The New Jihadis

Issue 15 - Jun 2008

Nitin Pai

It is abundantly clear that pattern of contemporary global ‘jihad’ has manifested itself in India. Now, terrorist attacks by Islamic groups are nothing new for India—but in the past these were linked to the secessionist movement, the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir, or to any number of Pakistan’s extended jihadi apparatus, including the Dawood Ibrahim’s organised crime network. The difference between those attacks and the more recent ones is that whereas the former involved either foreigners or “hardcore” locals, the latter involve individuals and cells from a broader section of the India’s Muslim population.

Paradoxically, while many of the New Jihadis are home-grown, the reason for their energetic mobilisation is global. As the Indian Mujahideen said in their email, they are motivated by the belief that “we Muslims are one across the globe.” India, therefore, in the minds of the New Jihadis, is but one front in the global jihad. While they cite the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Godhra riots as the reasons for their attacks—which their apologists are quick to ingest—but the fact that their violence is directed against the Indian people and the Indian state, including against Muslims who disagree with their ideology—suggests that these grievances are either excuses or propaganda slogans for their real agenda.

At this point, it is common for the Indian public debate to be hung up on whether injustice leads to terrorism or vice versa. But because the New Jihadis see themselves as part of a global religious war, it is reasonable to conclude that no amount of justice—short of the impossible goal of reordering Indian society according to their demands—will convince them to halt their struggle.

What this means is that the only course open to India is to fight the New Jihadis to the finish.

There are two broad arenas where the war must be fought: on the ground and in the mind. First, there is near unanimity in the law-enforcement community that the Indian Penal Code is inadequate when it comes to fighting terrorism. If the war against the New Jihadis has to be fought constitutionally—as it must—the legal framework must address the new challenges.

The second theatre of this war is in the mind. For that, citizens must know that India has a war imposed on it, and that they are considered “legitimate targets” by the New Jihadis. Clearly this war is against some of its own Muslim citizens, but to cast this as a “communal” issue—as is the case today—is dangerous and self-defeating.

…the argument that a no-nonsense counter-terrorism policy will antagonise the entire Muslim community is untrue. But it is often pointed out that moderate Muslims do not meaningfully oppose the extremists. To the extent this is true, isn’t it reasonable that they should be afraid of doing so when they do not see the Indian state credibly committed to fighting the New Jihadis? So too the oft-repeated concerns over communal harmony. If the government makes a clean breast of the situation, it would be downright patronising to suggest that Indian people will begin large-scale rioting.

It remains to be seen whether an enlightened political and intellectual leadership will emerge to take India through this war. Unfortunately, the last few years have seen positions on several issues of national interest—from geopolitical partnerships to nuclear policy to counter-terrorism—reduced to dogmatic mantras of partisan politics. However, given the likely intensification of attacks by the New Jihadis, parties hoping to see themselves in power next year would do well to start stepping out of the corners they have painted themselves into.

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