Debating India

Lashkar fishes in troubled waters

Praven Swami

Saturday 26 June 2004, by SWAMI*Praveen

AHMEDABAD, JUNE 26. Like most young people her age, Ishrat Jehan Raza occasionally cruised the internet. If the Gujarat police are right and the Mumbai college student who was killed in Ahmedabad on June 15 was a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, she would most certainly have seen a graphic image on the organisation’s website: riot survivor Qutubuddin Ansari begging for his life. Underneath the image, the Lashkar’s site designer added a slogan: "don’t you think he should have a gun?"

Like most things to do with the organisation, the Lashkar’s plans for Gujarat are no secret. Ever since the pogrom of 2002, the organisation has been publicly calling on Indian Muslims to join its Jihad.

In an article published that year on the Lashkar website, its political head, Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, asked "the Muslims of India that they themselves rise up for their protection."

"Only Jihad," he continued, "is the defence of the oppressed Muslims. The riots have proved that the Hindus are fully armed but the Muslims are badly ill-equipped to cope with such a situation."

Almost two weeks after the controversial encounter that claimed Ishrat’s life, along with those of Pune resident Javed Sheikh and two Pakistani nationals, it is still unclear just what motivated the young college student to join the ranks of the Lashkar. That she did so, in at least some peripheral form, seems probable. Evidence has emerged that Ishrat maintained telephone contact with Javed, and that codenames entered in her diary match those in a separate register maintained by her associate.

These codenames, meant to refer to potential assassination targets, offer at least some clues to her motivation. Leaders widely believed to be at the cutting edge of anti-Muslim political mobilisation received particularly venomous nomenclature. Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar is referred to as `Kutta,’ or dog; Vishwa Hindu Parishad demagogue Dr. Praveen Togadia as `Tingu,’ or dwarf. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is coded `Mubarak,’ or congratulations - a reference, perhaps, to the sentiments the Lashkar would pass on to his assassins.

Ishrat’s sentiments mirror those of some youth who were incensed by the Indian state’s failure to deliver justice during or after the violence in Gujarat. Mr. Sayeed’s article taps this anger, arguing that "the only way for the Muslims of India is to organise their movements [sic.] for liberation. There is no other way out." "Why to die helplessly?" the Lashkar chief asks. Some have been listening. Since the Gujarat riots, evidence has emerged that the Lashkar has succeeded in recruiting several - perhaps dozens - of young people from the State and elsewhere.

Apart from six men known to have trained with the Lashkar in Poonch, the investigation into the assassination of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya threw up a mass of evidence on recruitment by Islamist groups in Gujarat. Residents of the State working in West Asia are major targets.

Key figures in such recruitment include Abdul Bari, a Hyderabad resident last seen in Saudi Arabia operating under the nom de guerre Abu Hamza. Javed, like several of those involved in recent terrorist crime, is believed to have been recruited on the second of two visits to Oman.

It would, however, be facile to link recent recruitment only to the Gujarat pogrom. Lashkar recruitment outside Jammu and Kashmir dates back to the immediate aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, when the organisation won several recruits.

Ishrat’s neighbourhood, the Thane ghetto of Mumbra, has a strong subterranean tradition of support for the Lashkar, underpinned by the influence of the local Ahl-e-Hadis seminary - the sect from which the terrorist groups derives its religious legitimacy. As early as 2000, four top Lashkar terrorists were arrested in Mumbra, along with local sympathisers.

Religious organisations such as the Tabligh-i-Jamaat and the Ahl-e-Hadis have cashed in on the climate of fear generated by decades of anti-Muslim violence, emphasising communal separateness. From this ideological foundation, violence is for some just a small step away.

See online : The Hindu

P.S.

in The Hindu, Saturday, June 26, 2004.

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