While US and Pakistan stress close ties, a United Nations deputy special representative in Afghanistan, Chris Alexander, said today that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency probably has been responsible for recent militant attacks in Afghanistan, supporting accusations made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Globe and Mail reported July 28. Plus Reuters reported today that Afghanistan's National Directorate of security said, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency has been training thousands of foreign militants to attack road construction projects by Indian companies working in eastern Afghanistan.
However it is clear, that both the July 25 and 26, attacks share a number of tactical features and reveal a long-standing strategy by Islamist militants linked to the Kashmir cause to incite Hindu-Muslim riots and provoke tensions between India and Pakistan. In recent years, such attacks have not been very successful in India, but certain factors now in play could change all that.
The perpetrators of both attacks focused on soft targets using several small, concealed devices that were triggered to explode within a short period of time. The explosive filler in both cases was reportedly ammonium nitrate, some chemical powder (believed to be sulfur) and shrapnel in the form of ball bearings, nuts and bolts. The explosive devices were placed in containers attached to bicycles or auto rickshaws or left on public buses to maximize casualties. In both cases, a timing device was used to trigger the blasts. The Ahmedabad and Bangalore attacks bear numerous similarities to May 2007 and November 2007 attacks in the Uttar Pradesh cities of Gorakhpur, Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow; a May 2008 attack in Jaipur, Rajasthan; and an August 2007 attack in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.
A little-known group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the recent Bangalore and Ahmedabad attacks in an e-mail, claiming they were in retaliation for the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat in which more than 1,000 (mostly Muslim) people were killed. The Indian Mujahideen appears to be yet another front group for some of the better-known Kashmiri Islamist militant groups such as Lashkar-e- Taiba, Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HUJI), which have cells sprinkled throughout India.
The strategic objective of these groups is twofold: incite communal riots between Hindus and Muslims and enflame political tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi. Meeting both objectives would allow these groups to bring to light any grievances Indian Muslims have with the Indian government and expand their support base within the country. The more chaos that ensues, the more room these militants have to maneuver in carrying out these plans and the more attention can be drawn to the Kashmir cause to revive the issue after years of relatively quiet relations between India and Pakistan.
In recent years, this strategy has not achieved what the militants hoped it would. Serial blasts would occur, security would be heightened, the government would condemn the attacks and then life would go on as usual without any significant social unrest. Under the current circumstances, however, these militants have a much better chance of causing some real trouble in India.
Though the ruling Congress party just survived a critical no-confidence vote, it is in no way in the clear. Rising inflation and food and fuel costs are bearing down on the Indian population, with the Congress party getting most of the blame for the pains caused by the commodity crisis. Meanwhile, the ruling party is trying to fend off accusations of bribing its way into winning the recent no-confidence vote. Eyeing the political opportunity to root the party out of office in the 2009 general elections, the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is already gearing up its campaign to bring the Congress party down using these issues to its advantage.
Throwing terror attacks into the mix provides the BJP with the perfect fodder to use in its incendiary political rhetoric. Not only can the BJP resort to its usual verbal attacks against the Congress party for being weak on the terror front for doing nothing more than issuing simple condemnations, it can also use the attacks to fuel its traditional Hindu nationalist rhetoric against Muslims to solidify support in its Hindu political strongholds.
And the militants are more than willing to encourage the BJP to act. Fiery political rhetoric against Muslims is just what they need to help incite riots and reach out to alienated Muslims to expand their local support networks. It also is no coincidence that the last three attacks in Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan were all in BJP-controlled states.
There is also greater potential now for these groups to enflame political tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad. What all these militant groups have in common are links that can be traced back to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which has long had its hands in inciting Islamist militancy in its Hindu-majority neighbor. Though the ISI links are probably on every Indian politician’s mind, the ruling Congress party has still refrained from pointing blame at Pakistan or even hinting at a foreign hand in the attacks. There appears to be a consensus among Indian policymakers that automatically blaming Pakistan every time something goes boom has damaged New Delhi’s credibility. Instead, as in the recent Indian Embassy bombing in Kabul, the Indian government has made a point to wait a few days before it starts lodging accusations.
Though the Indian government is showing some restraint in throwing blame at Pakistan, it has a politically expedient opportunity to enflame tensions across the Indo-Pak border should it choose to do so. Pakistan is already under heavy pressure from the United States to quit pussyfooting around the issue of getting a grip on its jihadist problem. The United States has in the past utilized India in its pressure campaigns against Pakistan by raising the specter of Islamabad getting double-teamed by both Washington and New Delhi. If the political pressure piles up enough for Congress at home, it could start to take a stronger stance against Pakistan in order to demonstrate its toughness on terror, particularly at a time when skirmishes across the Kashmir border are becoming more and more frequent.
