As India marks the sixth anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the jihadist threat from Pakistan is becoming more menacing. Union home minister Rajnath Singh recently said, “Terrorism in India is fully Pakistan-sponsored. Pakistan says non-State actors are involved. But is the ISI a non-State actor?”
As the United States ended its Afghan mission in 1989, the ISI stepped up its jihadist mission in Kashmir. Once again, as the US leaves Afghanistan, the ISI senses victory. The jihadist groups’ realignment is being engineered to advance the ISI’s post-2014 strategy. From 2013 a new terror group, Ansar ut Tawheed Fi Bilad Al Hind (Supporters of Monotheism in India), has been releasing videos showing a dozen Indians undergoing training.
A new terror group — Jamaat Ansarut Tawheed Wal Jihad Fi Kashmir (Supporters of Islamic Monotheism and Jihad in Kashmir) — has also emerged in Kashmir. After the recent floods, it offered to host al Qaeda militants. In September al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the birth of the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), whose goal is to “crush the artificial borders established by the English occupiers to divide the Muslims”.
The AQIS’ establishment seems to be configured to the ISI’s post-2014 strategy. Both al Qaeda and the ISI advocate an Islamic Caliphate, with the only difference being that the ISI wants Pakistan to be the leader of such a regime. Although the Pakistan army carried out an operation in North Waziristan, the militants of the Haqqani Network — described by US Admiral Mike Mullen as the ISI’s “veritable arm” — were let off. A powerful faction under commander Khan Saeed Sajna of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan agreed to work with the ISI.
Pakistan also freed militants Izhar Afzal, Yousaf Noorullah and Abu Bakr in exchange for a kidnapped vice chancellor. Besides, Punjabi Taliban chief Asmatullah Muawiya announced a ceasefire against Pakistan, agreeing to advance the ISI’s goal in Afghanistan. Later reports revealed that he would work with the Haqqani Network of the Afghan Taliban. Although Pakistan conducts military operations in the tribal region, it protects jihadist groups’ headquarters in Muzaffarabad, Muridke and Bahawalpur.
It hides Mullah Omar, as it protected Osama bin Laden. Fearing for their life, Pakistani scribes cannot write about the ISI’s relationship with al Qaeda, which was formed on the watch of the ISI in 1988. The September 6 attack on the Karachi Naval Dockyard mirrors the 9/11 and 26/11 attacks.
In both cases, they used the GPS to guide planes and boats to reach targets. The Karachi attack was to hijack the PNS Zulfiqar to attack American and Indian warships.
The Wagah border attack was in consonance with the AQIS’ stated objective to ‘erase’ borders in South Asia. Three militant groups cooperated in this attack. The Burdwan explosions revealed that the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh could have been planning the assassination of Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina from India, a perfect ISI plan to force India to stop blaming Pakistan for 26/11 and other attacks. Pakistan’s civilian leaders appear to be allying with the ISI’s post-2014 strategy.
Pakistan’s national security adviser Sartaj Aziz said recently that Islamabad must not target jihadist organisations that do not pose a threat to Pakistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently joined the chorus when he announced that Pakistan will meet Kashmiri separatist leaders before holding any dialogue with India. An entirely different category of self-radicalising Indian jihadists has gone to Syria and Iraq to work with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Indian democracy can withstand this radicalisation. But the ISIS appears to be gaining a foothold in Pakistan and sometime later some of its militants will be co-opted by the ISI.
Tufail Ahmad is director, South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute,Washington DC
The views expressed by the author are personal