BY RSN SINGH
The scorching of passengers in railway compartments at Godhra railway station on 27 February 2002 and the riots that the carnage triggered has so far been analysed only through the communal and political prisms. All commissions and inquiries have been confined to ‘immediate causes’. Security analysts were amiss in ignoring the external machinations responsible for the carnage. The prevailing geopolitical environment was hardly factored in appraisal of the situation. The security discourse in this country has still not sensitized itself to the entire realm of proxy war, the type of war in which Pakistan has few equals. Pakistan practices this war in the self-assurance of nuclear capability. The Godhra event was nothing but a pre-meditated ploy to ease pressure from the borders during Operation Parakram and divide Indian reaction and neutralize its capabilities to punish Pakistan for its orchestrated attack on Indian parliament on 13 December 2001. The ISI-Jihadi combine had other immediate and long term agendas, which have been substantially realized.
Prevailing Geopolitical Environment
The train carnage at Godhra followed the attack on Parliament and was concomitant with Operation Parakram, wherein the Indian Army attempted to demonstrate its punitive resolve by deploying half a million troops along the Indo-Pak border. These events, it may be highlighted, were in the geopolitical shadow of Operation Enduring Freedom unleashed in American fury on Afghanistan following 9/11 on October 7, 2001. It is rather strange that the ostensibly guilt-ridden military-intelligence apparatus of Pakistan, which was beholden to the US for its role in 9/11, and after swallowing the ‘we will bomb you to stone age’, threat by Richard Armitage, could gather the gumption to activate yet another front with India by orchestrating an attack on the Indian Parliament. With the massive buildup in Operation Parakram and punitive offensive that seemed imminent, Pakistan was hemmed in on the both the Western and the Eastern front. This geopolitical situation posed different imperatives and challenge to both US and Pakistan. For the US, the benefit lay in Pakistan’s strategic distraction towards the Indian front to facilitate Operation Enduring Freedom; and for Pakistan, it was the desperate need for a credible diversion for its own populace from the ongoing war imposed by US on the Afghanistan front.
A secret collusion between the US and Pakistan in scripting this geopolitics has been vindicated many times over. The US, if not arguably indulgent, has been indifferent to the activities of those jihadi groups who primarily target India. It appears that the US too prizes these jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as strategic tools to fashion the geopolitical discourse of the region. The Americans have been conspicuous by their flippancy in handling of characters like Hafiz Sayeed, who in the Indian context is more dangerous than what Osama Bin Laden was.
The planned infiltration of David Headley by the US Intelligence into the LeT and the central role that he played in staging 26/11 provokes many questions. Subsequently the patronage extended to Headley by the US authorities and selective access of Indian interrogators to him are unabashed indicators of American collusion.
Both Pakistan and the US, therefore had desperate motivations and agenda for activating the Indo-Pak borders. Surely, the US authorities would have exercised deft and cogent diplomatic maneuvers to ensure that India did not extend its massive mobilization of troops during Operation Parakram into any offensive, shallow or deep, which jeopardized Operation Enduring Freedom.
It may be reiterated that India spent $3.5 billion during Operation Parakram and lost about 1000 soldiers, mostly attributable to laying and recovery of mine fields. So, who punished whom after the attack on Parliament? It took Pakistan to unleash only half a dozen jihadis of LeT and JeM to impose this huge financial and human costs on India. This is the nature of ‘proxy war’.
It was in this geopolitical setting that the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan orchestrated the Godhra train carnage.
Agenda of the ISI and Jihadis
The military-intelligence establishment and jihadi groups of Pakistan had precise agendas in orchestrating the Godhra train carnage. The objective was to arouse extreme communal passions by resorting to most gory form of violence so as to ensure a communal holocaust in the length and breadth of India. The immediate strategic advantage that Pakistan reckoned was an easing of pressure on the border by compelling the Indian authorities to divide the resources and reaction capabilities to meet the newly created mammoth internal security challenge.
This intended holocaust was designed to create ‘fifth columnists’ to hamper the mobilization and interfere with inter-theatre movement and logistics buildup.
For the Pak based terrorist organizations like the LeT, JeM, the prime motivation was to expand the jihadi network in India by cashing on the communal passions.
Was the ISI successful?
Yes, the jihadi network proliferated throughout India soon after the Godhra train carnage and its aftermath. The recruitment ground of jihadis became substantially large and fertile, which later morphed into Indian Mujahideen. It created an entire network of sympathizers and ‘fifth columnists’ without which the series terrorist attacks including 26/11 could not have taken place. It was after Godhra that the targeting philosophy and pattern of the terrorists underwent complete transformation and now included religious centers, market places, courts, public transport system and camps of security forces, all over the country. Jihadi terror, which was confined to the Western part of India before 2002 travelled to Jaunpur, Rafiganj (train crash) in the East, to Kurnool in South (train crash) and subsequently to Delhi, Varanasi, Ayodhya, Hyderabad, Rampur, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Jaipur, Mumbai, Pune, Guwahati, Bodh Gaya and Patna with increasing intensity and frequency. So far Mumbai has suffered about eight terrorist attacks since 2002, the most deadly being 26/11. Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad have all been targeted more than three times each. The pan-Indian jihadi network of jihadi groups was on full display in 2012 when jihadi violence travelled from Kokrajhar in the East to Mumbai in the West and subsequently to Pune, Hyderabad and Bengaluru from where the exodus of students from India’s northeast was triggered. Subsequently, the pan South Asia network was evident in India when the jihadis caused blasts in Mahabodhi Temple in Gaya in reaction to the communal violence in Myanmar.
