Al Qaeda’s new branch in India

Fighters in Karachi. Image credit to AFP

Al Qaeda recently announced that they shall be creating a new branch of their franchise for the Indian Subcontinent. The countries that will be targeted by this new branch include India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. The new head of this organization is Umar Asim, a commander of the Pakistani Taliban. AQIS (Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (Arabic: جماعة قاعدة الجهاد في شبة القارة الهندية) literally Group (or Organization) of the base for Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent), according to Zarawahiri, is to essentially ‘liberate’ the Muslims in the aforementioned areas from injustice and oppression. By Zawahiri’s account, this new extension has been in the works for the last two years. Whether this is true or not, the formation of this group cannot be viewed in isolation.

The timing of this new branch, like most commentators have already discussed, is coming in a period where Al Qaeda has suffered a loss in credibility and prestige with the recent success of ISIS in the Middle East. Not only has ISIS controlled such a large area (along with governing it), it has also successfully held off Al Qaeda’s local franchise (Jabhat Al Nusra) as well as the Assad government. Indeed, with the death of Osama Bin Laden (a charismatic speaker) and its weakening franchises (like Al Shabaab), and other franchises declaring loyalty to ISIS (like AQAP), AQ needs a booster.

So what can Al Qaeda do? They focus on the one region where ISIS does not have strong connections. South Asia has a long history of jihadi terrorism as well as several issues that can appeal to Muslims in the subcontinent (like the fear of Buddhist and Hindu extremists). There is a fear that ISIS will make inroads into South Asia. ISIS pamphlets have already been seen distributed in Pakistan, has attracted some Indians to come fight (a rare thing as I briefly discussed here), and has proliferated multiple recruitment videos in South Asian languages, AQ has a real fear that ISIS will overtake them in a region where they currently have the advantage.

Yet AQIS is a threat to the subcontinent. Both India and Bangladesh are relatively weak states (in the sense they cannot properly implement the rule of law in all areas they control (more discussion about this in a future post)) that already have to worry about a well-established terrorist network in South Asia (established by groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba). There have also been indications that the fighters for the Indian Mujahideen have started to align themselves with Al Qaeda (thanks to the leadership of the organization having been captured). Although AQIS might not become the most powerful group in South Asia (an unfortunate honor that can arguably be given to LeT), it could gain the operational capability to threaten the region in the near future. Indeed, both the Indian and Bangladeshi governments have stated that they are taking the issue seriously.

But the importance of India to jihadis is often overstated. Although Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda members made reference to India as a potential target (the Zionist-Crusader-Hindu alliance), it was actually never a serious threat. The previous mentions of India or Kashmir had usually been minor, especially compared to their statements against the United States. Even in the first instance Bin Laden mentioned the Zionist-Crusader-Hindu alliance, the country of Sudan was mentioned and criticized more than Hindus, India or Kashmir. Even in the ideology of many transnational jihadist groups (most based in the Middle East), the focus has been on America and Israel, as well as the so called secular Arab regimes. In fact, the addition of Hindu to the alliance was done by Pakistani groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba in order to try to integrate their objectives with the global jihadi movement. Indeed, LeT has aided Al Qaeda while it has been stationed in Pakistan, although LeT has enough power and its own objectives to be independent from the infamous terrorist organization. With the organization suffering a loss in prestige, it will attempt to try and appeal to Muslims in areas that ISIS has little to no influence. As a result, it would not be surprising if Al Qaeda will continue to integrate its ideology more with the current Pakistani jihadist beliefs.

It will take some time to see whether this group will turn out to be a serious threat or not. Although some Indian commentators have insinuated that China and Pakistan will support this group (both directly and indirectly), this is also unlikely.  Other authors have accused the ISI of supporting Al Qaeda, but much of this is based on circumstantial evidence. It is also very unlikely that China would support an Islamist group against India that could possibly turn to the Uighur problem next.

At this time, not enough information has been released about the group to get a clearer picture of this organization. As time goes on, we will become more acquainted with this new branch, although we should really hope not.


