Final report sunni Militan cy in India: An Analytical Atlas



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FINAL REPORT

Sunni Militancy in India:

An Analytical Atlas

Stanford IPS/MPP Practicum Project

for

Joint Intelligence Task Force – Combating Terrorism



Defense Intelligence Agency


March 18, 2011


Prepared by:

Katherine Hoffmann

Jiro Kodera

Peter LeFrancois

Charles Nicas

Jackson Reed


Table of Contents


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1

Background 1

Research and Analysis 2

Conclusions 3

1.Introduction 1

2.Methodology 6

3.Background 8

Muslim Populations in India 8

Hindu Nationalism and Communal Violence in India 10

History of the Kashmir Conflict 12

Why is Sunni Militancy Important? The National Context 13

4.Trends in Terrorism COMMITTED by Sunni Groups 16

5.Profiles of Sunni Militant Groups in India 20

Definitions of Categories and Terms 20

All-India Groups 26

Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) 27

Indian Mujahideen (IM) 32

Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF) 34

Northeast Indian Groups 36

Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) 38

Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA) 42

People’s United Liberation Front (PULF) 43

Islamic Liberation Army of Assam (ILAA) 46

Muslim Security Council of Assam (MSCA) 47

United Muslim Liberation Front of Assam (UMLFA) 48

Islamic United Reformation Protest of India (IURPI) 49

Muslim Volunteer Force (MVF) 50

South Indian Groups 51

Jihad Committee 53

Al-Ummah 53

Islamic Defense Force 54

Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS) 58

Kashmiri Groups 60

Jamiat-ul-Mujahedin (JuM) 62

Dukhtaran-e-Millat (DeM) 65

Banat-ul-Islam 67

Muslim Khawateen Markaz (MKM) 69

Pakistani Groups 71

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) 72

Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) 75

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) 77

Islami Inqilabi Mahaz (IIM) 79

Harkat ul-Mujahideen 81

6.External Actors’ Influence on Sunni Militancy in India 83

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) 83

Al Qaeda 84

Gulf Donors and the Hawala System 85

Tablighi Jamaat 87

7.Social Network Analysis 88

8.Conclusion 98

Summary of Findings 98

Implications for U.S. Interests 99

9.Appendices 1

Major Secondary Sources 1

References 2

List of Figures

Figure 1. List of Militant Groups 3

Figure 2. Profile Components 5

Figure 3. States of India 8

Figure 4. Indian States with the largest percentage of Muslim residents, 2001 9

Figure 5. Indian States with the largest Muslim populations, 2001 9

Figure 6. Incidents and Deaths with Known Sunni Perpetrators 16

Figure 7. Terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir 1988-2010 18

Figure 8. Terrorism by Suspected Sunni Militant Groups 1988-2010 18

Figure 9. Overview of Profiled Groups 22

Figure 10. Terrorism Incidents and Deaths by All-India Groups 26

Figure 12. Terrorism Incidents and Deaths by Northeast Indian Groups 37

Figure 14. Terrorism Incidents and Deaths by South Indian Groups 52

Figure 16. Terrorism Incidents and Deaths by Kashmiri Groups 61

Figure 18. Terrorism Incidents and Deaths by Pakistani Groups 71

Figure 20. Relations Between Militant Groups 88

Figure 21. Social Network Overview 91

Figure 22. Front, Joined, Merged, Offshoot, Predecessor, and Same 92

Figure 23. Funding, Guidance, Influence, and Support 93

Figure 24. Degree Centrality 94

Figure 25. Betweenness 96

As the U.S.-led effort against Sunni militancy in South Asia enters its second decade, the issue of Sunni militancy in India, the region’s largest country, remains under-examined. The following report responds to this gap by exploring the nature and implications of Sunni militancy in India. Compiled with guidance from the Joint Intelligence Task Force – Combating Terrorism (JITF-CT) of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the report aims to understand Sunni militancy in India by answering the following questions:

  • What are the major Sunni militant groups in India?

  • What are their ideologies, links with other actors, and capacities for violence?

  • What are the salient characteristics (e.g., political, economic, ethnic, religious) of the populations that support these groups?

  • What are the trends and causes of Sunni militancy in India and their implications?

We approach these questions in three complementary ways: a quantitative overview of Sunni terrorism incidents and deaths for India as a whole; in-depth qualitative profiles of individual militant groups; and a social network analysis of the connections between the groups. We find that the most active and violent of these Sunni militant groups are generally related to Pakistan or the long-running conflict between Pakistan and India in Kashmir. However, entirely indigenous factors also play an important role.

