On August 31 of last year, hours after the last US troops withdrew from Afghanistan, al-Qaida issued a statement congratulating the Taliban on their victory. He then called for a “global jihad” to free Kashmir, Somalia, Yemen and other “Islamic lands” from “the clutches of the enemies of Islam”.
Although al-Qaida has failed to make a breakthrough among Indian Muslims so far, the declaration, as well as the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan – and, consequently, Pakistan’s victory over the India in the battle for influence in Afghanistan – raised concerns among India. security establishment. Would the developments stimulate Islamist militancy in India?
Although the founding leader of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, referred to Jammu and Kashmir as well as Assam as early as 1996, he mainly focused on the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan. . But after Bin Laden’s death, his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri “initiated the reorganization of al-Qaida, focusing mainly on South Asia.”
In September 2014, al-Zawahiri gave concrete form to this goal by formally establishing a new chapter in the region, “Qaida al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent” (al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS). Asim Omar, an Indian national, has been appointed group director emir (leader) in order to establish “Sharia law in the country [of South Asia] and liberate the occupied land from Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. The goal of AQIS has been to unite Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar) under one ruler by hoisting the flag of jihad.
The jihadist group’s presence in India became apparent when three members of AQIS were arrested in Delhi in 2015. Delhi police then arrested Maulana Abdul Rehman Kasmi, a member of AQIS, and claimed that AQIS had set up a training camp “somewhere in the forests of Jharkhand”.
AQIS has reached its Indian audience through its propaganda publications. In these, he drew attention to Muslim victimization in Kashmir, India’s hegemony in Southeast Asia, which undermines Muslim values and culture, and its alliances with “infidels” – the states -United and Russia.
Despite its efforts and despite being home to nearly 200 million Indians, AQIS has not been able to find as much traction in India as it has in Pakistan and Bangladesh. He was unable to carry out major attacks in the country.
There are several reasons for Al-Qaida’s failure to attract Indian Muslims.
Socially, even though Muslims are a minority in India, they are well integrated into mainstream society as Muslims have lived in India for nearly a thousand years. Unlike European countries, they don’t feel alienated.
Politically, India has been a beacon for the South Asian region, even though the rise of Hindu nationalism has put enormous pressure on the democratic, socio-cultural and political fabric of India. Democratic processes and institutions provide legal avenues for Muslims to voice their grievances and resolve issues politically.
The Indian Muslim community and Islamic scholars in the country have played an important role in moderating Muslim thought. Islamic rulers of India madrasas (religious schools), especially the Deobandi madrassas, Salafists and Muslim party leaders, disapproved of violent extremism and spoke out strongly against terrorism in the name of Islam.
Culturally, Indian society is still a collectivist society where dozens of family members live side by side. This family system functions as a watchdog to prevent radicalization of younger family members. Another cultural factor that has helped moderate Indian Muslims is that India, which is the cradle of several oriental religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism and home to all the major religions of the world, has a strong tradition of ideologies and syncretic ideas. pluralism and inclusivism, rather than exclusivism. It had a strong influence on Muslims.
Global geopolitics also played a role. Although the Afghan war of the 1980s contributed to the growth of religious radicalism in South Asia, India was not affected as much as other countries in the region as it was aligned with the Soviet Union at that time. . He did not face the flood of returning Mujahedin. This prevented the further growth of radicalism in the country. In addition, India’s strategic relationship with countries in the Middle East has made it difficult for young Muslims to travel to these countries for training and networking. This prevented the jihadist network from gaining a foothold on Indian soil.
In addition, India has acted vigorously against the jihadists. Intelligence sharing and coordinated action between various central, state and international security agencies enabled effective surveillance of suspected militants. For example, India has succeeded in preventing some jihadists from joining the Islamic State thanks to the Chakravyuh cyberoperation. Proactive cyber surveillance and intelligence sharing have helped India control jihadist activity in the country.
More importantly, India does not offer a strategic advantage to young Muslims who join jihadist organizations. Muslims are neither a majority in India as they are in Bangladesh and Pakistan, nor a tiny minority like in European countries. On the one hand, Indian Muslim society does not welcome radical ideologies because Muslims in India are unable to establish an Islamic state, nor can they attract a large part of the population through the use of violence. The strategic use of violence therefore does not make sense in India. On the other hand, it does not make sense for young Muslims to travel abroad to fight and sacrifice their lives when they have the opportunity to make their voices heard within the Indian democratic system. For this strategic reason, jihadism has become an expensive option for Indian Muslims.
However, things are changing. ISIS, which once attracted recruits to India, is in decline. AQIS could capitalize on the ideological vacuum.
In addition, domestically, the situation of Muslims in India has deteriorated considerably with the coming to power of the Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata, promulgating laws and implementing policies that systematically discriminate against Muslims. Thousands of Indian Muslims face statelessness, are lynched to death and are not allowed to pray. This could make them more responsive to global jihadist calls.
There are worrying signs of increased jihadist activity. In July 2021, Uttar Pradesh police arrested two members of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, the al-Qaida affiliate in Kashmir. They are said to have planned attacks on overcrowded locations in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, before August 15, India’s Independence Day. The arrest led to subsequent searches of five locations in Kashmir, signaling the possibility of an al-Qaida network in India.
In October, police in northeastern Assam state issued an alert about possible Al-Qaida attacks linked to allegations of persecution of Muslims in the state. These reports indicate that al-Qaida’s presence in India is growing and that the group is capitalizing on the growing anger of Muslims in the country.
AQIS has also stepped up its propaganda activity. He released three consecutive videos in October and November 2021 titled “Don’t stand idly by in mourning”, “Kashmir is ours” and “The initiator is the aggressor”. While the subject of the first video is the persecution of Muslims in India, the second argues that India and Kashmir belong to Muslims. The third video calls on young Indian Muslims to stand up to defend their honor and their religion. “Line up collectively to defend yourself against the Hindu mobsters! Organize young people at the neighborhood level! Plan to retaliate in the event of a future attack! ” it says.
Will Indian Muslims be impressed by AQIS appeals this time around?