Terrorist Threats in India
Major General (Retired) Afsir Karim
Terrorism in India takes two forms: one is of domestic origin, the other is terrorism that is sponsored by external agencies. The domestic terrorist threats in India basically arise from separatist tendencies, ethnic and linguistic demands, religious radicalism, socioeconomic deprivation, and, at times, bad governance. Domestic and localized terrorism attains dangerous proportions only when backed by external powers or agencies that provide arms, explosives, and base and training facilities to the insurgents. Transnational jihadi terrorism, sponsored by another country or a religious group to achieve geostrategic objectives, currently poses the main threat to India’s national integrity and socioeconomic cohesion. Jihadi terrorism is conspicuous by its absence among Indian Muslims. This suggests that democracy and liberal values inhibit the kind of behavior that leads to jihadi fervor that easily translates into terrorism as a political weapon. Unless the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan is dismantled, terrorist threats to India and to the entire region, including Afghanistan, will persist, as Pakistan remains the center of gravity for terrorist activities on the subcontinent, though some elements have been relocated to Bangladesh.
Finally, a number of factors facilitate subversion from abroad and sponsored terrorism. These include
ethnic or religious affinities in border areas or other religious susceptibilities that can be exploited
suitable terrain where covert operations can be conducted, such as smuggling of weapons by smugglers operating in unguarded coastal areas, mountains, jungles, or vast desert stretches
cleavages in a society or within separatist groups that allow foreign elements to establish links in order to further terrorism, provide mutual assistance, or exchange information and intelligence
bad governance and rampant corruption within a state
contiguity of borders with hostile states
lack of stability in neighboring countries
ethnic or religious clusters in densely populated ghettos in large urban centers, where policing is difficult and terrorists and their weapons can be easily concealed
REGIONAL TERRORISM IN INDIA
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) network in India has collaborated with selected disruptive groups in order to encourage regional, ethnic, or religious cleavages with a view to disrupting normal life and undermining confidence in the government. ISI has also established links with crime syndicates in order to facilitate drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, and the distribution of arms and explosives to subversive elements already active in the country. It also has a sophisticated communication network from which it launches cyber attacks, and it gathers intelligence, establishes safe houses and arranges border crossings for covert operations and terrorist activities. Finally, in addition to recruiting and training subversive elements for purposes of sabotage, it has coordinated attacks on India’s industrial and economic infrastructure, as well as on special targets such as the Indian Parliament.16
A general survey of terrorism and violence-prone regions in India reveals common features that promote terrorism and violence. Outside of urban areas we can divide India into four zones where terrorism has appeared in some form – the northeast, western, southern, and central zones – with the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) being viewed independently.
The Northeast Zone
India’s northeast states (Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura) constitute a very complex set of diverse cultures, many of them tribal in nature. These states have more than 4,000 kilometers of international borders, and the entire region has been prone to some form of insurgency and terrorism for decades.
In the last 20 years there has been a gradual escalation of the violence in all of the insurgency-prone areas of the northeast. The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) has staged a comeback in Assam. It was able to establish bases in Bhutan out of the Indian security force’s reach. Eventually, the Royal Bhutan Army mounted a special operation to evict the ULFA.
The militants formed links with tea estates and with other industries and bought safety. This provided the militant groups with easy and almost unlimited sources of financial help. The top command of the ULFA has well-established links in London, Singapore, Bangkok, and Katmandu. The ISI continues to maintain close links with the ULFA and other militant cadres through its proxies in Bangladesh.
The All Bodo Students Union issued a call for a separate state in November 1998. Despite an agreement between Bodos and non-Bodo tribes in 1993, peace did not return. Neither the Bodos nor the non-Bodo tribes were happy with the arrangements suggested in this accord. As a result, brutal attacks, killings, and ethnic cleansing continue.
On December 13, 2001, the Indian Parliament was attacked by suicide bombers killing 12 people. See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1707865.stm.
Insurgency and terrorism in Manipur continues because confrontation between Meities, Nagas, and Kukis results in brutal killings. Different militant groups, however, have varied political aspirations and demands. Therefore, much confusion prevails.
Insurgent-terrorism in Tripura arose following a large influx of immigrants. As a result of this influx, the original tribal population dropped from 93 percent to 29 percent of the overall population between 1947 and 1981, becoming a minority. Ethnic clashes between tribals, Bengalis, and people from Assam continue to provide an impetus to the insurgency and to terrorists in the state.
The movement against outsiders in Meghalaya has become violent. The latest round of terrorist activities showed that fresh consignments of arms and explosives have reached Meghalaya recently.
Insurgencies have continued unabated in the northeast for the last 50 years. The northeast falls along the transit route used to smuggle narcotics from the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia. This facilitates arms smuggling.
Terrorism has been used as a political weapon whenever movements in the region start losing momentum. It is a factor in the unrest and insurgency in Nagaland, in the Naga-Kuki conflict in Manipur, in tribal violence in Tripura, and in the Bodo and ULFA movements in Assam.
The northeast states have a tenuous connection with the rest of India because of the narrow Siliguri-Jalpaiguri corridor. The region is extremely vulnerable to external influences because it shares extensive international boundaries with Myanmar and Bangladesh and it has diverse, warlike tribal populations that spill over state and international boundaries. The people of this zone have close ethnic religious affiliations with the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar. Movement of insurgents and weapons to and from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar into this zone can never be fully controlled because of porous borders, difficult terrain, and ethnic affiliations.
