The year 2014 is very important to many of us, in the Indian sub-continent for some reason or other. The importance of which is being discussed on the television, the radio and in the print media at length as to what will happen in Afghanistan after the Americans pull out, and many other questions which will effect this region as a whole thereafter. The uncertainty sometimes makes you shiver, more so when Al Qaeda as a subject gets attached to the destiny of the millions in our sub continent.
A landmark event that will take place in this region shortly would be the withdrawal of the American led NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014. The vacuum of power in the most hostile region on this earth will witness a scramble and jostling for the space in question by different forces. What will be the fallout of this draw down, has been commented by many analysts quiet often. What emerges from the debate is a high probability of resurgence of Taliban and Al-Qaeda on the political landscape of Af-Pak region. If that be so, should it be a reasonable assumption to make of a future possibility of India coming under the devastating influence of Al-Qaeda terror. This scenario poses a serious threat of not only altering the lives of millions, but also the future emergence of India as a major global economic and a strategic player in times ahead.
When we run a scan, through our history it emerges that despite all the differences which surfaces between the followers of the two main religions in India quiet off and on, the relations amongst these communities have been cordial over the centuries. There are many examples where the members of both the communities have fought shoulder to shoulder like in the case of 1857 war of independence for the honour of their mother land. This unique synergy has been central theme to the idea of Hindustan and Hindustaniayt, which I fear, is now under threat from radical Islam emanating from Af-Pak region and fuelled by fanatics from amongst the majority in India. As the radical ideology spreads and displaces the Sufi essence of Islam in India the forces like Al-Qaeda can take advantage of furthering their ulterior motives. This rather pessimistic depiction of our future may not be out of context and I have tried to reason it out in the succeeding paragraphs.
Recently there was an article written by a Pakistani journalist in India’s leading news daily recently, which gave an insight into the spread of Al-Qaeda network in Pak Punjab with the active help of Jamat-e-Islami (JeI). JeI has a strong presence in various schools and colleges of Punjab in form of Jamat-e-Talaba (JeT). They were responsible for carrying out recruitment for the erstwhile Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The role played by the Punjabis in that regime gets highlighted by the fact that out of 9000 Taliban prisoners held by the Americans, 6000 were Pakistani Punjabis. Over the years the role of JeI has remained unchanged and that is to carry out indoctrination at colleges and school across Punjab and recruit the most diehard fanatics for Al-Qaeda, Taliban and now even the Tehreek- e-Taliban of Pakistan (TTP). The infamous Hafeez Sayeed of Jamat-ul-Dawa (JuD) is also an outcrop of this very Jamat (JeI). Al-Qaeda is busy strengthening its organisation in Punjab alongside recruiting new cadres, for a showdown with Afghan Military post American withdrawal in 2014.
The Al-Qaeda is already in league with Afghan Taliban and TTP fighting for a common goal of establishing a Nizam based on Shariat in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Taoiba (LeT) and JuD joining hands with Al-Qaeda will not only add up to strengthen this terror machinery in Af-Pak region but will also pose a serious challenge to all the countries of South Asia.
ISI may be trying hard to balance the Jihadi power in Pakistan’s favour; however it does not appear to be working correctly. Though the Pak army has left no stone unturned in supporting Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda with a sole aim of extending its influence in Afghanistan post American withdrawal and use that country as Pakistan’s strategic space during any future conflict with India. However TTP is posing a real danger to the establishment and larger stability of Pakistan itself. The Pak army is indeed treading on a very thin and a dangerous line, the efforts to keep the Afghan Jihadi outfits separated from Kashmiri Jihadi groups, I suspect these efforts are failing. The very future of Pakistan to me appears so bleak in this back drop.
Recent revelation by Yasin Bhatkal during his interrogation by NIA that the Indian Mujahideen (IM) is in process of teaming up with the world’s most dreaded terror outfit the Al-Qaeda, which is in its final stages. The only issue that needs to be settled is whether the IM will be in an assisting role or will merge with Al-Qaeda.
As per Bhatkal, ISI is reportedly annoyed with this latest move of IM and it should be a testimony to the reality that Pak army is now unable to keep the Afghani and Kashmiri Jihadi organisations separated any more. In the worst case scenario, if all these terror outfits group under Al-Qaeda, they will have a serious potential of unleashing havoc from Gawadar in Baluchistan to Yangon in Myanmar and Xinxiang in China to Kanyakumari in South India.
As an Indian what should worry us is the steady spread of Wahhabi philosophy and Deobandi Ideology which as a design is being facilitated through the net work of madrasas that are dotted all across the country, especially so in the states of UP, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. Any attempt by the government to regulate them is met with a stern opposition from various quarters; this being often termed, as an effort to suppress the minorities or a move said to be violating the fundamental right to freedom of religion. Whatever be the administrative or the political compulsion, the net result is a rise in the numbers, who are graduating from such Madrasas that are receiving funds from the Middle East and propagate the Wahhabi philosophy thus threatening the our dominant Sufi culture.