In order to complete the profiles we developed the following definition for militant group. A militant group is an organization that advocates, materially supports, enables or uses unlawful violent action against persons or property so as to further a political, religious or ideological agenda. This definition allows a wide range of groups to be evaluated, including those that may not directly engage in violent acts or terrorism themselves. We identified and researched 24 Sunni militant groups with operations in India.

Background

We begin by situating Sunni militancy within the broader social and political environment in India, a large and diverse country with a complex history. India’s Muslim population is estimated to be approximately 160 million, only 13 percent of the national total, but large enough in absolute terms to be the third largest Muslim population in the world. India’s Muslims are overwhelmingly Sunni, and they constitute an important part of the political and cultural landscape. Understanding militancy in this community requires looking at not only the militant groups themselves but also the national and regional dynamics affecting the community’s interests.

One of these dynamics is the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, a decades-old movement that has long viewed India’s Muslim population with suspicion. Hindu-Muslim strife manifested itself most violently in the early 1990s after the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindu extremists. Many of the Sunni militant groups included in this report cite incidents of anti-Muslim violence as motivation for their own violent acts, and they often function in opposition to India’s Hindu nationalist groups. Perceptions of Hindu nationalist parties among Muslims throughout India and the history of violence between radical nationalists and Muslims is a critical piece of the story of Sunni militancy in India.

Another critical dynamic is the long-standing territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir. The defining moment in the rise of terrorism in Kashmir was the alleged manipulation of the results of India’s 1987 State Assembly elections. Pakistan then began covertly supporting Indian and Pakistani terrorist groups in Kashmir and importing Pakistani mujahideen returning from the Soviet conflict in Afghanistan. Violence in Jammu and Kashmir has dominated the terrorism component of Sunni militancy in India ever since.

Research and Analysis

Our nationwide assessment of Sunni terrorism in India does not show a clearly increasing trend over the past few years. Rather, the data show two competing trends. On one hand, Sunni terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir has been declining, in terms of both incidents and deaths, since 2005. On the other hand, Sunni terrorism outside Jammu and Kashmir has been marked by sporadic, highly lethal attacks in India’s major cities since the early 1990s.

The next section of the report includes profiles describing each group’s background, demography, and capacity. The profiles are organized geographically because regional context appears to be a critical factor in determining a group’s particular motivations. Consistent with this schematic, the three groups without a clear regional delimiter are the most focused on national changes. These groups are characterized as All-India groups. The geographic categories for the other groups are Northeast India, South India, Kashmir and Pakistan. The report also devotes a section to a discussion of external influences on Sunni militancy in India, focusing most notably on Pakistan’s intelligence services, Al Qaeda and donors from the Persian Gulf.

Using the qualitative information contained in the profiles, we conduct a social network analysis of the Sunni militant groups active in India to explore the links between them. A preliminary evaluation of the overarching network indicates a highly interconnected space. While groups tend to affiliate with each other according to regional ties (with for example the South Indian groups forming a small cluster of their own, connected to the rest of India by a single group), some actors – such as Pakistan’s intelligence service – act as links across multiple regions. In fact, according to almost every metric, our social network analysis suggests Pakistani organizations are critical to understanding Sunni militancy in India.

Conclusions

Our research shows that the vast majority of Sunni attacks in India take place in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. Outside Kashmir, attacks by Sunni groups in India tend to be less frequent and more lethal. For example, three notable attacks, New Delhi in October 2005 and Mumbai in July 2006 and November 2008, account for 50 percent of the total deaths from Sunni attacks outside Kashmir since 2004. Sunni militant incidents in India as a whole have been decreasing since 2008, with Kashmiri militancy starting to fall even earlier in 2005.

The motivations of domestic Indian militant groups can be divided three broad categories: territorial grievances, relevant in Kashmir and Northeast India; the threat of communal violence, especially versus Hindu nationalist groups, relevant for All-India and South India groups; and the appeal of Islamist ideology, relevant for all of the groups.

Among the domestic groups, the Indian Mujahideen and the Students Islamic Movement of India have been most closely associated with terrorism, especially medium and high-mortality attacks in India’s cities. However, these groups are closely linked with Pakistani intelligence and Pakistan-based groups. The Pakistan-based groups are directly involved in both the high-frequency attacks in Kashmir and the highly lethal attacks in Indian cities. As a result, we view these groups as the primary instigators of Sunni terrorism in India.

