Posts for category ‘VIolence’

The Case Against Pakistan
| November 27, 2008 | 11:24 pm
Terrorist in Victoria Terminal Sebastian D’Souza / Mumbai Mirror

As the siege on lower Mumbai stretches into its third day it has become clear that that attacks were not orchestrated by an unknown terrorist group, but that they had been planned, financed and carried out by elements within the Pakistani Intelligence agency known as ISI. It is still unclear if the intelligence agency acted alone or if high level members of Pakistan’s government had signed off on the operation, or whether individuals within the agency broke away with their own agenda. However, if the Pakistani government does immediate action against its rogue agency this assault could be considered an act of war.

Internally Pakistan is in chaos. The government has almost no presence in its Northwest Frontier Provence (NWFP) and has sacrificing its military sovereignty to American forces for the war on terror. After almost 60 years of stalemate on the Kashmir issue, Pakistan has begin to fall behind India. As its claim on Kashmir is losing strength hard-line Islamic militants and Taliban remnants are setting up shop across the country.

While at present, Pakistan is a major rival to India, ten years down the line the country could well be obsolete. India is becoming a major regional power, with a booming economy, a recently passed nuclear deal and a growth rate that touches on 10%. From an intelligence and security perspective, Pakistan has to either take strong measures to improve its domestic situation or hope that its rivals similarly falter.

With little hope of improving the problems within its own borders, ISI has opted to pull a card from the CIA’s former playbook and attempt to destabilize the region.

For almost forty years from 1960s through the 1990s the Central Intelligence Agency planned and executed several operations in South America, Asia and Eastern Europe, aimed at destabilizing the regions. Always operating under a guise of plausibly deniability, and without the broader support of the American people the CIA was successful at clandestine operations. By financing a war by proxy in Afghanistan, a guerilla army in Tibet, assassinations in Chile, a failed coup in Cuba and arming Contras in Nicaragua, the CIA bet that by destabilizing competing nation states the could further secure America’s position in the world. And, despite some terrible public relations, the CIA’s efforts worked.

The ISI has every motivation to do the same thing in India.

In the past six months there have been ten major terrorist attacks across India, the highest rate of violence in more than a decade. Bombings in Hyderabad, Jaipur, Varanasi, Bangalore, Delhi and Bombay spread panic across the country, and the groups claiming responsibility were new and apparently homegrown. These so-called “Indian Muhajaddin” use hit and run tactics and claim to have fundamentalist politics—but released very little information about its political demands claiming that it was practicing Jihad for Jihad’s sake. At best their ideology is just meant to signal general Islamic discontent. In other words, the ideology is a thin veil for ISI to claim plausible deniability.

The Indian versions of these so-called Islamic fundamentalists do not appear to have a legitimate ideological base. This separates them from every other terrorist group in the last 40-odd years that had specific political demands. The IRA strove for independence from Ireland, Basques from Spain, Hezbollah for an independent Palestine, the LTTE for an independent Tamil State, and Naxalites for a communist revolution. Even Al Qaeda’s rabidly fundamentalist politics expressed a political ideology for independence from the west and establishing a government according to sharia law.

Local terror groups in India did not seem to have any concrete ideology apart from spreading violence, and perhaps inter-ethnic conflict. At best they have the political savvy of the Columbine school shooters. Their motivations are ultimately inscrutable—and patently false.
Many reports show shady linkages kept to Pakistani immigrants and ISI funding, not local radical mosques preaching jihad. Only a few months ago even the CIA fingered ISI behind the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul. At best the half-hearted proclamations of the Indian and Deccan Muhajaddins to “free Islamic fighters from Indian prisons” were only a thin veil to disguise their real agendas.

Now, with a tactical attack on southern Mumbai that used military tactics, and even satellite communication with a base in Karachi it is clear that there is no homegrown anti-India Islamic agenda. Instead, it seems that Pakistan’s intelligence agency has been trying to spread instability across India to achieve its own strategic ends.

India now must contemplate a response to the actions of ISI. Many segments of Pakistan’s government want peace with the India, and it is likely that the agency has been acting on its own without approval from elected officials. But unless the government is able to regain control of ISI the recent attacks on Mumbai could be construed as an act of war.

