By B. Raman
The “Dawn” of Karachi has reported as follows in its web site: “The guessing game ended early hours on Sunday when the Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani decided to accept Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s offer to go to India and watch the ‘high voltage’ India-Pakistan cricket world cup semifinal in Mohali on March 30, Dawn News reported. The decision was taken after a meeting between the Prime Minister and the President Zardari, which according to the presidential spokesman, Farhat Ullah Babar, continued for more than two hours. It may be recalled that Pakistan had welcomed the Indian Prime Minister’s invitation to President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to witness the match and had said that a decision will be taken after PM Gilani’s return from visit abroad, Babar added. The foreign diplomats based in Islamabad, earlier felt that declining the invitation would be a serious mistake and a snub for Dr Singh as he had made normalisation of ties with Pakistan his personal priority.”
The “Dawn” report does not say anything about our Prime Minister’s invitation to President Asif Ali Zardari too. The absence of any reference to the invitation to Zardari in the media briefing by Farhatullah Babar could be interpreted as indicating that Zardari is not coming. I would avoid giving a political interpretation to this. I would attribute this to the concerns of those responsible for the security of Zardari about the dangers of exposing him to the public in Mohali. Zardari is the most threatened leaders of Pakistan today because of his perceived closeness to the US, his personal friendship with the late Salman Taseer, former Governor of Punjab, who was killed by one of his security guards in January because of his open criticism of the law relating to blasphemy and his perceived role in bringing about the release of Raymond Davis, a member of the staff of the US Consulate-General in Lahore, who was sought to be prosecuted for allegedly killing two Pakistanis on January 27.In Pakistan, on the advice of his security he avoids traveling in Pakistani Punjab. His internal travels are largely confined to Sindh. There have been unconfirmed reports that all Punjabis have been removed from his close-proximity (bodyguards) security entourage after the assassination of Taseer.
It was unwise on the part of our Prime Minister to have invited him as well as Gilani. I have been pointing this out in my Tweets from the moment the announcement was made in Delhi about our Prime Minister’s invitations to both. I am sure that our intelligence and security agencies would have been aware of the very high level of the threats to Zardari and that had they been consulted beforehand by the Prime Minister, they might have advised him to confine the invitation to Gilani only.
Presuming only Gilani is coming, the responsibility for ensuring the security of the World Cup cricket semi-finals, while still quite complex, can be manageable. In recent weeks, there have been reports—some of them attributed to foreign intelligence agencies— about alleged plans of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and other Pakistani jihadi organization to target one of the venues of the World Cup cricket. Till now, as a result of the tight security enforced by our agencies under the supervision of P. Chidambaram, the Home Minister, no threat has materialized.
Mohali is particularly vulnerable to commando-style swarm attacks of the kind witnessed in this region six times since the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai in 2008. Of the six commando-style attacks after 26/11, three were in Afghanistan and three in Lahore in areas close to the Indian border. The three commando-style swarm attacks in Lahore were directed at a Sri Lankan cricket team (March 3, 2009), a police training school (March 30, 2009) and in a busy area on the Mall Road of Lahore (May 27, 2009). There have been a number of other terrorist strikes in Lahore—including on targets associated with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
In the case of the repeated terrorist strikes in Lahore—three of them commando-style swarm attacks— the Pakistani investigators were not able to conclusively establish who was responsible, but it was strongly suspected that these attacks were carried out either by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as the Pakistani Taliban is called, or by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), a Sunni extremist organization or by the LET—- either by acting alone or in tandem.
These strikes showed the ability of such organizations to mount spectacular terrorist attacks in Pakistani Punjab and the inability of the Pakistani intelligence and security agencies to prevent them through timely intelligence. The security arrangements at Mohali should seriously factor into the security planning the dangers of a swarm-style commando attack mounted from the sanctuaries of the so-called Punjabi Taliban in Pakistani Punjab.
Normally effective defensive physical security for events such as the cricket semi-final at Mohali would depend on effective access control to the venue and the VIPs attending the match and effective anti-explosive checks in and around the venue. In addition, keeping in view the dangers of a commando-style swarm attack in the venue as well as in the town itself, counter-smarm deployment by our own commando units would have to be an important component of the planned physical security.
In addition to this, we need to strengthen trans-border security to prevent jihadi elements from infiltrating into our territory in the garb of spectators, picking up arms and explosives from their India-based accomplices and mounting an attack. I continue to receive messages from my readers rebuking me for not recommending a ban on the issue of visas to Pakistanis wanting to enter India ostensibly to watch the semi-finals. The Government should go by the advice of our intelligence and security agencies in this matter. My own view is that this danger could be met by effective monitoring of trans-border movements and airport, train and bus arrivals and by stepped-up patrolling in Mohali itself without the need for a ban on the issue of visas till the semi-finals are over.
Gilani’s personal security from the moment he arrives in India and till he lands back in Pakistan will be our responsibility. While his close-proximity security (personal bodyguards) would be the responsibility of the Pakistani VIP security set-up, the access control and anti-explosive and anti-swarm checks would be our responsibility. These have to be planned with precision and a lot of attention to details.
Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies would have already stepped up their intelligence coverage—human as well as technical. We should not fight shy of asking the US to step up its coverage too in the entire Af-Pak region with the focus on detecting and neutralizing any threats to his security while he is in India.