Concerns Uncertainties

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The New year opens on a note of concern for security and intelligence agencies. Al Qaeda is a threat and could tap into the wellsprings of discontent among India’s Muslims; Bangladesh is a source of concern given that groups like the JMB operate from there and have infiltrated into India; then there’s the north-east By PANKAJ PRASUN

India’s drive for regional power status faces formidable security challenges in the New Year. UP resident SanaulHaq has been identified as the head of Al-Qaeda in India (AQIS). Of course, he’s not in UP but in Pakistan along with at least five other Indian nationals. He apparently went there in 2012, was trained in Miranshah and moves around under the name of MaulanaAsim Umar. He was appointed head of AQIS by Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Zawahiri last year.

Haq was unmasked after intelligence agencies zeroed in on Mohammad Asif also of UP, and Cuttack based cleric Abdul Rehman, who were setting up the AQIS network here. In their confession, they said Haq has been in Pakistan since 1995, studied at a Karachi seminary that has produced other jihadi leaders and joined the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. Haq’s “radicalization” began after the Babri Masjid demolition and the riots that followed in 1992. Rahman himself has been active, travelling all over Karnataka, Jharkhand and UP in addition to travels in Pakistan, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and London.

AL QAEDA THREAT

The AQIS threat has added to the evidence since 9/11 that India is in the cross hairs of the al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Both Osama-bin-Laden and Ayman-al-Zawahiri had fulminated against the ‘Zionist-Crusader alliance’ which was expanded after 9/11 to a ‘Zionist-Crusader-Hindu alliance’.

This was also the time when al-Qaeda developed links with Pakistan-based militant organizations like the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Not that Al-Qaeda has found it easy to establish a base in India but newly motivated Indian jihadists are seeking “global affiliation”, and that’s where the problem deepens.

The Tanzim Islahul Muslimeen (TIM) was formed in 1985 after the communal riots in Maharashtra. Its message found resonance among young members of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), founded in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh in April, 1977. SIMI was banned in 2001 but its followers regrouped under Indian Mujahideen (IM), which was successful in plotting and executing several bomb attacks from 2002-2008. They had logistic support from across the border. IM operated through several networks - the Azamgarh module in Uttar Pradesh, recruits in Maharashtra’s Beed district, and Bhatkal in Karnataka.

The prime minister’s “Act East” policy is helping build bridges with Bangladesh and Myanmar, and there could be some light on the horizon in terms of dismantling the network of insurgent groups

Two other modules surfaced later, one from Pune in 2009 and the other from Darbhanga in 2011. IM sleeper cells have been seen identified in Hyderabad and Ranchi. Despite the recent arrests of some of its prominent leaders, IM remains a potentially powerful and disruptive force.

That none of these movements have really taken off suggests that despite grievances, unhappiness and anger against the government, Indian Muslims have kept away so far from pernicious pan-Islamic ideologies advocated by jihadi terrorist organizations. Whether that will always be so is doubtful and AQIS can be expected to tap the wellsprings of discontent among young Islamists in India.

Former Union home secretary GK Pillai said in a recent address that, “Traditional family structures and communities can play a crucial role in countering radicalization in India... Our family and community structures prevent people from switching to extreme ideologies.”

He believes that government agencies should focus on key factors of radicalization: Alienation of youth, unemployment, fear/grievances, and tackle them with a strong “redressal mechanism’ at the ground level.

LOOKING EAST

The eastern frontiers too are vulnerable. Last October’s Burdwan blasts revealed the intentions of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), to carry out terror strikes in West Bengal and Bangladesh. In fact, the security situation in that country is fragile, awash as it is in smuggled weapons and explosives, not to mention disgruntled militant factions belonging to India’s north east.

The Centre through its special envoys has been engaging leaders of major separatist groups in the region like the NSCN (IM), ULFA and NDFB, who are very active in Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. The recent Naga accord is one such example.

But the problems in the region also relate to critically high levels of corruption and the virtual absence of governance. People in the region elect MPs and MLAs, but paradoxically, reject their leadership. Elected representatives are not seen as people with ideas, who could transform their state. Rather they are seen as sources of money and other favours. This attitude is a huge challenge as without leadership, social development and unity are a far cry.

In that sense, movements like the Coalition for Indigenes’ Rights Campaign (CIRCA) in Manipur, need to be carefully watched. CIRCA believes that the Centre has consistently ignored Manipur’s 2000 years of history before its merger with India, and is seeking autonomy. The movement reflects issues of identity that are at the core of political currents in the region. CIRCA wants the details of the Centre’s recent MoU with the Nagas to be made public, and has also demanded the Inner Line Permit System be implemented in Manipur. The prime minister’s “Act East” policy is helping build bridges with Bangladesh and Myanmar, and there could be some light on the horizon in terms of dismantling the network of insurgent groups. But this is a long haul and the attitude of countries like China, where ULFA chief Paresh Barua is reportedly holed up, is important.

Left wing extremism (LWE) in the so-called Naxalite corridor, extending over six states (Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra), poses another serious threat. In 2014, there was a declining trend of fatalities, though violence continued. A mix of force-centric and development-oriented measures has not curtailed the ability of Maoist groups to carry out periodic attacks resulting in casualties among the security forces.

Expediting police reforms, plugging manpower shortages, enhancing rapid response capabilities and equipment modernization, should be essential facets of our strategy to cope with these threats in the near term.

Summary

  • Al Qaeda is a more immediate threat to India as it is under pressure from the Islamic State, having lost ground to it
  • India’s Muslims have so far not been swayed by the extreme rantings of Islamist groups but it may not stay that way forever
  • Bangladesh, awash with guns and Islamists, is a concern and the JMB’s activities in West Bengal point to vulnerabilities on our border
  • The north-east maybe quiet but is simmering over issues relating to identity, corruption and lack of governance
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