Indian agenda: terror ties, military alliances and Hindutva expansion


Durdana Najam July 11, 2024
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore. She tweets @durdananajam

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The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) re-emerged on March 22, 2024, with a massive attack on the Crocus City Hall music venue on the outskirts of Moscow, resulting in 139 fatalities. Initially, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the attack, but subsequent investigations confirmed ISKP’s involvement.

ISKP has been rapidly expanding its influence in South and Central Asia from its bases in Afghanistan, aiming to regionalise its propaganda and militant operations. Among the 20 individuals arrested for their involvement in the Moscow concert massacre, 11 were from Tajikistan. Additionally, ISKP has expanded westward, targeting Iran, Turkey and Europe. On January 3, ISKP carried out a dual suicide bombing in Iran outside the tomb of Major General Qasem Soleimani.

In June 2022, less than a year after the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, India quietly reopened its embassy in Kabul. This move marked an increase in diplomatic engagement with the Taliban leadership to discuss economic projects and coordinate humanitarian aid. However, the embassy soon became a conduit for hiring and funding supporters of TTP, ISKP, and BLA.

Pakistan has long highlighted India’s role in supporting ISKP and TTP, both financially and morally, aiming to undermine Pakistan’s regional influence. Notably, ISKP leader Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost reportedly receives orders from India regarding terrorist activities, while Sanaullah Ghafari was allegedly planted in Pakistan’s Balochistan province to sabotage Chinese interests in the region.

Reports from various media sources cite Indian citizens involved in terrorism in Afghanistan and their connections with ISKP. India’s intelligence agency, RAW, has been accused of recruiting vulnerable Indian Muslims and sending them to Afghanistan to join terrorist organisations like ISKP, TTP, and Al-Qaeda.

One notable case is that of Abdur Rehman Al Logari, the ISKP militant responsible for the deadly Kabul airport bombing that killed 170 people in August 2021. Islamic State’s propaganda arm, AMAQ, says that Al Logari spent significant time — at least a year — in Indian cities such as New Delhi and Haryana before the attack.

The Pentagon revealed that during the fall of Kabul, hundreds of ISKP prisoners escaped from Bagram’s high-security prison. Among these escapees, more than 20 were believed to be Indian citizens from Kerala, Malappuram, Kasaragod and Kannur districts, suspected of holding leadership positions within ISKP.

Many ISKP militants from India have been arrested, including Abu Khalid al-Hindi from the Malayalam community in Kasaragod, Kerala. He attacked the Sikh Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul on March 25, 2020, killing 50 Sikhs, Hindus and Afghan security personnel. Another Indian, Anwar Hussain, from Bhatkal in Karnataka, was recognised by ISKP as a suicide attacker in Afghanistan in 2014.

The terrorists responsible for the Easter Sunday bombings in Colombo, Sri Lanka, had links to ISKP safe havens in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Raffaello Pantucci, a senior associate at the Royal United Services Institute in Britain, highlighted in Foreign Policy magazine how “terrorists from India and Central Asia are the new face of ISIS”.

Formed in 2015 by disgruntled Pakistani Taliban members, ISKP is a regional affiliate of the Islamic State with a strong anti-Shia ideology. The UN estimates ISKP has 4,000-6,000 fighters, posing a significant threat. The US, Iran, Pakistan and Russia are all prominent targets of ISKP.

India’s support for terror organisations against Muslim interests is also evident in its support for Israel. Israel opened a consulate in Bombay in 1953, and military exports began in the 1960s. Since then, India has emerged as a prominent supporter of Israel within the Global South and BRICS. This support is evidenced by the shipment of 27 tons of deadly ammunition from Chennai to Israel in June 2024.

The partnership between Israel’s Elbit Systems and India’s Adani Group in 2018 to produce Hermes 900 drones, which have been utilised in Gaza operations, further underscores the military collaboration between the two nations.

Indian nationals, such as Riya and Nisha, have participated in the Israeli Army, reflecting India’s involvement in the ongoing conflict. Furthermore, India’s decision to allow Israeli companies to hire up to 100,000 Indians to replace 90,000 Palestinians, whose work permits were revoked post-October 7 attacks, highlights a strategic move that economically excludes Palestinians.

Over the past decade, India has imported $2.9 billion worth of military equipment from Israel, including combat drones, missiles, radars and surveillance systems, many of which are deployed in occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The extensive Indo-Israel collaboration in armaments and intelligence raises significant concerns about India’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly in light of its perceived stance against Muslim communities.

The accusations extend beyond military cooperation. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure, India’s foreign policy has increasingly embraced cultural diplomacy to promote Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, particularly in Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East. A significant aspect of this strategy has been the construction of Hindu temples in the UAE, Oman and Bahrain.

Critics argue that the construction of Hindu temples in the Middle East is part of a larger agenda to promote Hindutva abroad. By exporting Hindu cultural symbols and practices, India is seen as advancing a form of soft imperialism that seeks to extend its cultural hegemony. This strategy, critics contend, aims to create a favourable environment for Hindu cultural practices while subtly challenging and eroding the dominant Islamic cultural and religious framework of Middle Eastern societies.

India is making encroachments into the world order not to promote the existing legal and international human rights framework but to embed its religious and cultural influence within it.

Alarmingly, India is leveraging terror funding, support for terrorism, and an anti-Muslim narrative to pursue the delusional ambition of becoming a superpower.

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