Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his first interview as Prime Minister of India to a TV channel, responding to a question on the formation of AQIS, said it would be delusional to think Indian Muslims would respond to its call to launch jihad in the region adding that such ideas do injustice to the Muslims of India, who would live for and die for India.
Can we thus surmise, from the above statements, that all is gung ho, and there is nothing additional to worry about? Is there, behind all this, a lurking threat of change? Do we need to look through a telescope which has an ability to look around the corner? Firstly, what exact threats do these developments of global jihad pose to India? Clearly two come to mind. Will this development in jihad propaganda lead to:-
Available information of Pakistani terrorist groups operating in J&K point out that many of them have received training in the same madrasas where Taliban or Al Qaeda have.
- One, the entry of foreign jihadis/increase in number of foreign jihadis entering into India and their executing terrorist acts.
- Two, subversion of the target Indian population, their joining the global jihad in greater numbers, and further committing acts of terror on Indian soil.
Foreign Jihadis in India
When it comes to presence of foreign jihadis or terrorists operating on Indian soil, groups based in Pakistan have actually been infiltrating and operating in J&K ever since Independence; however, specifically in the context of the ongoing J&K terrorism, since the 1980s. Apart from Pakistani and Afghani terrorists, there have been a sprinkling of militants from other countries to include Sudan, Yemen and Lebanon. The available data suggests that numbers have dwindled or come to naught insofar as terrorists of countries other than Pakistan or Afghanistan are concerned. Available information of Pakistani terrorist groups operating in J&K point out that many of them have received training in the same madrasas where Taliban or al Qaeda have. These groups also received/continue to receive funding from al Qaeda. The AQIS itself is likely to be a sort of umbrella organisation for the already existing groups in the region, mainly in Pakistan and Afganisthan.
It is also likely that AQIS would take over lead from groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba as a contact point and external agency controlling/directing terror for Indian jihadi groups like Indian Mujahideen (IM). Threats of incidents like the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack, February 2010 Pune German Bakery attack being perpetrated by foreign jihadis will therefore always remain alive, with possibly a spike in their chances of occurrence from time to time. For the moment threat from AQIS seems more focused within Pakistan with various jihadi groups fighting against the establishment and military in Pakistan. In J&K, response to terrorist threats has been fine-tuned over the years. Security forces, especially the Indian Army, have been fighting terrorism or insurgency for over three decades and have reached a level of professional competence which enables effective countering of such threats.
Jihadi organisations like IM and their sleeper cells operating and hibernating within India can be expected to receive motivation by such propaganda.
Therefore, any increase in jihadi terror in J&K, while unlikely, can be expected to be effectively countered. However, in other parts of the country there will be a need to review intelligence and security organisations meant to gather intelligence, anticipate, prepare for and foil such threats from manifesting. Preparedness of the central intelligence agencies, state security agencies, coordination between them and effectiveness of state apparatus in handling threats of terrorism will be of prime concern.
Subversion of the Indian Target
Recall the “Message to the Muslims of India: Why Is There Not a Storm in Your Ocean?” video released by the al Qaeda ideologue Maulana Aasim Umar who has now been designated leader of AQIS. To say these cries fall on deaf ears may be wrong. The few terrorist acts which take place across the length and breadth of the country will find linkages to jihad. Jihadi organisations like IM and their sleeper cells operating and hibernating within India can be expected to receive motivation by such propaganda. The larger Indian Muslim population, however, has remained by and far inured from such jihadi provocations. The reasons could be many.
- The secular nature of the Indian state that has long kept this threat at bay. The Indian Muslim has experienced more democratic, political and economic freedom, and opportunity and liberty and also exposure to media than possibly any of the Muslims inhabiting the geographical swathe extending all the way to Iraq.
- The Indian government’s official stance in not joining any ‘crusade’ along with western countries like the USA and UK in operations against jihadi groups in Afghanistan and Middle East. Operations conducted by these countries have led to collateral deaths of innocent Muslims. Had India joined the alliance of the West, would it have caused resentment among the Indian Muslim community, one may wonder. For instance, the Tamil population in south India expresses solidarity with the Tamil population in Sri Lanka and are keenly sensitive towards how they are treated.
The idea of a large Islamic Caliphate including may not appeal to the Indian Muslim. Geographical limits of the Caliphate actually end somewhere in the middle of Pakistan.
- The idea of a large Islamic Caliphate including may not appeal to the Indian Muslim. Geographical limits of the Caliphate actually end somewhere in the middle of Pakistan.
