Islamic Terrorists Pose Nuke Attack Danger: General Myers
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General Richard Myers

Interaction with General Richard Myers, former Chairman of the joint chiefs of Staff, US

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States had an interaction with VIF security experts on 19 January 2010.

General Richard Myers, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a top general in the United States Air Force, visited VIF premises on 19 January 2010 with a delegation which included William Schneider, a prominent American politician who has served in a number of senior federal government positions – including Chairman, Defence Science Board, Department of Defence for nine years under the Bush Administration.

Accompanying General Myers were KPS Gill, former Director General of Police, Punjab and Dr Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of Institute for Conflict Management.

The visiting dignitaries exchanged views on regional and global security with a distinguished gathering which included former top military and intelligence officers.

VIF Director Ajit Doval welcomed General Myers and in his opening remarks outlined the VIF’s function as a newly-formed think tank engaged in the study of strategic and security-related issues. He then drew the visiting delegates’ attention to the recent turbulences in the region and the threat posed by Islamic extremism. Doval, a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, requested General Myers to share his perceptions about the emerging scenario on this front, its manifestations and its implication for the region.

General Myers remarked that his views were coloured by the fact that he became Chairman of the Chief of Joint Staff 20 days after 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US. “My tenure was clearly defined by that event and our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. He also talked of the impact on his thinking of “vast amounts of intelligence’ sifted by him during that period.

General Myers went on to state:

  • What we are witnessing is a global insurgency. Although, the way US often treats it as specific – either in Afghanistan or Pakistan or elsewhere -- but for radical Islam, it is all one sort of effort. Disparate Islamic groups have one fairly common ideology.
  • While the extremists would have you believe the conflict involves Islam and the West, but it is a conflict within Islam with different groups trying to define how Islam emerges in 21st Century as they seek some sort of insurgence. The extremists are trying to have their views prevailed.
  • Islamic radicalism represents one of the most serious threats faced by the US and India in a long, long time. Because there is a certain level of patience, will and resolve by this adversary that has seldom been seen in adversaries.
  • The size of the adversaries is not particularly large. But you do not need a large number to have a dramatic impact – as seen in 9/11 and 26/11 terror strikes
  • The greater danger now is the possibility of an attack with fissile material.

William Schneider said that he became Chairman of the Defence Science Board about 6 months before 9/11 and so his experience is also driven by the consequences of that attack. He added that with this new threat, the US had to make several changes. For instance, the focus of the US Intelligence Community moved to tackling adversaries in the form of persistent small groups the US was not organised to fight given the pervious experience of Cold War years. “So, the whole intelligence collection and processing system had to move to accommodate that change. We needed to counter those asymmetric tactics aimed at exploiting our weaknesses,” he said.

Schneider pointed out that during the cold war days the technology applied for defence purposes was mostly developed in the defence sector. But now for past 20 years such technology is being developed in the civil sector. As a consequence, the technology can be accessed by the terrorist organisations. He predicted that for the next 20-25 years, countries will not try and contest the US and other modern industrial states with the “classic combined arms approach”. Instead they will use the “hybrid approach” -- low and high tech applied by relatively small forces operating in a clandestine manner against the civil society and the country they oppose.

Further elucidating the topic in the context of India, Doval gave the delegate a rundown on how petro-dollars boosted a particular virulent ideology originating from Saudi Arabia. In time, it took roots in Pakistan, and from there it came to affect Bangladesh and then India.

Pakistan used this newfound Islamic card in Afghanistan for furthering their strategic and political objectives in India. They found that the jihadis could be an effective instrument to carry out a low cost war with high degree of deniability and sustainability against India. It happened first in Punjab and then in J&K.

Taking year 2001 as a watershed point, the VIF Director pointed up the changes which have come about in this region with regard to Islamic terrorism.