Because almost all of the Pakistan-based groups had – or have – ties to elements within Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment, we believe the adversarial relationship between the governments of India and Pakistan to be a central factor fueling this violence. The India-Pakistan conflict has served as a primary motivation for the Pakistani state to support Sunni terrorism, and for Pakistani militants to launch attacks in India. It is not the only motivation, and it complements and competes with others, including religious or jihadist ideology. Nevertheless, at present our research shows a decisive Pakistani influence on Sunni militancy in India, and this leads us to accord a central explanatory role to the territorial dispute in Kashmir and the broader political-religious conflict between India and Pakistan that predates their partition.

The non-terrorism component of Sunni militancy in India, on the other hand, continues to be influenced by domestic Indian actors. The riots of 1992 and 1993, street protests in Jammu and Kashmir and communal mobilization in South India are all a response to domestic territorial or communal grievances and show limited Pakistani involvement. In the future, the domestic grievances of Sunni Muslims in India, combined with the limited but nevertheless potent appeal of jihadist ideologies, could lead the development of a self-sustaining, widespread, indigenous movement of Sunni militancy in India. For now, however, Sunni militancy in India—and Sunni terrorism in particular—is closely linked to neighboring Pakistan.


  1. Introduction


This report represents our completed efforts to construct an atlas of Sunni militant groups in India for the Joint Intelligence Task Force – Combating Terrorism (JITF-CT) of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). The project also serves as the Practicum component of the graduate programs in International and Public Policy at Stanford University.

During preliminary discussion, JITF-CT identified Sunni militancy in India as a topic about which they lacked organizational knowledge. The goal of the project is to fill this knowledge gap with a document that can serve as a primer for junior personnel and as a working reference piece for senior analysts at DIA. To serve these functions, the document answers six key questions posed by JITF-CT:



  • What are the major Sunni militant groups in India?

  • What are their ideologies?

  • What are their interactions with other actors?

  • What are the salient characteristics (e.g., political, economic, ethnic, tribal) of the populations that support these groups?

  • What is the group’s capacity for violent action?

  • What trends are there in Sunni militancy in India and why is it important?

To answer these questions, we profiled 24 Sunni militant groups that operate in India. Section 2 describes the methodology used to research the groups profiled. Section 3 is a brief background on elements of the Indian policy environment relevant to the study of Sunni militancy, including overviews of Muslim demographics, the Hindu nationalist movement and communal violence in the country, and a brief history of the conflict in Kashmir. A description of the general trends observed in Sunni militancy over time is found in section 4. Section 5 contains a table highlighting the major details of each group and the group profiles themselves. Section 6 provides a concise description of the role of external influences on Sunni militancy in India. The social network analysis in section 7 depicts the relationships that exist between the groups and other actors. The report concludes with section 8 and our analysis of why Sunni militancy in India is important and its role in a national, regional, and international context.

The definition we selected for militant group considered the connection between militancy and terrorism, the use of violence, and the group’s goals. In conjunction with JITF-CT, we developed the following project-specific definition: an organization that advocates, materially supports, enables or uses unlawful violent action against persons or property so as to further a political, religious or ideological agenda.

This definition of militancy allows a wide range of groups to be evaluated, including those that may not directly engage in violent acts or terrorism themselves, but that, through rhetorical or logistical support, create an environment in which it is easier for violent groups to operate.

Guided by these criteria, we sought to identify every Sunni militant group with operations in India, whether foreign or domestically based. JITF-CT reviewed the groups identified by this process and divided them into high and low priority lists, based on whether JITF-CT already possessed substantial knowledge of a group in question (primarily an issue with well known Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e Taiba).1 We then followed our research methodology to complete profiles on 22 of the 25 groups in the high-priority list. The three high-priority groups not profiled were the Muslim Tiger Force, Revolutionary Muslim Commandos, and the United Liberation Tigers of Assam. Available information on these groups was insufficient for profile compilation. After a preliminary investigation, and based on our earlier experiences with similarly undocumented groups, like the Islamic United Reformation Protest of India, we decided to forgo profiling them altogether.

