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Chinese Counter Terror Module – Compatibility to Nov 26 Mumbai Type Terror Attacks

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has reasons to bask under glory in having been able to deter any terror attack during the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games. No doubt, this presupposes the efficacy of China’s current counter-terrorism mechanism, but whether the PRC would be able to develop a foolproof anti-terror system, capable of thwarting Mumbai-type terror strikes in future, would remain a key question.

Leave China, even for the world at large, the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attacks have no precedence; they have given a new meaning, in particular to aspects relating to planning, training and execution. One could find some sort of semblance with the failed “1993 New York Landmarks Plot”.

Seen in over all perspectives, Nov 26 Mumbai terror attacks were meticulously woven around operational goals to challenge, if not tear apart, the “protective shield” of the Indian nation state. The action plan typically succeeded in its bid to neutralise and/ or cripple the “watch and ward mechanism” of individual terror targets while leaving broader outside support system gasping in utter desperation. Most importantly, it sought to put the fabric of national resilience to test. The plan was a handiwork of professional and seasoned operators and was not a sinister act hatched in just few days.

While quite a few academics, journalists and professionals have hitherto found holes in the operations of Indian counter terror machinery, it is imperative to examine how best the systems in vogue elsewhere could have hypothetically acquitted in thwarting a terror bid of identical nature and character. In its perspective while studying the Chinese counter terror module, this paper assumes that the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attack has been a product of long planning at the behest of very special forces in the field and that open society such as in India suffers inevitable handicap against terror surveillance and planning. It also proceeds from a postulate under which the potentials and capabilities of any counter terror system stand circumscribed unless social bases work in tandem with the state organs to provide due insulation. Also in the paper’s perspective, Intelligence counterbalance to the terror designs should involve bilateral/multilateral institutional arrangements for viable tip off.[I]

To get to objective reality, this paper is organised in an analytical format, where the narratives would sequentially focus on: the Conceptual Moorings and Orientation; the Legal Base and Criterion; the Institutional Framework and Operating System; and, the Nov 26 Mumbai Terror Experience and China. The data have been garnered from open source materials, particularly on-line resources.

Conceptual Moorings and Orientation

Chinese counter terror module is distinctively focussed to handle perceived home-grown hreats in over all context of probable external support from the diaspora and other sources. The system has evolved in stages, keeping eyes open on the ground situation. Interestingly, it has all along had ‘nelson grip’ on the likely perpetrators of terror.

The watchword for the Chinese counter terror module, both in broad and specific terms, is enshrined in the cliché “three threats/evils”.[II] The term terrorism (kongbuzhuyi) has been put on equal footing with the terms separatism (fenlizhuyi) and extremism (jiduanzhuyi). The Chinese leadership again quite frequently interchange separatism with splittism (fenliezhuyi). While the leadership cannot be faulted for not understanding the subtlety of the two terms, in particular the difference in connotation of the Chinese character “li” in “fenlizhuyi” and “lie” in “fenliezhuyi”, China’s intense perceptional divergence to the phenomenon, comes out clear.

Going by the contexts, the PRC authorities normally use the word “separatism” to refer to Taiwanese independence movement and “splittism” to dub the tryst of the Dalai Lama and his ilk to secure honourable living for the Tibetan people in the Tibetan plateau at large.

In the same vein, the term “extremism” is being used to refer to protagonists of the “East Turkistan” movement.[III] The word “religious extremism” is also gaining fast currency;[IV] the adherents of Falungong practices, addressed as “cult” in Chinese official jargon, stand out as prime targets.

Terrorism, extremism and separatism are on equal footing obviously as Beijing finds them a violent expression of anguish on the part of antagonists, posing challenges to China’s national security, regional stability and political authority of the Communist Party of China (CPC). For all their collective malfeasance, the conceptual blending as “three evils” tend to offer China a good measure of propaganda leverage.

Legal Base and Criterion

China has acceded and ratified eleven of the thirteen international conventions on terrorism formulated under the auspices of the United Nations. As for domestic legislation, in 2001, China adopted the Amendment to the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China (III) which contains new provisions on the punishment of several terrorist crimes. In 2006, China formulated Anti-Money Laundering Law which established the legal system for the prevention of terrorist financing. That law came into effect on January 1, 2007. Currently, China is in the process of drafting a comprehensive and integrated anti-terrorism legislation. Concerning judicial cooperation, the Chinese government has up till now concluded with 58 countries 102 treaties on extradition or judicial assistance, of which 79 have come into effect. In addition, China has signed the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and has started the domestic procedure for the ratification to that convention and the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.[V]