The Hindu Extremist Narrative on Islam

Americans are often criticized for their lack of knowledge on international affairs and events. For citizens living in a state that is currently the world’s superpower and whose very actions can influence the international system. It is definitely necessary that Americans learn more about the world as they have some say on actions that their government takes. That said, it’s unfortunate that many people around the world are also very ignorant on international affairs. Many people around the world were critical of U.S. actions in Iraq (which I mostly agree with), but this was not due to the enlightened knowledge of the world’s population, but rather how people when they perceive as an attack by a powerful state. Similarly, India was criticized by the majority of the world for its intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh despite the ongoing genocide (although India’s intervention was opportunistic in order to severely weaken its rival Pakistan).

History and international affairs is complex. Scholars and practitioners spend years learning about the history and complex forces that are present in the societies in the world. For the overwhelming majority of people though, there isn’t the same drive or desire to learn about this. After all what is easier for people to understand: the complex structural and historical problems that have held back the potential of the Indian economy, or blaming it on Hinduism? Similarly, why look at the complex history and politics at play in the Middle East when you can blame it on Muslims?

This oversimplification along with racist and nationalistic attitudes leads to the creation of narratives. Usually these extremists’ narratives are exactly that, extremist. However, they sometimes influence the political discourse, making the moderate discourse more extremist. The influence can spread due a lack of education making the spread of this discourse extremely simple.  In order to counter this discourse, the population needs to be educated as well as have regular contact with those who are being demonized (e.g. the other ethnic, religious, income group). Although this is not a perfect solution, it will help. Unfortunately, it will not be effective on everyone as people can simply go through as many hoops as possible to deny the evidence (for a good example of this, read this article). Changing a person’s perception is a difficult thing to do. With this post, I hope to start challenging some of the perceptions that Hindu extremists have propagated towards Muslims.

As I have written in the recent past about the rise of Hindu extremism and its demonization of Islam. With the election of what is seen as a Hindu nationalist group to power, many of the same extremists have felt empowered to spread what they believe and fan the flames of communal tension. It is an unfortunate reality that many politicians have decided to continue what the British have done and try and divide the population. The British have always had a strategy of divide and rule in order to hold on to their imperial gains. To this effect, the British even started to distort histories to show the Muslim rulers as barbarians intent on eliminating the Hindu population. Even with the independence of India, the narratives and tactics introduced by the British were adopted. Indeed, a popular complaint against the Muslims by Hindus is that the Mughal Kings had destroyed Hindu temples. Yet this was not a shift in policy. Many Hindu kings had also destroyed temples for the same reasons that the Muslims did, to loot and destroy the political images that were associated with their rival king. Hell, the Indian military destroyed temples in Sri Lanka during India’s intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war.

Another fear exaggerated by Hindu extremists is that should Muslims become the majority, Sharia law will be enacted. Now there are two problems with this belief. According to polls, the respect for civil liberties such as the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly is practically equal between Hindus and Muslims. Defining sharia is also problematic. A minority of Muslims interpret sharia as the horrible, barbaric rule seen under ISIS or the Taliban while the majority see the U.S. constitution as being the perfect embodiment of sharia law. For Hindu extremists, the only sharia law that exists is that of the Taliban, and should Muslims become a majority (even if it is a slim majority like 50.01%) the Muslims will enact sharia law. Yes obviously, that’s why Muslim majority countries like Turkey, Tunisia, most of the Central Asian republics, and most of the Muslim sub-Saharan countries have sharia (oh wait). Well, that’s why Indonesia, being an Muslim majority country, is a harsh dictatorship, or has freedom house and polity iv scores comparable of that of India. Apparently, Muslims being the majority does not mean there will be sharia law, and having Muslims in the majority does not mean that the country will become a Taliban like dictatorship.

