Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts

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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Bankster

Book Review

Subramanian, Ravi. 2012. The Bankster. Rupa Publications. New Delhi. Pages: 358. Price: Rs 250/-

To an Indian, The Wall Street Journal’s commendation of the author, ‘Meet the John Grisham of banking’ might appear a bit patronizing, but it is nevertheless true. In The Bankster’ Ravi Subramanian turned out in every bit, an ‘edge of the seat thriller’ from as wry a subject as banking. For, what would you expect from a bank - its premises buzzing with customers rushing in and out cashing cheques or buying drafts?

Although nationalized banks in the pre-liberalisation, pre-competition era were walled-in by bureaucratic procedures and riven by trade unionism, many of them provided a cordial ambience. Regular customers were recognized and personalized service was the norm. After liberalisation many non-banking financial institutions in India barged into banking. A number of multinational banks too entered the market. The accent of the private players, both national and international is on aggressive marketing. But in spite of their glitzy interiors and automated procedures, somehow the personalized service that one experienced in the banks of an earlier era has been missing.  

Subramanian brought out in vivid detail the inner mechanisms of a multinational bank, including internal intrigues, coups and a bit of adultery. One would like to believe the last bit was included in the story only to embellish it and it is not really prevalent on a scale that would subvert the functioning, norms and ethics of the banking sector. The story revolves round a few central characters, Vikram, the head of retail banking, Tanuja the head of HR, Indrani, the president of the bank, Nikhil a branch manager, Harshita a conscientious Relationship Manager and Zinaida her unscrupulous counterpart of the Indian subsidiary of Greater Boston Global Bank known as GB2 within.

The author skillfully wove into the story some contemporary events. Recently a multinational bank has been in the news in the UK and the US for its role in money laundering. The same bank was involved in India in a legal battle for betraying the confidence of a client, who happens to be a popular actress. In the novel, an amoral Relationship Manager sold an unsuspecting customer a unit linked insurance product as a fixed deposit. The same Relationship Manager was also a major conduit in a money laundering operation. Her superiors ignored her malfeasance not only because she was producing results but also because she had no qualms about dangling her charms to seduce them.

In the real life case a Relationship Manager does the client in by investing her money in stocks over and over again to achieve his metrics and making profits for the bank. His indiscriminate and reckless investment of her funds in the stock market not only diminished her net worth because of his poor judgement in picking stocks, but when she actually did make a profit she had to pay a fortune as capital gains tax on short term gains.

By now everyone knows how some commercial interests in the west have been using greedy NGOs in India as Trojans to subvert power and irrigation projects in India. The agitation against the Kudankulam nuclear power project in Tamil Nadu and the one against an irrigation project in Madhya Pradesh are cases in point.  

Apart from funneling funds for such subversive activities, some employees of the bank (in the novel) play a part in circulating counterfeit currency using the bank as a conduit. All these illegal activities make for a deadly cocktail for some of its players. There were murders and chases. Technology plays a major role in solving the crimes. The author was successful in keeping a veil over the identity of the villain till the very end. The book is a good read for a cosy weekend or a journey. The only complaint this reviewer has is about is its language. It is full of banking patois and cliché-ridden. 

This review is part of the Book Reviews programme at