G20 steered by India can become powerful instrument for global security, world economy (Column: Spy’s Eye)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has struck a note of confidence about India playing an effective role during its G20 Presidency, in dealing with multiple challenges including geopolitical tensions and a global economic slowdown amid rising food and energy prices.

He has announced that India’s G20 Presidency will be ‘inclusive, ambitious, decisive and action oriented’ and in keeping with his belief in India as a world power, declared that “over the next one year, we will strive to ensure that the G20 acts as global prime mover to envision new ideas and accelerate collective action”.

The Prime Minister is well attuned to the need for preserving India’s national security and safeguarding the country’s economic interests. Challenges on the security front need an in-depth examination.

It is important that India mobilises the democratic world against the new global terror rooted in ‘radicalisation’ and gets the Muslim countries and international institutions projecting Islam as a religion of peace, to come out with a proclamation that in today’s world, Jehad is not the route to solving political disputes.

India can build on the statement of R20 – the forum launched by Indonesia at Bali as a prelude to G20 – for promoting inter-faith dialogue, presenting Islam as a moderate belief system and calling for inter-religious harmony and respect for other faiths.

The Bali meet that witnessed an overwhelming presence of the orthodox Sunni leadership of the world steered by Mecca-based Rabita-e-Alam-e-Islami, gave an opening to India to internationally carry forward the message of equality of all religions and isolate countries like Pakistan that shelter radical Islamic extremists.

In an effective follow-up, India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, convened the bilateral India- Indonesia security dialogue in Delhi on November 29 to which Ulema and other spokespersons of religions were invited for deliberating on inter-religious goodwill and peace and recording a strong disapproval of terrorism, extremism and radicalisation.

Indonesia and India together account for the biggest chunk of Sunni Muslims in Asia who were keen to secure recognition of Islam as a religion of peace.

The Delhi initiative will help India in countering the anti-India narrative being built by lobbies, particularly in the West, on issues of democratic rights, treatment of minorities and the alleged rise of ‘majoritarianism’ in this country.

While terrorism and radicalisation, the twin threats to the democratic world, are acquiring geopolitical dimensions, their impact in South Asia in particular is of mounting concern for India, largely because Pakistan and China, the two hostile neighbours of this country now in strategic alliance, are out to damage India’s national security – particularly its internal stability and cohesion.

A discussion on radicalisation is not about a religion or the merits of a faith, but an examination of the misuse of religion for political objectives on a scale that could be pushing the world towards a clash of civilisations and religion-based conflicts of global dimensions.

Also, in the Indian context, it is not a community question so much – members of all communities in India are preoccupied with livelihood matters and pursuit of welfare of their families – as the matter of communally-minded elite and many Ulema running the politics of the minority community by invoking the card of religion and exploiting the Islamic mandate that ‘faith’ embraces all aspects of the life of a Muslim – personal, socio political and even economic – leaving no space between religion and politics.

India is vulnerable to the historical memories of Partition – a religion-based division of the country coinciding with Independence – that saw unprecedented violence and loss of human lives. The legacy of communal conflicts inherited by free India was beginning to taper off when in the closing part of the eighties, a fresh wave of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan culminated in the call for Nizam-e-Mustafa by Gen Ziaul Haq.

The JeI Pakistan rose to become the main instrument of the regime for implementing the agenda of Gen Zia, who went on to declare at the fourth Islamic summit at Casablanca in 1984 that Muslims from Algeria to Philippines were part of the ‘Ummah’ and urged the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to keep them united.

This set off a powerful Pan-Islamic movement on the Indian sub-continent and created an environ in which the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was launched by an AMU-based professor, who was also a Majlis-e-Shora member of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.

SIMI got linked up with OIC affiliated international organisations and injected a degree of militancy in its work of uniting Muslim youth for establishing an Islamic rule. Inevitably, this kind of campaigning led to the formation of Indian Mujahideen (IM) as an offspring of SIMI that got involved in acts of serious violence.

SIMI turned out to be an example of how communal militancy could graduate into terrorism in the name of ‘Islam’.

