Homeland Security

Terrorist Tentacles in India
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Issue Vol 21.2 Apr-Jun2006 | Date : 03 Nov , 2010

Working under the instructions of  LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman, the trio-Ghauri, Tunda and Ansari-carried out their first act of terror on December 6, 1993, the first anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition. They set off seven explosions in trains, in and around Delhi, part of a series of explosions. Ansari, for instance, was scheduled to carry out another series on January 26 the next year, but was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Ghauri fled to Saudi Arabia and was recruited by Hamid Bahajib, a Saudi businessman who has been financing LeT’s activities for long.

Ghori learnt the techniques of creating and using locally available explosive materials to trigger lethal bomb explosions at the terrorist training camps run by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He returned to India to set up another LeT clone in Hyderabad, the Indian Muslim Mohammedi Mujahideen (IMMM), an Indian branch of the Muslim Defence Force founded in Saudi Arabia by Abu Hamsa alias Abdul Bari Hamsa.of  Hyderabad. It subsequently had branches in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, apart from Andhra Pradesh. The IMMM was responsible for bomb blasts in Hyderabad, Karim Nagar and Nizamabad. The group’s LeT pedigree was betrayed by two incidents that were hardly noticed by the general media.

On February 29, 2000, several newspapers in Andhra Pradesh received a small note announcing the creation of the IMMM. The note was circulated a few days after the three-day annual conference of Markaz Dawa-wal-Irshad, the parent organisation of LeT, decided to set up a new unit in Hyderabad. Abdul Karim Tunda fled to Muzaffarabad after the bomb blasts and took over as the Deputy Commander of Lashkar’s India operations. He later escaped to Bangladesh and helped create a network of LeT operatives and sleeper cells in different parts of India. Ghauri helped him from Saudi Arabia by recruiting a significant number of operatives, some of whom-Amir Hashim, Abdul Qayoom Mohammad Ishtiaq ‘Junaid’and Abdul Aziz Sheikh, drawn from New Delhi and Hyderabad-were instrumental in launching several terrorist attacks in India besides expanding the network.

The ideological moorings for extremist Islam, as represented by jehadis the world over, could be traced to the reformist Islamic movements which emerged in the shadow of the declining power of the Mughal empire and the subsequent rise of non-Muslim powers such as the Jats, the Marathas, the Sikhs and the British.

On hindsight, it can be said that it was the beginning of a coalition of extremist and terrorist groups in India which came to the fore with alarming ferocity in the serial blasts in Delhi on October 29, 2005, the Bangalore attack of December 2005 and the March 2006 Varanasi twin blasts, all of which were executed by terrorists owing allegiance to LeT,  SIMI, Harkat-ul Jehad al Islami-Bangladesh (HuJI-B) and Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

More critical is the point which most of the Indian policy planners including counter-terrorism strategists would rather overlook, deliberately. A large number of the local terrorists who were arrested, or being hunted, for the attacks were influenced by, and incensed at, the failure of the State to protect Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots.  The video cds, books, and posters, besides newspaper and television reports of the riots and killings, distributed far and wide (no doubt with generous help and assistance from funders in West Asia and Pakistan) have once again revived the spectre of an onslaught in the minds of a community which is 130-million strong (and hence the term ‘minority‘ can be misleading in the Indian context).

With the State, both at the Centre and State level, miserably failing to address the issue, squarely (mouthing homilies like ‘our Muslims are not al Qaida‘ might sound good and placating but can be dangerously supercilious), this small band of jehadis could grow in numbers, threatening not only life and property of Indian citizens but the very fabric of the Indian society.

This brings us to another point which most of us seem to give a miss. There has been no reported instance of any Indian extremist or terrorist group or individual operating in Iraq or Afghanistan or any other parts of the world (barring the recent Canadian case of an Indian origin neo-convert taking to terror). Neither has terrorist upsurge in Iraq or Afghanistan incited the wannabe terrorists in India. The single-most factor  which is inciting men to turn to terror against the State is the complete failure of the latter to provide equitable justice and enforce law and order irrespective of colour, creed and caste. This factor has to be factored in any successful counter-terrorism strategy if we were to tackle this growing menace swiftly, without letting it fester like the Kashmir problem.

It is not only the mosque demolition or Gujarat riots which are the lone factors in the emergence of home grown jehadis with linkages in Pakistan and Bangladesh, there are undeniable historical reasons for certain sections of the society to feel the way it feels.

In fact, the ideological moorings for extremist Islam, as represented by jehadis the world over, could be traced to the reformist Islamic movements which emerged in the shadow of the declining power of the Mughal empire and the subsequent rise of non-Muslim powers such as the Jats, the Marathas, the Sikhs and the British. Many in the Muslim community began to feel threatened by these developments and called for going back to ‘true‘ Islam to regain the political supremacy.

Quoting Islam’s noted thinker, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, Pakistani scholar Hussain Haqqani aptly sums up the fundamentals of Islamic revival as:1

“..any programme for Islamic revival must also include a scheme to wrest authority from the hands of un-Islam and practically re-establish government on the pattern described as ‘Caliphate after the pattern of Prophethood’ by the Holy Prophet. Furthermore, Muslim revivalists must not rest content with establishing the Islamic system in one or more countries already inhabited by the Muslims. They must initiate such a strong universal movement as may spread the reformative and revolutionary message of Islam among mankind at large. The final aim….is to enable Islam to become a predominant cultural force in the world and capture the moral, intellectual and political leadership of mankind.”

One of the religious leaders, ulama, who led the campaign for revival of Islam was Shah Waliullah of Delhi.

A large number of Muslims in India were inclined towards far more liberal interpretation of Islam and remained skeptical of Waliullahs call for return to a puritanical approach.

After studying for two years in Saudi Arabia, Shah Waliullah returned to Delhi in 1732 and began preaching the need for purity in religious beliefs and practices. He was strongly opposed to Islam adopting beliefs and practices from other beliefs. He said only by adopting a purified Islam could the Muslims remain united against the enemies of Islam. A prolific writer, Shah Waliullah popularised the six canonical collections of Hadith of the Sunnis (sihah sitta) and is today considered as the pioneer of Islamic reform by all Sunni schools.2

Waliullah was not content with the theoretic aspects of his preaching and believed that practical steps should be taken to regain political supremacy. In 1760, he invited the Afghan warlord, Ahmad Shah Abdali to get rid of the Marathas. Though Waliullah thought Abdali would be an Islamic mujahid, the latter plundered the areas he captured, killing both Hindus and Muslims, resulting in a major set back to the Islamic revival.

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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

Wilson John

Wilson John is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation.

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