By Abhay Vaidya
A decade after two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre (WTC) in Al Qaeda’s most daring suicide attacks, the global community seems to be moving towards a far more effective consensus in the war against terrorism.
Till the four coordinated strikes happened on the morning of 11 September 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people, terrorism had not acquired the Frankenstein proportions that it did after 9/11. One of the four planes was intended to crash into the seat of the US Congress, the Capitol Hill building, the symbolism of which would have been extraordinary in its impact.
Suddenly, Al Qaeda was seen to have acquired such extraordinary sophistication and capability that anything was possible. Naturally, the WTC attack became the new benchmark in the history of terrorism and terrorists would now start dreaming something equally if not more audacious in their next major strike.
The 26 November 2008 terror strike on Mumbai, planned and executed meticulously by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), falls in this class. What if Ajmal Kasab and his gang of nine other terrorists who used the Karachi-Mumbai sea route to arrive at Nariman Point had herded at least a hundred hostages inside the Taj Hotel and negotiated their release at a phenomenal price to India?
Instead of a four-day drama that claimed nearly 200 lives, this would have stretched on much longer and possibly resulted in a Kandahar-style freeing of key terrorists in Indian custody.
Even otherwise, 26/11 did extract a heavy price in terms of the lives lost while the security forces succeeded in capturing Ajmal Kasab – the only terrorist who was not killed.
Three-and-half years since then, the security agencies and the Indian Foreign Service have done the nation proud by getting hold of Syed Zabiuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, one of the key architects of 26/11 and among the handlers of the Pakistani terrorists who came to India. The full significance of his capture can simply not be underestimated. For the security agencies, he is any day more valuable alive than dead and unlike key LTTE suicide squad terrorists, he did not have a cyanide capsule in an amulet around his neck.
Jundal had been given Pakistani nationality and a Pakistani passport and it has been no small feat to convince Saudi Arabia to hand him over to India. The influence of the US over the Saudi establishment was among the factors that enabled this.
Jundal is a jehadi, he subscribed to the ultra-conservative Ahle Hadees sect which receives funding from wealthy Saudis, he did not hold an Indian passport and yet was handed over to India by the Saudi authorities. This is clearly a new highpoint for India in its war against terrorism, suggesting that at least in this case, even Saudi Arabia seemed to have moved on the same page as India and the United States.
As the spiritual headquarters of the Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia has been vulnerable to terrorism and insurgency. Fifteen of the 19 terrorists involved in 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. In 2003 it witnessed the Riyadh compound bombings in which 35 people were killed, mostly foreigners. This kingdom is also a major source of funding for Islamic terrorist organisations, although the government, under US influence, has been serious about combating terrorism.
After the World Trade Centre attack, the US has been able to deliver a heavy blow to state-sponsored terrorism in various parts of the world. Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were killed in Iraq and Libya and wiped out with their families; the Taliban and the Al Qaeda were driven out of Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden was hunted and killed by US forces in Pakistan’s Abbottabad region, less than two km from the Pakistan Military Academy. Terrorism out of Sudan has been on the wane and in Sri Lanka, the LTTE terror network was crushed by the government and its leader V Prabhakaran killed.
Even as the Taliban is trying to make a revival in Afghanistan, Pakistan remains perhaps the country with the largest number of terror groups such as the LeT, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Ansar and Jaish-e-Mohammed among more than a dozen others.
The US, while being the largest donor nation for Pakistan, has been unrepentant about its drone attacks and strikes against terror targets inside Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region. Pakistan, with its nuclear capability, a fragile civil society, rising religious fundamentalism and a military-ISI establishment which is in cahoots with terror groups, represents a tricky situation for the US. How does one go after the troublesome terror groups that are a threat to the US, without destabilising Pakistan and playing into the hands of the fundamentalists?
Getting Saudi Arabia to deport Jundal to India is unlikely to have happened without the intervention and influence of the US. Will a day arrive when India would be able to go after its most wanted terrorist, Dawood Ibrahim, declared as a “Global terrorist” by the US in 2003, a decade after the 1993 Mumbai blasts which killed over 250 people?Or will Dawood die a fugitive outside India?
Or will things change to such an extent in the decades to come that any number of possibilities could arise: Dawood would be hunted and killed in Pakistan; he would be on the run, hiding from country to country or would finally be handed over to India for trial in the Mumbai blasts?
Jundal’s deportation to India from Saudi Arabia as a result of international cooperation against terrorism is no mean achievement and should give greater confidence to the architects of India’s counter-terrorism operations.