Since the bubble of insularity has already been burst, accepting the wide impact of radicalisation on our youths, can be an important starting point.
Not long ago the contention that Indian Muslims have rebuffed repeated calls by Islamist outfits to join global jihad would have been accepted without much fuss. Barring handful men who got radicalised in distant shores in London and Paris, Muslim youths largely ignored calls by the al Qaeda to join the jihad against the West. However, reports that at least 18 Indians have already joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a lone Indian of the 80-odd men who are undergoing training in Afghanistan has already martyred himself has burst the self-aggrandising bubble. The fact that some of these youths might have been radicalised outside India provides little respite. It could very well be a matter of time before discovery of many more Indians filling up the rank and file of the Islamists is made. In fact it appears that as we harped on the insularity of our Muslim youths from the turbulent world, a silent radicalisation process was consuming some of them.
Anwar Bhatkal, part of a 15-member Mujahideen team that carried out an assault on a border security post in Sohrabak district of Kandahar, died in the early hours of 18 July 2014. Anwar, who served as a driver in Dubai and also a logistic supplier for the Indian Mujahideen (IM), thus, became the first Indian to have perished fighting on behalf of the Taliban insurgency. Gul Mohammad Maraikar, hailing from Tamil Nadu and with a permanent resident status in Singapore, worked as a systems analyst for a top technology firm before being deported to India in March 2014. He was charged with radicalizing a Singapore citizen Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali. Before the Singaporean authorities found out, Fakkurudeen had left for Syria to fight the Bashar al-Assad regime on behalf of the ISIS.
There is seemingly little in common between Anwar Bhatkal, Maraikar, and Fakkurudeen except for their sudden decision to traverse the road to perdition by giving up normal and what would be commonly described as contented lives. Profile of the other young men who have travelled from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Karnataka and Kerala to terrorist camps in either Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria also reveal very little in terms of why certain individuals, with lots to live for, chose to become part of a distant war. It is this inscrutability of motivation that makes the study of radicalisation an extremely challenging affair.
From India’s national security point of view, two divergent questions emerge as one pores over the available information on the journeys of these Muslim youths to the above-mentioned theatres of conflict. Firstly, whether India can take comfort from the fact that these young men are fighting essentially ‘foreign’ wars, with little direct impact on its own territory? Secondly, whether the phenomenon can be analysed within the homegrown terror framework? Answers to both questions are critical as far as India’s preparedness for keeping its homeland safe in future is concerned.
The dangers these holy fighters pose to India pertain to both near and long term. For many prospective fighters inclined to choose a similar career path, both in India and abroad, they would become ultimate examples of sacrifice and beacon lights of sorts. In India, some young men would attempt and succeed in travelling to the badlands in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those who cant, “India, the sinful land” (as one of the youth wrote in his last letter before he left his Tamil Nadu home) itself might become a primary theatre of warfare. Many of those who have already joined terrorist ranks abroad may not survive those wars. However, if they do and manage to return to their home country, their propensity for violence and experience in participating in bloodbath would make them able pointsmen for carrying out jihad at home. Home grown terror would then attain a whole new dynamic.
There are additional associated dangers. A steady stream of Indian Muslim youths joining the jihadi rank and file would make Indian Muslim youths in general suspects in the eyes of the security and intelligence establishment at home as well as abroad. Singling them out for interrogation or ill treatment meted to them in public places would further alienate them from the mainstream, creating thereby a wave of disenchantment, which can be exploited by the terrorist outfits. One can be thus sure that outfits like the IM / Ansar ul-Tawhid, ISIS, and the al Qaeda would henceforth highlight each death of an Indian jihadist as a supreme sacrifice worth emulating.
Late Anwar Bhatkal and many other IM cadres, training in the Af-Pak region, are part of the IM initiative of consolidating its position in global jihad. While India remains its primary target, IM’s inclination to emerge as a messiah of the Muslims worldwide started long back. Explosions targeting Buddhist places of pilgrimage and plans to target western tourists in India were part of this game plan. Such a strategy serves purposes of its expansion, keeps a check on its internal divisions, and also helps it establishing close operational relationship with the al Qaeda and other outfits, with the hope that the latter would be obliged to wage a common war on India in future. Should IM manage to survive and carry out its violent campaigns for few more years, it may emerge as the fountainhead of Jihad directed against India. It is in this context that both the outward journey of Indian Muslim youths to Iraq, Syria an Afghanistan and their future return to their home country must be analysed.
Unfortunately there isn’t much that the intelligence and the law enforcement agencies can do to make the youth who have already left Indian shores return and resume normal lives. Similarly, little can be done if some Indian expatriates, among the millions who have made several Gulf countries home, continue to fill in the ranks of the ISIS or the Taliban. However, measures can be put in place to prevent their return to India as well as preventing a direct influx of youths from India into global jihad.
Unlike several countries affected by terrorism, de-radicalisation remains an unknown concept in India. This is especially astounding in view of the extent to which home grown Islamist militancy has tormented the country over the past years. According to media reports a wave of radicalisation is currently sweeping through Kashmir and in response, a meek Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) proposal to set up a committee to prevent radicalisation of youth in the state under a senior joint secretary is on the anvil. The country needs to do much more and at a much faster pace. Since the bubble of insularity has already been burst, accepting the wide impact of radicalisation on our Muslim youths, can be the starting point.