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Indian parents must warn their children against ISIS

By Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd)
September 23, 2014 10:01 IST
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ISIS'Parents would do well by the nation if they were to persuade their sons and daughters not to become puppets in the hands of the Islamists,' feels Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd).

News that at least six youth led by one of the Armar brothers from Bhatkal, all members of the Ansar ul-Tawhid, have migrated to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to participate in jihad did not cause great surprise having learnt a few days earlier that another person form Bhatkal, Anwer Hussain Bhatkal, had been killed during a raid on the Afghan border.

Radical elements from Bhatkal in North Karnataka have gained notoriety as terrorists that engineered and executed many blasts in India including those in Pune and Patna. The organisation that Armar has created is named Ansar ul-Tawhid. It is already in jihad mode.

What does cause concern is the thrust of new arguments advanced by Armar on the one hand, and the choice he has made to act in concert with the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TeTP) on the other hand.

TeTP is an ultra right wing faction of Islamists in Pakistan that is dissatisfied both with the government of Pakistan and the Pakistan army -- read the ISI -- for not doing enough in the cause of the Sharia.

It is not as if its activities are to be restricted to Pakistan. In contrast, the Afghan Taliban, is inspired and supported by the ISI so that it would look after Pakistani interests in that country.

In so far as orthodoxy and commitment to Sharia are concerned, the two are comparable. TeTP supports the Sharia rather than Pakistani interests as viewed by the ISI. The spread of Islam, of the kind that it approves of, all over the world, is nearer to its ideology than Pakistan with fixed international borders.

This marriage of radical elements from India with the Pan-Islamic movement is worrisome. The linking of Indian radicals with Pan-Islamic movements would attract more funds and other help from citadels of orthodoxy and anachronistic Islamist regimes and organisations elsewhere.

It is in India's interest to nip the Taliban connection in the bud. The Taliban that works to further Pakistan's interest in Afghanistan has largely been equipped and funded by the ISI. Whatever the fine distinction between the two varieties of the Taliban, what is common is their fanaticism and commitment to violence.

It was the Afghan Taliban that created conditions in which Al Qaeda sprouted and flourished in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda had the US in its cross hairs, but its global agenda had also included India.

The direct linkage between the Taliban and Indian radical groups is likely to fire their imagination with the notions and ideas of other Pan-Islamic movements all over the world.

It is significant that Armar draws inspiration from the ISIS -- Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. A little earlier, a foursome from Kalyan, Maharashtra, had directly joined ISIS. Some of these radicals may return to India and inspire other youth.

On the basis of Armar and Arif's public statements, it is apparent that they draw inspiration from the foreign invaders of the subcontinent in medieval times and identify themselves with them. They also express their hatred of Hindus in no uncertain terms. This is also the core of the Pakistani attitude to India. Missiles that Pakistan wishes to target India with are named Ghauri, Ghaznavi etc.

To this cocktail of the hatred of India, commitment to its destruction, and the ongoing proxy war of 'thousand cuts,' something more potent is being added -- the brotherhood of radical Islam without boundaries. The inspiration comes from the new 'Caliph' of Baghdad.

The head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, does look upon himself as a Khalifa. He has a doctorate in Islamic studies, and viewing his success against the army of Iraq, and in Syria, his military prowess is considerable. Amongst his missions stands included the Islamisaton of the Indian subcontinent.

There is a special resonance in the Indian mind about the institution of Khalifa because of the Khilafat movement in India from 1919 to 1922. Although there are differences among the Sunnis and Shias about the specifics and legitimacy of some historical figures as Khalifas, the basic concept that the 'Khalifa' is the temporal and spiritual head of the entire Muslim community does not appear to be in dispute.

International borders have no significance in this matter. In a sense, Khilafat creates a borderless Islamic brotherhood that subsumes national interests. It is the Khilafat movement in India that persuaded the common Indian Muslim that he ought to place the concerns of the Islamic brotherhood over his loyalties and interests linked to the subcontinent. It is worthwhile to briefly review the Khilafat movement in its historical context.

Ottoman Sultans started laying claims over the title of Khalifa since they held sway over most of the Islamic world. Such a claim was initially made early in the 16th century when the Turks ruled over much of the Saudi Arabian peninsula and Egypt but it was accepted only in the 18th century.

