Islamist Extremism in India: Does Few Indians in Islamic State Pose A Serious Concern?
Though there had been few incidents in past where Indian Muslims joined terror groups, this was the first where ‘educated’ Indian Muslims responded positively to the call of a transnational terror group and travelled to distant geographical location. – Anurag Sharma*
The Islamic State (IS) or popularly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is an Islamist militant organisation with most of its fighters of foreign origin. As per a study of December 2015, around 30,000 of its fighters belong to 85 countries, mostly from Europe and Middle-East.
India— a nation of diversity in culture and religious beliefs is also a nation with world’s largest population. In 2010, predominantly a Hindu nation — India hosts world’s second-largest Muslim population, after Indonesia and as per the estimates of Pew Research Centre, in 2050 India would become a nation with the largest Muslim population in the world. India got independence in August 1947 from the British Colonial rule and the partition was not that came with the partition of its West portion in the form of a new nation named as ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’. India’s partition of 1947 was followed by the exchange of its Hindu, Muslim and Sikh population, which is considered as the mass human migration in history. During the cross-border migration, millions of populations of Hindu, Muslim and Sikhs on both sides (India and Pakistan) were murdered for the sake of their religious identity and feeling of hatred. The partition also led to an undecided fate of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir— whose Maharaja believed in an independent state and refused to align with either the Union of India or the newly-formed Islamic State of Pakistan, in the occurrence of partition. As a result, in October 1947, aligning with tribes, the Pakistan Army initiated an insurgency to capture the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This action leads to the sign of ‘Instrument of Accession’ of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India and as a result of interference of the United States, the United Kingdom and United Nations in 1948, ceasefire occurred between two nations with the emergence of an imaginary border line—Line of Control (LoC).
Since 1947, there have been four conventional wars (1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999) between India and Pakistan, somewhere having Kashmir as a focal point which results to India’s victory in these wars. Understanding the fact that Pakistan could not succeed on Kashmir issue through conventional war, therefore Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence involved in supporting the main Islamist militant/terrorist outfits fighting in the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), such as Hizb-ul Mujahideen (HM), Lashkar-e-Taiba/Toyiba (LeT), al-Badr, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Further, Pakistan initiated the logistic and financial support to these factions through its Intelligence agency, Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) with the motive to bleed India with cuts. This gives rise to Islamist militancy in the Kashmir valley since the 1990s. These cross-border Jihadi groups—mainly Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) focuses on the Islamic revival in the Kashmir valley and its separation from the Union of India. Since the 1990s, India has been dealing with militancy through its counterterrorism measures but to the belief, it is not the only threat that India perceive from its West.
Emergence and mobilisation of Indians in Islamic State
In mid-2014, self-claimed Khalifa or Caliph of a terror group—Islamic State (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the ‘so-called Caliphate’ in the controlled territories of Iraq. Baghdadi addressed a call to the Muslims around the world to do Hijrat or emigration to the land of Islamic State. The call for emigration was broadcasted as propaganda of jihad against the Kafirs or the infidels. The call was taken by several Muslims in the West and Middle-Eastern countries which led to the travel of those individuals to the IS-controlled regions in Iraq and Syria. Mostly these individuals joined as ‘foreign (terrorist) fighters’ for jihad against the infidels as per IS vision of Islamic Caliphate over the world by 2020.
In June 2014, a report of four missing Muslim youths—Areeb/Areef Majeed, Shaheen Tanki, Fahad Sheikh, and Aman Tandel, from Kalyan in the State of Maharastra, led Indian intelligence agencies to sniff the presence the ideology of IS in India. According to Intelligence reports, in late August 2014, he was reported dead and ‘glorified’ in a tweet from another jihad group, Ansar ul-Tawhid. This news was covered by various news media around the world. Surprisingly, in late November 2014, Areeb/Areef made returned to India and got arrested. At present, he is facing a judicial trial under the National Investigation Agency (NIA) custody. During interrogation with Indian Intelligence officials, Areeb/Areef revealed that ISIS has lethal plans for India.
Though there had been few incidents in past where Indian Muslims joined terror groups, this was the first where ‘educated’ Indian Muslims responded positively to the call of a transnational terror group and travelled to distant geographical location. According to an unofficial data, around 100-150 Indian have travelled and joined IS since 2014. In May 2016, the IS media unit- Amaq Agency, released a 22-minute video featuring 14 Indian young Jihadis who flashed Kalashnikovs and waved IS flag in the background. They were calling for Jihad in India to avenge the notorious events of the demolition of Babri Masjid (1992) and Gujarat Riots (2002). In the video, the group also warned Indian government about the upcoming wave of terrorist attacks on Indian soil.
Keeping in mind the wave of terrorism led by IS and its propaganda of the establishment of Caliphate throughout the Indian Subcontinent by 2020, India must not ignore its minute presence among Indian youth especially Indian Muslims, be it in Kashmir Valley or mobilisation to the IS-controlled territories outside India. Upon consideration of the counts of Indians in IS, so far IS has succeeded in luring the Indian Muslim youth to join their propaganda for the cause of Islamic State’s Caliphate. Foreseeing the threat and assessing the counts of Indians in IS, India must not ignore the threat of IS and must assess to contain it in future.
*Anurag Sharma is a Research Assistant at the Institute for Conflict Management, a think-tank organisation based in Delhi, India. He is also a Junior Research Affiliate with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS). His main research interests are: terrorism and the Internet, Countering Violent Extremism/Online (CVE), Radicalisation and Foreign (Terrorist) Fighters.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team.