Another fear cited by the Hindu extremists is the higher birth rate among the Muslim population. Indeed Muslims have a higher birth rate than other religious groups in the country, but that is common among economically disadvantaged populations around the world. Indeed as India develops and economic opportunity becomes available to all, the birth rate will drop like everybody else’s. (There’s also a well believed conspiracy going around that Muslims are united trying to trick young, naive girls to fall in love with them and convert, something called a love jihad. Sound ridiculous and unrealistic? Because it is. Here’s a great article about the use of these conspiracies by right wing Hindus to regulate a woman’s body).

A popular crying call by these same Hindu nationalists is to argue that Muslims will gladly cry out against the Israeli’s during the Gaza war, but refuse to call out ISIS or other Islamic terrorist groups that carry out horrendous acts. Of course, this is also a popular belief in western countries who have little to no knowledge of the Middle East, or any Muslim community at all. Indeed all around the world, Muslims, both the elite and the common person, have come out against ISIS. As ISIS began to take over the headlines, Muslim intellectuals from all over India condemned the terrorist group even going so far as to say, “Their brutality is worse than genocide.” For all the commotion about the four Indian Muslims who went to join ISIS (despite the rhetoric by the Hindu extremists, specialists in Islamic terrorism have found that this is the first credible story of Indian Muslims joining the so called global jihad). Yet, there have been more Indian Muslims who have volunteered to go fight against ISIS. The narrative that Indian Muslims only complain when Muslims are being killed is a popular one, but it completely dies in the face of evidence.

Finally, there is the idea of the Muslim vote bank, or the idea that Muslims all vote for Muslim only candidates or parties as a cohesive block. This myth has been disproven by the previous election and other analysts . But accusing a rival candidate of only caring about the minority and not the majority is a common electoral tactic used by political parties.

To fight any form of extremism, battling the narratives is needed. Communal harmony is necessary for any nation to advance. In future posts, I will also try to examine some of the talking points for other types of extremist groups.

Some Quick Observations on the Rise of Hindu and Buddhist Extremists

From Wikipedia on the page 2012 Rakhine State Riots

Within the last couple of years, news stories began to emerge from Sri Lanka and Myanmar about Buddhist monks partaking in violence against the countries’ Muslim minority. It became so prominent that Time magazine ran a cover story about the head of the 969 Buddhist extremist group in Myanmar. This has been a surprise for some international observers who have always stereotyped the religion as a peaceful non-violent faith (perhaps best illustrated by this satirical Onion article). But now it seems to have adopted extremist rhetoric and violent tactics. Perhaps what is most fascinating about the rise of Buddhist extremism (beside it being relatively new) is how this form of religious extremism has nearly simultaneously emerged in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.

Hindu extremism emerged as a prominent force in India during the 1990’s, best illustrated by the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and the subsequent riots against Muslims throughout the country (though Mumbai seemed to bear the brunt of the rioting). It has also been able to influence political discourse in India through its association with the BJP party in India and through coalition politics. While there have been previous incidents of Hindu and Buddhist extremism prior to the dates I listed, it did not emerge as a political force to be reckoned with until the 1990’s and 2010’s respectively.

It should go without noting that while these time periods also represented the rise of Political Hinduism and Political Buddhism, it is related to but still distinct from Hindu and Buddhist extremism. This is similar to how the late 1970’s and early 1980’s saw the rise of Political Islam as a prominent political force as well as the rise of Islamic extremism. The political incarnation of each religion can include everything from their version of liberals to the extremists that we see today. While the rise of Hindu and Buddhist extremism is closely related to the rise of their political counterparts, extremism only represents one part of the ideological spectrum.

What is perhaps most fascinating with Hindu and Buddhist extremism is how similar the narratives are. Both seek to portray their respective religions as victims threatened by Muslims (Christians are also discussed, although they’re not as prominent in the discourse as Muslims), and alone in this struggle. Another interesting element of these narratives is combining religion with nationality. Arguably, much of the religious terrorism we see today seeks to define national identity as those who hail from a certain religion or sect. Many religious extremist groups in the Middle East like Hamas combined nationalism with religious identity. The Hindu extremists paint themselves as true Indians while emphasizing the foreignness of Islam and Muslims. Buddhist chauvinists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar have also attempted to do the same. 

