Fortnightly Review & Analysis: Defence, National Security and Terrorism (Vol 2 Issue VII)

April 1 - 15, 2017


Visit of CNS to Malaysia

Admiral Sunil Lanba, the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), visited Malaysia from 11 to 15 April 2017. The visit was intended to consolidate and enhance bilateral maritime relations between India and Malaysia and is expected to provide a major boost to defence relations between India and Malaysia. During his visit, the CNS held discussions with the Deputy Minister of Defence, Chief of Royal Malaysian Defence Forces along with the Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force of Malaysia. The Indian and the Royal Malaysian Navies have a long history of cooperation in terms of training, operational interactions as well as interactions at fora like Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, MILAN Navy Exercise and Asian Defence Minister’s Meeting (ADMM)-Plus. The Chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) along with RMN Corvette KD Lekir participated in the International Fleet Review-2016, at Visakhapatnam in February 2016.

Malaysia is an important country in the neighbourhood, especially in the framework of our ‘Act East’ policy. Malaysia has maintained an accommodative approach to Chinese overtures in South East Asia, as against aggressive approaches adopted by other countries like Indonesia and Vietnam. Malaysia also has an agreement with the PLA Navy to provide temporary basing to its ships and submarines in the Malaysian naval base at Kota Kinablau since December 2015. Developing close relations with this country, especially in the field of defence diplomacy, is important not only for mitigating Chinese influence but also to further the objectives of the ‘Act East’ policy. The scope for cooperation with Malaysia, considering past proximity in providing training to its personnel, is quite large. The similarity on platforms in each other’s inventories like the Su-30 fighter aircraft and the Scorpene submarines further underlines the feasibility of cooperation. The increase and enhancement in the level of visits should strengthen this relationship and buttress our ‘Act East’ policy.

China – Nepal Joint Military Exercises

China and Nepal kicked off their first ever joint military exercise on 16 Apr 17. The 10-day drill which is being held in Kathmandu has been dubbed "Sagarmatha Friendship 2017". The exercise is intended to focus on counter-terrorism according to Nepal's Army. Reports suggested that the exercise will firm up Kathmandu’s preparedness to deal with hostage situations like the one that caused large number of deaths in Dhaka’s Holey Artisan bakery.

China is investing massively in Nepal and has recently pledged $ 8.3 billion in investment. China is also reportedly mulling about a rail link from Nepal to Tibet, an extension of the rail line from Tibet to the Nepalese border agreed with the erstwhile Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. The current exercise is clearly intended to consolidate China’s diplomatic relations with Nepal and take them further, which has been the pattern in most of the countries where China has created diplomatic footholds. Chinese investment has been followed up with defence relations wither concomitantly or subsequently in a number of African countries.

India, therefore needs to closely monitor this relationship as any inimical presence in Nepal could severely compromise India’s interests in this region. While the current exercise may not hold much operational relevance, it is the relationship that can be forged by such experience that is a cause for worry. Moreover, the likelihood of Nepalese military being trained in China could become a reality after further such exercises which will cement this relationship. India, therefore needs to recalibrate its relationship with Nepal despite having a solid foundation, especially in the arena of defence matters. The nimble an imperceptible moves of the Chinese dragon have to be met by firmer footfalls of the Indian elephant is we are to retain our primacy in the sub-continent.

International Terrorism

Attack in St. Petersburg

On 3 April, a bomb explosion in a train in St. Petersburg in Russia killed 14 people (including the perpetrator himself) and injured several others. While a direct link between the attacker identified as Akbarzhon Jalilov, a Russian citizen born in Kyrgyzstan, and Daesh is not yet established, he reportedly had ties with “radical Islamist groups”. However, six people (of Central Asian origin) suspected to be recruiters for Daesh and Al-Nusra Front were arrested from this city a couple of days after the blast took place. This was an attack that was in the coming, after some of Russia’s European Union (EU) neighbors were already hit by such acts of terrorism in recent time. These were either carried out individuals directly linked with the Daesh or were inspired and influenced not only by its ideologies but also by its tactics of attack. The attack came about at this stage when Daesh as an organization and its radicalized sympathizers in different parts of the world, were known to attempting to inflict damages in their home-countries. This is primarily due to the organization losing ground in Syria and Iraq. An important factor that might have trigged this particular train attack could be Russia’s direct involvement in the Syrian crisis, which is getting extremely messy. Further, Russia is seen as a fertile ground by the jihadists of Central Asian origins now fighting in the ranks of Daesh in Syria/Iraq. Having been born in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city and part of the Fergana Valley, the impact of radicalisation on Jalilov, cannot be ruled out. The Fergana Valley area, with sizeable population of ethnic Uzbeks, is known for religious radicalism. Lastly, this attack should not be viewed in isolation but as a trend which Russia and other countries in the region might continue to face in the coming days.

