There was a headline in a local newspaper of Assam on 8 November 2021. The chief minister of Assam informed that “efforts (are) on to radicalise (the) youths in (the) state” and that reportedly hundreds of youths of a particular community are missing! The news was worrying because there have been, of late, especially after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the events in Bangladesh, reports that radicalisation efforts in Assam were being expedited. Indeed, the phenomenon of radicalisation that is being felt all over India can be attributed to the growing influence of the Hanbali School in the country by way of the resurgence of the Popular Front of India (PFI).
Although PFI — whose leadership are mostly from Kerala — refutes the allegation that the outfit has any links with the Hanbali Sect (another name for Wahabi and/or Salafi), the fact of the matter is that it has been radicalising Indian Muslims towards the conservative strain of Islam is no longer in doubt.
The Hifazat-e-Islam Bangladesh (HIB) and Islami Andolan Bangladesh (IOB) in erstwhile East Pakistan are reportedly working alongside the PFI. The HIB and IOB are working inside Bangladesh as overground activists of Al Qaeda and IS-affiliated organisations such as the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT).
Bowing to immense pressure from the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime apparatus of Bangladesh, both the JMB and the ABT have curtailed their activity for the present, propping up instead its surrogates by way of the HIB and the IOB. The stratagem is simple. The methodology is to instil a sense of complacency in the establishment that the JMB and the ABT have disappeared. The reality is that they have activated “Op Confusion” in Bangladesh as well as rejuvenated Islamism in Bangladesh.
Indeed, the manner in which Islamism of the rabid kind unfolds is quite uncomplicated. A study by the author has unearthed a “progression of wave” in the modus operandi of Islamist action. In fact, the manner in which the United States-led alliance has sought to oust IS from Iraq and Syria has ascertained that the “war against the Kafirs” would now not only be a perpetual one but an accelerated course of action.
It has not only emboldened the Islamist resolve about the Islamist apocalyptic expectations about “black banners that will come from the east” but about the Islamist belief that the establishment of Nizam-e-Mustafa throughout the world is a certainty. If Sun Tzu, Kautilya and Clausewitz were to have paraphrased their premises on “art of war”, then the master strategists would have certainly emphasised the substance of waves after a phase of a lull. A premeditated pause or a tactical withdrawal is a time-tested device of warfare.
Therefore, although IS has experienced territorial defeats it has been able to confuse the enemy with its continual subterfuges, turning disadvantages into advantages. Both Al Qaeda and Islamic State have joined forces and a determined move emanating first from the spectacular successes that had been achieved by Al Qaeda and Islamic State since 9/11 and second, the line that has been drawn by way of “us and them” is ascertaining this. The Islamists have been able to rest, recuperate and turnover and are preparing themselves for the next offensive.
Whereas there was a demonstration of considerable violence between 1999 and 2005 which the author describes as the “First Wave”, the “Second Wave” commenced with the “oath of allegiance” or Bay’ah by groups such as the JMB to the ISIS in the wake of the construction of Abu Bakr-al-Baghdadi’s neo-caliphate of. The hijrah or the journey to Iraq and Syria in response to the “call from ar-raqqa”, too, began during this phase. However, territorial setbacks witnessed persistent “lone-wolf” attacks throughout the world, including places such as Orlando and Nice, and observers of Islamist action in Bangladesh would recall the “hostage situation” in Dhaka on 1 July 2016 and the machete killings and suicide bombings of the years following the event.
The new “call to arms” was to decimate the infidel wherever found as the hijrah was no longer an undemanding affair. However, relentless action by the Bangladesh security forces against the Islamists have quietened the radicals momentarily and the “battle” has been — temporarily — handed over to the HIB and the IOB who are keeping the movement alive by demanding aspects such as the enactment of “Blasphemy Laws” and non-erection of statues (primarily that of Mujibur Rahman) which they state is un-Islamic.
However, with the almost total territorial ouster of the Islamic State from the areas that it had occupied in Iraq and Syria, the strategy is about to witness a change. Egged on by Al Qaeda and Islamic State which are already inside India, its affiliates would open the gates of radicalism and don a form that would be quite alarming. It would be a combination of a) protests against acts, laws and ministration that a united grouping of radicals considers un-Islamic — bringing thereby into their fold fence-sitters and moderates among the minority population; b) mass recruitment; and c) let loose sophisticated forms of violence that most government agencies would not be able to even imagine.
Handbooks and embedded hostility that steer the “warrior genes” inside both a radical and a deviant mind are in abundance on this planet, as are easily accessible manuals that can showcase how a dangerous weapon is assembled with ease. Triacetone Triperoxide, an explosive known as the “Mother of Satan” which was reportedly first used in the Paris bombings of 13 November 2015 and one which fits effortlessly into a jacket — reports suggest — seems to have surfaced as the flavour of the times. Recollections of a hardcore pro-IS, Neo-JMB cadre Rashedur Rahman Sumon’s wife Shakira detonating herself along with her child on 26 December 2016 should be adequate testimony about the style by which Indian radicalised elements could mimic violence in the country for what the author portends as the advent of the “Third Wave of Radicalisation”.
The writer is a conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books on Northeast India’s security and strategy. Views expressed are personal.