Monday, February 26, 2007

Militant Islam in India

Islamic militancy, as we see it in its present form, established its stronghold in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1989. Since then there has been a sustained campaign of terror against the government of India. These terrorist attacks are not just limited to the state of Jammu and Kashmir but have spread to the other parts of the country as well. This terrorist campaign can be divided into two phases. The first phase, from 1989-1993, mostly saw the involvement of indigenous terrorist groups. These indigenous groups were split into three- first, who wanted greater autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir; second, who wanted total independence; and the third, who wanted a merger with Pakistan.[1] The situation has changed since 1995. There has now been a greater involvement of foreign terrorist organizations, most of which are supported by Pakistan.[2] Though these organizations were present in Kashmir before 1994 as well, their involvement increased considerably after 1994. This paper will focus on the Pakistani terrorist organizations, specifically Lashkar-e-toiba, working on the Indian soil especially Kashmir and examine the threat posed by them to India.

It all started in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, when Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a militant Kashmiri nationalist organization, inaugurated an armed uprising against the Indian rule.[3] Prior to that there were isolated incidents like the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft in 1971 and the kidnapping and subsequent murder of an Indian diplomat in Britain in 1984 which were mainly sponsored by Pakistan.[4] The taking up of arms by the JKLF against the Indian government was a result of the frustration developed in years amongst the Kashmiri youth due to the widespread corruption prevalent in the state government and Indian government’s continual support to it.[5] Sheer waste and mismanagement of the development outlays led to high degree of unemployment, especially among the literate youth. These were the long standing causes of the uprising. But the 1987 election was the immediate precursor to the taking up of arms by the JKLF. The Muslim United Front (MUF) which stood against the National Conference and Congress-I, the incumbent coalition, in the elections was denied victory in about eight Assembly constituencies against popular expectation.[6] This denial to the MUF to enter the political mainstream and be a part of the democratic process led to the strong resentment within the Valley.

MUF was a complex coalition of religious and socialist parties. To the central government, it represented secessionism and Islamic idealism.[7] It represented a threat to the interests of the Indian government in Kashmir. Should MUF win, it was considered likely that the status of article 370 would be scrutinized. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution provides special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In the course of years, there was a gradual erosion of this article and most of its clauses were not implemented. It is considered that the 1987 elections were one of the most rigged and unfair elections ever held in the state.[8] The National Conference and Congress I coalition won sixty-two out of seventy-six seats.[9] The MUF took a mere four, figure felt to be widely out of keeping with the mood of the valley prior to the elections and to other informal indicators such as attendance at rallies and marches.

The allegations of rigging are vital to the understanding of the crises that engulfed the state later on, since it was the conviction by many MUF candidates that since they had been prevented from taking power through the democratic process, they could resort to violence as a legitimate means to express their politics.[10] Many of the candidates and the political agents of the MUF were to become by 1989-90, the first wave of militants in either JKLF or Hizbul-Mujahideen (HM), the pro-Pakistani indigenous terrorist group. Since then there also has been a campaign against non-Muslims in the valley including Hindus and Sikhs who were either killed or forced to evacuate the state.[11] This campaign against non-Muslims was carried out by terrorists trained in Pakistan.[12] This phase also saw the coming of mujahideens from the Afghanistan War in Kashmir but their influence was as strong as that of the indigenous groups.

The second phase of terrorism in Kashmir started in 1995, which saw the gradual decline of the role of indigenous terrorist organizations and growth of foreign militants supported by Pakistan.[13] One of the biggest indigenous terrorist groups, JKLF, publicly renounced violence in 1995.[14] There is only one major indigenous group still active in Kashmir and that is Hizbul-Mujahideen which was created by the Pakistani government in 1989 to keep a check on JKLF whose demands for complete independence of Kashmir did not go well with the Pakistani leadership.[15] This group continues getting military and economic support from Pakistan. Though HM is active in the state, it is overshadowed by the presence of Pakistani terrorist organizations in the state. The most prominent amongst them are Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). These terrorist organizations are mostly comprised of Pakistani nationals but also include Afghanis and Chechens. The goal of all the Pakistani terrorist organizations is to integrate Kashmir with Pakistan. Since 1988, India has suffered total of 45,182 terrorist incidents in J&K alone.[16] Though in many incidents security forces were targeted but majority involved attacks on civilians. Pakistan supported terrorists are also responsible for 2,466 kidnappings and 791 cases of extortion since 1989.[17] Pakistan supported terrorism also resulted in extensive destruction of property in J&K. There were targeted attacks on 780 educational institutions in a bid to destroy the modern education system, which the fundamentalist ideology of the terrorists did not approve.[18]

