SPEAKING FREELY Indian Mujahideen as a terror model
By Shanthie Mariet D'Souza and Bibhu Prasad Routray
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The origin and growth of Islamist militant group the Indian Mujahideen (IM) have been linked to a host of issues including communal riots, perceived alienation among Muslims and even India's diplomatic relations with Israel.
Some organizations say IM was a creation of intelligence agencies, while others called the group an imagination of the media. Such speculation notwithstanding, its evolution and growth pattern remain a mystery.
IM is believed to be responsible for 18 explosions in 14 Indian
cities since 2005, leading to hundreds of deaths, and despite the arrest and capture of several cadres, the group's violent campaign appears interminable.
IM's aims and objectives have remained fluid, ranging from explosions supposedly targeting India's judiciary for failing its Muslim citizens to revenge for the killing of its imprisoned cadres.
Recent blasts in Bodhgaya and Patna attempted to respond to the persecution of Rohhingyas in Myanmar and communal riot in Muzzafarnagar respectively. Instead of remaining a purely ideology-based organization with both local as well as global aspirations, IM appears to be willing to carry out attacks evoking almost any cause that suits its convenience.
Since IM is believed to be controlled by external forces and nurturing the aspirations of joining causes with the al-Qaeda, IM's image transcends far beyond the metaphors of a traditional outfit. The IM's success as a terror group is linked to the secrecy surrounding its operations, recruitment of cadres, assembly of weapons, and internal sharing of vital information through coded messages.
The outfit has since its first attack in 2005 managed to carefully create a fluid structure, which can withstand losses resulting from the arrest of its cadres and pressures from the state agencies. While its top leadership is based outside the country, middle-level and low rank functionaries are primarily based in India, dispersed throughout the country and operating as "shadowy networks" of small modules.
A belief in the ideology of the group binds the modules together, whereas knowledge and operational plans to orchestrate attacks remain module specific and localized. As a result, full knowledge of the group's operational dynamics and overall strategy isn't available to a single module.
The IM's modules have functioned as focal points of contact for recruitment drives. Educated, computer and tech-savvy youths are the usual targets. However, young men who do not fall into these broad descriptions have also been recruited to be used to plant explosives, function as couriers and to assist logistics. In spite of some of recent its operational failures, with the blasts in Patna, and in Pune in 2010, failing to realize mass casualties, IM remains an extremely tricky outfit to neutralize.
The success of IM could provide pointers for some of the groups in Southeast Asia for recovery from their current state of weakness - for recalibrating their strategies. The IM's unique and personalized recruitment campaign, operational dynamics, localized mode of operations, harnessing of local grievances and global issues for eliciting support, as well as its seamless switching between prominent cities and lesser-known locations for bombing campaigns, could impart lessons to radical Islamists in countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines.
Within the unique operating environments and constraints imposed upon their activities by the state agencies in Southeast Asia, these groups can attempt to seek a turn around in their anti-state campaigns by using IM's model. While IM's linkages with the al-Qaeda still belong to a realm of speculation, the Southeast Asian groups, especially those belonging to Indonesia and Philippines, already have a head start in this regard, which could make them even more lethal.
On the other hand are three key problems affecting the Indian response to IM's violent campaign. First, the presence of external support and non-cooperation from Pakistan, where the top leadership of IM is based, is a critical element for the survival of the top echelons of the outfit's leadership. Second, a lack of coordination between the center and the provinces inhibits the framing of a unified and effective counter-terrorism response. And third, knowledge gaps regarding the group prevent a fair assessment of its strength and plan to thwart future attacks.
Accordingly, the preparedness among the Southeast Asian countries to deal with any such evolving threat from the local groups is linked not just to inter-state cooperation and intelligence-sharing, but also to the capacity to collect ground level and operational intelligence regarding terrorist dynamics, recruitment and plans to take advantage of local grievances.
Apart from expecting the directly affected countries to share intelligence with their unaffected neighbors, the latter have an obligation to work closely with and to an extent, show solidarity by offering resources and expertise to deal with the threat, to the less resourceful countries.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Dr Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray, a former deputy director in India's National Security Council Secretariat, is a Singapore based security analyst/ consultant. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
(Copyright 2013 Shanthie Mariet D'Souza and Bibhu Prasad Routray)