In its notification, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has set the criterion for identifying terrorist outfits. It includes activities that the Chinese authorities come to consider prejudicial to national security or social stability. The purview of such acts extends and covers a wide range of activities within and outside China. It included: (a) organising and/ or masterminding terrorist activities; (b) funding terrorist activities; (c) providing base or bases for terrorist activities or recruiting and training terrorists in an organized way; and, (d) collaborating with international terrorist organizations. In the same vein, the criterion for identifying a terrorist included: (a) having contact with a terrorist organization and engaging in terrorist activities at home or abroad that endanger national security and life and property of people; (b) meeting the aforementioned criteria and being involved in any of the following activities: (i) organising, heading or taking part in a terrorist organisation; (ii) organising, plotting, instigating and inciting terrorist activities; (iii) providing funding and assistance for terrorist organisations or terrorists for terrorist activities; and, (iv)accepting funding support or training from aforementioned organisations and other international organisations or pitching in their activities.

Institutional Framework and Operating System

China’s counter terror mechanism including intelligence counterbalance follows an upside down framework. The PRC established its National Anti-Terrorism Coordination Group (NATCG) under the command and control of the Chinese President, who is concurrently the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). Down below, there is Anti Terror Bureau (ATB), responsible for the research, planning, guidance, coordination and accomplishing national level anti terror agenda. It draws all man and material resource for day-to-day functioning from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS). Nonetheless, the NATCG office is headquartered in the ATB. In the bargain, NATCG is just top coordination body. The ground level job is the job of the Ministry of Public Security. Besides, all the provinces have set up their anti-terrorist co-ordination groups and offices.

Early Warning and Prevention System (EWPS), Quick Response System (QRS), Consequence Control and Management System (CCMS) and Mass Education and Mass Mobilization (MEMS) have been set up. They have their set role, and have since proved their worth.[VI] The main charter of EWPS is to monitor the activities of terrorist groups, with the objective of forestalling the impending attack, if any. It gets updates on regular basis from all the intelligence outfits. Collation, interpretation and dissemination of actionable intelligence on terror outfits stand out as the major task area of the EWPS. It does simultaneously keep a tab on intellectual writings on the issue.[VII] There have been two major occasions, when the system was put to real test. First was the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit meeting held in Shanghai in October 2001. The ghost of 9/11 then loomed large. Realising that it could seldom take chance, the PRC identified four activist groups, fomenting troubles in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR)- the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the East Turkistan Liberation Organization (ETLO), the World Uygur Youth Congress (WUYC) and the East Turkistan Information Center (ETIC). It simultaneously identified 11 major trouble makers: Hasan Mahsum, Muhanmetemin Hazret, Dolqun Isa, Abudujelili Kalakash, Abudukadir Yapuquan, Abudumijit Muhammatkelim, Abudula Kariaji, Abulimit Turxun, Hudaberdi Haxerbik, Yasen Muhammat, and Atahan Abuduhani. EWPS had then to work out and focus on their detailed profile. Accordingly, it got to alert both central and local security agencies in XAR and other locations to keep vigil on their movements. That task was not simple, especially during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. EWPS has had to keep its eyes and set priorities for action against thousands of people falling in 11 categories and 43 sets of suspects.[VIII]

The QRS, in turn, is tasked to undertake follow up action in response to the specific intelligence report and/ or on terrorist activity. QRS was raised first in Xinjiang. It has now come to operate in every provincial capital. Immediate Action Unit (IMU) and its tactical Counter Terror (CT) unit also go into action.[IX] The Units are specially trained and equipped for Close Quarter Combat (CQB) with emphasis on stealth and performing the mission with minimal casualty. Some of the IMUs hold “Take-over Force”, “Snipers”, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)/Impoverised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) experts, dog operators and counter terror intelligence officers. The IMUs have often been exposed to harsh terrain military exercises. Some of the notable ones include “Great Wall-2003” multilateral anti terror military exercise held on 26th Sep 03, which was witnessed by the Chinese President Hu Jintao himself. At places, the QRS gets operational support for such missions from the Special Armed Unit (SPU), which is again lavishly equipped with an array of weapons and equipments worth 300000 Yuan (US$ 43795) per combatant.

The CCMS focuses on an array of activities, which could limit the aftermath of terrorist attacks and restore of order in shortest possible time. It is sought to be achieved with a fair amount of coordination between various players in the last go such as the designated policemen, the fire- fighters, the armed troops, the civilian rescuers and the medical personnel. It calls for joint command and control as well as training for swift action on demand.

The MEMS has been envisioned to elicit public participation in counter terror efforts. Popularisation of anti-terror awareness and public emergency responsiveness are twin pillars of the system.

Notwithstanding, it presupposes a measure of spadework in various disciplines of knowledge, in particular relevant work on laws, regulations, and institutions. There have been a flurry of activities prior to the holding of 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, which involved officials of various departments carrying out various sets of education and training programmes among civilian populace in Beijing and other host cities of the Games. News items in Chinese vernacular papers then suggested that the PRC would step them up in wake of 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. A number of schools have added anti-terrorism to their curriculum, while some research institutes and universities have set up their anti-terror research centres.

