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India must join the global endeavour to destroy Islamic State

With Narendra Modi coming to power last summer, the head of Australian intelligence flew down to India to exchange notes with his counterparts and the topic veered towards radicalisation and Islamic State (Isis) terror.

analysis Updated: Nov 18, 2015 01:00 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times

With Narendra Modi coming to power last summer, the head of Australian intelligence flew down to India to exchange notes with his counterparts and the topic veered towards radicalisation and Islamic State (Isis) terror. The Indian intelligence head shared a communication intercept where a Muslim mother is desperately pleading on phone with her son not to join the Isis.

While the radicalised son justifies his going to Syria via Turkey as part of his religious duty, the mother counters by saying that looking after his old parents was also part of the same duty. The son ditches the idea and returns from the airport.

The Australian chief also had a 15-minute communication intercept to share between a son held by the Isis in Iraq’s Mosul and his mother down under. The son informs her that he is strapped with explosives that will detonate it in the next 15 minutes and that he will meet her in ‘jannat’ or heaven.

After the youth explodes into smithereens, the mother calls her relatives to inform that her son has attained ‘Shahadat’ or martyrdom and all children born on this day would be named after him.

It is quite evident from the two intercepts that while individuals are getting radicalised in India, it is the Muslim community that is getting radicalised in the West in the name of the Isis’ so-called Caliphate.

The terror group, which has indiscriminately butchered innocents in Egypt, Turkey, Libya, Lebanon and now France, is best described as a political cult of empowerment through the Islamic concept of jihad, deriving its sectarian identity from the rabid Salafist interpretation of Islam.

It spreads its medieval ideas of beheading, excommunication and slavery through modern tools of communication and attracts the Muslim youth to the so-called Caliphate by giving them a religious identity and a sense of purpose.

The Isis is all about apocalyptic jihad where the practitioner sees his/her current life as a transient phase with ‘jannat’ as the main goal. It is currently thriving amidst the political chaos of the Syrian civil war, disenfranchisement of the Sunni Muslims and the sectarian strife in Iraq.

While India should be a part of the global endeavour to destroy this barbaric horde, the extent of its participation must be decided keeping in mind the interests of the 700,000 strong Indian diaspora in the Gulf countries.

Along with a concerted attack on the Isis, there should be a political roadmap for an inclusive and accommodative regime change in Syria and Iraq. Although the levels of threat in the West from an Isis attack are very high with the group threatening to take the jihad to Washington after Paris, New Delhi does not need to overplay the menace as its Muslim youth have by and large stuck to mainstream Islam and rejected the rabid ideology. This is evident from the fact that only 23 Muslim youth out of a population of 172 million have joined the Isis’ jihad, while thousands have gone to Syria or Iraq from Europe and the US.

The Indian Muslim clerics or ulema have roundly condemned the Isis’ ideology of rejecting mainstream Islam and have been at the forefront of countering terrorism exported from the Af-Pak region and the Isis. This is in no way to suggest that India should be complacent, but it is to recommend a strong vigil to ensure that the rabid Salafi winds do not reach its shores.

One must remember that Cuddalore-born Haja Fakruddin and his family moved to the so-called Caliphate in 2014 after being radicalised by a fellow Indian, Gul Mohammed from faraway Singapore. Fakruddin is the first Indian on record to have joined the Isis. The four youth from Kalyan were radicalised over the Internet with one managing to blow himself up in Raqqa in Syria last year. A splinter group of the Indian terror group Mujahideen called Ansar ul-Tawhid has pledged allegiance to the Isis, with its cadre — mainly drawn from Bhatkal and Azamgarh — fighting in Syria.

The threat of radicalisation is much higher in southern Indian states with a large number of its residents gainfully employed in West Asia. Given that the Isis replayed the 26/11 model of indiscriminately attacking innocents with bombs and weapons in Paris, the Modi government needs to take a series of steps to steel its internal security as the 13/11 attacks were cheap and crude, and can be replicated anywhere.

First, India must extend its external intelligence coverage by a number of notches to reach far beyond its immediate neighbourhood, rather than rely on scraps of information about the Isis from friendly intelligence agencies. The fact is that the Indian security agencies have little idea of how many Indian expats have joined the Isis fight from Gulf countries as there is hardly any investment in ground intelligence. Second, there is an urgent need to increase the liaison between internal security agencies and the state police, and the latter strengthened through additional recruitment as the Indian police footfall is pathetic when compared to their western counterparts.

A comparison between the 26/11 and 13/11 operations of India and Bataclan in Paris shows the gaps with the former taking 60 hours to clean up and the latter only two hours to vacate the terror threat. Third, the external, internal and technical security agencies must bury their egos and start operational convergence as seen in the US and Britain to minimise the reaction time. Fourth, India must join the comity of nations in this fight against the dark forces at an operational level so that there is a real time exchange of intelligence to pre-empt any terror threat. Finally, a legislative mechanism or a law must be prepared to prevent Indians infected by the Isis’ ideology from returning home and spreading the deadly virus.

These tactical steps will work only if simultaneous rapprochement is brought about between stressed communities, say, in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, so that any sense of social injustice is addressed to prevent any youth radicalisation over a perceived grievance. The Isis is a bunch of criminals — not representatives of Islam.

First Published: Nov 17, 2015 23:30 IST