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This is phase II of Pakistan's proxy war against India

By Wilson John
July 13, 2006 11:19 IST
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Tuesday's serial blasts in Mumbai, the ongoing investigations into previous terrorist attacks and the subsequent chain of arrests and seizures in different parts of India, particularly rural Maharashtra and Delhi, has made these revelations:

That Pakistan-based terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Tayiba has tied up with the Bangladeshi Taliban, as the Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI) was known, to outsource execution of their terrorist plans to Indian extremist groups like the Students Islamic Movement of India.

A not-so-obvious common linkage among these groups is Al Qaeda. Lashkar, for instance, was founded by the seed money of $10 million from Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s.

HuJI has been actively involved in the Afghan jihad and its chief Qari Saifullah Akhtar was known to be a close adviser to the Taliban's Mullah Omar. SIMI, on the other hand, has been largely sustained by generous funds from a charity organisation called the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, WAMY, founded by Abdullah Laden, Osama's brother. Osama was, for some time, on WAMY's board.

Apart from these significant linkages, another critical development is the expanded agenda of this coalition. As revealed in attacks in market places in Delhi, Varanasi, Ayodhya, Nagpur and now Mumbai, its primary objective has been to trigger communal riots and widen the historical divide and suspicion which has existed, at the subliminal level, between Hindus and Muslims.

This, in the calculations of the masterminds at the Pakistani army headquarters in Rawalpindi, will force India to soften its position on Kashmir and other issues that have been pending resolution for several decades.

The pattern of terrorist attacks in the recent times, including the Mumbai blasts, reveal a conscious decision on the part of the Pakistani handlers of these terrorist groups to change tactics.

It is, for instance, clear that the proxy war which has been bedeviling Kashmir for more than a decade-and-a-half is now being expanded to other parts of India, thereby upping the ante against India, in a conscious bid to neutralise India's diplomatic and political options in dealing with Pakistan.

The Mumbai blasts therefore should not be seen merely in the context of the Gujarat riots or Kashmir. It is a change of gear into Phase II of Pakistan's proxy war against India, stoking communal divides to weaken India diplomatically and causing large-scale destructions of life and property to cripple the economy as well.

Of the several Indian groups which the Pakistani agency has tapped through organisations like Jamaat-ud Dawa, Lashkar's parent organisation, the Students Islamic Movement of India, banned in several states, is the most resourceful.

Almost all the recent arrested terrorists and their sympathisers have links with SIMI, an organisation set up in the late 1970s at the Aligarh Muslim University to counter rising Hindu chauvinism, represented in large measure by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its various off-shoots.

SIMI had begun as a student wing of Jamat-e-Islami, a moderate religious organisation, but under the influence of Wahabis (Saudi Arabia, the source of generous funds), the group adopted an extremist ideology and broke away from the parent organisation. Today its icon is Osama bin Laden.

Before its ban, the group had an active membership of 10,000 in different parts of India, particularly Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala and Gujarat. Its support base, according to intelligence reports, was almost 100,000, a base which became dormant after the Indian government ordered a crackdown following the blasts in Mumbai in the 1990s.

Recent events, however, reveal that at least some sections of this support base are being revived by terrorist groups operating from Pakistan to carry out the next phase of the proxy war.

An important element in this new network of terror is the profile of the recruits. They are not exactly bearded, madarssa educated jihadis. A sizeable number of them are well-educated, doctors and engineers, and adept in exploiting latest communication technologies like the Internet, e-mail and satellite phones.

The past can foretell the future, to quite an extent. The first group of homegrown jihadis came into existence when a group of angry Muslim young men, some owing allegiance to Ahl-e-Hadis, an Islamic school of thought which aims to cleanse the religion of all its external influences, especially Hindu, and SIMI, met at a mosque in Mominpura, Mumbai, to form the Tanzim Islahul Muslimeen (TIM) in 1993.

Formed primarily to counter the growing communal posturings of extremist groups like the RSS and Shiv Sena, the group's cadre adopted the training doctrines (morning cane drills) of the Hindu groups. Among those who attended the meeting were Azam Ghouri, Abdul Karim Tunda and Dr Jalees Ansari, a Maharashtra government doctor.

The leader of the group was Ghouri who hailed from Hanmajjpet in thev Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh and was a member of the outlawed People's War Group almost a decade ago. One of Ghauri's close associates was Tunda.

Working under the instructions of Lashkar commander Zaki-ur-Rehman, the trio -- Ghauri, Tunda and Ansari -- carried out their first act of terror on December 6, 1993, the first anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition. They set off seven explosions in trains, in and around Delhi, part of a series of explosions.

Ansari, for instance, was scheduled to carry out another series on January 26 the next year, but was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Ghauri fled to Saudi Arabia and was recruited by Hamid Bahajib, a Saudi businessman who has been financing Lashkar's activities for long.

In hindsight, it can be said it was the beginning of a coalition of extremist and terrorist groups in India which came to the fore with alarming ferocity in the serial blasts in Delhi on October 29, 2005, the Bangalore attack of December 2005 and the March 2006 Varanasi twin blasts, and now the Mumbai serial blasts, all of which were executed by terrorists owing allegiance to Lashkar, SIMI, Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami-Bangladesh and Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh.

Wilson John is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation

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