In recent news that has sent ripples across the international counter-terrorism community, two terrorists from Karnataka were arrested due to their alleged affiliations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a designated terrorist organization. The arrests have reignited conversations about India’s struggle with terrorism and the extent to which it has become a contributor to regional security threats.
For years, India has been grappling with internal security challenges, including terrorism. The arrests in Karnataka are particularly unsettling, as they suggest that the problem might not just be internal but also have international dimensions. India’s vast and diverse population, including vulnerable communities, can become targets for radicalization and recruitment by international terrorist organizations (ITOs).
The apprehension of individuals with TTP links in Karnataka seems to be a mere tip of the iceberg. A more profound investigation could unravel a more extensive network of Indian nationals involved in terrorist activities abroad. There are indications that some of these networks have connections with terrorism in Afghanistan, a region long troubled by militant insurgency and foreign terrorist elements. Indian security agencies are under immense pressure to dismantle these networks and prevent the spread of radical ideologies. The involvement of Indian citizens with terrorist factions operating in Afghanistan raises questions about how individuals from the country are being influenced and potentially exploited by these groups.
There have been accusations, including from Pakistani sources, that India’s intelligence agency, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), has been complicit in nurturing terrorist links. Reports suggest that RAW may have facilitated the travel of Indian Muslims to Afghanistan to engage in terrorist activities against Pakistan, although these allegations often come without concrete evidence and India staunchly denies them, citing them as misinformation. The indoctrination and radicalization of individuals pose a severe threat to national security. If Indian citizens are indeed being brainwashed and used as pawns by terrorist organizations, it reflects a significant intelligence and security oversight that needs immediate addressing.
Beyond TTP, there is concern about the spread of radical ideologies from other terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province (ISKP) and Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). A particularly troubling report was the death of an ISKP commander, who was identified as Abu Usman Al-Kashmiri, reported to be an Indian national and the first leader of ISHP, indicating the reach of Indian nationals into the leadership ranks of known terrorist organizations. The axiom “chickens have come home to roost” seems to resonate in the current climate of India’s security apparatus. Reports and accusations—predominantly from Indian’s neighbor Pakistan—suggest that India’s RAW has previously trained Indian citizens and sent them to Afghanistan to carry out anti-Pakistan activities. Now, it is feared that many of these individuals have turned into what is being referred to as “rogue agents,” turning their back on their initial handlers.
The notion of rogue agents refers to those individuals who were once under the control or influence of a government or intelligence agency but have since defied their directives and operate independently or against their former handlers. In India’s case, the apprehension of individuals linked to the TTP may indicate a broader problem where assets once used to counter Pakistan’s influence have now begun operating autonomously. The concern escalates when these rogue agents are believed to be not only involved in acts of terrorism but also in terror financing across Afghanistan and Pakistan, contributing to the destabilization of the region. This issue is exacerbated by the alleged involvement of Indian nationals with various International Terrorist Organizations (ITO), such as the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda (AQ).
India’s geopolitical stance has long involved casting aspersions on Pakistan for harboring terrorism, an accusation that Pakistan has consistently denied and reciprocated in kind. The narrative, however, is evolving as India finds itself being accused of nurturing terrorism under state patronage, utilizing terrorism as a strategic weapon while leveraging its global stature—especially in the context of its positioning against China. This duality—being seen as a victim of terrorism on one hand and an alleged sponsor on the other—puts India in a precarious position. The international community’s view of India as a bulwark against Chinese regional dominance has indeed afforded it a degree of strategic immunity. However, the presence of rogue elements allegedly linked to Indian intelligence could potentially undermine this international standing.
In the wake of these arrests, India must reassess its counter-terrorism strategy, which includes both defensive and offensive components. Defensive measures should be aimed at safeguarding its citizens and infrastructure from the threat of terrorism, while offensive measures often involve disrupting terrorist networks and preventing the radicalization of its citizens. However, the effectiveness of India’s offensive measures, including the alleged use of proxies, is now under scrutiny. If indeed India has been engaging with groups for short-term tactical gains against regional adversaries, the strategy requires an immediate overhaul to prevent further cultivation of terrorist activities that could backfire. Moreover, it is crucial for regional powers to engage in honest dialogue and collaborative efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism. Fostering trust and cooperation will be essential in dismantling the networks that finance, support, and perpetrate terrorism in South Asia and beyond. Only then can the countries of this troubled region hope to eradicate the twin threats of terrorism and radicalization.