India and the world need to seriously consider the likelihood of a resurgence of Islamic terrorism in both breadth and lethality over the next several years. While al-Qaeda and its ilk have never been far from the headlines since 2001, the truth is that they have been relatively ineffective in replicating the spectacular attacks that made them the anti-heroes of the Arab street. The most obvious reason for this eclipse was the destruction of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the loss of a safe haven, source of funds and recruitment ground. Islamic militancy then metamorphosed into a network, preaching through the internet and depending on self-radicalised local groups to carry on the violent crusade. However, despite receiving a fillip following the US invasion of Iraq, Islamicist terror was a shadow of its former self after the fall of the Taliban.
From Kashmir to Kosovo, Indonesia to Uzbekistan, terrorism has been in retreat over the past several years. This seems about to change. The first reason is that a territorial safe haven is being carved out along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It may come up much faster than is being recognised given the weakness of the Pakistani State. The fragility of Islamabad revealed in President Asif Ali Zardari’s decision to sign an agreement that hands over the Swat Valley to the Taliban is matched only by the Pakistani National Assembly’s overwhelming vote in favour of the same. The second reason is that such a safe haven will now coexist with the virtual global network that terrorism has developed in the past few years. The near future is likely to see the two acting together for the first time, multiplying the reach and punch of terrorists.
Many in India treat the ‘Afpak’ problem as a matter for Washington and Kabul to sort out. The truth is that the country with the most to lose from a new Taliban regime is India. The first Mullah Omar regime helped sustain the insurgency in Kashmir in terms of intensity and longevity than would have been the case. A Mullah Omar sequel would almost certainly seek to turn back the clock in the Valley. However, such a regime would today have the additional edge of a global capability of the sort evident during the Mumbai 26/11 attack. A fragment of what this means has been revealed by the arrest in Europe of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s financial coordinator for the attacks. The world is slowly bestirring itself to this threat. It is not yet clear whether the Indian system has done so.