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l September 03 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 2, No 5 l

E D I T O R ' S   C H O I C E

Islamist terror arrives on Indian streets

Swapan Dasgupta


There is a tendency, distressingly familiar among the global fraternity of liberals, to shy away from facing awkward realities. India is no exception to this escapism. In the aftermath of the two bomb blasts that killed at least 50 people and injured another 160 in the center of Bombay -- India´s largest city and the nerve center of its entrepreneurial culture -- there are some self-serving explanations doing the rounds. The first is that Monday´s explosions constitute the militant Muslim reaction to the riots in Gujarat in March 2002. More bizarre is the suggestion that they coincided with the release of a report by the Archaeological Survey of India suggesting that a 10th century Hindu temple predated a 16th century mosque demolished by Hindu activists in 1993.

 

Compelling as these theories are, they willfully skirt a grim phenomenon -- the expansion of Islamist terror networks into the heart of India. Monday´s fierce explosions in Bombay were not isolated occurrences. They were preceded by five blasts, the first on Dec. 2 last year, that have killed 17 people and injured 189. Although no group has claimed responsibility for Monday´s terror, the earlier incidents have been traced to activists of the outlawed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Among those arrested was a government doctor, Jalees Ansari, which clearly suggested that the terror networks had expanded from the underworld to embrace a section of the Muslim middle-class. For many Indians, the involvement of a person like Dr. Ansari in the LeT operations has been an eye-opener. For long, enlightened public opinion has maintained that ideologically motivated Islamist terror had bypassed Indian Muslims -- who constitute 13% of the country´s population. True, there was a separatist insurgency in the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir being sustained by Pakistan, but it was thought that Muslims in the rest of India had spurned the militant revivalist movements plaguing Islamic countries in Asia. Earlier acts of terrorism, such as the blasts in Bombay 10 years ago, were blamed on Pakistan´s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) working in conjunction with the underworld. Even the attack on the American Center in Calcutta in January 2002 was traced to a Dubai-based mafioso specializing in kidnapping and extortion. It is no longer possible to maintain this fiction. Indian intelligence agencies are convinced that the wave of international jihadi terror has now touched India. The new terrorists are not preoccupied with the "liberation" of Kashmir from India, their objective is a wider jihad aimed at the re-establishment of a Caliphate and a war against the West, Israel and India. The ideological motivation of these individuals is not dissimilar to those who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks and the bombing in Bali. Groups like the LeT, with its roots in Pakistan, have been complemented by homegrown organizations such as SIMI, the Muslim Defence Force with a network in southern India and the Indian Muslim Mohammedi Mujahedeen. According to one intelligence estimate, nearly 300 Indian Muslim youth have had jihadi training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They constitute a powerful fifth column in India. To separate these proponents of "political" Islam from devout religious practitioners is not always possible. In formal organizational terms, it is impossible to link the terror groups with religious seminaries. Yet, like the Finsbury Park mosque in North London that spawned recruits for jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the breeding ground for terror networks are some otherwise innocuous religious orders. Heading the list is the ultra-orthodox Ahl-e-Hadis, with its center in the town of Moradabad in north India, whose followers dominate the ranks of the LeT. Not far behind is the Tabligh Jamaat whose followers torched to death 51 Hindus inside a railway compartment in Godhra in February 2002. A vicious anti-Muslim riot followed this carnage in the state of Gujarat. Further inciting young Muslims to rise up against a debased, materialist world are itinerant Islamic preachers from other countries. Four months ago, authorities in Gujarat estimated that 107 Islamic preachers from as far afield as Indonesia, Sudan and Saudi Arabia were active simultaneously. The reason is obvious. Following last year´s riots, Muslims in Gujarat bear terrible emotional scars that propel many of them into contemplating revenge against Hindus.

 

It has become customary for the Indian government to blame Pakistan´s ISI for remote-controlled acts of subversion. There is ample evidence to suggest the ISI, which is almost like a state within a state in Pakistan, is hyperactive in trying to convert Muslim discontent into subversion. It seeks opportunities to create confusion, through tactics that range from distributing fake Indian currency notes through Nepal and Thailand to plotting political assassinations. Certainly, the easy passage of jihadi recruits from India to training camps in Pakistan would not have been possible without a measure of ISI involvement.

 

Following the post-Sept. 11 international concern over terrorism, the ISI´s activities have been less brazen and marked by what one counter-terrorism official in India calls "a high degree of deniability." Yet, its role as a facilitator of Islamist incubators across India cannot be underestimated. The ISI´s role in instigating the Taliban rump against the Hamid Karzai regime in Afghanistan -- despite President Musharraf´s avowed commitment to anti-terrorist operations -- suggest that its activities do not always stick to the foreign-policy guidelines of Pakistan. The Bombay blasts have heralded the entry of global Islamist terror into India. For the moment, the diabolical objective of provoking a Hindu backlash against the Muslim minority has not succeeded. But if the campaign persists, public pressure in an election year will force the government to consider retaliation against what is regarded in India as the epicenter of Islamist terrorism -- Pakistan . Like the suicide bombers of Hamas, Bombay´s terrorists may have already derailed a fragile peace process involving India and Pakistan.

 

Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal

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