India: The Origins of Jihad

January 7, 2008

January 7, 2008

As a country at risk of being on the cusp of joining Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq to form the quartet most affected by international terrorism, India presents several lessons to other democracies in how not to fight the War on Terror. The three present terrorist-prone states bear witness to the fact that terrorism flourishes where terrorists do. That rather than being freedom fighters, terrorists are parasites that drain the host nation of its resilience and eventually its existence. Jihadi terrorism first manifested itself in India in Kashmir in 1989 after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan made the jihadi forces’ Pakistan-based controllers turn their attention to Kashmir. So long as the virus was confined to that state and, excepting rare incidents in the rest of India, such as the 1993 terror attacks in Bombay, India could continue to develop normally, because of the low economic linkage between Kashmir and the hinterland. However, since 2005, the jihadi virus has spread across India and is today lodged in more than 20 cities across the country including the metropolises of Bombay (Mumbai), Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Calcutta (Kolkata). Thus far, not only has a strategy not been initiated that would stanch and reverse this spread but there has, since 2007, been a multiplication of jihadi networks in smaller cities such as Pune, Kanpur, Surat, Jaipur and more than two dozen others. Should such a metastases continue through the next five years, before 2015, India would be where Pakistan is today – a country where jihad has taken such deep root that it would take almost a civil war to dislodge it.

How did India reach such a crossroads? What were the policy errors made and when did they occur? Within an overall context of low salaries and lax oversight leading to the demoralization of much of the national police force (thus facilitating the setting up terrorist cells) the modern litany begins in 1986 when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ignored the advice of (majority) moderate Muslim opinion and passed a law that deprived Muslim divorcees of the protections given by the Constitution of India to women. Since the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986, known as the “Shah Bano” Act, was passed by the Indian parliament there has been a revival of the impulse for separatism among the Muslim community, a mindset that led in 1947 to the founding of a separate country for the Muslims – Pakistan. In what was left of India, the public revulsion against the Hindu Right that followed the 1948 assassination of Mahatma Gandhi helped the agnostic, wannabe Brit Jawaharlal Nehru to impose what may be termed “majoritarian secularism” in which only the Hindu majority was expected to conform to secular codes not the rest of society. Under Nehru, the rights of the Hindu majority were diluted in favor of special provisions favoring minorities whose holy places – unlike that of the Hindus – remained outside of state control. Developments in India are proof that the only effective way of preserving a secular state is to avoid the extreme of Pakistan where Muslims are given legal status and privileges above others and of India where it is the minorities who are given rights and protections denied to the majority Hindus. Genuine secularism implies equal treatment to all faiths and their practitioners and this is of particular relevance in large, multi-ethnic and cultural countries such as the United States and India. Any partiality toward, or bias against, a particular faith will dilute the inclusive ethos needed for long-term social stability.

Earlier, a serious misstep was made in Kashmir in 1984 when a religious moderate by the name of Farooq Abdullah, who was married to a British woman, was arbitrarily dismissed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as chief minister of Kashmir and replaced by a political lightweight who pandered to the religious right and the extremists. The 1984-1986 rule of this individual, G.M. Shah, saw the return of several tens of thousands of Kashmiris who had immigrated to Pakistan and there had come under the sway of the jihadist ideology that was state policy. Secular leaders adopting a religious agenda was commonplace in the subcontinent for example in Pakistan during the 1970s,when Z.A. Bhutto sought to strengthen his political base by adopting many elements of a religious agenda. This radicalization of state policy was accelerated by the jihadization of the Pakistan army following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. When the Kashmir jihad erupted in 1989, these returnees – along with the graduates of the religious schools that had been set up across Kashmir from the 1970s – became the spearhead of the local component of what soon became an international jihad.

Ironically, throughout the 1990s the Clinton administration followed a policy of appeasing the jihadists active in violence in Kashmir by conflating their exclusivist goals with those of the Kashmiri people. This backing given to extremists against the moderate majority gradually resulted in the near-extinction of the moderates from public discourse especially as successive Indian governments too ignored the moderates in their eagerness to engage and attempt to co-opt the extremists. The traction given to such elements by the 1990s policy of seeking to co-opt rather than isolate the jihadis resulted in a conflict that has yet to end and which has placed Kashmir squarely within the locations that nourish International Jihad. Several points in the rest of India followed this course with more joining the grouping each year forming a pattern of dots on the map that is getting denser each year rather than disappearing.

