The rounding up of over a dozen suspected militants by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for their links with ISIS—on the basis of new intelligence about the likelihood of terrorist attacks in India on the occasion of Republic Day—has confirmed the earlier assessment that Islamic radicals had brought this country on their radar. That this threat is in addition to the Pak-ISI sponsored cross-border terrorism that India had faced for years, creates a serious national security concern for the Narendra Modi regime. The national capital in particular needs a continued vigil.
Faith-based militancy as the new instrument of “war”, is, in fact, the biggest threat to India, in the long range. ISIS and the Al Qaeda-Taliban combine have risen in recent months to set off a new kind of global combat against the US-led West, in which they are perfecting the use of terrorism as their main weapon. They are testing the ability of the armies of the other side to deal with a “covert” offensive. They have, for the first time, established the contours of an “asymmetric warfare”, in which the attackers who are “invisible”, target strategic assets and even the civilian population to destabilise the opponent.
The army of any country is attuned to confronting a “visible” enemy. To deal with terrorism it has to transform itself through a new regime of training, arms and equipment, and operational tactics. India has made tremendous progress in giving this re-orientation to its Army units serving in J&K and the insurgency-ridden Northeast. Since an armed operation against terrorists has to rest on intelligence, part of the new challenge of the “covert offensive” is to eliminate the gap between “information” and “action” on the ground. The case of Pathankot has enhanced the people’s faith in the capability of our intelligence agencies to do this.
The interrogation of the suspected militants arrested from Delhi and other places on the eve of the Republic Day, has revealed that the plan to create modules for ISIS in India was handled by a set of ex-Indian Mujahideen (IM) leaders, at least one of whom was believed to be operating out of Syria. Many of the contacts raised by them were being encouraged to act as “lone wolves”, which would make the task of our agencies even more difficult.
India’s security set up is aware that the Pak army-ISI combine was somewhat desperate to counter Prime Minister Modi’s apparent success in handling the civilian leadership of Pakistan from a position of strength and asserting India’s position in Afghanistan as a regional stakeholder. There is some loss of face for the Pak army because of the continuing attacks of Islamic radicals within the Pak territory. All of this may tempt the Pak army to step up terrorist assaults on India and play the familiar “deniability” card by invoking the ISIS hand in attacks that were, in reality, manoeuvred by ISI.
There is no doubt that the ISIS phenomenon and the revival of the Al Qaeda-Taliban axis multiply the threat for India, as the latter is drawn closer to the US-led West. The success of ISIS in extending the asymmetric war across international boundaries has impacted many youth in India, and in a few cases, given them the idea of joining the cause of Islam in the battlefield of Syria. In each such case, all about the methodology used by the “recruiter” to make the contact should be unearthed for building the database and detecting any possible Pak proxies amongst these suspects.
India is totally against violence by religious extremists anywhere, but the scare of ISIS does not mean we give Pakistan a sympathetic embrace as a victim, in disregard of the continuing mischief of cross-border terrorism that it is inflicting on India, using the militant outfits under its control. It should be remembered that IM is an offshoot of SIMI, which, in turn, is an offspring of the pro-Pak Jamaat-e-Islami of Maulana Maudoodi. Even Asiya Indrabi of J&K is a product of Jamaat, and her advocacy of ISIS cannot hide her pro-Pak roots. Moreover, outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen of Pakistan as also Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) are other militant groups that, like IM, claim to be on the radical turf but are accessible to ISI.
It’s a matter of satisfaction that President Barack Obama has once again called upon Pakistan to proceed against all terrorist groups operating out of its territory. President Francois Hollande of France, on his visit to India, as this year’s chief guest at the Republic Day parade, has called for “decisive action” against anti-India outfits such as LeT and Jaish, as well as global forces like ISIS and Al Qaeda. This strengthens India’s stand against Pakistan on the issue of terrorism.
India must go after all militants who wield the gun or act as suicide bombers in the name of Islam or Jihad. We should support the US-led second “war on terror” on the explicit understanding that the world community will denounce with equal vigour Pak-sponsored terrorism against India.
India must frame a lasting strategy against faith-based militancy existing anywhere, regardless of its origins and political alignments. Keeping our own people insulated from the appeal of Jihad called by many militant outfits, inculcating in them a sense of safety and security within our national boundaries, and initiating deterrent action against anti-national elements identified by reliable intelligence are measures that can be taken.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director Intelligence Bureau