New Delhi, Feb 23, 2021-
India’s considerable success in containing terrorism within its borders can be attributed not only to its intelligence, police and the security forces, but also to community response in keeping radicalisation and fundamentalist tendencies at bay, says Adil Rasheed, Research Fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
In a freewheeling conversation with Indianarrative.com, Rasheed spoke about threats to India, the global jihadi networks operations and how India needs to keep an eye on the home-grown radicals. Dr Rasheed has recently published his book, Countering the Radical Narrative, that talks about the need for countries and societies to develop a counter-narrative to combat terror groups. Excerpts from the exclusive interview:
Role of global terrorism and State-actors
“We see that non-State actors are increasingly becoming State proxies. They have always been there but now we see a degree of state revisionism happening. If earlier there was non-State radicalism, it is now shifting towards state revisionism.
In West Asia specially we find that countries like Iran and Turkey are moving towards religious orientation and are also trying to revive historical geopolitical games. We find that these new developments are taking place and these tendencies are becoming more ambitious as they find the US planning to withdraw its forces from the region. This has thrown up a new set of challenges.”
On radicalisation of youth
Radicalisation started with the coming up of the ISIS monstrosity in West Asia but now it has subsided a bit. The disturbing part is that political stability still has not been restored to that area. Things are volatile as the ISIS is trying to make a comeback and as long as that area remains restive, there are problems of security and stability in the region.”
Is India prepared to take on these threats?
“I think India has done a pretty good job considering the stress it has been facing in terms of terrorism. We have been able to foil a lot of terror incidents specially since 2008. Our military, security agencies and police have done a splendid job in gaining intelligence and foiling attacks particularly when our neighbourhood is dangerous and the extended neighbourhood is restive.
The challenge is that terrorism changes and morphs, just as we saw Al Qaeda change into a more dangerous ISIS. It appears that the threat is not there but we have to be on guard so that it does not transform itself into a more malicious and difficult challenge. We have to be on constant vigil.
In the case of India, there has been cooperation between the forces and various sections of the society when it comes to countering radicalisation. The police has been getting support from the elders and religious leaders. At the same time, I think every different region has different issues and everywhere a different kind of radicalisation manifests itself. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is different from one in Assam and we have to act accordingly.”
Positions taken by India and France
“It was wonderful to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi address the Aligarh Muslim University, a first by any Prime Minister in 50 years. It was very well received by students and faculty. In countering radicalisation, education is important and so is the battle of perception. Sometimes perceived grievances are more important than real grievances. People combating terrorism also need to address perceived grievances, even if unfounded, they are actually causing a problem.
France has taken a position which some Muslim countries have welcomed including the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). Other Muslim countries also feel you draw a line when it comes to politics and religion-you have to be careful when politics comes into State decision-making.”
Terrorism from Pakistan-based organisations
“When it comes to the threat of jihadism in India, I personally believe there are three sources – global jihadist organisations like Al Qaeda and ISIS. The others are Pakistan-backed terrorist organisations like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The third is the home-grown groups. Sometimes there is a collusion of these groups and sometimes the home-grown groups completely subsume themselves into the groups outside the country.
But there is a separation also-these groups have a different motivations, a different agenda and they come from different religious doctrinal orientations. We need to understand such differences and create those wedges and firewalls between them. Of these, the Pakistan-backed groups have been the most dangerous as most of the attacks have come from them. For India, because of the proximity and efforts by Pakistan, the threat of cross-border terrorism is more than transnational terrorism.”
How does India mount a counter-radicalism narrative?
“One thing we have to always reinforce is that the spirit of India is based on liberal and constitutional values. We have to keep reaffirming this at the international stage. We cannot be looked upon as any other banana republic which the West tries to pontificate at. We have a democracy that is mature and very strong. Our human rights and judicial systems are very strong. We have to reiterate that fact and demonstrate it as well.
The other thing is that if there are protests and demonstrations in the country, if people in Kashmir have a different point of view, we respect that. We allow dissent and unlike other countries we do not suppress dissent. This democratic potential and constitutional values have to be shown repeatedly.”
Radicalisation in madrasas
“There are a lot of myths about madrasas in India. In the case of Pakistan yes, madrasas are jihadi factories and are not producing ulemas. But in India we have found that well educated people turned radicals. Suddenly, after their graduation they move towards religious education and look for it online. They become Google Sheikhs and end up visiting a jihadist website which claims to be teaching them about Islam. Without any upbringing on religion these neophytes begin accessing hate-filled information. India’s border regions might have such madrasas.”
India and counter terror
“The fact that we did not have major terror attacks shows that we have understood terrorism effectively. Our police has done a good job unobtrusively-locating areas of disturbances and involving families, society and elders. In India we have tried to use the social fabric itself to mitigate issues at that very level. If a young boy has been visiting websites that are objectionable, messages are sent to family members requesting them to counsel their child.
Even in the case of young people who have come back, you will not find them mentioned in the media and these cases are not blown out of proportions. We found that very few Indians have joined the ISIS as compared to people in Europe. We are doing a good job as we have been able to stamp the fires before these could light up. Even in Jammu and Kashmir our security forces have done a good job.”
Social media is a double-edged sword
“There are big issues with social media. Even if you have half-baked ideas in mind, you can spew that onto the social media. This kind of a visceral outpouring is not freedom of expression. Even if social media platforms say they are doing some kind of censorship, this will only be post-facto and controversial.
Importantly, what we need to do is to block certain social media handles. But blocking is not always the answer. We need to have a counter to that-an ideological counter so that the person who is doing this gets a counter viewpoint. The young generation should also know what is the other side saying. This will not be a foolproof thing but is important in ideological matters. But this battle has not even started as yet.”