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ISLAMIC TERRORISM IN INDIA: The Hydra-Headed Monster

Paper No. 526                                                03/10/2002

by B. Raman

Islamic terrorism in India is  a bye-product of the US-inspired and orchestrated jehad of  the 1980s against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. To make the Soviet troops bleed, the USA's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) encouraged Islamic fanaticism and incited unemployed Muslim youth all over the world to go to Afghanistan to carry on a jehad against Communism. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was entrusted by the CIA with the task of religiously-motivating, training and arming the jehadi mercenaries from different countries and sending them into Afghanistan for fighting against the Soviet troops.

2. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 mercenaries thus participated in the anti-Soviet jehad. The majority of them were Arabs, but a small number came from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, the southern Philippines, Chechenya (Russia) and Xinjiang (China). Some unemployed Muslim youth from the South Asian Muslim diaspora in West Europe and the USA and Afro-American youth from North America and the Caribbean also joined.

3. The majority of the Muslims from India (about a hundred) who went to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet troops came from Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). A smaller number (hardly a dozen) came from other parts of India. They became the hard-core of the now banned Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The ISI motivated them against India, gave them jehadi inolculation in Afghanistan and sent them back to India for starting a jehad.

4. The CIA was aware that the ISI was diverting  part of the funds and arms and ammunition received by it from the US, Saudi Arabia and other countries for use against the Soviet troops to India to instigate a jehad there. It did not stop it; nor did it alert the Government of India to it.

5. However, the Government of President Najibullah of Afghanistan, which was then in power in Kabul, alerted the Rajiv Gandhi Government to the ISI's machinations and to the dangers faced by India from these elements. The Rajiv Gandhi Government, then engrossed in Sri Lanka, did not pay serious attention to the warning signals from Kabul. India has had to pay a heavy price for it in the form of Islamic terrorism sprouting not only in J&K, but also in other parts of the country.

6. In the early 1990s, warning signals also came from Israel. The Israeli agencies picked up a Palestinian student studying in South India who had been sent to the occupied territories to organise acts of terrorism. His interrogation revealed the possible presence in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, of Islamic extremist cells enjoying the support of the locals. The Israeli warnings were rejected as uncorroborated by the local Police and intelligence set-up.

7. Taking advantage of  India's  lack of seriousness in dealing with the emergence of extremism in sections of the Muslim youth, the ISI and the various Islamic fundamentalist parties of Pakistan, which are used by the ISI for its operations against India, systematically went about the task of creating a jehadi network in J&K and other  parts of India. The ISI's primary objective was the annexation of J&K with their help; the secondary, to keep the Indian security forces bleeding and preoccupied with internal security duties in different parts of India.

8. Lt.Gen. (retd) Hamid Gul, who was the Director-General of the ISI in the late 1980s, used to claim that keeping the Indian security forces bleeding with the help of the jehadis was equivalent to the Pakistan Army having an extra division at no cost to the Pakistani exchequer. Gen.Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's present military dictator, and other officers of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment share this belief.

9. The Islamic fundamentalist parties of Pakistan, which had created a number of pan-Islamic jehadi organisations with the ISI's help and the CIA's encouragement in the 1980s for use against the Soviet troops, had their own agenda against India. They wanted to use these jehadi groups  for "liberating" not only J&K, but also the Muslims in other parts of India. The ISI encouraged them in their jehadi adventure against India. Starting from 1992-93, motivated and trained cadres of these organisations infiltrated in increasing numbers into J&K and other parts of India and ultimately took over the leadership of the terrorist movement in J&K.

10. After the US started its war against international terrorism in Afghanistan on October 7,2001, , the surviving cadres of these organisations fled to Pakistan where the ISI re-located them in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan) in order to use them to replenish the strength of the jehadi mercenaries in J&K and other parts of India.

11.Since 1992-93, the ISI has also been using  the Kashmiri as well as Pakistani organisations in J&K to train the cadres of the Students' Islamic Movement of India and disgruntled Muslim youth from South India in their camps in J&K so that they did not have to go to Pakistan for training. Imam Ali, of Al Ummah of Tamil Nadu, who was killed in an encounter in Bangalore on Sept.28, 2002, was thus among the non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims trained in J&K. The ISI, which has close linkages with the Bangladesh military-intelligence establishment, also used the latter for training the non-Kashmiri Muslims.