One of the most important terrorist groups present in Kashmir is Lashkar e Tayyaba or Lashkar e Toiba (LeT), meaning the “Army of the Pure.” It is a Pakistan based terrorist organization working against India.[19] It is the armed wing of the Pakistani religious organization named Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI) which is a Sunni anti-US organization formed in 1989.[20] It was designated as a terrorist organization on December 22, 2001.[21] The LeT wants to challenge the sovereignty of the Indian government over the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Besides that, its agenda, as outlined in a pamphlet titled ‘Why are we waging jihad’, also includes the restoration of Islamic rule over all parts of India.[22] It also propagates a narrow Islamist fundamentalism preached by its mentor, the MDI. It seeks to bring about a union of all Muslim majority regions in countries that surround Pakistan. Towards that end, it is active in J&K, Chechnya and other parts of Central Asia. The outfit claims to have supported the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan during November and December 2002 in their fight against the US aided Northern Alliance.[23]

The founder of LeT, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed once said in a press conference, “We will not accept friendship with India. The Holy War in the occupied Kashmir is continuing and suicide attacks will also continue.”[24] They believe that Kashmir is a land of Muslims and want to establish an Islamic regime there. This is proven by this speech act given by Saeed, “True Muslims are still busy doing jihad (for the establishment of Islamic rule) in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Iraq and would not let infidels succeed in their goals.”[25] Therefore want it to be out of the control of the secular Indian government.

Lashkar-e-Toiba is one of the three best trained terrorist groups fighting in Kashmir against India.[26] Based in Muridke (near Lahore) and Muzaffarabad, the LeT trains its militants in mobile training camps across Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and had trained in Afghanistan until fall of 2001. Its presence in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was first recorded in 1993 when 12 Pakistani and Afghan mercenaries infiltrated across the Line of Control (LoC) in tandem with the Islami Inquilabi Mahaz, a terrorist outfit then active in the Poonch district of J&K.[27] The LeT claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in 2001, including an attack in January on Srinagar airport that killed five Indians along with six militants; an attack on a police station in Srinagar that killed at least eight officers and wounded several others; and an attack in April against Indian border-security forces that left at least four dead.[28] The Indian Government publicly held the LeT responsible for the attack on the Indian Parliament building on 13th December 2001. The LeT is also suspected of involvement in the 14 May 2002 attack on an Indian Army base in Kaluchak that left 36 dead.[29] Senior al-Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubaydah was captured at an LeT safe house in Faisalabad in March 2002, suggesting some members are facilitating the movement of Al-Qaeda members in Pakistan.[30] It was also held responsible for the twin explosion of Indian trains in July 11, 2006 that killed at least 175 people.[31]

LeT has attracted more attention than any other terrorist organization operating in Jammu & Kashmir. This is due to various reasons. Firstly, because it has conducted well planned attacks on security force targets in J&K. After the Kargil war of May-July 1999, (when Pakistani troops and mercenaries, including those of the Lashkar, were forced to withdraw from peaks on the Indian side of the Line of Control - LoC), the outfit launched its 'suicide attacks' strategy.[32] In this attack small groups of fidayeen (suicide squads) stormed security force camps in Jammu & Kashmir killing the families of army personnel. In some fidayeen attacks launched by the LeT, the terrorists entrenched themselves inside the camp, killing as many army personnels as they could, before they were themselves killed. In one such instance, two fidayeen of LeT stormed a SF base at Wazir Bagh in Srinagar, on March 26, 2001, and shot dead four personnel before being killed. In certain incidents, members of the squad are reported to have successfully fled after the initial attack. Such was the case at Mendhar in Rajouri district, on December 16, 2000 as also at Mahore, Udhampur district, on November 5, 2000. On December 8, 2001, two LeT fidayeen managed to penetrate inside a security force convoy and opened fire killing one personnel.

Secondly, it has conducted dramatic massacres of non-Muslim civilians in the region. Majority of the massacres of unarmed Hindus and Sikhs between March 1997 and October 2001 have reportedly been carried out by the LeT. One instance is the cold-blooded murder of 23 persons in Wandhama on January 23, 1998. A second instance is the June 19, 1998, massacre in which 25 members of a wedding party in Doda, Jammu were killed. The extreme level of cold-blooded brutality, which sets Lashkar-e-Toiba apart from other terrorist outfits that operated in Kashmir before, is evident in the Wandhama massacre, where children as young as one year old were murdered along with women and defenseless men.[33] It also conducted attacks in New Delhi during the Hindu festival of Diwali in 2005.