The Shiv Sena from Maharashtra can provide some insight for this. The group is a political party in the Indian state of Maharashtra that ruled along the BJP in a coalition from 1995-1999. The group was also accused of playing a major role in the 1992-1993 Mumbai riots against Muslims and using generally deplorable rhetoric against Muslims. Yet along with their rhetoric against Muslims with the founder Bal Thackeray even going as far as to saying he wanted to create a Hindustan for Hindus that would bring Islam down to its knees; his group has also engaged in similar rhetoric and actions against North IndiansSouth Indians, and Gujaratis, despite many of them also being Hindus. The Buddhists in Sri Lanka also were pivotal in their support for the campaign against the Tamil Tigers (who were mostly Hindu). So while there is an element of religious extremism, will the future mean that they will turn against members of their own religion or ethnicity if they do not meet the criteria?

In the case of Buddhist extremism, there has already been a wish by the leaders of the extremists to create a network of like-minded groups in other Buddhist countries. While there has so far been no indication that Hindu extremists wish to spread to other countries such as Nepal and a plurality in Mauritius.  Another question is if this will lead to a rise in Buddhist or Hindu fighters traveling to other countries similar to the foreign fighter phenomenon we see in the conflicts in the Muslim world. Thomas Hegghammer identified the rise of the Muslim foreign fighter due to the existence of alarmist rhetoric, followed by government and private encouragement for individuals to fight in the battlefield of Afghanistan (both against the Soviets and Americans), Iraq, Syria, etc. The rhetoric is present and with the governments of Myanmar and Sri Lanka turning a blind eye to Buddhist extremism, this could possibly escalate.

This rise of varied religious extremism opens up the road for research on multiple questions: Was the rise of _____ (insert religion here) in response to the rise of another religion’s extremism? Was this in response to domestic or international forces? Does this attempt to combine religion or nationalism mean that in the future similar communities will be attacked for not sharing all the identities defined by the extremists? These are important questions that need to be considered, and there also needs to be an effort to combat these extremist forces by policy makers and important societal figures.

Modi and Kashmir

Protest in Kashmir from Press TV website.

In Modi’s maiden trip to Jammu and Kashmir (hereafter Kashmir), the Prime Minister laid out two goals related to the state. The first objective laid by Modi is “to win the hearts of the people of Jammu and Kashmir through development.” The second is the resettlement of Kashmiri pandits back into the Kashmir valley. While more focus on the Kashmir issue is needed by the central government, hopefully Modi realizes that economic policy alone will not solve the Kashmir issue.

While Kashmir has remained a potential flashpoint between India and Pakistan since the countries’ independence in 1947, the insurgency itself did not erupt until 1989.  Although tension grew during the 70s and 80s, it was the disputed state election in 1987 that served as a catalyst for the Kashmir insurgency. The Indian government’s hard handed response to the insurgency has done little but to further Kashmiri resentment, provide Pakistani intelligence services an outlet to help ‘bleed’ India, as well as create a stain on India’s international reputation.

During his trip, Modi declared “My aim is to win the hearts of the people of the state”. He was greeted by a general strike that was called on by separatist leaders. Modi had already put himself on bad footing with the Kashmiri people over his statements declaring that he was for the abrogating of Article 370 (an article in the Indian constitution that provides some autonomy for the state). Many Kashmiris see this article as guaranteeing the rights and culture of the only Muslim majority state in Hindu majority India.

Perhaps the most controversial policy that the Indian government currently has in place is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This law is usually enforced in what is described as ‘disturbed’ areas (e.g. Kashmir, Assam and Manipur, Punjab during the 1980s and 1990s) in order to bring stability to the areas. However, it has been used by the Indian military to inflict punishment onto the Kashmiri people with little to no repercussions to the soldiers who commit these human rights abuses. This has led to extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, rape, and torture, creating a great amount of tension between the Indian army and the Kashmiri people. Some Kashmiris have come to view the draconian law as an attempt by the central government to suppress the inhabitants of the state instead of its stated purpose of bringing stability.

What does this tell us? The driving force of Kashmiri resentment is not due to the lack of economic opportunity, but politics. What is surprising is that Kashmir has had a thriving economy (relatively) compared to most other conflict areas. Kashmir has had a very low poverty rate and positive economic growth, although many obstacles are still present. Although increasing economic development in the state might help to soothe tensions, political stability and security must be achieved first.

The resettlement of Hindu Pandits has also attracted criticism. Hundred of thousands of Pandits were forced out of the Kashmir Valley since the 1990s by Islamic militant groups. Unlike the secular separatist groups, the Islamic organizations sought to impose their own ideal of Kashmir, i.e. an Islamic state without Hindus or other religious minorities. The Modi government has set aside 500 crore (5 billion rupees, or about 81-82 million U.S. dollars) for the resettlement of these Pandits, many who have lived in horrendous conditions in refugee camps.

However, the Modi administration has not been clear on how exactly they plan to resettle the Kashmiri Pandits. If the plan is to create separate settlements for the Hindu Pandits, this will make it easier for the Indian government to protect them. However, it will not allow the Pandits to regain their historical homes that they were forced out of. The creation of separate settlements just for Hindu Pandits will also exacerbate communal tensions in the Valley. Indeed many opinion pieces and several prominent Kashmiri Muslims have called for the return of Hindu Pandits, but that putting the Pandits in separate settlements will be “going against the grain of Kashmiri culture”.

While it is imperative that the Kashmiri Pandits are aided in their return to the Valley, there also needs to be assurances that these Pandits will be protected from attacks by extremist groups. Although the Kashmiri Muslim community has helped to prevent some Hindus from being forced out, their efforts alone are insufficient to guarantee the safety of the community. As I discussed above, there are very legitimate reasons for Kashmiris to not trust the Indian government as well as the Indian army. In order for the resettlement of the Pandits to be successful, there needs to be a general change in the general political situation for the state. Economic policy alone will not achieve this.


India and English

Multilingual sign in India. From Wikipedia


In a recent article for The Diplomat, Akhilesh Pillalamarri makes the case that India’s promotion of English has negatively affected the quality of education in the country as well as impeded its development. Pillalamarri makes what is a nearly convincing argument that English should be done away with, but ultimately many of his points do not stand up to scrutiny. More importantly, his analysis completely ignores the reason why English was chosen as a lingua franca in the first place. But first, let us deal with the arguments that Pillalamarri has presented.

1) English is not as prevalent as local languages with Hindi serving as the lingua franca in most areas of the country. It is worth nothing that English is the second most spoken language in India with about 125 million speakers in the country (a number expected to quadruple in the next decade). The only language with more speakers is Hindi, with an estimate of 400 million speakers. The regions that Pillalamarri identify as Hindi speaking are the regions with languages already similar to Hindi. Although there are some important differences between the languages of Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, and Gujarati, they also are mutually intelligible to a certain degree. Some of my aunts who are Punjabi and Gujarati (but born outside of India) are able to understand Bollywood movies with some effort despite never formally learning Hindi due to the similarities in the language. Similarly, my siblings and several of my uncles who have never studied Tamil (we can barely speak Malayalam (I’m working on changing that though, keep you fingers crossed)) are able to understand some Tamil movies with some effort as there is some similarity between the languages. The region that Pillalamarri identify as speaking Hindi already have the advantage of having a native language in the same language family. The regions that Pillalamarri identifies as non-speaking areas together contain about half a billion people. Promoting the use of Hindi would effectively put nearly half the country at a disadvantage for national jobs and higher education.

