AS THE dastardly Pakistan-backed terrorist attack of 26/11 on Mumbai completes 14 years, the Indian establishment’s response to the challenge to national security posed by terrorists operating out of Pakistani soil has evolved to a great extent. However, Pakistan has not mended its ways. Rather, it has started targeting India with multi-pronged strategy. As a result, India has to respond to the threat of Pakistan-backed terrorism not only through land and sea counter-measures, but also by being vigilant in cyber space, choking the terror financing routes, and preventing misuse of Indian intelligentsia by inimical interests to create anti-India narrative.
Since the 26/11 attack on Mumbai by Ajmal Kasab and other terrorists backed by Pakistan, India remembers own heroes because of whom Kasab was caught alive and other terrorists were eliminated. On every anniversary, India also talks of measures taken by various agencies to safeguard Indian land and coastline. Also, there is talk of inter-agency co-ordination. Of course, Indian establishment has evolved over the years and several changes have been effected in the security apparatus. As a result, the unknown heroes of Indian establishment have been successful in preventing more attacks against India. However, it must not be forgotten that Pakistan continues to be the origin of terrorist threat to India.
Since 2008, when the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai shook the world, Pakistan has done little to counter terrorism. Whatever so-called action has been taken by Pakistani leadership of the day against terrorists operating out of its soil, was never wholehearted. On umpteen occasions, India presented to Pakistan dossiers on terrorists operating out of the latter’s soil but Pakistan chose to remain in denial mode. Whenever occasion arose to name some terrorists operating out of Pakistan as ‘Global terrorists’, China came to the rescue of its ‘all-weather friend’ Pakistan and blocked the bid. However, even the direct support of China and some of the Islamic countries and indirect support from US-based groups could not ensure that Pakistan came out of turmoil it has been ridden with since 1947. As expected from a ‘terrorist state’ that it has become a long time ago, Pakistan is clearly imploding. It is facing civil unrest and even the former Prime Ministers are not safe there. The recent incident of attack on Imran Khan, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, is a clear indication that armed terror groups operate brazenly and in an undeterred manner in Pakistan. Previously, Pakistan lost Benazir Bhutto, its former Prime Minister, in a terrorist attack. It has been an open secret that there is collaboration between Pakistan-based terror groups and the radical Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, there is suspicion that Pakistan has become global nesting ground for terrorists. This unabated support to terrorism comes as a direct threat to India.
The threat to India is compounded by the financing to terrorists in Pakistan. For instance, sources said, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation of FIF was a front of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) involved in 26/11 attack on Mumbai and other such attacks in India. Last month, China blocked a bid by India and the US to list Shahid Mahmood, Pakistan-based LeT leader, as a ‘Global Terrorist’. According to the US Treasury Department, Shahid Mahmood had served as Vice-Chairman of FIF. In fact, he had worked alongside Hafeez Saeed and was actively involved in creating ‘bases’ and ‘sympathisers’ in India by way of sending funds purportedly for some or the other religious or charity work. In 2019, Pakistan Federal Government imposed a ban on Jamat-ud-Dawah and FIF.
According to sources, the entire set up for terror financing through the facade of charity or humanitarian organisation is still operating from Pakistan. “Even if one such organisation is banned, it is easier for terrorists to float another organisation with new name to bypass ban. With the support of establishment and radical anti-India forces within Pakistan, this modus operandi becomes easier,” said a source. The terror organisations get donations routed through various front organisations and foundations that create a facade of helping humanity through part utilisation of funds received from donors for charitable purposes. Also, Pakistan has a record of diverting aid received from even the US and China and Saudi Arabia towards anti-India activities. Unfortunately, the banks through which such massive funds are transferred from ‘interest-groups’ operating from the US or the United Kingdom or other countries to front organisations of terror groups operating from Pakistan, are not allowed to share details regarding sending and receiving agencies. It is painful for the Indian agencies to get such details from even the Indian banks operating in other countries. For, the banks are bound by the law of the land in those countries.
