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A resilient India must not rush to look outward in its struggle against terrorism

Commentary, 2 March 2010
Terrorism, Central and South Asia
The bomb attack in Pune on 14 February, claimed by a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) splinter group, has once again brought the spectre of jihadist terrorism within India into focus. To build on progress made in recent talks, Indian policy makers must look beyond narrow internal and external rhetoric surrounding terrorist attacks.

The bomb attack in Pune on 14 February, claimed by a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) splinter group, has once again brought the spectre of jihadist terrorism within India into focus. To build on progress made in recent talks, Indian policy makers must look beyond narrow internal and external rhetoric surrounding terrorist attacks.   

By Thomas Kirk for 

Unfolding Instability in Kashmir- A Blind Spot in

The 14 February atrocity in Pune came after two days of promising discussions in Bangkok between delegates from India and Pakistan. Undeterred by the attack, the respective foreign ministers held talks on 25 February in a crucial move towards the resumption of a five year peace dialogue halted by the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.Declarations of a commitment to 'remain in touch' with Pakistan from the Indian Foreign Secretary suggest that the militaristic mindset that shaped Operation Parakram, the response to the jihadist attack on India's Parliament House in 2001, no longer prevails in New Delhi.

In contrast, leaders of the Hindu nationalist opposition party, Bharatiya Janata, had called for the talks to be halted until further information about the incident was uncovered. Furthermore, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently warned the Indian government that jihadist groups, which he suggested care little about Kashmir's future, are looking to provoke major conflict in South Asia. Both parties ignore domestic drivers of conflict and invoke external sources when discussing the flow of extremists willing to attack India. Such positions are guilty of misunderstanding the origins and nature of the contemporary threat.

Kashmir and extremist groups

 The acquisition of nuclear weapons, combined with the incubation of extremist organisations, has  opened Pakistan to accusations of fighting proxy wars with India under the cover of a nuclear umbrella.[1] Moreover, Pakistan is variously charged with creating tensions within India's Muslim communities, seeking the containment of Indian influence in Afghanistan and attempting to tie down numerically advantaged Indian forces in limited asymmetric conflicts. Continued insurgency in Kashmir, the 2008 Kabul embassy bombing and Musharraf's Kargil incursion in 1999 are offered in support of these arguments. Recent attacks within India, including the Mumbai massacre perpetrated by LeT, and a spate of bombings from 2007-08 claimed by the Indian Mujahedeen (IM), have also been added to this roster. However, such narratives choose to ignore Kashmir's historical and contemporary reality; allowing Pakistan to be firmly depicted as the revisionist power in the sub-continent. [2]

Pakistan's foreign intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, and the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) created the Mujahedeen to repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Eight years later, young Indian Muslims from Kashmir crossed into Pakistan to receive training and arms from this successful network. Although probably harbouring different motives, both the veterans of the Afghan conflict and ISI agents involved in the schooling of Kashmiris  were capitalising on a long history of discontent with the central Indian Government. The Instrument of Accession signed in 1947 and Article 370 of the Indian constitution enacted in 1952 granted Kashmir a level of autonomy unprecedented throughout the Indian Union. The central government's powers were limited to external affairs, defence and communication. In all other realms Kashmir was granted autonomy, with a separate Parliament, flag, law courts and constitution. However, stability within the state was not destined to last.  

A nervous central government repeatedly violated Kashmir's democratic federal social contract over the following decades. A pattern of disciplining Kashmiri leaders for rhetoric alluding to outright independence was quickly established.  Alternatively, when deemed beneficial, the same leaders' opportunistically eroded the state's unique powers in concert with central government. [3] New Delhi chipped away at democratic liberties; regularly banning the free press for anti-Indian opinions and coming down hard on political protests.[4]  Throughout this period Pakistan tried to capitalise on the discontent, but the Kashmiris remained unmoved.

