Spy's Eye: India calls upon the democratic world to come to grips with 'radicalisation'
Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not have used a better occasion than the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit hosted by Tajikistan on Sep 17 to present to the world, upfront, India's assessment of the threat of Islamic extremism and radicalisation emanating from the developments in Afghanistan that had culminated in the installation of the Taliban Emirate at Kabul a second time.
He underscored the danger posed to the region and to the world at large and called for a concerted global effort to counter the threat in time. With exceptional clarity the Prime Minister pointed out that the new regime in Afghanistan was not inclusive, that it had been put in position without any discussions whatsoever and that it hardly qualified for getting any recognition from the world community.
He called for the right response from the members of SCO -- the forum that includes both China and Pakistan -- and thus drew attention implicitly to the support these two hostile neighbours of India had given to Islamic radicals who wrested power at Kabul. The Prime Minister made a distinction between these extreme fundamentalists and the India-friendly moderate Afghans with whom this country had had friendly and affectionate bonds for a very long time.
India has rightly decided to work on Russia and Iran as also the Central Asian countries for giving out the message to the entire world that a new threat to geopolitical security and stability had arisen from the events in Kabul. It has, by using the platform of SCO, exposed the 'villains of the piece' behind them and decisively moved towards flagging 'radicalisation' as the prime threat now for the democratic world. It seems the US under President Biden is preparing for a course correction as far as the handling of Afghanistan was concerned.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has given first indications of this in his remarks on Pakistan at the House Foreign Affairs Committee briefing -- he clearly announced that US relations with that country were under review because of the latter's role in Afghanistan over these two decades. That the world is beginning to look upon Pakistan as the harborer of terrorists is evident from the decision of New Zealand and England to cancel the visit of their national cricket teams to Pakistan on security grounds. Interestingly, the president of Pakistan Cricket Board sees in this the 'ganging up of the West' against Pakistan -- he has only betrayed Pak sympathies for Islamic radicals in the process.
The Pak- Afghan belt is fomenting terrorism of a new kind that is particularly fierce and self-sustaining. Terrorism is classically defined as resort to 'covert' violence for a perceived political 'cause' -- without such a cause terrorism would be just sheer criminality which everybody knows is not the case. Now, whenever there is a 'cause' there is a 'commitment' and commitment is determined by the 'motivation'.
India has seen shades of terrorism where motivation was 'ideological' as in the case of Naxalism or assertion of 'ethnic identity' as in the case of Northeast insurgencies but 'radicalisation' provides the 'faith-based motivation' behind the new terror that was proving transformational in terms of its global spread and geopolitical implications. It is linked to the success of the anti- Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan that was run, with the backing of the USA-led West, on the war cry of Jehad. This victory, however, paved the way for the subsequent rise of Islamic radicals there culminating in the installation of the first Taliban Emirate at Kabul in 1996.
Radicals had a historical legacy of considering the West as their prime enemy ever since they ran a failed Jehad -- against the Western occupation of Muslim lands -- in the first half of the Nineteenth century under the leading Ulema like Al Tijani of Algeria, Abdul Wahab of Arabia and Shah Waliullah of British India. Later, during the Cold War, the West also played with Islamic militancy -- using it as an instrument of combat against the left-leaning Arab states of Egypt and Syria ruled then by Nasser and Hafez al-Assad, by encouraging Muslim Brotherhood.
This also happened on the Indian subcontinent where Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi, an admirer of Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, established Jamaat-e-Islami at Lahore in 1941. After Independence, the Jamaat continued to bolster Pakistan against India, particularly on the issue of Kashmir and received appreciation from the US-led West which had heavily tilted in favour of Pakistan and not taken kindly to the pro-Soviet leanings of India in the Cold War era. The Jamaat expanded beyond the subcontinent and mobilised Islamic opinion against President Sukarno of Indonesia who had a pro-Soviet outlook.
The Pak-supported Islamic militants sprouting up during the Cold War remained on the right side of the West and earned the label of 'good terrorists' when seen against the radicals represented by the Al-Qaeda-Taliban combine that emerged on the scene after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan to establish the Emirate at Kabul in 1996. The radical forces were imbued with 'revivalism' as a trait -- calling for the return to puritanic Islam of the first fifty years after the Prophet with its staunch fundamentalist values. It is the lack of understanding of these deeply entrenched perspectives of a 'faith' which made no distinction between personal, social and political dimensions of life, that resulted in the American misreading of the Taliban's agenda in Afghanistan.
The Taliban belong to the same segment of Islamic spectrum as Al-Qaeda and ISIS and in Afghanistan this time around they managed to create an impression of 'reasonability' on the US under the deft counselling of Pakistan. The unambiguous stand of Prime Minister Modi at SCO against Islamic extremists sets the record straight however, and will hopefully lead to a concerted approach by US and India against the global threat of radicalisation. Prime Minister Modi's visit to the US and his first in-person meeting with President Biden would help to keep India and the US on the same page on the question of the terror threat from Islamic extremism and radicalisation brewing in the Pak-Afghan belt.
India needed a strong political will to launch a comprehensive strategy of countering this danger and Prime Minister Modi has provided that once again, notwithstanding the distractions caused by lobbies outside and forces inside the country for their own motives. This threat cannot be trivialised by the opponents of the Modi regime by linking it to communal issues and minority questions on our domestic front. The danger clearly is resulting from Pak ISI's plan of pushing up the level of violence in Kashmir and once again destabilising Punjab. The huge surplus of automatic weapons and explosives left behind in Afghanistan by the Americans is evidently of great help to Pakistan in executing its anti-India designs. Matters of national security have to be kept above party politics and a certain firmness is needed to curb domestic elements harming the cause of internal security.
A policy of 'zero tolerance' against terrorism has to be followed and our international relations guided by that approach as was clearly announced by Prime Minister Modi at the SCO summit. India has stepped up its efforts to compare notes with Russia, Iran and other countries bordering Afghanistan on the threat of radicalisation beaming out of the Taliban controlled Kabul and sought convergence on an effective counterstrategy to contain the danger. Prime Minister Modi has called for UN-led initiatives to deal with this new terror -- India's diplomatic thrust is on mobilising democratic countries to speak up at international forums against growing radicalisation and against the nefarious role of countries like Pakistan and China which were collaborating with Islamic extremists.
Under the Modi government, India has embarked upon a comprehensive strategy of defence and security against terrorism. Both LAC and LOC are now closely guarded against any aggression or infiltration and our forces have been given the freedom to take to a deterrent response to put down any such attempted move of the adversary. Modularisation of terrorism on our soil by way of creation of underground cells run by the masterminds operating from across our border and using social media clandestinely, is in the focus of our Intelligence infrastructure particularly in Kashmir.
Timely detection of drones coming in is a new challenge in both Kashmir and Punjab. A combination of human and technological resources is being built by our agencies whose internal coordination is now at a new high. In the border belt, administration also has to be now totally geared to the twin agenda of security and development with the detection of enemy agents on our own land acquiring prime importance. In a state like Kashmir, the machinery of governance has to be freed of any such elements first. The message of peace with prosperity has to be constantly administered to the people.
Youth will require both encouragement and oversight and for this, schemes aiding start-ups and funding upskilling and reskilling programmes have to be floated on an adequate scale. Their success will be determined in a great measure by the civil-military cooperation that is now built into the system of governance and security management. The likely impact of the developments in the Pak-Afghan region on Kashmir and the adverse bearings of the Sino-Pak military alliance against India in general and the border states in particular, are being fully taken into account in our strategy formulation.
By D.C. Pathak
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)