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New Year Attack in Istanbul: Predictable and Preventable!

Prabha Rao

IPS (Retd.)

Year 2017 had a bloody start in Turkey. A lone gunman, armed with Kalashnikov, entered Istanbul’s exclusive Reina nightclub, in the upmarket Ortakoy District, and indiscriminately fired at the New Year revellers, killing 39 and injuring around 70, including many foreign nationals. Located right on the banks of the Bosporus, the sprawling club was very popular with expatriates, diplomats and the Turkish elite.
The gunman first shot dead a 22-year-old police officer, Burak Yildiz, and a chauffeur for a tourism company, Ayhan Arik, on the street just outside the club. He then entered the club with impunity, shouting Allahu Akbar, and began to fire at a 600-plus strong crowd, which led to stampede as people ran helter-skelter looking for the exits, with some managing to hide under those lying injured or dead and some simply jumping into the freezing waters of the Bosporus.1

The Perpetrator

Eyewitnesses reported that the gunman spoke broken Turkish and accented Arabic, and that he was a trained assassin as his marksmanship was excellent. Moreover, he had several small explosives on him, which he threw at the crowd to distract them every time he reloaded his Kalashnikov.2 Forensic analysis of the spent bullets shows that the last bullet in the magazines was a tracer round, giving him notice to reload. This is a fairly advanced military technique now used by the terrorists in Syria/Iraq. The attacker reportedly managed to reload his weapon three times, without being prevented by any security personnel or the general public, and was able to fire a total of 120 rounds in a span of about seven minutes.
Of the 39 people dead, 38 were killed in firing and one in the ensuing stampede. The victims included twelve Turks, seven Saudi Arabians, three Iraqis, three Jordanians, three Lebanese, two Tunisians, two Moroccans and one each from Canada, Syria, Kuwait, Russia and Israel. India too lost two of its nationals- Abas Rizvi, a film maker from Mumbai, and Khushi Shah, a fashion designer from Vadodara, Gujarat.3
After indiscriminately firing at the New Year revellers, the killer went into a toilet for about 13 minutes as per the closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, where he removed his cap and coat and left his long barrelled gun behind, and thereafter came out and merged with the crowd and escaped. In haste, he left a wallet with 500 Turkish lira in his coat, which, along with the CCTV footage, and fingerprints on the gun, gave the Turkish investigators valuable leads on him.
The assailant, identified as Abdulgadir Masharipov of Uzbek origin, was finally apprehended after a massive manhunt on January 16. The Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin stated that Masharipov was arrested from an apartment in Esenyurt District, a suburb in Istanbul, about 30 km from the Reina nightclub, along with an Iraqi man and three women, all of whom were affiliated with the ISIS. Pistols, two drones, mobile phone SIM cards, and $197,000 in cash were also seized. According to Sahin, Masharipov was born in 1983, was well educated, knew four languages, and had received training in Afghanistan.4
Analysis of the previous CCTV data revealed that he had visited the Reina Club about a week before on a stake out, which means he was very familiar with its layout. Suspicions have been raised as to how Masharipov was able to carry on his assault without intervention from the club’s security team, as the owner had earlier asked for police protection. It is now learnt that the killer used one of the three exits, which were being monitored by the Turkish police after the incident, and took a taxi from there.5 The terrorist also made a call from the taxi driver’s phone, but the number had been unavailable for three months. The local police is of the opinion that it may have been used as a decoy. The assailant took the taxi to Zeytinburnu, 15 kms from Ortakoy District, where he went to an ethnic Uighur restaurant to get cash to pay for the taxi. This move led to rounding up of around 29 people, along with two others from the Ataturk Airport. Those arrested were Uighurs from China, Dagestanis from Russia, and Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.
The arrests had yielded information that the assailant was part of a well organised sleeper cell of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was reportedly infiltrated into Turkey by a handler codenamed ‘Teacher Yousuf’. The assailant himself had been codenamed ‘Abu Muhammed Horasani’ by the Amn al-Kharji, the espionage wing of the group. In November 2016, ‘Teacher Yusuf’ had reportedly installed the killer and his family, comprising a wife and two children, in an apartment block in the town of Konya, where three other families related to the ISIS cadres were living. Turkish police conducted raids at their residences in Konya, and found a mobile phone with a selfie of the gunman taken at the Taksim Square in Istanbul, giving a clear frontal image of his face, which was quickly circulated to the airports, railway stations, etc.
The other families, thought to be part of the ISIS cell, left Konya after the incident, but were traced along with their 20 children by the police in the Bornova and Buca districts of the coastal Turkish town of Izmir, 350 kms from Konya, on January 04. Forty-one passports from multiple countries were found with them, most of which were forgeries, as well as 15 fake identity cards. Also 13 mobile phones, one tablet, one military jacket, one GPS unit, and sniper sights and night vision binoculars were seized. The handler is yet to be traced.6 In a related incident, a car bomb detonated outside a courthouse in Izmir, followed by a gun battle between police and the suspected terrorists, killing a police officer and a bystander, and injuring around 10 people. Two of the terrorists were also killed, and one escaped.7
The large quantity of cash, mobile phones, SIM cards, communication equipment, arsenal, etc., that have been seized from Masharipov and his associates make it clear that the terrorist cell was well funded, and was working in coordination with the ISIS headquarters in Raqqa. The ISIS had sent a message via al-Amaq, a propaganda media outlet affiliated to the group, on January 02, 2017, that a “heroic soldier of the caliphate attacked the nightclub where Christians were celebrating their pagan feast”. The message added that the ‘soldier’, who was not named, fired an automatic rifle and exploded hand grenades in “revenge for God’s religion and in response to the orders” of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.8

Message posted online by al-Amaq9

The ISIS message claiming responsibility for the Istanbul attack was different from the ones issued after attacks in Orlando (June 12, 2016), where 49 people were killed; in Nice (July 14, 2016), where 86 people were killed; and in Berlin (December 19, 2016), where 12 people were killed, which were described as lone-wolf attacks. It was also different from the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, on December 19, 2016, by Mevlut Mert Altintas, an officer in Ankara’s riot police squad. The Turkish authorities claimed that he had been self-radicalised and had no associates. Symptomatic red flags had shot up, as it indicated the prevalence of radicalisation in the Turkish armed/security services, apart from serious security lapses.
Parallels, however, can be drawn with the June 2016 attack at Ataturk Airport, perpetrated by an assailant of Central Asian origin, belonging to the ISIS sleeper cell comprising Rakim Bulgarov and Vadim Osmanov, and directed by a senior Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) fighter from the Pankisi Gorge, named Akhmet Chatayev. Parallels can also be drawn with the July 01, 2016 attack at Holey Artisan Bakery in Bangladesh, killing 29 people including several foreigners, which too was a venue popular with foreigners/diplomats in the affluent Gulshan area of capital Dhaka.
Warnings of an imminent attack were there in the November 2015 issue of the ISIS propaganda magazine Dabiq, which was dedicated to the “Revival of Jihad in Bangladesh”. It was stated therein that the ISIS Bangladesh was headed by one Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, also known as Sheikh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif, a Bangladeshi with a Canadian passport. He later turned out to be one of the main architects of the July 2016 bakery attack in Dhaka, and was subsequently killed by the Bangladeshi forces in Narayanganj.

Warnings from ISIS

Similarly, adequate warning had been given in the case of the Reina club attack as well. On November 02, 2016, al-Baghdadi had given a 30-minute audio message, titled, “This is What God and His Messenger Promised Us”, a reference to the 22nd verse of Koran’s Surah al-Ahzab. It referred to the coalition of the Quraysh and various tribes who lost to Prophet Muhammad in the battle of Badr, implying that the anti-ISIS coalition would similarly lose to the ‘caliphate’. He also mourned the death of the senior ISIS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who was killed in Syria earlier in August, and called for attacks against Saudi Arabia and Turkey.10 The ISIS ire against Turkey developed after latter’s détente with Russia. It further sharpened as Ankara activated the Bashiqa Camp on the outskirts of the Mosul city in Iraq, which targeted the fleeing ISIS cadres.
Later, on December 22, 2016, the ISIS put out a 19-minute video on the al-Furqan channel, titled, ‘The Cross Shield’, castigating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his inconsistent stand towards Syria/Iraq war, particularly in view of his rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, dialogue with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, talks with US President Barack Obama, etc. all of which enables the continuance of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Significantly, the video also carried pictures of the above mentioned as well as some other leaders meeting the Turkish leadership, including that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with President Erdogan, depicting them as world leaders working against Islamic interests.11
Screenshot of President Erdogan meeting Pope Francis and various world leaders including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the ISIS Video ‘The Cross Shield’

Source: Rezaul Hasan Laskar, Twitter Post, January 02, 2017, 05:51 a.m.
The gory video also carried footage of bombings in al-Bab in Syria, where the Turkish air force is involved, and Aleppo, which has witnessed massive civilian casualties. There is also a graphic recording of the live burning of two Turkish soldiers captured by the ISIS in al-Bab, which was put out as a warning to Ankara to restrict its activities in the war. President Erdogan had banned YouTube, Facebook and Twitter in Turkey after this, but the footage indicated the shift in relationship between the ISIS and Turkey, from that of an uneasy coexistence to an all-out war.12
Finally, a message against celebrating the New Year eve was sent by the ISIS on December 26, on its al-Furqan channel, quoting the Quran: “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya’ (friends, protectors, helpers), they are but Auliya’ of each other. And if any amongst you takes them (as Auliya’), then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers and unjust)” (5:51).13 While, the majority of Turks would distance themselves from any connection/adherence to the ISIS, the meme below has reportedly been in circulation in Turkey.
The mood in Turkey today is disquieting. Since the July 2016 coup attempt, President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkish), which is based on the ideology of the Ikhwanul Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood), have been publically voicing displeasure overconsumption of alcohol, which is now heavily taxed in Turkey. Several restrictions have been placed on bar licenses and vendors. The ruling AKP also disapproves of ‘Western concepts’ such as dancing parties and night clubs, and even commemorating/celebrating Christian festivals.
On December 26, 2016, a group of young people had staged a mock execution of Santa Claus in front of a shopping mall in Istanbul, warning people against celebrating Western festivals. Dion Nissenbaum, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was strip-searched and placed in solitary confinement for publishing images from the ISIS video ‘The Cross Shield’, and a well-known fashion designer was beaten up at the Istanbul Airport by Ikhwanul Muslimeen activists, for his social media posts calling for moderation.14 In a pointed twitter feed, Prof. Howard Eissenstat, an expert on Turkey at St. Lawrence University, New York, tweeted on January 01, 2017: “Disturbing + not very difficult line to draw between official Turkish anti New Years campaign + tonight’s violence. Rhetoric has consequences.”15
Rhetoric certainly has its consequences, and Turkey today is a deeply polarised country. The alleged coup attempt in July 2016, said to have been masterminded by the US-based moderate cleric Fethullah Gulen, has resulted in massive erosion of government authority in the army, police, judiciary, education and administration. It is said that over 30 per cent of the work force was targeted by the government in its effort to fully quell the coup. This has led to schism within the Turkish state institutions.
Differences with the US and other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries too have been escalating. President Erdogan has blamed the Obama administration for a host of Turkey’s problems, including fight against the ISIS. In December 2015, Erdogan had publicly criticised the US diktat restricting Turkish forces from going further than 20 kilometres into Syria while conducting cross-border operations against the ISIS fighters. Apart from alleging that the US had obliquely supported Gulen in his coup attempt, Turkey’s presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin had further claimed that Washington is supporting the Democratic Union Party of Kurdistan (PYD), fighting for a free Kurdish nation, and helping the Kurdish group to establish a corridor between Afrin in south Turkey and Manbij in Syria, which is against Turkey’s national interest.16
Even though the perpetrator of the Reina club attack has been apprehended, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, in a provocative statement, voiced suspicion that “the Reina attack is not just a terrorist organisation’s act, but there was also an intelligence organisation involved.” He added, “It was an extremely planned and organised act.”17
Turkey’s differences with the US, European Union (EU) and the NATO have impacted its internal security, by causing serious schisms within the country, which continues to have a large secular segment. It is paying a heavy price for its tolerance of Takfiri activists and their communication networks in the southern part of the country. Erdogan’s quiescence on possible continuation of Assad regime in Syria, and growing understanding with Russia, has exposed his regime to the ire of these self-same extremists, who have already established their presence within the country, enabling them to hit at the Turkish state with comparative ease. Turkey’s position as the main transit node for entering and exiting the ISIS Dawla (state), is now of paramount importance, given the probable neutralisation of the group’s territorial hold in Syria and Iraq, and possible large scale migration of Islamist fighters towards Europe and the Af-Pak region.

