Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Danger Within (or how unresolved grievance can fuel terrorism)

Twenty days from now we will observe the first anniversary of one of the most diabolic acts of terrorism in the world — the seaborne assault on Mumbai by jehadis who were recruited, trained and directed by state and non-state actors in Pakistan. Just last month, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested American-Pakistani Daoud Gilani aka David Coleman Headley and Canadian-Pakistani Mohammed Tahawwur Rana for plotting with North Waziristan-based Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami leader, Ilyas Kashmiri and two unnamed Lashkar-e-Tayyeba leaders to attack the National Defence College and two residential schools in Uttarakhand.
What this development reveals is that despite the whole-hearted efforts of law enforcement authorities in India and the US, and some half-hearted ones in Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba is still in business. As a result of the Mumbai attack and international pressure, Pakistan had been compelled to arrest Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and some other planners of the Mumbai carnage, but the leader of the LeT, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, has remained free.


Coincidentally, it is also just about a year now that a group that called itself the Indian Mujahideen was neutralised. The story began in July 2006, when a radical faction of the Students Islamic Movement of India, organised in secret cells calling themselves the Indian Mujahideen (IM) struck, with seven bombs ripping through Mumbai’s suburban trains, killing 187 people and injuring 700.
The subsequent arrests and chargesheet filed by the Mumbai police’s anti-terrorism squad (ATS) noted that of the 30 accused, 18 were from India and 12 from Pakistan. However after the Delhi blasts in September 2008, the police found out that the 12 were not Pakistani, but people who belonged to the then undeclared and secret militant group called the Indian Mujahideen. They had, in an intriguing and ingenious manner, passed themselves off as Pakistanis for the benefit of the other conspirators.
It was only in the wake of the November 2007, near-simultaneous bomb blasts at court premises in Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow, that the Indian Mujahideen outed itself and claimed responsibility for the blasts through an email message, but the IB discounted this and said that the claim was an effort by existing organisations like the HUJI and the banned SIMI to mislead the police.
Then between May and September 2008 came rapidfire serial bomb blasts in Jaipur (May 13), Bangalore (July 25), Ahmedabad (July 26), and Delhi (September 23) killing some 150 people and wounding several times that number.

Moments after the blast at Barakhamba Road, New Delhi

You do not have to accept all the police claims with regard to this group to believe that its emergence ought to set alarm bells ringing. Indeed, it is because of shoddy police work — which includes the extra-judicial execution of two suspects in the Batla House in New Delhi — that we have not been able to gauge the true nature and import of this most serious development.
The Indian Mujahideen was the first home-grown group of Indian Muslim radicals who carried out acts of terrorism without visible direction from Pakistan. In some ways their emergence represented the success of the Pakistani project run by the ISI and the jehadis to set up self-sustaining and autonomous groups of Indian Muslim extremists to carry out acts of terrorism in India.
The radicalisation seems to have afflicted not the stereotypical madarsah student or cleric, but educated young men, some with university degrees and others proficient in the use of computers and electronics. Most of those involved in the blasts were “normal” young men who did not dress in the traditional Muslim style or wear beards. On the surface, they led normal “secular” lives and pursued educational courses or occupations which pointed towards a desire to seek upward social and economic mobility.
According to Paul R. Brass, in the 7,000-odd communal incidents between 1954 and 1982, some five hundred Hindus were killed, but the number of Muslims killed was three times that. Another major watershed was the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Indeed, in his latest book, The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India, Brass has argued that “the whole political order in post-Independence north India and many, if not most of its leading as well as local actors… have become implicated in the persistence of Hindu-Muslim riots.”
A snapshot of the situation today can be seen from the response to an RTI query which revealed that in the period April 2004 to 2009, the state of Maharashtra witnessed 96 riots indicating that, on an average, there was one communal riot in about 20 days in the state.


A special committee headed by retired Justice Rajinder Sachar looked into the issue of the status of Muslims in India in 2006. Among the other things that the committee found was that though Muslims constitute some 13 per cent of the national population, their presence in the top government services is abysmal. Only 3 per cent of the core IAS officials are Muslim, 1.8 per cent in the Foreign Service and 4 per cent in the central Indian Police Service.
Likewise the number of Muslims in the Army, banks, universities is much lower than their proportion in the population. In no state does the representation of Muslims in the government departments match their population share. Their share in police constables is only 6 per cent, in health services 4.4 per cent.
Clearly, what pushes young Indian Muslims towards violent religious extremism is the fact that they are second class citizens in India, people who are discriminated against when it comes to jobs and housing, and the frequent bouts of violence that their community faces.
But what transforms an angry young man into a terrorist is the activity of a small group of motivators — jihadists or agents provocateurs. Many of these latter people have links with Pakistan — its official agencies — as well as its extremist religious organisations.
The assistance they provide comes in the form of funds, training, arms and direction. The goals of Pakistani official covert agencies is to keep India off balance and check its perceived advance in world affairs. The jihadi goal is much more grandiose — it seeks to convert India into a part of the global Islamic emirate.


The issue of violent religious extremism gripping the Indian Muslim community is truly at a cross-roads. On one hand, the period 2006-2008 provides clear evidence that young Indian Muslims — who were not found in Afghanistan or Guantanamo — have taken to terrorism.
On the other hand, it is surprising, given the enormous burden of riot and murder that the Indian Muslim community has faced, we have seen only one unambiguously Indian Muslim terrorist group —the Indian Mujahideen —emerge so far. Even in its case we are not sure as to the extent to which the young men involved were pushed into the path they have taken because of urging and motivation from external actors. Its key leaders like Riyaz Bhatkal, Amir Raza and Abdul Shubhan Qureshi remain at large and we do not yet know the full extent of its organisation.
Last year, India confronted two sets of terror attacks. There has been a flurry of activity on the part of the government to prevent another terrorist attack from abroad.
But they continue to disregard the domestic dimension of the problem. The reason for this is the “cut off my nose to spite my face” attitude of the Sangh Parivar and the pusillanimity of the ruling Congress party which prevents the country from addressing genuine Muslim grievances. We can continue to ignore the problem at our own peril.
This article was published in Mail Today November 7, 2009

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