Muslim Communities Revisited
Posted on 1-September-2006
This has been terrorist season. In July there were seven explosions within the space of twenty minutes on the suburban railway system of Mumbai, killing and injuring hundreds of people. In London in August the police claimed to have foiled a plot to set off ten near simultaneous mid-air explosions on transatlantic flights. The London police alleged that the plotters had links to militant Islamic groups such as Al Qaeda and have arrested a number of people, all of whom happen to be Muslims. The Indian police alleged that the Mumbai explosions were the work of militant groups operating from Pakistan and named Lashkar-e-Toiba in particular. They arrested some people who happen to be Muslims. In recent weeks there have been other incidents, notably in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka; in this last case, Sri Lankan authorities have blamed, not any Islamic group but Tamil separatists. There is one similarity between London and Mumbai. In both cases, the suspects who have been arrested are members of the countries' own Muslim minority. This raises some questions which must be asked and answered candidly, setting aside all prudery. Even though some of the same things can be said about acts of terror organised in India in the name of Kashmiris' rights and those elsewhere in the name of Islam, I shall limit myself in what follows to the reactions and responses in India to the incidents of Mumbai in July and similar ones there and elsewhere in India earlier.
Very soon after the incidents, some people rushed forward with the observation that the explosions in Mumbai were a consequence of the anti-Muslim violence of a few years ago in a Gujarat ruled by Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party. These remarks were as tendentious as those made by the Hindu right wing ever ready to blame everything from congestion in inner cities, to the high rate of growth of population to the weather on a Muslim minority whose trust it does nothing to win. Equally unfortunate were remarks attributed to police authorities within minutes of the explosions, linking them to militant groups operating from Pakistan. Surely such inferences coming so early could not have been based on any investigation. Clearly lacking credibility, these early accusations were easy for Pakistan to dismiss. The explosions which killed and wounded so many ordinary people travelling on commuter trains at the end of a working day with probably nothing more on their minds than their hopes and cares of the quotidian were far too serious a matter for people to score points or catch media attention over.
After detailed investigations by its agencies the Indian government stated its position saying the train explosions in Mumbai were the work of Pakistan based groups such as the Lashkar. Pakistan denied the accusations and asked for proof, even suggesting joint investigations. Such Indian accusations and Pakistani responses follow a pattern established over the years and are often dismissed by third party outsiders as the usual Indo-Pakistani mutual name calling. Yet there are a number of reasons why the Indian charges cannot be dismissed so lightly. The first of these is that since in the under cover world of 'special operations' the concerned agencies or groups spend as much energy on covering their tracks and maintaining 'plausible deniability' as on the actual planning and execution of subversion abroad, it is most often not possible to produce proofs of foreign involvement which could pass the bar of credibility required in a court of law. For those investigating such incidents and for their superiors, as well as for unbiased observers, strong and convincing circumstantial evidence of a kind Indian security agencies base their conclusions on is sufficient proof. Secondly, if the Indian government agencies had out of habit been blaming acts of terrorism in India on Pakistani agencies or groups in Pakistan over the last decade and a half or more without any basis in fact, it is impossible that their falsehood could have remained hidden from the people of India where denigrating and debunking the government is a national sport and where whistleblowers eager for the limelight abound. Thirdly, so many acts of terrorism around the world since the World Trade Centre car park bombing till the latest plot to organise mid-air explosions of aircraft over the Atlantic uncovered and foiled by the British police have been traced to groups active in Pakistan that Pakistani protestations of innocence over the involvement of a whole raft of Pakistan based organisations in terrorist activities in India sound plainly untruthful.
In the case of terror bombings in New York, Aden, Nairobi, Dar-es-Salam, Madrid and London the Pakistani government or its agencies could have no identifiable motive for taking a hand in them. Yet, when the government of the USA or the UK named Pakistan based individuals involved in acts of terror against their countries the Pakistani government handed the individuals over without too much demur, obviously because it thought that the allegations were true. To boot, it earned plaudits in London and Washington for its co-operation in the war on terror. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, the Government of Pakistan, with its fifty-nine year old aim of prising the vale of Kashmir away from India, has clearly a motive for creating trouble, to keep the cauldron boiling, as it were. In the case of terrorist activities at the Indian Parliament, in crowded shopping centres in Delhi, at a Hindu temple in Varanasi, at the Jama Masjid in Delhi, at a Science Conference at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, at Mumbai on several occasions including the latest, each of which has been tracked to Pakistani outfits by Indian government security agencies, the motive would seem to be much more sinister. And, those involved in these acts in various places outside Jammu and Kashmir cannot even be described as people fighting for their freedom, which is the Pakistani code for terrorists active in Jammu and Kashmir. But Pakistani dismissals of Indian complaints about the involvement of Pakistani groups notwithstanding, for the Indian public at large, often unwilling to accept as true its own government's words,--and for many informed people elsewhere-- Pakistan's collusion in these acts of violence is not a matter of doubt. For me it is a given.