We also profiled two groups from the low-priority list. The first, Lashkar-e-Taiba, was so integral to the environment of Sunni terrorism in India that we found it expedient to compile a profile, despite JITF-CT’s expertise on the group. The second group, Muslim Khawateen Markaz was included in both the original low and high priority lists and was included for thouroughness. The high and low priority lists and the list of the groups profiled can be seen in Figure 1 below. As mentioned above, several of the profiles are quite short due to information unavailability. We have decided to include these profiles to address as completely as possible our list of militant groups.

Based on the needs of JITF-CT we sought to compile certain information in each group profile. The availability of information varied widely between groups, and as such, the following profile components (detailed in Figure 2 below) served as a guide for our research.



Figure 1. List of Militant Groups

High-priority (lesser known) groups

Low-priority (better known) groups

  • Al-Ummah

  • Asif Reza Commando Force

  • Banat-ul-Islam

  • Dukhtaran-e-Millat

  • Harakat-ul-Mujahideen

  • Indian Mujahideen

  • Islami Inqilabi Mahaz

  • Islamic Defense Force

  • Islamic Liberation Army of Assam

  • Islamic Sevak Sangh

  • Islamic United Reformation Protest of India

  • Jaish-e-Mohammad

  • Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen

  • Jihad Committee

  • Lashkar-e-Jhangvi

  • Muslim Security Council of Assam

  • Muslim Tiger Force*

  • Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam

  • Muslim Volunteer Force

  • People’s United Liberation Front

  • Revolutionary Muslim Commandos*

  • Students Islamic Movement of India

  • United Liberation Tigers of Assam2*

  • United Muslim Liberation Front of Assam

  • All Parties Hurriyat Conference*

  • Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami*

  • Hizbul Mujahideen*

  • Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front*

  • Lashkar-e-Taiba

  • Muslim Khawateen Markaz3




* Not profiled.

Figure 2. Profile Components

Background

Demography

Capacity

  • Date formed and disbanded

  • Front companies, aliases, or political fronts

  • Predecessors

  • Founding story

  • Goals

  • Ideology

  • Brief history

  • Key events

  • Leadership

  • Geographic base of support

  • Demographic base of support

  • Relationship with community

  • Interaction with other actors

  • Legal status

  • Size

  • Resources

  • Recruitment strategy and base

  • Means of mobilizing support

  • Capacity for carrying out violent action

  • Mode of operation 

 









  1. Methodology


Conducting research into Indian militant groups is an often complex endeavor that presents conflicting accounts of events from a variety of sources, whose veracity cannot always be ascertained. In consideration of that, we examined as many sources as we could to construct an accurate profile of the groups in question.

To construct the body of militant group profiles, selected groups (see section 5) were divided using rough geographical criteria and assigned to individual researchers. The decision to assign whole profiles, as opposed to profile components, to individual researchers was made to minimize redundancy of effort, given that individual sources oftentimes contain information relevant to multiple profile components of a single group.

The study of militancy in India is characterized by information scarcity. The clandestine and unlawful nature of militant activity contributes to this situation, as do the information security measures of the government agencies that investigate and combat militancy. For our U.S.-based, English-speaking research team, the inability to access physical archives in India or to translate vernacular sources was an additional barrier. The fact that our research was possible, in spite of these difficulties, is due chiefly to the existence of India’s English-language news media, whose reports constitute the sole primary source available to the research team, and the basis of almost all secondary-source writing on Sunni militancy in India. However, articles on Sunni militancy frequently quote casualty and incident figures without citing sources and publications repeat the reporting of their competitors so that independent corroboration of key claims is oftentimes impossible. We have tried to highlight discrepancies and information gaps throughout the report, but readers should keep in mind that the open-source study of militancy in India rests on a great deal of uncertainty.

In addition to news articles, the report relies on a number of secondary sources. The most important of these is the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), an online source of information and analysis on terrorism and political conditions across South Asia maintained by the Institute for Conflict Management, an Indian think tank. Although SATP does not cite individual sources, and its profiles of militant groups are not always internally consistent, its documents are sourced in part from media reports that do not appear in the LexisNexis database, making them a valuable, if problematic reference.

Other secondary publications do not cite their sources at all and are included with the lack of sourcing highlighted, with the assumption being that their anonymous source may be providing information that is unavailable elsewhere. The Terrorist Organization Profiles (TOPs), maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, are an example of one such source (see Appendix for a descriptive table of major secondary sources).