Those who follow this subject closely will agree that the dynamics of minority majority relationship have undergone a drastic change since the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and subsequently the Gujarat riots of 2002. Consequently the Muslim community in India today is gradually getting attracted towards the hard-line Deobandi ideology. SIMI and later the IM are a classical manifestation of such change in attitudes. The Indian states of UP and Bihar have been in the headlines for a number of high profile arrests of senior IM cadres, which only highlights the spread and extent of safe havens that may exist in these states. The earlier SIMI strong holds in UP, in the districts of Meerut, Aligarh, Kanpur, Azamgarh and Gorakhpur are reported to have a large number of sleeper cells of IM, which should be a serious cause of concern to the security establishment if the merger of the IM and Al Qaeda turns out to be a reality.
The Muzaffarnagar riots of Aug – Sep 2013 should not only be seen as an outcome of a political game plan as alleged by some or reflected as an administrative failure. These riots should give an insight in to the extent the radicalisation that has taken place in the society at large. They should also be seen as an intelligence failure in failing to identify the areas and pockets where sophisticated weapons have made way. It would be pertinent to highlight the fact that for the first time AK 47 has been used during the riots, probably at six to eight different places. The flag marching contingents of the Indian Army were also not spared and there were instances reported when the army was fired upon by such weapons. It should not be a surprise to the security establishment of India if they happen to confront a large number of such sophisticated weapons and other warlike stores in the Hindi heartland in near future. Religion and caste based politics, mal governance supported by the wide spread corruption, high percentage of unemployed youth and lack of development makes the Gangetic plains an ideal turf for terrorist related activities. The merger of IM and Al-Qaeda in such a case will definitely spell doom for the millions in this part of India. Al Qaeda will definitely exploit this situation to its advantage by expanding the existing support base of the IM and further lure those into its folds who have suffered during these riots.
Despite all the indicators and the early warnings, Indian politicians appear to be playing with the destiny of our country. This can be stated out of the fact that a lot of damage has been done to the intelligence and security setup for cheap political gains. The political bosses have used institution against institution to settle political scores without an iota of concern for the national security. Today the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has its credentials under the question mark over the Israt Jahan’s case. The Indian Army’s, Technical Support Division (TSD), a fantastic tool that was highly effective in monitoring conversation of our enemy commanders and terrorist leaders, thus forewarning us of their intent, now unfortunately lies disbanded. All this has been sacrificed due to a tussle between the former chief, Gen VK Singh, his Successor, Gen Bikram Singh, the Government and ever suspicious bureaucracy. Whatever is the justification, India and the Indians are the net losers.
Instead of strengthening our institutions in gearing up for the security challenges that lay ahead, our leaders have systematically weakened them. It was our late Prime Minister Mr IK Gujral who during his brief stint, ordered the shutdown of special operations desk of RAW leading to major gap in India’s intelligence capabilities. A similar act has been performed by Dr Manmohan Singh and his government in weakening the IB and the Military Intelligence, as it appears.
India desperately needs a system on the lines of American Home Land Security. An effort to that effect was made by our then home minister, Mr Chidambaram by formulating norms for National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). The NCTC along with NIA could have proved very effective in checking the growing menace of terrorism. Unfortunately all such efforts have been stalled by petty party politics riding over the larger national interests.
India needs to re calibrate its strategy in dealing with the challenges of internal security. The effort should be towards the prevention rather than finding a cure later. If the nation fails to read the threat looming large on our western horizon, then the apprehension of many will be a hard reality; soon we would be reading the headlines of car bombings, killing innocent people by hundreds. A sound counter strategy has to be put in place before the IM and the Al Qaeda merge as one. In my opinion the following should be the counter strategy:
- Re raise the intelligence gathering unit; the Technical Support Division of the MoD.
- Strengthen the intelligence apparatus of the centre and the states by the creation of NCTC at the earliest.
- Revive the Special Operation desk of the RAW and carry out targeted elimination of the leadership of Al Qaeda, Taliban and the JeI in Af-Pak region.
- India should get into collaboration with the CIA and the Mosad at the operational level and exercise covert and overt options in containing and eliminating the terror threat to this region.
- Initiate an aggressive psychological warfare like campaign, to nullify the spread of the Wahabbi philosophy.
- Give patronage to the institutions, artists, academicians and religious leaders who work towards the spreading and strengthening Sufism.
- Map the funding and regulate the education being imparted at various Madrasas.
- Development and education in the areas identified as fertile breeding grounds for terror to be a top priority of the government over all other issues of administration.
My anxiety increases further as I try to find the answer to the question; Will the Gangetic plains be the future battle ground of Al-Qaeda post 2014?
~ Col. Danvir Singh, Associate Editor, Indian Defence Review, former Commanding Officer, 9 Sikh LI and author of book “Kashmir’s Death Trap: Tales of Perfidy and Valour”.