India on ISIS Radar

From the Indian perspective, there are some takeaways from the Reina club attack that need to be considered. The ISIS is certainly promoting attacks outside their main battle areas, be it lone-wolf attacks or coordinated actions conceptualised in Raqqa/Mosul. Reference to Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with Turkish leadership in the ISIS video, issued on December 22, is a cause for concern. Also, the statements made by Mohammad Masiuddin alias Musa, arrested from Burdwan railway station by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on July 04, 2016, on charges of radicalising youth for recruiting them into the ISIS, that he was linked to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and had agreed to take up an assignment from a JMB leader, Abu Suleiman, to target foreigners and the US nationals in India, need to be taken very seriously.18
Musa in his interrogation had also claimed that the JMB and ISIS have sizeable support in West Bengal. Burgeoning radicalism in the porous eastern border regions has serious security implications for the country, as does the growing influence of Salafism in India’s southern states. Containing these home-grown elements need initiatives beyond traditional policing. It requires close and real-time interaction with community leaders and a comprehensive and sustained counter narrative to mitigate the toxic narrative of radical Islamic groups.
Last year, in 2016, scores of ISIS sympathisers were arrested by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Around 450 individuals, who are considered as potential threat, are said to be under watch.19 IB has also set up a cell to monitor online radicalisation, codenamed Operation Chakravyuh, and has reportedly been able to neutralise a number of threats.
While the efforts of the security agencies are wholly praiseworthy, their tasks in view of emerging challenges remain indubitably herculean. Lapses of security, as seen in the case of New Year club attack in Istanbul, of not having adequate perimeter coverage, and real time alerts from CCTV feeds to the security network, need to be factored into India’s urban security landscape.
Terrorists are now adopting innovative and indigenously encrypted communication systems, making the task of cyber security agencies quantifiably more difficult. A system for meta-data analysis is urgently required. With the announcement of ‘caliphate’ by the ISIS in June 2014, terrorism has morphed into newer forms. India’s security blueprint therefore needs to keep pace.
1. Jamie Grierson, Haroon Siddique, Graham Russell and Nicola Slawson, “Istanbul attack: Manhunt for attacker who killed 39 in nightclub – as it happened”, The Guardian, January 01, 2017.
2. Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler, “Gunman in Istanbul nightclub attack may have trained in Syria”, Reuters, January 04, 2017.
3.Two Indian nationals killed in Istanbul nightclub attack: Sushma Swaraj”, Business Standard, January 01, 2017.
4. Daren Butler, “Turkey says captures nightclub attacker who acted for Islamic State”, Reuters, January 17, 2017.
5.Turkey Detains 20 Suspects In Istanbul Massacre, Most of Them From Central Asian Countries”, ThereAreNoSunglasses, January 04, 2017.
6. Jake Wallis Simons, “Istanbul nightclub killer ‘was sneaked into Turkey by sophisticated ISIS network under a secret codename and hidden in a safe house’ before carrying out Turkish massacre”, Daily Mail, January 04, 2017.
7. Lizzie Dearden and Bethan McKernan, “Izmir explosion: Two ‘terrorists’ shot dead after car bomb and gunfire outside courthouse in Turkey”, The Independent, January 05, 2017.
8.ISIS claims responsibility for Turkey attack”, Al Arabiya, January 02, 2017.
10. Graeme Wood, “The ‘Caliph’ Speaks”, The Atlantic, November 04, 2016.
11. Rezaul Hasan Laskar, “IS video claims Modi, Obama, Turkey’s Erdogan working against Muslims’ interests”, Hindustan Times, January 03, 2017.
12. Gareth Davies, “Sick ISIS savages film themselves burning two Turkish soldiers alive in disturbing new execution video after capturing them in Aleppo”, Daily Mail, December 22, 2016; “ISIS burns 2 Turkish servicemen alive, releases gruesome video”, Russia Today, December 23, 2016 and “ISIL video shows ‘Turkish soldiers burned alive’”, Al Jazeera, December 23, 2016.
13. Robert Spencer, “Islamic State: ‘To celebrate New Year’s Eve with the kuffar is to embrace their idolatry’”, Jihad Watch, January 03, 2017 and Vicky Nanjappa, “Celebrating New Years amounts to practising idolatry says Islamic State”, OneIndia, January 01, 2017.
14. Tim Arango, “In Turkey, U.S. Hand Is Seen in Nearly Every Crisis”, The New York Times, January 04, 2017.
15. Tim Arango, “Nightclub Massacre in Istanbul Exposes Turkey’s Deepening Fault Lines”, The New York Times, January 05, 2017.
16.Turkey was told not to go further than 20 kms into Syria: Erdoğan”, Hurriyet Daily News, December 05, 2016.
17.Reina nightclub attacker captured by security forces in Istanbul”, Russia Today, January 16, 2017.
18. Pooja Mehta, “Kolkata: FBI team arrives to interrogate Islamic State operative Musa”, Daily News & Analysis (DNA), December 08, 2016.
19. Vicky Nanjappa, “Year 2017: Agencies would be busy with IS recruits”, OneIndia News, January 02, 2017.

The race for leadership in supercomputers – does India stand a chance?

Prabha Rao

IPS (Retd.)

In June 2016, a significant and unusual event occurred in the world of supercomputing – the sector that specializes in very high speed computers that are used for applications such as weather forecasting and advanced weapons design. It was announced that the fastest supercomputer in the world was now the Sunway TaihuLight, a Chinese machine, which had performed at a speed of 93 petaflops – three times faster than the previous leader.1
Chinese supercomputers have been leading the field since 2011, but until now had depended to a large extent on key hardware components from American companies. What made the June 2016 event unusual was the announcement that, in a first for the industry, the Sunway TaihuLight was powered entirely by Chinese-designed and Chinese-manufactured processor chips. In other words, the new machine was evidence that China had mastered the entire computer engineering cycle, from conceptualization to detailed design and manufacture of individual semiconductor components. For the first time in the history of computing, the leadership at the cutting edge of a strategic technology – supercomputers – had passed from the United States to China.

Brief History of Supercomputing

To understand how this happened, and why countries like Japan, India, and many in the European Union have been overtaken by China, it is useful to understand the history of supercomputing, or High Performance Computing (HPC) as it is also referred to. The idea of HPC – specialized machines designed to operate at ever faster speeds to solve the most complex of real world problems – is universally credited to Seymour Cray, the legendary American computer designer. In 1964, the world’s first supercomputer, the Control Data Corporation CDC 6600, was designed and manufactured under Cray’s supervision and leadership. For almost the next 50 years, with a few exceptions, it was always a US-built supercomputer that set the trend.
Within that half century were contained two stages, or eras, in supercomputer development. The first era is usually referred to as the Monocomputer Era, and this lasted from around 1960 to 1995. The Monocomputer architecture utilized a single high speed processor accessing data stored in a single memory stack. Since this architecture was first developed by Seymour Cray and was used by all supercomputers in this era, the first era is also sometimes referred to as the Seymour Cray era of hardware.
In the early 1980s, a radically different approach began to be adopted. This new approach, or architecture, used the idea that many computers or processors operating in parallel could do the job faster than a single computer using the single processor Cray architecture. Thus began the Multicomputer Era, which overlapped with the first era starting around 1985, and is continuing till date. The Multicomputer era places far greater emphasis on the software that distributes the work between different processors, and is thus also sometimes referred to as the Multicomputer Era of the programmer.2
One very unusual feature of the early days of supercomputing was that developments took place entirely in the American private sector. It was only when the Europeans and the Japanese also started work on their own supercomputers that the US government began to take an active interest. Nevertheless, it was only in 1995 that the first formal US government policy – called the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative or ASCI – was announced. The European and Japanese initiatives, in contrast, were driven by their governments and universities.3
The chart below tabulates the progress of supercomputers through the two eras. On the X-axis is plotted the year of introduction of the captioned machines; and on the Y-axis the speed of each machine in Gigaflops, measured by the industry standard Linpack Benchmark. As the chart shows, speeds of supercomputers have been doubling every two years.

India’s Supercomputing Efforts

The supercomputer effort in India began in the late 1980s, when the US stopped the export of a Cray supercomputer because of continuing technology embargoes. In response, the Indian government set up the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) with the mission of building an indigenous supercomputer. In 1990, C-DAC unveiled the prototype of the PARAM 800, a multiprocessor machine, the first outcome of the new programme. PARAM was benchmarked at 5 Gflops, making it the second fastest supercomputer in the world at that time.

How China Achieved Dominance in Supercomputing

What, meanwhile, of China? Historical records show that China had developed an interest in HPC as early as the 1950s and 1960s. During the Mao era, even at the height of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and in spite of the removal of Soviet assistance after the Sino-Soviet split, the Chinese computer programme proceeded without let up. By the end of the 1960s, China was manufacturing its own integrated circuits and integrating them into indigenous third generation computers, making China in some respects even more advanced than the USSR.
In July 1972, barely four months after the epochal visit of US President Richard Nixon to China, a delegation of American computer scientists visited China at the invitation of the Chinese government, and spent three weeks with their Chinese counterparts. While they were suitably impressed by the strides made by the Chinese in mastering the technology, it was the perspective and objectives of the Chinese technology programme that really gave them pause.
The Chinese, it turned out, were not interested in the small and inexpensive “minicomputers” which were at that time taking the US and Europe by storm. What they were really interested in were the high speed machines such as the CDC Star, which were considered the state of the art in the early 1970s. It was evident to the American delegation that matching US capability in this area was a major objective of the Chinese. The delegation made this observation in the report they subsequently published in the journal Science.4
The Chinese interest in supercomputing thus seems to have been established very early and remained constant during the decades of political turmoil in the 1960s and 1970s. This interest was institutionalized very substantially in March 1986, when Deng Xiaoping initiated the famed ‘863’ programme to acquire parity with the US, and with the rest of the world, across a range of high technology sectors. For supercomputing to develop, a host of other industries and sectors had to develop as well, such as semiconductor manufacture, design of integrated circuits, expertise in the mining and refining of rare earths, etc. All of these were integrated well into the 863 programme.5
It took two decades for these efforts to bear fruit. In 2006, Chinese supercomputers entered the Top 500 list for the first time. At that point, India had eight supercomputers on the list, which was otherwise dominated almost entirely by the Americans, albeit with strong competition from the Japanese at the top of the list. 10 years later, in 2016, China leads the Top 500 list with 169 machines, including the Sunway TaihuLight, the world’s fastest at 93 petaflops as mentioned earlier. The US comes second, with 165 machines. Europe as a whole has about 110 machines, and Japan barely 40, although it is to the Japanese credit that the average speed of their supercomputers is the highest. India, unfortunately, has stayed nearly static with only nine systems in the Top 500 list.
Supercomputers are the second sector where China has established global leadership, the first being rare earths mining and refining, in which it holds a 95 per cent market share. But China’s growing dominance in the supercomputer sector displays capabilities that go well beyond the specialized mining and refining technologies that characterize the rare earths sector.

