“No confusion about Kerala’s vulnerability to overt jihadism”


The after effects of a ban on the Haqqani network is yet to be seen. While the United States of America thought it was fit to ban the outfit, experts in India kept a close watch on the developments. The question however is whether the Haqqani Network poses a threat to India or not?

Animesh Roul

Animesh Roul, Counterterrorism Analyst  and Executive Director, Society for the study of peace and Conflict, New Delhi says that in the aftermath of this ban there could be a retribution strike in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though Haqqani’s fire power is dwindling. In this interview with rediff.com, Roul discusses the Haqqani Network and also the growing threat of the Indian Mujahideen.

Thoughts on the United States of America designating the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization.

To start with Haqqani Group is not Taliban. It’s an independent Warlord run Crime syndicate, managed   by family /clan members. It is territorial in nature and has both legitimate and illegal activities in the region, including Pakistan and in the Gulf States. It has no global Jihadi ambition, but with sophisticated military capability.

US had to designate the HQN as terrorist group as the later has been involved in many attacks against US/NATO interests in AfPak region. Also HQN’s material helps to Taliban and AQ remain a major concern. Despite Pakistan’s pressure not to tag it as FTO US did that now. May be we could conclude this development as a domestic posturing for the Obama Administration.

As per Pakistan, HQN is their only card left (of course JuD/Jaish-e- Muhammad ideologues are still there) to mediate for Pakistan with Taliban. Pakistan thinks, even the rising PTI ‘s Imran Khan) who can bring Talibans to any future negotiation/ or truce.  HQN is weakening too. Most of its leaders are already listed as terrorists. The patriarch Jalaluddin is ageing and having health issues since 2005. Designation though won’t impact immediately but certainly it will restrict their growth. Again designation only can’t help; it also need follow up actions, like freezing assets, interdictions and continuous crackdowns including drone strikes.

What do you think the repercussions of such an action would-be? Will it agitate the network to carry out more strikes?

There could be retribution strike in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though Haqqani’s fire power is dwindling. Post 2014, they can make things difficult for Afghanistan. Both US and Pakistan could have used Haqqani in a better way in the future. However after couple of backdoor talks failed, the situation reached at this stage. To note, elements in Pakistan including Army and ISI still respect Senior Haqqani and they will help him always to manage their internal crisis. E.g neo Taliban problem in the tribal areas. Also HQN’s considering their powerful existence in the region, their role in any future political assimilation process is still certain, the FTO status notwithstanding.

How does such a thing help India? Is the Haqqani network a threat to India?

Not really and not likely in the immediate future. Haqqani’s are very much focused and territorial and they mean business, and now they will be keener to survive and to hold their ground. HQN’s actions/activities are basically based on self-interest, and never ideology. India’s interest in Afghanistan might be at stake as now Pakistan can exploit situation in its favour, directing HQN against India’s interests.

Which group according to you poses the biggest threat to India today? Is it the Lashkar-e-Tayiba or the Indian Mujahideen?

Both are dangerous and they have longer term plans for India. To note LeT is Pakistan based group and operated under State patronage. SO we can’t do much to contain its threat except pressurizing Pakistan to act against it, which is not going to happen soon.

But IM is spreading within India and its brand of terrorism is hard to control as they don’t have any particular HQs or set ups where any military operation can be undertaken. They have unleashed a truly urban guerilla war against the country. Also there is a chance in the future that the section of Indian Muslims would see them (IM) as their only Card to stand against Hindu right wing onslaughts or the perceived injustice.  In true sense, ‘the Pak—Influenced- Homegrown’ group is showing the seeds of radicalization within the country both with their extreme belief and Jihadi actions.

Still a section of political elites think that IM is figment of imagination and believe in a host of conspiracy theories. The growing trend of violent attacks from them should be monitored and managed.

What do you think today are the exact capabilities of the Indian Mujahideen?

We actually don’t know the extent of IM’s capability and reach. It depends on how they spread their rhetoric’s in the past and how they will do it in future. They manage to gather support within, thanks to many Anti-Muslim pogroms in last decades.  As of now we have seen its geographical spread , spanning from Kerala to Bihar and of course they must be having safe hibernating grounds in those states not under Intelligence Radar and yet to be witness a terror incidents. Of course the places which can provide them fertile ground for easy recruits and safe haven, e.g. Odissa, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, etc.

The fire power again depends on the local supply, resources and available materials. The financial potency of IM is still mystery, except some known gulf connections and individual funding source. Here the local support is key to IM’s resilience than intermittent Pakistan or Diaspora/Gulf support.

Very recently we witnessed an attack on an Israel diplomat at New Delhi. Do you think that there is a trend here which we may need to worry about in the days to come?

Definitely Yes. There is no room for complacency here. In one line, ‘everybody is vulnerable in India.’ There are host of social, political factor to this situation. The 13 February incident shows that very vividly. Whether Iranian state agencies are involved or not,   there is a section of Indians who can be exploited to any extent.

How do you analyze the situation in Kerala? Many term it as a hot bed for activities of terror.

