The mood across the Indian strategic community is somewhat upbeat over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s just-concluded visit to the United States. In the much-talked about Op-ed piece, jointly written by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama, in The Washington Post both New Delhi and Washington look all set to forge “more bilateral collaboration not just at the federal level but also at the state and local levels, between our two militaries, private sectors and civil society.” Theirs is “an agenda to expand collaboration in trade, investment and technology” aimed at fostering India’s development and sustaining the United States’ global engine of growth. New Delhi and Washington are also “committed to enhancing our homeland security by sharing intelligence, through counter-terrorism and law-enforcement cooperation.” Reports on the just-concluded Modi visit to New York and Washington suggest New Delhi and Washington had a comprehensive dialogue on eight issues-- energy, health, space, women’s empowerment, trade, skills, strategy and security. Indo-US cooperation in counter-terrorism is likely to acquire a new focus. During their meeting in Washington Modi did not accede to Obama’s request to join the Washington-led international coalition against IS based in Iraq and Syria. However, Modi has agreed “on several ways to enhance cooperation in on terror.” His speech at the United Nations General Assembly session last week indicates he is aware of the terror India has suffered at the hands of the Islamists for the last four decades and he will not tolerate the evil any more.Modi is in agreement with Obama that today the IS, led by the self-styled Caliph of Iraq and Syria Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, represents the most dangerous Islamist outfit in the world. It calls for global jihad aimed at installing an Islamic world dominion, of which India, along with many other pluralist nations, would be part. And hence the terror group must be eliminated as soon as possible. For his part, Obama has agreed with Modi to make “joint and concerted efforts” to dismantle terror groups, including al-Qaida, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company, and the Haqqanis.”
New Delhi could use this environment of optimism in Indo-US relations to build on its ongoing intelligence cooperation with Washington. New Delhi should do so in such a way that it is able to rein in effectively the Islamist terrorism India has been facing since a long time now. It is well established that the origin of radical Islamists in India dates back to the rule of Akbar the Great in medieval times. The ideological ancestor of the present- day Islamists was Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi who had been influenced by his Middle Eastern counterparts. Various Islamo-fascist forces based in the Middle East and the Chechen region have since come to influence and sustain terrorist activities in India although the number of local Islamist elements influenced by the foreign jihadists has been very limited.
Given this reality, Indian intelligence officials would have to drive home to their American counterparts that New Delhi would need to dismantle all such linkages, in its war on terrorism. The elimination of IS would mean little for India, and humanity in general, if all other like-minded terrorist elements were not crushed and their sources of support not dismantled.
I think it would be a tough job for Indian officials to convince their American counterparts in this regard. There is a near consensus among the counter-terrorism experts the world over that the Islamist forces-- such as IS, Hamas/ Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, Taliban , Pakistan-based Lashkar e Toiba and Jaish e Mohammad-- have all been inspired by Osama bin Laden, his spiritual guru Sayyid Qutb and ideological Palestinian mentor Abdullah Azzam and Chechen jihadist Shamil Salmanovich Basayev. Their ideology is the same : kill whoever does not believe in the radical Wahabist interpretation of Islam.
Yet Washington has so far encouraged them, be it overtly or covertly in the past. For instance, initially, Washington (and its Gulf allies Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates) contributed to the rise of the Islamic State terror group. While preparing rebels to overthrow Syrian supremo Bashar al-Assad, the CIA trained even the jihadist-minded rebel.
Washington has seldom cared about the implications of its actions on peace and stability in India. Obsessed with the goal of rolling back the Soviet empire, the CIA pumped in multibillion-dollar military aid to the Afghan rebels, jihadists included, in the 1980s. While doing so, Washington cared a fig for the fact that the fund was being siphoned off by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to wage insurgencies in secular democratic India’s states of Kashmir and Punjab.
There is still little change in Washington’s approach in the matter even today. It remains ignorant of the need to dismantle the Islamist linkages in the Middle East. It can be seen in Washington’s partnership with states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in its current war on IS. These nations have been among the principal causes behind the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism the world over, including India.
Washington is still soft towards Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence. The rabidly anti-India Islamists like Lashkar-e-Taiba have had proven links with ISI. There is a specified section in the ISI to oversee covert operations of the LeT in 21 countries, including Australia, North America, Europe and Asia. American David Headley and Canadian national Tahawwur Rana had been Lashkar recruits. It was the ISI that had trained them in the use of modern communication equipment to spread terrorism.
Washington has seldom been serious about containing Islamist terrorism. It often delays and dilutes its resolve to fight terror. In the present case against IS, the White House has delayed action for a long time. Now that it has launched a war on it, it has not sought any congressional authorization in the matter. It has not cared to forge a wide coalition against IS, with only five Muslim nations joining it. Nor has the White House sought a United Nations Security Council mandate on the issue, thereby putting off its powerful members like Russia and China.
The author is a senior Indian journalist based in New Delhi