It implied that the temporal and spiritual power rested in the Sultan. Secularism is antithetical to the concept of Khilafat. Much later, it so happened that the Ottomans, who were on the losing side in the Great War, decidedly lost their temporal power.

The Ottoman Empire was vivisected and new nations were created by the winners of the Great War. This diminution of the Khalifa was resented in the Islamic world from the centre of which the Khalifa had ruled nearly for four centuries.

The Muslims in the Indian subcontinent became restive because they felt that the British owed it to them to protect 'their' Khalifa and his grandeur as the head of the Islamic community or Ummah. The movement started in the then United Provinces and was led by the Ali brothers.

Mahatma Gandhi decided to support the movement possibly in the hope that this unity amongst the Muslims and the Hindus of the subcontinent would make it more difficult for the British to 'divide and rule,' and further that the Independence movement would gather momentum with the participation of the Muslim community because till then it had largely been a Hindu movement.

A nation-wide joint non-cooperation movement with the support of the advocates of the Khilafat was launched in 1920 against British rule. The unity of purpose and participation of Hindus and Muslims visualised for this movement did not achieve the intended purpose.

Instead, it yielded unthought-of and unfortunate consequences. It ended up emphasising the worldwide Muslim solidarity rather than Indian unity.

To start with, things went well and there was a united front, but then, in 1921 the Moplahs in Kerala turned violently on the British rulers. If anything, they turned on the Hindus with greater ferocity because one of their objectives was to convert them.

The rebellion was put down brutally by the British, but not before a substantive number of Hindus had either been killed or forcibly converted. Did the Khilafat Movement have anything to do with the Moplah Rebellion? Was there a causal co-relation? These questions cannot be answered with certainty.

A year later, the Muslims resented that the non-cooperation movement that was supported by the Ali Brothers and other Muslim leaders was suspended by the Mahatma without consulting them. They were dissatisfied with the reason given by the Mahatma, namely that of the violence in Bihar in 1922.

The upshot was that the Khilafat movement ended up convincing large sections of Muslims that the Islamic brotherhood was more meaningful and relevant to them than their Indian origin or independence of India from the British rule for that matter.

The cause of the world-wide Muslim 'nation,' that owed allegiance to the Khalifa, appealed to them. The Khilafat movement, in today's terminology, polarised the Muslims in the subcontinent; they eventually ended up seeking British support rather than independence from them.

In a way, the Khilafat movement ended up affirming the 'two-nation' theory that eventually divided the subcontinent. The notion that the loyalty to the nation State can be subsumed by the loyalty to Islam, unless, of course, the nation State also happens to be Islamic, gained foothold in many minds in the subcontinent.

Ironically, the Khilafat movement in India became irrelevant when the Turks themselves ended the Khilafat in 1924. But by then the damage to the concept of collective identity of Indians, irrespective of the religious affiliations of individuals, had already been done.

In contrast with the Khilafat movement of the yore, the present one is far more detrimental to India's abiding interests. The reservoir of finances from outside India, technology, and technical skills that are easily accessible to the present day radicals, who are driven by their Pan-Islamic agenda, do not bare any comparison with what was available by way of means to the activists of Khilafat movement of the 20th century.

As of now, some Indian youth, inspired by Pakistan, are actively engaged in anti-Indian activities. Some of them have already joined the ultra orthodox faction of the Taliban. It is apparent that many of them admire and support the new Khalifa, his Pan-Islamic movement, and their absurdly violent ways. This is a dangerous trend.

Not many Muslim parents in India support armed resistance to the State or spread of Islam using violent means. These parents would do well by the nation if they were to persuade their sons and daughters not to become puppets in the hands of the Islamists.

No amount of self recrimination would be of any avail after their progeny crosses the line of no return. The developmental agenda has to be pursued, local self government upwards, so that the youth in the country do not face despondency for want of employment opportunities. The spread of general public awareness of the threat that India faces is of vital importance.

It goes without saying that the government can be relied upon to watch out for even incipient signs subversion even as it pursues the developmental agenda for the creation of employment opportunities. A greater public awareness of what is afoot is equally important.

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Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd)