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Friday, March 21, 2014

Asymmetric Warfare

Book Review

Someshwar, Manreet Sodhi. (2013). The Hunt For Kohinoor. Westland Ltd. Chennai. Pages: 425.  Price Rs. 295/-

In the aftermath of the event which has come to be known as 9/11 since then, the phrase ‘asymmetric warfare’ was popular and in vogue for about a decade. If for Carl von Clausewitz warfare was an extension of politics by ‘other means’, for the terrorist, asymmetric warfare was the policy. But there is a difference. For von Clausewitz politics was for national interest and nation building. For the terrorist, asymmetric warfare was a means to achieve an ill-defined cause, religion for example.  

Other nations like Israel, and India had been victims of terror. But till 9/11, the US has been oblivious to the threat and convinced of its own invincibility might have been a tad patronizing to the victims of terror. By the time the US woke up to realize it was not immune to the terror threat after all, India had had several bouts of it, including separatist insurgencies in the northeastern states, Naxalite insurgency in the east-central corridor, the Khalistani movement and lastly the violence in Kashmir that forced 500000 Hindus into ‘internal exile’. In most cases the insurgencies were externally engineered and fuelled by exploiting internal fault lines but Kashmir was different.

Montgomery Meigs, a retired General of the US Army, reviewing ten centuries of jehadi terrorism, wrote in 2003 that “Actually, al Qaeda’s overall strategy is not new. … Today, only the mechanism of attack has changed. The mechanism of attack has indeed changed. It is to deliver a spectacular blow to the perceived common enemy designated as the kaffir (infidel). The destruction of the World Trade Centre in 2001 falls in the category.

Saudi Arabia, home to the most radicalized form of Islam, known as Wahabism is generally known to be the financier of international terrorism, and Pakistan the supplier of operatives. However the nineteen member team that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in 2001 was drawn from nine nations.

When Frederick Forsyth wrote The Afghan (2006), a second spectacular strike (after 9/11) was only in the realm of speculation. But it did take place, not in the west as everyone supposed it might be attempted, but on India. The attack on Mumbai, India’s financial capital in 2008 was achieved with the help of a number of ‘sleeper modules’.

Youngsters are indoctrinated to such an extreme degree of hatred (of the infidel) that they not only perpetrate mass murder without the slightest of qualms but are willing to self-destruct themselves in the process. These youngsters are infiltrated into the unsuspecting enemy nation where they merge into the mosaic of society so unobtrusively that it is impossible to detect. They lay in wait like a snake ready to strike when called to so. In intelligence parlance, they are known as sleeper modules. In his The Kill List (2013) Forsyth portrayed the indoctrination of ‘waiting snakes’ and how they were deployed to cause havoc among unsuspecting societies.  

It is not even whispered due to a skewed sense of political correctness, but Indian intelligence agencies are aware of the sleeper cells that exist in India and the availability of potential candidates to carry out terror operations.  

Apart from the international terror matrix that bedevils the world, there is an India specific threat that resides in its neighbourhood and engineered by its sworn enemy, Pakistan. The threat is ever present. It has been ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’. Deciding that it cannot wrest Kashmir through warfare, Pakistan has resorted to the more insidious mode of asymmetric warfare. The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the deadly India-specific terrorist organisation is a creation of its intelligence agency, the ISI. However, as Hillary Clinton, the American Secretary of State advised Pakistan, she could not harbour a snake hoping it would bite only her enemies. While the asymmetric warfare unleashed against India is denting the economic progress of Jammu & Kashmir, which Pakistan, ostensibly professes to rescue, it is bleeding itself out.

It was in the reign of Atal Behari Vajpayee that an attempt to bring about a rapprochment between India and Pakistan was mooted. His opposite number in Pakistan at the time was General Musharaf. The aborted Agra summit (2001) between Vajpayee and Musharaf is too well-known.

In her novel, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar sets the summit in Kargil instead of in Agra. It was the culmination of ‘Operation Karakoram’ a series of high level talks designed to find a solution to the vexed, decades-old problem. As proof of his bona fides Gen. Zaidi, the Pakistani President was to hand over secret documents (which he codenamed Kohinoor) that would help the Indian Prime Minister avert the next big terror attack on India. However the summit was sabotaged from the Pakistani side and the general assassinated as he descended from his helicopter. In the attack, an ace Indian Intelligence agent, Harinder Singh Khosa, popularly known as Harry was seriously wounded.

Harry, an undercover agent of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was tasked to halt ISI patronage to Khalistani terrorists. As head of the CIT-Z (counter intelligence team Z, where ‘Z’ means Zamzama the large bore cannon mentioned by Rudyard Kipling in his Kim) team, he brilliantly carried out the operation forcing the ISI to call for a meeting with RAW. A little after the operation, as Harry was in a joint operation with the Afghan intelligence agency KHAD, he was wounded in the head by a rock splintered and dislodged by a mortar shell. The knock made him unconscious for several days, but when he woke up, he lost a part of his memory. He forgot about his family of wife and daughter. Harry regained the memory when he was wounded in the head for a second time at the sabotaged summit meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistani President Gen. Zaidi. Although he regained his memory, he was critically wounded and in no fit condition to travel for a while and undertake a mission.

Jag Misra, head of the Pakistan desk in RAW and Harry’s boss recruits his daughter Mehrunnisa, an art historian by profession to stand in to finish the mission. Mehrunnisa born to a Sikh husband and his Iranian Muslim wife has drop-dead looks and is fluent in several languages. Eventually, consumed as much by patriotic zeal as he was by fatherly love, Harry overcomes the anguish of a pain-wracked body to join the ‘hunt for Kohinoor’. What follows is, as the blurb says ‘a spine-chilling ninety-six hour hunt through the world’s most dangerous terrain’.

The Hunt For Kohinoor portrays a diabolical plot that is far more deadly in its sweep than the WTC bombing or even the 2008 attack on Mumbai.


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