The Western Zone
The entire western zone (including the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Rajasthan) has been prone to international terrorism. Maharashtra and Gujarat have had serious communal problems. Mumbai and Ahmedabad have been targets of retaliatory terrorism with the help of jihadi groups based in Pakistan and crime syndicates in the United Arab Emirates. Rajasthan has been a convenient route for arms smuggling and for drug trafficking across the Pakistan-India border because it is not easy for the authorities to patrol such a vast desert area. The communal divide that has been created deliberately in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir has led to a particularly brutal form of terrorism.
The Southern Zone
This zone includes the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu faces Sri Lanka across the waters of the Gulf of Mannar. The main cross channel traffic is of small boats across the Palk Strait. The heavily forested terrain in western Ghats, Annamalai, Cardamon hills and the Niligiris suits brigands and terrorists. The majority of the people speak Tamil, the language of the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Ethnic and linguistic affinities as well as easy access to and from Jaffna enable the LTTE to find safe houses both for terrorists and for arms caches. Random terrorist activities have been frequent in Jaffna. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in this region with the connivance of the LTTE.
Karnataka provides excellent areas for covert operations of both crime syndicates and subversive groups. LTTE cadres were active here some time ago. Kerala has extensive jungle cover and a long coastline from which traditional trade links have existed with the United Arab Emirates. The coastal Kerala has been a transit area for the smuggling of arms. The population mix and easy access to Gulf money also makes it a popular hideout for terrorists on the run. The southern tip of Kerala faces the Gulf of Mannar, which the LTTE has used for arms smuggling.
The Central Zone
Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and parts of Madhya Pradesh Bihar Jharkhand and Chattisgarh are presently the main areas where armed leftist groups or Naxalite are active. The People’s War Group (PWG, now also called People’s War) and the Maoist Communist Center (MCC) operate in Bihar and are among the most ruthless killers or terrorists. Other elements have lately stepped up violence in various areas. The PWG has affiliations with crime syndicates for the procurement of arms and is a natural ally of the international terrorist gangs and Maoists of Nepal. The avowed aim of these groups is to fight socioeconomic injustice. They regularly attack the police, officials, and politicians. They make extensive use of improvised explosive devices to attack vehicles. The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh was recently wounded in one such ambush. Remote jungle areas with hilly terrain provide ample cover for the training and operations of Naxalite terrorist groups. Private military groups such as the Ranvir Sena are caste-based armed groups who terrorize other castes by gruesome killing.
India contains many of the world’s largest cities, and some are notorious for terrorist activities. Mumbai, in particular, is well known for criminal-assisted terrorism, mafias, and money laundering activities. Since the Babri Mosque was demolished in 1992, it has become a hotbed of ISI activities. In Mumbai the criminal gangs of Dawood Ibrahim, Chota Rajan, and Arun Gavli receive extensive support and assistance from foreign terrorist groups who provide safe houses for them in Pakistan and Gulf countries.
Mumbai also serves as a base of espionage activities. It is a transit point for the distribution of arms and explosives to subversive elements, drug peddlers and radical communal groups throughout India. Several devastating bomb blasts have occurred in Mumbai since 1992.
Delhi, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and at least 30 other densely populated urban areas have active subversive-terrorist cells; Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is also reported to have established terrorist cells is some of hese cities. In the chaotic conditions of
overcrowded cities, it is easy for terrorists to establish arms caches and designate clandestine meeting points near their chosen targets.17
Jammu and Kashmir
The situation in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir deserves special attention. There are a number of reasons for the high incidence of terrorism in this state, including a lack of effective governance and corruption at multiple levels of the administration, ethnic and religious divisions, the inaccessibility of certain areas because of a lack of infrastructure, weak information management and counterpropaganda techniques, and ethnic and religious affiliations with Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
In J&K, Pakistan’s psychological warfare and effective religious indoctrination remains largely unchallenged. It has launched highly trained jihadi-terrorist groups for terrorism, sabotage and attacks on high-security areas, and supplied arms, training, and financial support to domestic terrorist groups. As part of its strategy, Pakistan launched jihadis into Kashmir with the objective of thwarting the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), an independence movement launched in Kashmir, and converting it into a religious and pro-Pakistan movement. Pakistan has also used jihadis to wrest Muslim majority areas of Kashmir from India through a combination of political subversion and insurgent-terrorism. Terrorism has been used to intimidate the people and state authorities and make them meekly submit to Pakistani aims, and Pakistan has sought to awaken Islamic fundamentalism in order to assert Islamic identity and obviate any chances of compromise between the people and a secular government. One other strategy has been a campaign of ethnic cleansing designed to force Sikh minorities to leave Muslim majority areas in the state, and to incite communal trouble in Kashmir and in the rest of India. Pakistan’s overall goal has been to bring attention to the Kashmir problem to the international level, presenting India as a repressive state that is using military power to suppress a popular uprising in J&K.
The current phase of terrorism poses a threat to the composite culture in Kashmir and to the territorial integrity and unity of India. Influenced by Pakistani extremists, a crucial change has taken place in the religious ethos among the Kashmiri Muslims. They have shifted away from moderate Islam to radicalism. Some religiously based Hindu parties of India are inadvertently helping Pakistan to consolidate its position in J&K by calling for a separate identity and making provocative statements against the Kashmir Muslims. Although Pakistan has not been able to achieve its political objective of wresting J&K from India, it has succeeded in creating anti-India feelings and a Hindu-Muslim divide in a large segment of the population.
To defeat jihadi terrorism, both armed and unarmed, fundamentalists must be defeated in Kashmir. However, even this would not stop cross-border terrorism completely unless Pakistan takes firm steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure erected for jihad in Kashmir.
It is important to reiterate that terrorism in India has many sources. There are indigenous movements based upon regional separatist and ethnic movements, and there is an extensive network of externally supported forces. Finally, radial jihadi terrorism among India’s large Muslim population is notable by its absence, as democratic politics provides an outlet for the expression of grievances.