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The Shahrukh Khan controversy, Batla House and the Koregaon Park terror attack

February 14, 2010

You see, we forget what Galileo said a few centuries ago – that the earth is round. Everything comes around – moving in circle. It is like the Dervish going round and round with his Turkish cap and the white flowing tunic. The IPL comment by Shahrukh Khan where he remarked that we are a ‘happy country’ and therefore we should welcome all, including Pakistanis to play in the IPL and that it was an insult to them for having been left out. I still do not see how our ‘happiness’ could be reason for us welcoming everyone in our country when their countrymen are indulging in terror attacks. I have already discussed the subject in some detail in one of my earlier articles. The protests against Shahrukh Khan’s latest movie were not against the movie per se, but against the remark made by the actor. There was hardly any violence and more than 1600 Shiv Sainiks courted arrest. The media went ballistic against the Sena and it was as if the country had risen against them, but the fact is that the Sena did have a point. And now their point has been validated.

There was this other development where the Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh went on a trip to Azamgarh, on a ‘fact finding’ mission about the terrorists who were involved in the Batla House incident, in Delhi. He went there to meet the families of the terrorists and find out the ‘facts’ as per their version. He said that one of terrorists was shot from on top of his head and this could not have happened in a ‘genuine encounter’. I still cannot fathom as to what Mr. Singh was trying to say. Does he mean that the Batla House encounter was a ‘fake’? Does he mean that the NHRC’s (National Human Rights Commission) report was wrong? That the prime minister was lying when he said that the there was no ground to question the authenticity of the Batla House encounter? Is Mr. Singh above his prime minister and does he mean to question the NHRC report? And then the police caught a terrorist who accepted that he had shot Mohan Chander Sharma, the one cop who lost his life in the encounter. The facts are compelling but for Mr. Singh it was important to go to Azamgarh where these terrorists belonged to find out about the incident.

There are elections due in Uttar Pradesh and perhaps Digvijay Singh was trying to strike a chord with the Muslim community. He has failed miserably as there are other Muslims who just hate such pandering to the extreme elements in their society. They hate being lumped with people who have little to do with their way of life. This was crass political opportunism and such postures leave a bad taste in the mouth. Worst these give the message that we Indians are a divided house and that there is a section that will not hesitate to side with those who are against the country for their narrow political gains.

There is a thread that runs from what Shahrukh Khan said when he talked about the ‘insult’ to Pakistan players and what the politician from the ruling Congress Party, Mr. Digvijay Singh did when he went to Azamgarh. We are giving conflicting signals to the world when there are politicians and people in public life who show some kind of sympathy to those who are out to hurt our nation. This emboldens the terrorists and they get the message that since we are a divided house they stand a fair chance to attack India and Indian interests. People like Shahrukh Khan should have told his Pakistani friends that we as Indians are just not going to tolerate any attack on our country and till such time that these attacks stop we shall not hesitate to put a unilateral moratorium on all interactions, including sporting ties with our friends from across the border. All this talk about the same culture and brotherhood has no meaning if Pakistanis indulge in terror activities. Many terrorists including Hafiz Saeed and others held a conclave in Muzaffarabad, in POK calling for a jihad against India. Such belligerence does not help at all.  A clarification regarding his stand and even a public apology would have been in order and would have cleared the air. The Shiv Sena got so frustrated when their protests were lampooned by the media and people like Mani Shankar Aiyar called for banning such political outfits that Balasaheb Thackerey remarked that if nobody was interested in the security of the country then why should he be the only one to stick his neck out. A miffed Sharad Pawar with his political allies on the price rise issue, the Congress, met the Shiv Sena chief and there was a resurgence of protests by the Shiv Sainiks. I do not condone people trying to stop the screening of the film as that would hurt the producers financially, but the actor could easily have taken cognizance of the feelings of the people and said something to assuage their sentiments. He refused to do any such thing and that was rather strange.

