A widening network

Published : Jan 03, 2003 00:00 IST

The spread of terrorism in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid's demolition in 1992 can be attributed to the increased intolerance of the Hindu Right towards Indian Muslims.

"I... express my disappointment over the government's failure to check all this continuing influx and infiltration from across the border both in the west as well as in the east... Our country has become a kind of a dharamshala, that way! Anyone can come in any time and bring in anything. Very often, bona fide people are restrained but these people who come with ulterior ends and sinister motivations are not stopped."

- Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, then Member of Parliament from Gandhinagar, speaking in Parliament on July 31, 1992.

AS the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign lurched towards its tragic climax, someone in Pakistan's military intelligence establishment was drawing up plans for an ambitious new offensive. Code-named Operation K2M, the plan envisaged a pan-India alliance between Khalistan terrorist groups, insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir, and Muslim organisations committed to armed retaliation against Hindu fundamentalism. Khalistan terrorist Lal Singh and his intelligence handler Mohammad Sharif were tasked with the setting up of a base in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, from where the operation would be run.

In the event, Indian intelligence rapidly ended the enterprise. Lal Singh, Sharif and three other core members of the K2M cell were arrested, and dozens of assault rifles and rocket launchers were recovered from their possession. Advani led loud protests against the Union government's failure to stop cross-border terrorism. No one, however, did very much to stop the Hindu Right's assault on Indian Muslims. Today, in an ironic twist which must rank amongst history's greatest, Advani is responsible for dealing with a special kind of terrorism he did not a little to give birth to.

The build-up to the 10th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, was pockmarked by terrorist violence. On December 2, a bomb went off inside a bus parked in the Mumbai suburb of Ghatkopar, killing three people and injuring 28. The same night, an alert bus conductor discovered a second device in a bus that had left Ghatkopar for the city's Andheri area. The bomb, made up of 14 high-explosive gelatine sticks, marked with the logo of an Uttar Pradesh-based manufacturer, had failed to go off because of a fault in its timer, improvised from an alarm clock. On December 6, a blast ripped through a fast food complex in Mumbai Central Station. This time the bomb was more crude, put together with potassium permanganate, aluminium powder and sugar, and stuffed with nails and metal shards. In Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu, the police arrested 11 members of the newly formed Muslim Defence Force, which officials claimed had planned to bomb several temples in the State. Less than a week earlier, the Andhra Pradesh police had eliminated two associates of the arrested persons, Mohammad Azam and Mohammad Imran, who they said had executed a bomb explosion outside the Sai Baba temple, which claimed one life and caused injuries to 21 people. Imran, police officials said, had trained with the Lashkar-e-Toiba for three months at a camp near Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) last year.

Imran's possible links to the Lashkar-e-Toiba indicate how the rise of the Hindu Right has helped transform a Pakistani intelligence conspiracy into reality. While the Khalistan insurgency may have been obliterated from Punjab, and off India's public consciousness, the fact is that, in response to sustained Hindu fundamentalist violence, growing numbers of young Muslims in India have been attracted to far-right Islamist organisations. And terrorist organisations in Jammu and Kashmir have been paying more and more attention to all-India events. Investigators in Mumbai believe that the recent explosions in buses in the city were carried out by a four-member cell from Srinagar, three of whom had stayed in suburban Govandi until a few days before the bombings. A four-member Lashkar-e-Toiba cell interdicted in New Delhi on April 9 is believed to have surveyed potential targets in Mumbai a week earlier. Mirajuddin Ghulam Pir, Sheikh Sajjad Mohammed, Feroz Sheikh and Abdul Bilal were found to possess eight kilograms of explosives, and maps of the Kala Nagar area of Mumbai, home to the city's would-be Fuhrer, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. They also had sketches of the famous Elephanta Caves and the crowded Chor Bazaar area.

For organisations like the Lashkar, engagement in Jammu and Kashmir has always been a mere first step towards a larger pan-India jehad. Addressing the Lahore Press Club on February 18,1996, Lashkar chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed said that "the jehad in Kashmir would soon spread to entire India. Our mujahideen would create three Pakistans in India." In a subsequent interview to the Urdu-language newspaper Takbeer, he went on to make the Kashmir-India progression explicit. "We feel that Kashmir should be liberated at the earliest," he said. "Thereafter, Indian Muslims should be aroused to rise in revolt against the Indian Union so that India gets disintegrated." At the Lashkar-e-Toiba's annual convention for 2000, its top ideologue Abdul Rahman Makki announced that the organisation had a new unit running in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, which would soon liberate the city from Indian rule. Saeed, in turn, proclaimed that in the organisation's campaigns Hyderabad and Junagadh were among its highest priorities. The then-ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) Director-General, Mahmood Ahmad, attended the Lashkar's subsequent convention in April 2001. This time, the organisation passed a resolution calling on its cadre in India to emulate the example of Mahmood Ghaznavi - the Afghan warrior who raided India in the 11th century - by destroying temples and idols.

Such ranting is not uncommon amongst the Islamic Right in Pakistan. Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami chief for the Karachi area, Naimatullah Khan, for example, proclaim that his organisation's "ultimate objective is to overrun Delhi's Red Fort and end the Hindu Raj in India". It is worth noting, however, that the loathing for the symbols and shrines of other faiths is not exclusive to the Islamist Right. Hindu fundamentalists had made clear their intention of demolishing the Babri Masjid long before the Lashkar-e-Toiba called for similar actions to be conducted in India. The similarities between both kinds of fascism, whatever their colour, does not end there. If the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are contemptuous of democratic institutions, their counterparts across the western border have near-identical views. The News of November 23, 1997 had this report about Saeed's speech at a Lashkar convention: "He rejects democracy saying that `the notion of the sovereignty of the people is anti-Islamic. Only Allah is sovereign.' The whole venue of the congregation was full of signboards with the slogan `Jamhooriat ka jawab, grenade aur blast (the answer to democracy are grenades and blasts)'."

