Originally Published 2006-03-16 12:25:41 Published on Mar 16, 2006
The stage is set for a new terrorist confederation with the sole agenda of wreaking havoc across the heartland of India in the months to come. Ignorance or indifference to the clear signs of such an alliance - visible from Bangalore to Delhi, via Ayodhya, Nalgonda, Mulund and Varanasi - would prove suicidal for India.
Contours of a new terror matrix
The stage is set for a new terrorist confederation with the sole agenda of wreaking havoc across the heartland of India in the months to come. Ignorance or indifference to the clear signs of such an alliance - visible from Bangalore to Delhi, via Ayodhya, Nalgonda, Mulund and Varanasi - would prove suicidal for India. Politicisation of acts of terrorism, like the twin blasts in Varanasi, would only fan the flames. The issue is not which party rules where, but who is planning to destabilise India, and how. There are enough signs of this terror alliance, its changing strategy and tactics for all to see.

First the alliance. One of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), operating in Pakistan almost freely with the blessings of the Pakistan state, especially the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, has been re-activated at several locations in India.

LeT is the only terrorist organisation in Pakistan that has been allowed to expand its network, recruit and gather funds, despite a worldwide ban. It works under the cover of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, its parent organisation, which claims to be a charitable and educational organisation committed to bring about an Islamic revolution by teaching and training students in the Islamic way of life, while imparting in them the spirit and content of modern, scientific education. The unstated objective of the organisation, set up by Osama bin Laden's henchman Abu Azzam (one of the inspirations for Hamas), along with Hafiz Saeed, a religious scholar, is to act as a catalyst for reclaiming Asia for Islam.

Saeed has more than once stated his group's objectives - to "liberate" Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagarh. As recent as March 12, Saeed's group, on its website, said "Freedom movement in the occupied Kashmir is a holy war." There is a visible change in Saeed's plans today, prompted by the ISI with whom his group is closely aligned. Though both Saeed and President Musharraf have been vocal in denying their relationship with LeT, it is no secret that terrorist groups in Pakistan function with the help of the establishment: The Army and the ISI.

This is amply proven by the new facilities which LeT has set up in Lahore and Hyderabad (Sindh). Saeed has been leading Friday prayers in Lahore and hosting political leadership with impunity. The tacit understanding between the Army and Saeed's group in managing rescue and relief operations in PoK after the October 2005 earthquake is well known.

LeT's first forays into India began after the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992, recruiting its first set of terror soldiers, Jalees Ansari, Azzam Ghauri and Abdul Karim Tunda, etc. Operational bases were set up in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad, exploiting the widespread rage among Muslims in the wake of the demolition. The group exploits two sets of local support to execute its operations - the ISI assets and its ideological association with Ahl-e-Hadis, an Islamic school of thought, which emerged in India following the downfall of the Mughal empire with the objective of restoring Islam to its prior glory and power.

Hadis advocated return to the scriptures and called for purifying the religion of its external influences, like Hinduism and even Sufism. It was the followers of Hadis founding father, Shah Walilullah of Delhi, who launched their first jihad against Sikhs, and subsequently against the British, before being crushed by the British in 1857.

Hadis has an ideological affinity with Wahabis of Saudi Arabia and a close proximity to Deobandis. This historical perspective is important to understand LeT's potential in expanding its base and strength in India. LeT is a Ahl-e-Hadis group and, therefore, has been the beneficiary of Saudi Arabian largesse from its inception. Hadis, which runs several madarsas in India, funded largely by Saudi Arabian charities, have been actively helping, particularly after the Gujarat riots in February 2002, LeT to recruit and expand its network in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Another Hadis (in India Hadis and Deobandi work closely) group is Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), an organisation of Muslim students funded largely by foreign charities, which LeT has been using to carry out its operations outside Jammu & Kashmir.

Thus a loose confederation of LeT, Hadis, SIMI and few other smaller organisations like al Umma in Coimbatore has been active in India to various degrees since 1993. This alliance is now being reactivated with renewed vigour, but with a new structure. This new structure has some additional new elements like Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI) and Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). HuJI is one of the Afghan jihad groups, with bases in Pakistan and Bangladesh. HuJI-B (Bangladesh) had sent some 3,500 terrorists to Afghanistan and a large number of them survived the battle and returned to set up bases in Korangi district of Karachi and Chittagong Hill Tracts and surrounding areas in Bangladesh. HuJI, like LeT, has familial links with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda.

The group subsequently despatched several teams to Kashmir and Bosnia. HuJI works closely with JMB in Bangladesh and has been unleashing a wave of terror in Bangladesh for the past two years. Some experts believe that JMB is the operational wing of Al Qaeda in Bangladesh, while HuJI is the training unit.

There is enough evidence to link up HuJI with JMB and Al Qaeda. This HuJI-JMB alliance has now joined hands with LeT-Hadis-SIMI team to form a new terror confederation in India, with the primary objective of destabilising the country. Recent terror strikes point to this new confederation.

It is obvious that neither LeT nor HuJI, independently or jointly, are capable of planning such a confederation, or enabling an extraordinarily multi-layered logistical network to support its mission objectives. This terror matrix - three major terrorist groups, at least half-a-dozen big and small front organisations with extremist ideology, ning three countries; several layers of support bases; an extensive network of hawala channels running from West Asia to Indonesia; a weapons route, a communications network linking hideouts in J&K, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal - needs to be closely analysed to understand the underlying game plan.

There are other aspects to this changing strategy. The recent terrorist incidents establish the intention of terror masterminds to expand the scope of terrorism beyond Kashmir, a strategic move considering the international limelight and pressure on the issue. Another integral part of this strategy is the use of local recruits and explosives to create bombs, as seen in Varanasi and Delhi blasts. Both these factors give LeT and Pakistan the benefit of deniability.

Of greater concern is the agenda behind this new strategic alliance: Destabilisation of India. Both the Delhi and Varanasi blasts were triggered to create a communal backlash. The Varanasi explosions were timed to exploit the seething anger in the Muslim community over the cartoons and the visit of President George Bush. Going by the terrorist linkages unravelled during the investigations of the recent attacks in India, this could only be the beginning.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, March 15, 2006.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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