From Kashmir to Bangladesh, the threat of extremism
Islamist extremism is alive in South Asia. It is intertwined with the politics of violence and terror. Act against it, but smartly
In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), terrorists have killed 11 civilians this month — but there is a pattern. The killings have been largely targeted at religious minorities (Hindus and Sikhs), both local and those from outside the Union Territory. In Bangladesh, there have been a series of attacks on temples and Durga Puja pandals, with two Hindus dead and many injured. Once again, the pattern is clear — of a concerted attack against religious minorities. The context may be different, the roots of the violence may be different, the actors may be different, but there is a clear culprit.
Islamist extremism (to clarify — this is different from Islam as a religion, even though it claims to derive inspiration from it) is alive in South Asia. It is intertwined with the politics of violence and terror. It is uncomfortable with other cultural and religious groups, and hatred for the other is a key precept of its ideological project. It seeks to impose religious homogeneity and political control. It often has a State sponsor — Pakistan’s role in spreading hate and violence in the name of religion, and supporting fundamentalist groups, both in Kashmir and Bangladesh, is well known. And it has got a fresh lease of life with the victory of a brutal, extremist gang of ideological co-travellers in Kabul.
All of this merits the highest condemnation. It requires the international community to speak up in one voice. And it requires States everywhere to prioritise the rule of law, protect the right to life, liberty and religion of all, and stand up for religious minorities as a matter of principle. It is, therefore, credible that the Bangladesh government is taking a clear position against those responsible for the violence in the country. It is also crucial that the Indian State, which has faced the brunt of this extremism in the last three decades, ensure that its own citizens are not killed in its own territory. But even as security is prioritised and guaranteed, it is crucial that extremism of one kind does not become fodder for extremism of another kind. Indeed, that is precisely what terrorists want — divide communities, sow suspicion, provoke a State overreaction and violation of rights, use it to paint a picture of religious persecution and perpetuate the terror machine. Act against terror, smartly. Remain democratic and inclusive to deprive extremists of talking points. Deepen intelligence networks to pick up early chatter on radicalisation and terror plots. And step up security to prevent killings and violence.