But the Pakistani calculus in this mix is still quite murky. The groups carrying out attacks in India have links to the ISI, but as the latest brouhaha in Pakistan over who controls the ISI revealed, there is still a lot of debate over whether or not these attacks can be as clearly traced back to the Pakistani establishment as before. Moreover, in these latest attacks, the militants are using commercial and improvised explosives, unlike the trademark military explosive RDX that India has consistently used to point out an ISI link. It could be that these militants are using commercial explosives and ammonium nitrate as a way to better disguise a Pakistani hand in their attacks, or it could simply be a response to stronger countermeasures by the Indians in clamping down on the supply of such explosives. But even if it is more difficult these days to walk the cat back to Islamabad in investigating these attacks, India can still point the political rhetoric in whatever direction it sees fit.
Thus far, India has shown a great deal of restraint in its relations with Pakistan, still preferring to go through the motions of scheduled “confidence-building measures” as part of the ongoing peace process. But with Pakistan facing pressure from the United States over its jihadist insurgency and India’s ruling party facing pressure from political opponents in an election season, an explosive situation has emerged that Islamist militants in India have every intention of exploiting.
The BJP first managed to form a government in 1998 and again in 1999. It is one of the many fronts of the RSS, a `cultural' organisation set up in 1925 by Dr. KB. Hegdewar. Its aim was to promote India as a Hindu nation where minority religious groups would be subordinate to Hindus. M.S. Golwalkar, who became chief of the RSS in 1940, laid down the RSS ideology in We or Our Nationhood Defined. He wrote:
[I] n Hindusthan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu nation.... The foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment - not even citizen's rights. (1939: 62)
Initially (pre-1992), the Indian Muslim community in contrast to Pakistan had, little to no connections with Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, or with Pakistan and its clandestine operations in Kashmir. As a large minority, their principle objective seems only to retain a degree of cultural control over their social and personal life. Yet for a large number of Indians, particularly those sympathetic to the agenda of the BJP and its family of organizations (known as the Sangh Parivar), Muslim militancy in Kashmir was in their view the work of the Muslim "fifth column" represented by the 140 million Indian Muslims. Although transnational connections to Hindu-Muslim violence have existed since independence, these have compelled the Indian Muslims to in fact renounce ties with Pakistan or Kashmir.
The destruction of the sixteenth-century mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh in 1992 however, was the result of 60,000 Kar Sevaks being trained by retired Indian military officers prior to the December 6, 1992 onslaught on the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya.
The visual pictures of Kar Sevaks destroying the mosque with pick-axes where proved to be inflammatory - all over India, but especially in Mumbai, according to public reports, these were spontaneous reactions.
Riots are not insurgencies however (in the nature of civil wars), and also do not lead to wars with foreign powers. The Kashmir insurgency for example, could not be sustained as we suggested earlier on this website, without support from the Pakistani government. In fact while insurgencies are against a state and usually about territorial control or denying the same to the state, riots are almost always localized and move along a different ladder of escalation compared to insurgencies and wars. Riots are far from controlled events in that even those who initially trigger riots may lose control over the chain of violent retaliations. (See Rajat Ganguly, Kin State Intervention in Ethnic Conflicts, New Delhi, 1998.)
At the same time, riots are not as spontaneous as reported in the press, some element of organization even if it is a jerry-rigged alliance of riot specialists and musclemen. (Judy Barsalou, "Lethal Ethnic Riots: Lessons From India and Beyond," Special Report 101, United States Institute for Peace, Washington DC, February 2003, p.1.)
In the wake of the nation-wide campaign to mobilize Kar Sevaks, the Hindus in Mumbai, particularly in strongholds of the extreme Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena (Army of Shiva) political party, had already begun celebration rallies, shouting of anti-Muslim slogans, and aggressive displays of religious rituals in mixed neighborhoods. pitch ... propaganda unleashed by Hindu communal organizations and writings in newspapers like 'Saamna' and 'Navakal.’ ("Bloody Aftermath," India Today, December 31,1992,58-61.)
These riots thus could have been prevented had the initial killing been exposed as an act by criminals and firm action taken to prevent second-stage retaliation. Hence the Human Rights Commission report on Gujarat 2002 went beyond the recommendations made by the SKC, and urged international donors to make all aid conditional upon implementation of many of the above recommendations. (Smita Narula, "'We Have No Orders to Save You' State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat," HRW Report 14, no. 3, Human Rights Watch, April 2002, p.11.)