Beyond International aid, terror groups source local donations in Pakistan for the cause of ‘Deen’ from a wide range of population including those earning daily-wages to industrialists and businessmen. Parts of the establishment in Pakistan actually facilitate approvals or clearances for such industrialists and businessmen, and then ask them to ‘donate’ amount to ‘specific charity organisations/foundations’ on regular basis, said a source. Further, trafficking of opium from Afghanistan is a big industry. This activity also generates some money for terror groups operating from Pakistani soil.
To choke terror financing has emerged as a big challenge for India. Though it has taken certain steps, it has not been able to curb such terror funding completely. India has been receiving co-operation from some countries in this regard. For some time, Pakistan was in the Grey List of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) too. However, the observers believe, it is an open secret that the US’ intervention led to Pakistan getting out of FATF Grey List. Thus, in the area of terror financing, India faces the multiple challenges -- convincing countries like the US to stop supporting Pakistan on FATF front, wriggling through the ‘law of the land’ in other countries to source information regarding sender and receiver of funds transferred internationally, and exposing the real ‘work’ of ‘charity and humanitarian’ organisations operating out of Pakistan.
Another big threat that India needs to counter more effectively is in cyber-space. As is said, this is the era of hybrid warfare. Further, even if land and sea vigil is great, it is challenging to track the fast-changing cyber-threats. Pakistan does not have as sophisticated development of technology as that in the US or China. However, it has good enough technology to target ‘individuals of interest’, said sources.
For the purpose, sinister groups and individuals operating out of Pakistan have opened scores of fake/impostor accounts with Indian domain names on popular social media platforms. They target the individuals working in Indian security and Defence establishments, through virtual honey-trapping. In a recent case, an individual from Nashik in Maharashtra had fallen prey to such honey-trapping and shared sensitive information with the owner of Pakistan-floated account. Previously, there was an attempt in which a DRDO engineer was honey-trapped in such a manner, a malware was planted in his laptop through a link sent to him, and sensitive information was allegedly leaked to Pakistan.
Also, there have been instances in which attempts were made to malign the image of Indian leaders and Indian forces by blowing up certain incidents through social media trends. Often, one can see several Twitter accounts tweeting identical content. Indian agencies have long been suspecting that there are organised groups, supported by Pakistan and other forces inimical to India, that run trends and ‘storms’ on popular social media platform like Twitter. Also, Pakistan hires ‘lone wolf operators’ on the ‘Dark Net’ for developing some bug or malware that could be embedded in a simple-looking photograph/image. Sometimes, job offers are sent with a link, which is clicked by the receiver to get additional details. But, that click may provide the sender access to the receiver’s device.
Although the Indian security apparatus has been successfully preventing a great number of cyber attacks, the virtual honey-traps are proving to be a big headache as those working in sensitive places are often lured by ‘beautiful images’. Efforts are being made to counter such happenings, but, said a source, ‘it all depends on the individual’.
Besides, there is that old challenge of narratives created or peddled through media, books, movies, and nowadays the web series. For the purpose, Pakistan has been sponsoring intellectuals and writers and content-creators from India, and providing them inputs and exposure both apart from financial benefits. In fact, it is suspected that several dialogues, lyrics, imageries, slangs are being subtly ‘planted’ in the literature forms and even movies and web series to influence especially the young minds. There are attempts to stoke anti-establishment sentiment in India. Such attempts are being actively funded and influenced by not only Pakistan-based groups/entities but also those based in the US, European countries, the UK, China, and even Turkey.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, despite all the turmoil it has been in for years, it has been successful in ensuring finance. There are two main reasons for this. One, it comes across as ‘useful State’ when it comes to the geopolitical designs of the big powers. Second, it has been partly successful is ‘Islamisation’ and ‘Internationalisation’ of the Kashmir imbroglio, as had been highlighted in the Senate of Pakistan’s ‘First Report, Committee of the Whole’ in October 2016. Of course, there are many subtle, and complex, dimensions that warrant a greater attention.
Against this backdrop, it is not untimely for the Indian citizens as well as Indian diaspora spread across the world to think of Pakistan-backed terrorist threat to India beyond land and sea routes. To foil the anti-India designs of terrorists in the areas of financing, cyber-space, and influence-wielding through content, alertness holds the greatest key.