2) The promotion of English decreases the quality of education in India. There are many problems with the Indian education system, the promotion of English is not generally considered one of them. Multiple authors and other experts have discussed the problems with the Indian education system. Between absentee teachers, the lack of encouragement for innovation (so well known that movies have been made about it), and a general lack of accountability (here is a report discussing the problems as well as possible reforms that can be enacted in the education system), there are plenty of problems that plague the Indian education system instead of the English language. Along with the the supposed problems of the teaching of English, one point he makes is that teaching English at such a young age is bad for children. Except most countries teach their students at a very young age. In fact many studies have shown that there is an advantage at a younger age.

3) The use of English has led to the under utilization and under development of Indian intellectual discourse in other languages. This is also questionable of whether English is responsible for this. If an intellectual published some research in Malayalam, how would this be able to spread to the rest of India? Only 38 million people speak Malayalam, preventing it from spreading throughout the country. The reason why intellectual discourse started to be published and carried out in English was because of the spread it had with the elites in India.

As I pointed out above, Pillalmarri does not address the reason why English was adopted in as an official language in the first place. Language politics is an emotional subject in India (indeed in many parts of the world). When it was first proposed to make Hindi the official language, there was strong resistance in multiple parts of India, especially in the south led by the Tamils. By promoting one native Indian language over others, it puts those who do not speak that language at a disadvantage. The promotion of Hindi would also escalate tensions between the North and South (here is a good article on southern perceptions of north Indians) as an attempt by the North to force their culture and lifestyle on others, or even an attempt by the North to marginalize the south. This is not unusual in South Asia.  A major grievance by the Tamils (helped lead to civil war) in Sri Lanka was that the promotion and use of Sinhalese would marginalize the minority Tamils. A similar issue was present in the tensions between West and East (now Bangladesh) Pakistan. English turned out to be a language that served the purpose of a compromise on the issue of official language in India.

That said, there are many valid points in Pillalamarri’s article that should be taken seriously. One is the promotion of native Indian languages on the internet to help encourage access to those who don’t speak English (though it is worth asking whether the lack of internet usage among a large amount of Indians is because of the use of English or other reasons). Another point he makes is whether English will be required for the jobs used by the majority of Indians. Either way, while I do disagree with much of the arguments that he makes, his proposal is one worth considering.

For further details on the use of English in India and why it is helpful for its development, read Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani (also one of the best books on India’s development there is).



Akhilesh Pillalamarri has given a followup to his original article. While I do agree that access to services could be better improved by using the local languages, ultimately he rehashes similar talking points to that I have already discussed above.

The Haqqani Network and the Pakistani Offensive



According to Michael Kugelman at The Diplomat, the Pakistani military has given journalists some indications that it will go after the infamous Haqqani network. Yet Kugelman and Bill Roggio remain skeptical of the willingness of the Pakistani military in going after the Haqqani network. Indeed, if the Pakistani military decided to take action against their proxy, that would signal a major shift in the country’s security strategy towards Afghanistan, if not the region as a whole. If this is true, this would be a significant step to achieving regional stability. However, I happen to agree with Kugelman and Roggio that military action that would significantly affect the capabilities of the group is unlikely to be undertaken by the Pak military. Both authors give their reasons of why they remain skeptical of this new announcement (I will also list some of the reasons why I agree with them).

First, it is noteworthy to look at a similar time when the Pakistani government was forced to crackdown on its proxies. Shortly after the 9/11 and Indian parliament attacks, foreign governments put a great deal of pressure on having the Pakistani government (under Musharraf) to rein in the militants aligned with the military. While Musharraf did go after some of the militants, it was done very selectively. In what is best described as the good jihadi/bad jihadi policy, Musharraf tried to protect groups that he felt could still be utilized against India while cracking down on groups that refused to follow orders. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was the perfect example of this. Despite the fact that the group had participated in the parliament attacks, had aided Al Qaeda, and remained a dangerous and formidable terrorist organization, the group was given warning ahead of time to move their assets and change their name. So while it appeared that the Pakistani government was cracking down on multiple organizations, many of these groups were given a heads up about the crackdown, giving them time to transfer their assets to avoid a loss of capability. (On this case, see Stephen Tankel’s: Storming the World Stage (also one of the best books on LeT there is)).

