By Gaurav Dixit
What may appear to be a prompt unplanned action by the Indian police in arresting a large number of jihadi terrorists from across the country this year is actually a long and focused effort by the intelligence agencies and police forces to derail the terrorists’ intention to create mayhem in India in 2014. This has been pointed out in intelligence reports earlier of large cross border influx of terrorists as well as revival of terrorist activities in India after the change of guard in Afghanistan.
As the international troops are preparing to move out of Afghanistan, a large number of terrorists operating in that country and around border areas are being diverted towards India to disrupt the security condition. General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the 15 Corps, Lieutanant General Gurmit Singh, voiced the apprehension and asked the army to be ready for the possible influx in Kashmir region.
Unlike 2013, militant activities in Kashmir Valley have risen this year. The first terrorist elimination last year was around mid-April. In contrast, the army has eliminated 24 terrorists by the end of March.
It is not just around Kashmir. Police have arrested many extremists, including top Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) operatives, in other parts of the country in 2014. According to the partial data collected by South Asia Terrorism Portal, the Indian police with the assistance of intelligence agencies have arrested at least 77 terrorists in 2014 from across the country.
Majority of the arrests include jihadi extremists and terrorist operatives, Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agents, and nationals from the South Asia region of Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.
The arrests include top Indian operatives for IM, Tehseen Akhtar alias Monu, and another top IM operative, Abdul Wahid Siddibappa alias Khan by authorities in Abu Dhabi. Majority of those arrested are either operatives of IM or a part of its parent outfit SIMI. The intensification of tracking and arrest of IM and SIMI operatives can be traced to last year’s major arrests by Indian agencies in India and the Indo-Nepal border areas.
Top Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative Abdul Karim Tunda was arrested last year near the Indo-Nepal border. Similarly, top IM operative Yasin Bhatkal along with his aide Asadullah Akhtar alias Haddi was arrested from the Indo-Nepal border areas.
Sudden upsurge or plotted
The pertinent question in this sudden upsurge in non-violent yet, militant activities points to a strategic use of Indian-based militant outfits to restructure and re-channelize its network in the region. The rise in activities is not merely a happenstance, but a purposeful move by the Pakistan-based agencies and terrorist outfits.
The idea of exploitation of Indian militant outfits to create havoc in India through either state agencies like ISI or non-state agencies like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) has been the principal plan of Pakistan since several years. Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde confirmed the role of Pakistan in Indian terror plots, and said the IM draws its “motivation and sustenance from inimical forces” in Pakistan.
According to Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) team, the German Bakery blast in Pune in 2010 which killed 17 people and injured at least 60 more was the first terrorist activity of IM in coordination with the Pakistan-based LeT. In fact, the Dilkushnagar blast in Hyderabad last year was planned in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir at a joint summit of terror outfits on Feb 9 -10, 2013, attended by outfits like LeT, JeM and HM. The diversity of the outfits suggests an unprecedented involvement of terrorist outfits from across the border into Indian activities.
It was after the weakening of the LeT in Pakistan and IM in India that forced the ISI to take charge of militant outfits in India, confirmed by arrested IM operational chief in India, Yasin Bhatkal.
He also observed that IM was fully funded and managed by Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. In fact, an intercept by intelligence agencies confirmed Bhatkal’s claims. The intercept revealed that ISI gave around Indian Rs.26 crore to IM operative Riyaz Bhatkal in the last three years for anti-India operations. Overall, the ISI has given around INR 800 million to IM and its associates to carry out terror strikes in India, another Intelligence Bureau report suggests.
Similarly, Asadullah Akhtar alias Haddi confessed to have got arms training in a camp organized by ISI. Such revelations are pointing towards a dangerous deviance from the normal course of terrorist activities in India, which was more or less featured as a kind of retaliation by a section of a community who felt betrayed and marginalised by the Indian government. Unlike militant activities of early 1990s, recent revelations show a new political trend of militancy which threatens the Indian state through and in connivance with state and non-state agencies of the neighbouring country.
Another disturbing feature of the recent revelations is the realignment of Indian terrorist outfits with top international militant outfits like Taliban and Al Qaeda, going beyond their traditional allies like LeT, HM, JeM. These ultra-radical agencies, their ideals and intent are about violent universal Islamic values, and there is little variation across the globe. Needless to mention, the entire strategy of these outfits is to dethrone democratic institutions and replace them with Islamic governance.
The recent trend of alignment of Indian militant outfits with major terror outfits abroad portrays a disturbing vision of the future, to combat which would require not only the Indian governments’ commitment but large-scale coordination among international players fighting against terrorism.
(Gaurav Dixit is an independent strategic analyst based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at [email protected])