By Kalvakuntla Kavitha
With Indian youths reportedly being recruited by the Islamic State, the war on terror has reached India’s doorstep. But New Delhi is unlikely to join the Western effort, even though it could have made a big difference, given its ties to Baghdad, Damascus, Tehran and Jerusalem
More than two months ago, at least 15 engineering students, including a girl, from Hyderabad, who were attracted to the idea of fighting for the Islamic State terror group, were tracked down by Telangana police in West Bengal, after their parents complained that they were missing. Police said that investigations have revealed that the outreach of the jihadis in the country is greater than previously thought.
This incident, shocked the entire nation and forced New Delhi to admit that India could no longer ignore the threat of the IS. Till recently, India proudly claim that not a single Indian national had joined the Taliban or the Al Qaeda. But, it is no longer the case. The tentacles of the most brutal Islamist terror organisation in the world, the IS, has spread to India. The group is gaining sympathy and support among a section of misguided youth.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to the United States to address the United Nations General Assembly in September, some Western powers indicated that India should join the global war against terrorism. If India directly joins the fight against terrorism, it will be a departure from its so-called non-alignment policy, which advocates equi-distance.
Strategic affairs analyst Madhav Nalapat wrote recently that the US officials say that President Barack Obama sees in Mr Modi, a leader “with the will and political heft to leapfrog over the status quo approach of his officials and initiate a new beginning that matches the needs of the 21st century”.
Interestingly, the IS is becoming a touchstone for India-US ties. Officials from India have balked at suggestions from influential individuals in Washington, DC, that New Delhi commit military assets to the ongoing battle against the terror group. Indeed, some officials from India have informally asked their US counterparts to “make it clear that the US does not expect India’s participation in the war against the IS”, when in fact, such a move would be welcomed across significant sections of the strategic community. Given the excellent relations between New Delhi and the two capitals, most affected by the IS, Baghdad and Damascus, India could be the bridge, linking the regime in Syria, as well as possibly Iran, to the battle being waged under the US leadership against the terror group.
However, it is not going to be easy for India to join the war by sending its Armed Forces to attack the IS. The so-called non-alignment policy which has been in practice for a long time, has to be dumped to join the global war on terrorism. Diplomats and foreign policy experts caution against any such move, claiming that rushing into a war may be counter-productive for India in the long-run.
In a huge secular country like India, domestic concerns and complexities play a big role in deciding foreign policy. But, the threat of the IS is real and there are even reports that IS activists in India are planning to attack some Western citizens living in the country, like they tried in Australia. Mr Modi, during his joint media appearance with Mr Obama, said that the two countries had agreed to intensify cooperation in counter-terrorism and intelligence-sharing, raising hopes of India joining the US-led war on terror in West Asia.
But these hopes was downplayed by an Indian diplomat who said that the ‘joint and concerted efforts’ on dismantling safe havens for terrorist groups and criminal networks, as resolved by India and the US in the joint statement, did not mean that the two countries were going to launch operations but will carry out any UN-mandated task. When Mr Obama will be in India for the Republic Day parade, he might again discuss the strategy to eliminate the IS.
Even today, India does not have an exact figure on the number of radicalised youth fighting in Iraq. In what could be a warning bell for security agencies, reports have emerged that the IS has been recruiting youths from States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra and Jammu & Kashmir to fight in Iraq, Syria and other places in West Asia. It has also been said that the IS is particularly targeting Muslim youths. It is true that India has excellent relationships with Syria, Iraq and Iran. It is also strengthening its ties with Israel. Some experts feel that the US must use India to reach out to Syria and Iran, which are opposed to the IS.
Mr Modi’s one-to-one meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also led to speculations that India is willing to take a direct part in the global war on terror. India and Israel have a very strong strategic relationship in the field of defence technology and security equipments. Recently, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh also paid a visit to Israel signaling India’s keenness to engage with Israel.
But, India’s role is very confusing. We make strong statements against terror groups and pledge support to the global war on terrorism. But when it comes to action, we have a different take. This has made us a non-reliable friend and nobody in the West takes us seriously, when we speak against terrorism. At the same time, we cannot blindly go with the West without thinking about the pros and cons of such actions. India’s national interest must prevail.
Academician Chandra Mauli Singh, writes, “The aim of the IS caliphate is to establish Islamic world domination of which India forms a part. The map released by the IS shows India under the ‘Islamic State of Khorasan’ which comprises areas of Iran, the Central Asian republics, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would be worthwhile to mention here that the region of ‘Khorasan’, holds a very important place in the idea of jihad and is rooted in ‘faith’. It is said that Prophet Muhammad prophesised that ancient Khorasan would be the initial theatre of war for the ‘End of Times’ battles. This initial battle ground also incorporates ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’, or the battle of India. Syed Saleem Shahzad in his book ‘Inside the Al Qaeda and the Taliban’ argues that it is because of this belief that Al Qaeda, despite being an Arab organisation, chose South Asia and Afghanistan as the areas to start its jihadist struggle”.
These details are chilling. If it is true, then India cannot sit back and watch the US-led war on the IS, like a mere spectator when its own house is under attack. Even if the IS succeeds partially in its efforts, it can cause a huge damage to India and its secular fabric. Before taking a decision on whether to join the war on IS, India must carefully study each and every aspect and decide what suits best.
West Asia is extremely important for the Indian economy. From petroleum products to a huge Indian diaspora, there are many reasons why the region forms an important element of the Indian economy. War in West Asia is not good news for India. At the same time, it cannot expect only Western powers to fight it out. An aspiring world power like India has a duty to perform on the international stage, in its own personal interest and in the larger interest of the world.
India has been facing the Hamletian dilemma of ‘to do or not do’ and ‘to be or not to be’ since Independence. But, we can’t live like this forever. The world has changed in the last 15 years and the “imagined” threat has now become real for us. Recent terror attacks in the Capital of Canada, and a hatchet attack on a New York policeman have also added to the increasing global fear.
We have to decide soon before time runs out. We need to get into action. Instead of joining the global war on terrorism by joining the Western nation-led action on the ground, we can launch a massive crackdown on terror outfits operating within India and the sleeper cells which back them. We must also safeguard our international borders to prevent infiltration of foreign terrorists and put an end to smuggling of arms and ammunitions into India. We need to modernise and motivate our security forces and create a huge public awareness across the country on terrorism.