Comment

Dormant but waiting to strike

Srinagar police display the arms and ammunitions seized from a terror outfit.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

During the pandemic, we have fortunately been hearing little about terror organisations of the likes of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). This is partly explained by the fact that open terror attacks have been reducing, presumably because terror outfits lack resources and because of temporary loss of support from those normally hostile to the non-Islamic world and tolerant Muslims.

Still a threat

But there is no ground to conclude that terror outfits have become less vicious or are irrelevant. Given their past resilience, they continue to pose threats to modern society, especially to India and its neighbourhood. They are also not less alluring to misguided youth in India whose loyalties are extraterritorial. Their numbers may not be formidable, but they can cause a ripple effect that cannot be underestimated. Terrorist cells are probably engaged in the quiet process of garnering resources for future lethal assaults against India and other countries in the neighbourhood, which are considered anti-Islamic by them. Once the pandemic eases, we may see a resurgence of terror. The aggravation of poverty in developing nations due to COVID-19 could offer a fertile ground for recruitment and intensified religious indoctrination, which are dangerous to peace.

Also read: Members of banned terror outfit arrested in Delhi

We should keep a particularly close eye on the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State because there is evidence that their recruitment remains undiminished by the problems posed by the pandemic. Reports say that these outfits have been reorganising and rebuilding during the pandemic. Only these two outfits have an impressive global reach backed by global ambitions. They are present not only in West Asia but also in Africa. The other outfits — JeM, LeT, etc. — are confined to the Afghanistan-Pakistan area.

Of great import in this context is the Doha Accord signed on February 29 this year between the Taliban and the U.S., which has brought about an improved relationship between the two. The U.S. is now less of an adversary to the Taliban because it has agreed to a near total withdrawal of its troops in return for the Taliban’s promise to preserve peace in Afghanistan. Ironically, the U.S. intervened in Afghanistan immediately after 9/11 only to capture Osama bin Laden and his associates. However, it ended up getting entangled with the Taliban. After hostilities for several years, the U.S. and the Taliban have displayed some sagacity and are in the process of brokering peace.

Implications of Doha Accord for India

Considered a great victory for the Taliban, and possibly to a smaller extent for Pakistan, the Doha Accord has some serious implications for India. The Taliban’s assurance to the U.S. that, as part of the agreement, it will keep the al-Qaeda under check seems an exercise in deception. The U.S. is not so naïve as to take the Taliban’s promise seriously. The Taliban and the al-Qaeda need each other in many areas. Both are friendly towards Pakistan and could pose a problem or two to India in the near future. This is worrying.

Also read: Pakistan as both terror perpetrator and victim

This scenario highlights the fact that India will have no respite from the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the two most organised and motivated groups. Many recent raids by the National Investigation Agency point to an al-Qaeda network in India. In one such raid, nine activists belonging to Kerala and West Bengal were arrested for conspiring to attack various targets, including the National Capital Region. Also relevant is the training support received from Pakistan. Once the situation gets better, the al-Qaeda, in cahoots with other aggressive Islamic outfits in and around Pakistan, is bound to escalate the offensive against India. Pakistan will be unabashedly privy to such manoeuvres though it will continue to pretend otherwise. This is one factor that makes the al-Qaeda and other terror outfits still relevant to India’s security calculus. These outfits may not indulge in spectacular attacks like 9/11, but they will have the determination and prowess to carry out operations that will unnerve our population on the border.

How can India protect itself against terrorism in the neighbourhood? There are some observers who are inclined to downplay the al-Qaeda because it has not repeated anything on the scale of 9/11. They also cite as a reason the ease with which the U.S. tracked down bin Laden in Pakistan and killed him. They also say the outfit’s leadership is ageing. In the past few years, it is true that the al-Qaeda has lost many of its leaders in encounters with U.S. agencies. Vulnerability is writ large on the al-Qaeda’s face. But operational skill and swiftness can quickly turn peace into disorder. The al-Qaeda has a robust cadre from which a strong and young leader could still emerge to lead it in order to intimidate the civilised world.

R.K. Raghavan is a former CBI Director

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 8:23:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/dormant-but-waiting-to-strike/article32895043.ece

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