Karachi Project: A nefarious plan to destabilize India

A court room sketch of David Coleman Headley

Now, Indian intelligence agencies have been able to get a rough map of how major terror attacks, including the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, were planned and executed by an anti-India group comprising the ISI, retired and serving Pakistan armymen, non-state players like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, JuD and HuJi, the Indian Mujahideens and Pakistan-based anti-India underworld dons.

In a way, it is a regrouping of the various anti-India modules comprising both State and non-State players operating from within Pakistan.

Earlier, it was the ISI which that conducting a clandestine war against India by facilitating infiltration of jehadis and Lashkar operatives who waged an open war. The Karachi Project gives a new dimension to the move to destabilize India through various means including triggering bomb blasts, cultivating sleeper cells in India, funding Indian Mujahideen groups operating in India and by setting up facilities to print fake currency notes to derail the Indian economy.

With the Karachi Project, Pakistan now has two faces - a government that puts up a clean image and its intention to fight home-bred terrorists and hardbargain for arms and ammunition with the US and the other that tries to destabilize India. The common players in both the groups are the Pakistan army and the ISI.

What is Karachi Project? Who are the players and whom are they targeting? What are their motives? Where are they based and Why are they trying to do whatever they are trying to do?

Karachi Project is probably the best planned offensive against India by the ISI and its Jehadi operatives - an operation that has resulted in the death of more than 500 people in ten bombb explosions since 2005.

Karachi Project: A nefarious plan to destabilize India

Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai

What's in a Name?

In recent times, the mention of "Karachi Project" came up when Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai revealed that the Pune blast was the handiwork of the Indian Mujahideen as part of the said project. Indian security agencies have been privy to the outlines of this project for more than three years now though it was only recently that Pillai associated it to the German Bakery blast in Pune.

There was some reference to the codename after the 26/11 Mumbai carnage too. How is Karachi linked to Mumbai? For starters, both cities share common traits, historically as well as in more modern times. Both happen to be the largest cities in their respective countries, the main seaport and the financial capital. What's more, those who ruled the Mumbai underworld at one time now rule the Karachi criminal world.

And there we have the reason why the army-jihadi nexus thought of "Karachi" as a codeword for a project aimed to disrupt India. Intelligence agencies believe that there is a direct link to the existence of anti-India fugitives in Karachi and the naming of the terror project. The Pakistani port city, notorious as a hotbed of crime some decades ago, is now sanctuary to underworld dons like Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon and many Lashkar operatives.

The project, reportedly conceived in 2003, has been described as part of an overall strategy adopted by the Pakistani Army to use terror outfits as a crucial part of a strategic arsenal to bust India's military and economic might. Admiral Dennis Blair, Director of the National Intelligence in the US, reportedly told a US senate committee that Islamabad planned the proxy war in the wake out of Karachi due to the easy approach to India via the sea route.

Karachi Project: A nefarious plan to destabilize India

Lashkar camp in West Pakistan

The Plan of Action

Recent disclosures by David Headley and feedback from US intelligence agencies indicate the nexus between the Pakistan Army's ISI and groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba , the HuJI and the Indian Mujahideen. The aim was simple. Plan out strikes across Indian cities and use terroist outrages to bleed India and weaken its economy and military might.

Anti-terrorism experts are of the view that Karachi Project was kickstarted to coincide with the diminishing fortunes of former Pakistani President and Army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf. While Musharraf was extending an olive branch to India, rabid India haters like JuD chief Hafiz Mohd. Saeed and 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi were generating the plan to hit Indian targets.

The experts have argued that beyond the fancy name, Karachi Project was also a detailed blueprint for carrying out such attacks that was to be executed by Lashkar operatives with help from the Indian Mujahideen. They argue that the Headley disclosures have brought to light four distinct links that supported and helped execute these anti-India strikes. Here is how things panned out:

(a) Pakistani military establishment patronize the Lashkar as a counter to anti-Islamabad groups like the Al-Qaeda based on the Afghan borders.
(b) The ISI's Karachi office took ownership of this activity by exposing the Al-Qaeda with the help of the American Intelligence agencies.
(c) A game of deceit is played out by the Pak establishment whereby ISI collaborates with the Lashkar and pro-Al-Qaeda elements to strike in India.
(d) Anti-Islamabad elements use the anti-India terror groups to orchestrate events in Pakistan as a counter to American Af-Pak strategy.

