On the eve of the inauguration of the planet's biggest sporting spectacle, Raman discusses the prospects of the evil of terrorism in Beijing in an interview with Editor Sheela Bhatt.
Do you think there is a possibility of some kind of terrorism in China during the Olympics?
There is a medium to high probability of acts of violence, including terrorism, by Uighur elements not only in the Xinjiang province, but also against Chinese nationals and interests during the Olympics in the Central Asian Republics, Pakistan and Turkey.
The Uighurs do not have a demonstrated capability for major acts of terrorism in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, where the main Olympic events will be held, but have a high capability in Xinjiang, the CARs and Pakistan. The main threat, if any, will be from the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan, which operates from North Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
On July 25, 2008, a private security consultancy agency of the US claimed to have intercepted a three-minute Olympics-specific video message by one Sayfallah, who claimed to belong to an organisation called the Turkistan Islamic Party in which he threatened acts of violence directed against the Olympics. He claimed that his organisation was responsible for the explosions in buses in Shanghai in May and in Kunming in Yunnan in July. He warned that his group is planning to attack Chinese cities 'using previously unused methods'.
He also said: 'This is our last warning to China and the rest of the world. The viewers and athletes, especially those who are Muslim, who plan to go to the Olympics should change their plans and not go to China. The Turkistan Islamic Party plans military attacks on people, offices, arenas, and other activities that are connected to the Chinese Olympic Games.'
This message, even if its purpose is assumed to be to create fear and nervousness, shows that sections of Uighurs in Xinjiang as well as in Pakistan, the CARs and Turkey have been thinking of some incidents before and during the Olympics to draw attention to their cause. Likely threats from them have already been taken seriously by the Chinese authorities and have been factored into in their security planning.
Chinese concerns have been magnified by the attack on border police guards in Kashgar in Xinjiang province on August 4 in which 16 police guards were killed by two Uighurs of the area. Apart from diversionary attacks on Chinese nationals and interests, the other dangers are hijacking of Chinese planes and kidnapping of Chinese diplomats posted in neighbouring countries.
Is the Chinese government doing enough to understand the issue? Are Chinese leaders taking action?
Yes. The Chinese have done whatever they can to prevent acts of terrorism. They have taken into account various contingencies that could arise such as the hijacking of a plane and trying to crash it into the stadium, attacks on athletes and their places of stay, attacks on soft targets like the public transport system etc.
They have thoroughly studied the various scenarios that could arise and the scenarios that actually arose in the past, such as the kidnapping and murder of some Israeli athletes by the Black September group during the Munich Olympics in 1972 and the explosion in Atlanta in the US in 1996 by an irrational individual during the Atlanta Olympics, and factored the lessons into their security planning.
Which are the groups who have a significant presence In China?
The Chinese apprehensions mainly focus on the IMET and other Uighur groups, the Falun Gong and the supporters of the Dalai Lama. In my view, the highest threat will be from the Uighurs and the pro-Uighur groups in Pakistan like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union, which is another Uzbek group, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Pakistani jihadi organisations.
While the anger of the Uighurs is against the Chinese because of their alleged suppression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, the others will be more interested in exploiting the gathering of thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of tourists in Beijing to watch the Olympics to attack teams from the US, Israel and Denmark. The anger against Denmark is particularly intense because of the publication of cartoons of the Holy Prophet by some Danish newspapers in 2005.
Are the athletes safe? Which countries have a higher risk?
The Chinese have assured all participating countries that their security will be very tight and that they will be protected. However, terrorism is a very unpredictable threat and hence one has to keep one's fingers crossed. While some nervousness is natural, one should not allow this to come in the way of one's participation. The international community should wish the Chinese well and help them in preventing any threat from materialising.
A terrorism-free Beijing Olympics will be an important contribution to the global fight against terrorism.
I am praying with all the intensity I can command that the Olympics should be totally successful and that the Chinese should succeed in preventing any violent incident. The highest risk will be to Denmark, the US and Israel in that order.
Do you think IMET or the Uighur movement is determined to spoil the Olympics?
The Olympics will provide a global audience. The Uighurs are determined not to miss this opportunity to publicise their anger against the Chinese. So too the Falung Gong. Some sections of Tibetan youth too wanted to exploit the occasion, but His Holiness the Dalai Lama has strongly advised them against doing anything which might embarrass or humiliate the Chinese. Unfortunately, neither the Uighurs nor the Falun Gong have a leader with the moral calibre of His Holiness. So, there is no one to advise them to exercise restraint. They can be irrational and unpredictable.
What kind of advice will you give the International Olympic Committee?
I was invited by the Chinese to make a presentation on likely threats to Olympics security at Chengdu in Sichuan in August last year and at Shanghai in May. We had very detailed discussions on various possible scenarios and they have been closely following my articles on the subject.
My advice to them will be: Be well-informed, be alert, be prepared for any contingency and avoid adding to the anger of those against Beijing by using harsh words against them. Be also on the look out for threats from angry individual Muslims not belonging to any organisation, who might get into the teams from the Islamic world participating in the Olympics.
China is the third Asian country to host the Olympics after Japan (Tokyo) and South Korea (Seoul), but neither Tokyo nor Seoul had to hold the Olympics under such difficult circumstances as Beijing, when the world is facing such serious threats from terrorism. Greece faced similar difficulties and threats during the Athens Olympics of 2004, which were held three years after 9/11 and after the US-led military operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban had started in Afghanistan and one year after the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. All the NATO countries rallied to the assistance of the Greek authorities to ensure that there was no threat to the Athens Olympics.
The Beijing Olympics, which is the second after 9/11, faces the same level of threats as the one at Athens. The Chinese have received excellent international cooperation, but they do not have the same technological capability against terrorism as the NATO countries. They have spared no pains and no expenditure to ensure the success of the Games.
The entire Chinese people, their professionals, their security forces, their scientists have rallied together to make the Beijing Games an occasion to remember. Only sick minds will wish ill of them at this juncture.
At the end of my visit to Shanghai in May, an important personality had hosted a lunch for me. In my toast, I said: "In India, we all without exception want you to succeed and want the Beijing Olympics to be a memorable success. We want to hold the Olympics in New Delhi one day. We will learn from you how to organise a spectacular Olympics." I could see everybody at the lunch was touched.
We are all Chinese today. Chinese success will be our success. Chinese pride will be our pride.