  • By late 1990s, Pakistan had realised that the violence unleashed in J&K through its jihadi warriors was not sufficient to achieve their strategic objectives in Kashmir. So a decision was taken that the hinterland must be targeted. It is only after that the ISI started building a large number of modules around the country. In between 1998 and 2004, about 272 ISI modules were busted.
  • The second aspect was that the ISI started recruiting youth in the name of Islam. They got them linked to some radical organisations, took them to Pakistan for training and used their modules in India to weaponise them on their return. That was the time when SIMI became active in India – in late 2000-2001. That is a very critical period for India as it was this time when for the first time Islamic radicalism started manifesting in the form of violence.
  • The SIMI cadres were not highly trained or motivated, and they did not get support from Indian Muslims, that’s why they did not succeed in the manner Pakistan wanted them to be. Hence Pakistan carried out parallel operations through LeT in which SIMI provided backup. SIMI owes allegiance to Al Qaeda and is against the Indian nation and all that it stands for.
  • In Pakistan itself, the civil society in post 9/11 period is much more radicalised than any point in their history. Anti-Westernism and radicalisation have got mixed up.

Turning attention to Afghanistan, Lt General R K Sawhney, former Deputy Chief of Army Staff and Director General of Military Intelligence, shared his experiences of certain positive happenings in Afghanistan.

  • Approximately 7 million students are getting educated in schools and not in madrassas, which is encouraging, he said. “There is an interaction with liberal society…a new generation is coming up which is not anti-West and Anti-US, unlike the case in Pakistan.”
  • The General observed that the American intervention has had a good impact in certain way. “Theirs is yearning for education, breaking away from the clutches of others and democracy.”
  • General Sawhney also revealed that the recent pullout plan of the Obama administration has not gone down well with the locals, as he observed during his many visits there. “Disengagement of the US and the West from Afghanistan is a recipe for disaster,” he cautioned.

Looking back, former R&AW chief C D Sahay recalled India telling the US and the UK, when they were contemplating bombing Kabul, that Taliban had to be removed not only in the context of 9/11 but also for the well being of the people there. They were told to not to “go into there in a rush to get out” – which was happening now. Sahay’s elucidation touched upon several more points of strategic interest to the US, India and the rest of the world

  • The Afghanistan jihad launched from Pakistan from 1980 has created some very important structures in Pakistan and globally. They impact the world security situation even now.
  • The world community sanctioned the movement and recruitment of people from all over the world in the name of jihad. In the process, the world sanctified the use of jihad as a uniting force for rallying force for Islam internationally, networking internationally and fund movements internationally. Those structures are still existing.
  • As early as 1994, India had sensed the implication of jihadi menace emanating from Pakistan and brought it to the notice of the Western interlocutors. But they were not impressed and a lot of time was lost. Time was also lost in noticing that Pakistani society was getting radicalised. Now we have reached a point where a sizeable chunk of the Pakistani army has been radicalised thanks to the overzealous Islamic drive of General Zia.
  • Islam in India is largely unaffected by the sweep of radicalisation. However, radicalisation of the Indian Muslims will be most dangerous and the Indian Muslim clergy can play a vital role in arresting the development.

Former Deputy National Security Advisor Satish Chandra made a study in contrast between handling of terrorism at home by Pakistan and Bangladesh. Commending the steps taken by the Sheikh Hasina government, he commented that there is “touch of arrogance” in Pakistan army. He told the visiting American dignitaries that “if you are going to address this problem of terrorism, you have to address Pakistan. Or you are not going to wipe it out.”

We have been living with Pakistan-backed terrorism for long. The world is beginning to feel it only now, he concluded.

Lt General V G Patankar, former GOC, 14 corp, thought aloud about his service experience in J&K. He underlined that J&K is not a homogenous Sunni state. Islam in Valley is of liberal, Sufi variant and that reflects on its simple and intelligent people. He remarked that there has been a great deal of impact of democracy in Kashmir which is not seen in PoK. Despite terrorist propaganda and threats, people have been brave enough to come out and repose faith in democracy.

Concluding the interaction, Vice Admiral K K Nayyar, a former Vice Chief of the Indian Navy, drew on his vast experience to press that there are areas of convergence and divergence between India and the United States. “We have to increase the areas of convergence.” He emphasised the need for the US to resolve Iran issue to tackle the Afghanistan problem well. He also warned that premature withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan will be touted as the biggest victory for the radical Islam at the start of the century and will, for a start, devastate Pakistan.

Event Date 
January 19, 2010
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