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Being ambivalent about faith-based terrorism is harmful – by DC Pathak

Amidst the continuing danger posed to national security by the Pak-instigated radicalisation and terrorism, many academicians and even some major think tanks are underplaying the problem by suggesting that since terrorism had still not been ‘defined’ it was not possible to properly assess it – in the Indian context they are only diverting attention from the doings of a hostile neighbour that was now hand in glove with China for stepping up anti-India operations.

These analysts do acknowledge that firm adherence to religion could enlarge into fanaticism and that advocacy of fundamentalism was in reaction to the gradual erosion of religion’s erstwhile preeminence in social and political spheres. They are thus aware that a strong injection of religion in the political domain is what presaged the rise of the new global terror.

What these scholars leave unsaid however, is that Islam is one religion that made no distinction between faith and politics on the plea that Islam embraced all aspects of human life – personal, socio-political and even economic – and that more than in any other religion it made it easier for the forces behind terrorism to manipulate Islamic faith for enrolling militants – after converting their minds in the name of Jehad.

Further, Islamic extremism is the broad umbrella under which faith-based terrorism was nourished by those who wanted to use it as an instrument of politics.

Communal militancy giving rise to domestic hate crimes is a different malady requiring an effective socio-political and legal response and is not to be mixed up with terrorism that has, in the Indian context, a cross-border input and a geopolitical dimension.

The apologists of the new global terror- that was rooted in the exploitation of faith – are raising an academic discussion around the ‘definition’ of terrorism describing it as both a ‘tactic’ and a ‘doctrine’, and while noting the role of a ‘political goal’ behind terrorism, watering down the ambit of terrorist violence by suggesting that it was confined to ‘direct attacks on non-combatants and civilians’. This is a bookish interpretation since terrorism essentially is a ‘resort to covert violence for a perceived political cause’ and it can take recourse to such violence in innovative ways.

Terrorists indulge in surreptitious violence since the might of the state would be able to thwart an open attack. Also, without a ‘political cause’ terrorism would be reduced to sheer criminality which is certainly not the case. Wherever there is a question of ’cause’ there has to be a ‘commitment’ which in turn is determined by ‘motivation’.

Now ‘motivation’ can be ‘ideological’ as was the case with Naxalism or an assertion of ethnic identity as was noticed in insurgencies of the North East in the Indian context. The new terror, however, is rooted in ‘faith-based’ motivation which in the case of Islam could be really strong if the call of ‘religion in danger’ or ‘protection of the faithful’ could be whipped up. Terrorism takes on State targets as well and does not only attack the civilian population – which it does of course for creating political destabilisation.

Terrorism facing India is an instrument of ‘proxy war’ that Pakistan – presently in an all-weather alliance with China – has been waging in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. The new faith-based terror is now operating on a geopolitical scale too because its origins lay in the anti-West Jehad launched by some prominent Ulema in the 19th century on the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere, that unleashed ‘radicalisation’.

In the proxy war against India, Pak ISI had used Islamic extremist outfits under its control – such as Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkare Toiba and Jaishe Mohammad- as an instrument of terrorism earlier but it was also subsequently able to induct Islamic radicals like those of Al Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS in covert attacks against this country. These latter outfits found shelter in Pakistan- deemed to be a US ally – even though the US-led West was the prime enemy of Islamic radicals in the Global War on Terror launched by the US in the wake of 9/11.

Many ‘experts’ on global terror miss the point that within the world of Islamic extremism, there are two distinct streams – one of the Islamic radicals who are ‘revivalists’ carrying the historical memory of the anti-British Jehad waged by the Wahhabi Ulema in India in the middle of the 19th century on the call of return to the pristine Islam of the period of Pious Caliphs and the other appearing later in the 20th century that was led by Islamic thinkers like Hasan Al Banna who advocated that ‘Quran is the best Constitution’ but also held that an Islamic state could live ‘in competition not conflict’ with the Western democracies.

The Wahhabis contented that the political decline of Islam was attributable to the deviation of Muslim rulers from the mandate of the faith. It is significant that Darul Uloom Deoband established by the protagonists of this Jehad – after its failure against the superior British might – devotes itself to the non-political work of teaching pure Islam but even today carries an anti-West ethos.

On the other hand, the other fundamentalist Islamic force that arose in the region of Iraq and Syria in the name of Ikhwanul Musalmeen (Muslim Brotherhood) founded by Hasan Al Banna, devoted to launching a militant campaign against the pro-Soviet Arab regimes of Nasser and Hafiz Saeed and called for a return to an Islamic rule. This was appreciated by the US for obvious reasons. Soon Maulana Maudoodi – an admirer of Hasan Al Banna – created Jamaate Islami at Lahore with the same anti-Communist and pro-West ideology.

Some Islamic specialists erroneously paint Muslim Brotherhood as a ‘radical movement’ with the same brush as was used for describing the Wahabbi legacy represented today by the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS. Radicalisation received a fillip in recent times because of the US-led ‘war on terror’ that was started first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq and which was essentially a combat between US-led West and Islamic radicals.

