Al-Qaeda Goes Local in India
Image Credit: Satish Krishnamurthy

Al-Qaeda Goes Local in India


For decades, India’s security agencies boasted that there was ‘zero’ local recruitment to al-Qaeda and its affiliates. This claim seemed to be corroborated by the fact that none of the terrorists involved in plots across the world were Indian nationals, not even from the one state in the country where resort to Islamist violence has been endemic: Kashmir. Even there, for more than a decade, the ongoing insurgency has been manned by recruits from outside—mostly from Pakistan, but also from the Middle East, Sudan, Chechnya, and even Xinjiang.

Such immunity from the siren song of terrorism was attributed to India’s democracy, and to its secular Constitution. The first was seen as giving ample—and peaceful—outlets for dissent, while the other was held to ensure that the country’s 155-million Muslim minority didn’t feel persecuted or disempowered, the way they do in Gaza, for example.

Certainly, India‘s huge Muslim community has been as peaceable as the other religious groups in the country. In particular, the 12 percent of Indian Muslims who are Shiites are similar to the Jains and the Buddhists in almost never entering into violence against people of other faiths. Almost all outbreaks have involved the small Wahhabi segment of the Sunni community. One reason is the fact that in Sunni mega states such as neighbouring Pakistan, Muslims are given a higher status relative to people of other faiths, exactly as they are in parts of the Middle East and in Malaysia. As a consequence of the positive discrimination shown to Muslims in these locations, a small segment of the community in India is dissatisfied at the fact that a similar superior status for Sunnis is absent in secular India.

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The other reason behind the increase in recruitment to India’s extremist groups is Gujarat. The indefensible 2002 pogrom against the Muslim community in that state, which was launched in retaliation for a previous terror attack on Hindu pilgrims travelling by train in that state, has been the single most effective recruitment factor in al-Qaeda’s drive to bring into its fold not just Arabs, North Africans, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis, but Indian nationals as well.

Gruesome accounts of Muslims being battered and burnt to death in Gujarat proliferate on social networking sites. The fact that there has thus far been almost no punishment meted out to the principal actors behind the 2002 violence hasn’t helped douse Muslim rage at this attack on their co-religionists in Gujarat, which many believe to have been sponsored by the Bharatiya Janata Party government of the state.

The BJP has consistently refused to censure those within it who were—at the least—negligent in preventing more than 2,000 Muslims from being killed in the spasms of violence in Gujarat that followed the Godhra train attack. Such a refusal to accept responsibility and ensure accountability converted the 2002 Gujarat massacres into a catalyst that has—for the first time—led to growing Indian recruitment into al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Indian Mujahideen (IM). Since it came to office in 2004, the Manmohan Singh government has worsened the situation by going slow on enforcing legal accountability for the Gujarat riots, while simultaneously being in denial about the proliferation of local networks active in facilitating terror attacks.

Take as an example the November 2008 carnage in Mumbai. The investigation into that outrage deliberately bypassed leads that pointed to local involvement in the reconnaissance that preceded the Mumbai attacks. Almost certainly, such a turning away from facts was motivated by an official desire to protect the police and others who had been negligent in fending off the attack, and in properly tackling it once the Pakistani attackers began their three-day orgy of bloodshed. Because of the continued refusal to acknowledge that there’s now significant local involvement in al-Qaeda, certain localities in cities such as Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi, and Lucknow that are known to host pools of radicals had—in effect—been declared as ‘no go’ areas, with the police having been directed to look the other way because of the involvement of key politicians and officials in tolerating such extremist nests.

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