According to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, D.C., the death toll of 3,674 people in India between January 2004 and March 2007 ranks it second only to Iraq in terms of terrorism casualties.
More than ever before, this has become cause for alarm, because unlike earlier strikes on Indian soil where the roots could be traced back directly to operatives in Pakistan, blasts in recent times are the handiwork of homegrown terrorists. In May this year, blasts in the Indian city of Jaipur took 80 lives, and, in July, terrorists killed 55 people in a strike in Ahmedabad.
Indian politicians are not helping the situation. Some raise the specter of fanaticism in the name of Hinduism to meet the terrorist threat head-on, keeping one eye on the exclusive Hindu vote, while others practice appeasement politics, treating fundamentalists the same as secular Indian Muslims, wary of losing the entire Muslim vote.
The Indian Mujahideen, strongly suspected of masterminding earlier strikes and claiming responsibility for the series of blasts in New Delhi in an email to the media, could not have made a move on their own if they had not been influenced by groups across the border in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Such a precarious situation raises several questions: Are adequate efforts are being made by countries to address the roots of terrorism? Is the world, which is fixated on Pakistan’s volatile, rugged northwest region where American forces battle suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, increasingly overlooking other nations that either support terrorism or turn a blind eye to their operations?
It is alleged that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, has used U.S. aid over the years to wage covert operations in India. Allegations were rife about Pakistan’s role in the recent bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The ISI is accused of sending terrorists into Indian Kashmir, who then train locals and indoctrinate them with their ideologies and philosophies, all in a bid to create mayhem in India.
There is no denying the fact that the ISI’s agenda has led to the creation of terrorist sleeper cells within India. In Bangladesh, where anti-Indian sentiments run high in certain circles, the ISI has sought to outsource some of its terrorism training to be used against India. Poverty, believed to be the cause for disillusioned youth to careen towards terrorism – though not always applicable in India – is the most potent reason for recruitment in Bangladesh’s villages.
The Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, a terrorist outfit in Bangladesh set up by Bin Laden’s cohorts in the 1990s, was suspected to be behind blasts in the Indian state of Hyderabad last year. It is also believed that militancy in the name of Islam flourished not only under Khaleda Zia’s government in Bangladesh but also under past military rulers who looked upon radicals for support in the absence of popular public backing.
Bangladesh’s news daily Amader Shomoy, or “Our Times,” wrote that Al Qaeda senior leader Ayman Jawahiri’s visit to Dhaka, as the guest of a local handicraft dealer, was mediated by a Pakistani diplomat, quoting sources in the Dhaka metropolitan police.
The Weekly Blitz also featured a story on how Al Qaeda started operating in Bangladesh with the help of local Islamist leaders like Mufti Shahid, a close aide of Bin Laden.
Selig S. Harrison’s article in the Los Angeles Times, “Get a grip on Dhaka,” published July 2, quotes the U.S. State Department’s report of HUJI’s contact with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In his article, Harrison mentions how HUJI’s founder, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a signatory to Bin Laden’s first holy war against the United States, “quietly built up terrorist bases in Bangladesh’s jungles, under the protective aegis of the military regime allied to militants.”
Bangladesh’s border along India’s eastern state of West Bengal is porous, which makes it easy for terrorists to infiltrate and intermingle with the similar ethno-linguistic population on the other side of the border, and later fan out to other parts of India.
Unless Bangladesh is brought into the focus of international attention in the aftermath of the terrorist strikes on the Indian subcontinent, a more realistic approach toward combating the menace of terrorism may elude policymakers not only in India, but in the United States as well.
( Susenjit Guha is a freelance writer living in Kolkata, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. ©Copyright Susenjit Guha.)