Home-grown Islamic terrorism

Historically, India and Indians have never been good at reading threats or dodging dangers. Indian governments in particular have failed to be realistic in their assessment of adversaries or to anticipate difficult situations created by internal and external actors and, therefore, have fared badly in diverting and diminishing threats, generally behaving like immobilised rabbits thrown as food into python pits.

There’s a long inglorious record of this. Take an arbitrary starting point. The 12th Century king of Delhi, Prithviraj Chauhan, reacted to the rampaging Mohammad Ghori on his annual looting campaigns into Hindustan by chasing the Afghan only up to Bhatinda, before letting him get away. This happened, as the legend goes, 16 times, but on the 17th such occasion Ghori got the better of Prithviraj, putting the latter out of his misery by first gouging out his eyes, no doubt to avoid the tedium of being regularly chased only up to a certain point in eastern Punjab! The reality, however, is just as damning. Ghori was not pursued much beyond Bhatinda by Prithviraj after he defeated the Afghan raider in the First Battle of Tarain (in 1191) in the hope, no doubt, that he’d have the good sense not to return. Alas, Ghori did the next year and this time Chauhan lost the second battle and his life. The wages of misjudging an adversary, of not taking him seriously! Later, the East India Company was similarly misjudged by the landlubber Mughal dispensation until it was too late.

The trouble is New Delhi does not look beyond its nose, fails to act against threats before they become full-blown, and remains stunningly complacent and inactive until the calamity is upon the country. The habit of not thinking and acting proactively, and rarely preempting a threat or preventing a disaster or catastrophe from happening despite usually having prior information and often the means and wherewithal, and even official agencies in place, to forestall such an eventuality, has cost the nation dear. Of course, once the worst happens, official agencies bestir themselves. India has inverted the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” to “Never be Prepared”!

Such bleak thoughts are prompted by a news report referring to the differences between the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) over whether the execrable international terrorist organisation Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) poses a threat to India and how to handle Indian Muslim youth attracted by its medievalist ideology aimed at “reviving” the 7th Century Caliphate stretching from the Levant to western India, an extended swathe of land the self-anointed khalifa, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls, Greater Khorasan.

Typical of the overly bureaucratised Indian state, the differences have come to a head over a procedural matter of whether or not to file an FIR (First Information Report), the requirement before a police investigation can get underway. This is apparently an issue of major importance to IB and NIA, both populated by Indian Police Service officers. Talk of misplaced priorities! So, instead of working on ways to ensure that support for, and potential followers of ISIS and al-Qaeda are dealt with urgently and with dispatch and deterrent measures rolled out, inaction is spurred by irrelevant discussions on following the right procedure. The ends are thus often confused by endlessly debating the means.

The specific issue here is about FIRs being registered against extremist Islamist groups and its members to facilitate investigation into their nefarious activities. The NIA is for it, the IB supposedly fearing the effect of such a preventive measure on Muslim youth and the minority community, is against it, and home minister Rajnath Singh is being asked to adjudicate. Prima facie, this seems to be a non-issue raised by a stalwart organisation, IB, whose abject failure to process the available intelligence, alert the state police, and prevent the 28/11 seaborne raid by Pakistan-based terrorists on Mumbai led to its being stripped of the anti-terrorism/counter-terrorism role and responsibility and the NIA formed in 2009 to handle them. It has made the IB determined to show up the fledgling body in some way or the other, and the FIR issue afforded it the opportunity to paint the NIA as a bunch of mavericks with a rule-breaking bent of mind. Not sure how the menace of terrorism can be throttled without adopting irregular methods. But IB seems motivated by the desire for bureaucratic one-upmanship.

Meanwhile, there are still no laws and regulations permitting close and continuous monitoring of Arab monies channelled into India by Sunni-Salafi “charitable” trusts in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, or legal requirement by beneficiaries to verifiably account for the uses these funds are put to. It is precisely the money flooding into the southern Indian states, Kerala in particular, and Andhra Pradesh-Telangana, and Karnataka, all with sizeable minority populations, that is responsible for communalising and destabilising previously harmonious societies. The state police are well aware of the mischief underway but local politics catering indiscriminately to minority sentiment have defanged them. More frequently, however, the matter of the threat posed by ISIS and al-Qaeda working separately with Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and other such outfits is reduced, ridiculously, to breast-beating about Pakistani ploys and stratagems, ignoring altogether the malign undercurrents within Indian society that need to be checked.

Indian democracy has to respect minority views but cannot overlook the danger from spreading Wahabbi values and ideas redolent of desert Islam displacing the syncretic and moderate Sufi Islam rooted in the local environs, and the resulting virulence and violence has to be stopped at all cost. Unless it has a death wish, the Indian state cannot avoid the hard option of intrusive and intensive-extensive policing of potential hotbeds of Islamic extremism in the country, scrutinising financial flows and Internet and other electronic communications traffic, installing its agents in SIMI and similar organisations, and apprehending, detaining and dissuading troublemakers attracted to radical causes. India cannot risk taking things lightly as is its habit. For strong counter-terrorism efforts to be strangled by legalism and procedure is to mock the peril creeping up on the country.

[Published in the New Indian Express, Oct 17, 2014, at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Home-grown-Islamic-Terrorism/2014/10/17/article2480912.ece

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, civil-military relations, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian para-military forces, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Terrorism, West Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Home-grown Islamic terrorism

  1. mnas dhar says:

    I think your long standing demand of supplying Vietnam with brahmos missiles is gaining some traction with the new government. Simultaneously we are hearing news reports of Chinese submarines docking in Sri Lanka. Do you think both the issues above are connected?. Also could you write something about indo – Lanka ties vis-a-vis China in your future blogs

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