- The problems in Middle East/West Asia are wholly different from India. While in the Middle East jihad is driven by sectarian divide and extreme interpretation of Islam/intolerance against other religions, in India the issues are primarily of the separatist movement in J&K and the polarisation of the Indian Muslim elsewhere. Linkages between India and the Middle East are essentially of two kinds – one, economic, related to people going there to earn their livelihood; two- pilgrimage to religious places. However, the people, the language, the ethnicity and even the kind of Islam practiced are different. A video by a well known media documentary company Vice TV, on the ISIS operating in Raqqa in Syria will make it clear that the threat of the jihad reaching India is remote.
On the downside, it may be worthwhile considering some of these news headlines –
- Tamil Nadu man first ISIS suicide bomber from India
- Tamil Nadu youth joins ISIS, family recalls his journey into insurgency
- Two Arrested in Tamil Nadu Over Group Photo in ISIS T-shirts
- Mumbai man who left to join IS killed in Iraq
- Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claims 2 attacks in Pakistan
- Philippines: Islamic jihad group Abu Sayyaf pledges allegiance to the Islamic State
- Australia Foils Alleged Beheading Plot Linked to Islamic State
- ICSR Insight: Up to 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria; steep rise among Western Europeans
- Pak Taliban, ISIS Recruit 300 Plus Indians: NIA Dossier
…these jihadis do not pose immediate and direct threat to India. Threat from them will manifest later, if and when they return to Indian soil.
All these news reports, if reliable, only attest that the influence of ISIS is increasingly touching and affecting more people and more parts of the world. The above news report of ICSR, a reputed think tank, says there is no data of Indian jihadis fighting for ISIS available for India. The news about 300 plus Indians recruited is posted on many websites; however no official corroboration is available. That Indian jihadis have crossed over to the Middle East/Pakistan/Afghanistan to join jihadi battles may well be true, but their numbers is only speculation. The government needs to institute effective monitoring methodology to assess/calculate/count the number of Indian jihadis crossing over. However, these jihadis do not pose immediate and direct threat to India. Threat from them will manifest later, if and when they return to Indian soil.
It has been reported that Indian jihad volunteers acted to avenge the Gujarat killings of 2002; computer professionals from Kerala prepared to carry out attacks in Bangalore and jihadis from Kerala trained in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir with the Lashkar-e-Taiba. While it is convenient to say that the Indian Muslim is secular and will not get swayed by jihadi propaganda, divisive communal politics are as expediently followed by political parties of all hues. Communal prejudice is becoming increasingly pervasive. It has been reported that the notion of “love jihad” (that there exists an Islamist conspiracy to seduce Hindu women with a view to convert them to Islam) has gained acceptance even among a section of IPS officers through a debate on the subject on “Top Cop”, a discussion forum on Yahoo. Incidents over the past few decades, be it the Babri Masjid case in 1992, the 2002 rioting in Gujarat and the more recent 2012 communal violence against settlers in Assam, are often cited as triggers for terror attacks perpetrated by the IM. The Indian Muslim population is 16.22 crores (Ministry of Minority Affairs data; the 2011 Census does not include religious data).
The 2005 Sachar Committee Report outlines the status of the Muslim community in India, underscoring their backwardness socially, educationally and economically. Economic and social deprivations significantly contribute to this divide. Regardless, Indian Muslims continue to maintain that they view themselves as Indian first, Muslim second. This is lucidly brought out in Hasan Suroor’s (former UK correspondent of The Hindu) book “India’s Muslim Spring- Why is Nobody Talking About it ?” Be that as it may, they are less immune to radicalization, as they face more and more contradictory moments.
Indian Muslims continue to maintain that they view themselves as Indian first, Muslim second.
Looking around the Corner
Indian Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband has already condemned the formation of AQIS, asserting that Indian Muslims would never be convinced by un-Islamic and false arguments of organisations such as the al Qaeda. Such proclamations by legitimate representatives of the Muslim community are important. The Indian PM has also pronounced the same words.
Equally important is that the government and all political entities must engage in strategic communications while walking the talk on the issue of averring against divisive communal practices. That the foreign jihadi will be raging an intense battle in the Indian battleground does appear remote, though not, unthinkable.
It is these events which will decide the course of growth or otherwise of jihad in India. If that does not happen, no matter how prepared the security forces are, how structured the organisation is to tackle terrorism, it is the distant future, the future that can only be seen through the long lens of history, that we may not be able to predict. All one has to do is look back 100 years and see that there was no Pakistan, no Afghanistan and look back another 100 years to see that the British were ruling India.