This trend has to be checked and reversed for safeguarding India’s internal security. Following a ban on SIMI, another organisation rose on its trail, this time in Kerala – the Popular Front of India (PFI) – which got linked up with Jeddah-based World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) as also with the Karachi-based Dawat-e-Islami with its suspected Pak ISI connections.

PFI has also been banned after an investigation by NIA proving the point that India has to be extremely watchful against the surreptitious attempts of our adversaries to foster faith-based militancy and terrorism by exploiting the Muslim minority here.

Down the years, a repeat of the hateful communal approach of Pakistan towards India is reflected in the first ever National Security Policy of Pakistan released by then Prime Minister Imran Khan at the beginning of this year.

Describing India as the principal adversary of Pakistan, it alleged that the present pro-Hindu dispensation in India has put the security of Muslim minority here in jeopardy and invoking the call of regarding Muslims of India as a part of Ummah, asserted that Pakistan has a right to take full interest in them.

This was evident in the move of Pakistan to get OIC to demand ‘national apology’ from India for the ‘insult’ allegedly caused to Prophet Mohammad by a ‘party functionary’ in the course of a TV debate. The beheading of two Hindus by Islamic fanatics in the wake of this event was not unequivocally condemned by the Ulema and the elite leading the minority community.

The decision of Pakistan to put Indo-Pak relations in Hindu-Muslim framework creates a potentially subversive environ on India’s domestic front and paves the way for the spread of faith-based militancy.

Terrorism by definition is resort to ‘covert’ violence for a perceived ‘political cause’ – cause needs ‘commitment’ which in turn is determined by ‘motivation’.

Motivation can be ideological as is the case with Naxalism or an assertion of ethnic identity as was the reason behind the insurgencies of Northeast, but the new global terror uses faith for motivation which can be very strong in Islam for the pull of ‘exclusivism’ and ‘superiority’ that it is able to exercise on people for turning their minds – radicalisation can convert a poorly placed Madrasa trained youth as easily as it can do in the case of an educated individual of means.

The background of Pak-sponsored cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, its enlargement into a ‘proxy war’ against India and the course of escalation of this threat in recent years indicate three flag marks that can be easily identified as the source of escalation of India-centric security threats.

They might have a wider geopolitical impact too but they leave India with the burden of preparing to deal with the situation through a strategy entirely of its own since the world at large might not share this country’s concerns beyond a point.

First was the success of anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan – that was run on the war cry of Jehad – in which Pak-sponsored Hizbul Mujahideen, Saudi funded Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the radical Taliban-Al Qaeda combine all took a leading part.

The victory of Jehad in Afghanistan that caused the dismemberment of USSR and ended the Cold War, was credited to Pakistan by the US and having emerged as a special favourite of Americans, the Pak ISI lost no time in planning a replication of the Afghan Jehad in Kashmir where the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Hizbul Mujahideen had till then been carrying out a separatist movement on the slogan of Plebiscite.

This got replaced by the new call in the name of Islam that would derive strength from the projection of Kashmir valley as a Muslim majority territory.

In 1993 a powerful radical group called Harkat-ul-Ansar comprising Taliban Mujahideen, infiltrated into the Valley for the first time and kidnapped a number of Western tourists – it was giving vent to the hostility of Islamic radicals against the US-led West that was rooted in the historical memory of the failed anti-British Jehad launched by the Wahhabi Ulema on the Indian subcontinent in the middle of 19th century.

Interestingly, Pak ISI had advised the HuM in the Valley to logistically support the radical outfit which showed how Pakistan was using all groups of militants – from the Hanafi Jamaatis and the Lashkar of Ahle Hadis orientation to the Wahhabis of Al Qaeda – in its covert offensive against India.

It was Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who sent Taliban – fundamentalist militant products of Deobandi Madrasas – to Afghanistan in 1993 to quell the turbulence created there by the conflict between Northern Alliance and the warring Islamic factions and helped the installation of the first Taliban Emirate at Kabul in 1996.

Al Qaeda acquired a free run of Afghanistan as Mullah Omar was a close relative of Osama bin Laden. When the Emirate bared its fangs against the US, the latter had to work for its ouster. This in turn laid the run up for 9/11 that was followed by the ‘war on terror’ led by the US-led world coalition.