Where local dynamics are paramount, community perceptions might become linked to national ideologies. The resulting violence then becomes symbolic of a community's identity and its vengeance. But while common interests will put a brake on violence and destruction of property, the connection between economic interests and peace has been tentative at best. Building a violence control system that extends vertically through state and national government as well as horizontally into civil society and party organizations, seems the best solution. (National Commission for Minorities, Second Annual Report, FY 1994-1995, Government of India, 1997, 111-12.)
Greater minority representation in state-level ministries and cabinets as far as S. Asia concerns, is not effective in itself. Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have a far higher percentage of Muslims in the government and ministries but have far higher levels of violence than in Kerala and Bengal where the comparative percentages of Muslim ministers are much lower. Yet Uttar Pradesh and Bihar - were highly successful in preventing violence when clear orders were issued by political leaders to act forcefully. For example Steven Wilkinson, comments that in 1995, "most strikingly the coalition BJP-BSP government successfully prevented a repeat of the Ayodhya violence by restricting VHP plans to mobilize around another disputed religious site at Mathura." (Wilkinson, "Putting Gujarat in Perspective," Economic and Political Weekly 37, no. 17, 2002, p. 1579-83.)
Unfortunately one cannot always easily obtain' the kind of political demography and party politics Wilkinson requires for a cross-cutting cleavages to work. Plus his argument that political leaders will hesitate to trigger or encourage riots if minority voters occupy significant position in electoral calculations, presumes the presence of a minority community in significant numbers in a state to be able to make a difference in elections. In addition, this minority had to be united and well organized in a solid bloc to become a swing vote. This combination of factors is present only in some parts of India today. In other places, one would have to fall back on state protection, unbiased policing, political parties and leaders committed to minority rights, and policies that work to ensure a sense of safety and well-being for the vulnerable population. That is, rely on a coalition of anti-riot interests activated well before sporadic violence becomes a full-scale riot.
Elsewhere, Paul R. Brass underscores the importance of anti-riot coalitions in which the state forges a partnership with the civic associations and anti-violence constituencies. (Brass, Theft of an Idol, Text and Context in the Representation of Collective Violence, Princeton University Press, 1997, p.257.) Brass's fieldwork also found that when his interviews respondents were asked why they refrained from second-stage retaliation, the answer invariably was that they felt a sense of trust in the state government and in the local authorities that the situation would be brought under control. (Brass, p. 258.)
It thus follows that if the police act with speed and dispatch - banning processions, preventing emotionally charged public rituals, and quickly arresting "troublemakers" (who are the riot specialists to use Brass's term) - the chain can be broken. In other words, the police, the parties, and the state at both local and national level must be involved in stopping the violence. If the local authorities fail, the federal authorities must rapidly step in to fill the power vacuum and watch over the actions of local authorities. Who will make them do this? This is where the horizontal coalition of anti-violence interests and constituencies become critical. They will make the political parties, state authorities, and even federal government pay the price for neglect.
Where democracy is in itself highly desirable, the procedures of democracy have an ambiguous relationship with violence at least in South Asia (and the Middle East, recent example Iraq). Frequently, democracy has meant more competition for office, power, and control over resources of the state. Democracy then tends to be contentious and in a segmented society’s such can lead to conflict and violence.
As for the by now famous Godhra ‘incident’, it is clear that Home Minister Advani should have refrained from erroneously (before even an investigation had been launched) linking it with Pakistan and its intelligence agencies the day after the burning of the rail compartments and simple was the result of an accident.
For Mark Juergensmeyer, Ashis Nandy, and Partha ChatteIjee if true, the Indian state and its politics are artificial, predatory, and operate in a spiritual vacuum. (Juergensmeyer, The New Cold War? Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, 1993; Nandy, "The Politics of Secularism and Recovery of Religious Tolerance," in Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots, and Survivors in South Asia , ed. Veena Das, 1990, 69-93; Partha Chatterjee, "Secularism and Toleration," Economic and Political Weekly 29, 1994, 1768-77.) According to the three cited authors India 's modernist secular declaration prevents it from drawing on the embedded traditions of tolerance and coexistence rooted in the subcontinent's life and society. And a modem urban, middle class Indian as a result, would be ready fodder to the communal nationalism, whether Hindu or Islamic.