In addition to the secondary sources, we used two databases to assess trends in terrorism by Sunni militant groups in India, both regionally and nationally: the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS), maintained by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center and the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), maintained by START. Each consist of terrorism incident records that including the date, suspected perpetrators, victims and casualties of attacks, in addition to other variables. The GTD is based primarily on media reports, while WITS relies on unspecified open sources. The databases each use different definitions of terrorism, and their exact methodologies, while not entirely transparent, appear to differ as well. These differences are substantial enough to generate significant discrepancies in incident and casualty counts for the four years in which their coverage overlaps. As such, information from each source is represented separately in the charts in sections 4 and 5 that utilize GTD and WITS data.

Finally, a social network analysis was performed using the qualitative data collected and used for the individual profiles. Social Network Analysis is a useful means of visualizing and identifying key organizations and regional trends in terrorist activity in India. In fact, social network analysis has already been applied to the study of terrorism in India by Aparna Basu of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis (IDHA) in New Delhi. Basu used the co-occurrence of group names in the Terrorist Tracker database’s report of terrorist incidents to identify the strength of ties between different organizations.4

Our social network analysis focused on the narrower topic of Sunni militancy in India. A study of the links between different organizations and the betweenness and degree centrality of the different groups addressed in the report has allowed us to identify the most active and influential groups in the network. The findings of this analysis, as well as a detailed discussion of the specific methodological challenges faced, are in section 7.

  1. Background


Muslim Populations in India

In 2009, the Pew Research Center estimated that India was home to roughly 161 million Muslims, or 10 percent of the world’s total Muslim population. According to these data, India has more Muslim residents than all other countries except Indonesia and Pakistan. Nonetheless, only about 13 percent of Indians are Muslim.5 As of 2001, Muslims lived in every state and union territory of India, and constituted a religious minority in all but two (see Figure 4 ).



Figure 3. States of India



Source: India State Basemap: A Georeferenced GIS Database for India, 2008.

The largest Muslim populations live in populous northern states, but substantial numbers can be found across the south as well (see Figure 5).6



Figure 4. Indian States with the largest percentage of Muslim residents, 2001




Figure 5. Indian States with the largest Muslim populations, 2001

State/UT

Muslim Residents

Muslims as share of State/UT population*




State/UT


Muslim Residents

Share of Indian Muslim population*

Lakshadweep

57,903

96%




Uttar Pradesh

30,740,158

22%

Jammu & Kashmir

6,793,240

67%




West Bengal

20,240,543

14%

Assam

8,240,611

31%




Bihar

13,722,048

10%

West Bengal

20,240,543

25%




Maharashtra

10,270,485

7%

Kerala

7,863,842

25%




Assam

8,240,611

6%

Uttar Pradesh

30,740,158

19%




Kerala

7,863,842

6%

Bihar

13,722,048

17%




Andhra Pradesh

6,986,856

5%

Jharkhand

3,731,308

14%




Jammu & Kashmir

6,793,240

5%

Karnataka

6,463,127

12%




Karnataka

6,463,127

5%

Uttaranchal

1,012,141

12%




Total

138,188,240

100%

Source: Census of India data, 2001.

*Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.


In 2009, the Pew Center estimated India’s Muslim population to be between 85 and 90 percent Sunni. The remaining 10 to 15 percent of the population was predominantly Shia, with less than .07 percent of Muslims not affiliated with either major sect.7 Since the Census of India does not record Sunni or Shia affiliation, Pew developed these estimates by relying on expert academic opinion to infer the likely sectarian affiliation of different ethno-linguistic groups across India;8 consequently, they should be taken as a rough guide only. Thus far, we have been unable to determine the geographic distribution of Shia and Sunni populations within India.9

Hindu Nationalism and Communal Violence in India

Many of the Sunni militant groups included in this report cite incidents of anti-Muslim violence as motivation for their own violent acts and oftentimes function in opposition to India’s Hindu nationalist groups. Given these connections, and to limit repetition in the profiles, we provide below an overview of the Hindu nationalist movement and its connection to major incidents of communal violence in India, followed by a brief description of the three most important Hindu nationalist parties: the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The Hindu nationalist movement now led by these organizations began gaining mass appeal in the early 1980s, a time when socialism and secularism were losing popularity in the country. Initially, it was the Congress party that mobilized Hindu identity for electoral purposes, relying on violent anti-Sikh sentiment among Hindus in the wake of a Sikh separatist insurgency in Punjab and the related murder of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, to sweep the 1984 elections.10 When compared with the three main Hindu nationalist organizations, however, the Congress party was organizationally and ideologically ill-placed to reap the benefits of deploying Hinduism politically, and the BJP won enough seats in the 1989 elections to support the Janata Dal party in forming India’s first non-Congress government.11