The presence of Islamic militants in Kashmir has created several problems for the Indian government. First is the increased spending on the defense sector by the government of India every year. The continuous infiltration in Kashmir and the growth in the terrorist activities is one of the reasons behind an increased spending on defense by the Indian government. The administration allocated Rs. 830 billion ($19.1 billion) for the defense sector in the year 2006.[34] The money that could have been used for social welfare programs or for improving the infrastructure of the country has to be used for the maintenance of a force of about 700,000 soldiers in the difficult conditions of Kashmir.

Secondly, the rise of militant Islam is a threat to the socio-political structure of secular India. India is home to the world’s second largest Muslim population after Indonesia. About 175 million Muslims form an integral part of India. Islamic militants understand the importance of secularism in the Indian society and therefore time and again they try to disturb the peace by deliberately attacking fragile places where there are chances of instigating the two religious communities against each other. This sometimes leads to communal violence in the country. Though Indian society is quite resilient to these events of communal violence but they do leave a dent in the social and political fabric. The terrorist organizations then use these events to send a wrong message of the communal nature of the Indian society to the Kashmir Muslims. These events have also led to an increase in the influence of right-wing Hindu nationalist parties in India which had very little support before the rise of Islamic terrorism in the country. They use these terrorist incidents as a way to tap into the religious sentiments of people. Thirdly, these terrorist organizations that are controlled by Pakistan, also want to hamper India’s progress in whatever way they can as the attack on the Indian Institute of Sciences in December 2005 and lot of defense establishments in the country show.[35] There is also a grave danger of a terrorist attack on the nuclear establishments of the country. Though India is a hot-spot for foreign investment right now, these terrorist attacks might divert potential investors away from the country.

Indian government has basically taken three major steps to counter terrorism in Kashmir. First is what can be called as the short term policy which uses military means to combat terrorism. Indian government spends huge amounts of resources in the state. According to an estimate, the administration spent around Rs.5000 crores in Kashmir in the year 2002.[36] It has also deployed a huge army of 700,000 troops in the valley to check the infiltration on Pakistani side and to maintain peace in the state.

Second is diplomatic means which includes talks with Pakistan. The most important thing about the Kashmir issue is that it cannot be solved just by the efforts of the Indian government. The terrorist activities are supported by the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), the intelligence agency of Pakistan.[37] The arms seized from the terrorists have been confirmed time and again by experts to have been supplied by Pakistan as they were either a part of the weapons contingent imported to Pakistan or were manufactured in Pakistan. The report of the American Congress, a special report prepared by the Union Home Ministry, Government of India, and the documents recovered from the arrested Kashmiri and foreign terrorists have confirmed reports that the ISI was spending one-fifth portion of Pakistan's budget on creating disturbances in Kashmir.[38] According to a former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. Jagmohan, in 1992 the ISI had three thousand million dollars which it had earned through drug narcotics trade.[39] This amount is equal to five defense budgets of Pakistan. This boosted the morale of the ISI which succeeded in extending organized terrorism to Kashmir. In supporting and organizing terrorism in Middle East, West Asia and Kashmir the ISI is the biggest organization in the third world. About 20,000 people are getting monetary benefits from the ISI for intensifying terrorist activities and for supporting them.[40] Therefore, Pakistan’s full cooperation is needed to get a permanent solution to the problem of Kashmir militancy

Confidence building measures (CBMs) are needed from both the sides. Former Prime Minister of India Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a historic initiative and visited Lahore in 2002.[41] The visit was aimed at conveying India’s deep desire to establish peaceful, co-operative and friendly ties with Pakistani. People to people interaction are also needed so that the citizens of the two countries know each other better and develop trust. There is a serious deficit in trust between the two countries which needs to be restored.

Post 9/11 there is a historic opportunity for the restoration of peace in Kashmir because of the presence of American troops in Afghanistan. This military presence of the US troops is acting as a check on Pakistani activities in the region as the US surveillance planes are constantly monitoring the region.[42] Besides, the Pakistani government is also under heavy US pressure to stop supporting terrorist activities in India which led to the signing of a ceasefire between India and Pakistan in 2003.

The Indian government is also trying to address the grievances of the Kashmiri people so that they do not resort to violence again. The 2002 elections held in the state were free and fair and were recognized to be so by the international community present in Kashmir during that time.[43] The government of India is also trying to create employment opportunities in the region. The administration is making efforts to restore the internally displaced Kashmiris.[44] The efforts are reaping their benefits as there has been a decline in the support for terrorists in the state.[45] People are increasingly getting disillusioned by the militant organizations which have not only failed in fulfilling their promises but are also committing widespread atrocities against the civilians. Yet the problem poses significant threat to the country because despite the decline in the public support for these organizations, they have been on a rise. They have been conducting terrorist acts all over the country as mentioned earlier.