Prerequisites for Making the Fastest Supercomputer

Developing the world’s fastest supercomputer requires capabilities that start with pure science – specifically quantum physics and the electrodynamics of semiconductors. Allied with this is the requirement of a highly educated and competent cadre of computer scientists who understand the complexities of such abstract computer science concepts as the ‘theory of computation’ and are able to apply these concepts to developing efficient algorithms that can solve very complex real world problems. Building up a cadre of scientists with such specialized knowledge requires decades of effort, which the Chinese have systematically put in. This needs to be combined with the capacity to design Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) integrated circuits, including complex microprocessors that are as good as, if not better than, American products.6 A host of networking and connectivity technologies that enable large numbers of processors to operate efficiently in parallel – the Sunway has over 10 million parallel processors – need to be mastered for the design to even reach the prototype stage.
Many seemingly unconnected technologies are associated with supercomputers. For example, HPC machines consume enormous amounts of power – the Sunway alone consumes as much as 28 MW. It is to the credit of Chinese scientists that the home-grown processors used in the Sunway are actually three times as energy efficient as the nearest American equivalents. The physical design of the machine, including the cooling system, is itself a mechanical and metallurgical engineering challenge.
Finally, for supercomputers to be effective, they need to be loaded with a large suite of specialized software packages, ranging from operating systems that cater for the multiprocessor environment to the application suites capable of executing algorithms that help solve the truly complex real world problems such as weather forecasting, very big data analysis, biomedical modelling, and of course security-related applications such as cryptography, advanced aerospace engineering and weapon systems design.

Future Trends in Supercomputing

This raises the questions: Do countries like India stand a chance in this race? And, what can they do? The answers may lie in a careful analysis of future trends.
The Chinese mastery of the wide range of technologies positions them well for winning the next race in supercomputers, which is breaking the “exascale barrier”. In simple terms, this is the race to determine who first succeeds in constructing a supercomputer that is capable of a speed of one exaflop per second, or one thousand million Gigaflops, one Gigaflop itself being one thousand million floating point operations per second. There are four countries in the race – China, the US, France and Japan. China looks well set to win the race in the year 2018.7 France and Japan have both indicated that they would achieve the objective by 2020, and the US has conservatively indicated 2023. But the US has also stated that it expects to regain long term leadership.8
The exascale barrier is a landmark for supercomputers for reasons that go beyond the mere desire to be the first. Supercomputers operating at such incredible speeds will encounter a variety of barriers that previous generations of designers did not have to contend with. For example, the network and interconnectivity hardware that allows millions of processors to operate in parallel will have to speed up by an order of magnitude to accommodate exascale performance. Similarly, the cooling system will become a central design constraint – a statement that supercomputer engineers are wont to make is that future HPC machines may need their own independent nuclear reactor for power supply and cooling!

What India Needs to Do

All this brings back into focus the need for innovation. One outstanding feature of the supercomputer sector is that innovation is always taking place across the entire cycle, from new theories of computation to the design of chips and to new forms of software. Unlike other sectors which stabilize based on commercial considerations sooner or later, the innovation pot is always boiling over in the case of supercomputers. This is both a daunting barrier and an exciting opportunity for countries like India. There are several imperatives if India is to regain some measure of competitiveness in this strategically vital sector.
First, India must move away from the perspective which it has allowed to dominate, namely, that the application of supercomputers is more important than supercomputer technologies themselves. In this perspective, it does not matter whether an HPC machine is indigenous or imported, as long as it is usefully applied. This perspective ignores the strategic importance of supercomputers and the abundant evidence that all major countries view these technologies as critical.
Second, India must understand that it is possible to start from the current state of the art itself. There is no need to entirely retrace the path already taken by China and the other countries. Using technological expertise that is available with the global network of Indian and Indian-origin scientists and engineers, it is possible to start from a baseline which is already advanced. In addition, the software skills and personnel base that India has built up in the public and private sectors can be effectively leveraged to propel innovation on the software components of supercomputer technology.
Third, India has to understand that supercomputer research always requires fundamental research into the next stages of computing. Thus, going beyond the exascale barrier might require new approaches that are right now only in the theoretical stage – quantum computing, for example, has been only spoken about in research forums, but may well turn out to be the basis of the next leap forward. The time frames required to operationalize and commercialize nascent technologies are shrinking, and this is something that needs to be factored into the Indian approach.
Fourth, India should set itself clear objectives of what it wants to achieve in this strategically significant sector. The Chinese perspective is telling – over 50 years ago, China set itself the clear objective of parity with the United States. While the setting up of the National Supercomputer Mission in 20159 is a laudable first step, it needs to be followed up by the identification of clear objectives and allocation of adequate resources. Within a Mission perspective, it should be possible to cut down bureaucratic red tape and allow scientists and engineers to take bold and radical steps without fear of reprisal.
Finally, it needs to be appreciated that supercomputers are strategic in the most important sense, namely, the creation of an ecosystem that extends well beyond the boundaries of science and technology and has the capacity to transform the country. A strong supercomputer sector leads to capability in a variety of other fields, from semiconductor manufacturing and precision engineering to optimal strategies for agricultural production, urban planning and the like. All this would be in addition to the national security related applications where India cannot afford to be dependent on foreign expertise. Building up capability in this sector requires active government leadership to catalyse the establishment of a vibrant academic infrastructure where research at the frontiers of physics and material sciences, computational mathematics and computer science are encouraged, to establish strong partnerships with industry for technology transfer and commercial exploitation, and finally to create widespread awareness of the possibilities and potential of supercomputers. In the more advanced countries, using supercomputer resources has become routine for a large and increasing percentage of Fortune 500 companies. In China, the Sunway TaihuLight installation is intended to function as a public service, with access available to all. It may be simpler for India to catch up with these countries than is commonly imagined. What is required are bold decisions that aim at reaching comparative parity within the next decade.


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MOST, China. (2016). High Technology R&D Program (863 Program).
Mullaney, T. (2016, August 4). The Origins of Chinese Supercomputing. Foreign Affairs.
Orr, G., & Thomas, C. (2014). Semiconductors in China: Brave new world or same old story? McKinsey & Co.
Thibodeau, P. (2016, June 21). US to have 200-peatflop supercomputer by early 2018. ComputerWorld.
Top500. (n.d.). Top500. Retrieved from
Trader, T. (2016, May 2). China Sets Ambitious Goal To Reach Exascale By 2020. Retrieved from HPC Wire:
1. Top 500, n.d.
2. Bell, 2014
3. Ezell & Atkinson, April 2016
4. The narrative in this and the previous two paragraphs is drawn from Tom Mullaney, “The Origins of Chinese Supercomputing And an American Delegation’s Mao-Era Visit,” Foreign Affairs, 4 August 2016, at…
5. MOST, China, 2016
6. Orr & Thomas, 2014
7. Trader, 2016
8. Thibodeau, 2016
9. Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs India, 2015

The Terrorist Attack on Ataturk Airport – Portents and Pointers

Prabha Rao

IPS (Retd.)