By the early 1990s, the communalist anger of Hindu nationalists had shifted from Sikhs to Muslims. Controversy centered on the Babri Masjid, a 16th century mosque in the small town of Ayodhya, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (see Figure 3). Hindu nationalists maintained that the mosque, which was dedicated to Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India, rested on the foundations of an ancient mandir (Hindu temple) marking the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram. The controversy culminated in the destruction of the mosque by a large crowd of Hindu pilgrims in December 1992. RSS, BJP and VHP leaders were present during the rioting that destroyed the mosque, although they deny having instigated its destruction. This incident was followed by Hindu-Muslim violence across India, in which thousands died over subsequent months.12 This violence led the Home Minsitry to temporarily ban the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal (a third Hindu nationalist group), along with the Muslim Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and Islamic Sevak Sangh, all of which were accused of exacerbating communal tensions.13

The destruction of the Babri Masjid and ensuing violence continue to affect communal politics in India, and the disputed Ayodhya site remains controversial. In the past decade, the worst communal violence occurred in 2002, following a deadly fire on a train at Godhra in Gujarat state. The train was carrying Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat.14 Some pilgrims on the train alleged that Muslim terrorists lit the fire. The cause of the fire was subsequently disputed, with an investigative committee appointed by the central government finding that the fire was accidental, and a Gujarat state government-appointed panel finding that a conspiracy of local Muslims was responsible.15 However, the immediate consequences of the fire were anti-Muslim riots across BJP-governed Gujarat, in which 1,000 to 2,000 Muslims were killed.16 The perception of Hindu nationalist parties and groups among Muslims throughout India and the history of violence between radical nationalists and Muslims is a critical piece of the story of Sunni militancy in India. The following descriptions of the BJP, VHP, and RSS provide important context for the group profiles and the rest of the report.



  • Bharatiya Janata Party (The Indian People’s Party, or BJP)

Along with the Indian National Congress, the BJP is one of two major national political parties in India. It led the country’s government between March 1998 and May 2004 under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.17 Then party-leader L.K. Advani was instrumental in mobilizing mass support for the Babri Masjid demolition (see overview above).


  • Vishwa Hindu Parishad (The World Hindu Council, or VHP)

The professed goals of the VHP are to work for the cohesion of Hindu society and protect the religion from malign influences.18 The organization has a global presence and advocates in favor of Hindu causes. In India, the VHP campaigns for the construction of the Sri Ram Janmabhumi Mandir (temple) on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.19

The RSS was founded in 1925 to work for India’s independence as a Hindu nation. It maintains a national association that organizes Hindu youth and attempts to instill mental and physical discipline in its members. The RSS is one of the oldest Hindu nationalist groups in India and its former members have founded or led many allied organizations, including the BJP and VHP. These latter two groups also look to RSS leaders for legitimacy.20

History of the Kashmir Conflict

Violence in Jammu and Kashmir has dominated the terrorism component of Sunni militancy in India for the past two decades. This violence is inextricably tied to the history of India and Pakistan’s conflict over the disputed territory, which began shortly after independence and is ongoing.

From the mid-nineteenth century through its disputed accession to independent India in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was a “princely state”, meaning that its rulers enjoyed titular autonomy from the British East India Company and Crown as long as they supported the former’s interests in the territory. During this period, predominantly Muslim Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by a dynasty of Hindu maharajas (kings), whose domestic reign relied on severe repression of the majority population.21

Because of the territory’s autonomous status, the Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, had the opportunity to choose whether to accede to Pakistan or India at the time of partition. The situation was complicated by the fact that the princely state’s population was still majority Muslim and highly discriminated against.22 These demographic and political factors suggest that a majority of the state’s population would have favored accession to Pakistan; however, the situation was further complicated by the fact that Sheik Mohammad Abdullah, the foremost leader of Kashmir’s anti-monarchy reform movement in the 1930s and 1940s, favored the Indian National Congress over Pakistan’s Muslim League on the larger question of independence from Britain and partition. The territory’s Muslim majority was also concentrated in the Kashmir valley, while the sub-regions of Jammu and Ladakh were and are majority Hindu and Buddhist, respectively.23

After a period of indecision, Singh ultimately decided on accession to India after thousands of armed Pathans (Pashtuns) entered Kashmir from Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. Indian forces were airlifted into the state just before Pathan forces captured Srinagar airport as there was no road from India to the Kashmir valley, and Abdullah became premier of an Emergency Administration.