Coptic Church Attack in Egypt

After Christian worshippers in the capital city, Cairo, were hit by a suicide bomber in mid-December 2016, Daesh claimed responsibility for similar twin attacks against Egypt’s Coptic Christians who were celebrating Palm Sunday on 9 April. While the first explosion was in the city of Tanta, the second took place in the port city of Alexandria. More than 40 people were killed and several others injured in the two incidents. Not surprisingly, the attack were claimed by by Daesh which has been trying to export violence of this nature as it faces defeat in Syria and Iraq. What is more worrisome is the sectarian overtone of the attack in choosing the target-audience. For instance, in February, Daesh released a video and described Egyptian Christians as “infidels who are empowering the West against Muslim nations”, and threatened this community for supporting the government led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Ability of Daesh to conduct such sophisticated carnages at regular intervals further suggested that it is likely devoting more time, resources, and talents on Egypt, which might worsen the situation in the days to come. Moreover, the increasing attacks on the Christians further raised the specter of sectarian bloodshed spearheaded by Daesh militias. As it is, Egyptian security establishments are having difficulties in keeping up with the escalating threats from Islamist militants operating in the country. Given the nature of the social fabric in the country, the potential of Daesh to fragment the Egyptian society by adopting sectarian-based strategy is doubtful but as rightly mentioned by one analyst, the “attempt to implement it will leave a trail of destruction that will primarily devastate Egypt’s Christian minority.

Stockholm Truck Attack

A terrorist, using a truck, by an Uzbek citizen in the upscale locality of Stockholm on 7 April, killing four people, fits well into the changing face of international terrorism which is noticeable globally. While a linkage between Rakhmat Akilov, the perpetrator, and Daesh is yet to be established, according to investigators, he reportedly showed sympathies for this terror organization and “exchanged Whats’ App messages with ISIS supporters before and after the rampage”. He was known to the Swedish police as his request seeking an asylum was rejected in December last year and was asked to leave the country. This also brought to the fore the lackadaisical attitude of the security apparatuses in keeping a track of such elements who are residing in the country illegally. There were even reports mentioning “warning” given by Uzbekistan about this particular suspect. Therefore, inability to follow up on this reflected poorly on the effectiveness of Sweden’s intelligence establishment.

As was the case with other incidents of this nature, including the London, Nice and Berlin attacks, Daesh’s social media propaganda, which constantly encourages its supporters and sympathizers to use vehicles and knives, are becoming more frequent. In one of the editions of Rumiyah, Daesh’s English language magazine, in an article it was mentioned, “Very few actually comprehend the deadly and destructive capability of the motor vehicle and its capacity of reaping large number of casualties if used in a premeditated manner”. In other words, threats emanating from lone actors, inspired by terror organizations such as Daesh, particularly in the European Union (EU) countries, adds to the rising menace of use of easily available objects as improvised weapons by these motivated individuals.

India Australia Cooperation on Counter Terrorism

With mutual recognition of terrorism as the most serious threats to peace and stability, India and Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime. The agreement was signed after bilateral talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on April 10, 2017. The agreement aims at establishing an overarching security mechanism between law enforcement, border and intelligence agencies of India and Australia to combat security threats. The two Prime Ministers also welcomed the initiative of Indian Ocean Rim Association’s Declaration on Countering and Preventing Terrorism and Violent Extremism.

This MoU has added muscle to the already established closed cooperation on close cooperation between India and Australia through Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism. The agreement on cooperation against terrorism was one of the six agreements that also included one on “civil aviation security”, combating against the threat of radicalisation, the two leaders emphasised the need for urgent measures to counter terrorism and expressed their determination to take concrete steps to step up cooperation among law enforcement, intelligence and security organisations.

Internal Security

Jammu and Kashmir

Police Cracks Down on Jail with Massive Seizures

In a major crackdown on April 02, 2017 the J&K Police seized 14 mobile phones from a sub-jail in Baramullah. The seized mobiles were being used by the inmates to be in touch with their handlers in Pakistan. The recoveries were made from prisoners who were involved in stone pelting and militant activities in the valley. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh informed the Parliament that Pakistan was using social media network to fuel unrest in Kashmir. The Jail authorities of Jammu and Kashmir have lodged an FIR against 10-12 prisoners.

Stone Pelting Continues in Kashmir Valley

Three youths were killed on April 09, 2017 in action by security forces against a stone pelting mob which was trying to disrupt the anti-militancy operation in Budgam district of the Kashmir. The main theatre of stone-pelting and violent protests was Budgam, a district that traditionally records high voter turnout in the Valley. Over all 200-300 civilians and 100 security personnel were injured in recent series of events of unrest in the entire Srinagar along with Ganderbal, Budgam, Anantnag, Awantipora, Kulgam, Baramulla etc. The protests had its impact on the recently held bi-elections in the state with very poor voter turnout and even deferment of polls for Anantnag Lok Sabha seat. There was also an incident (April 16) in Beerwah area of Budgam district in which a stone pelter was tied to an army jeep and used as ‘human shield’ to ensure safe retrieval of security personnel at a polling station in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency. Video recording of this went viral in the social media drawing considerable negative comments. Army authorities have ordered an enquiry.