The June 28, 2016 terrorist attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, which left 44 dead, including 18 foreigners, mainly Saudis, Iranians and Ukrainians, and over 230 injured, was especially significant, as it was carried out on the eve of the second anniversary of the declaration of the Caliphate in Mosul by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Ataturk Airport, which was said to be one of the best-guarded airports in the world handling over 63 million passengers a year, was breached with comparative ease by a triad of terrorists, using methods tried and tested over several airport attacks. According to the Turkish interior ministry, the fault line was the external security perimeter, which had been recently expanded, and had inadequate checks to the departure terminal. This was accentuated by round-the-clock heavy traffic close to the arrival and departure terminals. After scanning CCTV inputs, officials zeroed in on three terrorists who came to the entrance of the international terminal at around 2045 hours in a taxi, with heavy winter jackets (which should have raised alarm bells), and black suitcases. After separating, one targeted the nearby parking lot of the international terminal while the second moved towards the security checkpoint at the terminal entrance. They opened indiscriminate fire, lobbed grenades and finally detonated themselves using suicide vests. And the third waited at the entrance and targeted the public streaming out of the Airport in panic.1
The incident, which had been meticulously planned, lasted a little more than three minutes. The attackers struck an hour after iftar, and so reportedly caught the security staff unawares.2 According to inputs, Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, MIT, had warned about a possible suicide attack a few weeks earlier,3 although specific details were not available. The incident in Ataturk Airport was an almost mirror image of the attack on Zaventem Airport, Brussels (March 22 2016), which highlighted the possibility that it was an ISIS-sponsored attack, and re-emphasised the vulnerability of European airports. Turkey, which considers Ataturk Airport to be a national symbol, and the gateway to its tourist revenue, has seen an immediate sharp decline in tourist footfalls, which, European countries in general, can ill afford in the present climate of economic slowdown.
The perpetrators of the attack were identified within 36 hours; a testimony to the efficiency and reach of Turkish Intelligence and local police. Two persons, holding Russian travel documents, have been identified – Rakim Bulgarov and Vadim Osmanov, according to Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu (June 30). The MIT located a flat rented by Osmanov in the Aksaray neighbourhood, Fatih district, Istanbul, where he had to give his passport copy, which foreign nationals are required to furnish, for security vetting. Anadolu, quoting police sources, said that information about the flat had been obtained through a laptop the bombers threw away before leaving for the airport.4 The police, apart from positively identifying Osmanov from his passport, were also able to seize digital data and documents linked to the ISIS in the flat,5 and learnt that Vadim Osmanov had attended a Salafi mosque in Makhachkala in Dagestan, Russia, which is known to have radicalized a number of Caucasian Jihadis.6
The Aksaray neighbourhood has become a hub for Syrian and Iraqi nationals who have moved to Turkey following unrest in their countries and set up scores of small shops, restaurants, real estate agencies and import-export businesses. It also houses a network of North Caucasian migrants, many of whom are battle-hardened from their experience in either the Chechen wars or Afghanistan, and are vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment by transnational jihadi groupings. The Aksaray region can be compared to Molenbeek in Belgium, the home of some terrorists connected to the Paris and Brussels attacks. As in the case of Saleh Abdelsalam, the terrorist involved in Paris and Brussels, who moved in from Syria and sheltered in Molenbeek, Vadim Osmanov entered Turkey from Syria on his Russian passport about a month ago. Police further said that he had entered Turkey from Raqqa (Syria), the capital of the ISIS, at least once before in 2015 and is suspected to have had links to jihadi cells inside Turkey.7 The third bomber has not yet been named, but initial reports suggested that he was from Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Turkish police carried out several raids against suspected Islamic State cells in Istanbul, the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, and the border town of Gaziantep (June 30-July3), and have arrested around 44 individuals, including 17 foreigners.8
Some reports have suggested that the mastermind of the Ataturk attack was Ahmed Rajapovich Chatayev, a senior member of the Kavkaz Emirate, a grouping active in Syria, which is now affiliated with the ISIS. While the Turkish government mouth piece, Yeni Safak,9 has written that he was the prime mover of the attack, the Turkish Government has not yet made an official statement. However, Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, has stated that Chatayev was probably behind the three suicide bombers who carried out the attack on Istanbul airport. There are also differing reports about his arrest, with NSBC International reporting on July 1 that Turkish authorities had arrested Chatayev, but CNN stating that his whereabouts were still unknown. Chatayev’s involvement has also been claimed by the Russian media as well as by social networking sites associated with the Turkish Government.
Ahmed Chatayev’s possible connection in the incident presages a dangerous portent, given his jihadi profile. He has been on Russia’s watch list for his involvement in the second Chechen war (1999-2000), where he lost an arm, earning him the sobriquet of the one-armed jihadi. He was closely associated with Doku Umarov, the Chechen leader, who decided to go beyond Chechen nationalism by anointing himself as the self-proclaimed Emir of the entire North Caucasus region of Russia and declaring it a putative Islamic State of the Kavkaz Emirate (2003). Till his death through poisoning in 2013, Umarov had been the top terrorist leader in Russia, and taken responsibility for several attacks on civilian targets since 2009, including the 2010 Moscow Metro bombings and significantly, the 2011 Domodedovo International Airport bombing, which has a marked similarity to the Ataturk Airport attack. While his attempts to prevent the holding of the Sochi 2014 Olympics was unsuccessful, he succeeded in radicalizing not only a large number of North Caucasians, but also got the Bashkirs and Tatars into the terrorist net.10
Due to his links with Doku Umarov, Ahmed Chatayev was on the wanted list in Russia since 2003 for sponsoring terrorism, recruiting extremists and membership in a terrorist group. Chatayev escaped to Europe and claimed asylum on the grounds that he was a victim of torture, was being persecuted by Russian authorities, and was subsequently granted asylum in Austria. He was arrested in the Swedish town of Trelleborg in 2008 and was detained with some Chechen nationals as police found Kalashnikov assault rifles, explosives and ammunition in his car, and he consequently spent more than a year in a Swedish prison. Chatayev was again arrested in 2010 in Ukraine and blue prints of IEDs and data regarding Chechen terrorists in Russia and Middle East were found on his mobile. Russia’s request for his extradition on terrorism-related charges was rejected, as Chatayev filed a case in the European Court for Human Rights, which ordered Ukraine not to hand him over to Russia, and Amnesty International sent out a statement that his extradition could cause a miscarriage of justice as he could face torture and ill treatment.11
A year later, Chatayev was once again detained as he was crossing the border between Turkey and Bulgaria. And once again he avoided extradition because of Amnesty International, which stressed that Chatayev had a refugee status in Austria and thus cannot be sent to Russia. Between 2012 and 2015, Chatayev reportedly lived in Georgia, where he established a strong presence of the Kavkaz Emirate. Since mid-2014, he has recruited large numbers of fighters from the North and South Caucasus to join the ranks of the Islamic State. Largely because of his role, the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia has become a major transit route for jihadists travelling to Syria to fight on behalf of the Caliphate.12 He cooperated closely with Omar Shishani (Tarhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvi), a Georgian, who headed the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s (IMU) contingent in Syria/ Iraq and was the Military Commander of the ISIS in Raqqa till his death (March 16 2016).13
Chatayev had left Georgia in February 2015 for Syria, where he joined ISIS militants. He is said to be the commander of the Yarmouk Battalion, a Chechen faction of the ISIS. According to the United Nations Security Council, Chatayev now controls 130 ISIS militants whom he uses for terrorist activities in Syria around Aleppo, and other areas adjacent to southern Turkey. He has considerable clout in the ISIS, due to his work in the Pankisi Gorge area, from where he is reported to have brought in over 1000 jihadis into Syria/Iraq. Chatayev is said to have set up a branch of the Kavkaz Emirate in Turkey, and since 2015 has focussed on recruiting young men from immigrant families who hold European Union passports. In January 2016, the Russian paper, Kommersant, warned that Chatayev was “training executors for acts of terror not only in Russia but also in Western Europe.”14 Later, Andrey Przhezdomsky, the advisor to the chairman of the Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee, claimed the Chatayev was the head of a special ISIS unit now in charge of arranging blasts in Russia and Europe. Significantly, Russian claims about Chatayev have been endorsed after the interrogation of two North Caucasian ISIS cadres, Yakub Ibragimov and Abdulla Abdullaev, in Turkey last year, who confessed that they recruited young Caucasians via social media, provided them with fake passports, and took them to ISIS camps where they underwent training organised by Chatayev’s team.15
Russians have maintained that Chatayev was not extradited, despite overwhelming evidence against him, due to the intervention of the Security Service of Ukraine’s (SBU) chief, Valentin Nalyvaychenko, and protests by the Ukrainian nationalist organization, the Tryzub. The Russians further claim that the “Dzokhar Dudayev” battalion (named after the first rebel Chechen leader who tried to declare independence from Russia) was formed by the nationalist Right Sector, a Ukrainian militia, to participate in the military conflict in the Donbass region, on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Battalion has been split into the Sheikh Mansur battalion (named after an 18th century Chechen warrior) and has incorporated illegal armed formations and terror groups mainly from the North Caucus, some of whom have migrated to the Syria/Iraq theatre after earning their jihadi credentials on the Ukrainian frontline.16 The Dudayev and Sheik Mansur Battalions also cooperate closely with the Kavkaz Emirate (CE), and Chatayev has been the representative of Doku Umarov and CE in Europe since he got asylum in Austria. Russian media has pointed out that, had expeditious and legal action been taken against Chatayev, the Istanbul blast could have perhaps been prevented.17
Security officials have opined that the group’s motive in the high voltage attack, which was Turkey’s first suicide attack in an Airport, could have been to intimidate Ankara because of recent attempts at rapprochement with Russia.18 On June 27, Erdogan sent a letter of apology to Russian President Vladimir Putin seeking to bury the hatchet over Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian fighter jet on November 24, 2015. Putin and Erdogan spoke by phone the day after the terrorist attack at Ataturk Airport, when the former ordered the Russian government to launch the process of restoring cooperation with Turkey, including tourist traffic, and enhance cooperation to contain terrorism.19 Recent conciliatory moves towards Moscow is a matter of real disquiet for the ISIS mujahedeen, especially the IMU and Kavkaz Emirate cadres, as they had been using communication routes through Turkey, and had set up an extensive network there. For them, Turkish cooperation with Russia could be an existential threat.
The involvement of Chechen mujahideen in Europe is a disturbing phenomenon. The Istanbul attack was the first instance of Caucasian mujahideen with the ISIS involving themselves in a terror attack outside Syria/Iraq. The incident is indicative of not only the network that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Kavkaz Emirate have set up in Turkey, but also the fact that European intelligence has failed to keep track of identified dangerous elements within the EU. According to the Federal Security Services of Russia (FSB), around 3,400 Russian citizens had gone to fight alongside ISIS/Jabhat ul Nusra in Syria and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, and around 2,500 Islamic State fighters have gone from other Central Asian countries. Given the current migration crisis in Europe, a number of terrorists could slip into the EU via Turkey on fake passports and documents. One of the alleged suicide bombers in the Istanbul attack, Osman Vadinov, also slipped into Turkey on a Russian passport and fake visa. Apart from the networks that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Kavkaz Emirate have set up in Turkey, Bashkirs and Tatars, who are ethnically Turkish and have joined the Kavkaz Emirate from Russia and Ukraine, had been getting covert support from Turkey, and are now present in sizeable numbers in Syria. Turkey, which has a porous frontier with Syria, has been an easy passage for all sorts of Salafi opposition groups under the combined umbrellas of Ankara, Riyadh and Qatar. It is unsurprising therefore that ISIS has many sleeper cells in Turkey. The Turkish security agencies, especially the MIT, have lowered their threat perception from these Salafi groups well below that of the Kurdish insurgent groups, and have instead focussed on giving clandestine support to anti-Bashar al-Assad opposition groups, notwithstanding their allegiance to al Qaeda or ISIS, and permitted a jihadi corridor through Turkish border towns.20
The ISIS attacks are definitely a blowback of Turkey’s role in Syria, and the group has perpetrated four other major attacks in Istanbul this year – notably in the Sultanahmet district on January 12 and in Taksim Square on March 19, both targeting popular tourist spots and foreign civilians with an intent to attract international attention.21 President Erdogan, who resisted terming ISIS a terrorist group till 2016, used the international coalition against terrorism to put down threats Ankara perceives from the militant wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, and its ally the Democratic Union Party (PYD). In August 2015, the Peoples Protection Group – YPG, had been able to wrest the strategic towns of Kobani and Gire Spi, and was poised to seize Jarablus, the last ISIS held town on the Turkish border that the so-called Caliphate had been using to resupply its capital in Raqqa with weapons, materials, and recruits. At that juncture, Erdogan made a public announcement that Jarablus was a “red line” and that if the Kurds moved ahead the Turkish army would intervene militarily. So Jarablus, one of the main towns on the arterial road required by ISIS, remains in terrorist hands.22 Erdogan stated on June 29 (and there is undeniable public pressure on him to do so) that he would escalate the war against ISIS. If his statement would result in choking Raqqa from getting logistic supplies and finances through purchases of contraband oil, it would quantifiably hasten the ultimate degradation of ISIS. In the meanwhile, analysts are of the opinion that with the ISIS under tremendous pressure, especially after the loss of Fallujah in Iraq and Manbij in Syria, it would try to showcase its continuing strength and relevance. Hence lone wolf and wolf pack attacks are to be expected, not just in Turkey, but in the rest of Europe as well.23
An interesting point that needs to be noted is the similarity between the Istanbul attack and the attack on Zaventem Airport Brussels (March 22), which gives rise to the premise that this incident, like the previous ones in Brussels and Paris, were planned in Raqqa. An ISIS defector, Abu Khaled, who took asylum in Paris, stated during his interrogation that the planning of external terrorist actions in areas outside of ISIS’s core territory is done through the Amn al-Kharji, a wing of ISIS’s bureaucracy responsible for selecting and training operatives and for planning terrorist attacks in Europe.24 According to Abu Khaled, the Amn al-Kharji was one of four agencies that fall under ISIS’s Amniyat, or security apparatus. The other three agencies are: the Amn al-Dawla, which is responsible for internal security within ISIS’s territory; the Amn al-Dakhili, the interior ministry; and the Amn al-Askari, the military intelligence wing. The Amn al-Kharji was responsible for conducting and monitoring espionage and terrorist attacks, and it had developed considerable expertise in infiltration and casing of suitable targets. According to Abu Khaled, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, ISIS’s chief spokesman, was the operational commander of the Amn al-Kharji,25 and that detailed operational planning was done by one Abu Sulayman al-Faransi. Incidentally, Al-Faransi’s name surfaced in investigations into the Brussels attacks, when Belgian authorities went through the hard disk of a computer owned by Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the two suicide bombers who struck the Zaventem airport, and concluded that Bakraoui had been in contact with him. Al-Faransi has a number of theatre commanders responsible for planning operations in various regions that ISIS wants to target, who serve as a bridge between strategic planners and tactical operators. The possibility that Ahmed Chatayev, given his profile in the ISIS, is one of the ‘theatre commanders’ of the ISIS cannot be dismissed. Inputs from the testimony of Abu Khaled, when seen in tandem with the established infiltration routes and networks in Turkey, portend continuing danger from terrorism in EU.
The June 28 attack on Ataturk airport, as also the Zaventem attack in Brussels, have highlighted the security lacunae in all airports, which do not monitor the arrival terminals, permitting terrorists to use combinations of AK 47s, IEDs and suicide vests to advantage. More policed security perimeters around airports, a multiplicity of check-in points, with escalated staff/security, and reduced waiting time, are now absolute necessities. Another urgent requirement is more sophisticated equipment to detect newer forms of explosives like Triacetone Triperoxide – TATP, which is currently not detected by security checks. TATP uses easily available precursors like Acetone and Hydrogen Peroxide, which do not draw attention, as do nitrate/ fertiliser based explosives, and was used by ISIS cadres in both Paris and Belgium. Training is being given by the group in Syria/Iraq in the innovative use and manufacture of explosives, as also in its online magazines.
Here, attention needs to be drawn to the latest arrests made by the National Investigation Agency in Hyderabad,26 which has busted a terrorist module allegedly affiliated to the ISIS. Among those detained were Mohammed Ibrahim Yajdhani, a young software engineer, and his brother Mohammed Iliyas Yajdhani, a computer applications graduate. According to NIA officials, the module had gathered considerable material to prepare explosives and secured arms. Officers found ammonium nitrate and hydrogen peroxide stored in the residence of these youths. The presence of Peroxide needs to ring warning bells, as it may indicate attempts to home manufacture TATP, as was done in Molenbeek, Belgium, before March 22, 2016. Hence, while the numbers of Indians involved with the ISIS is miniscule, our vulnerabilities are myriad and adequate preparations to counter, contain and control terrorist activities needs to be the sine qua non of our security architecture.
1. Jane Onyanga-Omara, “Official: Turkey bombers from Russia Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan,” USA Today, June 29, 2016,
2., June 30, 2016.
3. Mete Yarar, “Flying Blind: Why Turkey’s Intelligence Agency Can’t Prevent Terror Attacks,” July 3, 2016,
4. Umar Farooq, “Turkish officials identify two of three suicide bombers in attack at Istanbul airport that killed 44,” Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2016,
5. Faith Karimi and Steve Almasy, “Istanbul airport attack: Planner, 2 bombers identified, report says,” CNN, July 2, 2016,
6. “Suspect in terrorist attack at Istanbul airport attended a Salafi mosque in Dagestan,” July 5, 2016,
7. “Turkish government does not confirm Akhmed Chatayev’s participation in Ataturk Airport attack,” June 30, 2016,
8. Julian Barnes, Thomas Grove and Richard Bordeax, “U.S. Suspects Chechen Was Behind Istanbul Airport Attack,” Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2016,
9. Note 7.
10. For more details about Umarov, see the various reports listed at
11. “Ukraine: Chechen Risks Torture if Returned to Russia,” Amnesty International, January 11, 2010,
12. Mark Kramer, “The Return of Islamic State Fighters: The Impact on the Caucasus and Central Asia,” PonarsEurasia Policy Memo 381, August 2015,
13. “ISIL commander Omar the Chechen confirmed dead,” Al Jazeera, March 16, 2016,
14. Will Stewart, “Was one-armed Chechen warlord behind Istanbul airport attack? Bearded ‘terror mastermind’ fled Russia 12 years ago before settling in Turkey as ISIS recruiter, security services say,” MailOnline, June 30, 2016,
15. Ibid.
16. Andrew E. Kramer, “Islamic Battalions, Stocked With Chechens, Aid Ukraine in War With Rebels,” New York Times, July 7, 2015,
17. Alex Gladki, “Circumstantially proves that these jihadis are being promoted by the west,” Niqnaq, June 30 2016,
18. Catherine Putz, The Turkish-Russian Rapprochement, The Diplomat, June 30, 2016,
19. “Putin Instructs Gov’t to Start Talks With Turkey on Restoring Ties,” June 29, 2016,
20. Note 18.
21. Natasha Bertrand, “Why it’s unlikely that ISIS will claim responsibility for the Istanbul airport attack,” BusinessInsiderIndia, June 29, 2016,
22. David Graeber, “Turkey could cut off Islamic State’s supply lines. So why doesn’t it?,” The Guardian, November 18, 2015,
23. Eric Schmitt, “As ISIS Loses Land, It Gains Ground in Overseas Terror,” New York Times, July 3, 2016,
24. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr, “Recent Attacks Illuminate the Islamic State’s Europe Attack,” The Jamestown Foundation, April 27, 2016,
25. Ibid.
26. “Hyderabad: Suspected ISIS terror module busted by NIA after midnight raids,” Indian Express, June 29, 2016,

