Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist threat to South India has existed at least since the early 1990s. The first major attack was in 1993, on the RSS office in Chennai. In 1998, a series of 19 explosions left 50 dead in the Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu. In 2000, 13 explosions were engineered across Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa by the Deendar Anjuman, which was supported by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. In the intervening years, there has been a succession of incidents, arrests and seizures, indicating a sustained effort of terrorist mobilisation.
It was in 2000 that the head of the Markaz-ud-Da’awa-wal-Irshad and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, declared that Kashmir was a “gateway to capture India” and that campaigns in Hyderabad (and Junagadh, Gujarat) were the “highest priorities”. Abdul Rahman Makki, the LeT’s ideologue, had at the same meet proclaimed the formation of a new unit in Hyderabad to “liberate” the city from “un-Islamic Indian rule”. From this stage onwards, there has been an augmenting effort by the LeT and other groups, including the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Isalmi Bangladesh (HuJI-BD), with substantial support from the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), to increase presence and activities in the South. The repeatedly declared intention to target India’s growing economic sinews has also resulted in escalated threat perceptions in the more dynamic cities of the South, particularly Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.
The LeT, JeM and HuJI are all part of the sarkari jehadi network, originally created by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) for its anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, and progressively redirected towards India thereafter. All three are also members of Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front. They are directly associated with Al Qaeda. They continue to enjoy the full support of the Pakistani establishment, and function openly from Pakistan, despite the apparent ‘war’ against Al Qaeda, principally because they have remained ‘loyal’ to the military leadership, have refrained from engaging in acts of terrorism within that country, and have enthusiastically directed their violence against targets identified by their ISI handlers.
At the same time, the ISI has continued to target, both directly and through these groups, virtually every concentration of Muslim populations across India. This has met with little success, with the overwhelming mass of Muslims rejecting the perversion of Islam. Small numbers of youth have, nevertheless, been radicalised over the years, and many have been taken for training and indoctrination to Bangladesh and Pakistan. Within this small segment, virtually no section of society has remained immune, and terrorist recruits have included a number of qualified professionals.
A large number of terrorists operating in India are Pakistani or Bangladeshi nationals, and they assume leadership roles, even though the control remains in Pakistan Bangladesh.
The author is executive director at the Institute for Conflict Management.