It seems however that Gandhian politics wanted to combine rational thought with traditional values of cooperation not competition, tolerance not conversion, sacrifice not aggression. In fact this understanding might have derived from the fact that “ India ” is a conglomeration of many conflicting factions and interests.
In addition, the Reddy Commission appointed after the September 1969 Ahmedabad riots identified the state government's lack of purpose and clear orders, rather than any lack of state strength, as the key factor prolonging the violence. Evidently a similar pattern of negligence explains the delays in deploying force when riots occurred in Ranchi (1967), Bhagalpur (1989), and Mumbai (1992-93).
Of course where some elements of the state and its agencies may be biased others that are capable of imposing law and order may simple be confused rather than complicit. In this case building a coalition of interested segments that would support reform and checkmate local riot systems by joining other segments within the state that are opposed to the weakening of political institutions could be effective.
For a coalition of anti-riot forces - official and civic – to become stronger than those benefiting from riots and currently in power, furthermore might depend on the system of incentives and rewards that the anti-riot network is able to provide. In other words, the purpose of state and party patronage needs to be reoriented, rewarding those who stand up in a sustained manner for peace as opposed to those who perpetrate violence in pursuit of immediate interests. But might still not work, when the local and central state belongs to the same political party with an agenda (see Gujarat 2002). Riots may not then be prevented in every instance but they can be localized and isolated and prevented from spreading in many more instances than is the case at present. Even such coalitions need nurturing and constant repair to make the pieces fit and work well.
The concern over international image, which is important for a steady flow of global capital, in this case is not sufficient to compel cities and towns to close down riot systems and compete with each other to earn a reputation for probity, prosperity, stability, and efficiency. For as shown in case of the Gujarat riots of 2002 these links can be pernicious. Where the previous decade and a half, expatriate Gujaratis and diasporic Indians, had been investing in real estate and other businesses in Gujarat, and not to suggest by terrorizing the Muslim population they hoped to pick up cheap real estate, a large number among them did supported the BJP and its family of Hindu militant organizations. This also means that state capacity ought to be measured in how efficiently a state is able to resolve conflicts before they go beyond electoral politics.
For as we have seen, institutional capacity to solve tensions at the point where they originate will prevent escalation. Given the coalition strategy proposed above it is limited by the alignment of political and ideological forces at a given time, cannot guarantee peace, it still can prove to be an important learning process even when it fails.
In fact a combination of events thus also brought Pakistan, to the forefront on Monday, casting light on the complexity of the problem that the United States faces in attempting to stabilize operations in Afghanistan and pressuring Islamabad to reassert control over the jihadists operating on its side of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
In Washington, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani met with President George W. Bush, while in Islamabad, U.S. Central Command chief Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey met with Pakistan’s top generals, Ashfaq Kayani and Tariq Majid. In both negotiations, tensions ran high, with the Americans warning that they are growing increasingly impatient with lawlessness on the border and the Pakistanis replying that they are doing everything within their power to stop it.
Two incidents served to ratchet tensions even higher as the U.S.-Pakistani talks took place. First, the government in Islamabad retracted its decision on July 26 to bring the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency under civilian control. The ISI fiasco helps to explain the jihadists’ ineradicable involvement in Pakistan’s state structures, since the agency is notorious for having operatives with hidden links to jihadists. The prospect of bringing the ISI under the civilian government’s supervision was never actually feasible because the military — the real source of power in Pakistan — opposed it. Later came news that a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle had fired missiles at a religious school in South Waziristan, killing six civilians on Pakistani soil and fueling Pakistani hostility toward their own government and the United States.
The ISI incident and the airstrike exemplify both the internal and the external challenges facing Pakistan. If it is to rein in the jihadists, Pakistan must consider three basic strategies for fighting such an insurgency. The first strategy involves using its military’s brute force to stamp out the threat, as Egypt, Syria and Libya have done in the past. The second consists of allowing the United States unilaterally to quell the insurgency, as it has attempted to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. The third strategy entails trying to resolve the conflict solely by means of negotiations and diplomacy. These strategies are clearly inadequate on their own, however, and only a clever combination of negotiation and force has a chance of arresting the conflict’s downward spiral.
Such a combination of strategies is precisely what Saudia Arabia employed, beginning in 2004, to shut down its jihadist insurgency. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are drastically different countries, but what they share is the potential to host thriving Islamist movements — emerging among the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia and the Deobandis in Pakistan — that exist at radical variance with the U.S.-supported, conservative central governments. These religious movements create a wide social network that lends support to militant jihadist groups that define themselves in contrast to the regime and the United States.