Nov 26 Mumbai Terror Experience and China

China’s tryst as much as credentials to build an institutional Great Wall against terror onslaught seems to fall short of some of the required critical parameters to measure up to the penetrability of Nov 26 Mumbai sort of terror inflictions. However, to the advantage of the Chinese state and the people, the comfort level against such afflictions stand high for a variety of factors.

The ideological forefather of Nov 26 Mumbai terror attack is Pakistan’s diehard terror entity Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Jamaat-e-islami (JI), an offshoot of al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, an organisation with extremist credentials with Hq in Egypt.[X] Lashkhar-e-Tayyiba, the mastermind of the Mumbai carnage under the stewardship of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and his ilk in different names represent an abrasive school of thought bent upon holding reasons and rationality at ransom.[XI] With due articulation and support from the state, in particular during the epoch of Gen Pervez Musharraf, the outfit has come to expand terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan and sleeper cells in a number of countries around the world.[XII] With hold on the Pakistan press, charitable trusts and madrassas across the country, and operating in geo-political backdrop of hysteric state bias and hatred, Lashkhar-e-Tayyiba holds ever damning threat potential for India. The East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the prime source of terror threat to the PRC, figures in the UNSC list of terrorist organisations, but it can not match the virulence and effectiveness of Lashkhar-e-Tayyiba in any respect.

The Lashkhar-e-Tayyiba design of Nov 26 Mumbai terror attack plot is apparently an extension of the failed 1993 New York Landmarks plot 15 years ago, authored then by al-Qaeda. Points of similarities are striking. Both New York and Mumbai happened to be the financial capitals of their countries and home to their nations’ major stock exchanges. In both cities, the perpetrators of terror picked out high-profile soft targets. Both plans also involved infiltrating hotel staff and booking rooms in the hotels to gain inside information and store supplies. In both cases, there were peripheral targets, meant for causing confusions and chaos, also perhaps a tactical move to create a diversion from the main targets.

With sufficient home work, perhaps in close consultations with the local tip man, the perpetrators of terror targetted first, transportation infrastructure such as the CST railway station. They fired indiscriminately and gave rise to panic. The terror outfit simultaneously detonated explosive devices in taxis and next to gasoline pumps. Meanwhile, part of the terror group attacked other sites around the city. It was predictably aimed at distracting the attention of the security forces from prized target: the Taj Mahal and Trident hotels and Nariman House. Attacking Cama Hospital also sowed chaos, as the injured from one scene of attack became the targets of another while being rescued. It was also aimed at playing up with psyche of the people at large.

Similarity did as well exist in the geography of the two cities of New York and Mumbai. In both plots, the use of watercraft is a distinctive tactical similarity. Watercraft gave militants access at unconventional locations where security could be more lax. Both Mumbai (a peninsula) and Manhattan (an island) offer plenty of points where militants could again mount assaults from watercraft. Such an attack could be difficult in landlocked cities where militants would have had to enter by road, a route much more likely to encounter police patrols. Being centers of trade and surrounded by water, both Mumbai and New York have high levels of maritime traffic. This means infiltrating the area from the water would raise minimal suspicions, especially if the craft were registered locally (as was the case in the Mumbai attack). Such out-of-the box tactics take advantage of security services, which often tend to focus on established threats.

Similarity did as well exist in the choice for transportation. In addition to using watercraft, both plots involved the use of deceptive vehicles to maneuver around the city undetected. The Landmark plotters used taxis to conduct surveillance and planned on using a delivery van to approach the hotels. In Mumbai, the attackers planted bombs in taxis, and at least one group of militants hijacked a police van and used it to carry out attacks across the city. Using familiar vehicles like taxis, delivery vans or police vans to carry out surveillance or attacks reduces suspicion and increases the element of surprise, allowing militants to stay under cover until the moment of attack.

Pitted against thorough professional intelligence handiwork of the kind, and that again through cross country busy sea route of over 500 nautical miles, the Indian counter terror intelligence outfits suffered a classic faux pas. In identical scenario, it is hard to think that the Chinese counter terror outfits could have done any better. Normal intelligence gathering process could have had little avail.