The wake up call, denoted by the beginning of a bloody insurgency that has claimed more than 47,000 lives to date, came after central government interference in the state elections of 1987. Throughout the early stages of the insurgency Kashmir's young fighters did not need the rallying cry of jihadist ideology.  Javed Ahmed Mir, a member of the Haji group of four Kashmiri students belonging to the popular Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) - who first crossed the border that year- admits that the AK-47s his group acquired were supplied by agents of the Pakistani state. Yet he maintains that the JKLF's purpose was to divert the attention of the international community to Kashmir's political struggle. [5]

Since 2001, violence in Kashmir has been largely orchestrated by foreign groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and LeT. It is argued that these groups view Kashmir as one part of a larger global conflict against an elite oppressing Muslims in places such as Palestine, Chechnya and the Philippines. Aided by focus on the Bush administration's 'War on Terror', they have largely succeeded in silencing the voices of the JKLF and other secular local groups who began the insurgency in 1987.  Global jihadists have shown a willingness to take the fight to other parts of India as was demonstrated by the LeT's use of fidayeen tactics,  pioneered in Kashmir, in Delhi in 2001 and Mumbai in 2008. The dominance of these groups has blurred the distinction between the militant, insurgent and jihadist in India.

India should not ignore evidence that Indian Kashmiris make up 40-60 per cent of the ranks of such Pakistani based jihadist organisations.[6] They are believed to largely hail from the ethno-linguistically distinct Rajouri-Poonch region of Indian Jammu and Kashmir, described by an expert as having the socioeconomic conditions conducive to recruitment.[7] Analysis, augmented by recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, suggests insurgents rely on frustrated local populations for logistical support and manpower. 62 per cent of Kashmir's population is below thirty, the state is geographically isolated from a rapidly developing India and recently established land links to Pakistan have proven unreliable. Although observers are correct to highlight an economy that is struggling to meet the expectations of an increasingly modern population, it must be noted that poverty within Kashmir is amongst the lowest in India, hovering around 3-4 per cent, compared with a national average of roughly 26 per cent. The population's willingness to support and engage in violence against the state cannot be simplified to a single source. 

Further complicating the issue is the fact that the young population defied militant orders in 2008 and turned out in great numbers: estimates suggest as many as 60.5 per cent, to vote in the Jammu and Kashmir state elections. However, this small victory for democracy has been tempered during, the last twelve months which has witnessed the largest public demonstrations within Indian Kashmir against local security forces since 2004 and the first increase in border infiltrations since 2005. Moreover, one week before the Pune attack, LeT leaders declared that the failure of dialogue on Kashmir and India's stance on the Indus Water Treaty provided justification for targeting Indian cities. Another indicator of jihadist rationalisation has been given by Ilyas Kashmiri, Al-Qa'ida's operational commander, who communicated the 313 Brigades' intention to target participants in the Hockey World Cup in New Delhi unless 'the Indian Army leaves Kashmir and gives the Kashmiris their right of self-determination'.

Contrary to Secretary Gates' warning, it is apparent that the Kashmir issue is still very much alive both within the state and in jihadist ideology. Although not a final solution to the brand of global violence advocated by groups such as the LeT, as with the generation of 1987, young Kashmiris want the ability to channel discontent through the political process to counter the persuasive arguments peddled by jihadist recruiters. The Indian government would do well to consider the sentiments voiced by a former Kashmiri militant who noted that the public nursed the insurgency and that, if required, 'the topography and the people will sustain militancy' until grievances are addressed. [8]

A hidden Pakistani hand?

Before 11 September 2001 Pakistan's support of terrorist groups almost earned it a place on America's list of state sponsors of terrorism. However, recent history casts ambiguity over the level of control organs of the state exercise over jihadist groups.

Indicative of the government's failure to retain a monopoly on the use of violence, former President Musharraf escaped three jihadist attempts on his life, last year the army's Rawalpindi headquarters was assaulted by Punjabi militants and the adjective 'civil war' is commonly attached to the state's ongoing battle with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In 2009 there were  3,021 deaths in terrorist incidents, up 48 per cent on the year before, and critics contend that the nation's security forces cannot or will not confront certain Afghan Taliban groups and internationally wanted individuals such as Hafez Saeed. The chaos extends beyond Pakistan's borders with Western states often linking a fierce Afghan insurgency and transnational terrorist plots in Europe to the country's Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA).

