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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
It is in a state of denial.
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in