Yesterday, there was a bomb blast in German Bakery, near Koregaon Park in Pune. This is the place where westerners frequent and not too far from the bakery is a Chabad House. The Osho commune is nearby. It is being reported that nine people have died and forty injured. David Coleman Hadley had done a recce of the place, it is being said. It is still not clear as to the nationality of those who have been killed and injured. Terror has again struck India and again it is a place where westerners frequent that has been targeted. The enemies of our nation and that of the free world are trying to hurt both India and the west when they strike in places where westerners frequent. The message is clear – there are forces that do not like the recent coming together of India with the west. They want to draw a wedge between India and its strategic allies. They are hitting the west when they target such places. They get embolden when there are people making conciliatory noises to nations and people that are hell bent on hurting us as a nation. This must be understood. More than ever before, we need to keep a united front when it comes to terror. There can be no compromise on this. It is still not known as to who was behind these attacks but it will surprise no one if it is found that these were the same forces that were behind the 26/11 attacks and the numerous other attacks over the years. Security must be our primary concern and our enemies should be given a strong message that India will not tolerate any attack on her citizens or the guests that come to our country.  Unless we take a strong united stand, such attacks will continue. Does anyone still want the Pakistanis to be a part of the IPL?

Addendum: Two foreign nationals have been confirmed to have been killed in the Koregaon Park attack of the nine killed. There have been more than 40 injured, which includes eleven foreign nationals. It seems that this is an attempt at sabotaging the ‘peace talks’ between India and Pakistan. Should the talks go ahead? Yes, because this is strategically important not only from the Indian point of view but also for the success of Operation Moshtarak that the coalition forces have undertaken in a big way. Pakistan must move troops to its western front and take on the Taliban on their side. While CNN has reported that there has been a ‘stiff resistance’ from the Taliban in the Helmand province where these operations are being conducted, there are other reports that the Taliban have all but disappeared. They could have mingled with the local population or crossed over to Pakistan. They have booby trapped the area where Operation Moshtarak has been planned and then backed off. If the Pakistan army does not start an operation against the Taliban from their side this whole operation will come to a naught. Talks between India and Pakistan will make the excuse of a heightened tension on the Indian border redundant and Pakistan will then have no reason not to start military operations on their side. It is true that the terrain is rugged and many of the tribal agencies are almost cut off from Pakistan and the writ of Islamabad does not run there. More the reason why talks between India and Pakistan are so important. The Taliban are waiting for the allied troops to move out before they can recapture the area. It is a cat and mouse game and the success of these operations will be critical for future peace prospects in the region. It may be added that the Daulatabad-Herat gas pipeline is scheduled to be started sometime this year. This critical energy lifeline will need assured security and this is another reason why real success of Operation Moshtarak is so vitally important. We need to look at the larger picture and when BJP and other parties denounce any talks in this atmosphere, they should also be aware of the regional strategic issues before taking a stance.

Update 15.02.2010: An al-Qaeda link to Pune attack?: The Times of India today has reported that the US had tipped India about a possible terror attack on Pune among other cities. Foreign nationals had visited a little known organization, Islamic Students Congregation (ISC). This was as far back as 2006. The attack seems to have been meticulously planned. The text of the report of the Times of India is as below:

Top intelligence sources have confirmed that days before US defence secretary Robert Gates’s visit to India last month, the US had warned New Delhi that al-Qaida-influenced elements were likely to carry out an attack in Pune and Mumbai. The US agencies, however, failed to give any real reason for the specific mention of the two cities, merely referring to the CD in which an al-Qaida leader, Abu Mustafa Yasid, had threatened terrorist strikes.

This CD was later released to the media but it did not mention the names of Pune or Mumbai. “In hindsight, it does appear that they must have had more authentic reasons for insisting that Pune or Mumbai was likely to be targeted. While we couldn’t have forced them to disclose the exact source of information, authorities in Maharashtra were immediately alerted,” said a top intelligence official, adding that this information was also the provocation for Gates telling defence minister A K Antony that al-Qaida was trying to provoke a war between India and Pakistan.

The fact that the incident took place despite the strong alert, the official said, had once again proved that India still lacked assessment capabilities and the mechanism to ensure adequate follow-up action. Sources said the Pune blast has forced security agencies to have a closer look at the little known Islamic Students Congregation (ISC), an organization headquartered in Pune and comprising Arab students. The ISC is said to have branches in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bangalore too. This organization is said to carry out its activities, mainly student meetings, unobtrusively without attracting media attention.