ACTIVISTS of the ultra-conservative Ahl-e-Hadis gathered at the Mominpura Masjid in suburban Mumbai in the summer of 1985 to speak about the need for armed Muslim resistance to the wave of communal violence India had passed through from early that year. Azam Ghauri, the fifth of 11 children from an impoverished family, who had flirted with the People's War Group before discovering religion, spoke with passion at the meet. With him was Abdul Karim who was later nicknamed `Tunda', because he lost an arm while manufacturing a bomb. At the end of the meeting, they formed the Tanzim Islahul Muslimeen (TIM), which was committed to the defence of Muslims during communal riots. Interestingly enough, the TIM modelled itself on the RSS, and its cadre spent much of their early-mornings in cane-lathi drills. Among their most enthusiastic recruits was Jalees Ansari, the son of a Mumbai mill worker. Ansari described himself as a basically "secular-minded person" who became embittered by the pervasive religious intolerance at his college in Mumbai, and by the experience of the 1985 riots in Bhiwandi. Over the next few years, the three would become the three central poles of Islamic terrorism in India.

On December 6, 1993, the first anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, `Tunda', Ghauri and Ansari carried out seven explosions on trains, part of the 43 they organised together. Ansari was scheduled to carry out another series on January 26 the next year, but was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). `Tunda' fled India and ended up in Pakistan, where he worked under the command of Lashkar's top commander for operations outside Jammu and Kashmir, Zaki-ur-Rahman. Ghauri followed in his wake, moving first to Saudi Arabia and then on to Pakistan with the aid of Hamid Bahajib, a long-standing Lashkar financier. From their bases abroad, both continued to organise the recruitment and training of new cadre. Some of their operatives, such as Amir Hashim, Abdul Qayoom and Abdul Aziz Sheikh, were drawn from New Delhi and Hyderabad. Others such as Mohammad Ishtiaq `Junaid', Mohammad Mansoor and Farooq Ahmad were Pakistani nationals, who were provided cover-identities and safe-houses. Although Ghauri was eliminated in an encounter soon after his return to India in 2000, he had by then succeeded in making contact with a welter of revanchist groups in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The recent arrests in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu show that the structure put together by Ghauri and `Tunda' has widened. In January, the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested Mohammad Yunus, a Bhagpat resident who was trained in POK and was then assigned to carry out bombings throughout North India. Yunus, his interrogators claim, said that he had been motivated by Bilal Ahmad, a Pakistani national working for the Lashkar. The next month, the Delhi Police picked up four Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami activists based in Surat, along with two Pakistan nationals working for the same organisation. Another New Delhi resident, Mohammad Hanif Kalis, was picked up the same month on charges of laundering funds and harbouring explosives for the newly launched Hizb-e-Islami. Mohammad Ashraf and Mazhar Ahmad, from Mianwali and Liaqatabad in Pakistan, were arrested from Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh in April, while another four-member, Hizbul Mujahideen-affiliated, cell led by Moradabad-based Shafiq-ul-Islam was picked up in July. Punjab Police officials, meanwhile, reported the arrest of Lashkar's Abdul Latif, who was responsible for the bombing of a train at Doraha. In September alone, operatives of al-Umar, the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba were arrested in raids in New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

WHILE there is no direct causal connection between this welter of arrests and the recent pogrom in Gujarat, the fact that the Islamic Right seems to be finding a steady stream of recruits points to the causes of the malaise. Pakistan's intelligence establishment has clearly played a significant role in creating, financing and motivating terrorist groups to operate through India, but hard questions need to be asked about why recruits could so easily be found for the cause in many parts of India. Although officials in New Delhi are fond of attributing activities of the Islamic Right to organised crime organisations, the young people recruited by Lashkar and other terrorist groups often have deep ideological commitment to their cause, however misguided it might be. At the same time, it bears mention that the scale of the pan-India activities of Islamic terrorist groups has been relatively small. All terrorist actions outside Jammu and Kashmir executed by Islamist groups, including the serial bombing of 1993 in Mumbai, have not claimed half as many lives as are estimated to have been lost in the Gujarat pogrom. The contrast between the police and intelligence resources committed to crushing one kind of terrorism stands in stark contrast to the complete unwillingness of the state even to begin to act against the other.

As a direct consequence, terrorist groups appear to have acquired greater social legitimacy than at any time in the past, even if their influence is still peripheral in the Muslim community. The killing of Mohammad Imran and Mohammad Azam was greeted with outrage by many Muslims in Andhra Pradesh, who insisted that both had been murdered by the police. What is interesting about the allegation is not that it was made, but that it attracted public endorsement. Ghauri's killing had provoked identical allegations, but few ordinary Muslims appeared to care. Now, in the wake of the murderous pogrom in Gujarat, sentiments appear to have begun to change. The only-too-evident unwillingness of the state to move against Hindu terrorists, even while it hunts down their Muslim counterparts, has led to hostility and cynicism about the police. At least to some, violence seems to be the only means of self-defence - as in the case of Ansari, Ghauri and `Tunda' a decade and a half ago. Such a turn rightwards will, quite clearly, serve no meaningful purpose. With their backs to the wall, however, some of the younger Muslims are finding the barrel of the gun increasingly attractive.

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