Karachi Project: A nefarious plan to destabilize India

Pakistani soldiers at an army camp

Caught in a bind

The details of Karachi Project came to light during interrogations of David Coleman Headley by the FBI last December. International defence experts believe that the project found tacit support within the Paksitani establishment as it got involved in a high-intensity battle against terrorists who were harming the American interests by targeting its forces in Afghanistan.

Under pressure to crackdown on local terror groups, Islamabad could obviously not afford to allow terror outfits it had trained for its anti-India battle to go on the rampage alongside others like the Pakistani Taliban who have been unleashing terror strikes within Pakistan. Military experts believe that this is the prime reason why authorities in Pakistan seek to divert the attention of terror outfits to India as only then can Pakistan battle its own terror groups.

The planning and implementation of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage indicates how well things were coordinated. The Lashkar pushed Headley into India to recce the potential targets while IM operatives went to Pakistan to view his videos and plan out the strikes. Headley had reportedly revealed that the Bhatkal brothers who founded the IM and other outlaws were being sheltered in Karachi by the Lashkar and its ISI bosses.

Headley had also reporteldy confirmed that the ISI had set up a team of Indian jihadis in Karachi as part of the codename "Karachi Project" and were waiting to launch them into India for further terror strikes. The objective was simple: Use disgruntled Indian youth to carry out the strikes using locally available bomb material so that the finger of suspicion is not raised against Pakistan.

Karachi Project: A nefarious plan to destabilize India

Pakistani soldiers deputed at a curfew in Karachi

The Next Steps

While Headley revealed the links between the Lashkar and the IM, the arrest of Abdul Khwaja, second in command to Shahid Bilal who headed the HuJI unit in Bangladesh, provided more information about the dreaded project. Khwaja, who was arrested in a clandestine operation in Bangladesh last year, revealed that a retired Pakistani army officer had listed out a bunch of possible terror targets in India.

These included the Osho Ashram in Pune, the Knesseth Eliyahu Synagogue in south Mumbai, the RAW headquarters in Delhi's CGO complex, the German Bakery in Pune, RSS offices in Nagpur and Kolkata, and oil refineries in Hyderabad and Chennai. The HuJI operative admitted that he was asked to take ownership of this project along with Asif, brother of Amir Reza Khan, the chief of the Indian Mujahideen.

Khwaja, who is wanted for a suicide bombing attempt on Andhra Pradesh police, also revealed that "Karachi Project" also includes a plan to target senior police officers in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. His confessions echoed similar statements made by Headley about a large number of Jihadi Indian nationals being present across the border in Karachi and waiting for the right moment to strike.

So, in effect, Karachi Project is different from earlier attempts insofar as it is a "plausibly deniable operation" which means there will be no evidence to link it to authorities in Pakistan, unlike the 26/11 strike that resulted in the detaining of Kasab and his squealing about Pakistan's role. The worrisome part of this operation is that disgruntled Indian elements are getting recruited by anti-India groups who indoctrinate them using propaganda videos.

The Modus Operandi

The ISI-sponsored trainers took additional precautions by ensuring that the training was not imparted across the LoC. Instead, the recruits were ferried to the inhospitable territory of Balochistan where ISI operatives trained them in small groups of four and five.

Conservative estimates with the US intelligence agencies put the total number of such trained jihadis to between 50 and 60. Indian security agencies revealed that interrogations of captured militants indicated that recruits were provide a one-month training camp where the focus on training was more on the use of chemicals and ability to string up explosive devices.

Unlike the Lashkar camps at Muzzafarabad in Pak-occupied Kashmir, the training process were more fun-filled as recruits were neither trained in the doctrine of Islam nor were they stopped from indulging themselves by watching satellite television or playing the occasional game of carrom or cricket. Investigators say that the trainers were Pak armymen in salwars while the camps had occasional visits from high-ranking officers.