The intelligence official said this organization first came on the Indian security radar in 2007 when a Sudanese member of al-Qaida visited Pune and stayed there for a month interacting with members of ISC. It was only after the Sudanese national left India that the authorities realized his true identity. He had come to India assuming a fake identity.

While Pune’s association with Abu Zubaidah, Osama bin Laden’s No.3 man, is well known, the fact that Pune was likely to be targeted by al-Qaida became obvious in August 2006, when three al-Qaida operatives were arrested in Algeria. “These three men had then disclosed that the same year in March, all three of them had visited Pune on a reconnaissance mission. It then became clear that Pune was on al-Qaida’s hit list,” said the official.

Those who still believe that the al-Qaeda is a ghost organization which exists in the minds of Islamophobic western press and security agencies must take a re-look. The dangers are very real and very pertinent. We need to be on our guard. The initial reports of a LPG cylinder blast were erroneous and shows how terribly out of depth our security agencies are. The bakery has been reduced to cinders and it is now established that RDX was used, a substance that is banned in India and only Pakistan can be the source of this explosive material in the region.

Update 16.02.2010: There has been a never ending debate on whether India should engage Pakistan in Secretary level talks. People do not understand the strategic needs of the nation and the region. The fact is that the US has been trying to make Pakistan understand the importance of neutralizing the Taliban on their side of the border. Pakistan has tried to avoid military initiative. They have however offered to broker a peace deal with the Haqquanis – Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin, the virtual rulers of the Pakhtia, Ghazni and Khost region. Such conciliatory overtures may be convenient in the short run, but in the long run, this could prove suicidal as the western nations will have to bow down to such regional warlords. Talks between India and Pakistan have already been delayed. They should be held as soon as possible. The US offensive in Helmand is moving slowly, waiting for the Pakistanis to secure their side of the porous border. India will do well to waste no more time and start the ‘peace process’ in right earnest. Pakistan must focus on their western border and not on the eastern one. India is no threat to Pakistan, and this must be made clear, irrespective of Gen. Kayani’s comment that Pakistan defence forces are trained and focussed for a possible conflict with India. The Quetta shura may be seen as a strategic asset by Pakistan, but for its own good, the radical elements must be marginalized and not protected by Islamabad if they are serious about a prosperous and secure Pakistan.

Update 22.02.2010: It is now being reported that the toll in the German Bakery blast has gone up to 15. Six more persons have succumbed to their injuries including a foreign national. A total of three foreigners have lost their lives in these attacks.

Update 23.02.2010: Pakistan is doing all it can to wriggle out of the proposed Foreign Secretary level talks due in a couple of days. There was a prolonged encounter in Sopore, Kashmir between the militants from Pakistan and Indian security forces in which a Captain and two jawans were killed. Five militants were also killed in this encounter. Two Sikhs were beheaded by the Taliban in the Khyber Agency and their heads sent to the Gurudwara. India is seething with rage at this cowardly act. Minorities are not safe in Pakistan and Sikhs should be encouraged to leave Pakistan immediately.

The latest act of heroism predictably comes from their Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmud Qureshi. On a visit to Beijing an effusive Mr. Qureshi suggested that China mediates between India and Pakistan. He is said to have remarked that Pakistan has given China a ‘blank cheque’!! This when the Foreign Secretary level talks are about to commence. China, predictably has distanced itself from any such proposal and has said that all issues between India and Pakistan must be solved bilaterally. Pakistan is hell-bent on trying to create a situation where India calls off the talks. They can then say that while they were keen, it was India that shied away. They just do not want to open a front against the Taliban from Pakistan side, something that the US has been asking them to do for long. Operation Moshtarak is therefore hanging in a limbo. It will be interesting to see as to what Pakistan does in the remaining 48 hours to try and avoid talks with India.

