Obama’s Indian yatra and security concerns
S M Hali
US President Barack Obama will be visiting India from January 25 to 27, 2015. As president, this will be his second Indian yatra (pilgrimage) and, undoubtedly, it is important from the Indian point of view. Pakistan does not begrudge the US presidential visit to India although, despite being a major non-NATO ally, Islamabad has yet to host President Obama. To put its best foot forward and to avoid any risks of a security breach, India has adopted a number of measures. It has placed its security agencies on nationwide high alert. The onus of protection and well being of any guest rests with the host although President Obama’s own security detail must be extremely vigilant and will also be taking measures to avoid any untoward incident.
Warning signals have been issued by India, projecting the possibility of a terrorist attack coinciding with the visit or targeting the dignitary. RAW, IB and other intelligence agencies have been issuing threat warnings almost on a daily basis. Since the region has been plagued with terror attacks, such caution is necessary, especially in the light of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Coincidentally, during his previous visit to India in November 2010, President Obama inaugurated the refurbished Taj Hotel in Mumbai that had suffered major damage in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Since the US and India are allied in bilateral cooperation to combat terrorism, issuance of threat alerts by India is in consonance with the common objectives, goals and aspirations of both countries. Simultaneously, there has been a sudden surge in intelligence sharing by US agencies. Most of it has to do with a range of possible terror threats to India. The Times of India, which has expressed concern in this regard in its January 6, 2015 story titled, ‘Spurt in terror alerts from US ahead of Barack Obama’s India visit’, asserts that some officials believe that this sudden surge in foreign inputs started after President Barack Obama’s trip to India as the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade on January 26 was announced in November. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had formally announced the invitation to Obama on November 21, 2014.
The same Indian daily portends: “The latest US alert was about the possible hijack or an explosion aboard an Air India flight between Delhi and Kabul. The input did not specify when this terror act could happen. Indian security agencies went on a high alert on Monday (January 5) in the wake of this report. A few days ago, US agencies warned that the sea route would be used to target an Indian port, probably on the southern coast. This could be carried out by Pakistan-based terrorist groups or the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency.” It is not clear whether the inputs for the Coast Guard operation in which a fishing boat from Pakistan went up in flames, killing four people on board in the early hours of New Year’s Day, also came from US sources.
For Pakistan, being named in such alerts is a matter of grave concern but more importantly the issuance of such alerts by the US government and agencies ahead of President Obama’s visit to India casts a shadow of lack of confidence on the Indian security apparatus and their concerns regarding the safety and security of the dignitary during his presence in India. For India itself, releasing security warnings may be in concord with its past “coincidental terror attacks” during previous high level visits to India but, shedding conspiracy theory aside, the disclosure of US alerts reflects its concerns regarding the prevailing law and order and security situation in India. The security of the US president is paramount and the possibility of any unwanted incident should not be completely ruled out. It is equally probable that such an incident can be carried out by any of the numerous dissident militant non-Muslim groups that exist in India, hence fingers should not be pointed towards Pakistan at the drop of a hat. In the garb of these alerts, Pakistan is being declared culpable of staging attacks on the person of President Obama during his state visit to New Delhi through infiltrators and its alleged sleeper cells inside India. Pakistan itself is reeling from dozens of terror attacks, each of which is equally if not more deadly than the Mumbai attack. The recent carnage at the Army Public School in Peshawar, which took a heavy toll of 142 lives of innocent school children and teachers, has moved the entire world, including India, but to insinuate that Pakistan would even comprehend planning, abetting or sponsoring a terror attack in India, targeting the US president, is unthinkable. The protagonists of the Mumbai terror attacks were non-state actors. Pakistan has bent over backwards to disrupt and destroy the safe havens of non-state actors and prevent them from conducting terror acts, and its resolve should be appreciated, not doubted.