The threat that the Islamic jihadists pose to India is grave. They seek to disturb the socio-political stability of the country. India has shown its resilience to these attacks but there have been occasional occurrences of communal violence due to the attacks. Though these incidents are not common and Indian society still largely remains a peaceful one, they do disturb the stability and peace of the society. They have also led to the strengthening of Hindu fundamentalism to a certain extent. Besides, these terrorist organizations have reached outside Kashmir and targeted civilian and government infrastructure. This is particularly dangerous in India because it is difficult to distinguish between a civilian and a terrorist because of the similarities in the physical make-up of the civilians and terrorists. This has seriously affected the security of the state. A lot of resources have to be spent on the maintenance of the security of the state and its people. These terrorist organizations are also trying to instigate both Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri Muslims against the Indian government not just by triggering off communal violence but also by distributing hate pamphlets on the mosques. The terrorists are also against the democratic set-up of the country. The result of this was seen in the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001.

Terrorism is a vital issue for the Indian government and it is working against it. The counter-terrorism policy of the Indian government has had success but still lot more needs to be done which requires the support of Pakistani government which runs most of the terrorist organizations in India. Terrorism is also a big obstacle in the smooth progress of talks between the two countries. India has repeatedly been asking the Pakistani government to stop supporting terrorism so that the bilateral talks can be continued. But there has been little support from Pakistani side. In order to establish much needed peace in South Asia it is essential that both countries take mutual steps in this direction; only then can Kashmir truly become the “Paradise on Earth.”

[1] B. Raman, Lecture at Baker Institute for Foreign Policy,

[2] B. Raman, Lecture at Baker Institute for Foreign Policy,

[3] South Asia Terrorism Portal, “Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front,”

[4] B. Raman, Lecture at Baker Institute for Foreign Policy,

[5] Human Rights Watch, “Behind the Kashmir Conflict.”

[6] Hewitt Vernon, Towards the Future? Jammu and Kashmir in the 21st Century, (Cambridge: Granta Editions, 2001).

[7] Hewitt Vernon, Towards the Future? Jammu and Kashmir in the 21st Century, (Cambridge: Granta Editions, 2001).

[8] Human Rights Watch, “Behind the Kashmir Conflict.”

[9] Hewitt Vernon, Towards the Future? Jammu and Kashmir in the 21st Century, (Cambridge: Granta Editions, 2001).

[10] Hewitt Vernon, Towards the Future? Jammu and Kashmir in the 21st Century, (Cambridge: Granta Editions, 2001).

[11], “Islamic Terrorism and Genocide of Kashmiri Pandits.”

[12], “Islamic Terrorism and Genocide of Kashmiri Pandits.”

[13] B. Raman, Lecture at Baker Institute for Foreign Policy,

[14] Federation of American Scientists, “Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.”

[15], “Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.”

[16] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[17] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[18] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[19]Institute for Conflict Management, “Lashkar-e-Toiba: Army of the Poor.”

[20] Federation of American Scientists, “ Lashkar-e-Toiba.”

[21] South Asian Terrorism Portal, “Lashkar-e-Toiba,

[22] South Asian Terrorism Portal, , “Lashkar-e-Toiba,

[23] South Asian Terrorism Portal, , “Lashkar-e-Toiba,

[24], “Pakistani Military Leader Vows Jihad Will Continue in Kashmir,” November 13, 2003.

[25], “Pakistani Military Leader Vows Jihad Will Continue in Kashmir,” November 13, 2003.

[26] South Asian Terrorism Portal, , “Lashkar-e-Toiba,

[27] Institute for Conflict Management, “Lashkar-e-Toiba: Army of the Poor.”

[28] [28] South Asian Terrorism Portal, , “Lashkar-e-Toiba,

[29] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[30] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[31], “At least 174 Killed in Indian Train Blasts: Prime Minister Says ‘Terrorists’ Behind the Acts,” CNN World, July 12, 2006.

[32] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[33] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[34] Jayasekera, Deepal, “Indian Budget: A Balancing Act That Can no Longer be Sustained,” World Socialist Website, March 23, 2005.

[35] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “War Against terror: Background.”

[36] Srinivasan, Rajiv, “India: The Kashmiri Colony,” Rediff News, November 9, 2002.

[37] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[38] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[39] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[40] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[41] Ministry of External Affairs, India, “The Fact Sheet on Jammu and Kashmir,” May 20, 2002.

[42] Interview with Mr. Amitabh Tripathi, November 20, 2006.

[43]Surinder Rana, “Post Elections Jammu and Kashmir,” Strategic Insights, Vol II, Issue 3 (March 2003).

[44] Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, “Jammu and Kashmir.”

[45] Suba Chandran, “Fighting the Fidayeens: Combating Suicide Terrorism in Kashmir,” Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, Article no. 650, November 28, 2001.

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