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Islamic State Assault on India and Indian Islam
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 11 Mar , 2017

The unravelling of the Islamic State (IS) module in Lucknow following the operations by the Uttar Pradesh ATS is the tip of the iceberg. Amongst other incriminating material recovered from the encounter site, there was the railway network map of India. The operations were launched in wake of Bhopal-Ujjain train bomb-blast. Ominously, there was sufficient intelligence about the jihadis targeting the Indian Railway network across the length and breadth of India.

…the police forces have become an unwitting tool of Pakistan military-intelligence establishment in furtherance of its political designs in India. Politicians using look-alike of Osama bin Laden is surely an invitation to Jihadi forces. It gets votes and that is the horrible truth.

The most critical rather providential lead originated from the Bihar-Nepal border. This was again, in the wake of the derailment of Indore-Patna express near Kanpur on 20-November-2016, which killed 150 people. The sabotage angle was palpable. Given the election season in the state, the timing was suspicious. For many years now, the Pakistan military-intelligence establishment has been trying to influence the politics of India by means of terror and violence.

The Bhopal-Ujjain train bomb blast could have averted if the our police machinery was politically not subverted and had the professional education to see the Jihadi and Islamic State threat in global and regional perspective. The country will have to bear unacceptable consequences for the restricted, compartmentalized and politicized mindset of police forces of respective states in dealing with internal security threats. The Jihadis and the Maoists suffer from no such constraints and operate on pan-India basis. Probably, the police forces have become an unwitting tool of Pakistan military-intelligence establishment in furtherance of its political designs in India. Politicians using look-alike of Osama bin Laden is surely an invitation to Jihadi forces. It gets votes and that is the horrible truth.

The Pak-ISI has been notorious in manipulation of politics within Pakistan. When unable to dislodge Pak regimes by other means, the ISI has resorted to assassination or judicial killings. It did so in the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and later his daughter Benazir Bhutto after many failed attempts. It is now a matter of record that Qari Saifullah Akhtar leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), which later merged with Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) around 1990 to form Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA), had plotted to eliminate the entire topleadership of Benazir Bhutto government in 1999. He, an ex advisor to Mullah Omar is considered to be the grand-dad of Jihad in Pakistan. He was eliminated recently by an American drone attack. Interestingly, he shares his name with Saifullah who was killed in the UP ATS operations in Lucknow.

Qari Safiullah had the support of one Maj Gen Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi and Brig Mustansir Billah in the plot to kill Benazir and transform the country into an Islamic State. Later, Benazir had claimed that the plot had the backing of ISI chief Hamid Gul. What is important to note is that Abbasi was the ISI Station Chief in New Delhi in 1998. Given his religious and political proclivities, it is impossible to imagine that he and his other ISI successors in New Delhi were not increasingly manipulating politics in India. The ISI is known to be using the same methods in Bangladesh.

The Ministry of Railways has admitted to 45 cases of sabotage and tempering in Indian Railway network in 2016.

Gradually and surreptitiously the military-intelligence complex of Pakistan has extended its criminal influence and leverage over politics in India. The assassination attempt on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during election campaign in Patna in 2013 is a reminder. Even the 26/11 attack in 2008 in Mumbai was on the eve of general elections of 2009. The religious and political overtones of this terrorist attack, before and after, were quite pronounced. As and when history unravels the conspiracy, some of the political players involved would be seen in worst light than Dawood Ibrahim. Incidentally, much of the politics in India has been manipulated by the Pakistan military-intelligence establishment through the aegis of Dawood Ibrahim.

Nepal has always served as an easy passage and center for the ISI to target India through terrorism, sabotage or fake currency. It was a combination of these enablers and Jihadis, Maoists and criminals that caused the Kanpur train derailment. The fact that the ISI-Maoist-criminal network to target hapless, unsuspecting innocent passengers was exposed by serendipity makes it iron clad. On 15-January-2017, the East Champaran Police in Bihar under the leadership of SP Jitender Rana stumbled on this devious ISI plot, while interrogating a criminal gang. Interrogation revealed that apart from Kanpur, there were three other failed / foiled attempts to target passenger trains, i.e. at Ghorasahan in East Champaran district on October 1, 2016 at Nakardei in the same district on December 2 and Buxar on February 6, 2017.