If I were an al Qaeda man, looking for local help in planning and setting off a series of explosions in London, I would try to find disaffected Muslims living in the United Kingdom whom I would motivate, induce, recruit and train. Likewise if I were an operative of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence or a member of Hizb-ul-Mujahedin, or Harkat-ul-Ansar or one of their many avatars, planning to blow up the brand new metro railway of Delhi, I would look for disaffected Indian Muslims whom I would indoctrinate, pay and recruit as my local help. For this reason, if I, as a member of an Indian security force, had to investigate and find those responsible for a series of bomb explosions in Mumbai, Delhi or Jammu, I would look for possible Indian accomplices among some Muslim groups whom I might have grounds for suspecting. In other words, if after an act of terror in India which looked like having been organised from Pakistan, Indian security agencies arrested a number of Indian Muslims, that would be by and large because Pakistan-based groups creating violence and terror in India would be taking the help of some Indian Muslims. This reality, an inseparable part of the structure of Pakistan driven terrorism in India, must be fully faced, no matter how ugly or unpleasant.
To deal with this phenomenon of Pakistan-based groups using Indian Muslims to help them in their subversive activities in India it is important for all sections of Indian opinion to work to discourage such people from falling into Pakistani temptations. But more than any others, it is the leaders of Muslim communities who must firmly grasp this nettle of the members of their communities becoming accessories to criminal activities of Pakistani groups on Indian soil. They, more than any others, can speak out without fear of being dubbed anti-Muslim and take the lead in creating a moral climate in which it would become unthinkable for Indian citizens to help Pakistani creators of violence and confusion in India. It would greatly help if when Indian citizens were arrested on charges or suspicion of involvement in such acts of terror the leaders spoke clearly and unequivocally against those who were involved, viewing them simply as lawbreakers whose appertinance to a particular religious community was a mere accident of birth. On the other hand, it does not help if, in those circumstances, such leaders talk of their community being targeted by the police, of the patriotism of Indian Muslims being questioned, of discrimination against their community, of the world waging a war against Islam in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon, of attempts to paint the entire Muslim community as terrorists, of the need to deal with the root causes or that Islam does not teach terrorism. There may be great merit in all these assertions and the real concerns contained in them must needs be addressed in a sustained manner over the medium and long term. It would be perfectly legitimate to maintain political pressure so that these concerns are addressed. But leaders of Muslim communities would do well to guard against the possibility that talk of such larger questions in the aftermath of a massacre of ordinary, innocent people might sound to others like reluctance to speak out openly and clearly against those members of their communities who might have a hand in the killing.
Leaders of Hindus who constitute more than four fifths of India's population have even greater need than leaders of Muslim communities to act and speak with sagacity. It would help greatly if those who talked of Hindu pride, talked of that pride residing in the establishment of a liberal, forward-looking, orderly society in India where there would be a place of honour, security and dignity for all its citizens, rather than in the removal of imagined grievances against centuries of Muslim rule or in the revival of equally imagined past glories. Those Hindu leaders who raise doubts about the loyalty of India's Muslims or demand daily proofs of such loyalty or cause great physical and verbal injuries to India's Muslim communities do grave harm to India. If they succeed they will create a land of strife in an India which has many times in the past been a refuge for those seeking to escape civil war, religious bigotry or despotism. The best interests of India's Hindu majority itself will be served by building a society in which the religious minorities live as contented, self-assured and fully integrated members of the national community. Above all, Muslims who form the largest religious minority in India must not be given legitimate cause for feeling threatened, persecuted or not belonging.
Given the very high probability that in tracking Indian citizens involved in Pakistan inspired acts of terror in India, India's security forces will come upon and arrest some Indian Muslims, the forces have to take care not ever to arrest or harass or 'kill in encounter' anyone who is patently innocent. The price of mistakes in these matters is simply too high. Similarly, premature, hurried announcements by some security official or the other naming one or other Pakistan-based organisation or giving out names and descriptions of suspiciously rapidly arrested 'Pakistani agents' of Pakistani or Indian nationality can often raise doubts about the credibility of what the security agencies say or do. If there are people in the security forces who have been infected with the virus of seeking fame and celebrity by appearing before television cameras, it will be best if they are quickly cured of their infection. There is much to be said for people in the security forces maintaining old fashioned anonymity and quietly burrowing their way till they find and destroy the various terror networks.
Frightened and resentful Muslim communities in danger of tipping over and retreating into mental and spiritual ghettoes, a myopic, semi-literate, retrogressive, arrogant and increasingly muscular Hindu Right and a bevy of security forces made nervous because they are called incompetent whenever there is a major incident of terrorist violence and anxious to produce results, create a situation pregnant with exceedingly unpleasant possibilities for the future. Perhaps disrupting normal life is what those who organise terrorist violence in India want. The only response is not to allow that to happen. It does not look as if the Pakistani establishment or the numerous extremist terrorist groups operating from Pakistan or Pakistan controlled territory are going to change their attitude or behaviour towards India in the proximate future. It is the major components of Indian society which will need to make the effort for averting future trouble, without counting on any help from Pakistan. India will be safe and peaceful if the leaders of the Muslim and Hindu communities and the government's security agencies act with wisdom, sensitivity, delicacy and self-restraint of the kind described above. If they fail, men and women of goodwill will be left with nothing to do except to weep, like the Hindi poet Kabir, at the thought that no one caught between the two stones of a turning mill stays whole .