Notably, the rise of Taliban-Al Qaeda combined in the Afghan-Pak region was later matched by ISIS – a competing radical force that came up in the Iraq-Syria belt. India’s security concerns have multiplied because Pakistan has manoeuvred to cultivate radical outfits while retaining the goodwill of the US.

In fact, by pretending to mediate between the Taliban and the US in the talks held to facilitate the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan earned the goodwill of the US and at the same time ensured the reinstallation of the Taliban Emirate at Kabul to its great strategic advantage against India. Pak ISI is now using both Islamic extremists and Islamic radicals in its proxy war against India using terrorism as its instrument. Al Qaeda and ISIS proxies based in Pakistan have been floated for this purpose.

A new challenge has risen for India’s Intelligence agencies because of the organised use of social media by Pak ISI to surreptitiously reach out to its potential agents, recruit ‘lone wolves’ for terror operations and tap civil society groups for building anti-India narratives on Kashmir as well as on alleged lack of protection for Muslim minority under the present regime.

Those behind the raising of terrorists often play the card of ‘supremacism’ of faith that acted as a ‘pull’ factor in regard to ‘motivation’. The Sino-Pak axis has added a new dimension to India’s national security in which external threats are causing internal destabilisation because of the planned attempt of the two hostile neighbours to fish in our troubled waters.

Pakistan is openly fanning the Hindu-Muslim divide in India and instigating communal militancy so that it could facilitate the recruitment of potential terrorists.

The recently banned Popular Front of India (PFI) – known to have been spreading radicalisation and working for ISIS – was linked also to SIMI, a front of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, that was banned earlier after it had attracted notice for creating a terrorist body called Indian Mujahideen in the early Twenties this year.

Pak ISI has thus been exploiting various Islamic extremist and radical outfits to create trouble for India. Radicalisation is a geopolitical danger but is a prime threat to the security of India on account of the mischief potential of Pakistan, Taliban domination of Afghanistan and the support of China to Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir.

India has done well to highlight the threat of terrorism at every international forum and expose the danger facing the democratic world as a whole from the Sino- Pak combine – an alliance between a Marxist dictatorship and a fundamentalist regime.

India has done well to maintain that Pakistan was behind cross-border terrorism against India and avoid any bilateral contact with Zardari, Pak Foreign Minister, who had come to attend the SCO meet at Goa recently.

A significant geopolitical development relating to the Muslim world is the increasing influence of radical stream in West Asia and its anti-West positioning in the Cold War type of polarisation that was developing between the US on one side and the China-Russia camp on the other.

Saudi Arabia with its pronounced fundamentalism has been the chief supporter of the US in the Islamic world but it had invited the wrath of radicals precisely for its political alignment. Its conflict with Yemen symbolised this ideological contradiction within the Islamic world.

The radical Islamic rule of Taliban-Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is politically on the same side of the fence as China and this certainly helped Pakistan in evolving a ‘give and take’ between the Kabul Emirate and Xi Jinping whereby no controversies would be raised about the minorities in China and China would make an economic investment in Afghanistan.

Somewhat similar has been the equation of restraint between Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics(CARs) that were still under the influence of Russia- Pakistan was aware that Russia was averse to any spread of Islamic extremism in its former territories.

Equally important is the case of Iran under the fundamentalist regime of Ayatollahs. Shia extremism is ideologically averse to Western Capitalism and Caliph Ali is even said to have glorified ‘poverty’. Opposition to the US puts Iran and China on the same side of the geopolitical divide and it does not come as too much of a surprise that Xi Jinping has tried to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two countries with an opposing outlook on world politics.

Saudi Arabia as the Chairman of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) has been realising for some time, however, that a group within – comprising Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia – was prepared to consider Islamic radicals as a legitimate segment of the spectrum of Islam and not discard them just because of their opposition to the US-led West.

Call for a return to the ‘golden period’ of Islam had always held its own appeal in the Muslim world and Islamic radicals were great advocates of this ‘revivalism’.

India has to deal with Islamic extremism and radicalisation considering its national interests. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran are to be given special attention by India independently in order to handle the cross currents currently sweeping the Muslim world.

At home, the spread of radicalisation has to be checked through a multi-prong strategy of enhancing the state’s outreach to the sections of the minority that wanted peace and harmony, stepping up action against potential Pak agents and curbing the funding of terrorism.

In today’s situation, India’s internal security has become highly vulnerable to the effects of civil society groups with vested interests joining hands with international lobbies led by Pakistan, to spread the narrative of alleged lack of protection for Muslim minority under the present regime.

Minority politics is also in full swing as political parties realised the importance of their votes in the crucial elections ahead. Sectional appeals for votes would be a part of the game provided they did not encourage ‘separatism’ which in the Indian context would raise an alarm because of the legacy of history.

Minority politics could generate militancy of a kind that would feed terrorist violence under the instigation of India’s hostile neighbours.

Indian democracy must continue to derive strength from a healthy sense of nationalism of all its citizens regardless of class, creed or region- in keeping with the mandate of ‘one man one vote’ on which it was conceived. It should be remembered that the Preamble to our Constitution itself appeals to all citizens to work for the ‘Nation’.

(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau. Views expressed are personal) (Agency)

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