Similarly, there have been complaints from US officials that the Haqqani Network had already been tipped off by the Pak military before the operation had began, similar to the case above. Roggio even noted in his article of the presence of a good Taliban/bad Taliban issue as even some of the military spokesmen tried to avoid saying that they were attacking like the Haqqani network.

The Haqqani Network today remains one of the best power projection tools that the Pakistani government has in Afghanistan today. Indeed, the group has never overtly attacked the state or has it ever attempted to turn on the state. While the Pak government statements of an inclusive military offensive against all organizations in North Waziristan might have been an attempt to quell Afghani perceptions of a selective crackdown, as well as evidence that the Haqqani Network has been helping both the Pakistani and Afghani Taliban, at the moment the pros outweigh the cons. Indeed, the Haqqani Network garnered a reputation as one of the most dangerous and sophisticated insurgent group operating in Afghanistan today. With the incoming U.S. withdrawal (something that has been making all countries in the region nervous), it would be wise and sensible for the Pakistani government to maintain a link to all their assets that could help them navigate the mess that might arise in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Lastly, the Pakistani state is currently under attack from many formerly aligned militant organizations as well as the Pakistani Taliban, creating a formidable and difficult domestic security situation that the country has to deal with. By going after the Haqqani Network, the Pak government will just have created yet another enemy that it will have to deal with in the short term. In that context, the refusal of the Pakistani military not to attack the Haqqani network in the short term future remains a rational decision, all contributing to the fact that any offensive in North Waziristan is unlikely to drastically affect the Haqqani Network.

‘Religious’ violence in Assam?



A lot of attention has been given to the #bringbackourgirls campaign that began after the horrific kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by the extremist group Boko Haram. But recently, I saw this message posted to Facebook.

Putting things into perspective:

Truly, we all want to #BringBackOurGirls, and we all condemn the crazy actions of Boko Haram. And I’ve commented a few times on this insane act.

But let us also remember that there are many serious tragedies that are going on in the world, and the media, and politicians, choose which ones to highlight for their own agenda. As we speak, three major calamities come to mind (and I do not wish to ignore others – but these three are happening simultaneously with the kidnappings)

1) Scores of Muslims brutally massacred in villages in Assam (India) by Hindu gangs, merely for supporting the ‘wrong’ political candidate. Women were literally hacked to death in front of their children. The government has done nothing substantive to bring the killers to justice.

2) Thousands of Muslims forced to flee on foot in the Central African Republic, while hundreds have been killed in the last few weeks, by mobs of scimitar-wielding blood-thirsty Christian fanatics. Hardly any Muslims are left in the capital, and the plight of the Muslim refugees is heart-wrenching.

3) Thousands of Burmese Rohinga are still in limbo: living in barbed-wire camps, surrounding by Buddhist terrorists waiting to burn them alive, protected (after Allah) by a handful of UN peacekeepers. The pictures of their malnourished bodies barely makes it into any mainstream media outlet, and the world has done practically nothing to provide a solution for them. This, after hundreds of them have been killed, and the rest forced into limbo.


Now let’s ignore the fact that the news about the Rohingya Muslims has been probably the most prominent story to come out South-East Asia in the last couple of years (with the exception of the protests in Thailand). Also let’s ignore the fact that both the African Union and France have sent peacekeepers to contain the violence in Central Africa, as well as ignore that much of the violence is in reprisal for the violence committed by Muslim Séléka groups. And let’s also ignore that much of the problems that require solutions would involve violating the sovereignty of nations with military action, something that itself is troublesome. Also it might be that these problems don’t have simple solutions (nor are their origins simple) and like the Boko Haram issue, simply posting about it on Facebook will not help. Finally let’s ignore the fact that the reason that the story gained prominence was this act is a very unusual act carried out by a terrorist organization, on such a mass scale, and the government’s initial response generated much anger among the Nigerian population. While we’re on the topic violence towards religious minorities, let’s not forget what happens in Sri Lanka, the general Middle East, Pakistan, Malaysia, etc.