This is yet no reflection on the working of different Bureaux/ Office in the Chinese Ministry of Public security right from national down to the province/ autonomous region, prefecture and county levels. Intelligence sharing at the top with the concerned Bureaux under the Ministry of State Security, the Second, Third and Fourth Department under General Staff Department (GSD) of People’s Liberation Army (PLA), International Liaison Department (ILD) and China Association of International Friends Contacts (CAIFC) under General Political Department (GPD), the Sixth Research Institute of the PLA Air Force and Naval Intelligence under PLA Navy have constantly been creditable. It was, in fact, time tested during the just concluded 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Meantime, New China News Agency, the mouthpiece of the CPC fills the gap in its own way through open source materials. EWPS and QRS, put in place since Oct 2001, tend to act as the lender of last resort for the last minute job. Incidentally, the ETIM does not have terror potential through sea routes. All that it has hitherto attempted remained confined to land locked targets. Notwithstanding, through the mechanism of regional cooperation such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), China has neutralised the scope of cross Diaspora terror cooperation in all such cases. Only in the changed scenario, there could be Nov 26 Mumbai type terror attacks in commercial centres in the coastal cities and Island business hubs such as Shenzhen, Hainan, Hong Kong and Macao. Chinese intelligence and security mandarin are alive to this grim reality. Mock exercise by the Beijing Special Armed Police Unit (BSAPU) in a Beijing hotel recently is just one example of the Chinese initiative.

(The writer, Dr Sheo Nandan Pandey, is an expert in defence and security matters based in Faridabad,India. He had held advisory positions in the ministries of Defence and Human Resources Development of the Government of India. Views expressed in the article are his own).


[I] Counter-terror refers to practices, tactics and strategies that the state adopts to fight terrorism. It embraces a large number of fields, often referred as “first responders. Counter terror intelligence, in its perspective, refers to the task of collection and dissemination of guarded secrets on the whole set of terror designs and execution plans of terror outfits.

[II] The phrase “three evils” is being used almost as synonym to counter-terrorism operations undertaken in Central Asian countries and Russian Federation besides China.

[III] East Turkistan is the former name of what is now Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Uyghur, a proud Turkic people, are descendents of nomadic Central Asian stock. They once ruled the region. Clash of culture and various dichotomies in Chinese policy has led to several incidents, particularly since 1990s. There are certain groups who have called for separate political identity, but the majority has not been able to unify.

[IV] China came out with and enforced a statute called, “Regulations on Religious Affair” right on March 1, 2005 in the midst of pressure from the Human Rights activists. However, it recognises just five belief systems: the Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. There has been unsubstantiated news about the Chinese authorities considering expanding the list to incorporate Judaism, the Orthodox Church, the Baha’i Faith, and the Mormon Church. During the just concluded 2008 Beijing Olympics Games, the right to worship was extended to even Hindu participants to the event. The said statute yet calls for prior permission and carries a long list of do’s and do not’s. It provides for legal action against violations, and considers religious extremism as an act against the social stability to the determents of the state.

[V] Statement of Liu Zhenmin, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, 08 Oct 2008.

[VI] Pan Guang, “East Turkestan Terrorism and the Terrorist Arc: China’s Post 9/11 Anti Terror Strategy”, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 4, No 2, 2006, pp 19-24.

[VII] EWPS has been holding seminars and quite often consulting scholars on terror linked issues. Going by some of the news items in Chinese vernacular papers in the recent past, some of the affiliates of the Chinese National Defence University, in particular Wang Guoqiang, Hu Fan, and Zhanyi Xue keep on advising EWPS on almost regular basis. The same is the case with He Bingsong of China University of Political Science and Law.

[VIII] For details, see Dr Sheo Nandan Pandey, “2008 Beijing Olympics Security Management: Myth and Reality of Intelligence Inputs on Terror Attack”,; as also Strategy_India Digest No. 1167 dated 11 Nov 08

[IX] IAU and its CT Unit besides Snow Wolf Commando Units (SWCU) and various Special Police Units in the PRC form parts of 1.5 million strong People’s Armed Police (Zhongguo Wujing). The number of troops engaged in various internal security jobs presently run to 800000 officers and men.

[X] Syed Abul Ala Maududi led and founded al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in the name of Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan in 1941. While Jamaat-e-Islami does not yet figure among 40 listed terror organizations, it is both sympathiser and supporter of a number of listed terror organizations such as al-Qaida, Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (HAMAS), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) etc. During the recent crack down on LeT, Jamaat-e-Islami leadership provided full throated support and called the action of the Pakistan government as cowardice. It has been brazenly advocating innocence on the part of Jamaat ud-Dawah (JuD).

[XI] Lashkar-e-Tayyiba happens to be one of the 58 religious political parties and 24 armed Jihadi groups were originally created by the Pakistan Army and intelligence outfit ISI in the past six decades as part of covert state policy to quell internal sectarian conflicts and intimidate opponents. Since late 1980s, Pakistan is using Lashkar-e-Tayyiba to maintain its strategic depth in Afghanistan and keeping India tied through proxy war.

[XII] Wilson John, Brief Number 12, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Pakistan Security Research Unit (PSRU), Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, UK.

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