The Ministry of Home Affairs has decided to start two new divisions to exclusively deal with emerging challenges of radicalisation and cybercrime. One of the dedicated wings, named 'counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation' (CTCR) division, will be mandated to focus on the online reach of global terrorist groups such as the IS and devising strategies to counter their propaganda. This well-intentioned step, which has been long overdue, could mark a significant step towards improving India's internal security and counterterrorism capabilities.
Fortunately, India has not seen the kind of religious radicalisation that has spread elsewhere. The high level of integration of Muslims in Indian society as well as the traditionally moderate nature of Islamic faith in India, as compared to its Pakistani counterpart, are the reasons. But if the recent spate of arrests of IS recruits or sympathisers is any indication, it is reasonable to argue that India is not entirely immune to the waves of religious radicalisation.
It also debunks the long-held notion that ideologically motivated Islamist terror had bypassed mainland India, despite Kashmir having been subjected to separatist Islamist insurgency. The IS seems determined to spread its tentacles in India, as reflected in a growing number of Muslims from mainland India becoming radicalised.
Early this month, the Uttar Pradesh anti-terrorism squad arrested Abu Zaid at Mumbai airport soon after he arrived from Riyadh. Zaid was allegedly radicalising Indian Muslims through social media to recruit them into the terror outfit. On November 2, Kerala police confirmed that six more youths from Kannur had joined IS. In July this year, Shajahan Velluva Kandy, an IS operative and a resident of Kannur, was arrested on his deportation by Turkish authorities.
Last month, Philippines authorities arrested Karen Aisha Hamidon, a leading female online recruiter who had been acting on behalf of IS on Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp. In December 2015, an Indian Oil Corporation manager, Mohammad Sirajuddin, was arrested from Jaipur and a computer engineer from Tamil Nadu, Mohammad Naseer, was deported from Sudan. Both had claimed that they were influenced by Karen. In September 2017, an IS operative was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for his possible involvement in a conspiracy to carry out terror attacks across Tamil Nadu. The list is too long to fit here.
Most Indian suspects arrested for terror related activities are youth, having a good education and well employed, often motivated through internet propaganda. Since spreading hateful and distorted messages or triggering a conflict through cyberspace is low-cost but has potentially devastating impact, terrorists throughout the world are relying heavily on cyber mobilisation to recruit, finance and train more fighters to their cause.
In fact, cyber radicalisation has already reached alarming proportions in Kashmir, leading Dineshwar Sharma, the newly-named interlocutor for talks in Jammu and Kashmir, to set de-radicalisation of Kashmiri youth and militants as the topmost priority so as "to prevent Kashmir from turning into a Syria of India".
Islamic radicalisation may be described as a gradual transformation from a non-violent and religiously based understanding of the Islamic faith to one with a violent and politically motivated ideology premised on the belief that Islam is in danger and the only viable solution for the survival of Islam is to perpetrate acts of violence. These radicals are playing havoc across much of the democratic world, resulting into 'lone wolf' terror attacks in several Western cities. The latest massacre of innocents in Manhattan in America by a radicalised Uzbek is yet another indicator of the grave threat IS poses to the world, particularly to all countries and societies with sizable Muslim populations.
The recent trends in jihadist terrorism and radicalisation around the world highlight the limits of conventional counterterrorism approaches that place a single-minded focus on security measures. What is really required is a smarter approach one that goes beyond countering terrorists with law enforcement or military tactics. An effective strategy would be one that incorporates measures to prevent susceptible people from getting converted into dreaded terrorists in the first place. It begins by addressing the forces that radicalise people to join terror groups.
Success in counter and de-radicalisation policies would largely depend upon a whole-of-government approach, which includes an effective and efficient governing mechanism. Besides, law enforcement agencies must work closely with civil society academics, professionals, religious and local leaders in tapping the talents of local communities in developing counter-narratives.
Last but not the least, the police leadership must adequately prepare the policemen on the streets to play a leading role in preventing and countering radicalisation by listening to and addressing the grievances of the people they often claim to serve. One must hope that the CTCR division will keep these factors in view while formulating a comprehensive response to counter radicalisation.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sardar Patel University, Jodhpur)