11. The Mumbai blasts of March,1993, marked  the beginning of the use of trans-national crime groups, such as the one led by Dawood Ibrahim, by the ISI for adding strength to the activities of the Islamic terrorists  in India and for weakening the Indian economy.

12. As the result of a lack of a coherent and determined response from different Governments which had ruled in New Delhi since the late 1980s, Islamic terrorism has grown into a hydra-headed monster, with innumerable tentacles which include:

* The indigenous Kashmiri organisations, whose objective is limited to J&K--either merger with Pakistan or independence. They have no linkages with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

* The pan-Islamic Pakistani organisations. These are essentially four in number--the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). All of them are members of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front For Jehad Against the US and Israel. Their agenda extends to the "liberation" of Muslims all over India and to working ultimately for the creation of an Islamic Caliphate in South Asia.

* The SIMI, which has a following in North India and Kerala. Some of its initial office-bearers came from Kerala. It has linkages with the Kashmiri and pan-Islamic Pakistani organisations, but not directly with bin Laden's set-up.

* Al Ummah of Tamil Nadu, which too has linkages with Kashmiri and possibly Pakistani jehadi organisations. It is also suspected to have linkages with Islamic extremist elements in Malaysia and Singapore. There is no evidence of its having any direct nexus with bin Laden's set-up.

* New groups, which have been sprouting up in the North East by taking advantage of the presence of  a large number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

* Dawood Ibrahim's gang and other trans-national crime groups working for the ISI, which provide logistic support to various Islamic terrorist elements.

13. Of these, the SIMI and Al Ummah do not seem to have any strategic objective such as the "liberation" of the Muslims of India. Their objective till now has been more tactical, namely, to protect the Muslims of India from excesses by the Government and the Hindu community and to carry out acts of punishment terrorism in retaliation for the atrocities against the Muslims. They accept assistance from the ISI, but do not act as the surrogates of Pakistan. At least not yet.

14. None of the Governments of the past nor the present Government in New Delhi have had a clear understanding of the dangers to our national security and unity from these elements. Secularism is mistaken for softness towards terrorist elements, if they happen to be from the Muslim community. The vast majority of the Indian Muslims are nationalist, patriotic and do not associate themselves with the anti-national elements in their community, whatever be their anger against the Government for failing to protect the lives, property and human rights of the Muslims--whether in J&K, Gujarat or elsewhere.

15. The number of Muslims---mostly youth--- outside J&K, who have taken to anti-national activities and terrorism is still small, but their number is steadily increasing. Our concern for the welfare of the Muslim community as a whole and our anxiety to preserve the secular image of India should not inhibit our taking strong action against the Islamic terrorists, while at the same time taking care not to drive the law-abiding Muslims into the hands of extremists through over-reaction. .

16. The task is rendered difficult by the presence in our midst of an increasing number of pan-Islamic Pakistani terrorists and by the assistance received by this hydra-headed monster from the ISI---either directly or through Nepal, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates or other third countries. The blood vessels of this monster originate from Pakistan. Unless those roots are destroyed, we will never be able to crush Islamic terrorism in India.

17. For destroying those roots in Pakistani territory, India has to exercise its right of active defence, that is, taking counter-terrorism operations into the territory of Pakistan since all diplomatic and other means of pressurising Pakistan to destroy those roots have failed. The right of active defence could be exercised either overtly through the Armed Forces as Israel has been doing now or covertly through our intelligence agencies as Israel used to do in the past.

18. Overt and direct military response, while spectacular and satisfying public clamour for action, could be messy and may end up by making the problem more complicated. Deniable covert action, while unpublicised and slow to make impact, can produce better results. The objective of the covert action should be not only to destroy the roots of these organisations in Pakistan, but also to make the State and the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan  pay a prohibitive price for using terrorism as a weapon against India. This writer has been stressing this point again and again and again since 1999, but his has been a voice in the wilderness. He continues to be in a minority of one.

19. Unfortunately, the Government of India seems disinclined to try the covert action option and continues to count on the diplomatic option through the US, despite its having failed to produce satisfactory results so far. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai ,E-Mail: corde@vsnl.com)

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