Surinder K. Sharma, co-author of “Militant Groups in South Asia”, talks about the effort that went into the work

An attempt to profile the currently active and important militant groups in South Asian Countries, Surinder K. Sharma and Anshuman Behra’s new book, “Militant Groups in South Asia”, published by the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses and Pentagon Press, is a goldmine of information for all those looking to learn a little more about radicalisation, terrorism and security related issues. Sharma, currently attached to the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses, has held various important posts in the Cabinet Secretariat and National Technical Research Organisation.

A little about the conception of the idea for the book?

Terrorist outfits are like amoeba. They keep splitting either because of their own personality clashes or because their handlers find it expedient to create a new cover to an existing group after it faces sanctions regime. All this makes revisiting the terror groups quite essential. It has been known for some time that South Asia is the epicentre of terrorism. A large number of terrorist groups (approximately 200) operate in the region, with or without state support. The consequences of the continued presence of terrorist groups and their onslaught have been disastrous for many countries in the region. Given the enormous challenge the region has been facing from terrorism since the 1980s, there have been few attempts to document the nature of the threat by analysing the prominent terrorist groups in the region. The situation is quite alarming as terrorism has become a flourishing industry funded and patronised by many sources.

The present book is an idea conceived by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director General, Institute of Defence Studies & Analysis (IDSA), who suggested that we should undertake an updated account to understand the objectives of these groups, their leadership, their strength, recruitment and training and funding sources besides area of operation and influence as well as the level of state patronage they enjoy. Such a study, we believe, will help policy makers in understanding the nature and dimensions of the threat on a realistic plane. The IDSA had undertaken similar study in 2003 focussing on militant groups in Jammu & Kashmir only. It was thus considered necessary to review the problems after a decade and compile credible data from various sources on militant groups operating not only in J&K but also in the entire region. In the present volume, we have selected 39 groups who are presently active in South Asia. The study excludes militant groups which are either dormant or inactive for a long time.

And the research that went into it?

The primary sources for this book are material in the public domain. We relied principally on media reports, articles and books on the subject besides internet portals and web sites set up and run by the terrorist groups and their sympathizers. We tapped them. We have dug deep into newspaper archives. We picked the brains of think tanks in India, US and elsewhere during our two years of labour on this book. We corroborated much of what we could find in our research through interviews and interactions with strategic community.

Is there a common thread you see emerging?

Having seen the way the Pak and PoK-based Kashmir centric groups evolve over the years, I firmly believe that the terror outfits keep changing their way of working firstly because of operational needs, and secondly because of the way the security machinery manages to gain an upper hand over time. Moreover, their masters, in this case Pakistan’s ISI, keep revisiting its priorities. When the terror groups were pushed into Kashmir for the first time, religion was not on their agenda. This orientation changed subsequently. Likewise with Taliban – the Pakistan Taliban became a bad Taliban as it is partly rogue but the Afghan Taliban remains a good Taliban. Even American policies – both security and diplomatic policies for the region – have a bearing on terrorist outfits. And it makes our task challenging but exhilarating as we sit down to revise and update the jihadi profiles. It may also be noted that terrorism which we are witnessing in the region today is already undergoing a dramatic transformation propelled by events unfolding in the Middle East, especially Syria and in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are also other factors which are changing the way terrorists recruit, train, network and operate.

Is there a plan to update the information contained in the book, since the data it contains is constantly changing?

Needless to say, yes. The book needs to be updated periodically. It is inevitable that some groups might lose their prominence while little-known groups might emerge as serious threats. Already, as we were coming out with this book, the Pakistan Taliban has spread its wings in Syria. HuT has just reappeared in Karachi, the city of lights for the terrorist groups, in a big way. Similarly, Jundullah which has been dormant has again become active on Iran-Pakistan border. Further, newer groups and alliances too could emerge in the region after the Western troops leave Afghanistan by the end of this year. Our target is not the policy makers and egg-heads alone. We want to demystify the jihadi enterprise and make people look at the threat without any coloured glasses.

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