Technically subordinate to the army and commonly referred to as the 'state within a state', the ISI plays an undefined role in the current chaos. However, the agency's power can be seen in the several failed attempts made by Pakistan's government to bring it under civilian control.  Material links between the ISI and jihadists are well documented, but not so well known are the agency's operational ideology or levels of oversight.[9] Termed the 'war economy', the agency's alleged involvement with drug cartels, gun running, and racketeering has been posited to explain some of its actions.[10]  Discerning the agency's contemporary relationship with jihadists operating on either flank of Pakistan remains difficult, yet commentators suggest some level of engagement with groups like LeT and the IM. In the wake of Pune, some have speculated that the ISI sponsored a 'Karachi Project' aimed at radicalising Indian youth from the region and that foreign-handled IM cells may have been involved in the bombing. 

Since 11 September 2001 the ISI has come under tremendous pressure from the US to cut ties with extremist groups: though some believe that the ISI is utilising this pressure as a bargaining tool to secure continued foreign military aid -- useful against both home-grown terrorists and perceived Indian aggression. Analysts believe that, as against the Soviets during the Cold War, the CIA is once again working in partnership with the ISI to force an end to protracted conflict in Afghanistan.  The Pakistani agency's reported role in the recent capture of Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Baradar suggests a tactical shift may be happening within the ISI, causing it to distance itself from jihadist groups.

However, within this changing operational context, and of significance to Indian policy makers, are claims by Lashkar-e-Taiba al-Almi - the splinter group that carried out the Pune attack - that their break away was motivated by Pakistan's deepening 'alliance' with America and too much ISI interference within the activities of the LeT. If true, such a development would conform to the confrontational model witnessed between the state and jihadists in recent years. It would also add weight to the argument that the spy agency no longer enjoys a firm grip on the reigns of what were once its own dogs of war.    

Renewing the dialogue

Conceding that jihadists based in Pakistan direct violence within India does not negate the need to examine their rationales or uncover the reasons for their success in  operating across borders. Such an investigation should motivate policy makers to put continuing discontent within Kashmir near the top of any future dialogue between the two states. The daily turmoil and violent instability within Pakistan, and the difficulties this raises for those tasked with defining the country's policy towards India, should  act as a cautionary note to those pointing to a definitive foreign hand in continued attacks. With both considerations in mind, the Indian government may be able to find the political will to ignore third parties offering easy spoilers and build on the resilience it has demonstrated in recent years.      

The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and do not nessecarily reflect those of RUSI


1. Satish Kumar [2003], 'Reassessing Pakistan as a Long-term Security Threat', Strategic Digest, XXXIII, 3. p 16.

2. S. Paul Kupar[2005], 'Indian and Pakistan's Unstable Peace', International Security, 30, 2. pp 127-152. p 135.

3.  Schofield, V [2003], Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War, London, I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. p 92.

4.  Prem Nath Bazaz [2005], Kashmir in Crucible, Srinagar, Gulshan Books. p 157.

5.  Javed Ahmed Mir, Fromer JKLF  Lieutenant, Interview with author, Delhi, August 2008. Haji refers to the fact that his group were the founding or original group of insurgents.  

6.  D. Suba Chandran [2006], 'India and Armed Non-state Actors in the Kashmir Conflict'. In; Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Bushra Asif & Cyrus Samii ed [2006], Kashmir: New Voices, New Approaches, London, Lynne Rienner Publishers.

7.   For an argument on the socioeconomic roots of terrorism see; Martha Crenshaw, 'The Causes of Terrorism'. In; Charles W. Kegley, Jr [2003], The New Global Terrorism, New York, Prentice Hall.

8.  Altaf Hussain, Founder of Tahrieec - Jihad [Moment of] & Human Rights Worker KIIR, Interview with Author, Islamabad. [06/08/08]

9.  Victoria Schofield [2003], Kashmir in Conflict, op cit p 72. p 142.

10. Jaideep Saika, 'Spoilers and devious objectives in Kashmir', p301. In; Edward Newman, ed [2006], Challenges to Peace building; Managing spoilers During Conflict Resolution, Tokyo, JPN, United Nations University Press. Mary Kaldor [1999], New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era', Cambridge, Polity.    

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