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Indian Muslims stay away from ISIS: US

By Aziz Haniffa
May 27, 2016 08:58 IST
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'We have seen in India that radical ideology has by and large not been successful in taking root.'
Aziz Haniffa/ reports.

Muslim women stage a protest against ISIS in Mumbra, outside Mumbai, January 25, 2016. Photograph: PTI Photo

IMAGE: Muslim women stage a protest against ISIS in Mumbra, outside Mumbai, January 25, 2016. Photograph: PTI Photo


The Obama administration says that Indian Muslims have 'demonstrated a great deal of resilience' in not succumbing to the lure of Islamic extremism and joining terrorist groups despite undeniable overtures from both its leaders and sponsors.

Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's fourth visit to the United States -- that will include a working visit with President Obama and an address to a joint session of the US Congress -- said, 'The Indian Muslim community has demonstrated a great deal of resilience against such overtures.'

'And we have seen in India that radical ideology has by and large not been successful in taking root,' she added.

Biswal was answering questions from Senator Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat about 'the penetration of Islamic extremism in India,' and argued that 'they have had a long history of success, frankly, in rebuffing attempts by these groups to set up footholds within India.'

Murphy also wanted to know specifically about Gulf investments in India and noted that 'there is a lot of reporting about some major investments being made by the Saudis, by the Wahhabi clerical movement to set up a large network of school and madrasas universities throughout India.'

'We know about the connection between the penetration of that ideology and its connection often to the ability of terrorist recruiters to find success,' the senator said and referred to an article in The New York Times 'about what happens in postwar Kosovo related to the investment of the Saudis in building out the reach and capability of the Wahhabi conservative movement there.'

Murphy wanted to know 'about any developing trend lines on the penetration of some of these extremist groups to gain some foothold inside India.'

'We are clearly tracking and very concerned about the reach of the global networks in India and around the world,' Biswal acknowledged, adding, 'and that is a very focused part of our conversations and engagement on the counter-terrorism front and on the intelligence front.'

'We have had very strong success in engaging with India on tracking financial flows that represent areas of concern,' she noted, 'and the Indian themselves are doing a lot of track flows coming in not only from the Gulf but from many other parts of the world that they think can cause concern.'

'The challenge,' Biswal pointed out, 'is always identifying what we believe is appropriate financial flows coming in from across and around the world versus areas of concern, and creating the distinctions and the systematic framework to constrain one and enable the other.'

'And that is the challenging area, I will be quite honest, in being able to get that right,' she added. 'We do believe that through both our Treasury dialogues, which deal with the financial flows issue of terrorism financing concerns, and our counter-terrorism and Homeland Security dialogues which deal with the focus of efforts by global networks to tie into and reach into South Asia and India in particular, that we have very robust cooperation.'

When Murphy pressed Biswal into answering his question as to whether the administration was watching this trend line of Saudi and Gulf States' investment inside India, the senior State Department official said, 'I will have to take that back to give you a more specific answer on the areas that you are mentioning.'

'It is certainly something that, like I said, through our various components with the US Treasury and with our counter ISIL Task Force that there is a great deal of focus on what some of the destination countries are and what could be at play,' she said.

Biswal promised to provide a more specific answer on this 'after consulting with some of my colleagues who track that.'

Earlier, Murphy delved into the obstacles that seem to exist between India and the US with regard to effective intelligence sharing, despite the Joint Declaration on Combating Terrorism signed between both countries in September 2015.

The senator noted he could understand some of these obstacles like the 'pretty traditional reluctance on behalf of the Indians that exist in many other countries to engage in sharing with the United States because of fears as to what happens to that information.'

'Second is the fact that, as I understand it,' Murphy said, 'most of the most important intelligence operations in India are done at the state level and there is really not a national capability that exists like it does here in the United States.'

Biswal, asked to highlight some of the obstacles that needs to be overcome in order for India to have a closer intelligence sharing relationship with the United States, said, 'Sure Senator, I'll go as far as I can go in a setting and be happy to also come up and brief in a private setting and bring colleagues from the intelligence community to have that lengthier conversation.'

But going as far as she can, Biswal said, 'India absolutely has a national level capability and structure on intelligence that we do engage with and have a robust dialogue through the intelligence community channels, and that there has been a lot of progress in that arena, including engagement at the cabinet level with the leadership of our intelligence community, both with Director (of the Central Intelligence Agency John) Brennan and Direction (of the National Intelligence James) Clapper and their counterparts, and an operational level of engagement as well.'

'That said,' Biswal added, 'there is a role in terms of combating terrorism of state level entities, and we are looking to see where and how we can engage on that.'

'We have had very candid conversations when we believe that the security of information that has been passed has been compromised in any way,' she pointed out, 'and have gotten very good responses on that.'

'Again,' Biswal reiterated, 'I do believe that this is an area where we are seeing deepening cooperation.'

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