Deciphering Pakistan’s Kashmir Lexicon

Prabha Rao

IPS (Retd.)

Kashmir has been claimed by Pakistani leaders as central to their foreign policy. But a closer look shows that it has been more of a political convenience for Pakistan since 1947, both as a smokescreen to cover up endemic deficiencies and as a convoluted foreign policy mechanism to use state sponsored terrorism in the quest for “strategic depth” – a concept which is increasingly viewed as illusory.
Exploiting the Kashmir Protests
A cursory glance at Pakistan’s current lexicon on Kashmir demonstrates both these above aspects. After the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani on July 8 in Kokernag, Anantnag district, barbed references have been made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet members eulogising Wani as a martyr and emphasising anti-Indian, anti-Hindu, sentiments in the Valley. Much of this was in fact underwritten by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Pakistani cabinet, not so subtly, declared July 21 as Kashmir Black Day, to coincide with elections in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The result was the ruling PML-N winning a landslide victory with 31 of the 41 seats. Nawaz Sharif, who was under a cloud due to his family connections with shell front companies allegedly involved in money laundering which had been disclosed in the Panama papers, and also under threat from a section of the armed forces and public obliquely supporting Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, seized the opportunity to proclaim his political relevance and resilience.
The leitmotif of his victory speech at Muzaffarabad was “Kashmir banega Pakistan”, which was repeated in his Independence Day address on August 14. Pakistan’s President, Mamnoon Hussain, reiterated the message in his address to the nation. As did Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, who emphasised Islamabad’s unswerving commitment to the Kashmir cause, testing the already strained relations with India.
These Independence Day speeches reflected the current reality in Pakistan, where the emphasis was primarily on terrorism; paeans of praise for the success of Operation Zarb-e Azb, criticism of terrorist attacks from Afghanistan, and of course the Kashmir issue. There was no talk about economic growth, job creation, or any serious development agenda. The rhetoric on the Kashmir issue is now serving as an effective smokescreen for the flailing economy and fractured politics of the country.
Pakistan’s Diplomatic Campaign
At the multilateral level, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, requested the Islamabad-based Ambassadors of the member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir, which comprises Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Niger, to raise their voice against “the blatant human rights violations” affecting Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley. Subsequently, the Secretary General of OIC, Iyad bin Amin Madani, (former Saudi minister for Information and Hajj), going beyond the usual litany of the Kashmiri right to self-determination and a referendum as per UN resolutions, publicly stated on August 21 that Kashmir was not India’s internal problem but an international issue given humongous human rights violations. He exhorted the international community to raise its voice against alleged Indian atrocities. And added that the OIC contact group would meet in New York in the run-up to the United Nations General Assembly session, where Nawaz Sharif would be delivering an emotive speech on the situation in Kashmir, and warned that several groups would be demonstrating against Prime Minister Modi there. The OIC Chairman’s speech was uncharacteristically harsh, and indicative of the sustained campaign launched by Pakistan regarding Kashmir.
Later, the President of PoK, Sardar Muhammad Masood Khan, and Prime Minister of PoK, Raja Farooq Haider, in a statement issued on August 25 following the swearing in of the former, pledged that they would ensure that “the blood offered by the men, women and children in Kashmir in the current struggle will not go vain.” Muhammad Masood Khan, a career diplomat, who was earlier Foreign Ministry spokesperson and Ambassador to China in addition to a successful stint as Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, has been nominated as PoK President to further Islamabad’s Kashmir agenda in the UNGA. In his inaugural speech, Masood Khan emphasised that Kashmiris needed to increase their outreach and multiply their friends to influence powerful countries and multilateral agencies. He noted that “[t]he UN will not come to us, we will have to go to the UN to remind it of its seemingly forgotten commitments on Kashmir.”1
He also added that Islamabad needs to work on the UN Secretary-General and influence him to use his good offices and appoint a special emissary for Kashmir without waiting for consent from India, as New Delhi was not prepared to accept mediation. Significantly, Masood Khan has also spoken about the necessity of cultivating sympathetic sections of India’s political class and civil society in order to put pressure on the Government for agreeing to bilateral talks on Kashmir with all stakeholders.2
It is interesting to note that Congress leader Saifuddin Soz has publicly asked for the revival of Pervez Musharraf’s four point action plan for Kashmir, which contemplates:
status quo on borders to remain, with people on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) allowed to move freely;
autonomous status (not independence) to Jammu and Kashmir along with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for internal management;
troops to be withdrawn from the region in a phased manner; and
a joint mechanism, with Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri representatives, to supervise the implementation of such a road-map for Kashmir.
While the Musharraf plan has no legal basis either in the UN recommendations or the Constitution of India as regards autonomous status for Kashmir, Soz’s statement provides a tailwind for Islamabad’s international initiatives, given that such opinions are being voiced by members of mainstream political parties in India.
Pakistan’s Plans for the UN General Assembly Session
Nawaz Sharif’s chief international strategy is now focussed on the 71st UNGA session (September 13-26), where Islamabad wants to highlight what it terms India’s bellicose jingoism in Kashmir. Sharif has appointed 22 “envoys” to work globally and sensitise countries about the situation in Kashmir before the UNGA session. Given below is a communication from the Pakistan Prime Minister’s office appointing the Envoys and the countries they are to concentrate upon. Pakistan’s Opposition and sections of the media have questioned these appointments, as all the appointees are from the treasury benches, and most of them have tardy attendance in parliament – their chief qualification being proximity to the establishment.
Pakistan’s Continued Use of Terrorism
Pakistan’s Kashmir script is being enacted, and to a large extent written by, state-sponsored actors, headed by Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT)/Jamaa’t ut Dawa (JuD) and ably supported by Masood Azhar and his cohorts of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Syed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahideen, as well as minor terrorist dramatis personae. The US country report on Pakistan states unambiguously that
“Pakistan did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban or HQN, or substantially limit their ability to threaten U.S. interests in Afghanistan, although Pakistan supported efforts to bring both groups into an Afghan-led peace process. Pakistan has also not taken sufficient action against other externally-focused groups such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which continued to operate, train, organize, and fundraise in Pakistan.”3
This report is borne out by the statements given by Bahadur Ali, alias Abu Saifullah, a resident of Raiwind, Lahore, who was arrested on July 25 in Yahama village in Handwara in North Kashmir. Bahadur Ali, who is a regular LeT cadre and Falah e Insaniyat Foundation activist, claimed that he was given three training sessions by the LeT – the ‘Daura-e-Tulba, which is the basic ideological training at Manshera in the year 2013, the ‘Daura-e-Aam’ which focused on arms training at Aksa camp near Muzaffarabad in 2014 , and ‘Daura-e-Khas’, which involved training in the use of sophisticated arms and communications equipment at Tabook camp near Muzaffarabad in 2016. He was then infiltrated into India from the Mandaku area of PoK with the active assistance of the Pakistan Army on the LoC. According to him, officers who were called ‘Major Sahib and Captain Sahib’ by the trainees in the camp briefed them about the objectives in Kashmir, which included causing disaffection, engendering pro-Pakistan pro-Salafist sentiments, causing violence by lobbing grenades at security forces etc.4
This information has been corroborated by another LeT cadre, Mohd. Naveed, who was arrested following an attack on a BSF convoy at Udhampur in August 2015. Bahadur Ali was in touch with his Pakistani handlers on a real time basis, with instructions given to him from a control room called Alpha-III which is said to be located in PoK. Communication was being carried out using Japanese I-com radio sets that had been modified to give them an enhanced range, a process which requires considerable technical skill. Similar sets have been seized by the NDS in Afghanistan and President Ashraf Ghani has openly accused the ISI and LeT of engineering terrorist attacks in Kabul.5
Red Corner Notices and a USD 10 million bounty on his head notwithstanding, LeT’s Hafiz Saeed is one of Pakistan’s designated ‘good’ terrorists who enjoys state privileges comparable to a serving minister. He has been permitted to file a preposterous public interest litigation in the Lahore High Court on August 12, seeking directives for Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet to agitate the Kashmir issue at the Security Council in order to exert pressure on India to follow the Security Council’s resolution passed in April 1948. The designated international terrorist was allowed to hold a public rally on Pakistan’s Independence Day in Lahore, when he urged the Army Chief Rahil Sharif to send troops into India to teach it a lesson in order “to avenge the brutalities of Indian forces on Kashmiris.”6
Similarly, Syed Salahuddin, alias Mohammad Yusuf Shah, of the Hizb ul Mujahedeen, in an interview to the Times of India on September 4 warned that he will turn Kashmir into a “graveyard” for the Indian armed forces and unleash an army of fidayeen because the region has been turned into a “concentration camp”. Salahuddin, who normally resides in Pakistan, has five sons who are being supported in various ways by the Indian government – one son serves in Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Medical College, another is a research scholar in the University of Agricultural Sciences, and a third is doing his M Tech.7
It can be safely presumed that none of his five sons will join the proposed fidayeen army, and Salahuddin will continue to enjoy the patronage of Islamabad and encourage minor children to stand in the line of fire during riots, many of which are being nurtured and fed from across the border.
Meanwhile, on August 7, the Lashkar-e-Islam, a relatively unknown Salafist group headed by one Abdul Qayoom Najar, who was originally a Hizbul militant, has issued posters in Pulwama threatening Kashmiri Pandits and asking them to leave the Valley or be ready to face the consequences. Given below is a copy of the letter.
Earlier, in May 2015, Lashkar-e-Islam posters appeared in Sopore asking telecom operators to shut shop in North Kashmir, and subsequently some telecom operators were killed by the LeI.8 Stymying Indian telecom operators appears to be yet another attempt to distance the Kashmiri public from the Indian state.
Radicalisation in the Valley
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who often decried the lack of dialogue with New Delhi, refused to meet a small group of Opposition members of parliament headed by Sitaram Yechury on September 4 on the grounds that there was no basis for talks. Hurriyat leaders have made it clear that Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s objective of holding talks in Srinagar with “individuals & groups who want peace & normalcy in Kashmir,”9 cut no ice with them, as it did not address any Pakistani claim or separatist agenda. Meanwhile, there are now three threads of narratives within Kashmir – pro-Pakistan, pro-Azadi, and pro-Salafist Islam – with calls for Nizam-e Mustafa, and Khalifat-e Rashida gaining considerable currency. Pakistan-sponsored terrorists have fed a toxic narrative into the valley, espousing a recidivist Takfiri form of Islam, which is far removed from the original Sufi ideology of Mir Syed Ali bin Shahab-ud-Din Hamadani, Hazrat Khwaja Naqshband Sahib, Hazrat Noorud Din, and others, which characterised Kashmir. While Pakistan has used the rabid Islam card to try and distance the Kashmiri public from the Indian state, it has planted seeds of Islamic extremism that could prove far more dangerous in the long term than clarion cries of Azadi, which the protestors and the sponsors are both aware will not come to pass.
Finance for the Protests
Illegal money flows into the Valley through Pakistan-sponsored agents have given impetus to both armed protests and radicalism. Large transfers of money from Pakistan have been traced by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is tracking some 22 bank accounts in south Kashmir that received money from unaccounted sources and had the same withdrawn during the time of the current unrest. A case in point is that of JKART (Jammu Kashmir Affectees Relief Trust), a Pakistan-based front outfit of Hizbul Mujahedeen. The trust, which was floated in 1999 by Syed Salahuddin in Rawalpindi and sponsored by the ISI, was regularly raising funds in Pakistan and sending it to India through both regular banking channels as well as Hawala networks. According to the NIA, around Rs. 80 crore was routed through JKART to India over eight years and distributed to various accounts some of which functioned only to facilitate transfers and then shut down.10
Witnesses in Kashmir have spoken about payments being given to protestors by the Hurriyat and Hizbul Mujahideen elements to throw stones and attack convoys. Sustained efforts have been made to ensure that minor children are the first line against security forces, and thus become victims of pellet guns and lathi charges, which leave crippling injuries. There is cynical disregard for human life in the quest for emotionally charging the local population with visuals of child victims, and to broadcast Kashmir’s disconnect with the Indian state. The current round of conflict has been concentrated in southern Kashmir, the main constituency of the PDP, to demonstrate to Kashmiris and the rest of the world that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has lost her political relevance and that the PDP’s coalition with the BJP has no real mandate in the state.
Modi’s References to Baluchistan and PoK
Nawaz Sharif’s government, which was hoping to cash in on the current Kashmir conflict in the UNGA, has been rattled by Prime Minister Modi’s reference to human rights violations in Baluchistan, Gilgit and Baltistan, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in his Independence Day address to the nation. The chief minister of Balochistan, Sanaullah Zehri, decrying Modi’s comments, castigated Brahamdagh Bugti, the grandson of the late Baluch leader Akbar Bugti and leader of the outlawed Baloch Republican Army (BRA), for supporting Modi. Anti-Indian demonstrations were held at Quetta, Harnai, Khuzdar, Mustang, Noshki, Sui and Dera Bugti, apart from a shutter down strike in Bolan and Dhadar.11 And Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Hafizur Rehman has stated that Modi raised the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan, PoK and Baluchistan because he is feeling beleaguered both by the Kashmir protests and the growing cooperation between China and Pakistan on CPEC.12
The way forward
The Government of India, and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in particular, are in a quandary about suitable crowd control mechanisms in Kashmir. According to officers in the CRPF, security forces use force in a calibrated manner, with warnings on the loudspeaker, followed by teargas/lathis and then only pellet guns, which were considered to be less lethal than rubber bullets. Several of the protestors are not locals, as has been revealed in the statements of Bahadhur Ali and Mohammad Naved, cited above. The damage caused by pellet guns, especially on children, are of course horrific, but the onus of responsibility needs to be suitably apportioned to elements across the border who sponsor the riots, and the misguided youth who have been fed a deceitful narrative without concern for their welfare or future. The MHA has now decided that a total suspension of pellet guns would not be possible, given the imperative of the security of the personnel of the CRPF and J&K police. However, it has resolved that a greater reliance would be placed on PAVA shells which contain Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide, an organic compound found in chilli pepper. It derives its name from the compound, which is also known as Nonivamide, and causes extreme irritation and temporary paralysis. The Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, has been working on the shells for over a year now and the Tear Smoke Unit of the Border Security Force in Gwalior will be producing 50,000 PAVA shells for immediate use.13
However, the Resident Doctors’ Association (RDA) of Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital has expressed concern about the Government’s decision to use PAVA shells as capsaicin, the active chemical in the compound, could cause Periorbital Edema/Erythema, Ophthalmodynia, Blepharospasm, and respiratory failure, which could be fatal.14
Any adverse publicity on this matter will act as an adrenalin shot for Nawaz Sharif, who wants to build up his anti-India arsenal for the UNGA session. Given this, the dialogue process has little chance of proceeding within the contours of the Indian constitution. Emphasis needs to be put on Modi’s call for ‘vikas’ and ‘vishwas’. The finance minister of J&K, Haseeb Drabu, who is the ideologue of the PDP, has also emphasised development, revival of the Kashmiri crafts industry, and government-sponsored skill development programmes. Innovative confidence building measures need to be considered expeditiously. India has failed the Valley by not countering the false narratives of Pakistan’s false lexicon on Kashmir. There is a need to revive the Sufi tradition of Kashmir, and counter the imported Salafi/Wahhabi tenets that are being used by Pakistan as a vehicle to cause dissonance. India needs to re-claim its Kashmiris.