Post-training the agents were pushed back into India via the sea route and inducted into sleeper cells that awaits a command to strike. Unlike the 1993 blasts in Mumbai orchestrated by the D-company where RDX was smuggled in with tacit support from the directors of these operations across the border, the latest project involves local expertise that has been honed by trainers from Pakistan.

Karachi Project: A nefarious plan to destabilize India

The serial bomb blasts in Mumbai where seven explosions in local trains killed 209 people

The Trail of Death

Intelligence agencies believe that the terror strikes listed here were all a part of the Karachi Project...

(i) Blast in Shramjeevi Express near Jaunpur on July 28, 2005 which killed 10 passengers and wounded 79 more.
(ii) Three serial blasts in Delhi before the Diwali festival on October 29, 2005 that killed 62 people.
(iii) The three blasts at the Sankat Mochan Temple and Railway Station in Varanasi on March 7, 2006 that killed 21.
(iv) The serial bomb blasts in Mumbai where seven explosions in local trains killed 209 people.
(v) The twin blasts at the Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat Bhandar in Hyderabad on August 27, 2007 that killed 42.
(vi) Blasts in court complex at Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad on November 24, 2007 killed 16 people.
(vii) The nine blasts in Jaipur on May 13, 2008 that killed 63 people in its crowded markets.
(viii) The 17 bomb blasts that rocked Ahmedabad on July 26, 2008 that killed 53 people,
(ix) The five blasts across Delhi on September 13, 2008 that left 30 people dead.
(x) The Best Bakery blast in Pune on February 13, 2010 in which 13 people lost their lives.

Method to the Madness

Investigating agencies point out that unlike in the past, there is a consistent method to the bombings being carried out as part of Karachi Project. The first attempt was largely unspectacular where a crude bomb went off near the toilet of a Delhi-bound train that killed ten people. Thereafter, India has been witness to a bombing once every six months.

And the targets have been chosen with care with places of worship, public transport and shopping arcades being high on the list. The idea was obviously to "get the worst possible result for the bang," says an investigator into the terror networks. What's more, the perpetrators of the strikes were whisked away to safety once they had "accomplished" the strike.

Investigators started tasting success in identifying the perpetrators as police in Delhi and UP arrested several Lashkar and HuJi affiliates between 2005 and 2007. These arrests helped the agencies piece together the bigger plot and the devious minds within the military establishment across the border that were behind this carnage.

Things remained quiet during 2009 as the perpetrators faced various pressures including that of Washington on Pakistan to curb attacks on its interests. Now with the United States' decision to involve Pakistan in the post-withdrawal arrangements in Afghanistan, things are likely to hot up. It remains to be seen whether Indian security agencies can force our political class to demand and get its pound of flesh from America in return for anti-terror cooperation.

The Unholy Alliance

Given below is a brief write-up of how Karachi Project came into being and who were the players...

- The unholy nexus came into being in 2003 as a joint strategy between the ISI, elements in the Pak army and terror outfits like the Lashkar and the HuJi to use disgruntled Indian youth as foot soldiers.
- Indian fugitives like Dawood Ibrahim and the Bhatkal brothers were used to spot disgruntled youth in India and provide a steady supply of recruits for the project as part of an effort to ensure that the needle of suspicion never pointed to Pakistan.
- The strategy was to send the recruits back to India to plant bombs at strategic locations. Thereafter it was modified to include locations that was frequented by foreign tourists like in the case of the Pune attack.
- The recruits are trained at remove locations in hostile territory like Balochistan, which is close to the Iranian border. The training involves use of chemicals for making crude bombs
- A strategic change in training given by former army operatives is to keep away from Islamic doctrinisation and focus instead on heightening their disgruntlement by showing clips of the Babri demolition.
- Post training, the agents are pushed back into India via the porous sea routes and asked to bide their time as members of various sleeper cells across the country.

Source: Raj Narayan / India Syndicate