The frequency of the sabotage attacks is telling. As per Hindustan Times report nearly 18 suspected sabotage incidents was reported in the first 40 days of this year. In the latest incident,13 crude bombs were seized from a bush near a railway track in Kerala’s Kannur district. The Ministry of Railways has admitted to 45 cases of sabotage and tempering in Indian Railway network in 2016. As per the member of the Railway Board, Mohammed Jamshed, there were 45 incidents with regards to sabotage, and tampering of rail tracks in 2016. These cases are not only confined to the Red Corridor but cover the length and breadth of India.

…the most potent weapon that the Islamic State has, is its cyber capabilities in terms of reach and power of indoctrination.

It emerged from the interrogation that the plan was hatched a year back and the architects were a Pakistan based ISI agent named Safi Shaikh and a Dubai based Nepalese national Shamshul Huda, an aspiring politician in Nepal. Huda is also known to be dabbling in fake Indian currency. It was Shamshul Huda who created a network of jihadis, Maoists and criminals in the region. When two criminals, Deepak Ram and Arun Ram, heeded the smote of their conscience and balked at the prospect of killing innocent passengers at Ghorasahan by blowing up railway track; they were summoned inside Nepal by three Maoists / criminals Moti Lal Paswan, Mukesh Yadav and Uma Shankar Patel and murdered. Deepak and Arun were murdered because they had taken money in advance but failed to carry-out the killing of Indian passengers. It may be mentioned that between 8-10 crores in fake Indian currency was given to Huda by his Pak handler to setup the network.

When the incidents of railway sabotage are mapped, an impression in conveyed that the evolution of several modules specifically tasked for the purpose has evolved concurrently throughout India. Huda’s was one model entrusted with the Bihar-UP region. The Lucknow module of which Saifullah was a part, was another. The fact that the intelligence to bust this module flowed from Telangana ATS to MP ATS and finally to UP ATS reveals the sinister pan-Indian phenomenon, which lends the 1,10,000 kilometers of railway network vulnerable. The vulnerability gets further accentuated when viewed in the backdrop of the fact that the Maoists, who mastered the expertise and strategy in targeting railways long ago, have now joined hands with the jihadis.

There has been much ongoing debate whether Saifullah belonged to the Islamic State or not, or whether the Islamic State has acquired any space and spread in India. It is ignorant to think that the Islamic State, which after being put-in disarray in Syria and Iraq, have not made inroads in India, but only in the Indian subcontinent. It was few months back that Baghdadi had urged Islamic State recruits not to travel to Syria but to remain in their respective locations and function as autonomous entities under the overall umbrella of the Islamic State.

The study concluded that 90 percent terrorists are from caring families and 63 percent had gone to college. These terrorists, the study said, do not consider indiscriminate carnage as an act of terror but an act of their theological conviction.

It is established that the most potent weapon that the Islamic State has, is its cyber capabilities in terms of reach and power of indoctrination. For the recruits, the more compelling motivation is not the territory of Islamic State, but its idea and ideology. This ideology uproots all geographical, cultural and linguistic barriers. The attraction and force of this ideology drew even second generation muslim youth from western countries, the same western world that boasts of enlightened liberalism. Youth from a remote island state like Maldives has been making passage to Syria, distance is hardly a deterrence.

The Islamic State ideology has special appeal amongst youth who are educated. Recently, the US Homeland Department invested $12 million to fund an exhaustive study to delve into origin, dynamics and impact of Jihadi terror. The study titled ‘Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism’ (START) concluded that 90 percent terrorists are from caring families and 63 percent had gone to college. These terrorists the study said do not consider indiscriminate carnage as an act of terror but an act of their theological conviction. The study also said’ “…vast majority of terrorists are not mentally ill but are essentially rationale people who weigh the costs and benefits of terror acts…”. These terrorists are also not mentally stable because their unpredictability can jeopardize their mission and expose the network.