The Shadow of Our Silence

Major Gaurav Arya

Indian Army (Retd.)


As a nation, we choose silence. And it is in the shadow of our silence that treason spawns its many sons. Its primary weapons are intellectual elitism and social snobbery. We are told that to be a nationalist is to be cerebrally stunted, showing little understanding of how we are really meant to be, as citizens of the world. In this synthetically manufactured utopia, common sense is a supposed clue to lack of breeding. So we, the people, must close our eyes to the ugliness that manifests itself in so many forms each moment, and celebrate an idea that is never to be.

It does not rain in September, you say. Well, it should, they say. And they say it with a smug visage that only intellectual inbreeding can give you.

Disturbing images of students marching, chanting “azaadi” for Kashmir and Bastar are beamed live into our drawings rooms. Colorful party flags are carried and banners displayed, each political party careful to display the tri-color, perhaps consciously accepting even while shouting slogans for the disintegration of India, nothing has better brand recall than the Flag.

Our vision has become politically binary. A nationalist is a “bhakt” by default, whether he likes it or not. And, a person with an opinion on free speech & human rights is a traitor. As I said, we are politically binary. Zero or one.

Who is a traitor? A person who is an Indian and does not believe in the Constitution of India, and openly calls for the dismemberment of this great nation is a traitor. He who actively or passively aids and abets the enemy is a traitor. And he who motivates and encourages others to treason is also a traitor.

All citizens have a right to protest, and that right cannot be questioned. It is your duty as an Indian to question the government. Question everything that your mind can conceive, and your heart cannot accept. Let your conscience be your moral compass. But do not cross the Rubicon. When you call for the dismemberment of India, you are crossing the thin red line. People have protected this nation with their blood for centuries. Families have been shattered, sons and daughters slaughtered by an unforgiving enemy.

Over millennia, countless Indians have been martyred defending this idea of India. For people to willingly court martyrdom for an idea simply speaks for how worthy this idea is.

India is worth dying for. It’s also worth killing for, because what you love, you must be willing to defend with violence.

Is a person calling for human rights implementation in Kashmir and other places a traitor? Absolutely not. We must respect human rights in Kashmir and everywhere else. If there is rape, it must be punished. If a person in uniform commits it, it is doubly heinous. I believe that punishment for rape must be death.

But soldiers have human rights too. If you interfere in a counter terror operation and pelt stones, you are asking to be shot. If you pelt stones at security forces and then take it up a few notches by throwing Molotov cocktails and acid bottles, pellet guns are too good for you. You are begging for a 7.62 mm full metal jacket.

Why are we so tentative with the use of force? We have mobs in Srinagar attacking CRPF men and chasing them down the street, simply because the CRPF does not have orders to shoot in self-defense. Similar scenes have been witnessed in Bangalore. When a man in uniform is attacked, it is the prestige of the state that takes a hit. Often, berserk mobs need to be shown overwhelming and brute force. Mobs everywhere comprise of cowards. Put two down and the rest will go home. All that the mobs need to see is resolute will. Everything else falls into place.

We are seen as a soft state, a weak state. Pakistan does a Kargil and we do nothing. It then mounts a full-fledged terror attack in Mumbai and we do nothing. Uri. Pathankot. Nagrota. Nothing.

Pakistan breeds secession in Punjab and calls it Khalistan. Nothing. A 28-year-old insurgency in Kashmir, which has mutated into full-fledged terrorism, funded and abetted by Pakistan. Nothing.

An ex-Chief Minister of Kerala says proudly that he did not donate blood to the Indian Army during the 1962 war, making his loyalty to China obvious. Nothing. The Chief Minister of West Bengal does not allow the Indian Army to carry out an Impressment Exercise, a simple data collection of heavy vehicles on roads for possible use in times of war, but welcomes millions of refugees from Bangladesh because she needs the votes. Nothing.

We have become The Nothing State.

Today, I say this again – a nation does not live on its knees.

We are a proud and ancient civilization. For thousands of years, invaders have galloped into India, raping and pillaging, converting and changing. It is a testimony to the steel in our spine that we worship the same way we did five thousand years back. And most of us live without rancor.

But history also bears testimony to the harsh and unpalatable truth that the gates of the citadel have always been opened from inside. A dark comedy unfolds when we learn of the secular fabric of treason; for every Jai Chand, we have a Mir Jafar.

India faces danger from within, and it is a visible, clear and present danger that we have chosen to overlook. Sometimes it’s our belief that India is too huge for anyone to unsettle, and sometimes we simply choose to look the other way thinking nothing will change. Fatalism is the chink in our armour.

Our will must be resolute. Wooly ideas and fairy tales do not defend Nations. The foundations of Bharat are soaked in the blood of martyrs.