**UPDATE: Some changes have been made to this post. In the original version I was more certain about the role of ISI, but reader feedback has made me reconsider some points. While it is apparent that the assailants on Mumbai had help from Pakistan, and likely from members of the intelligence service, it could be that factions from within the security agency acted without authorization from the top-brass.

Salwa Judum and the Missing AK-47s
| October 31, 2007 | 2:48 am

About a month ago I went on assignment with BBC:The World to cover a story about a civilian counter insurgency movement in central India. For the last 40 years a communist insurgency known as “Naxalism” has been waging all out war against the government. They have killed government officials, attacked mines and skirmished with police on hundreds of occasions. Naxals are a serious threat to the government in 13 Indian states. The government has had such a hard time dealing with the Naxals that they have begun to fund a counter insurgency movement in the state of Chhattisgarh known as Salwa Judum.

The Salwa Judum are armed with government issued AK-47s, .303 rifles and a range of other small arms. They lead the police deep into Naxal territory and are said to be effective in routing the communists. However, backing the Salwa Judum has come at a terrible cost to local security. As the Naxals pull back the Salwa Judum fill the void with their own brand of warlordism. They burn villages to the ground, rape women and forcefully conscript children into their ranks. Lacking in any ideology other than violence and profit, the Salwa Judum are a far more serious threat to local security than the Maoists that they fight.

The story will air on BBC radio some time in November, but in the mean time take a look at an interview that I did with Xeni Jardin at BoingBoingTV earlier this month about my experiences in Chhattisgarh.

When I went to Chhattisgarh I was interested in tracking down some of the missing Iraq weapons that were reported MIA in September. The American arms lost as many as 180,000 AK-47s, pistols and rifles that were supposed to be distributed to the Iraqi security forces. People have speculated that the arms have entered into informal terrorist arms networks and could have fanned out across the world into the hands of militants. My plan was to track down serial numbers from the weapons that police had confiscated from the Naxals and track them back through their point of production. But I was not able to collect enough serial numbers to get any useful data, and it seems that most of the weapons used by naxals have actually been won through battles with police. I am not searching out other possible arms links with the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

Survivors of Acid Violence Speak Out
| August 22, 2007 | 12:21 pm
Haseena Hussain at the CSAAAW protest in Bangalore

Last week a young woman from Mysore was doused with a bottle of hydrochloric acid and then forced to drink a mixture of acid and alcohol. No one was surprised. Her husband had abused her for years, she had even lodged a series of complaints with the police in the months before the final attack. Two days ago Hina Fathima died in a Mysore hospital.

Acid violence is increasingly common across South Asia and cases like Fathima’s are common enough that they often don’t even make the front page of local newspapers. The Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women, or CSAAAW, has recorded 61 acid attacks in Karnataka since 1999. While most of the women die from their injuries or from suicide some survivors have come out to try to change local laws that make acid cheap and easily available at any corner grocery store. The women who do survive often have to bear terrible medical costs and often lose their eyes, noses, ears and any semblance of facial expression.

Last week I traveled to Bangalore to meet with the founding members of CSAAAW and do a short story for NPR about the prevalence of acid violence and interviewed key people in the campaign. So far the government isn’t really taking the problem seriously. They contend that only a handful of women who are victims of these attacks are not a pressing enough problem. The state sponsored fund meant to pay for the women’s medical care is hardly enough to cover the costs of two or three patients, let along the scores of women in the state who desperately need treatment.

The real danger of acid violence isn’t only the effects that it has on victims, but in the role that it plays in Indian society as a threat. The mainstream media often shows angry men threatening their lovers with acid. Many women I know live in fear that they could be targets of some acid wielding assailant. For 18 rupees anyone can buy a bottle of acid that is 32% concentrated–it’s a weapon that just about anyone can afford and ruing someone’s life is as easy as splashing it in their face.

Click here to listen to the NPR story

I have also posted a small gallery of photos that I took while at the protest that show the range of activists and survivors who have come out to support CSAAAW. I am thinking of taking another trip up to Bangalore to take more photos of these women.

If you want to get in touch directly with CSAAAW contact Sanjana at