It always reminds me about the 1921 Malabar events when I read anything about Kerala’s rendezvous with Jihad. As a student of History, I have read and researched the origin of violent Jihadi movement (against British and Hindus) in India. I traced back through my readings of Stephen F. Dale’s and others’ work on Mappilla and Portuguese colonialism: One of the most striking examples of such an attack occurred near Tellicherry (Thalassery) in March I764. The Telicheery event occurred when two Muslims entered a Portuguese church during Mass and killed one Lizardo Evan immediately and wounded several others without known provocation. There were other attacks too driven by solely religious causes. For example, two British collectors were attacked (H.V. Conolly was killed in 1855 in apparent revenge for exiling a Mopplah religious leader; and C.A. Innes was attacked in I9I5 for recovering a Hindu boy who had been forcibly converted to Islam.)

However, the only point I would make here is that Present day Kerala has a history of Saudi Wahabi infiltration. And what we see now may be traced back to those times. SIMI has a strong base and organized many successful Conclaves there in the past. Many other Islamic groups have reared their heads. The petro dollar is very much playing a role in radicalizing Kerala Muslims. We have witnessed recruitment drive from Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar e Taiba operatives.  Last but not the least the violence against a Christian teacher couple of years back by suspected Popular front of India activists speaks volume about the ground situation. So no confusion about Kerala’s vulnerability to overt jihadism (or say Wahabism) or Radical Islamism.

We have seen a great deal of cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia. How do you view this relationship today and does this deter terrorists from taking refuge in this country?

Things are better for sure between India and KSA. However, Jundal’s deportation is not the only thing we are talking about. There are other crime issues concerning Indian immigrants which should be taken into considerations. Since KSA authority has been acting in favor of India, it is certainly a positive sign. Having said that Pakistan must be watching these events…SO they could play their own game to   convince Saudis not to deport any Pakistanis to India, whether he or she committed a petty crime or a terrorism incident. By any chance Saudis would listen to Pakistan. But still post Jundal incident, Pak handlers would think twice to send anybody to the Kingdom for hiding or raising money for terror cause.

You have written about the Sri Lankan connection of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. How strong is this connection today and what does India need to-do?

Yes I have written in the past and constantly monitoring the security situation (Jihadist  and otherwise) in Sri Lanka and Maldives. We all know about Fayaz kagzi and Himayat Baig’s SL sojourn. Even though I could not find subsequent links, still strongly believes that there are Al Hadith/Wahaibi sympathizers who can be exploited by LeT  and other terror operatives, mostly in the Eastern districts of Ampara and Batticaloa. Also SLanka can be a safe hibernating ground for terrorists and staging point against India. I have little confidence about India’s future proactive role as far as Counterterrorism is concern. Still caught in Tamil quagmire, India and SL have no time to think Islamic terrorism as of now, though yes maritime terrorism is a concern.  I am not a believer of only ‘dialogue n diplomacy’ to mitigate terrorism. It should be accompanied with ground military actions (covert and overt) and strong political will. India is lacking in both fronts. India has same position with other neighboring countries too.

The name of HuJI has been surfacing quite a lot these days. It is believed that they have very strong modules down South. Moreover their name was attached to the recent plot which was busted by the Bangalore police involving a couple of youth who were planning on assassinating some pro Hindu leaders and journalists.

There is no doubt that during times of need these brothers in arms will join forces. So whether HuJI or  its remnant or LeT are scheming new attacks, itself sounds alarm bells. In any case we don’t know about their exact affiliations, whether they are HuJi or former SIMI or lone wolves. But certainly South India is a HuJi strongholds (Hyderabad, Bangalore and as far as Chennai). What they were scheming to do is dangerous. Not boasting about my assessment sometimes in December last year when I said to gatherings of CT professionals that there would be new wave of terrorist tactics which might involve assassinations of key political leaders, Key judiciary members and noted personalities to spread instant chaos and anarchy. It would definitely send the whole security apparatus into limbo and provide the assassins enough time to escape. It also involves less logistics and man powers. High pofile target killings would work in Indian environment as the situation would be too chaotic post incident. Also acts like murder/assassinations would be treated as criminal acts under Indian law and investigation would take years and to nowhere.

Pakistan always asks for more proof on the 26/11 attack. How long do you think this would last and will there ever be a logical conclusion to this trial in Pakistan?

Pakistanis never serious and any government in Pakistan (be it present Zardari govt or future Imran khan led Mullah Coalition, just stretching my imagination) would play to India’s liking.  The political parties survive in Pakistan only playing the anti India and Pro Kashmir card.

It is fact that Pakistan is protecting JuD/LeT leaders along with other Kashmir centric Jihadi leaders. Hafiz Saeed of LeT, HM chief Syed Salahuddin, JeM chief Massod Azhar included.  Demanding more proof itself is tactics to mislead Indian agency to believe what they gathered as evidences so far are nothing but ‘literature’(as one Pakistan official termed it). India should understand that as we haven’t achieved any single success in solving any of our with our outstanding issues be it Sir Creek or Siachen.

They are buying their time to force India to forgive and forget in the coming years. There is already a visible signs of dementia creeping into the Indian establishment’s thinking as far as Mumbai 26/11 events are concern, seemingly replaced by and symbolic Cricket, Ajmer sheriff and free trade.  Ultimately terror events would be pushed under the carpet gradually. The talks of ‘Glass half full rather than half empty’ is itself misleading and a metaphor to move away from the core agenda.  ‘Improving environments for bilateral talks’ or ‘setting the scene’ are pure diplomatic phrases to be used at the press conference or prior to any deadpan joint statements. Also we can’t blame Pakistan alone. We have also a tendency to forget events of yesterday and the ‘business as usual’ syndrome.

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Author: Vicky Nanjappa

just a reporter

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