Post Godhra, as the jihadi terror network enlarged the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan became increasingly convinced that it could wrench Kashmir out of India by terrorizing the Indians and also could negate Indian strategic influence in Afghanistan. The Indian failure to launch an offensive in the wake of the attack on Parliament and during Operation Parakram gave them the confidence that they can get away with ratcheting the proxy war to any levels, since they were firm in the belief that it was the Pak nuclear weapons that deterred India from attacking. The Pakistani diplomat Sartaj Aziz comments: “It was a big upset about what happened to the economy after the [atomic] tests in 1998, but was consoled that in 2002, when India mobilized half a million troops on the border after an attack on its parliament in 2001, but was finally forced to withdraw the “due to the danger of a nuclear retaliation by Pakistan….”.
Godhra was chosen by the Pakistan military-intelligence establishment to create holocaust throughout India because of its known historical communal sensitivity and fragile religious demographic balance. The place is also known to be a formidable center of Tablighi Jamaat. It has a scarred history of communal riots. In 1980, communal tension simmered and the place was under curfew for almost a year.
Moreover, there was definitely an objective to influence the politics of the country. During that period, the other neighbouring state, Madhya Pradesh, through which the train passed, was ruled by Digvijay Singh. The other neighbouring states, Rajasthan and Maharashtra were also ruled by Congress, i.e. Ashok Gehlot and Vilasrao Deshmukh. The planners had probably correctly reckoned that with the Army troops deployed on border and with antagonistic Chief Ministers in the neighbourhod, the Gujarat government would be severely handicapped for want of adequate security personnel to douse the communal fire. It is on record that the Chief Minister of Gujarat had implored his counterparts in these states to lend security personnel, but they all declined. It is rather the worst reflection of politicization of terror that later the entire story of so-called ‘Hindu terror’ was weaved in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana when they were ruled by one political party. It is in these states that the so-called ‘Hindu terrorists’ have been apparently nabbed and prosecuted without any effect with feeble or no chargesheets.
The politicization of terror assumed sinister proportions when Hafiz Sayeed and gang took pains to portray 26/11 as an act of so-called ‘Hindu terrorists’. Some politicians within India shamelessly seemed to be cooperating in this fiction scripted by Hafiz Sayeed , notwithstanding that Ajmal Kasab was apprehended. The ISI, the LeT and these politicians were clearly in concert and collusion in their bid to divide terror for the ugly imperative of vote-bank politics.
Since then Pakistan has graduated to lending its material and ideological weight in creation of a new political outfit in India. Aamna Sahwani, a Baloch journalist in an article ‘Pakistan’s Mysterious Love For Anti-corruption Crusaders’ in Afghanistan Times writes:
“ ……The Pakistani Daily Dawn front page reported that AAP won Delhi even as BJP was ahead. Celebrations started in different cities of Pakistan specially in Pak administered Kashmir……..There was massive online donation campaign by Pakistanis to donate to AAP. Kejri was earning fame in Pakistan amongst Pakistani media and politicians……..Pakistani leadership and moreover PM Nawaz Sharif said Kejri will be helpful in resolving Kashmir issue with India. Now what the Indians must be surprised at is what the hell Pakistani media, politicians and agencies have to do with so-called anti-corruption crusader and failed CM of a small state of India in the issue of Kashmir? Pakistan has no reason to be happy with true anti-corruption crusader of India since it will benefit and empower India which is certainly not Pakistan wants. Pakistan does not want a secure, progressive, well-governed and developed India, but Pakistan loves Kejri…….At least three MLAs of AAP have delivered anti-Indian and pro- Pakistani statements on Kashmir……Kejri is the mastermind behind all these…..ISI wants to play the same role to Balkanize India which CIA played against USSR.”
Pakistan not contended with its persistent bid to influence the politics in Afghanistan began to extend its subversive and violent tentacles into the Indian polity. Both, Afghanistan and India are its arena of proxy war. It can go to any extent to facilitate a regime that it perceives to be conducive to its jihadi and proxy war agenda. In this bid, it is also assembled an entire industry comprising of NGOs and politicians, who regularly vilify Indian security establishment. They, at the slightest opportunity give clean chit to terrorists and their sponsors to ensure vivisection of India, beginning with Kashmir. The blasts at Patna in October 2013 during a political rally were to alter the political discourse in India. For the first time, apart from the leader, the people as such were targeted for attending the political rally. Pakistan’s proxy war, post Godhra has now infiltrated heavily into the political sphere of the country. Do we deserve to be another Afghanistan?
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(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)