Update 24.02.2010: After the beheading of two Sikhs, the Taliban have now captured a Hindu near Peshawar. While the TV news bulletins have reported this incident none of the Indian newspapers have carried this report at least on their on-line edition. Pakistan is stooping to lows rarely seen in the past, to avoid talks. Then the Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmud Qureshi has the cheek to say that he hopes India will respond positively to the talks and not narrow it down such that there is no headway. There are still some 36 hours to go before the talks and it will be interesting to see as to what the Pakistani’s come up with to avoid these talks. India is also resolute in that we will go ahead with the ‘talks’ come what may.

The news is that Pakistan Rangers have opened fire on the Indian forces in the Samba sector. One BSF jawan has been injured. What do you call this but SHAMELESSNESS!!!!!

Update 27.02.2010: In an audacious attack by the Taliban in Kabul, at least nine Indians have been killed and three are missing of the total 18 persons that have died in these horrendous attacks. It is believed that the Haqqani faction and the ISI have orchestrated these attacks. The building where these attacks took place was known to have housed Indians. This was an attack on Indians. Again, this is an attempt by Pakistan to make any ‘normalization’ of relations between the two countries impossible and any future talks untenable. Pakistan is loathe to normalize relations with India. The Hindustan Times has reported these attacks as follows:

Nine Indians were among 18 people killed in a series of attacks by the Taliban in central Kabul on Friday. The Indians are believed to have included an army officer working at the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul and Nawab Khan, a noted tabla player who was there for a cultural programme. According to Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna, “the deceased Indians include government officials.” Three Indians were reported missing. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the multiple attack. One of these was a bomb explosion outside an apartment block that housed many Indians, many military men working at the hospital. In another attack, suicide bombers stormed a guesthouse frequented by Britons and Americans. A 90-minute firefight between security forces and other insurgents followed. An Italian embassy official and two Afghan policemen were among the dead. Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of the Taliban spokesman, saying five insurgents, including two suicide bombers, had targeted “where the foreign people are staying.” He stressed that “the actual targets are foreign people.” The attacks spread debris and shattered windows in an adjacent shopping center and hotel. They were the fourth assault on the capital since October and reflected an accelerating trend over the past year for the Taliban to increase attacks in urban areas. Analysts do not rule out the possibility that the Taliban may have decided to raise India on their target list. It was well-known that Indians resided in the apartments that were attacked. President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks and said, “Attacks on Indian citizens will not affect relations between India and Afghanistan.”

Indian intelligence believes Haqqani is the Taliban leader closest to Pakistan. Says counterterrorism expert Ajai Sahni, “Haqqani has a direct line to the Pakistani army establishment.”

The Kabul attack is being seen here in India as an attack on the nation. President Pratibha Patil was at the airport in Delhi to receive the caskets and the injured flown in an IAF special plane sent to Kabul for the purpose. The message is clear. India takes this attack seriously.

Update 28.02.2010: The Foreign Secretary level talks between Nirupama Rao and Salman Bashir did not go too well. While the Indian side claimed that the talks centred around terror Salman Bashir held a press conference in the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi and went ballistic saying that the talks centred around Kashmir and the issue of water as well as Siachin and Sir Creek. His press conference went on for more than an hour and he was clearly hostile towards Indian position on various issues. These talks did not fructify, though it was agreed that Nirupama Rao will go to Pakistan later. It may be added that India allowed Salman Bashir to interact with Syed Ali Shah Gilani, the pro-Pakistan leader of the Hurriyat.

The ‘failure’ of the talks has seen Manmohan Singh scoot off to Riyadh to consult with the Saudis. Clearly, the Americans are desperate to corner Pakistan in their war against terror. They are finding it hard to get Islamabad around. Saudi Arabia’s  royal family has close links with the west and they are a strategic ally of the US. The royalty including three crown princes were there to receive Manmohan Singh at the airport – something that is unprecedented. The Americans have ensured that the Saudis take the Indian delegation seriously. Saudis can help Pakistan see reason. They are one of the prime benefactors of Islamabad. South Asia is simmering and it is a high stakes game. The Kabul attacks on Indians have not helped at all. It will be interesting as to how things unfold from here on.

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