Popular Front of India: A clear and present danger to the nation’s security

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It is not often that an irate crowd sets a police station on fire. But that is exactly what came to an unholy pass on 21 May 2022 in Batadrava. The incident took place because of an alleged custodial death, but the manner in which the stage was set to muster the mob to take the law into their hands provides an insight into the extent to which Muslim fundamentalist organisations are proliferating in the region, especially Assam. The problem has always — in the opinion of the author — constituted a clear and present danger to the security of India, but the dangerous proportions that it has taken in recent months is a matter of great concern.

Suspected PFI elements had put the Batadrava Police Station in Assam on fire. Image courtesy News18 Assam North East

The entry of Islamist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and Islamic State into Assam from erstwhile East Pakistan and the recent apprehensions of cadres of Ansarullah Bangla Team is but a tip of the iceberg of the danger that the alien Islamist agenda poses for Assam and thereabouts. The Popular Front of India which entered Assam in 2016-17 in a decisive manner and alongside the already existent substratum that has been laid by the formation of Al Qaeda in the India Subcontinent and the Waliyah-i-Hind has created three zones inside Assam.

Ostensibly a Kerala-based organisation which fronts itself as a welfare organisation for the cause of downtrodden, minorities and Dalits, close scrutiny of the activities of the organisation reveals that they are basically trying to empower the Muslims by facilitating access of the members of the community to the modern sophisticated subjects of education including Information Technology, Business Management, leadership training, etc. Indeed, it is in this garb that they are trying to — and have succeeded in considerable measure — the radicalisation of educated youths of Assam.

Intelligence reports have stated that it was the PFI that was responsible for instigating the Batadrava Police Station arson. It is also being reported that arms training including the use of Improvised Explosive Device are being imparted to Muslim youths by both PFI and its sister organisation, Campus Front of India (CFI).

The Head of Intelligence of the Assam Police, Hiren C Nath, has taken certain avant garde steps to thwart the sinister designs of the PFI which — it is now proven — has clear links with the global Salafi actors such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. However, PFI has been extremely careful not to directly engage the security forces or leave behind footprints that might lead to a SIMI-like ban.

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With a growing strength that exceeds 15,000 cadres, the most important agenda in PFI’s sights is the radicalisation of educated Muslims of Assam. New Delhi should in consultation with the Assam Police ban PFI and CFI and take active steps to frustrate their nefarious objectives of radicalisation of Assam.

It should also be noted that Assam’s minority population in the next religious census would be closer to 45 per cent of the population and there should be no delay in putting into action a counter-radicalisation programme in Assam as opposed to the non-existent de-radicalisation exercise. The author has been harping on this imperative ever since July 2016 when he first produced a manual on “Counter Radicalisation” for the Special Branch of Assam. One of the important recommendations that was made in the manual was that it does not require imposing imagination to comprehend that almost all the acts of violence is an express result of the “transformative moment through which Islam is passing through”.

But despite the simplicity of such an explanation the new challenge for the so-called “urbane” world necessitates novelty. After all some of the incidents that have been termed as Islamist action — with or without Daesh content — might not be as cut-and-dried as has been thought of. The important aspect that must be borne in mind is that until such time there is motivation to kill and maim (especially if it is planned and carried out by determined, violent minds!) the brain will always guide aggression — there are plenty of “warrior genes” inside it in order to steer such action.”

Furthermore, the author had written in the manual’s introduction that “research has shown that a number of Saudi Guantanamo detainees that were ‘de-radicalised’ have returned to terrorism upon release. Although there have been arguments that de-radicalisation creates a barrier to recidivism, there is really no way to fathom or evaluate whether a thorough cauterisation has taken place. Or are there de-radicalised terrorists — disengaging because of purely instrumental reasons — who continue to harbour a radical world-view? Who determines whether the law-enforcer is erring or not by arranging theological correction of ‘radicalised minds’ that have never actually read the Quran?”

In any event, the following recommendations are pointedly being made with an eye to contain the danger posed by the ingress as also the massive radicalisation that is taking place in Assam as a result. It must also be appreciated that the radicalisation is not taking in the lower strata of the illegal (economic) migrants, but among the educated class among the Muslim community of Assam.

·  The manner in which certain immediate rear-guard action can be taken are as follows:

(a) Psychologically segregate the minority community from the ill-effects of the alien agenda.

(b) Utilise chosen people from the minority community of Assam to battle the alien agenda. It must be understood that the minority population constitutes almost 35 percent of the population in Assam (2001 figure which in 2022 would be almost 40+ percent of the population). Therefore, the pragmatic way would be to co-opt the minority community to thwart the sinister design of the Islamists.

(c) Bangladesh’s population and polity have been greatly compromised as a result of non-comprehension of the realities in the country by conventional observers of such business. It has been reliably learnt that 70 percent of the population of Bangladesh are anti-India and are increasingly becoming pro-Chinese and pro-Pakistan. A course correction exercise that prevents such a slide has to be immediately engineered, if necessary by taking recourse to unorthodox methodologies such as covert support and empowerment of certain people in Bangladesh who continue to be secular and pro-India. This is imperative if another 1975 has to be averted.

(d) Neutralisation of the second-rung of leadership who constitute the important conduit between the Islamist leadership and the targeted minority community by taking recourse to kinetic and such other methods. Such action would provide some “breathing space” for a re-calibration process by which a larger, more comprehensive plan can be charted.

(e) A Task Force (Counter Radicalisation) has to be immediately constituted to study and take proactive action in regard to all the above. Unlike most conventional bodies such a Task Force should be a permanent feature and be an apparatus that would not be merely advisory but one mandated to act as per rule of law. To that end, it should be provided the frame of a body such as the NIA. However, great care must be taken not to have mere names from the civil services only, but incorporate the body by co-opting personnel from the armed forces, academia and domain specialists. Only then would the imperatives of robust national security management achieve fuller expression.

Rising infiltration of Islamic terror outfits into the state has increased the callenges for the Assam Police manifold. Reuters

National security is serious business and the manner in which it is being compromised in Assam by an Islamist group such as PFI does not only augur well for the nation, but also speak volumes about the “intellectual arrogance” that has gripped policymaking circles in the highest levels. The accent must, therefore, be to correctly adopt both “out-of-the-box” thinking and embrace a degree of humility to accept a truth that stares in the face with a non-falsifiable attestation.

The writer is a well-known conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books on security and strategy. Views expressed are personal.

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Popular Front of India: A clear and present danger to the nation’s security
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