Nehru agreed in principle to a British stipulation that, because of the demographics, the final question of Jammu and Kashmir’s status should be decided by plebiscite, once the invaders were expelled;24 however, Indian and Pakistani leaders could not agree on the terms of such a plebiscite, and went directly to war over the issue in 1948, with the Pakistan retaining control over some territory in the eastern part of the contested state.

In 1953, Sheik Abdullah fell out of favor with the Congress government and was imprisoned for twenty-two years. In 1975 he was released and his party, the National Conference went on to win elections in 1977 and 1983, only to be removed from power again by another Congress government. A subsequent agreement between the National Conference and New Delhi led to the election of 1987, which was widely perceived as fraudulent. Outrage over the election rigging initiated militancy in the state.25

Why is Sunni Militancy Important? The National Context

Central to understanding any issue in India is the recognition of the fact that it is a large, diverse, complicated country with an equally long and complex history. This is particularly relevant when studying the Muslim population in India. The role of Sunni militancy in India and its importance in the national context is manifested in two key components: 1) the ways in which Sunni militancy affects the state’s view of its minority Muslim population; and 2) the extent to which the militant tactics of many Sunni militant groups can undermine the liberalism of the Indian state.

The Indian state’s response to recent terrorist incidents can be understood through its legislative actions. Both the Terrorist and Disruption Activities (Prevention) Act of 1985 (TADA) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002 (POTA) were measures passed in reaction to major terrorist incidents, and both have since been repealed due to popular dissent against their draconian nature. However, after the 2008 bombings and attacks in Mumbai the 1967 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was amended to include many of the provisions of POTA and TADA. The amendments include:


  • A vague definition of terrorism;

  • Expanded powers to ban organizations identified as terrorist;

  • The ability to prosecute suspected members of terrorist organizations on a broad definition of membership, rather than on the basis of complicity in an act of terrorism;

  • Provisions to grant security forces broad powers not authorized under the Indian Criminal Code, giving the police the power to make arrests and conduct searches and seizures based on “personal knowledge” of a committed offense;

  • A provision for courts to double the maximum period of detention from 90 to 180 days without charge for terrorism suspects;

  • A provision requiring the denial of bail for anyone charged as a terrorist;

  • The automatic shift of the burden of proof to the accused to prove innocence if the accused is found to be in possession of arms, explosives or other specified items believed to be used in a committed offense or if fingerprints or other definitive evidence suggesting involvement is found at the site or in connection with anything used in the offense.26

The above amendments run counter to the Indian Criminal Code, general Indian law, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. While the earlier repeal of both TADA and POTA illustrates the extent of popular opposition to such explicit powers, the amendments represent an attempt to reintegrate previously rejected provisions. The amendments allow authorities to classify political opponents and opposition groups as terrorist, limiting the right to assembly and the organizational capacity of groups, particularly those associated with a minority position or population. There is also the potential for prolonged pretrial detention, limitations on the right to a fair trial, and wrongful prosecution. The amendments to UAPA clearly run counter to the liberal nature of the Indian constitution and to the international treaties India is party to.

A 2011 Human Rights Watch report on the arbitrary detention and torture of terrorism suspects in India depicts how the 2008 amendments to UAPA are representative of a larger trend in India. Indian police are shown to have routinely taken action that extends beyond the defined parameters of Indian law. For example, the report describes incidents of torture and forced confessions in police custody, beatings in jail, the arrests of relatives to coerce surrenders or obtain information, extended stays in police custody beyond the proscribed limit, mass arrests for questioning, and denial of access to lawyers and family members in the aftermath of the 2008 bombings. The majority of these incidents were reported by Muslims, targeted suspected members of Muslim militant groups, and focused on Muslim communities.27 It is difficult to link the police response targeting Muslim communities and the reports of police abuse to the actions of Sunni militant groups directly. However, it is not difficult to surmise that the continued targeting of Muslim communities and an anti-terrorism legal framework that facilitates that action will contribute to an increase in tensions with India’s Muslim population, ultimately creating an environment where militancy will remain and perhaps increase.





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