The disruption or the meltdown of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has resulted in a corresponding increase in the presence of IS strength and activities in the Af-Pak region. The US Defense Secretary James Mattis has submitted a new plan to tackle the Islamic State not limited to Syria and Iraq, but to Af-Pak region as well. He maintains that there is a sizable presence of the Islamic State in the region, which needs to be dealt militarily and non-militarily.

About the nexus and symbiosis between the IS and various jihadi groups, Lt Gen John Nicolson, Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, is of the belief that all jihadi groups in the Af-Pak region have ‘alliances of convenience’ and they exist in a ‘loose confederation’.

The ultimate objective of all jihadi groups is to establish the supremacy of Wahhabi Islam and Shariah. Territoriality of Caliphate is the ultimate dream.

Various reports suggest that the Vilayat Khorasan, the Indian subcontinent version of Islamic State was established by the ISI and the Hafiz Saeed in Peshawar. Baloch nationalists have also told this author that the cadres of the Islamic State are operating against Balochis from the barracks of the Frontier Corps. By imputation therefore, it can be said, that the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment is also a global jihadi group in ‘khaki’ uniform. It too practices alliances of convenience.

The symbiosis of various jihadi groups can be gauged from the fact that never have they targeted one another. To illustrate, Afghan-Taliban has never clashed with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Also, in 2001 when the Al Qaeda was driven out of Afghanistan by the American invasion, it was the ISI which arranged the absorption of its Pakistani cadres into LeT. The Islamic State in turn mutated from Al Qaeda in Iraq. Significantly, the Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are known to be using the same encryption model during their communication through the cyber medium. It is naïve therefore to choose between various Sunni jihadi groups. The ultimate objective of all jihadi groups is to establish the supremacy of Wahhabi Islam and Shariah. Territoriality of Caliphate is the ultimate dream. All jihadi groups are virulently anti-Shia and anti-Sufi. Most Pakistani jihadi outfits are not overtly engaged in Shia killings, but it is only for tactical reasons.

Most of the jihadi groups in Pakistan and correspondingly in India after having come under the new scanner of Trump administration, find it convenient to continue with the jihad under the banner of Islamic State. This nebulous approach provides them the breathing space. In the garb of Islamic State, it was convenient for the jihadi groups in Pakistan to target the Sufi gathering at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine, in which more than 100 people lost their lives. Such shrines have been under attack by the Wahhabis because it ties Muslims to their Indian roots and traditions.

Law and Order in India, we know, is managed by political considerations. This was the election time in Uttar Pradesh and probably the politicians at the helm did not want to ruffle the jihadi sentiments.

Of the documents recovered at Lucknow after the Saifullah encounter, there was one which gave out plans of attacking Shia mosques and Sufi Shrines in India. The Islamic State was a convenient cover. It appears that jihadis in India owing allegiance to Pakistan based organizations like LeT and JeM have now been asked to mutate into Islamic State on the advice of their benefactors. The anti-Shia ideology of the Islamic State impacts grievously on the fabric of Indian Islam.

The impact was first felt when Shia community of Lucknow announced a bounty of Rs.5 crores on the head of Al Baghdadi in 2014. In the same year, there were protests by Shias all over Lucknow against the Islamic State. One Shia organization, Anjuman-e-Haideri, had exhorted Shia youth to go to Iraq to fight against IS. It had even approached an airline to fly out 25,000 Shia volunteers to Iraq.

Despite such incontrovertible intelligence and evidences, the UP Police chose to look the other way. Law and Order in India, we know, is managed by political considerations. This was the election time in Uttar Pradesh and probably the politicians at the helm did not want to ruffle the jihadi sentiments. This is what happens when internal security is compromised at the altar of the political exigencies of ‘Law and Order’. If this persists, the country shall be rendered hollow from within no matter how many tanks, aircraft or missiles.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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