If the 1970s saw the legitimization by the state of religious extremism in Pakistan, the 1980s saw its militarization and the 1990s witnessed its spread into civil society. It is a baneful process that, since 2005, has got under way in India as well. Sadly, neither in the United States, the European Union (EU) nor in India has there been a comprehensive post-mortem conducted of the policies that helped create such a situation in Pakistan and now in India. Bangladesh is a unique example of a state hosting a growing number of jihadists, almost all of who get activated in outside areas rather than at home even after it has been clear that policy towards Pakistan, especially the army, has failed. Those who see “engagement” as preferable to the exclusion from the political space of those entities that promote terrorism and religious intolerance continue to dominate the policy discourse in the United States and the European Union. As a consequence, many Muslim populations worldwide have fallen into the error of regarding terrorist organizations as victims rather than as the harbingers of desolation.

Although in effect Pakistan has been a terrorist state vis-à-vis India since the Khalistani struggle was launched in 1981 (which was followed by the Kashmir jihad in 1989 and the all-India jihad in 2005), since April 1997 successive Indian prime ministers have followed the example of Prime Minister I.K. Gujral by treating Pakistan as a normal state and giving it diplomatic and other benefits and access this entails. In 1997, Gujral began a policy of opening India’s borders to Pakistan, a process that reached a high point in 2006, when more than 300,000 Pakistanis were given visas to visit India. Several of those Pakistanis helped create networks to assist those planning terror attacks. Rather than handle the issue on a case-by-case basis the granting of visas to Pakistani nationals has become the norm, a policy that was reviewed only after the November 26-28 Mumbai attacks. Although the Pakistan army has been the source of much of the sinews of the jihadists including those operating within India, even after then-Army Chief of Staff and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Pervez Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup, the so-called hard-line BJP-led government welcomed him to Agra in 2001 and joined the United States and the EU in giving Musharraf’s rule legitimacy. This action by the governments of India and the United States bred cynicism within the Pakistani citizen’s mind about the actual commitment of India, the United States and the EU to supporting democracy in Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went even further in 2006, saying that Pakistan was itself a “victim” rather than a state sponsor of terrorism and even consenting to the setting up a Joint Investigation Mechanism that has thus far helped the Pakistan army to protect the terrorists and their networks without a single one of those active against India being captured.

India’s ultra-soft policy towards Pakistan has been mirrored by an equally benevolent policy towards religious extremists in India so much so that despite several terrorist attacks, few have been prosecuted and even fewer sentenced and none have been executed thus far although several of those guilty of other capital crimes have had capital punishment carried out. Successive Indian governments have weakened the state’s hand in combating terrorism by such actions as tolerating the Bangladesh/Nepal safe havens and focusing on the creation of laws so loosely worded (such as the recent Information Technology Act) that hundreds of millions of citizens fall within its purview rather than the few thousand who are actual or potential terrorists. Through its legitimization of the extreme fringe as the “Voice of the Muslims” and its refusal to accept the reality that the Pakistani military is a facilitator of terrorism against India (and now Europe) the Indian state has become almost passive in the approaching meltdown of civil governance in India. Unless the next five years witness a concerted effort to reverse the trend towards the nourishing of jihad, the country may within that period become not part of the solution to the problem of terrorism but join Pakistan as the core of the problem.

M.D. Nalapat became India’s first professor of geopolitics in 1999 at Manipal University in India’s Karnataka state. Since 1992,he has held that Wahabbism-Khomeinism and authoritarianism are the twin threats faced by the international community and that the “unified field” of terrorism mandates a similar response. In 2003,he partnered with JINSA in organizing the first of four annual India-Israel-U.S. Conferences. Professor Nalapat, who first put forward the idea of forming an “Asian NATO,” believes that Israel, India, Turkey and Singapore form part of the “Extended West”, rather than an “extended Middle East”, and that the countries in this group need to work in concert to promote prosperity, democracy and freedom from terror.