The second flag mark of the rise of radicalisation as a phenomenon fostering terrorism is the role of Pakistan through the entire course of the ‘war on terror’ which was essentially a combat between US-led World Coalition and Islamic radicals in the wake of 9/11.

Pakistan came on board – India had already joined in- only after a certain degree of coercion from the Bush regime had come into play but its participation in the ‘war on terror’ was always duplicitous as it tried to have a foot in each camp and remained on the right side of the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine.

In the years of ‘war on terror’, Pakistan kept up its covert offensive against India in Kashmir using outfits like HuM, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad which were India-specific and which did not target the West.

This secured for Pakistan the benefit of the US policy makers deciding to make a facile distinction between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ on a politically tinted reading that radicals attacking American interests were a prime adversary for the US whereas the militants who fought against India in Kashmir could be deemed to be doing so in pursuit of a political dispute between India and Pakistan.

US felicitously drew a line between ‘radical’ Islam and ‘political’ Islam at the cost of India – as it continued to believe that Pakistan could still be relied on as an ally.

By the time US policy makers woke up to the collusion of Pakistan with radical forces, Pakistan had seized the opportunity of projecting itself as a mediator between US and Taliban in a situation where the US was desperate about pulling out troops from the messy battlefield of Afghanistan.

The US put up with the return of Kabul Emirate of Taliban – a development it knew had come about only because of the total support of Pakistan to Taliban – in lieu of a flimsy assurance of Taliban that Afghan territory will not be allowed to be used by Al Qaeda for another 9/11 type of attack.

Unlike Imran Khan, who went over his Generals to denounce the decision of Pakistan of supporting the US in the ‘war on terror’, his successor Shehbaz Sharif is trying to bring Pakistan closer to the US once again, taking advantage of the traditional goodwill that Pentagon has had for Pakistan’s military establishment.

India has no problem with all of this provided the US do not revive the policy of ‘good terrorists’ vs ‘bad terrorists’ on the Kashmir front.

Fortunately, Indo-US friendship under the Modi regime is now strong enough to withstand any attempt of Pakistan to hoodwink the US on the decision of the Indian Parliament to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution three years ago.

The third marker that has paved the way for the spread of radicalisation is the firming up of Sino-Pak axis against India with its geopolitical bearing on the rest of the world.

China supported the moves of Pakistan to keep India from building influence in Afghanistan and after the reinstallation of Taliban Emirate in Kabul, entered into a huge ‘give and take’ with Pakistan for working together on Afghanistan.

India’s strong objection to Pakistan ceding territory in northern PoK to China for establishing the China Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC), our preparedness to deal with any aggression of China on LAC in Eastern Ladakh and India’s constitutional move to dispense with the special status of J&K, have driven China and Pakistan into each other’s fold and Pakistan in return for China’s backing of cross-border terrorism in Kashmir, has apparently given an assurance that after the return of Taliban in Afghanistan, no questions would be raised on the treatment of Muslim minorities in China.

The alliance between a Marxist dictatorship and an Islamic state is sustained by their common hostility towards India, just as a stark opposition to the US puts the radical Taliban and China on the same side of the fence, geopolitically.

China’s consistent opposition to UN’s moves to designate Pak-based militants as international terrorists and supply of drones to Pakistan by China for covert operations in Kashmir and Punjab, indicate a collective intention of these two adversaries to fish in the troubled waters of India.

This collusion is particularly marked in the period since the abrogation of Article 370 relating to J&K. Pakistan is now using proxies of Al Qaeda and ISIS to organise terror acts in India and making full use of social media for creating sleeper cells and ‘lone wolves’ – adding to the tasks of our intelligence agencies.

It can be seen that the US is having a comfort of distance as far as the radical threat from Pak- Afghan belt was concerned. It is also not feeling directly concerned over Sino-Pak axis even in a situation where signs of a new Cold War between US and China were already on the horizon.

India in the process is largely on its own in strategising against terrorism and radicalisation. Apart from the global initiatives, however, India needs to take comprehensive measures to safeguard its own internal security against the threats of terrorism and radicalisation at home and the machinations of Pakistan and China behind the same.

(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal)

20221204-085803

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