Why radicalization in India via Bangladesh is not a myth
In a recent interaction with the authors of this article, senior security officials painted a rather skeptical and caustic picture of the radicalization scenario not just in Assam but across India. Nearly 99% of the experts are of the opinion that the Islamist radicalization that is being talked about is unfounded, without substance and that the reports do not corroborate any of the aspects that have been reported in the media. The position was particularly surprising because it emanated from the ground. The simplest of the explanations given was that even though Bangladesh is very close to Lower Assam, the way Islamist radicals are controlled, thanks to Sheikh Hasina’s dispensation, prevents a spillover of radicalization into India.
However, the analysis stands and, in this case, the foundations of radicalization require further examination. Even though the Sheikh Hasina dispensation has been seriously focused on limiting the rise of Islamist groups in Bangladesh, besides being a responsible friend of India, the point is to understand the semantics of Islam radical and its militant form.
To begin with, there are five keys mazhabs or schools in Islam. The main ones are a) Hanafi b) Shafei c) Maliki d) Hanbali and e) Zafariya (who is mainly Shia). The Muslims of India are predominantly drawn from the Hanafi sect of Islam. The sect adheres to the school of thought propounded by Imam Abu Hanifa and is considered the most liberal of the four Islamic schools of thought. However, it is the Hanbali school that is clearly the main sect behind the actions and motivations of formations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS (although there are also members of other sects in both). groups). The fact is that with the “entry” of both al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS through the Waliyah-i-Hind (Tutorship of Hindustan) in India, it is possible that the current atmosphere is witnessing the radicalization of a significant group of Muslims in India.
Subsequently, the phenomenon of radicalization can be attributed to the growing influence of the Hanbali school in the country through the resurgence of the Indian Popular Front (PFI). However, PFI – whose top leadership is mainly from Kerala – denies allegations that the organization has any relationship with the Hanbali school (another name for Wahabi and/or Salafi), regardless of whether it has radicalized the Indian Muslims towards the conservative strain of Islam.
In addition, the Hifazat-e-Islam Bangladesh (HIB) and Islami Andolan Bangladesh (IOB) in former East Pakistan – Islamist formations which have re-emerged in the present day – are close associates of the PFI. The HIB and IOB work inside Bangladesh as field activists of al-Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated organizations such as Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Ansarullah Bangla Team ( ABT). Bowing to immense pressure from the Sheikh Hasina Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Apparatus in Bangladesh, JMB and ABT have curtailed their activities for the time being, instead supporting surrogates through HIB and IOB. The scheme is simple. The methodology is to instill a sense of complacency in the establishment that promotes the idea that JMB and ABT are gone. On the contrary, the reality is that they have activated “Op Confusion” in Bangladesh as well as a rejuvenated Islamism.
Indeed, a deliberate interlude or tactical retreat is a tried and true stratagem of war. The authors recall a book “A German General on the Eastern Front: Gotthard Heinrici’s Letters and Diaries, 1941-1942” by Johannes Hurter. It makes for interesting reading in the article contest and, therefore, deserves a pass at this point. The excerpt states: “General Heinrici was a master of tactical retreat. The German general would attack the Russians and make a gain and stop when his attack ran out of steam. He would quickly build a false fortification on the freshly reached forward positions in order to create a ruse. Heinrici would then instantly withdraw his forces five to six miles to a predetermined line of defense. The next morning the Russians would unleash an artillery barrage on the false German front line and deploy many divisions after the artillery barrage had stopped. The ruse worked and the Russians on reaching the “false front line” – without anyone – would run out of steam. At the same time, Heinrici closely watched the Russian artillery barrage and sent his army forward towards the exhausted Russians and staged a counterattack, often achieving victory. The general used this tactic several times. The Russians apparently never quite understood how he managed to trick them.
The point being made is that although ISIS suffered a territorial defeat, it was able to confuse the enemy with its continuous subterfuge, turning disadvantages into advantages. Al-Qaeda and ISIS have once again joined forces (they have always been one despite what some short-sighted observers seem to have assumed) and it is up to the enemy to probe their presence in within a population that has become even more resolute. The determination emanating from a) the spectacular successes achieved by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State since 9/11 and b) the sharp line that has been drawn between “us and them”. Incidentally, in this regard, opposition forces are also responsible for deepening the divide, with some right-wing factions deliberately fanning the fires of suspicion. A lucid analysis would therefore highlight the simplicity with which the Islamists were able to not only rest, recuperate and transform, but prepare for the next attack.
Therefore, while between 1999 and 2005 there was a massive violent movement and radicalization that the authors describe as the “first wave”, the “second wave” began with the “oath of allegiance” or Bay’ah by groups such as JMB and ABT to the Islamic State following the formation of the neo-caliphate of Abu Bakr-al-Baghdadi. It was also the time to undertake hijrah in response to “the call of ar-raqqa”. Territorial setbacks have witnessed persistent ‘lone wolf’ attacks across the world, including in places like Orlando and Nice, and observers of Islamist action in Bangladesh would recall the ‘hostage situation in Dhaka on July 1, 2016 and machete killings and suicide bombings. the years following the event. The new “call to arms” was to decimate the infidel wherever he found himself hijrah was no longer an undemanding affair.
However, the fierce action of the Bangladeshi security forces against the Islamists temporarily calmed the radicals and the “battle” was – temporarily – turned over to the good offices of the HIB and IOB who keep the movement alive by demanding aspects such as the enactment of “blasphemy laws”, the non-erection of statues (mainly that of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) which they declare un-Islamic, and making “Islamic education compulsory from primary to upper secondary, nullifying women’s policy and anti-religious education policy” and “freedom for all arrested ulema and madrasa students and the dropping of all charges against them, compensation for victims and bringing the aggressors to justice”.
However, with the near total territorial eviction of the Islamic State from the areas it had occupied in Iraq and Syria, the strategy is about to witness a sea change. Under the impetus of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, already present in India, their affiliates (including the PFI) would open the doors of radicalism and take on the most threatening form hitherto. It would be a combination of a) mass recruitment b) protests against acts, laws and ministry that a combined group of radicals consider un-Islamic – thus bringing into their fold the bums and moderates within the minority community and c) unleashing the sophistication of forms of violence that most agencies could not even imagine.
Guides and formulated aggression that direct the “warrior genes” in both a deviant mind and a radical are plentiful, as are ready-to-use explosives manuals that can show how a lethal weapon is assembled with relative ease. Triacetone Triperoxide, an explosive known as ‘Mother of Satan’, believed to have been first used in the November 13, 2015 Paris bombings and easily slipped into a jacket – reports suggest – seems to have emerged as the flavor of the times. Memories of Shakira, wife of Rashedur Rahman Sumon, a staunch pro-ISIS, Neo-JMB executive blowing herself up with her baby in her lap on December 26, 2016 should be proof enough of how a “monkey exercise” would be spawned by Indian counterparts in what the authors presage as the dawn of the “third wave” of radicalization.
India can be sure of its own approach to the influx of radicalization from Bangladesh and its networks in India. Radicalization can never stop, it can only be suspended. And it is from this premise that Indian agencies must prepare for an inevitable onslaught. The only certainty that remains to be accepted is “where there is a “third wave”, there will be a “fourth”.
Rami N. Desai is a conflict analyst and anthropologist with over a decade of experience in the northeast region. Jaideep Saikia is also a conflict analyst and a famous author of over 14 books on security. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the position of this publication.
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