The vulnerability of the Indian coastal areas and islands of the Western Indian Ocean to the activities of al-Qaeda and Pakistan based terrorist groups became apparent following the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008, and it was discovered the these elements have been making efforts to establish new bases that can serve as a convenient springboard for launching attacks on the Indian coastal towns. The growing collaboration between the pirates of Somalia and the fundamentalist forces poses a threat not only to the commercial sea lanes but also to the islands which have a potential to serve as recruiting bases for al-Qaeda and its associates operating in this region.
Pakistan is trying to combat domestic terrorism, it is also providing facilities for training international terrorists.
Pakistan has been a permanent source of fundamentalist ideology for a long time, but now it has become a safe haven for Islamic fundamentalist groups of several varieties against whom its moderate society is fighting a losing battle. As the assassination of the Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer and the glorification of his assassin showed even the mainstream political parties support ultra conservative views. Although large segments of Pakistan society are not comfortable with the fundamental ideology but they have not been able to assert themselves because of the stranglehold of powerful armed groups over the majority of Pakistani population.
An expanded campaign of US Special forces across the Afghan- Pakistan borders into Pakistan’s tribal areas seems imminent, the plan if implemented would increase military activities of NATO inside Pakistan and provoke a backlash damaging US-NATO war efforts. Despite the risks US military and political planners seem to be making fervent attempts to push the proposal through as the date for the planned American withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches near.
Expansion of the Fundamentalist : Forces in the Western Indian Ocean
The growing collaboration between the pirates of Somalia and the fundamentalists and their surrogates in the western Indian Ocean poses a threat not only to the commercial sea lanes but also to the islands in this region, which have sizeable prospects as recruiting bases for al-Qaeda and its associates operating from Pakistan. Hijackings of ships are no longer just isolated incidents in the vicinity of the Lakshadweep Islands, where several acts of piracy and attempts to overawe the local population by fundamentalist groups have been witnessed for quite some time. Last December, the Indian navy apprehended a dhow with foreigners, including 15 Pakistani nationals, off Bitra Islands in the Lakshadweep archipelago.1
Pakistan has been a permanent source of fundamentalist ideology for a long time, but now it has become a safe haven for Islamic fundamentalist groups”¦
The vulnerability of the Indian coastal areas and islands to the activities of al-Qaeda became apparent following the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, and now it is well known that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) has been making forays to establish bases here as a convenient springboard for furthering its influence and launching attacks on the Indian mainland. The increasing infiltration of fundamentalist forces has added a new dangerous dimension to the threat to the entire western ocean region. The area of al-Qaeda’s expansion in the Minicoy Island in the close vicinity of the Maldives is causing concern to the Indian security establishment.
The strategic importance and location of the Lakshadweep Islands, situated about 200–400 kilometres away from the state of Kerala in the western Indian Ocean, is apparent. The archipelago comprises 36 islands, with a total area of only 32 square kilometres (sq. km.), and these islands cover almost 20,000 sq. km. of India’s territorial waters and approximately 400,000 sq. km. of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Of the 36 islands, only 10 are inhabited. According to the 2001 census, Lakshadweep has a population of 60,000 persons, 93 per cent of whom are indigenous—the majority being Sunni Muslims are prone to Wahabi influences. Since only 10 islands are inhabited in the Lakshadweep archipelago, it provides ample space for the establishment of hidden bases for terrorist groups. The proximity of Lakshadweep to Sri Lanka and Maldives, and busy shipping lanes, wide geographical spread and a predominantly Muslim population all make the archipelago attractive to al-Qaeda and Pakistan-based terrorist groups.2
Although large segments of Pakistan society are not comfortable with the fundamental ideology but they have not been able to assert themselves because of the stranglehold of powerful armed groups over the majority of Pakistani population.
Somali pirates are gradually expanding their area of operations from the Somali coast to the coasts of Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives, and the jihadis too are making persistent attempts to establish bases in these island nations; this increases the danger of fundamentalists’ expansion in the entire region. These islands could be used as safe havens or platforms by state and non-state actors to launch terrorist attacks on the western coast of India.
Rising tide of Islamic Fundamentalism in Pakistan
Pakistan has been a permanent source of the growth of fundamentalist ideas for a long time, but now it is a safe haven of Islamic fundamentalists of various hues, and its moderate society is fighting a losing battle against it. Pakistan government makes frequent statements highlighting its fight against terror, refuting the views that Pakistan is sponsoring or encouraging terrorist groups whose agenda is to launch attacks on India, U.S.–NATO forces in Afghanistan, selected European countries and the American mainland. The fact is that although Pakistan is trying to combat domestic terrorism, it is also providing facilities for training international terrorists. Although a large segment of Pakistan society wants to dispel terrorism of all varieties from its soil, it has not been able to assert itself or foster moderate ideas because of the stranglehold of powerful armed groups over the majority of Pakistani population and Pakistani politics. The most powerful among such groups is of course the Pakistan army, followed by religious fundamentalist groups of several varieties. These groups work in close cooperation with each other to corner national wealth and dominate the decision-making process in Pakistan. Although they have landed their country in an economic and political mess, given Pakistan’s India phobia and the bogey of “Islam in danger,” these powerful groups will continue to dominate Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies in the foreseeable future.