Saudi Arabia, like Pakistan, was an ideal breeding ground for jihadist militants, but the Saudis were able to dampen homegrown militant ideology through a full-fledged security crackdown enabled by dependable intelligence, under-the-table politicking and bribes to gain the cooperation of various factions, and deliberate engagement with the religious establishment to promote nonviolent alternatives. For a time, the Saudis also sent jihadists to join the fray in Iraq, further whittling down the movement’s ranks, though the United States soon put a stop to this practice just as it is attempting to do with the Pakistani militants funneling into Afghanistan. By 2005, Saudi Arabia had dramatically trimmed its radical Islamist fringe, with either militants botching their attacks or security forces pre-empting them.
Yet the Saudi analogy only goes so far — in fact, it contrasts so starkly as to make the challenges of Pakistan even clearer. Pakistan’s mountainous terrain makes it difficult to scour the whole country as easily as Saudi security forces scoured theirs, and Pakistan never had an official religious hierarchy like the Saudis’ ulema, capable of exerting organizational control over masses of believers while working in tandem with the government. Also, crucially, the Saudis had petro-dollars to throw at the problem, while Pakistan must rely on U.S. aid to fund its civilian activities.
Moreover, while Saudi Arabia’s jihadist movement emerged out of resentment of U.S. foreign policy, that policy has a harsh and direct bearing on Pakistanis today — which disposes them against playing into the United States’ hands. As the United States has grown more frustrated with Pakistan’s inability to control its rogue elements, it has taken more strident and independent military actions, occasionally harming or killing Pakistani civilians and thus generating sharper resistance within Pakistan. A distinct danger of U.S. military operations in Pakistan is that as anger with the United States grows, the possibility of driving people toward sympathizing with the jihadist factions increases.
Furthermore, the United States has limitations on how much pressure it can apply on Pakistan’s military. Since the military is the sole guarantor of order in Pakistan — a nuclear-armed country — the United States needs it to stay in a strong and stable position. It cannot push too hard to have its way without making the military vulnerable to reaction by popular forces within Pakistan that oppose it.
As the U.S. military draws closer to tying up the loose ends in Iraq, the complications of the task awaiting it in Afghanistan seem to multiply. Pakistan is the source of much uncertainty and contingency in this theater, and there is no clear solution to the mess there. If the United States and its allies are to succeed, they will have to do so despite exceedingly narrow constraints.
1) The last major attack in Hyderabad occurred May 18 when Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, working with the Student Islamic Movement of India, carried out a bomb attack against the Mecca Mosque. That attack - reminiscent of jihadist tactics in Iraq - was revealing of a strategy by these groups to strike at Muslim targets in an attempt to incite communal riots between Hindus and Muslims. However, Hyderabad’s Muslim community failed to take the bait and instead turned increasingly hostile toward these militant groups, further threatening their support base.
The idea of Muslim ssuspects, attacking fellow Muslims to incite riots is anomalous in India, though not completely unprecedented. In September 2006, a series of coordinated explosions killed 37 people and injured more than 125 in a Muslim cemetery next to a mosque in the northern town of Malegaon (about 180 miles northeast of Mumbai) in the state of Maharashtra. Most of those killed were Muslim pilgrims who were attending Friday prayers on the Shab-e-Baraat holy day. After a series of arrests and investigations, Maharashtra police reported that the attack was the work of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). India's Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) then reported in November 2006 that the main perpetrator of the attack, whose nom de guerre is Shabbir Batterywala, is a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative who was working with SIMI member Raees Ahmad. Another member of SIMI, Noor-ul-Huda, reportedly admitted after his arrest that he organized the attack.
These militant Islamist groups have traditionally focused on Hindu targets to provoke extremist Hindu groups into retaliating against Muslims across India, along the lines of what happened in 1993 in Mumbai and 2002 in Gujarat when Hindu mobs went on violent rampages against Muslims, resulting in some of the deadliest communal riots in India's history. However, Indians have largely become inured to these militant attacks and have failed to provide the wide-scale, violent response the Islamist groups hope for.
The lack of a Hindu response could have led to a shift in thinking among the Kashmiri Islamist groups operating in India, who might have decided to risk alienating local support by staging attacks against Muslims in hopes of reigniting Hindu-Muslim tensions in locations that have a history of deadly communal violence. (It is important to note that these groups are rooted in Wahhabi doctrine, which justifies attacking mainstream Barelvi and secular Muslims.)