SIMI, a banned outfit, has sleeper cells in Rajasthan. In October last year, a powerful bomb blast occurred in a highly revered Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisthi in Ajmer, 135 kilometers southwest of Jaipur. That blast left two people dead and 17 others injured.

Located 265 kilometers to the west of the capital Delhi, Jaipur is also known as the "Pink City" for the color of its stucco buildings. It is a popular tourist destination; several thousand tourists visit Jaipur every day. Almost 60% of foreign tourists visiting India drop in at this city.

Emerging patterns
Terror attacks in India over the past couple of years indicate that terrorists are targeting Hindu and Muslim places of worship and crowded areas to stir communal passions and trigger Hindu-Muslim riots.

The eight powerful bomb blasts that rocked Jaipur took place within 13 minutes of each other and occurred in the city's most crowded areas, in markets, near historic monuments and places of worship.

Indeed, the blasts confirm another feature of this worrying pattern. Temples are being targeted on Tuesdays (an auspicious day for Hindus) and mosques and shrines are being attacked on Fridays, when thousands of Muslims go to the mosque to offer special prayers.

A blast at Varanasi's Sankat Mochan Temple on March 7, 2006, a Tuesday, left 28 dead and over a 100 injured. The blasts occurred at the time of the aarti (a prayer ritual, which thousands attend) when the temple was packed with devotees.

Low intensity blasts occurred at Delhi's Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, on April 14, 2006, a Friday, even as Muslims were preparing for evening prayers.

A blast occurred at a mosque in Malegaon and an adjacent Muslim cemetery on September 8, 2006, a Friday. The day was Shab-e-barat (night of salvation), a festival when Muslims visit graveyards to offer night-long prayers for their dead relatives. Blasts in Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid on May 18, 2007, a Friday, during prayers killed a dozen people.

And now the blasts at Jaipur, near temples, on a Tuesday and at the time of the evening aarti. Clearly, those behind these attacks aim at stirring communal passions and riots by targeting places of worship at a time when people are praying.

Just as there is a pattern in the terror attacks, so also is there a pattern in the response of the government. Every attack is followed by profound observations that it is the work of terrorists. Top politicians express "deep regret" and anger at the "dastardly attack" and are quick to quash the rage of victims' families with offers of financial compensation.

Officials speedily reach conclusions regarding who carried out the attack within a couple of hours, if not minutes, of the incident. Senior ministers used to invariably blame and name Pakistan, now they are more circumspect, pointing an accusing finger at a "foreign hand". Within days of the blasts, the matter is forgotten, until the next terror attack happens and the same drama is enacted.

Police blame politicians for politicizing national security and for refusing to give the police a free hand in making arrests. Indeed, political parties with an eye on votes stand in the way of arrests or action against extremist outfits.

But the police are as much to blame. Their unprofessional approach is on public display every time bombs rip through Indian cities. Blast sites are never cordoned off to the public. Within minutes of a blast, it is not uncommon to see media and the public walking unhampered through the site. Investigations that follow then are unlikely to be any more professional.

Intelligence sources argue that it is unfair to blame security agencies as they are successful in preventing many attacks. They also point out that policing a country such as India is very difficult. Indeed, ensuring foolproof security in crowded Indian cities and railway stations is a near-impossible task. This becomes more daunting given the deficiencies in manpower of the police and intelligence agencies.

Despite several reports recommending augmentation of manpower in police and intelligence agencies, upgrading of electronic and other surveillance and better coordination between various security agencies, little has been done to put these recommendations into effect.

And yet the government does not see a problem, or rather does not want to admit to it. In a statement to the Upper House of parliament, the government said on April 30 that "the overall internal security situation has remained largely under control".

It is in a state of denial.

Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.

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