While the Assam government must sustain its present moves against radicalisation, New Delhi must be firm in ensuring that insidious attempts/activities by anti-Indian elements/groups are neutralised effectively in the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir and some other states
A book titled "Assam: Terrorism and the Demographic Challenge" (Centre for Land Warfare Studies and Knowledge World), written by this author and published in 2009 brought out that the illegal migration from erstwhile East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, into Assam, led to the bloody anti-foreigner agitation in 1983. Initiated by the All-Assam Students Union, it produced a political party called Asom Gana Parishad and an armed wing called United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which became an effective tool of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Bangladesh during the tenure of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) pursuing its aim of settling illegal Bangladeshi migrants in various parts of Assam, raising new madrassas, creating communal tension, carrying out assassinations and massacres and generally spreading terror.
By 2009, ISI/ULFA inducting and settling Bangladeshis in Assam had resulted in a demographic shift in at least eight of its border districts. This process had been given a great boost by successive Congress governments in Assam whose ministers used to issue ration cards to the illegal Bangladeshi settlers for political purposes. By the time the BJP took over in 2014, the demographic shift had affected at least 12 border districts of Assam.
After much water flowing down the mighty Brahmaputra, in October 2021, Assam Police issued a high alert in the state over the intelligence input that Pakistan (ISI), was planning to carry out a big terror attack in Assam and other places in the country. As it turned out, ISI’s collaborators Al Qaeda was also part of the plan.
The Assam Police circular reportedly stated that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres, army areas, mass gatherings, and religious places in Assam and other parts of India were the likely targets of the ISI and other global terror outfits planning spectacular attacks by the explosion of bombs/IEDs in places of mass gathering/mass transport/religious places etc. The circular of Assam Police also stated, "The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) released a statement regarding the Dhalpur eviction in a Twitter thread, condemning the systematic persecution and violence ramped up against the Muslim community in Assam, claiming lives of Muslims during protests against eviction drive of hundreds of Muslim families from the state……. Another input received from a video message by Al-Qaeda indicated a call for jihad specifically in Assam and Kashmir. Al-Qaeda's ‘As Sahab’ (media wing of Al-Qaeda') released a propaganda video titled ‘Do not Sit Idly Grieving’, showing videos on the alleged lynching of Indian Muslims, including some videos from Assam and calling for jihad in Assam and Kashmir,” it added.
In July 2022, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the state was considering introducing the registration of private-run madrassas after twelve alleged jihadis with links to the Bangladesh-based terrorist outfit Ansarul Bangla Team (ABT), which is affiliated with the global terror outfit Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub-continent (AQIS), were arrested across two districts. AQIS is the outfit that was raised after slain Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s appeal to the subcontinent's Muslims to create an Indian branch of Al Qaeda to “raise the flag of jihad” across South Asia. Of the twelve suspected jihadis, the police arrested a madrassa teacher, Mufti Mustafa, and local trader Ashraful. Apart from the arrest, the Jamiul madrassa was sealed and four teachers of the Banat madrassa were detained for questions about their affiliations. Assam Police in a tweet informed that in a major anti-terrorist operation eleven jihadis connected to Islamic fundamentalist organizations having linkages with global terror outfits such as AQIS and ABT were arrested from Morigaon, Barpeta, Guwahati and Goalpara.
Warning bells from Assam
In early August 2022, Chief Minister Sarma informed at a press conference that five modules of ABT and AQIS had been busted since April 2022. “Inputs provided by those arrested helped bust terror modules in West Bengal, Tripura, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. All this was done with the active cooperation and coordination of national security agencies,” he added, and said that it emerged that at least six ABT members from Bangladesh had entered India illegally around 2016-2017 and had been creating terror modules and sleeper cells by indoctrinating local youths in Assam about jihadi ideology.
“It has now been proved beyond doubt that Assam has become a hotbed for Islamic fundamentalism. Of the six ABT members, we have nabbed just one and five are absconding. So, you can imagine the gravity of the situation. There may be 100 such others, which we are not aware,” said CM Sarma and also added that the terror trainers were tech-savvy and used sophisticated methods to brainwash young minds. Some of the jihadists, he said, were “masquerading as imams of mosques or teachers of madrassas”.
On 4 September 2022, it was reported that after the demolition of multiple madrassas in a crackdown on terror, Assam Director General of Police (DGP) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta met representatives of four Islamic organisations and sought their support and cooperation to bust terror modules. The meeting was held after multiple arrests in Assam over alleged links with terrorist groups AQIS and ABT. Following an hour-long meeting, Mahanta said, “Today, we met Islamic organisations across the state. Al-Qaeda, IS, ABT and other terrorist groups are eyeing Assam, but the Muslim community in the state does not support such terrorist elements. They want to help us maintain peace. Without their cooperation, we wouldn’t have been able to bust Al-Qaeda and ABT modules in the state. We have urged them to extend their support." DGP Mahanta said they have asked all private madrassas in the state to upload their rules online. “There are thousands of private madrassas in the state. All function on different rules as per their beliefs. We have asked all of them to upload their rules online and given them six months," he added.
After almost 25 years of Congress rule in Assam, during which period sections of the local leadership maintained links with ULFA, which was a great asset for this party getting repeatedly elected to power and which also helped this party to build a major vote bank of illegal Bangladeshi settlers, whatever steps have been taken by the present BJP government are better late than never.
While the Assam government must sustain its present moves against radicalisation, New Delhi must be firm in ensuring that insidious attempts/activities by anti-Indian elements/groups are neutralised effectively in the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir and some other states.
(The author, a strategic analyst and former spokesperson Defence Ministry and Indian Army, can be contacted at email@example.com.)