The recent video by Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri announcing the formation of an Indian wing in the subcontinent has set alarm bells ringing in the Indian security establishment.
Jayadeva Ranade, former additional secretary in the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, tells Upasna Pandey that India needs to be extremely cautious and watchful of the estimated 35-40 Indians who may have joined the ISIS in Iraq and may return to the country.
How serious is the Al Qaeda threat for India, especially after Zawahiri's video?
We should take this announcement by Zawahiri very seriously, as this is a straight recruitment pitch by him. This is a cash-rich offer and we may witness a lot of unaccounted cash flow into the country. We can expect to see increased activity by the Al Qaeda now.
What are the steps to be taken to offset this threat?
We should identify whether Al Qaeda is working independent of other groups that have their presence in Pakistan, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayiba, among others, or in collaboration with them. In case there is collaboration, India can reach out to Pakistan for their support to tackle this threat. We are not sure if there would be a response from Pakistan but India can certainly make an attempt to seek support.
What are the measures critical for tackling such threats?
We need to ensure our readiness in terms of ground-level policing, intelligence and overall preparedness. Our community-level policing needs to brace up for this as we also have a high floating population which makes monitoring tougher.
We need to watch out for the flow of unaccounted cash meant for this kind of recruitment by militant organisations in the country. The high number of youth and unemployment can be triggers that need to be monitored within the country.
The ISIS is not known to have a presence in India as of now, but how do you see the threat from them?
I believe ISIS is as serious a threat as the Al Qaeda. The organisation is more cash-rich, and they are more ruthless in their operations. We need to be extremely cautious and watchful of the estimated 35-40 Indians who may have joined ISIS in Iraq and may return to the country. They would be trained and may become active in India.
We are on common ground with USA vis-à-vis the ISIS so we can seek cooperation from them in tackling this outfit. Also, we need to spruce up our internal security systems. Another advantage for India is that we don’t have a radicalised population, which works in our favour.
What is your reaction to the government’s response to the Al Qaeda video?
I believe the government is taking all the requisite measures at the national and state level in response to the announcement by Zawahiri. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has been meeting intelligence agencies and several states have been put on increased alert. The government is taking this quite seriously.