Stay alert to Pak terror from the seas

Pakistan has just elected a new prime minister amidst a major realignment in equations between its army, the ISI and the country’s many religio-political groups. Earlier, in mid-July 2018, an Indian news channel reported the likelihood that Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists could target Indian naval ships. In the din of today’s polarised domestic
politics, this report seems to have
escaped the nation’s attention.

Today, the government and the security establishment are focused on Jammu & Kashmir and the North East and appear to have forgotten the 7,516-km coastline. With the Indian Army and BSF on high alert along the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Boundary (IB) respectively, the weakly guarded coastal borders offer greater penetration possibilities to Pakistan-based terrorists.

The reports, quoting naval sources and the Intelligence Bureau-led Multi-Agency Centre, indicated that Pakistan Navy’s Special Services Group is training JeM terrorists in diving techniques at Bahawalpur, Punjab, for a sea-borne strike.

These terrorists plan to target strategic assets of the Indian Navy, which could mean nuclear submarines such as the INS Chakra and the lone aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. It could also extend to warships as also assets in the civilian maritime domain. Warships are particularly vulnerable whilst in harbour, due to their size and lack of manoeuvring space in ports.

Among the precedents of earlier attacks, the most high-profile one was in 2000 when an al-Qaeda terrorist rammed an explosive-laden boat into an American warship, the USS Cole, in the port city of Aden, Yemen. The US Navy lost 17 sailors and the warship suffered extensive damage. This was followed by an attack on the French oil tanker MV Limburg, also off Yemen, in October 2002.

In 2011, the Al-Qaeda attacked the PNS Mehran, a Pakistani naval airbase, and destroyed two American-built P3C Orion aircraft. In 2014, the al-Qaeda, with the active support from disgruntled Pakistani naval personnel, stormed the Karachi harbour in an attempt to hijack PNS Zulfiqar, a frigate, but failed to do so. The aim of this attack was reportedly to target US and perhaps Indian warships. If they had been successful, these terrorist attacks would have added a whole new dimension of ‘terrorists in command of war vessels’.

The explosion and subsequent sinking of a Pakistani Dhow off Porbander when cornered by the Indian Coast Guard on the night of December 31, 2014, remains a mystery. It might have been involved in drug trafficking or even arms transfer to insurgents, terrorists and Maoist groups. Ever since, there have been intelligence reports from time to time about the threats to assets along India’s west coast from Pakistan-based terrorists.

Clearly, the possibility of sea-borne terrorist attacks should not come as a surprise. After all, the arms and ammunition for the 1993 Mumbai blasts were transported by sea. Similarly, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks in 2008, too, came by sea.

Pakistan, besides sponsoring terrorism in J&K, has also channelled terrorists into India through Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. There has been, in recent years, increasing radicalisation in the Maldives, mostly engineered by Pakistan, with Saudi Arabia, too, spreading Wahabism in that island nation.

Only a few months ago, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) had raised the issue of red-corner notice by Interpol against Pakistani diplomats based in Colombo between 2009 and 2016. These diplomats had reportedly hired Sri Lankan Muslims to attack various high-profile targets which included military establishments and ports in South India. Some of these operatives were reportedly tasked with gaining entry into India from Maldives.

Terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda, Taliban, LeT which have a strong presence in West Asia and North Africa possess considerable sea-going skills. In any case today, with GPS and satellite communications, no great logistics are necessary and elementary seamanship skills would suffice. All these terrorist organisations could team up with their counterparts in India, such as the Indian Mujahideen, SIMI etc, to carry out attacks within the country. The rise of IS, with a number of Indian youth already having joined its ranks and with some indications that it may already be operational in India, is a cause for worry.

The Pakistan-based terror outfit JeM has reportedly constructed a 15-acre training academy complex in Bahawalpur to train thousands of children to promote Jihad. The JeM had reportedly supported Imran Khan in the recent elections and had openly campaigned against former PM Nawaz Sharif and called him a traitor.

The JeM now looks to Imran Khan to support their mosque-military adventures. With the 10th anniversary of 26/11 round the corner and Imran Khan all set to take over as the new prime minister with the blessings of GHQ Rawalpindi and the infamous ISI, India’s coastal borders will require greater surveillance and vigilance.

(The writer is a former Principal Director, Naval Intelligence, and Director, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India) 

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Stay alert to Pak terror from the seas

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