Who but the soldier understands peace? Who craves peace more than the soldier? We want peace, even with Pakistan. But we want peace with honor. We may live a few days without food and a few moments without air. But how can a nation exist without honor? It is this honor that the treasonous horde would deny us, always pushing for a sorry compromise.

It is now time to confront those who seek to dismember India, hiding behind freedom of speech. When students demand “azaadi” for Kashmir and mainstream political parties support their freedom to express treason, we must understand that the time has come.

The time has come to unshackle our voices and free our universities and colleges from the chains of intellectual terrorism. The time to hold back has passed. We are committed to battle.

We can no longer stand in the sidelines, and watch events unfold. The time has come to choose the flag under which we will fight. Choose wisely. This is a fight to the finish.

Twenty-three years back I chose my flag, with a promise to my God that I would fight under it or come back wrapped in it.

Whichever flag you choose, let the world know.

A Stone with My Name

Major Gaurav Arya

Indian Army (Retd.)

Some soldier with a funny bone at 102 Infantry Brigade (Base Camp) will tell you that Siachen means ‘Rose Garden’. Its true. Maybe its funny, in a self-deprecating sort of way. Most soldiers crack jokes, which only they can understand.
It’s been a violent year, both emotionally and physically. Never was the Indian Army attacked by those that they loved. Except for this year. We won the wars fought on the Line of Control and across. We lost those fought inside our country, because those who attacked us were our countrymen.
When I was in the army my Commanding Officer told me that we must never fear death. He told us that dying for the nation was a unique honor, which was accorded to a lucky few. He told us that when we went home wrapped in the tricolor, the nation would weep. And, he told us that they would remember our names forever. We would become immortal.
My CO was a simple soldier. He had fought wars and shed blood. For him, dishonorable conduct was unthinkable. He would often admonish us and say “This conduct in unbecoming of an officer of the Indian Army”. To him, life was simple. You defended your country and its people, and if you were martyred, there would a stone with your name at the Kumaon Regimental Center at Ranikhet. That was all that we aspired to. A stone with our name at Ranikhet.
When the situation seemed hopeless, he would simply say “Yeh Major Shaitan Singh aur Major Somnath Sharma ki Regiment hai”. These words were enough. 17 Kumaon would pick itself up, bleeding and bruised, and launch itself again into battle. It was always about “Izzat”. Honour of the nation, the regiment and our forefathers who had been martyred before us in countless wars and insurgencies.
Rezang La. Badgam. Walong. Bhaduria. Names, which ordinary Indians had never heard of, were temples around which our lives ceaselessly revolved. After all, what was life without honor?
2016 has been a different year. Movie actors say that the soldier signed up to die. Politicians want proof that we hit terror camps across the border. The expert, that Lutyens Delhi breed, so adapt at passing judgment wants to know how the army ‘allowed’ itself to be attacked at Uri, Nagrota and Pathankot. Opportunists, who never once so much as looked in the direction of a soldier, have shed crocodile tears over an unfortunate suicide. Bureaucrats have an opinion on the appointment of the army Chief. This year, the Indian Army has been constantly in the news for all the wrong reasons, and none of it for its own doing.
I want the experts, politicians, bureaucrats, TV anchors and sundry actors to know that what they say in public damages morale of the soldier. It denudes and degrades the soldier’s will to fight. It shatters his self-esteem. It dishonors him. A soldier without honor is not a soldier. It is a dead body.
I am an unknown soldier. I have fought for over a hundred years, killing and dying. In unmarked graves across Europe and in the fetid and humid jungles of Burma, you will find my memories. In desolate, wind swept mountain passes and in the bone-bleaching furnace of the Thar, you will discover that I could not be defeated. Across the salty seas and terror-infested landscapes, I was mostly the hunter and sometimes the smell of the dead body on the third day.
Why do I do what I do? I don’t know how to explain. In this mad world of smartphones and Twitter, undefined relationships and loneliness, I inhabit a world that smells of cordite and warm blood. It’s a different world. It’s a world in which people will die because you ask them to, sometimes for the flag, sometimes for the anthem, and often for the fallen heroes of battles fought eons ago.
If you honor me, I will be grateful. If you don’t, I will still fight. If you give me nothing, I will fight with my bare hands. Major Shaitan Singh lives.
That is all that I aspire to; a stone with my name at Ranikhet.

US-Taliban agreement portends several challenges for India


Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council


Finally, the United States has reached an agreement with the Taliban. The Americans were negotiating with a weak hand, having already acknowledged, not only by Trump but by Obama also, that a military solution to the Afghanistan conflict was not possible, and repeatedly announced that the US intended to end its costly 18-year war in Afghanistan and bring the US troops back home. During his election campaign, Trump had made this promise and is under pressure to deliver on it before the presidential election in November this year.
On Afghanistan, Trump has blown hot and cold, hitting the country with the “mother-of-all-bombs”, calling off the talks and then resuming them, and even now threatening to punish the Taliban as never before if it violates the just signed peace agreement. The reality is that it is all bluster. The US is not going to recommit itself to Afghanistan no matter what happens; its allies, already upset with his hectoring and unilateral decisions, will not join hands with him in any renewed military action there.
Even if it was known for sometime that the US was looking for a way out of the Afghan quagmire and would make concessions, the peace agreement it has struck with the Taliban could have been more even-handed and less humiliating for the American side. While claiming that the peace process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led, the US has entered into a separate deal with the Taliban, bypassing the legitimate government in Kabul, and giving Taliban a status equal to the latter. The US has signed an agreement with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which implicitly recognises an eventual takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. The Taliban was adamant on this and the US yielded. The caveat in the agreement is that the US has not recognised the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as a state. Under the agreement the US will reduce the number of its troops to 8,600 in 135 days, with coalition troops also drawn down proportionately. All troops will be out in 14 months, including “non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel.” This meets the Taliban demand that all US troops must leave, which means no bases, nor residual forces to provide air support or surveillance.
The Taliban, according to the agreement, “will not allow any of its members, other individual or groups, including Al Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies”. This means that the Taliban’s hands in the region in which we are, have not been fully restrained, as only the US and its allies are out of bounds. This leaves India out of the scope of Taliban’s threat to Indian interests. There is no mention of the Islamic State or groups like LeT and JeM which are UN designated terrorist organisations, which leaves India exposed. If fighting terrorism is a shared responsibility of the international community, as is stated in several statements in international forums, why the Taliban has not been asked to eschew complicity with any violence outside Afghanistan is unfortunate. India and the US have strengthened their counter-terrorism cooperation. Such cooperation has relevance and meaning essentially in the Pakistan-Afghanistan context, which is why omitting any reference to Taliban’s regional responsibility to not permit violence emanating from its soil is a serious omission.
US sanctions on Taliban leaders are required to be removed in three months (by May 29). Will these sanctions be removed against the Haqqani group too? US policy towards the Taliban has been, in any case, rather dubious in terms of its war on terrorism. The Taliban has never been declared a terrorist organisation by the US despite its involvement in the killing of thousands of American soldiers in Afghanistan. The Taliban chiefs have been assassinated and other Taliban leaders too have been eliminated through aerial action, yet the Taliban has not been declared a terrorist organisation. The strategy obviously has been to keep the doors open for eventual negotiations with the Taliban. This contrasts with the draconian sanctions the US has imposed on organisations, even belonging to the state, in sovereign countries.

Though the US was looking for a way out of the Afghan quagmire, the peace agreement it has struck with the Taliban could have been less humiliating for the Americans

The joint declaration between the US and the Afghanistan government of February 29, 2020, says that the US will facilitate “discussion with the Taliban representatives on confidence-building measures, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides”, whereas the US-Taliban agreement lays down that 5,000 Taliban prisoners and upto 1,000 prisoners “from the other side” by the Taliban will be released by March 10, which is when the Oslo-based intra-Afghan talks begin. Already, differences have erupted on this issue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with the former declaring that no prisoner release will take place before these talks begin, and the Taliban in return announcing that as per their agreement with the US they will not attack foreign forces but that their “operations will continue against the Kabul administration forces”. For them the short period of reduction of violence that was a pre-condition for the US-Taliban agreement has ended and that henceforth their operations will continue as normal. The cease-fire issue has been left undetermined in the US-Taliban agreement, even though it is critically important for bringing peace to Afghanistan and ending violence, when it says that “A permanent and comprehensive ceasefire will be an item on the agenda of the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations. The participants of intra-Afghan negotiations will discuss the date and modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, including joint implementation mechanisms, which will be announced along with the completion and agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan”.
The future of Afghanistan is most uncertain, which is problematic for India. Pakistan, which has assisted in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, has obtained a political role in Afghanistan through the Taliban which it will use to control developments there, including with regard to India’s presence and future role. So far, the US provided the political and security cover for India to maintain close ties with the Afghan government and its people. With a new dispensation in Kabul, India’s position will be impaired even if India has earned a lot of goodwill amongst the Afghan people, including the Pashtuns.
The Taliban leadership is unabashedly Islamic. Even now its statements on the rights of women and freedoms enjoyed by the Afghan people since the ouster of the previous Taliban government make it clear that these rights and freedoms have to be in accordance with the tenets of Islam. For India the inclusion of a radical Islamic force in the government in Kabul coupled with an increasingly radicalised Pakistan will aggravate the country’s security situation.
The Taliban leaders are already bragging about the ouster of the Russians first and now the Americans from Afghanistan. For them the objective of ousting the Kabul government, bereft of US support, from power would seem easily achievable in due course. How much resistance will the Afghan security forces be able to present is a doubtful proposition despite the clause in the US-Afghan government joint declaration that “The United States re-affirms its commitment to seek funds on a yearly basis that support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of Afghan security forces, so that Afghanistan can independently secure and defend itself against internal and external threats.” Once the US withdraws, Afghanistan will lose its strategic value for America and the commitment to maintain financial support for the Afghan government, especially if intra-Afghan talks succeed and the Taliban are in the government, will make little sense. The Taliban have made some commitments to give political cover to allow the US to withdraw “honourably”, but they know well that if they are violated, neither the US nor the Afghan government will have the option to hold them accountable. The intra-Afghan talks are between a winning side and a losing one, and the Kabul government already disunited, will not be able to negotiate from any position of self-confidence and strength.
Other uncertainties abound, be it the morale and cohesion of the Afghan national security forces, their ability to withstand the Taliban, the manoevures of the entrenched warlords, the survival of the existing constitution, the process of integration of the Taliban fighters with the Afghan army as part of a search for a negotiated solution at Oslo, the source of guarantees for peace in Afghanistan. The US-Afghanistan joint declaration says that “The United States will request the recognition and endorsement of the UN Security Council for this agreement and related arrangements”. This will mean bringing Russia and China on board on all the details of the US-Taliban agreement, and that may require engaging them seriously.
India has been right in not engaging with the Taliban though some voices in the foreign policy establishment have advocated contact. India was and is under compulsion to legitimise the takeover of Afghanistan by a radical Islamic force and indirectly aid Pakistan’s geopolitical ambitions. Because of endemic Pakistani hostility, the terrorist threat to us by jihadi forces and our religious diversity our situation is different from other countries that neighbour Afghanistan are involved in the conflict there. In November 2017, we sent two senior retired ambassadors as unofficial representatives to Moscow for Russia-initiated talks on Afghanistan in which the Taliban participated. Our ambassador in Qatar was present when the US-Taliban agreement was signed at Doha. Because the Afghan government itself supports the Afghanistan reconciliation process and the Ghani government has made overtures in the past to the Taliban, not to mention former president Karzai’s strong support for talks with the Taliban, these diplomatic gestures by India were the minimum. It was the right move to send our Foreign Secretary to Kabul as the US-Taliban agreement was signed to mark our support to the Afghan government and to make an assessment of how they see developments ahead. The Foreign Secretary rightly reiterated India’s consistent support for an “independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic, and inclusive Afghanistan,” and for an “enduring and inclusive” peace and reconciliation that is “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”. He also referred to an “end to externally sponsored terrorism.” To underline our commitment to the Afghan government and people, agreements for road projects in Bamiyan and Mazar-e-Sharif provinces were signed.

Why Donald Trump delivered a masterful address at Motera


Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council
US President Donald Trump’s visit has got off to a better start than one could have expected. His Sabarmati Ashram visit along with his wife with hands at Mahatma Gandhi’s spinning wheel sent a subtle message, given Gandhiji’s simplicity and Trump’s ostentation, Gandhiji’s abhorrence of violence contrasted with a President who boasts of having spent $2.5 trillion on rebuilding the US military.
The visit was image-burnishing for the moment as it made him look less vain.
Struck the right note
Trump’s speech at the Motera stadium surpassed expectations in many ways. Speeches on such occasions are audience-oriented, but constructing the right message and giving it substance beyond the usual pleasant rhetoric requires savviness.
His speech struck all the right notes about Modi’s leadership and India’s achievements under him. He was lavish in referring to him as “an exceptional leader”, a “champion of India”, a “great Prime Minister”, and a “tremendously successful leader”.
He noted his electoral victory at the largest election anywhere (at least in this respect Trump conceded Modi is ahead of him).
Even allowing for Trump’s penchant for inflated vocabulary, this kind of unstinted praise on Indian soil before a massive audience, relayed nationwide on TV and other media sends a powerful message to those in India, the US and elsewhere in the West who have bought the narrative of Modi as dividerin-chief, anti-Muslim and a Hindu chauvinist presiding over an intolerant India.
On the eve of Trump’s visit, a US spokesperson let it be known that Trump will in public and private raise the issue of religious freedom and India will be encouraged to uphold its demo cratic traditions and institutions.
None of this was hinted at in Trump’s speech, but the visit is not over. One hopes that at Delhi during the joint press meeting or a separate press briefing by Trump to the US press, or in some factsheet issued by the US embassy, this kind of American concern is not mentioned or listed.
Otherwise it would give the Opposition the stick they want to beat the Modi government with and will cast an unwanted shadow on the remarkably positive results of the visit so far.
Trump was visibly overwhelmed by the rousing welcome he got. He will not get a welcome on such a scale anywhere else. Trump is popular in India, but beyond that, aspirational India responds positively to America.
The repeated hugs between the two leaders, with no reticence on Trump’s side, shows that the level of comfort at the personal level between them is now strong, though how far this will get translated into hard ball negotiations on many issues is a matter of speculation. It is interesting that Trump twice mentioned how “tough” Modi is. If Modi can be tough, so can Trump.
All praise for the PM
Trump acknowledged in glowing terms India’s astounding progress, calling it a miracle of democracy, referring to Indians as “strong and noble people”, a “hope for all humanity”.
He validated Modi’s achievements in providing electricity to all villages, the 320 million Internet connections, cooking gas connections, huge success in sanitation, poverty eradication, highway construction, etc.
In a veiled reference to China, he noted this has been achieved democratically and peacefully as a free country, with respect for dignity of every person, trust in its cit izenry, and without coercion, intimidation or aggression.
His well-crafted speech made appealing references to India’s culture and civilisation, citing Vivekanand, Bollywood’s creativity, Indian cricket icons, Sardar Patel’s monumental statue, the meaning of Diwali, Holi, the many religions living peacefully side by side, rule of law, and so on.
He paid a handsome tribute to the four million people of Indian origin in America.

Former Indian Official: Explaining India’s Citizenship Amendment Act


Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council
India has amended its Citizenship Act of 1955 in December 2019 to allow persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian faiths who have illegally migrated into India over the years from three neighbouring Islamic countries, namely, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, to acquire Indian citizenship on a relatively fast track basis. The exclusion of Muslims from the amendment has been criticized by India’s political opposition, sections of the civil society, leftist student groups and others for being unconstitutional, diluting India’s secularism and eroding India’s democracy.
The BJP won a huge majority in India’s general election in May last year, consolidating further its impressive victory in the 2014 elections. Amending the Citizenship Act of 1955 has been on the party’s agenda all along. In its previous tenure the BJP government had moved the amendment but it could not be passed because the party did not have a majority in the Upper House of India’s parliament, and so the legislation had to be shelved. This time also the party lacked a majority in the Upper House but was able to get the legislation through with the support of a section of the opposition. In other words, the Citizenship Amendment Act was passed after an intensive debate in both houses of parliament when all the issues raised by the opposition, including the perceived anti-secular nature of the amendment, were answered by the government.
The legislation was passed through an open, transparent and fully democratic process. The constitutionality of the legislation has, nonetheless, been questioned by opponents and the matter will be adjudicated by the Supreme Court of India. This is in consonance with the robust functioning of India’s democracy.
The CAA was necessitated because Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Christian minorities who have entered India over decades and settled down in the country could not acquire Indian citizenship under the pre-amended citizenship law. They were, thus, deprived of many benefits of Indian citizenship and had to live precarious lives.
These minorities entered India for many reasons — persecution, discrimination, physical insecurity, threat of forcible conversion, and so on. In 1947 minorities in Pakistan, mostly Hindus and Sikhs, constituted about 23% of the population; today they constitute about 5%, with Hindus at about 1.65%. In 1971, at the time of Bangladesh’s creation, Hindus constituted 19% of the population, whereas in 2016 they constituted only 5%.

Now, these non-Muslim minorities, primarily Hindus and Sikhs, could only migrate to India and nowhere else, given that the historical home of Hindus and Sikhs is India. No Muslim country would either accept them or give them citizenship. But then, amongst those who have entered India illegally over the decades have been Muslims from Bangladesh. They did so not because of religious persecution discrimination, physical insecurity or threat of conversion. They came for better economic opportunities, encouraged also by Bangladesh regimes of the past for political reasons. Their case is different, as they can return to their country of origin, after, of course, identification as illegal migrants. The Indian government estimates that there are about 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in India, though the exact number can only be determined after a citizenship roll is established.
India is probably unique amongst major powers not having a system that legally identifies its citizens. It does not have a citizenship register; the system of national identity cards does not exist. This is an anomaly for a country that has a long open border (1758 kilometers) with one of its neighbors (Nepal), a longer porous border (4096 kilometers) with another (Bangladesh), and several thousand kilometers of contested or un-demarcated borders with two others (China and Pakistan- 4056 kilometers and 3323 kilometers, respectively).

The opposition elements in India believe that they have got an issue to put the Prime Minister Modi-led BJP government on the defensive, and hence the resolutions passed by opposition-ruled Indian states not to implement the CAA. Unable to have their way in parliament and looking for an issue around which those opposed to the BJP government can coalesce, the opposition is over-dramatizing issues and indulging in unrestrained fear-mongering.
Outside observers need to better understand the dynamics of internal politics in a raucous democracy like India. However, because the issues of refugees, migration, targeting of minorities anywhere, rise of nationalism have international resonance, western liberal circles, political and in the media, which have anti-Indian lobbies embedded in them traditionally, have picked up the CAA and NRC controversy in India and have begun a malicious campaign against the government, without trying to understand the issues dispassionately. In the process they are showing disrespect for Indian democracy. Worse, they are openly interfering in India’s domestic politics on the side of the opposition.
These circles should learn to respect the sovereignty of other countries and curb their tendency to pronounce on internal developments in them. They condemn interference in their internal politics by others and even punish them for this, but openly interfere in the internal politics of other countries. They should not believe that they have a responsibility to shape them or that they have a better idea of how other countries should be governed, more than their elected leaders. They forget that Prime Minister Modi was elected as India’s leader through the largest ever democratic exercise in human history, with more than 550 million voting in an electorate of 830 million.

India has tackled coronavirus well


Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council
India has performed well so far in tackling the Wuhan virus, with only 19,343 cases and 640 deaths. This is no mean feat given the country’s size, population density, limited means, inadequate health facilities and poverty levels. India has had to fight the virus as a democracy, with unfettered internal debate on steps needed, diverse expert opinions aired incessantly on the media, fake news, opposition circles bent on exposing the perceived deficiencies of government actions etc. Our federal system, with health a state subject, creates its own management hurdles. Additionally, to discredit the government in some way, entrenched anti-Modi lobbies in India, in complicity with the foreign media, have tried to draw the focus away from the evident success of the government in containing the crisis for the time being by highlighting areas where government action may not have measured up to the challenge.
Ulterior motives
For this, the issue of migrant workers has received disproportionate attention. Their situation is a legitimate cause of anguish, but to ascribe it to an unfeeling or ignorant government is to play politics. Faced with an unprecedented crisis for which no standard operating procedures exist, failure to anticipate every possible problem is not a reason for a general indictment of the government. The US and UK liberal press – New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian and the BBC – have highlighted this issue as if they are exposing some dark underside of the Modi government’s efforts to handle the crisis. The hypocrisy of such reporting is all the more reprehensible in view of people dying in thousands in Europe, with horrendous accounts of patients denied medical aid because of an overwhelmed health-care system, dying and being buried without family presence, and all this treated not as a gratuitous failure of government policy but as an unfortunate corollary of the virulence of the crisis.
The US/UK liberal press shows no compassion for India’s struggle; it is focused on fault-finding, with a sub-text of anticipation, and even wishfulness, of India succumbing to the crisis. The allegedly ‘morally-deficient’ UN Human Rights chief who finds it easier to question India’s democratic efforts than China’s contempt for democracy has expressed her distress at the plight of migrant workers and has hoped that the measures taken by India are “neither applied in a discriminatory manner nor exacerbate existing inequalities and vulnerabilities”, giving more life thus to propaganda against India. Modi-haters in India and Modi-baiters in western liberal circles have joined hands against the country. These lobbies also want to give an anti-Muslim colour to Modi government’s herculean efforts to meet the crisis with limited resources and many handicaps, by alleging that the crisis has opened the field for it to promote anti-Muslim sentiments in the country, particularly after the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in New Delhi that led to an immediate spiking in infection cases in many Indian states. Calls against stigmatisation of a particular community have been made in the usual Indian and western liberal circles, with Time magazine leading the assault and the rancorous US Commission on International Religious Freedom joining in.
Coloured narrative
It is not the end of the battle for India. Any talk of India being a model for handling the pandemic and taking the lead internationally to combat it would be premature. As it is, India has its hands full in seeking to protect one-sixth of humanity from the calamity inflicted by this Chinese-origin virus. Modi rightly took the initiative to combine efforts within SAARC to combat it regionally. He prompted the Saudi Crown Prince to convene a G 20 video meet to discuss the crisis and establish some consensus at the international level on handling it. The UNSC has been unable to take leadership because of deepening differences between US and China that are reflected in US seeking to pin blame on China for engendering the virus and manipulating the WHO. Trump has temporarily withheld funding for the body till there is clarity on the connivance between its head and China in diffusion of misinformation about the time-lines and toxicity of the virus.
Opportunity in crisis
US, which took the lead in building China’s economic power on mistaken assumptions, has the capacity, along with Europe, to curb Beijing’s excessive ambitions through decoupling trade, investment and technology strategies. India should welcome this as it could benefit from this re-arrangement of equations economically and security-wise. However, India, which needs to manage its ties pragmatically with an adversarial neighbor through engagement, does not need to take sides expressly as it is a subsidiary factor in the developing US-China frictions. India’s stature and Modi’s leadership will get an enormous boost if India defeats this Wuhan virus with least damage. It would have done this with democratic mobilization, proving that democracies are not inherently inefficient in fighting such pandemics. India would also have shown that seemingly chaotic India has the administrative frame and skills to confront a national challenge. This should open doors for it to be a leading power.

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