But, there is another problem with this post. It assumes that these are all instances of religious violence. Although I cannot go into detail about the Rohingya and anti-balaka case, let us examine the Assam case for a second.

The author gets some points right, most of the victims were Muslims, and part of the motivation for the violence was that the victims voted for the wrong political candidate. But let’s start with the first part of the post that he got wrong, it wasn’t the Hindu identity of the attackers that drove them to commit the violence. To look at the motivation of these extremists going around killing, we need to examine a brief history of the region.

Police claim that the violence was carried out by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, a groups that is designated a terrorist organization in India. So the fact that these massacres are carried out by terrorist organizations already makes it difficult for the Indian government to bring these men in for justice (they don’t exactly make themselves easy to find). There’s also the fact that much of the violence was committed in in very remote villages in the North East of India, making a rapid government response difficult. Some of the villages were also very close to the Bhutan-India border, making escape into a foreign country a possibility to avoid Indian forces. As of now, violence seems to have subsided.

So why did these terrorists target Muslims? Was it on the basis of their religious identity? Again, closer analysis suggests otherwise. In the past, many ‘outsiders’ were attacked, even Hindi speaking Hindus. There has been a push by these organizations to protect their ‘traditional’ culture from outside influence. This already suggests that religious identity was not the driving factor for these attackers. So what is it with the Muslims?

The Muslims are undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh. Unfortunately, politicians in their bid to get reelected have chosen to emphasize the “threat” that these undocumented migrants possess to the culture of the region. Seeing that these same extremists who were willing to target Hindi speaking workers of the same nationality, how are they going to react to immigrants from another country?

As we can see, the violence here is more ethnic in nature rather than religious? Yet, why is it important that we recognize it as ethnic violence rather than religious violence/

Using the rhetoric of religion is dangerous. Similar violence in the region occurred in 2012 where the same rhetoric of Hindu-Muslim violence was used. The result, extremist Muslims in other parts of India sent threats to Indians from Northeastern India, causing a large exodus of Northeastern workers from the other parts of India. The rhetoric of Hindus attacking Muslims also encouraged Hindu extremist groups to encourage violence against Muslims in other parts of India in revenge for the exodus of Northeastern Indians. By making this a religious conflict, it expands the scope and scale of the conflict. Religious conflict is an unfortunate reality in India, with the unfortunate examples of 1984, 2002, and the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 as reminders of this.

Looking at his last point:

These stories, and more, don’t make national coverage, and are for all practical purposes completely ignored. By selectively highlighting atrocities committed by only one religion/ethnicity, over the course of a few years an average person receiving this slanted perspective becomes so brainwashed into associating evil/terror with only one group (i.e., Muslims) that it is almost impossible to ‘de-program’ him to think otherwise.

And while we’re at it, let’s not selectively highlight atrocities where only the members of one religion or ethnicity is painted to be the victims of the world without any regards to the complicated history/politics/narratives present in each conflict. In terms of religious groups, every religion is both victims and perpetrators of violence to such an extent that it would be disingenuous and dishonest to call your religious group the victims while other the perpetrators. The problem is that while pretending to care about the injustices happening the world, only to actually care about when your own religious group or ethnicities are the victims. Nor is this limited to Muslims, it wasn’t uncommon for me growing up to hear stories of the persecution of Hindus from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and even in India. The problem is that we portray ourselves so much as victims that we forget about the other victims in the world, and spread harsh perceptions of other groups.


P.S. Also spreading on Facebook was this message supposedly from Assamese Muslims. Again, it is not religion that is emphasized, but rather the “illegal” immigrants. This rhetoric towards the undocumented immigrants in those regions is troublesome, but again suggest that the riots and violence are ethnic/nationalistic in nature rather than religious.


Sources and Reading